writing hell update

so, for whatever reason, A Certain Project is DOING MY HEAD IN

i am hopelessly behind on my wordcount, i can’t seem to find my way out of a Maze of Plot, & i keep breaking off to mope over southern gothic inspo tags & listen to doom jazz

(on the other hand the sun is shining & ibby & i are having a sci-fi marathon on tuesday & i have a short story idea involving old bookshops/stigmata/scary flat-eyed men that i am ITCHING to write IF A CERTAIN PROJECT WOULD LET ME)

(yes of course i could take a break & write the other thing but honestly i need to listen to my Vague Feelings of Obligation in re: writing things because otherwise i would never get anything writ)

anyway that’s my entire life at the moment i have thrown everything else out of the window for THIS GODDAMN PROJECT

hURGH

36810085_1046707962172544_1276826745546211328_n

pictured: the evolution of a killer

Advertisements

july 6, 2013.

me, aged thirteen, sitting on the edge of a huge bomb crater in belgium. reading thackeray’s vanity fair.

because of course.

i don’t know whose leg that is.

1011862_531273320241160_840051833_n

flip-flops & globs & hares, oh my!

-i write this sitting on a rock in the arse-end of nowhere. i actually got lost half an hour ago & ended up in some kind of farming metropolis, surrounded by agitated horses. but all is well; i am now enthroned in state upon a shapely rock, looking out at the valley. i think the purple flip-flops were a rash choice of footwear, though.

-so far my home-for-the-summer status is strictly theoretical. i think i’ve spent more time haunting ibby’s house, wandering the woods, facing down zenwriter among the dust motes & sunbeams of the library, than actually at home. all this going outside has put me into a state of being that i have not experienced since the age of ten: reader, i am tanned. it’s wreaking havoc with my whole scruffy impoverished pre-raphaelite aesthetic.

-a large & persistent golden retriever just appeared out of nowhere & disgorged a stream of bubbly slobber all over my rucksack. i wanted to be friends but i think he just wanted my strawberries. so it goes.

-i feel like the last person ever to discover what a fantastic writer hilary mantel is, but i finished wolf hall this morning. i think my favourite thing about it might be the awareness there of a not-quite-banished world just beneath that one, lingering in the grins & sneers of gargoyles, in carved saints, in bowls of milk left out for the fey-folk. in the ghosts whose language is the creaks of rope & floorboard.

-it’s so hot here. in the suburbs you can feel the heat striking up from the asphalt. i’ve been despairing over my wardrobe, which goes black, black, purple, black, maybe a bit of scarlet here & there, you get the picture; i’ve been hacking up old t-shirts with scissors & the result tends to be indecent but pleasantly breezy. i’ve also developed a habit of wandering around barefoot over the past few weeks; occasionally this bites me in the ass, because the pavement gets so hot it actually burns my feet. okay, yes, this predicament would be easily evaded if i put my damn shoes on, but where’s the sense of adventure?

-i’m also the last person ever to watch kenneth branagh’s film of much ado, but so much of it was just spot-on perfection. i laughed so hard during the benedick-‘overhears’-his-frat-bros-gossiping scene that there were tears streaming down my face. i think it was claudio launching into a full on wailing, breast-beating performance that did it. i couldn’t take it. i also LOVED how emma thompson & denzel washington played don pedro basically asking beatrice to marry him. he’s absolutely laying himself on the line- it’s very vulnerable- but he does it so lightly- & she gets this, & i love her response. she makes light of the situation, but she’s gentle about it, she does it in a way that doesn’t shame him. it’s very compassionate. i find it a really touching scene.

-i have finally, finally got round to reading hemingway! i’m about seven chapters into the sun also rises. it’s his first novel & the writing is very good, although there’s something a little too self-consciously ambiguous to it at times. i’m not sure what i’ll read after it- it’s between the thousand autumns of jacob de zoet & the well of loneliness. unless i’m feeling whimsical- in which case who knows.

