Back from an excellent two days in Hamburg with Lin and Vanessa. Suddenly the long summer break is at an end and Emma and the kids return to school. In a couple of weeks we get the keys for the new house and my role as Major Domo slips up a gear or two.
Some years ago I came across the American poet C.K Williams. I was intrigued by the impossibly long lines of his verses. They allowed for a kind of accumulated intensity of descriptive and narrative detail, creating the sense of almost obsessive focus on the part of the writer.
Having always favoured very short lines in my own poetry, I wanted to see what would happen if I just let the line run. The result was a tale of short-term lovers set within three long-line stanzas paired by an ABC/DEF etc. rhyme scheme, following no set meter.
The poem is a one-off; I’ve never used the long, running line since. Although this piece wrote itself fairly swiftly and I felt comfortable with the strange form at the time, ever since writing it I’ve become uneasy if a line extends too far. A good part of my final revision now comprises shortening verses, trimming them back. This is a third draft of 'The Thirteenth Letter'.
THE THIRTEENTH LETTER
So long beyond the time when recollection deconstructed, recomposed
the story so that now the pictures fall in sequence, clear, hard-edged,
formalised, like playing cards thrown down face up, some truth remains.
I was part-honest, as I recall – always stressed the finite, always closed
each of those early letters with some bland equivocation, hedged
about with decoration, verbal curlicues, the kind of style that gains
some time and space. And then we met again, half timorous. The river
rolled its cargo past – lovers in slow-turning punts, half-naked sybarites
in motor boats, self-adoring swimmers. Indolence and flesh, the heat-curtain
shimmering. We couldn’t meet each other’s eyes – me, the Indian giver
in disguise, you, the young pretender, bold and diffident. Finally, the rites
exhausted, rueful, we laughed and turned the world to steam. Certain
only of desire, we crossed the bridge, breath on a tether, all heartbeat
and thirst, wordless, like creatures hungry for the dark. Then, route
unrecalled, we are in your tiny room. Music mutters and the sun explodes;
night tumbles past. And finally, root-still, we watch the shadows in retreat,
a slippery moon, pre-dawn, first light. Ends and beginnings. We lie mute
all words discharged. Smiling, distant, I begin the closing of the roads.