selected letters 2011 - 2015

April 20, 2011

Hi C------

I'll just put those poems to the side for now and read them later, thanks for sending them I am interested in seeing what you are doing.

Re what you are asking about my extempore remark about the dangers in creation, it was really specifically in relation to recording techniques such as I have used. I think creation can be dangerous, you should be prepared to go as far as you can and you might not be in a very good condition for what you are dealing with. We can talk about this sometime. I don't have much time for getting worried about "poetry as therapy" or whatever: the difference to me is always a) intention b) a work of art is an instance of the human, a work of therapy is an instance of a human.

Or something like that. Anyway I was sorry to hear you had been in the place where things come to a halt, I have been in that layby several times in my life, and hope never to go there again. No sharps beyond this point. It can be heartening to remember Les Murray's description of depression as "poet's flu".  

It woud be good to have a talk sometime, about poetry or whatever. You look grand now, wherever you've been.

all the best

 

 

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May 25, 2011

Dear -

I used to have a Robert Buchanan book but all I can remember is that I found dreary what little I read, and it found its way to Oxfam with a big clearout I'm sure, can't find it anyhow. I think it was The City of Dream so it was probably pertinent to what you say of his work. I've just finished a response to an essay I was asked to look at for a magazine as peer review I suppose it's called, on the poet David Gray. He as you probably know was a friend of Buchanan's and they went to London from Glasgow together, but Gray got TB and had to come back to Scotland where he died just before his 24th birthday. Gray's work isn't particularly good but I find his sequence of sonnets "In the Shadows" written during and about his terminal illness interesting, a few of them worth remembering and worth considering in the light of recent American poets like Ed Dorn or Paul Blackburn writing of and in terminal cancer.

Fromm was one of the geezers I used to read quite avidly in my early twenties but some of it I think was as much out of a selfremonstrative moral hypochondria as much as enthusiasm. But I know folk who admire his work a lot and he is due for another read from me; I now only have The Sane Society on my shelves but I haven't got down to it again yet, and it has been there quite a while. His and other authors' works used to find their way into my hands in the midsixties as I worked at that time in the Glasgow University bookshop at the corner of Bank Street, before both parts of the shop moved as one into the university itself.

 

 

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[Written after a reading at an art festival held within Fettes College Edinburgh]

August 6, 2011

Dear H

It was good to see yourself, you are looking in fine fettle. I found the reading initially difficult as I wasn't sure what people were there for, so who the audience was. They hadn't paid £35 to hear me, that I knew. But I found the accoustics ok so I just got into my stride; the fact that I was breathing a bit easier yesterday than I have been lately helped me and made me almost enjoy the experience of being able to read properly again. When my new CD comes available that I recorded on April 29th you will hear I was a bit more breathless, I had to edit out some of the noises from my chest at the end of longlined poems like 100 Differences between Prose and Poetry. Yesterday there was no problem.

The reading after me that you missed was basically just a kind of first-year uni lecture on Muriel Spark esp Prime of Miss Jean, with a slideshow going on of nondescript views of Edinburgh that bore no relation to what was being said. The title was The Transfiguration of the Commonplace and I was transfigured enough to stay awake till the end of it.

The arts collective folk who organised the whole business were very agreeable people, but Fettes College itself I absolutely loathed. A depressing place with no sense of love of children about it whatsoever, but shabby fake grandeur and cliches of Scottish authority and sham "history" everywhere. Even the old wood in that classroom we were in, ho yes historic Fettes wood with the cuts and letters of FP's. It really makes my spirit heavy even remembering it; somehow it made me think of Thomson in the Caledonian Asylum. Wherever you looked it wasn't home, but you were supposed to feel grateful and somehow "proud" of this richfolks' notion of a Scottish-British Entity. I could feel sorry for some of the sensitive kids who might have been there; though not for the selfconfident on their way to assuming the power they would assume to be theirs.

I'll send you the CD when it comes out.

 

 

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February 28, 2013

N---

The middle of the night. I pause by the computer before I go back to bed.

I will postpone going through the proofs tomorrow as I want a day off and away from it, and my chest has been breathless today. And your email left me with a heavy heart and a bitter taste in my mouth.

What is it about prose that even an editor who respects the integrity of your writerliness in poetry, assumes the reins of an interfering "editorship" as soon as prose is the issue in hand? Then I am treated, even from you, to dreary and banal unimaginations like "consistency" in points of orthography when what you mean is standardisation: and that you have not digested my opinions on the effects of a meticulous inflexible standardisation in nineteenth century orthography, its removal of print from the presence of the person... I just get sickened having to "explain" what my fingers do to someone, when my fingers know my breath more than the other can apparently even begin to understand. A word like 15, fifteen. The fact is, each takes a different length of time to articulate. A rhythm is affected, is at issue. The cougher-in-ink to whom the page is silent will of course at last have their day in court, at last they can be "on home ground". Fuck them. You say you have felt like shooting editors when you read a book. I wholeheartedly agree, the only difference being that I would shoot them before they began their work on mine, not after it.