-i’ve been rewatching season eight of supernatural. the whole amelia thing works so much better than i remember- it’s a difficult & delicate relationship, but there’s a maturity to it, & to the writing. sam is not in a younger brother role here; everyone is an adult; he & amelia are both weary drifters. it’s not nice (& oh boy neither are those colour filters) but it works. & my god- all the sam-dean-benny stuff is so WEIRD- by which i mean that there’s such an absurd jealous love-crossed vibe to the whole thing. they really go for it & everyone is seething & deceiving each other & lying out the wazoo. it’s completely horrible. i’m enjoying it so much.

-okay, so, a fucking hare just came lolloping into the clearing where i’m sitting on my rock-throne. with long graceful back legs & black fur in its ears & it sat up & gave me the most hardass stare you ever saw & then went gambolling off, presumably to bully its family. i’ve never seen a hare before. clearly i am at the centre of a teeming hub of wildlife.

-jo & i communicate through a convoluted system of in-jokes & personal slang that occasionally amounts to our own language. we undertook some artistic collaboration.

36440755_10214093185835795_4196252162805727232_n

this resulted in her painting these lovely dancy little chaps!

36484953_10214093186235805_8118593336064868352_n

jo’s selling them as stickers on her redbubble at castle of jo (& her cuttlefish are beautiful too). so, you know, go & buy them if you want your life to be filled with small jumping beans of joy. also to fund our olive habit.

-i’ve been plugging away at A Certain Project for weeks now, & i keep saying that i’m gonna go on one of my 31k-in-twelve-days kicks, but between all my reading- shakespeare in the morning, poetry in the evening, novels wherever i can fit them, plus things like, you know, socialising & exercising & watching stuff- i’ve been getting maybe seven hundred words a day done. i’m going to face the fact that unless i let everything else go out of the window for a fortnight, i won’t get this done. so i’m going to let everything else go out of the window for a fortnight. i’ll try & keep posting- probably little stuff- so that you guys won’t be deprived of my delightful online presence.

-you get no apologies for the title. ‘but isabel, do you have no shame?’ no, & you still get no apologies for the title.

-anyway, my throne is getting distinctly chilly, & i’m a little worried that the next visiting creature of the wild will be a grizzly bear or something, & most significantly i want to watch the joss whedon much ado tonight, so i’m going to attempt to flip-flop the four rocky miles home. pray god that i arrive with my feet still attached.

 

note: isabel did indeed retain her feet, although she arrived home with some exotically placed blisters & a sunburned neck. it moreover turns out that she was trespassing on land belonging to some fancy-ass golf club or other for most of her walk. she advises readers to wear sturdy shoes if they plan to go on extended hikes in the british countryside, & to watch out for friendly animals; the last creature she encountered was not a bear but an extremely willing cat, who ruthlessly exploited her back-scratching skills for a good ten minutes on her way home.

 

 

vathek: screwball grotesquerie

guys. guys. this book is WILD.

the whole thing is basically a sublime farce/orientalist pipe-dream of william beckford. this dude was a fascinating character- an arabian nights-obsessed dreamer with far too much money who extravagantly squandered his youth wandering all over europe having affairs with men, women & demons of all descriptions. his travel books are wonderful, apparently. i’d love to get my hands on one. he was inevitably exiled from english polite society, & ended up sequestering himself to translate arabic manuscripts for years on end.

then he made a public mockery of himself by building this gothic monstrosity, which, i mean, look at it:

rutterdelplate11fac66whole

it’s hilarious & over-the-top & it collapsed in 1835. three years after beckford sold it for £300,000. i swear to GOD, william.

anyway, vathek. my edition sums it up as ‘the ruthless caliph vathek’s journey to superb damnation among the subterranean treasures of eblis’. it’s a nasty little fairy tale: the caliph is childish, rapacious, cruel. it’s also very, very funny.

this is mostly because of the hilarously deadpan nature of beckford’s prose. the novel opens thus:

