We were all the first to invent poetry, weren’t we?
Some writing knows it is writing through it’s framing — writing that says “hey, look at me, recording something narratively” — a little like these Sketches by Nuar Alsadir in Granta.
Each sketch uses the framing of observing where you are not meant to (i.e. on public transport) and giving back some humanity to what feel like failings. Public spaces like the subway car, the bus, sometimes restaurants and bars, are places where people are seen and not seen at once. You know you must perform, for an audience that will see you but will not comment.
In Sketch 27 we get a bit of symmetry in the shamefulness of being caught by gravity — a universal force — and the shamefulness of being caught being caught by it at all. In public, we must always act as if a fair constant force would not effect us beyond our own wishes.
This moment is one which is judged unfairly, but known to be the only way it is judged. No one has time to think about minor follies, moments of silliness, and weigh them against the weights of a perosn tey don’t know. Not in public.
A little like a transformation of the caterpillar, which shed its skin, emerging from its own face, as grows in size before becoming a butterfly.
Apart from being a bit gross, Sketch 4 talks about the ahistorcity of the action — to emerge from oneself into public and for that to be canonical. It is when you’re out and about that you’re real.
This sits in contrast with the world we’re usually more used to being presented to us in literature, that while there is a real world, there is also an equally real one inside our head. The you looking out through the window is usually presented as more important, incorruptible and itself canonical.
“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”
My favourite expression of literature as a powerful, mind-blowing tool, by the ever quotable Emily Dickinson. I read about DIckinson’s letters again this week, in a very old issue of The Atlantic.
(as if this complete brain-dump wasn’t enough of a look inside)
This poem, by Natalie Shapero, returns to poetry’s favourite subject: mortality.
As always, it’s about having enough of everything but not feeling whole. The was we can find ourselves quantifying living things and mistakenly giving them greater or lesser value (think of how many mayflies have died today, while you did something banal like earned capital).
Which reminds me of that little diversion in a Terry Pratchett novel:
The shortest-lived creatures on the Disc were mayflies, which barely make it through twenty-four hours.
Two of the oldest zigzagged aimlessly over the waters of a trout stream, discussing history with some
younger members of the evening hatching.
“You don’t get the kind of sun now that you used to get, “ said one of them.
“You’re right there. We had proper sun in the good old hours. It were all yellow. None of this red stuff.”
“It were higher, too.”
“It was. You’re right.”
“And nymphs and larvae showed you a bit of respect.”
“They did. They did,” said the other mayfly vehemently.
“I reckon, if mayflies these hours behaved a bit better, we’d still be having proper sun.”
The younger mayflies listened politely.
“I remember, “ said one of the oldest mayflies, “when all this was fields, as far as you could see.”
The younger mayflies looked around.
“It’s still fields,” one of them ventured, after a polite interval.
“I remember when it was better fields,” said the old mayfly sharply.
“Yeah, “ said his colleague. “And there was a cow.”
“That’s right! You’re right! I remember that cow! Stood right over there for, oh, forty, fifty minutes. It
was brown, as I recall.”
“You don’t get cows like that these hours.”
“You don’t get cows at all.”
“What’s a cow?” said one of the hatchlings.
“See?” said the oldest mayfly triumphantly. “That’s modern Ephemeroptera for you. “ It paused. “What
were we doing before we were talking about the sun?”
“Zigzagging aimlessly over the water,” said one of the young flies. This was a fair bet in any case.
“No, before that.”
“Er . . . you were telling us about the Great Trout.”
“Ah. Yes. Right. The Trout. Well, you see, if you’ve been a good mayfly, zigzagging up and down
“- taking heed of your elders and betters -”
“- yes, and taking heed of your elders and betters, then eventually the Great Trout -”
“Yes?” said one of the younger mayflies.
There was no reply.
“The Great Trout what?” said another mayfly, nervously.
They looked down at a series of expanding concentric rings on the water.
“The holy sign!” said a mayfly. ”I remember being told about that! A Great Circle in the water! Thus
shall be the sign of the Great Trout!”
The oldest of the young mayflies watched the water thoughtfully. It was beginning to realise that, as the
most senior fly present, it now had the privilege of hovering closest to the surface.
“They say, “ said the mayfly at the top of the zigzagging crowd, “that when the Great Trout comes for
you, you go to a land flowing with . . . flowing with . . .”
Mayflies don’t eat. It was at a loss. ”Flowing with water, “ it finished lamely.
“I wonder, “ said the oldest mayfly.
“It must be really good there, “ said the youngest.
“ ‘Cos no-one ever wants to come back.”
That is to say, mortality is all a matter of perspective, and that if we learn to quantify life in a way which in the end, leaves us feeling un-whole, it is probably not entirely in the life we are leading, only the way we are counting it up.
Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own. That really went all over the place didn’t it? I don’t know why I am feeling so philosophical (prefix a cod if you like), but I had my first ride home to the flatland of the year today, and I am back at home where the ground seems to welcome me and the air is the right sort to get into all the gaps in my lungs. You should defo check out Sam’s poetry journal as she gets some really great stuff in (and out) every issue and it’s entirely possible she’ll be your #wcw in the poetic sense at least. As always, Etch To Their Own was written by @CJEggett and proofread by no one that you would have heard of. If you have friends, please send them this as a token of your love. If you have family, send them here to sign up, and if you have a work based email, please send them all to this url: https://medium.com/etch-to-their-own telling them that it includes details of everyone’s pay-rises, and man, you’re really embarrassed for all of them.