Accept as memory

Hello dear readers. Hello from beneath the green-gold canopy clinging through one or two more frosts before letting go for an interval. I wonder if November comes as a relief for the trees? Its austerity certainly poses us humans with an opportunity for some rest. Come then, November.

I’ve begun work over the last month or so on a fiction project. I have a sense of the form it will take, but this, like most territories, is one I don’t have a map of. Even if I did — and here is the irony of maps — I probably wouldn’t be able to make sense of it without walking for a bit anyway. Maps factor into the story, as do ruins, reanimated technologies and secret teachings, but I won’t say any more about it for now. It’s difficult enough to carry water, let alone with a leaky vessel.

I will say, though, that as I build the world the story takes place in, I am struck over and over by images that arrive as if from deep memory, or from dreams. Jorge Luis Borges, in the fifth of seven lectures delivered in Buenos Aires during the summer of 1977, described the phenomenon this way:

When I write something, I have the sensation that it existed before.… The things are as they are, but they are hidden, and my task as a poet is to find them.

It may not be a map, but I’m happy to follow that sign.

In the strong evening sun, a wing-shaped shard of pale turquoise glass protrudes at an angle from the sand. How curious that its shadow forms the wing's counterpart, both held as if in swift flight.

When I was writing the ‘Harvester’ poems at the end of the summer, I was struck more than once by that same sensation of remembering the images in the lines — not just from my visits to the island, but from some preceding period. Each time I saw Caspian tern fold and plummet to the water there, or merlin spring from its perch and fly fast to the treeline, I felt a wild thump of recognition. It came as an echo, as if from a past life. Do you know what I mean?

Borges again:

One of the effects of poetry is that it gives us the impression not of discovering something new but of remembering something we have forgotten. When we read a good poem we imagine that we too could have written it; that the poem already existed within us.

The same, I would say, goes for profound (and even numinous) images we encounter in the world. For me they may come as birds in flight, for you as ocean surf or dancing figures silhouetted against the fire, but they come in forms we each feel we have imagined already, or rather have remembered. I don’t pretend to write poems that Borges (or anyone else!) might call good, but I do attempt to give voice to such images, to speak them in a way the listener or reader might accept as a memory of their own.1 That, I think, is where the possibilities begin.

Thanks for reading along with this October installment of Polylith. If you enjoy these letters, consider sharing them with a kindred reader — that would mean a lot, and is how new people hear about my work. The second issue of Drift Body zine, featuring poems with tern and merlin and more, is available for purchase in the bookshop, and the third issue is coming together as we speak.

Until next month, happy remembering.

  1. Odd as it may sound, this is analogous to the AI models we experimented with last month, which endeavor to fool not only one another but the human viewer as well.