As for "was" and "were" in A Taboo Too Far. Oh fuck, it is just like when that banality at Cape was drearing through my script: one has to delve into the articulacy of explanation for that which is intuitive and the intuitive is always, always the right mode in my writing. It takes time, anger, tiredness to try to "explain" the reason for the intuitive. In this case it actually comes down to a class-national fine point of articulation, that for me to have said "were" would, at a microlevel of my consciousness especially as an imagined child of that time, seem too "posh" a usage, too "English" for a workingclass Scottish boy, without being one who spoke particularly broad. To have to drag this out, this "reason", I find offensive. I know you mean well and have been assiduous in trying to help me to my way. But trust me. I go back to bed.

Tom

ps And I know that in my tiredness I misspelt intuitive a couple of times. That's just a typo, to correct typos is always a good thing for an editor to pick up, it is not a matter of deep style.

 

 

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March 2013

Dear

..... Only when I enter with an audience like up in Fraserburgh, where I was angry enough to have forgotten I still had my bunnet on (Sonya told me later I was still wearing it) do I then get absolute, entire rapport with the people who are listening. None of the pastors of their flocks are directing them to the event. Only when this shepherd wanders by do they get it, and know I am one of them.

.... Just as I say that the only circumstance with my work I need is for the face to be at the page my face was over when making it; so when I am face to my work in the presence of others, if it happens, people there come to the aural page in the same way. Some will disdain that too and speak witheringly of "humour" that low-status tinker's nonliteracy. My only bolster is the warmth of response made individually at the party north of Aberdeen, folk just "taking me in", and I could sit with them as part of the crowd having given them my inside.

.... I don't hate anybody, and I keep coming back to the Blank. That's the problem even if the solution. The Blank has to be part of the work. But people don't want to admit to the Blank. It gets political in a way that they need their pastors to tell them don't worry, it is ok. Nay doot they will in time when there are different networks, or maybe they won't, it's the face at the page and in the dark air that counts. No intermediary! Maybe that last will get me a "Scottish" seal of approval.

 

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Friday April 19th 2013

Dear

If was a great pleasure to hear from you again and receive your kind enclosures. My collection of prose that I mentioned in the past is now going through the printers and I should have copies around the end of next week. One will be making its way over to Derry for you.

I love McGowran reading Beckett so that CD is very welcome as is the John Montague. My first experience of Jack MacGowran was in a performance of Beckett’s monologue television drama Eh Joe which was broadcast on BBC TV in the sixties. A play that would have been a deal less interesting but for MacGowran’s voice and that hugely expressive face of his.

I hope the chemo is not too exhausting and that it helps usefully delay progress of the cancer to give you some decent time. I always remember many years ago, when I was in my twenties about 27 I think it was just about when I was getting to know Sonya before we got married; and i used to be bothered with breathlessness then as I still am; and I had had to go to the outpatients at the local hospital to get an injection to ease my breathing, I think Sonya was with me. Anyway I went for a cup of tea in a small hospital cafe tearoom which was located at the entrance to the cancer treating section of the hospital, just a fairly dowdy wee cafe with nothing fancy about it. I don’t remember the details of the place, what I do remember is a man sitting in his pyjamas at one of the tables near the door, and he just looked over at me. That’s all. There was nothing spectacular or dramatic about the look, but I just got a sense of it being a look I could not forget, it was from a place that we both knew there was nothing there but it itself. One day it might be me of course but it was not just now. So I got on and right away forgot the look and went on with my life. But it’s still there the look fifty years on, that’s the truth.

I’ll send you my book Definite Articles in a couple of weeks.

 

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Wednesday August 25th 2015

Dear J

How good to hear from you, I have thought of you a number of times over this past while, though it was wrong of me not to put thought to paper. I'm sorry to hear your spirit has not always been great I suppose with your cancer and the chemotherapy that is not at all hard to understand. But it is good you are here John and I hope your days give a bit more ups than downs if possible. Prostate at least seems to be one that doesn't just wheech you away forthwith through the exit door, and without marking down what you have to endure with prostate, I think pancreatic is the one I most want to avoid , it steals up unawares then wheechs you away indeed but not without unpleasantness before you go. The neighbour upstairs whom I think I mentioned before, it must be eight years now since he told me he had prostate cancer, he seems to be holding up fortunately. He's a motorbyke fiend, though about the same age as myself (I was 71 last weekend) but what is worrying to his younger wife is that their son is a motorbyke fiend too. He's come off it a couple of times, and I know that when I was in orthopaedic after a fall thirty years ago it was young biker men in their twenties that provided a conveyor belt supply to orthopaedics where they lay with their legs in traction up in the air. And they were the lucky ones.

