March 9th 2016
I had business in London so turned up early, caught the tube to Maida Vale, realised that I should have caught the tube to Warwick Avenue then set off from Little Venice towards Paddington. Then, having failed to check the map, I found that the Grand Union Canal comes to an end soon after Paddington. I had walked for little more than a mile, gathering barely enough notes for a stanza, so I doubled back and set off in the opposite direction.
Bright and cold for the lunch rush on the towpath. Everyone is so attractive here: it’s unendurable. The best way to deal with falling instantly in love with every other person you pass is to mentally fast-forward to an acrimonious separation. And I never want to see your fish-plait worn insouciantly over your shoulder and perfect freckles ever again. And your coat which looks so good on you it should have a dedication page sewn into its lining:
Without whom this coat would be
And take Mark Ruffalo’s hotter younger brother with you.
Red pen for lustful / otherwise unwelcome thoughts.
Under the shade of the bridge the water is marbled with petrol and scuzz, but within five steps the sun transfigures it into a tranquil seascape, the chrome and glass towers static ocean liners, the grey-blue Brunel Building wrapped in plastic.
I love the fact that there’s a barge-based Puppet Theatre. It’s closed today, leaving me to imagine forthcoming shows, which I think should encompass agitprop as well as folktales. Puppet Government Theatre. This is, I think, a bit of a hipster area of the canal, and I use that term without rancour: I’m yet to pass an e-cigarette barge or a boat made of recycled synthesisers, but there is an origami café and you could probably start a conversation about craft beer if you wanted to.
“Locally sourced?” You want to tell me what you have against the good people of the shipping industry?
Is anyone very good at being alone? I mean alone in a crowd when you have no concrete destination. The self-consciousness that seeps in like a side-effect, the nebulous desire to explain yourself. I think in for a penny and buy a large, ungainly chicken wrap for lunch which promptly explodes over my jacket. There are three big men standing on the deck of a grey boat and I think they’re staring at me, but they’re actually staring at a runner in pink lycra who overtakes me by the bridge. Runners dress like superheroes.
I feel like the DVD extras for a movie no-one saw.
Always coming up with the analogy before the thing itself. I think that’s probably the closest to poetic fraudulence you can get, short of plagiarism. It ought to be a misdemeanour at the very least. Lines of Surrealists outside the courts awaiting their community service sentences. Anxious because the word is Bill got six months inside. Yeah, but he was intending to supply those half metaphors to impressionable younger poets.
On the subject of the tow-paths being very well-used, and/or “discovered” as a nice place to walk around by people such as myself, I’ve been asked to write a poem on manners. Said poem will then be stencilled and spray-painted (using quickly biodegradable paint, naturally) in such a way as to be readable by pedestrians as they walk. I’m not sure how I feel about poetry in public and will doubtless fret over this poem day and night.
In the meantime I wanted to write a poem about water to accompany a forthcoming interview. As time was short I spent an hour going through my last five manuscripts to see if I’d already written a poem about water. It turned out that I hadn’t. I poured a glass of water and sat in front of it for five minutes. I went for a walk by the canal. It was here I remembered writing a sequence called ‘The Elements’ about 10 years ago where a trainee journalist is sent to interview a wave, a breeze, some fire and a clod of earth. There was a line from the wave piece which I felt could be repurposed to create a new piece, interrogating water more generally.
THE WATER REPLIES
Maybe we have washed our hands
and drunk deep and swam
and think we know her,
but water’s reputation goes before her like a flood:
she does not suffer fools or gadflies.
Therefore I have prepared some questions.
Where do you get your ideas & your tide from?
Don’t say the moon – that’s really pretentious.
But as I clamber down the coast
I lose my footing and spend our allotted time
tossed around in her backwash,
pummelled by tiny stones.
When I am baptised I ask the water
Where have the demons gone?
Were they hiding behind the H, the 2 or the O?
I emerge finally able to see that I have not changed,
that I can of myself do nothing, that water decides.
On the towpath behind the church
I wring out my jacket. I ask the water:
Will you convey these thoughts away?
These itching hatreds, toothache of jealousy,
These squalid appetites and dog thirsts?
Just as far as the next city will do.
The ripples of the moon’s tablature.
When was the last time you cried, and why?
I ask the water. I ask the water:
Do you have plans later?