As a literature major I’d read a novel and go, ah, there’s the metaphor of breaking in and getting out. Indeed the protagonist, it occurred to me, keeps doing that and it’s like I imagine the novelist, in this case Iris Murdoch, is staging it as a central trope. The trope of imprisonment. At the beginning he is being thrown out of an apartment (read, “forced to vacate”). Then he is being literally imprisoned in another apartment he agreed to house-sit. Later he tries to enter the apartment and ends up at the fire escape eavesdropping before making a dramatic getaway when the neighbors called the police. He tries and succeeds in entering the apartment of a man whom he says this novel is about. He also tries and succeeds in gaining entry to the man’s film set. And later had to escape it dramatically. Towards the end he tries and succeeds in gaining entry to a hospital at night, and succeeds in getting away with that man in tow. There is also a dream-like quality because he seems to summon up whoever he wishes to meet, or appears at a pub at the exact time a telegram is being delivered to him. I mean, coincidences. The object of his pursuit, a lady called Anna, is really in love in with the man he says the novel is about. That’s the final denouement. So you know, the theme of the novel is the illusions that we have, that imprison us. Think about it. All the great novels (and lesser known ones) have this theme. Great Expectations. Pride and Prejudice. The Catcher In The Rye. You name it. At the end the hero/heroine matures. When this happens the world feels unreal.
Here’s a quote from the novel I was talking about, Under The Net.
“All work and all love, the search for wealth and fame, the search for truth, life itself, are made up of moments which pass and become nothing. Yet through this shaft of nothings we drive onward with that miraculous vitality that creates our precarious habitations in the past and the future. So we live; a spirit that broods and hovers over the continual death of time, the lost meaning, the unrecaptured moment, the unremembered face, until the final chop chop that ends all our moments and plunges that spirit back into the void from which it came.”
So yea, write about illusions. Or perhaps not even that way, but how the ordinary gets transmogrified when we become truly conscious.
Whaddaya know, it’s mid July. June’s pretty much wedding season. And the holiday season’s not quite over is it? Frankly the past year(s) have been illuminating. In terms of friendships, life, love, writing, whatever. And no it’s not quite over yet. Coz we’re not done living yet. I watched a Ted talk yesterday. The guy talked about human needs. The need for certainty. Sure. The need for uncertainty. Err yes, because life gets boring otherwise. The need to feel significant. Wahoo. The need for connection and love. Connection, yes. Love, too scary. I’ll leave you with a quote from Vladimir Nabokov: “At eighty-five…he saw his decline as a ripening and an apotheosis.” Hope you’re inspired to write already.
Now that you’re nearer to the end of life, does it seem like things have come full circle? Or does it seem like it takes a lifetime to untangle the mess that attends to most lives? Or maybe you’ve satisfied your work goals and you’re now looking at other ways of self-fulfilment? I mean, there’s got to be new growth at every stage of life, am I right? Or do you believe in renunciation? Or if not that, then to simplify your lifestyle? You tell me, I’m curious to know. Whatever it is, your life isn’t really settled, or is it? What have you settled and what have you not? Do you feel smug because you’ve got it all figured out? Try to answer this in a poem.
Life sometimes makes a clean sweep. So you’re forced to move on, invent new shapes. It’s kind of an upheaval. Things from the inside turned outward, so everybody’s demons came tumbling out. Anyway that’s kind of what’s on my mind due to local events. Haven’t you realized by now that there’s nowhere to hide, that eventually the truth will be out, people’s true colors will be revealed? Whatever fantasy are you living? That seemed to be the question. God holds up a huge mirror so that forces self-reflection, so either you see your faults or you go on pretending. Only you can’t pretend any longer. So write a poem that’s about change that comes from within.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains Of The Day is said to be one of the most highly regarded post-war British novels. It was made famous by the movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. It is a quietly moving story about the stirrings of the human heart. What if the heart is misguided, by blind loyalty, for instance? Does it mean that the premise of one’s existence is being taken away? In the movie, Hopkins played to perfection the butler who served with utter devotion. But it is his relationship to the housekeeper, Miss Keaton, which is of interest. Suffice to say he never moved the relationship to the next level.
“Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one’s relationship with Miss Kenton; an infinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding. There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.”
When he met Miss Keaton, now Mrs Benn, 20 years later, she seemed to be not happily married but reconciled with her married state. And he had the occasion to reflect on the life he had led. He didn’t actively regret those lost and misguided stuff on which his life was based though but set out to live out the rest of his days according to the mold he had cast for himself. Is it a worthy life? If he thinks so, so it was.
So hopefully this will make you reflect upon regrets and lost opportunities in a poem.
I guess we marvel at technical brilliance. Like say, in writing a poem, do you try to layer on the sounds, the assonances, so that when one reads there’s a subtle musicality? Do you find end rhymes appealing to the ear, especially when one’s reading them aloud? It’s kind of satisfying too, if it’s not so predictable and hence awkward? I don’t really set musicality out as a goal, but sometimes I do it because it just feels satisfying, to just drop in the assonances. I hardly ever do end rhymes. I am more driven by the flow of thought and association. So often when I start a poem I hardly know what’s the end result. The end result often surprises me. What is really a criteria for me is that a poem’s thoughtful in a way that moves me. That’s feeling I reckon. Poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility, right, Wordsworth? Make us see a bit of that magic happening in your poem, where from the dark, as it were, a feeling or thought comes to the surface.
It’s already begun–the dying. I meant our parents’ generation. I went to two wakes today. One was that of a college mate’s dad. I read his children’s eulogies which celebrated his life story–a brilliant career as a brigadier-general, a trailblazer of his generation, and a doting dad. Of course life complicates things so there’s a whole other side of the story. And you know what? What redeems all of us in the end is the love that we gave. That’s what people remember you for. Because we’re each of us capable of doing harm to others whether or not we wanted to. Think of your enemies, or those who have done you wrong in some way. It’s hard but we’re called to let go of the hate, perhaps only at some end point, when the person is about to die. The other person who died was Buddhist, and briefly took care of my kids. I remained in gratitude for her care-giving. You could talk about life’s impermanence or its fleeting beauty in your poem as you think about your own life and/or the lives of others.