The afternoon was drawing to a close when I knew I had hit the wall. On its own terms there was nothing new or earth-shattering about this. It was just another ordinary afternoon, during which I had sat and done my work, much like thousands of other afternoons. The difference today was that there would be no sugar-hit of tweeting at the end of it. A wall in more ways than one.
Desolate for a second, I looked around me. At the thousands (and thousands of pounds’ worth, it struck me) of books, minding their own business on the shelves. The afternoon looked different suddenly, not so much a wall as an opening into possibility. From somewhere I remembered a reference I had been chasing only the day before, lazily resorting to Google when I knew full well it was to be found, here, next to my own hand, in the book I was now holding.
The Collected Poems of James Schuyler (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994). Which I realised with sudden bitterness I had not picked up for a long, long time. By picked up I don’t literally mean picked up. I mean held, pored over, savoured, read, re-read, wept over. Which love affair began via a review by the genius Martin Stannard quoting ‘One/ Gull coasts by, unexpected as a kiss on the nape of the neck’, and saying words to the effect that if you were not moved by it you probably did not have a heart.
And which, from nowhere I was now doing, going back as sage advice has it to the place where I last remembered leaving off, at ‘June 30, 1974’ (I would have been 10): ‘I like/ to be alone/ with friends’; ‘Enough to/ sit here drinking coffee,/ writing, watching the clear/ day ripen’ and finding myself hearing myself gasp. And so it went, culminating with ‘A Few Days’, that tender-savage paean to eau de cologne, taxis, age, and John Ashbery, the real subject of which is death: ‘A Few Days// are all we have’ the first words warn.
A gift. A gift. One which left me changed, almost pre-verbal, having encountered my own interiority for longer than I wanted to remember. A gift I could have opened at any time during my Twitter-addiction, but did not. I am still discovering the reasons why I left. That afternoon is one of them.