Written Word Spoken

In order to secure event funding for a show in a Gdansk Art Centre in 2008, I was asked to give a presentation ahead of the performance outlining my relationship to the written word. In the end, the money was transferred before the performance so the spoken word event became surplus to requirement.

The poems that feature in the text were originally published in Chapman, a Scottish literary magazine edited by Joy Hendry

Good evening
I was a child of Lorca…
El mundo es chicquita, y el Corazon es inmenso


The world, to my younger eyes was small, and the heart immense.


I removed myself from consideration and approached the heart as a third party. I spoke of “the heart” more often than I would “my heart”.


This, I realise, was to do with a weak and watery sentimentality that still allows me to weep in front of the television, in front of my sleeping children, walking through graveyards, gazing from train windows. Every waking moment carries a whisper of death. But you learn to live with that.


My way of living with it was to raise this idea of the heart well above my own head and praise it like a deity. I pulled my own heart out – this filthy beating thing that weakened me – and sought to have it treat me with a little more respect by dressing my self as the penitent pilgrim, come to pay homage with my little lines…


The Heart
Sparrow pulse, leaning pylon, industry of the heart


My life is cut
On telephones
And training of the heart


The wires that rub
Along the length
Of journeys of the heart


The voice is lost
In distances
With static of the heart


I lost my mind
And money
Following my heart


My mother pleads
For me to turn
My back upon the heart


She hates the pain
That enters me
With movements of the heart


I am a slave
to memory
And those who move the heart


I only feed
On energy
To gorge this hungry heart


I don’t regret
The years I killed
Quarrying the heart


Never am I
In surrendering the heart


Within a thousand
I give to you this heart


And though I’m poor
And ruined
I still hold up this heart


However long
I live here
I will empty out my heart


The carpet soaked
And bloody
With the debris of the heart


It was easy to maintain this distant grace as a lonely teenager raised on the moon and the smell of sheep. I think if I ever had the semblance of a self it dissolved further when I first moved into the city.


The city, like the heart, was something beyond my control. Something that I sought to tame by working it into the myth of my own existence. The heart and the city became one;


There is a Heart
There is a heart in the city
Lie Forever
There is a heart under the city
Lie forever breathing
There is a heart that beats underfoot, in your steps,
Matching your pace with a pulse in the city
Lie forever breathing
At the mercy of stone
Dreaming of home
Waiting for snow
Aching to turn
And open your days
In the heart of this city
(heartbeat and snowfall)

This dissolving of self features in the great Sufi tradition of love poetry. They couldn’t figure out whether they were talking about God, or more earthly love and seemed happy to leave the distinguishing details vague and pretty and perfumed.


But the singular impact of love was to dissolve the individual. The self had to die.  A process known as Fana


I am feeling somewhat dead in your room
You step around me like clothes
Waiting to be folded
And closed into drawers.


I would welcome the dark drawer air
And the smell of your underwear


I am feeling somewhat dead in your arms
You lift me like the dolls
You always meant to put away
In boxes, in attics


I would welcome steep walls
And a hole in the floor


I am feeling somewhat obscene in this death
I remain still for days
Devising ways to rise before you
And affirm that my heart is alive
And in need of all in your name


But too happy the man is I
To be lost in you.
I sit in your clothes
In the dark, under the roof
And wait to cross your mind again

I maintained a growing cannon of one line events that never made it to the end of the page, never made it into a greater form.


There is still snow on the borders of April, There are still friends on the tightrope of comfort…that was 1984


Other fragments survived as single and half verses. I was never gripped with the tyrannical need to have the work finished, complete, whole. Not with words.


… I fall with the untouched
Who grow damp on the ghost of my hand
As I move those accidental fingers
In the crack of my old false memories…


… There is something grander than sleep here. There is the glow of a two bar fire in winter. There is the steam on her breasts as the machinery tightens…


Little porno snippets from a hungry boy who thought that pretty poems would eventually open up the legs of every girl in town. There was always a motive for writing that sat outside the verse itself, sat outside the words.


What needst thou more covering than a man


That’s John Donne. The line sits amidst pages of verse, fragrant and rotten as a forgotten fruit bowl. But I think that one line would have got him laid.
Single words can become peculiarly charged with significance in the myth that our lives become. What words act as keystones in your own myth?


Snow, pylon, stone, winter, headlamp.


As much as a photographic portrait, it is possible to know who a person is by their keywords;


Naked, sparrow, war, thigh – who else but Leonard Cohen?


Moon, ant, guitar, gypsy – who else but Lorca?


Virus, hard-on, space – who else but William Burroughs?


Death. Meticulous. Orient. Malevolent – it has to be Paul Bolwes


With so much portentous information in single words, why construct the full package? Why go on with the novel, the poem, the play, the project. The word is nothing more than a suggestion, and the meaning is open – necessarily open – unavoidably open – to interpretation. Our delicate selves, our malleable identities that drift like silt on the deeper, darker pools of the id, the archetype, are too susceptible to suggestion.


Those who seek to work with words alone, are those who seek to move you. I mean move you from your place and put you somewhere else. Somewhere where they want you to be. They want to control you. Every time the troubadour opens his mouth he is trying to position another being on the bed. Nothing more.


The written word solicits a change of opinion. A word can never be exact. Not in English at least. But where words become the most persuasive is when they weave and swim and release multple triggers, each meaningless in itself, but part of a persuasive whole. Here is the lie of the poets. Here is the alignment of form and texture to present a controlling influence.


I had and have no interest in influencing the opinion of any living thing. Not even here. I grew up as a witness. I removed anything that sought to melt me, and I worshipped it in the third person. The heart. The soul. The woman. The black mountain. The kneeling battalions of distant city lights as the plane begins its descent. I sit apart from it all and I try to make as few ripples as possible.



The Fisherman and the Blacksmith

There is no truth that the soul can sing
The truth of the soul is the pain of hooks
And iron furnace barbarism.


Here is the hammer,
Here are the nails,
Break me, little one.


Hunt for me in dark oceans
And draw me in on hooks.
Open me like an oyster


Draw from me a broken song
With hammers and your fire


Bend me when I am beaten
Lift me from red ribbons
And nail me to your foot

I am yours, nail me down
Walk on me,
Your steps will raise
This broken song


The soul is not engaged
In slow and easy love
The heart is not embraced by peace


The soul is a beast that lives on raw hearts
It wants to eat your family
And torture you with longing


The soul swims
In deep water
Sounding for a mate


Wearing down
It’s teeth
On the bodies drifting down


The soul is just a beast that cannot understand
The beauty of the mind
Or the passing of morning


The soul is lost in the Dark Age
And only knows the hurt
It can bear and wage.


Its mediaeval patience
Burning with the candles,
At home amidst the furnace as the black deep of the sea


It lives on hearts
And wets its teeth
When it can feel us moving


It will not rise for music
It settles on the pen
Its only contribution here




Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It is that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps 4 or 5 times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.
Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky