So, for the next fortnight, I’m going to be cross-posting pieces here and on the Poets’ Graves Tour blog. You should read the blog itself, as it will have posts and poems not just from me, but from Mark Grist and MC Mixy as well. I posted this piece late last night, after our launch gig in Bristol. Some of these posts might feel a bit ‘dear teenage diary’, but I’m just trying to collect my unsophisticated thoughts on a big, slightly impossible subject. I’m actually quite thick, so I’d love to hear your ideas. You probably have better insights than me.
Death and the Poet
For me, death is usually a bedfellow of insomnia. (hi, I’m Tim by the way – me, Mark and Mixy will be contributing posts and poems through our journey round poets’ graves) I’m staring up at the bluish, blurry ceiling (life without my spectacles on is like being continually underwater) and I imagine my heart stopping, and all my memories vanishing, and the acres upon endless acres of unbeing that await me and everyone I love.
It’s a pretty horrible situation, isn’t it? And given the inevitability and permanence and totality of death, it’s not surprising that most poets have felt their strings of shrewd and pretty words rather inadequate by comparison. As Larkin puts it in ‘Aubade’:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Or Betjeman, in the cheerily-titled ‘Loneliness’:
And, though you tell me I shall die,
You say not how or when or why.
So many poets chew on death, like a terrier with a rat in its jaws, but the more they gnash, the more death is there, real and indomitable and basically insoluble.
When we started discussing this tour, I was up for it because I was desperate for an excuse to get out on the road and gig. I love performing, and I wanted more practice, to earn some performance karma and challenge myself and have fun. The death thing was just a gimmick, an excuse.
It’s past midnight on a Sunday now. We just did our first gig, our launch show, in Bristol, at the Leftbank. It was fun, slapdash, challenging, and raucous. We tried some new material, some of which worked, some of which didn’t. We performed with some great local poets (thank you so much Al Cummins, Stef Mo, Richard Harris and Anna Freeman). I got heckled by a drunk guy who seemed to be trying to give me advice on the best way to murder someone. A weird thing to yell across a crowded pub during a poetry gig, granted, but pleasingly on-theme!
Knowing death is real and unstoppable and utterly dreadful, what can we, three semi-talented novelty poets, possibly teach the world that is of any use whatsoever? If greats like Betjeman and Larkin basically covered their heads with their hands and said ‘oh Christ, I’m doomed’, what chance have we got?
I don’t know if staring at slabs of stone and patches of soil will help us with that. I just feel like, thinking about death might be important. If we come up with any insights along the way, I’ll share them with you. If you have any thoughts, please do share them with us. Maybe we can figure this out together.
And, you know. If we can’t, who cares? Soon we’ll all be dead and there’ll be no ‘us’ to even recognise there ever was a problem.