I lost two cities, lovely ones

Saturday, 24 October 2015

In July I read a poem every day. I picked most of them at random: either choosing a title I liked from one of the poetry books around the house, or asking friends for a suggestion. Once or twice I just stumbled upon a poem online (like Anya Silver’s 'Doing Laundry in Budapest' which then led to an afternoon reminiscing about a childhood summer in Hungary).


Although, as I say, I found most of the poems that month by accident, it was interesting (and also a little unsettling at the time) how so many of the poems seemed to speak to the theme of loss. Poems about the meaning of it, the inevitability of it. Loss of certainty, loss of love, loss of objects and people and a clear sense of self. I wasn’t sure if that meant anything. Maybe I was just hyper-sensitive to that theme – being worried in July about losing, about being lost – or if it was just a strange coincidence. Maybe it’s just the case that all writing grows out of a sense of loss; whether it mentions the word or not, the shadow of it lingers somewhere nearby.


Anyway – I write all that as a lead in to say that I’m going to try and go back to reading a poem every morning. The one that I read today was ‘One Art’ by Elizabeth Bishop, a poem that starts with the line: ‘The art of losing isn’t hard to master...’ I've read it before, and I like the rhythm of it. It also reminds me a little of something I wrote back in April actually, about losing buttons. I thought I’d share it with you (read it twice. Read it aloud): 



One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.


(Pictures are by illustrator Alice Ferrow.)

there's a colour in your eyes that nobody knows but me.

Monday, 19 October 2015





For a while there, the world lost its colour. Everything looked a bit grey and washed out. September was quite a disorientating month. It shook things up and, for one reason or another, at various points throughout its days, it left me crying in random places – on a ferry, wind in my hair, while waving goodbye to three figures I love on the pier; in the car during rush-hour, slumped at the steering wheel after a heart-open conversation, a salt-trail winding down my throat; in my room, packing books and vests and shoes into bags and boxes, the thought properly hitting me: ‘I am leaving tomorrow. I’m leaving, I’m leaving. And what happens now?’; on the edge of my bed that first night after clicking on the stars my Dad had unpicked from my wall back home and helped to string up here, in my new room in the city. 




(‘You need your stars, Lissa,’ my Mum said when I was in a quandary about bringing them. ‘I know that for myself. Sometimes, you just need your stars...’)


I was talking to my new class recently – in our workshop on ‘setting’ – about how there’s not really one ‘true’ way to see the world. Your surroundings look (and feel and taste and smell and sound) different depending on what day, and through whose eyes, you happen to be looking. 





‘What would your character notice about this place if they’d just had a fight?’ I said, getting them to close their eyes for a moment. ‘Or if they’re worried about an exam? Or if their heart has just been broken? What would they notice if they had good news? What would they see if they’re falling in love?’

At heart, studying writing – as in how to go about doing it, as well as just ‘what’s already been written’ – studying writing forces you to look quite closely at yourself. Or at least, it should do I think, if you’re hoping to write anything with resonance. You have to be willing to live and also observe yourself living. How am I reacting to this? Where can I feel it? Oh look: this is new – and what does that stir up in me? And how is it changing me?





Well, I observed myself recently being unobservant. My eyes were dried up. They were downcast and heavy and I’d mentally written the whole season off as grey and difficult. When actually – I looked up a few weeks ago to find myself staring at, swooning over, a sky so deeply red that everyone who stepped off my train pulled out their cameras – actually the world is quite beautiful right now. I mean, look at it:




Things aren't suddenly awesome now I’ve noticed the scenery. I don't mean to imply that (life isn't so simple). It's more - I'm just writing as a reminder to myself that: well, even so – in the midst of it all, the leaves are still crisping up (scarlet, gold, mustard yellow). The light keeps breaking through, turning chimneys and branches and window boxes and TV aeriels into something lovely. Something glowing. The world, your life, it’s bigger than ‘this’. Than ‘now’. Than ‘that’. Than ‘this feeling’. Take heart. 

The world is still turning. Look at it. 




Notes:

All pictures by me, from here and there over the past month: around Glasgow, and also back home when I've stayed for the weekend. 

I listened to this albumThe Quiet Darkness by Houses, while I was writing. Recommended by my brother, Evan. The title is a line from one of their songs. You should give it a listen.

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