“Vathek, ninth Caliph of the race of the Abassides, was the son of Motassem, and the grandson of Haroun Al Raschid.  From an early accession to the throne, and the talents he possessed to adorn it, his subjects were induced to expect that his reign would be long and happy.  His figure was pleasing and majestic; but when he was angry, one of his eyes became so terrible that no person could bear to behold it; and the wretch upon whom it was fixed instantly fell backward, and sometimes expired.  For fear, however, of depopulating his dominions, and making his palace desolate, he but rarely gave way to his anger.”

full disclosure: i tried reading this several years ago, when i was fourteen or so. somehow, probably due to vague preconceptions about anything written before 1800, the humour completely escaped me & i just felt alienated. this time my cynical eighteen-year-old soul latched right onto it. i was laughing out loud.

one particularly memorable passage comes when vathek, displeased with a man who comes bearing treasure from beneath the earth, literally kicks him out of the palace; the guy, who is some sort of ambiguous demonic creature, rolls up into a ball & just… keeps rolling, as you do. he rolls in his spherical state all around the city, kicked along by vathek & a gathering horde of people, until eventually he rolls up a mountain & off the side of a precipice into an abyss.

“The ball, indeed, in passing from one apartment to another, drew every person after it that came in its way, insomuch that the whole palace was thrown into confusion, and resounded with a tremendous clamour.  The women of the harem, amazed at the uproar, flew to their blinds to discover the cause, but no sooner did they catch a glimpse of the ball than feeling themselves unable to refrain, they broke from the clutches of their eunuchs, who to stop their flight pinched them till they bled, but in vain; whilst themselves, though trembling with terror at the escape of their charge, were as incapable of resisting the attraction.”

it’s so awful & so funny.

but there’s more there than black comedy. overall the novel’s pretty fanciful- it doesn’t take itself enormously seriously- but there’s some very strange & wonderful episodes scattered throughout. a personal favourite of mine is a bit where nourounihar (naive love interest) & gulchenrouz (even more naive pretty boy) are told by their household that they’re dead, & wake by a twilight lake, believing themselves to be in the afterlife:

“She recollected also, that herself and Gulchenrouz had been sick and dying; but all these images bewildered her mind.  Not knowing where she was, she turned her eyes on all sides, as if to recognise the surrounding scene.  This singular lake, those flames reflected from its glassy surface, the pale hues of its banks, the romantic cabins, the bull-rushes that sadly waved their drooping heads, the storks whose melancholy cries blended with the shrill voices of the dwarfs, every thing conspired to persuade them that the angel of death had opened the portal of some other world.”

then there’s a scene that reaches a high baroque level of screwball grotesquerie, where vathek stages a ceremonial procession as a cover for sacrificing the city’s fifty most beautiful young boys to a demon; the machinations of vathek’s mother, carathis, who shouts at vathek whenever he reverts to decadent indolence, which is often; the terrifying underground landscapes of eblis’s halls, eblis being one of the more down-to-earth & restrained characters of those who populate this novel.

eighteenth-century literature can be a tough nut to crack; the only other novels from the period that i’ve read & can think of off the bat are candide (which is brilliant), the vicar of wakefield (which is ghastly), & robinson crusoe (which dickens accurately described as the only universally popular book that has never made anyone laugh or cry). vathek is, obviously, not a conventional novel of the period- it’s probably one of the most out-there books ever written- but there’s an impish quality to the humour & a self-indulgence to the passages of decadence that really got me. i enjoyed the hell out of it.

36348840_1037638569746150_1691827067169013760_n

rubber ducks & public disgrace

-well, i’m back from uni. nothing to show for it except some superficial soup-making skills, one hundred & twenty-eight new books, & an interestingly shaped scar on my shoulder from running into a tree. first year sure went fast.

