If you wandered through a poet’s
brain you would not see poetic
– Gwen Harwood
The room I write in has an oak door, a wooden floor,
a well of book shelves, a window and a table where I sit
with my back to the light. On the walls around me
are the postcards, small greetings from wandering souls.
A quick glance and I see Puccini, Beckett, a study of a naked
woman posing on a chair. There are paintings by Picasso,
Gauguin, Bacon, Mattise; Chagall’s wedding is pinned up
and Schiele’s Reclining Woman, I found her in the V&A.
Wish you were here!
I’ve one, two, three, four nudes by Lucian Freud;
cards from London’s New Tate. And from Paul in Liverpool,
not the Beatles or the Mersey, but lots of Edward Hopper:
late-night bars where men in coats sip bourbon – any one
of them could be Dylan Thomas, circa 1953. And he’s up
there too, painted by Augustus John, the big man who
painted the poet’s wife. She used to say he took her
on the studio floor.
Everything’s so cheap!
There’s a card from Istanbul, a map of the old city –
wouldn’t that be Byzantium? There’s a photo of me
standing by the Bosphorus taken the day I took a taxi
from Asia to Europe. And there’s a great photo of you
naked on a beach in Australia reading Judith Wright’s
poems, the ocean behind you so blue.
There are Tibetan mandalas beside irreverent cartoons.
There are invitations to launches, invitations to tea,
rejections, receipts, notes, bills. And dotted between
them are a sprinkling of islands: the Blaskets,
the Orkneys, the Shetlands, Crete, Tasmania, Sicily.
How are they formed? Does the earth rise or the
water recede? Someone told me that Everest was
once at the bottom of the ocean, and climbers close
to the top often find shells. I wonder do they still hold
the sound of the sea?
The beach is beautiful!
Only two of the cards are in black and white: Bob Dylan
travellin’ through Balbriggan station on his way to play
Belfast in the summer of ’65 and a John Minihan photo
of a duffel-coated Beckett drinking coffee, smoking a cheroot
and waiting for someone. Was he ever photographed in
summer? Minihan has frozen him forever in a polo-neck
I’m practically naked all day!
This morning a card arrived from Jack in Berlin, another
nude: a German woman photographed in 1935. I wonder
how she fared in the war. I’ll put her up there close to
ceiling, out of harm’s way, between a poster by the Mexican
painter Alfonso Lopez Monreal and a picture of the Cistercian
monastery at Tarrawarra, in the Yarra valley, about forty
miles outside Melbourne. My uncle Paul was a monk there;
I got it when I visited the monastery last year.
So peaceful and quiet!
A spring morning, the monks brought me out to the small
graveyard where Paul is buried under a simple iron cross.
They showed me the church where he prayed, the shed
where he mended things; sat me in his old truck and sang
the first verse of his favourite song. They said he sang it
when he drove the sheep to the market in Melbourne,
Gene Autry’s South of the Border Down Mexico Way.
N.D.A. was printed on the truck’s door and when the
farmers or the bushmen asked him what it stood for
he’d declare ‘No dames allowed ! ‘
Still on my own!
Each card is a dream filter, a small bell that chimes
in my soul. If I had to choose one for Desert Island Discs,
I’d choose the nude of you on that beach in Australia.
But I suppose that would be like taking Shakespeare
or the Bible. So I’d go with either Billie Whitelaw
in Happy Days or William Orpen’s Sunlight.
It’s pretty as a picture here!
Apart from this morning’s post, my latest acquisitions are
The Death of Culture by the American model and photographer
Lee Miller, and an unforgettable photograph of her soaking in
Hitler’s bath during the last days of war. I bought them in Edinburgh.
I pinned them either side of Gary Snyder’s ‘What You Should
Know To Be A Poet.’ I love that poem, its great last line:
‘real danger. gambles. and the edge of death.’
I could happily die here!
Looking round my room I sometimes think that this is what
it must be like inside my head: a higgle of postcards held up
by ghosts, a thousand images falling like rain, a patchwork,
a shadowland of ifs and buts. Of who is she? And who is he ?
And when and where was that? And then, when I close my
eyes to look more closely there is always only the same small
black and white self-portrait of me; it’s untitled, but I call it:
Nude, in small interior.