Sunday, 15 January 2017

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Labyrinth


Because Girls you are valuable, and you, Panther, you are valuable Because The darkness around us is deep


THE MINOTAUR 


You think the Labyrinth is something you get free from, so you can live in the bright spaces. But that’s not how it works. The volcano of Thera erupted and a tidal wave destroyed Europe’s first civilisation, and it disappeared from view. Or so the archaeologists have told us. The Greek hero myths turned the great triple goddess of the matriarchal age into a foolish princess and started to straighten her looping songs and dances into linear, rational storylines. 
The Labyrinth hid Ariadne’s intricate dancing floor and her once-beloved bull became a child-eating monster. The patriarchal maze clung like a varroa mite on the back of a honeybee and infected the colonies of the Western world. Born configured still to dance and give honey, to love light and space and sea, we were confused by the dark place we now found ourselves in. Few of us remembered our way home. 
And yet some of us cannot but attempt otherwise. The thread was put into our hands at the start. 
The Minotaur waits in the Labyrinth, like Molochgreedy for the flesh of young men and woman, sucking the minds and hearts of all who sacrifice their youth, their brilliance, their sacred groves, their own offspring. This place is powered by his appetite. 
How do I know this? I am my Mother’s daughter, a child of space and air, who loved to dance, to go for a picnic on a summer’s day. Who still goes for a picnic on a summer’s day, with the sound of the sea in the distance.But I am my Father’s daughter first, indentured, duty-bound, to live another kind of life. While my playmates listened to children’s stories, he instructed me: on how the Bastille was liberated, how to decipher a brief, how to look for the detail in everything and outwit everyone in the court, cleverly with words. 
At night I would hear him tap-tap-tapping into the small hours, fighting to keep a man or woman out of the prison he feared. Only writers know this kind of deal: you get to glimpse the paradise in everything and you get to feel the hell of everything. You work to bring back Ariadne’s dancing floor by deconstructing the Labyrinth. It is the deal that drives poets crazy on the top of mountains, and sometimes costs them their lives, their sanity and their liberty. 
For prose writers ‘poetic’ is an insult word. It means you are foolish and flowery and none of your arguments stand up in the witness box. But it is hard not to write about the beauty of the house. Even now I am trying to find a way to not get beautiful, not tell you about the colours of the garden; these roses that will become my mother’s hips in September, and the bees that cluster about the clover leys, the sound of the wren singing, the way the wind moves through the barley and wild grasses in late June. 
The poet loves beauty but is condemned to write about the Labyrinth and shake all who read his lines. Here he comes with his window of blue sky, with his words that break down the door, between the city and the forest, between politeness and reality. Here she is tapping a code that you work hard to decipher in your solitary cell, scraping a tunnel underneath your feet, leaving graffiti in her wake on the stony wall. 
Here they are with their access to realms you cannot see but sometimes sense, swinging between history and myth, between life and death, only listened to, like gods, in moments of fall and destruction. 
I am not a poet. I am condemned to write prose, urgent pleas to reverse your sentence. 
A Daedalus daughter, unwinged. 


2004, Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Times are bad. I take an oath of loyalty to the table / coated with gray Formica. 
‘No one wants to know about the Wall, Charlotte,’said Aharon Shabtai, as we stood balancing glasses of wine and plates of salad at the festival reception. That afternoon the Israeli poet had thrown down his poems mid-sentence, smashing the wall that separated him from the audience. He spoke about the wall that is being built to separate the Arabs and the Jews of his country. ‘You have to hear this!’ he cried. 
Everyone clapped politely: ‘How dreadful!’ they agreed, as they sat in their neatly pressed clothes, as the wind screamed past the church hall and over the bay, where 200 years ago one of the most anguished figures of English poetry pointed his fishing boat towards the horizon. 
I live in George Crabbe country now, a flat, salty place where I have learned to wear a shabby coat and live among the lowly and dispossessed, the small weeds crushed underfoot he once catalogued in his unfashionable heroic style. I know we can’t afford to be romantic anymore. To get out of the Labyrinth is our most urgent task. 


2016, Ipswich, Suffolk. Neither father nor mother, nor any playmate; Only an avenue, dark, nameless, without end 
There are soldiers everywhere on the platform, dressed in wool khaki. ‘What are you doing here?’ I ask one of them. The boy gazes into my eyes and something like terror and grief jolts through me. He hands me a card that reads: Rifleman R.G. Cole. London Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Rifles). 
‘Oh,’ I say, ‘you cannot speak!’ I don’t know it yet but this is a performance being acted out in railway stations all over Britain to mark the Battle of the Somme. It is a show, except it does not feel like it. 
In the carriage the ghost riflemen sit silently among the passengers. Opposite me the poet Luke Wright, famous for his rollicking political satire, looks up from his computer screen and watches them. 
A hundred years ago on this day 19,240 young men died in a war that is remembered as much for its poetry as for its bloody sacrifice. Thousands from the small villages of Suffolk boarded the trains to France and did not return. You can still feel their absence in the fields when you go walking. Loss is not a personal matter anymore. I have learned that too in these sandy waterlands, where time becomes unmoored. 
I look at the card in my hands and shudder: we are here, it says. 


This is an instruction. The way back is hard. It is populated by the dead, the ones you know and the ones you don’t, and you cannot be afraid of them. You cannot be afraid of the unconscious that craves to devour the heart and the light that lives inside you. Your journey liberates them, as much as it liberates you. 
Return does not mean back in time as you understand it, along the linear lines of story. It means we return to a place of feeling and spirit, untrammelled by war and hierarchy, even if it takes us aeons to get there. Poets hold the fragments of that place inside them, as they have always held the line, a long line that stretches back to a time where there were no fortresses or prisons, when the bull was not a beast. 
The Labyrinth traps us in history, and keeps us from the dancing floor. We have to remember that as Western people, as people born in captivity. We have to know we were not abandoned. 
Her threads are everywhere. 


With thanks: Sir Walter Raleigh, Robert Graves, Pablo Neruda, Federico García Lorca, C.P. Cavafy, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, George Herbert, John Milton, Allen Ginsberg, César Vallejo, Rita Ann Higgins, Osip Mandlestam, Stevie Smith, William Stafford, Aharon Shabtai, George Crabbe, Edward Thomas.


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