-jo, will, lucy & i made sure to carpe the diem (& the noctem, for that matter) very thoroughly in the last few weeks of uni. i spent half the nights sitting on the balcony, writing & watching the stars come out in a pale sky. jo & i attended a reception for the english lit staff & students, where we perhaps took advantage of the free wine a little too thoroughly. this ended with us giving a dramatic & antiphonal recitation of the love song of j. alfred prufrock & me calling jo a gay piece of shit in front of a high-ranking member of the academic staff. there followed several minutes during which we stumblingly explained that i am not, in fact, a giant homophobe, & am, in fact, quite gay. we wobbled back to jo’s block in shame & disgrace.

-we also threw me a fake birthday party. my actual birthday isn’t for another month, but that’s semantics. this was a deeply silly event involving party hats, a caterpillar cake, & tricoloured rubber ducks. will went on a tropical juice errand, charging jo & i to name the ducks in the meantime; they were perforce christened fyodor, clive staples & BOB.

-since coming back i have seen many lovely people & eaten an awful lot of strawberries. a couple days ago i went with my friends ibby & eliza to go see ocean’s eight (i loved it, by the way, it was fun & silly & cate blanchett’s motorbike, cate blanchett’s blue suit, cate blanchett’s hair, just cate blanchett in general, we were all fanning ourselves). it was a tiny, dusty cinema, almost empty, just us & a couple rows of people at the back. the trailers came on; we were rolling our eyes at the trailer for some spy flick when suddenly gillian anderson’s face appeared onscreen. dear reader, the three of us simultaneously yelled out a sort of joyous ‘HURRRRRGH’, so loudly that it blotted out the trailer. everyone in the cinema busted out laughing.

-i’ve been reading richard siken’s poetry collection crush, dearly beloved among spn fans. very, very easy to see why: it belongs to the same iconographic tradition. actually, that’s putting it mildly; there are some startling similarities. dusty roads & moonrise & all sorts of Weird Suppressed Vibes. honestly, i’m losing my shit over it. i can’t wait to get my hands on war of the foxes.

-i also read vathek a few days ago. it was… well. it was messed-up & bizarre & in a weird way one of my favourites of the novels i’ve read lately. i won’t say too much about it bc i’ll probably do a seperate post on it.

-man, it’s strange being back in my old haunts. i climbed the gates to one of my old secondary schools yesterday & had a good look, which made me feel rather ghostly. i’ve mostly been reading, writing, wandering in the woods. i’m glad i’m leaving in august. i’m enjoying myself, but i feel temporary here.

36044134_1033043360205671_2199077732917182464_n

ada or ardor: love on black wings

so, it’s a love story. it’s a perverse, amoral, self-satirising, deeply romantic & generally iridescent love story.

the premise: a romance between a brother & sister. completely unabashed. given the same narrative treatment as any conventional romance, if you overlook, of course, the plot obstacles presented by the illegality of marrying one’s sibling. &, you know, the fact that the narrator is of course (this being a nabokov novel) a fellow of enjoyably dastardly unreliability.

it’s also a book of layers upon layers. puns in english, russian, french & latin, often snidely half-explained in nabokov’s own notes on the text. there’s a meta element- the novel is written within the novel by van veen, the narrator, & edited by ada veen, his lover/sister, so that every so often- usually after a particularly provocative passage- there’ll be a little [really, van] or [this isn’t how i remember it at all]. then there’s the part where the novel actually takes place in a weird alternate universe called antiterra- i’ll admit this puzzled me for about three hundred pages, during which i did a lot of flicking back & forth wondering why there were cinemas & fast cars when van veen kept repeating, insistently, that the year was 1884, & what the whole deal was with electricity, for that matter (a forbidden topic, it seems, on antiterra).

then there’s a tolstoyish digression on the texture of time, which i found both heavy going & distinctly tongue-in-cheek; the funniest if-you’re-reading-this-it’s-too-late note i’ve ever seen; transgressive sexual weirdness (alternately sumptuous, farcical or coolly ironic) that only seems less shocking than that of lolita because of how casual van veen is about it; & several doctors all mysteriously named rabbit in various languages.

there’s such an imaginative richness to nabokov’s prose, & i’d rather excerpt it than pick it apart. this bit’s from part one, which centres on van & ada’s first summer together.

