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

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


A Reprieve

Suddenly tranquillity –
floating after drowning –
caught between realities
in the bitter waters of
unrealized dreams and private fears,
fighting the urge to panic.

Panting with fear –
now you're there –
where you thought you wanted to be.

But in the dark you give up hope
and let the waters take you.

27 April 1986

Alban-Grosdidier-Graine-de-PhotographeThis is the fourth of the Drowning Man Poems. I have no memories concerning this poem. I couldn’t tell you when it was started or where or what prompted it. I wasn’t depressed when I wrote this although I may well have been down, scunnered as we Scots say which is probably closer to pissed off than anything else but it’s a wonderful word. I have been depressed and for years but even in my worst depressions there will be these moments when the fog clears and you wonder what you did right so you can maybe do it again the nest time things start to get extra bad. Of course you did nothing. There are no magic words or gestures. Sometimes the fog lifts and the best advice I can give anyone when it does is to make the most of it because it won’t last (until one day it does last and you realise the depression is over).

For weeks I’d been struggling with a single question: What do I feel? I can say that now. Now it seems to be obvious what the question was but not then. All I knew was that I was drowning in emotions, downing but not dying. Being lost in the fog would’ve been a better metaphor—no one dies from contact with fog itself—but you write what you write and try to make sense out of it later.

Don’t like that I used ‘fear’ twice in quick succession. Should’ve caught that.


Kass said...

At first, I thought you were referring to recent events in Paris. Then I realized it was more personal and it reminded of a self-absorbed, hormonal poem I posted several years ago.
Floating In Tears

Anonymous said...

Despite your doubling down on "fear," this is a fine poem. All the drowning poems I've seen are resonant, fraught, but not depressing. Do you know Brendan Kennelly's book The Man Made of Rain? Similarly resonant and fraught but not as effective, maybe (depending on one's taste): his book feels like a book of fictions, but your poems feel ... well, real, that is, absolutely authentic....

Jim Murdoch said...

I have very few poems that could be classed as remotely political, Kass. It’s a subject I shy away from. Enough people want to talk during times of crisis and I never find I have anything to add or even contribute; the obvious is usually quite enough. Not that even stating the blindingly obvious does any good. If it did we would’ve solved the world’s problems years ago because the solutions aren’t that complex in most cases, nothing that a few hundred billion dollars wouldn’t sort out. As God says in my novel, “It’ll take more than another book to sort all that. They’ve been churning them out for thousands of years. If a book was to be the salvation of humankind I think it might have gone and got itself written by now.”

And, Joe, I’m glad you’ve been enjoying The Drowning Man Poems. And I’ll take “authentic” to mean a genuine attempt to come to grips with something. In that respect I can’t think of a poem I’ve ever written that hasn’t been a real experience. And the more turmoil my life was in at the time the better with one exception when I couldn’t write for years but all I was doing was saving stuff up and everything came pouring out afterwards which is why I don’t fret overly much about not writing. I’ve not read The Man Made of Rain, nor, to the best of my knowledge, any poetry by Brendan Kennelly although from what I’ve found online he does seem like my kind of chap. Not read very much this year at all apart from research for the novel. I took some of your poetry with my the last time I picked up Carrie from the airport and even that was hard because my mind kept drifting but I did stick a receipt in Thread of the Read to remind me to tell you how much I enjoyed ‘Lost Time’ (which I see appears here under the title ‘Signals’). It’s a wonderful poem, a poem I would’ve loved to have written myself and now never can.

Anonymous said...

My mind drifts a lot naturally. I have a stack of ... let's see ... 11 books on the floor by my bed, all of them with bookmarks sticking out. It's not their fault: each of them is good and I'm enjoying them all, but you know—the phone rings, a knock comes at the door, the dog suddenly throws herself at the sliding glass door barking like a maniac. Sorry, Percival Everett! Sorry, Doc Williams! Sorry, Maryanne Wolf! And then there's the other distraction, my own mind, a phrase will set it off, the sound of it alone sometimes, and I'm hauling out my notebook to write it down, and half the time this causes a spate of my own writing that almost never goes anywhere but feels better than the great pleasure of reading. I'm glad that one of those spates produced "Lost Time" so that it could distract you into it in a Scottish airport while waiting for Carrie.

Did you see that Paris readers are turning to Hemingway in the wake of the terrorist attacks?


Jim Murdoch said...

I was a little puzzled by that, Joe, until I learned that the French title is Paris is a Party. One wonders what the message might’ve been had they started leaving Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris at memorial sites. It’s interesting how the public does this, how they repurpose a work of art. They did it in 1985 with Live Aid. Suddenly ‘Drive’ by The Cars had been appropriated by the masses to mean something else entirely.

Ping services