I have been writing recently about going deeper, not wider. Listening to music I already possess, reading the books already on my shelves, not trying to chase the new thing (though I do admit to caving and becoming addicted to The Crown recently). One of which is Now & Then: The Poet’s Choice Columns 1997-2000 by Robert Hass. It’s been on my shelves for what, four years? And how much of it did I read first time round? Not very much. Only a bit. Until something/someone else came along and grabbed my attention.
One of the joys of this book is the constant sense, for a British reader, of being on the edge of new discoveries at every other page. Another is the sense of rediscovery of poets already familiar to me, but somehow overlooked in my life at the same time. Not least among these has been my re-acquaintance with the work of Charles Wright. A strange thing happened on encountering him in Hass’s book. Hadn’t I seen this work before, somewhere, I thought? Of course I had, right next to where I was sitting, a book my friend Rupert gave me, years ago, the magnificent first British edition (which Rupert published) of Negative Blue (Stride, 2000), and which I had not looked at for longer. (It’s a collection of a trilogy of books: Chickamauga, Black Zodiac and Appalachia, with a short final section titled North American Bear.) But after reading the poems and Hass’s gloss on them I went to the internet, not my shelves. I didn’t even look at them. I began googling instead. And I arrived at a poem which I remember noticing for the first time (was it really the first time?) about the time I joined Twitter in 2010. I poem I have grown to love and cherish for its slowness, its sense of mournful song joining in with an equally mournful universe. And only then did I bother to check if the poem was in the book I already owned, which had been given to me as a gift some many years previously, and which I must have read on receiving but had now all but forgotten.
And that was when it jumped out at me. This is a poem I walk past every day in my office, again, hidden in plain sight, barely looked at. The lines in question?
What do I have to look forward to at fifty-four?
Tomorrow is dark.
Well, fifty-four is what I am right now, and tomorrow morning will be darker than this one, hurtling as we are towards the end of the year. But fifty-four. How had I not noticed that? I held the book in my hands, read the poem again, closed it, breathed, and opened it again at poem after beautiful poem which I must have read before but had completely forgotten about. It’s at times like these I believe the universe really is trying to tell me something. Something along the lines of slow down, slow down, slower. Or as Charles Wright puts it: ‘Go quietly, quietly.’