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POETRYETC  2001

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Subject:

Re: the nature of memory in poetry...

From:

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Reply-To:

Poetryetc provides a venue for a dialogue relating to poetry and poetics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 20 Feb 2001 11:55:43 +1100

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Some extracts from Navigatio, a novella I wrote in 1997, which is "about" memory and poetry... they are by necessity rather random, since the whole book concerns itself with these questions.

Best

Alison

It is increasingly clear to me that the border between memory and imagination does not exist in any definitive sense, but shifts, an expanding and contracting twilight.  The past is as mysterious as the future:  we never really know what happened there.  The unmediated recollections I have of England, between the ages of four and seven, are motionless, undramatic and strangely unpopulated:  other people existed as facts in my cosmos, rather than as the levers of events.  When I was old enough, I began to construct my own narratives of reality, but I have no way of knowing how close the notations here are to those I constructed then.  All this remembering exists in the present.

        All language is fiction, which is not to say it is a lie.  But behind and before language, beyond its polarities and contradictions, exists the shimmering expanse of what is.  And it is desolating to discover, as we approach the margins of presence, that what appears to be manifest is as unstable as words are, that everything we can understand is shaped by our sensual perceptions, that not even matter can be absolute.  No wonder we return, with empty hands, to language, for it is the only place where truth exists.  We already know the dilemma of words, their deceptiveness, their glamour, but perhaps within them still exists a centre where a meaning might yield itself to our seeking bodies.  Like an optometrist continually shifting lenses in front of a staring eye, I am looking for a form through which I can refract, however fleetingly, a clarity.  And this is so riddled with uncertainty:  my instruments are too crude, my sightings unverifiable, my destination unknown, and truth a horizon continuously receding before meŠ

...

As I write, I tease out a double strand:  the imaged memories, available and immediate, which constitute the construction I know as myself, and a shadow strand winding around it, which contains few or no images and is without a language.  The other is a series of gaps which becomes apparent as I write down what is visible.  There is little sense of discovery in this:  I have long been aware of these gaps within myself and have attempted to free myself from their diabolic pressures, so that I might cease a particular process of self destruction that has subtly inhabited and distorted the possibilities of my life.  I donıt believe it is possible, or even desirable, to heal them:  but in the process of discovering what they are, I hope to find a means by which I can live with them.

        But how to overcome the torment of hope?

...

In the gardens of childhood, there is no time.

Time begins suddenly.

I am looking at a picture in a magazine.  It is a black and white photograph of earth which is crazed by drought.  The cracks are so black they seem bottomless, as if they might open to the heart of the world, and the earth is completely naked and stretches to a far horizon.  Otherwise there is only sky.  The picture fills me with inchoate terror:  it has no scale and I imagine falling through the gaps.  The cracks open in my dreams, the earth rings like a great hollow bell, tolling a mysterious horror.
        This is the place we are going to.  Suddenly the fact is firmly fixed in our lives.  We will be away for three years in Australia, where the days and nights are upsidedown and the seasons are backwards.  My mother is desperately unhappy.  We will travel without my father on the ship, because he is flying over there in an aeroplane, and she will leave behind her, with a monthıs notice, the home she has so lovingly created.  Three years is unimaginable:  it is half of my life.  Perhaps we sense that we will never come back, that the house is already becoming as insubstantial as memory, perhaps we know that we will walk the woods only in our dreams, that the taste of wild hazelnuts and strawberries will haunt our palates like a forgotten language, that, after this, we will belong nowhere.
        God is loosening, like a dying tooth.

We are packing shadows into boxes.  They live in the bow-fronted chest of drawers and the mahogany sideboard, nestling between the shelves; they hide beneath the beds and in the wardrobes and behind the cushions on the sofa; they huddle with the spiders in the curtains and corners of the cupboards; they are bedded down in velvet with the silver; they slide at night behind our dressing gowns hanging from the bedroom door; they snuffle in the spaces behind the oven and the fridge; they warm themselves inside our empty clothes and curl up in our shoes to sleep; they are folded inside the sheets and towels and blankets; they are stowed inside wooden boxes and our name is stamped on them and they are taken away.

        We are on a train:  we are in a hotel room.  There is a narrow bathroom at the end of a gloomy passage.  We go to the zoo and see the white entrance gates: we stand outside a palace and watch the guards on their horses:  we walk down a flight of steps into the waxworks and see the red light flickering over Nelsonıs death at Trafalgar.

        We are at the docks.  There are multitudes of people and a huge white ship called the Orcades.  There is a gangplank shifting slightly on the dock.  Our father comes with us to the ship and puts our luggage in the cabin.  Everything is very small:  the beds are narrow bunks and there is scarcely any floor.  A tiny bathroom leads off the cabin.  Our porthole is level with the sea and the waves splash over it.  There is a smell of brine and fresh paint.

        We are standing on the deck, leaning over the painted rails.  We are waving.  On either side of us, everyone is waving.  On the dock, my father is waving, my grandparents, my uncles and aunts and cousins.  The gangplank is carried up on deck, the rope is cast off, the tugboats are pulling us out into the harbour.  The green choppy water opens between us and the dock:  suddenly it is much, much wider, suddenly we are loosed from the shore.  We are still waving at the people on the dock, but we can no longer distinguish their faces:  we can no longer separate their bodies from the knots of colour on the quay:  they are smaller and smaller:  and then they are gone.

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