Late January notebook


[…]       you write because
you know them not because you understand them
because you don’t you are stupid and lazy
and will never be great but you do
what you know because what else is there?

Frank O’Hara, from ‘As Planned’ (Poetry off the Shelf podcast on poets and drinking)

James Wood interview with Karl Ove Knaussguard (Paris Review), quoting

‘If the thought really yielded to the object, if its attention were on the object, not on its category, the very objects would start talking under the lingering eye.’ -Adorno, from Negative Dialectics

‘Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer’ -Simone Weil (from an Amazon review)

‘Cigarettes are the last thing in the world I want to write about.’

Editor: ‘Therefore you must write about them.’           -Jonathan Franzen essay in the Guardian, 04.11.17

‘I want to write poems that look like a glass of water but then turn out to be gin.’ -Andrew Motion, from  Transactions with Beauty (Instagram)

‘Write what will stop your breath if you don’t write.’ -Grace Paley,  Paris Review Interview

I have put Autumn in your pigeon hole

‘… all of us bent so jealously at our work, determined that not even chaos be outside of our own making.’ -Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses (p.241)

The book I am to publish later this year was written in a variety of settings. I wrote some of it watching television, some of it on holiday, some of it in a workshop, some of it because I was asked to, some of it on the end of the bed and some of it propped up in bed (again) when I was ill. But those are only the parts I remember writing. (Never trust a writer when they talk about what they say they remember about their process: there’s always something they’re not telling you, especially me.) I honestly have no idea where or when I wrote the rest of it. Since my last book of poems I have moved office for the third time in this house. I’ve been in there/here (am I writing this in ‘here’?) for two and half(ish) years now, but I’m not sure if I have written poems in it yet. The space is dual-purpose. By day it is mine, but in the evenings it becomes a sitting room where we watch crap telly. Quite often the desk is the last place I sit at. I have taken to writing on the little sofa, a pad or laptop on my knees. I don’t think this means anything.

I have written other things in here. (Emails, for one.) Two years ago I was given study leave so I could write papers for academic journals. My desk is positioned by a window, overlooking the houses and street opposite. I learned quickly that if I was to get any work done I would need to close the blind in front of me. Partly this was so I could avoid the glare of the early morning sun, and partly to block out distractions. I kept thinking of something (I think) E. L. Doctorow said about the best view from a writer’s desk being a brick wall, the better to allow their imagination to roam freely.

I’m starting to think I don’t do any writing in my special places at all. I wonder if I tell myself that I need them so I can play truant and write elsewhere. The office as security blanket? The words on the pages and the books looking down at me from the shelves might have me believe otherwise.

Overheard in town, people talking on their mobiles:

‘Oh, Auntie Millie will be pleased!’ (woman, shopping bags)

‘Have you looked at the utility room?’ (man, rucksack)

‘Motörhead, the British heavy rock band, were not renowned for their good behaviour.’ – Opening sentence of Guardian obituaries, 15 January, 2018

As he looked at me, I floated away from what I thought I was, and became neutral, colorless, without feeling: there was an equal choice between what I thought I was, this tired woman asking him for water, and what he thought I was, and there might not be any such thing as the truth anymore, to bind us together, so that he and I, facing each other across the counter, were more separate than two strangers usually are, isolated as though in a bank of fog, the voices and footsteps near us silenced, a little well of clarity around us, before I, in my new character as vagrant, too tired and disoriented to speak, looked away without answering and went into the next room. -Lydia Davis, The End of the Story, p.10

Brilliant, the way the blue tit knows exactly which part of the apple tree to sit in while it clings to its morning peanut, amongst the yellow, licheny branches, the better to camouflage itself.



You can pledge your support for my new anthology with Unbound here


  1. Takes my breath away…loved the Grace Paley. I once had supper with her at a grad student gathering, and we had a wonderful conversation as the two older ladies in the group. Later we chose together the piece she would read for the public that evening – a highlight of my writing days…You’re hitting all my literary buttons, my friend, but mostly bringing me the joy of sharing these tres bon mots!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.