This time last week I was in Guernsey. I loved every moment of it. As soon as I set foot in my home parish of St Martin’s I feel surrounded by magic, and weirdly rebooted. The lanes are sedimented with decades of my memories, which provides the illusion that this is somehow my place. And I feel a love for this tablecloth of land spread over the corner of a little island that can never be erased. It is a piggy bank of my identity into which I have stuffed coins all my life. Above is the view from Icart Point, ten minutes walk from where I once lived.
The word ‘nostalgia’ derives from the Greek nostos for homecoming and algos pain. It is bittersweet, as if the past is a country you might visit. Perhaps one reason why nostalgia is such a close cousin of misty-eyed patriotism.
To my Guernsey family, I was always English. Taxi drivers sometimes ask me on the way back from the airport if it is my first time on the island, and just last week my wife said a cheery hello, to an English couple outside La Barbarie, where I stay. I heard one of them say as they moved on, ‘I do like it when people love our island’. It made me grit my teeth. But I am an exile from the island, and from my past. We all are. We don’t belong anywhere, but we want to belong. That is the algos of nostalgia, and the cause of a lot of nationalistic nonsense in the world. But if I were to belong anywhere, it would be there.
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I’ve just had a poem accepted by E·ratio, due out in January, which ‘publishes poetry in the postmodern idioms with an emphasis on the intransitive’. I am attracted to the journal’s rigour, and keep returning to it to be delighted and sometimes enraged by the poems it features. I’ve long enjoyed poetry that confronts you with difficulty, ever since wrestling with late modernist J.H. Prynne. A long bout I owe to university friend Michael Stone-Richards who bought me a copy of Prynne’s The Oval Window back in 1986.
What was dubbed by ‘The Democratic Voice’ in poetry, (famously by Simon Armitage and Robert Crawford in their introduction to the Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain since 1945), has appeared to overshadow the more esoteric reaches of late Modernism and Post-Modernism. As usual (and tiresomely) if there is a debate about this, I am in the middle. I wish more mainstream poetry had more ambition, while some postmodern poetry could stop desperately flashing its cleverness at you. Sometimes I feel like thundering at it, ‘yes I get that you’re clever, and that this poem is an artificial construct, now tell me something I don’t know’. In a world of ironic speech marks, a dash of authenticity doesn’t go amiss.
And talking of authenticity and the middle way, tomorrow I am going to the official launch of Charlotte Gann’s Noir. A book, a poet and a person I like a great deal.
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And finally, rehearsals are now well underway for my plays We Three Kings and A Glass of Nothing, presented in a double bill at the Marlborough Theatre on Thursday 8th December and Friday 9th December. Tickets are here. Below, snap from last night’s rehearsal.