I am taking a break from writing brand new blog posts over the summer.
Instead of posting new work I am going to give readers the chance to read material from the archives of this blog.
Starting on Monday, a new-old blog post will appear here every two days, twenty of my favourites from the last four years.
See you all in September, and happy holidays.
I am driving to a thing. Not a famous thing, an out of the way thing. A classroom, perhaps. It’s morning, say, a Monday. Spring sunshine, clouds, fields flashing emerald.
(There is no need to worry, it is no one you know. You want world domination? You need to show someone else how to do it once you have gone.)
I am minding my own business, driving along happily, making lists, trying to allow myself to shut up and breathe. Can you imagine, I have gone all this way without playing with the radio dial?
I am early, of course, old habits etc. (see Things passim). A cul-de-sac, with privet. Birdsong.
I recognise the voice instantly (it is someone you know). Odd, to know this voice, and not know them at all.
People are around a table, trying not to interrupt the sound of each other’s erudite chuckles.
But the man (it is a man) waits his turn, then begins. Gently at first, as though pinching himself to be here, with others, broadcasting to a grateful nation, but confident too.
Not ego-confident, just confident. Not in himself (never that), but that rare thing, of the poem, in a voice like someone saying Did you see the match, or Have you heard about X, or I’ve just read this book… Like the poem was baked that morning, fresh as bread.
He is finding his stride now, the rhythms of the poem, its plainspokeness surprising him (you can tell) into enjoyment of the moment and (that rare thing) self-forgetfulness. Better than an actor, much.
The poet has done his job well. Just as the poem sounds like it wants to spiral into ever greater exaggeration of its humour, it stops. The man stops with it. He has done his job well, too. (Can you guess?)
Then the most remarkable thing of all.
Of the man (it is a man) in the Chair, and of the others, their chuckles now blown to smithereens by the poem. One poem.
One poem on the radio, on a Monday (say) morning, has done this. Has shut up the people in the room.
Outside in the cul-de-sac it is still early (birdsong), but I notice my breathing is slow now, too. I reach for the radio dial. I silence the noise of the others as they struggle to overcome being moved on live radio.
It is the highest compliment I know, to return to the silence of the moment, to abjure the commentary which follows.
So I sit. And I breathe.
It is time.
I am ready to face the thing.
A man filled with the gladness of living
Put his keys on the table,
Put flowers in a copper bowl there.
He put his eggs and milk on the table.
He put there the light that came in through the window,
Sounds of a bicycle, sound of a spinning wheel.
The softness of bread and weather he put there.
On the table the man put
Things that happened in his mind.
What he wanted to do in life,
He put that there.
Those he loved, those he didn’t love,
The man put them on the table too.
Three times three make nine:
The man put nine on the table.
He was next to the window next to the sky;
He reached out and placed on the table endlessness.
So many days he had wanted to drink a beer!
He put on the table the pouring of that beer.
He placed there his sleep and his wakefulness;
His hunger and his fullness he placed there.
Now that’s what I call a table!
It didn’t complain at all about the load.
It wobbled once or twice, then stood firm.
The man kept piling things on.
from the Turkish of Edip Cansever, translated by Julia Clare Tillinghast and Richard Tillinghast