“In this our dry report on Van Veen’s early, too early love, for Ada Veen, there is neither reason, nor room for metaphysical digression. Yet, let it be observed (just while the lucifers fly and throb, and an owl hoots – also most rhythmically – in the nearby park) that Van, who at the time had still not really tasted the Terror of Terra – vaguely attributing it, when analyzing his dear unforgettable Aqua’s torments, to pernicious fads and popular fantasies – even then, at fourteen, recognised that the old myths, which willed into helpful being a whirl of words (no matter how silly or mystical) and situated them within the gray matter of the star-suffused heavens, contained, perhaps, a glowworm of strange truth. His nights in the hammock (where that other poor youth had cursed his blood cough and sunk back into dreams of prowling black spumas and a crash of symbols in an orchal orchesta – as suggested to him by career physicians) were now haunted not so much by the agony of his desire for Ada, as by that meaningless space overhead, underhead, everywhere, the demon counterpart of divine time, tingling about him and through him, as it was to retingle – with a little more meaning fortunately – in the last nights of a life, which I do not regret, my love.”

i mean, look at that- it cartwheels through parody, wordplay, phantasmagoria, musicality, & ends up half a love letter.

ridiculously, unsurprisingly, i found myself rooting for the ada-van love story. the novel should be an act of moral contortionism, but van, as narrator, brushes the incest pretty much aside, & so any such wrangling is left to the reader. oh, & van is a complete ass, by the way- aggressive & absurd, often thoughtless, sometimes cruel. & passionate, & sometimes even compassionate, & with a dark distinct sense of humour.

ada is a funny one, more impenetrable than van- they share a certain thread of moral bankruptcy, but she seems even dreamier, even more out-of-time than van; arrogant, a little wild, obsessed with orchids & insects. (i love these little passions nabokov’s characters have.) both ada & van are complex, frustrating, funny; they make whimsical references to mansfield park, execute bizarre ploys to lock their little sister up so they can go & bang each other in peace, write each other letters in insanely convoluted codes…

& then there’s lucette, the novel’s ophelia, who might be my favourite character- her plotline is strange & tragic & wonderful & has true moral gravitas, i think. there’s a scene where she & van, meeting for the first time in years, spend hours talking in a dingy bar, & she starts to emerge as someone who could have been good had life not ruined her- one of zweig’s ‘god’s stepchildren who have no hope, but feel that their earthly existence can be justified only by loving and being loved.’ & nabokov lets her talk & talk:

“‘I enjoy- oh, loads of things,’ she continued in a melancholy, musing tone of voice, as she poked with a fork at her blue trout which, to judge by its contorted shape and bulging eyes, had boiled alive, convulsed by awful agonies. ‘I love Flemish and Dutch oils, flowers, food, Flaubert, Shakespeare, shopping, sheeing, swimming, the kisses of beauties and beasts- but somehow all of this, this sauce and all the riches of Holland, form only a kind of tomen’kiy-tonen’kiy (thin little) layer, under which there is absolutely nothing, except, of course, your image, and that only adds depth and a trout’s agonies to the emptiness. I’m like Dolores- when she says she’s “only a picture painted on air.”‘”

the whole book’s wonderful, but there’s something special about the lucette plotline to me. nabokov devotes a peculiar compassion to unrequited love- & it’s visible here perhaps even more clearly than in lolita & pale fire.

it’s a hard book to talk about because there’s subterranean treasure in every page. where do you even start? i loved it, of course. it’s a huge novel, lit by stars & spilled diamonds- the kind where every human being is also a firebird, a conjoined water-nymph, a monster with black wings. it didn’t move me the way pale fire did, but that’s an unfair comparison; i’m not sure anything’s ever moved me quite the way pale fire did. ada or ardor is its own brand of fantastical.

