I was up at half past four this morning to get to Shooter’s Hill. There they hold a car boot sale and I’ve never seen such a depressing array of people in my life. I was selling books – good ones. I had Kazuo Ishiguro and Mark Haddon, Orwell and Albom. I was selling them for £1.00, though I was willing to accept 50p in some cases. A woman said she liked Steven King and I recommended ‘Bag of Bones’ for the princely sum of 70p. Her face dropped. Whilst I understood that it was a car boot sale, and it was early in the morning and we were all in a particularly grim corner of Greenwich (about five minutes from where Stephen Lawrence was murdered) – I couldn’t understand the pessimism, the desperation and the petty haggling that was going on. This is a first world country! A couple squabbled over ten pence. I said thirty, they said twenty. I won, hooray for me, but they got away with a pretty good bit of glass that I could have sold elsewhere, in conditions less apt for suicide.
Jackie Kay tonight @ La Danza. If ever there was an example of a performance poet it’s her; she reads so well; she has gravity and presence without being sombre or facetious; her accent is novel; she tells sweet stories about her parents; her set must have been something like an hour long and it didn’t feel like it. During the interval I got speaking to some of Helen’s friends and one asked whether I was a performance poet. I am beginning to reject the title. Reading is as much a performance as having a prop stashed backstage to whip out sentimentally, or metaphorically or ironically. It’s as much a performance as shouting in to the microphone or running around. My point: being on stage is necessarily a performance and Jackie Kay – who is straightforward and curious enough to look at it – does it well.
There was dancing afterwards. I left. On the train home I finished reading ‘Gift Songs’ by John Burnside. It’s been nominated for the Forward Prize and I was asked to do a little review for Culture Wars. I might never have picked it up, but I’m glad it was suggested as it’s a beautiful book. The blurb reads: ‘In his tenth collection, John Burnside begins with an interrogation of the gift song, treating matters of faith and connection, the community of living creatures and the idea of the free church – where faith is placed, not in dogma or a possible credo, but in the indefinable.’ To exemplify:
‘Nobody sees the angel face to face,
it’s mostly induction, a reading of clues and signs
as, after the fact, he remembers the sea as it was
On a specified morning, two or three seasons ago:’
- Le Croisic, I : Sacred
I have been thinking about fiction, literature, the inner life and how making things up is actually mad and ritualistic. I don’t profess any faith when I fill in forms or when I shout at the TV and side with whatever beleaguered atheist is called upon to speak – but I am growing partial to this idea of, not worshipping, but trying to understand (really understand) all the stuff we make up. What for? To paraphrase EM Forster, we’re creatures who spend two thirds of our time in the dark. To flatly state that you only believe in what’s physical (which I have been doing for some time now) is a mistake and the fact of our dreaming should make that apparent.