Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 22 July 2015



Mariko sat quietly on the Silent Way:
A tiny figure framed by a sea.
My only focal point.

Sitting with herself
in a strange sense of place...

11 June 1983

This poem sits in the middle of two rather ugly pieces, ‘For the World is Hollow…’ (#547) and ‘Chained in the Brain’ (#549). I have no idea where this one came from or what I was trying to say in it. The word ‘atonement’ is one I believe my father defined for me as ‘at + one + ment’, to atone is to return to a state of single mindedness. My dad was not a language expert—far from it—but every now and then he surprised me even if his explanations were sometimes questionable: ‘woman’ = ‘womb + man’. The etymology of the word suggests otherwise but there’s something sweet about his reasoning.

ForeverPeople1Cover_smlAt the time Mariko would have been about the only female Japanese name I would’ve known. I took it from the X-Men comic—the character first appears in X-Men #118—where she’s Wolverine’s love interest. As a kid I’d bought Marvel and DC comics when I could get them but there was only one newsagent in the whole town in the whole town that sold them and you were lucky to get two consecutive issues of any title but I remember reading issues of Batman and The Fantastic Four and some of Jack Kirby’s stellar work from that time. I started collecting seriously after I was married. I was looking for a hobby, something to take me away from the work, work, work I was doing, and collecting comics felt suitably indulgent and they were still realistically prices (about 35p each). It was a good time to get back into comics too. Frank Miller took over writing duties on Daredevil with issue #165 (July 1980) and Chris Claremont began work on his Dark Phoenix Saga with X-Men #129 (January 1980).

‘The Silent Way’ is made up. I was looking for a Japanese-sounding place name and that was what I came up with. I was never happy with it or the poem in general. I felt out of my comfort zone. I’d read very little Japanese-style poetry—mostly poems by Ezra Pound—and so why I was trying out this form of poetry at this time in my life quite bewilders me.


Kass said...

Sense of place - sense of self - always a bit mysterious in your view and account.

Jim Murdoch said...

There’s a decent enough idea lurking here, Kass, but this isn’t really a style I’m comfortable with. It’s more of a setting and less of a poem. The reader has to do just a little too much work for my tastes. In general I don’t much care for this type of poetry but if we don’t experiment from time to time we can stagnate. Or at least become one-trick ponies. I suspect this might be an old poem I’ve finished off. It really feels out of place when you look at the surrounding pieces which are dark and unsettling. Soon I meet a new love interest and the tone changes although the quality slumps at times (there’s nothing worse than being too keen to express your love) so I can see me skipping over some of my more cringeworthy efforts.

Ken Armstrong said...

I like it. It's got a sense of 'distance' and 'perspective' in it.

If you can relate to comic books then I can relate it to an old Cowboy joke which hadd lots of riding-away and coming back again and which ended with the line, "Oh, Roy, give us a song before you go."

The thing they had in common was that they both felt there was a lot of space in them, a lot of acreage.

Jim Murdoch said...

It always surprises me which poems of mine people connect with, Ken. Often it’s ones I have little time for and it’s years before I can start to see what others noticed right away. You’re right about the space in this one. What caught my eye this time was the fact the narrator is present within the landscape—“My only focal point”—as opposed to being merely a detached observer; he is within the poem and without. It’s a small point but it raises questions. Too many poems feel like paintings and despite the detail included you can’t help but feel apart from as opposed to a part of the poem. The odd thing is—I find this anyway—when a poem is written in the first person I never take on the role of “I”, I always read it from a safe distance. It’s a challenge and one prose writers face too. I’m always very aware that what we have here is a device, an artificial construct, that simulates rather than replicates. At the start of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams kills six billion people but the enormity of that is simply shrugged off. I don’t think I’ve ever cried reading a book. It’s not because I’m a macho man—I’ve cried watching a film (the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest can still choke me up)—but books (and poems and stories), to quote Beckett, “stink of artifice”. Or maybe it’s just me. I know of one woman who cried both times she got to the end of Living with the Truth. I’m flattered but puzzled at the same time. I remember reading about J.K. Rowling crying when she killed off one of her characters in the fifth book. I still don’t get that.

Ken Armstrong said...

Regarding my connection, the poem also evokes a place for me. It's in my hometown of Sligo. There's a road with a low sea wall and sometimes, tide permitting, there's water on both sides of the road. I pictured Mariko there.

The end of Watership Down made me tear up as a kid. It did it again when I read it to my son about ten years ago.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m afraid the setting in my poem is a completely abstract one, Ken, and that’s the case with so much of my writing which is why I avoid descriptions as much as possible. There’s a point in the book I’m working on just now where the protagonist decides to describe a woman and starts with her glasses which he probably talks about for an entire page before moving on without ever actually having described them at all. I didn’t do it deliberately but when I noticed it it tickled me so much I decided to leave it.

Never read Watership Down. Saw the film but that was years after it was released and I really don’t remember too much about it. I didn’t like the song, ‘Bright Eyes’. I mean it’s an okay song but I would rather it hadn’t been in the film. I felt the same about Last of the Mohecans. Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman do a superb job on the soundtrack and then suddenly there’s Clannad. Again, a decent song but out of place in the film IMHO. Oddly enough I don’t mind ‘One More Kiss Dear’ which was included on the Blade Runner soundtrack because it’s heard, albeit briefly, on a radio in the background and so is an integral part of the film.

Ping services