A friend wrote a poem

A friend wrote a poem so beautiful it made me want to stop writing altogether because, and I’ll quote myself, “how could I write anything with as much gravitas as these twenty lines?”

What is it about poetry that takes all the unspooling nature of human thought and emotion, that I write down in half non-sensical paragraphs and unending pages, and distills it into a metre, enjambes its thought over two lines, and delivers a gut punch with the last three stressed syllables?

I saw my friend read their poem in a pub. I was three beers deep, and anxious about another friend’s all too closeness, and the moroseness of the evening was met by the hammer tetrameter, and the power of the iambic throb in my limbic system; is this heartbeat or…?

Out into the November air, the street lamps curled like talons or gnomic fishing rods waiting to ensnare a passerby. I am ensnared in the net of my own anxiousness, and my friend is talking with our friends about somebody else’s trousers, and how’s about going back to someone else’s place for a night cap, and how’s about going back inside.

A friend wrote a poem so beautiful I felt like crying because, and I’ll quote myself, “what’s the point in dry eyes if they don’t see the world that way”

A friend wrote a poem so beautiful I felt like dying because, and I’ll quote myself, “what’s the point in wide eyes if they don’t see the world at all.”

Near Window 21

D e m o t i v a t i o n

Yo. Sorry I’ve been away, I’ve been feeling pretty demotivated. I don’t really know what to write apart from « I watched tiger king and read a book and thought about what will happen when this is all over »

I feel like I’ve written a lot of lovely things about feeling bored, but writing about boredom is boring. I am bored of doing it. I’m sure you’re a bit bored of reading it. Besides, today I feel really sad, and writing anything at all has made my nose itch and Judas tears start to bud at my tear ducts so… you know, not sure I’m too hot on this any more. I’m sorry.

I went for a walk this morning. The trees are in leaf and I nearly cried and their newly minted green goodness and thought that things might be easier if I was a tree.

If I was a tree I could stand outside in the weather and wave my arms in the wind like a child. If I was a tree I’d shut myself up inside myself in the winter, draw all my sap to the core and wait it out sleeping. If I was a tree I’d grow new leaves every year and in some way be reborn in the spring. If I was a tree you could look inside and see my rings and see how long I’ve been living here. If I was a tree there’d be no obligation to isolate because I’d have no friends anyway because I’d be a tree.

Trees are witnesses, but they do not engage. Trees don’t write blogs for no one to read and they don’t try to have careers and they don’t have lives for people to approve or disapprove of. Trees don’t have to make decisions and they do t have to listen to anyone and they don’t have to do anything except make oxygen and even that I think they do without thinking too much about it.

It might be quite nice, i think.

To b a tree.

Near Window 9

Caribou, confinement, and the coming of spring

“It is spring, that is to say that it is approaching THE BEGINNING”

Scrolling through Twitter at some god awful hour this morning I saw a green and yellow painting of daffodils. Mottled grey blue of sky and brown thatch of distant trees reminiscent of the arrival of spring in William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All :

Under the surge of the blue

Mottled clouds driven from the

Northeast – a cold wind. Beyond, the

Waste of broad, muddy fields

Brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

David Hockney, confined in Normandy, has painted the archetypal spring view, reminiscent to me of Lent fasting, of school holidays, of spring fairs. Of the becoming and the returning of the spring; new and old at the same time. He’s called the painting Do remember they can’t cancel the spring. The painting is joyful, yet there’s a restraint in Hockney’s iPad stylings that isn’t usually there, a pared back response to the view he’s been presented with. Hockey in confinement paints in starker, more drab colours. There is no true joy in the coming of this uncancelled spring. The joy of yellow cannot combat the sadness of brown.

I went out today, into the quiet of a Parisian morning, cold edged air like the cracking of an eggshell. The streets are deserted as they never have been, everyone inside and fearful, but the morning is as glorious as any one I’ve seen. The sun barely up, the sky itself pale with its own becoming. I had that familiar loosening feeling, of the ending of the long winter, and the upward spiral into spring; and then I remembered I had one hour within which to move around, to buy bread and loo roll and milk and then turn on my heels for home. I was unreeling from my insides, but tethered to the safety of home. Out on furlough for eggs and bread.

A few weeks ago, pre confinement, Matt @xenogothic tweeted something about Caribou’s new album Suddenly, that resonated with how I felt about it: full of spring bops, but tethered to an innate sense of melancholia that seeps through the alum with every subsequent listen.