I don't do so much readings in Scotland these days though I had a couple of decent visits abroad earlier in the year, to a poetry event in Bergen and another in South Tyrol. The latter was to a place called Lana in the German-speaking province of Bolzano in northernmost Italy. I was given an award there in memory of a local poet NC Kaser who also wrote sometimes in dialect and was also a bit of a Leftie and troublemaker. So I ticked all the boxes. The only box I didn't tick I am glad to say was that whereby he died of drink in his thirties. I managed to get out of that one by going on the Appletiser and giving my liver a last chance to regroup thirteen years ago. So I'm still here too...

For that reason I won't be able to have a drink on that money you sent, which you shouldn't have, but I accept it in the spirit offered, which is to say I accept it with gratitude and intend to buy a wee CD box of Furtwangler wartime recordings of Beethoven which I have had my eye on for a month or so on Amazon, and which your cheque will cover very nicely. So be assured my spirit will be fired up indeed by your gift when it is turned into music. I find more and more that music is the place that makes sense to me. When my mind is just fed up with the damned place, which it shouldn't be but there you are, it seems that listening to Bach for instance, some of it, my thoughts become the pulse of the ongoing musical narrative, and my brain is just straightened out, and sorted out. With Haydn I sometimes get a laugh. Not a belly laugh, but he is witty and inventive as well as such a bottomless well of musically satisfying explorations. It was music that saved me in me mixed up youth, and here it is in auld age when I have nothing to complain about at all, really, being rather a lucky fellow just now; here it is saving me still. And all because this thrawn young man didn't want to listen to Radio Luxembourg with his big brothers, but as my mother said wearily often enough "You just aye have to be different!" So I got listening to Radio Three even though I didn't like it very much, but grew to love the music on it. There you are. That's something the BBC did for me. That and the arrival of long playing records at budget prices, just as I was in my late teens.

The other work in art that has been giving me a lot of pleasure recently is Chekhov short stories. I love Chekhov, the Constance Garnett translations, and Sonya's Dublin father used to have a number of the short story collections in the St Martins Library 13 volume set that came out early in the twentieth century. I was rereading the story "Ward Number Six"again there. What a piece of work, and insight. I remember the psychiatrist RD Laing, dead now, telling me that that was one of his favourite stories. If you know Laing's work you would know why: the doctor in a provincial area by a rundown hospital in the back of beyond, who finds the local townsfolk all boring apart from the postmaster who visits him once a week; the hospital that he knows lives on delusion and is twenty years behind the medicine of Moscow; and Ward Six near the gate, a ward with six mentally ill patients for whom there is no hope, and whom the warder on the door beats at his whim. And the doctor one day finds himself visiting and talking to a young man who displays the symptoms of what would now be called, though not in Chekhov's day, paranoid scizophrenia. The man, who had been hospitalised after slowly disintegrating on having seen a prisoner in chains in the street and being unable to understand why it was not himself but this person who was suffering; this patient tells the doctor that he is a fraud, that the world is sick, that the patient is suffering far more than the comfortable philosophising doctor ever can understand; and the doctor finds him interesting. So the doctor begins to visit the patient daily, and spend more and more time with him. Never is he given other than bemused contempt by the patient. And people begin to talk, about this doctor who is always spending time with this patient. The doctor is called to a meeting of governors, and he is politely asked at one point if he knows what day it is, and what is the month. Coming away, he realises they have been testing to see if he is sane. The postman has become a bore, though he insists on taking the doctor on a holiday to try to make him better. Then the doctor one day is invited to the ward by an inspector, who leaves; and time passes, and he realises he is not getting out. The warder who beats the patients gives him some clothing. But next morning, having been beaten by the warder and waking to realise he is there for the rest of his life, Chekhov releases him with a heart attack.

Oh dear, I have made it sound depressing, actually I think it is a wonderful piece of writing, the way Chekhov tells it (!!).

I'll just leave off now, though I will include some of the little postcards I have made of cartoons or posters I have put up over the past few years on my internet website journal. I kept that going from 2009 until September 2014, but gave it up as it had become a bit of a duty and current politics was to me indeed depressing. So pastures new had to be sought forthwith.

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