Friday, February 21, 2020

Talking Poetics #12 : Lydia Unsworth

How A Poem Gets Made

The germ is a phrase, let’s say ‘twenty-six miles across the sea,’ that comes within a fog of recent associations, a background noise that only requires tuning-in to. I don’t think as much as focus on the words that murmur through me, an ongoing narrative, like a baby chattering itself to sleep. It’s a making-sense, a structuring, a reforming and a stretching. Like how dough rises and you can pull it into nameless shapes. I’ll slam it against a wall. What I see is a deckchair, the stripes on that deckchair: Why stripes? What has been done to me? It’s not my image, it’s a postcard from somewhere, but that’s what I can see, and I’m seeing my country floating off across the water, festival music twirling alongside on the wind. I’m seeing leaves of trees behind a faint shudder of heat rising. A fata morgana. Tarmac. There is nearly always tarmac; it lines my dreams. Whatever book I first read the word-phrase fata morgana in. It doesn’t matter if what I remember is accurate, only that it leads on to other things, all that chaff can be stamped out in the aftermath. An oasis. The way we don’t always look up what words mean, allowing place names, band names, surnames to slide on and off our relaxing bodies on the beach. I start with a figure in a landscape, there is nearly always a figure melting into the tarmac on the beach. I tug their arm, pull on whatever article they happen to be reading, slap the face awake, twist its history into my own stranded interpretation. Words like chains, both links and restrictions, until I’m ground to a halt in what I hope is a worthy place. If not, plow on. Sand over boots, inside shoes, cast them off, the burning grains under the softest most unknown part of us. I won’t get my toes out in the middle of a board game. Who lies on a blanket in the middle of an inner-city carpark anyway? Can’t we take back our surfaces? Once, in Norfolk, the hot road, new and mallable, like an origin story. Volcanoes of motorway. And then I’m full of enough raw lava. I stick my hand in to the warm rocks, ignore the tourists striding past my crumpled melodrama. I like it down here where the theoretical leaves are, rinsed with Beckett, Perec, Kafka, and with all the preferably women I’m currently gagging in. I’m down here in my class and my past trying to rake it all pageward. You want form? You want skill? I can only polish up what the turned-over stones are revealing. I’ve got termites. I’ve got small tiny things. Ferns, etc. and every time I’ve ever walked past them. I’ve got the first tomato I chopped in order to feed myself at aged seventeen. Like a scene from Ghost. Words that as an adult have lost their importance. I’m finding them in the grips of my trainers, bringing them into the house. Piles and piles of discarded incidents, which I’m stirring up into a thick soup. Like I used to do with shampoos and gels in some ancient lived-through bathroom that in my remembered architecture now sits where the kitchen should have been. 

Lydia Unsworth is the author of two collections of poetry: Certain Manoeuvres (KFS, 2018) and Nostalgia for Bodies (Winner, 2018 Erbacce Poetry Prize), and two chapbooks: My Body in a Country (Ghost City Press, 2019) and I Have Not Led a Serious Life (above / ground press, 2019). Her latest chapbook, Throw the Towel In, will be released by KFS Press in 2020. Recent work can be found in Ambitpara.textTears in the FenceBansheeBlackbox Manifold and others. Manchester / Amsterdam. Twitter: @lydiowanie   

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