The album stakes its emotional territory lyrically, and through the clever use of windy samples in “lime”, or Sunday morning soul in “home” to place you in a memory, whilst making the moment of that memory happen in the present. In a google hangout yesterday my friend was talking of the semantics of nostalgia making the memory always already present, so its tatters to the past become meaningless almost in the act of remembering. Another friend with whom I’ve been writing letters has written some questions to me about this to, like :

How do you know what was real? How do you protect memories from new feelings that will ultimately twist it? How do you travel in time throug memory without altering the memory?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I don’t think it’s us who travels in time, but the memory. We’re always on the surface, weathered by the ghostly returning of past/future moments: spectral weathers (if you’ll let me name check my own book?)

Suddenly is suffused with memory, with a retrospective glance inward, and feels, when listening to it, like an album made inside someone who’s been listening in on pop music and has made an album that orbits it: not part of it, but born of it. Apologetic soliloquies to sisters, mothers humming lullabies, the four to the floor of the club still reverberating in your bones as you lie in bed waiting for the room to stop spinning, an elegy to emotion, and rawness. Dan Snaith (the man behind caribou), when he sings, seems to me like he’s whisper singing in the confessional, or right into my ear. The fragility of his voice caught in close miced glory, and more often than not without reverb or delay. Dry, soft, and conversational, like whispering in the night to keep anxiety at bay.

I especially get this feeling in “Sister”, the albums opener, where Snaith whisper sings:

Sister, I promise you, I’m changing

You’ve heard broken promises, I know

Like a conversation had late at night, in response to a sister saying they’re worried about you. The rolling progressional chords and steady heartbeat like rhythm seeming a metaphor for revolution, and not the kind of revolution that overthrows governments or changes the world, but the kind that turns the world again, continues the revolution of a cycle. It feels like a mirror held up to life in confinement; the beating of my heart, the tick of the clock, and the cyclical shift of the sun as it revolves in the room. 

“You & I” has a sense of the opening approach of spring, the synth chords warm and bouncy like the first day you can go out without a coat on. The arpeggiated chimes that punctuate the verses and chorus sounding like sunlight through freshly grown leaves, calm and calming, yet its chorus and outgrown derail this feeling of warmth and comfort by pushing us into a feeling of high tempo anxiety, discordant rush, snatches of voice. The end feels like the upcycling of a Bond climax, all running and car chases and guns and thrill. A final sampled “Hey!” Echoing into the void before opening into the inherent melancholia of the opening of “Sunny’s Time”. The piano warped like an old record rattling on a gramaphone that you’ve left too long in the garage. The speakers are damp, and it sounds as though the sound has to travel through time to reach the present moment; from the becoming of its recording, to the moment of its hearing. 

Spring whilst seeming like the happiest of new awakenings, freshness, beginning again, it also seems to be suggested with the melancholy of endings. There’s an old English folk song I heard sung once in my local pub by a man with no teeth that caught, for me, that sense of euphoric release; albeit one that knows it cannot last. 

The primrose blooms, the cowslips too,

The violets in their sweet retire,

the roses shining through the briar,

And the daffodown-dillies which we admire will die and fade away.

These lines, in acknowledgement of the temporary nature of the coming of spring are reminiscent of the scant lines sung by Snaith in “Sunny’s Time”

It all found me since I’ve been gone.

I’ll be back when this is all done.

“Sunny’s Time” slides itself into “home” with a relative danceability. It feels like coming throug the door with a baguette, and an avocado and a box of eggs, the coffee on to brew, windows flung wide to let in the new spring breezes; but with the bitter sweetness of wishing there were someone there to spend that morning with you, and a particular someone at that. Like the first lonely Sunday morning after a breakup, when you’ve gotten past the getting drunk phase and your friends have deemed that you could do to be left alone a bit, you wake up with not much to do, and a wish to do not much with someone that isn’t satisfied by eggs on toast. It’s the beauty of a good morning undercut with a lonely melancholia; like putting on happy music that only makes you cry. This is further compounded by the sample of Gloria Barnes singing “Baby I’m home, I’m home, I’m home”. The final time you hear this sample, it’s cut short with a gothic cut off, sending an echo like a door slam into the following guitar chords, pitch shifting like a memory. It’s like someone’s last words, like they’re ready to tap out: baby I’m home. 

