Tuesday, 21 April 2009

change the world or go home

Just back from a lovely afternoon spent in Oxford with The Fellow. While London may be a wonderful place to live, it is in many ways a very poor place to do a PhD. There's no real sense of community in any of the London Unis and I sometimes go for weeks without stepping foot into King's. This is no inherently bad thing, but sometimes you just want to talk to someone who understands academic research and the academic community. It doesn't so much matter whether they understand your particular research (for who does, really?), sometimes all you need is a chat with a like minded colleague to revive flagging enthusiasm.

So a marvellous afternoon spent mostly gossiping about personal life and a little about academic life in general. It's funny that the closer I get to finishing my doctorate, the less sure I am of my wanting a career in academia. I've always been one of those people who wants and wants to do too many things, too many interests to settle on just one. I enjoy academic research, but I've always wanted to do something creative. The problem with doing something creative as a career is that I don't really know if I want to do that either. I love working with people, being around people - I need stimulation from external sources. I couldn't possibly sit in my study all day writing novels or poetry or painting or whatever: the solitary life is not for me. I like the idea of literary salons. Maybe I'll make like Gertrude Stein and just collect other creatives. Can that be a career though? Also I've realised that I tend to be most productive in the strangest of spaces and places: trains, airport lounges, waiting rooms - confined spaces where passing time is really all there is to do. I don't know why I find so much inspiration in these places, maybe it's because it's unexpected. Who knows. So a literary salon in the first class BA lounge at Terminal 5...it could work.

So, for me who perhaps above all things, loves reading and dare I say, loves people (in all their horrific, miserable, agonisingly annoying glory) what career options are there? I want never to be bored (kiss of death in anything), always to be stimulated, I want that buzz which comes from collaborating with other people, I want something creative, yet intellectually rigorous (I don't think I could design clothes, for example - unless I went all Hussein Chalayan I think it would feel too frivolous). I suppose that since at the very least I have committed myself to finishing my doctorate, I don't really have to make any "life-altering" decisions for another year or so. After that, it's anyone's guess...

And before I say adieu, I'll leave you with something else. Apologies to my poetry-loathing friends.

For someone who hates routine and boredom, I have created some quite bizarre rituals. One of which is that every time I go to Oxford I head to the Borders, which has a much better selection of poetry than most bookshops in London, and pick up one or two volumes of poetry. I do my usual cultural roulette thing, leafing through the books until something catches my eye, open it up and read through a few poems to see if it suits. I make my judgements instantly and instinctively (not that I'm advocating this method) and am either gripped or not. Today I got
The Insistence of Beauty by Stephen Dunn and Third Wish Wasted by Roddy Lumsden. I haven't read work by either of these authors before though I understand they are both established poets, but that's what I like about my random little system - they're both new to me. I haven't read the Dunn yet but read all of the Lumsden on my way home and found it absolutely enchanting.

So. A little Lumsden to leave you with. This is called "The Young"

You bastards! It's all sherbet, and folly
makes you laugh like mules. Chances
dance off your wrists, each day ready,

sprites in your bones and spite not yet
swollen, not yet set. You gather handful
after miracle handful, seeing straight,

reaching the lighthouse in record time,
pockets brim with scimitar things. Now
is not a pinpoint but a sprawling realm.

Bewilderment and thrill are whip-quick
twins, carried on your backs, each vow
new to touch and each mistake a broken

biscuit. I was you. Sea robber boarding
the won galleon. Roaring trees. Machine
without levers, easy in bowel and lung.

One cartwheel over the quicksand curve
of Tuesday to Tuesday and you're gone,
summering, a ship on the farthest wave.


Will Carr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will Carr said...

I saw Roddy Lumsden just yesterday: he's one of the best tutors at the Poetry School. Glad you like his new book, it's a good one I reckon.

In fact, there's a job at the PS for someone - I'm leaving at the end of June. Perhaps your Phd will get in the way though - hope you're enjoying it all. See you soon?

David Grove said...

Hi. I'm the Yank who commented on your most recent entry. I went to a Stephen Dunn reading, oh, around 1990. At the University of Michigan, where I was a student. Dunn had long hair tied back in a ponytail. His poems did very little for the ear--I like music in poetry--but they were full of sex. "We do it this way, then that way, sad masters of technique...We attain the sacred through the profane..." He read a poem about having sex with an older woman when he was 23. At one point he said--prefacing a poem about a stripper, I think--"I have a taste for decadence." He didn't like Christians very much. I've read nothing by Dunn in years. Perhaps you'll comment on his recent poetry in an upcoming entry; I'd like to read that.

Phoenicia said...

Hi David - thanks for your comments.

After having reading his book, I know exactly what you mean about Dunn's lack of musicality. I thought most of his poems sounded flat and a bit hollow - he's a little too self involved for me, not inherently bad I suppose - I'd be willing to forgive if the verse was heavenly, but alas it ain't. Doesn't sound like much has changed from his 90s ponytail days...

David Grove said...

Thanks for the spoon-sized review. You convey the impression that you have good taste. When I was reminiscing about that grunge-era reading, I neglected to mention the poem which, despite its lack of mnemonic language, embedded itself in my memory. It recounted how, when he was 12, Dunn asked his mother if he could see her breasts. (By now you're probably thinking Dunn's work was more lecherous than late Yeats back then.) She nonchalantly led him to another room, opened her blouse, and let him gobble his visual fill. The poem ended with an expression of gratitude to his mother and some kinky speculation I'll pass over in silence. Bye...