Perhaps this melancholia is part and parcel of spring, a cruel season, in that it rips us raw: raw winds, on new skin. This is how the wasteland starts, 

Breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain

Like parents whipping us up and pulling back duvets to get ready for school, the world outside the cocoon of duvet is still too brutal, too cold, and too concrete. Winter, though brutal, is the season for dormant dreaming. I spend the three months of hibernation waiting for the spring, though – dreaming of bluebells. Is it as Emily Brontë says: that “there’s a spell in the purple heath” that burrows down inside us, “to wildly; sadly dear” that yearns for its partner found in springtime? Brontë mourns the coming of spring when she is without it. The “cold sun” with its “chill” beams, the “dreary sky” is “frozen”. The long winters make me feel this way, too. Chilled to my bones, warming myself at the first few rays of sun, almost kissing the daffodils and bluebells when they first show their bright faces above the mud. It’s driving me mad to be so separate from it. Yet even Brontë notes the “transient brilliancy” of spring, and of spring sunshine sliding swiftly over the garden wall. Spring is beautiful in its ephemerality. The Hauntology always revenant whose joy in arrival is tempered and haunted by the knowledge of its passing. 

In “Never come back” the lines “and you never come back, and you never come back to” are repeated ad infinitum, it’s the feeling of losing the spring once it’s come, like being at the afters , intertwined on a sofa in someone elses’s house whose name you don’t know. Early morning sunshine beaming behind closed curtains, a sliver of dust filled gold breaking onto a table littered with beer cans and ashtrays.

In Williams’ spring and all, “dazed spring approaches” almost unaware of itself, with “the stark dignity of entrance”, dually reminiscent of Hilary Duff standing at the top of the stairs in A Cinderella Story, and of the procession of the cross at the beginning of mass, leading the priest from sacristy to altar.

“Magpie” from Caribou’s Suddenly is reminiscent of this duality, and of that tethered freewheeling sense I had walking to the boulangerie this morning; a loosening of the self, whilst still being tethered to home. The song wheels in circles, shining aurally like sticking an ear in a kaleidoscope. In a way it reminds me of the beginning of “Entangled”, the second track of Gensis’ A trick of the tail. At about the half way point, though, Snaith opens out the filter on the track, which takes it from 1975 to the present moment, and it releases you from the constraints of its first half. With the shift in tone, you’re released out into the depths of sound like into an ocean, or a huge crowd. The song de-isolates you, by disconnecting you from the self and connecting you with something outside of yourself, something that sleeps back to you, and almost cradles you.

The mood of Suddenly is almost entirely sweet, the chord progressions are so warm that, listening in my bed under a square of sunlight, I slip in between the grooves of the songs and hang there. Strung out on synths. Snaith’s control, and measured pacing, and restraint almost feels like he’s in confinement too. Like there’s something holding him back from unspooling himself into the tracks. That’s the feeling I had with some of the tracks on Our Love and Swim. In reality I feel like he’s in a space as small as mine, with the front door locked and the windows open only a crack.

The final track, “Cloud Song” is the only song that really embodies a release, a slack in snaith’s tight control. It opens with the close miced voice that seems to characterize the album, just him singing in my ears as the synths return to that cyclical pattern as found in “Sister”, the album turning and returning to the beginning as the chord progressions do. “When you’re alone with memories”, he sings, “I’ll give you a place to rest your head.” The place to rest your head is here. Not to be away from memory, but to converge in a collective practice of remembering. Dan Snaith’s personal traumas are writ large upon this album, but sung softly and quietly. His traumas become our traumas, and the act of opening them out allows us to share in them, and share ours within them.

The cyclic return of the chord progression is as smooth and azure as the water on Suddenly’s cover. Kaleidoscopic and rushing into the build of “Cloud Song”, the music slides in between me and the world: trills of synth like birds calling, or radio signals clogging the airwaves. Dissonant in repetition. Sliding.

He sings:

“Nothing’s granted an eternity, nothing lasts it all will fade.

And yet it always ends too early.”

The spring outside the window rises like a Gershwin clarinet solo in response, so clean and clear I feel I almost pour out into it. What of the spring un-sprung, of the world unturned? Rather, what of the world turning without me, and me unable to break the winter chrysalis. Spring playing out there, and orchestra without audience – an unheard soliloquy – a film with the sound turned down.

The first spring of a new decade, unexperienced and lost. A necessary loss, one we must do, but a loss all the same.

In a way Caribou’s Suddenly is 2020s perfect spring/summer album. Seeking an escape, but confined. A spring sounding elegy to lost moments, lost memories, lost things. “I wish that you were here by my side”. “Do you ever miss me like I miss you?” I listen to it and I hear all the moments I won’t have, and I hear all the moments I am having, and all the moments I have had and will have, all existing in the cacophony of now.

In my apartment the spring turns his shoulder and shifts his weight away from the window, sliding himself into another crisp March night. The north wind blows chill through the window, and I close them. I put on “Sister” and begin the cycle again.

And yet, it always ends to early

Excerpts from journeys

1st January  2019

Birmingham to Oxford

Sometimes I’ll be doing something like riding a train homewards. gazing out of the window at the sun sinking lower into the horizon, listening to David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ at the point where Bowie sounds like he’s going to cry, or like the very act of his singing is going to rip him open, and I think I’m going to cry, or rip myself open, and I wonder if I’m real at all.

In the distance, where low banked clouds look as though they’re blocking out the sun in its final death throws, shafts of light pierce through the gloaming clouds. In the blurred blueness of that middle distance, I seem to see iterations or reincarnations of myself dotted through the landscape. I am tree, I am river, I am field, I am hedgerow. I am out there, instead of in here. Even in here, in the train I mean, becomes less real as I push myself through the glass to be out there.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m gone from these places already, and that every visitation is simply a revisitation in the climb through my life. I meander in a pattern from my deathbed to my childhood and beck again – like how in Quantum Leap Sam Beckett leaps through the loop of his life where the tangles touch. Living isn’t about disentangling one’s life to make it straight and true like some kind of journey. Living a human life is about leaping from point to point, where the tangles meet – or at least I think so.

 

5th December 2018

Copenhagen – London

Flying alone is like leaving the world for a while. You exist on a simulated plain that is somehow disconnected from country, or nation. You are borderless, placeless, personless. Not in the same way that you are on a boat when you’re in international waters, and not in the same way as when you fly with friends. Flying alone is different.

Now, I am aware that I am still tracked with my passport, and it says who I am and where I came from, and which nation state I belong to – but there is something about the disconnect between one place and another that isn’t achieved through any other mode of travel. To do so alone is almost like disconnecting yourself entirely from one kind of music via your headphone jack, and into another.

To be alone in a place of hellos and goodbyes and final moments and first moments is to exempt yourself from the flurry of human experience for a while. In here, I am an other. I entered alone, saying no goodbyes, and I will arrive alone on the other side saying no hellos. In a way, I feel like I will be gestated within the belly of the plane and reborn on new soil – reterritorialised onto familiar terrain.

 

2nd December 2018

Stockholm to Malmö

Watching birds drop off of telegraph wires like flakes of it falling to the ground. Except not falling, but flying. I always used to think they looked like notes on staves and here they are disconnecting themselves from formalised tune and becoming free.

Flying music.

Open notes.

Denoted. De~noted.

Unmarked.

 

21st October 2018

London to Oxford

I hurtle away from the city like an arrow, reaching outwards over countryside as if shot from an inordinately large bow. I am tetherless. I know I will land at my destination and resume an old life, a life that has not been mine for what feels like millennia and, if I’m honest, could easily be mistaken for someone else’s.

This is a leap of faith.

I feel like I’m riding this train into the void. Nothing visible through the windows but the inky blackness of an October evening, stretching into infinity, or not stretching at all. I ride a wormhole home.

I don’t know if I know what I’m doing. Zips of light come out either side. Other trains, full of other people going to other places. We’re void dancing. Tight-rope walking over chasms.

I said a plaintive goodbye to an awful lot of people today. I had an eerie watchfulness whilst doing so, as though I were waiting for someone to jump out and say that I didn’t have to go. I didn’t have to leave. But I left anyway. As I was walking away from my house I thought I heard someone calling my name. Not a voice I recognised, but I still turned and looked back at it. Not my house anymore, thought I. Whilst this filled me with a modicum of happiness, for I have not been happy there – it is more the locale of the house itself which upset me, and I was reminded of all that I was leaving within that tiny little terrace on the outskirts of London suburbia. I entered into melancholia – nostalgia is a drug. Yet, I didn’t feel like I was leaving. I felt like I was going about my normal everyday life, wandering down to the bus stop to take me into town to see a friend, to laugh, and to have a final beer.

This was a day of finals. The final train, the final ticket, the final goodbye.

 

29 October 2017

London to Oxford

Sometimes I think that it is not I that moves, but the world instead, on some unseen track whirling beneath me. You don’t really get the same feeling in a car; you can see everyone else bumbling along in their cars in the same way that you are in yours, and it shatters the illusion.

In a train it is as though the countryside unfolds from the inner city. High rises collapsing away into suburbia, that too melting into hills and fields. The track that I travel on, unfurling from the front of the train, cuts a narrow furrow through the familiar green-brown countryside.

All at once, the hedge sided track bursts forth from the sky reflecting flood plains by the M25, untangles itself from the charred bones of industrial graveyards, and I am struck by the overarching sky. Every shade of blue encapsulated in a late autumn landscape. I come, this time, on the tail of the turning year. The last day of daylight saving time. Some leaves still cling to the bare branches of trees in a last-ditch attempt to fool the innocent onlookers that summer still reigns.

Yet there, standing alone in a field emulating some drab scare-crow, bare arms impeaching the sky: a leafless ash.