35731695_1028826877293986_1826914122319527936_n

eraserhead, 1977

how do you even watch a lynch movie? pausing it every few seconds to google this or that oddball symbol or uncomfortable sex scene? frantically trying to ‘work out’, to analyse?

i find that i just have to submit to the experience. sit back & let the weirdo magic put me under, & read the meta essays later.

eraserhead is a bizarre experience, mind-bogglingly surreal, frequently wince-inducing. the first line of speech doesn’t arrive until fifteen minutes into the film, & this has a funny effect: it forces you to listen to what else is going on. & the first thing that comes into focus is the constant hum of industrial noise that underlies the film, like the roar of silence in an empty room at night, amplified. sometimes it builds & builds to screaming-point, panic-point. you’re worried that the whole landscape- a dilapidated, sooty wasteland of dirty windows & protruding pipes- will explode in a shriek of steam & black gas.

you could say it’s a film about fear of having kids. you could say it’s about fear of sex (& as far as blanket statements about its ‘meaning’ go, that’s my favourite one). there’s an utterly gruesome creature that’s supposedly a premature baby but looks like the sort of deformed kitten foetus you might find preserved in a jar of formaldehyde in a glass cabinet at an english stately home. its thin wailing pervades the film for about an hour,  incessantly, to the point where i, the watcher, was practically ready to mute the damn thing. there’s a brilliant scene where- after an unbearable period of the baby just wailing into the darkness- henry spencer’s wife bursts into tears, declares she can’t stand it any longer, & marches out.

grotesque imagery, largely of helpless creatures that resemble barely-alive pieces of raw meat being sliced open. an indescribably awkward scene where henry spencer goes to dinner at his girlfriend’s house, where the inhabitants seem barely human- her father has a fixed, horrifying grin; her mother attacks henry & starts sort of erotically mauling him while he stands frozen. henry himself is a drudge, a shy, pasty dishcloth-type who never quite dares to question the strangeness of the things that happen to him. near the beginning there’s a scene where the tension builds almost unbearably: henry gets into the elevator in his apartment & presses the button. it’s filmed from across the room, a voyeur’s angle. the elevator doesn’t move; henry just stands there. for a really, really long time. absurdly long.

101

it’s probably at least twenty seconds that you’re just staring at the screen, getting vaguely freaked out, because why is he just standing there- & then the elevator moves. you realise that he had known the elevator took that long to start, that he was used to this. he’s a man so accustomed to life within a dreamscape that although things scare & embarrass him, nothing shocks him. this doesn’t make him look wise.

then there’s one of the great standout scenes, a blowsy, delirious rendition of in heaven by a mincing schoolgirl with very scary cheeks:

it’s funny that that scene feels more real than just about any other in the film. or rather: it feels like that scene enters the land of the Real, the land of symbol & essence. it’s the vision in its hypnotic grating lushness, stripped of the little harsh bits of daily life that make up so much of the unreality of the film. & man, is it disturbing.

i wouldn’t call eraserhead incoherent; it seems to operate according to its own internal logic, particularly in the later scenes, as though governed by a sort of dream code. but it is is a hard film to write about coherently.

so did i like it?

i thought it was horrible. disgusting & burnt-up & uncomfortable & even a little bit woozily beautiful. i couldn’t have looked away if i’d wanted to, & believe me, i did.

 

‘In such a night as this…’

so, i meant to post this last night, but instead i wrote myself into fuzzy-eyed exhaustion. LOOK AT THIS SCENE.

 

LORENZO: The moon shines bright!- In such a night as this, when the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees, and they did make no noise; in such a night, Troilus, methinks, mounted the Trojan walls, and sigh’d his soul toward the Grecian tents, where Cressid lay that night.

JESSICA: In such a night did Thisbe fearfully o’ertrip the dew, and saw the lion’s shadow ere himself, and ran dismay’d away.

LORENZO: In such a night stood Dido with a willow in her hand upon the wild sea-banks, and waft her love to come again to Carthage.

JESSICA: In such a night Medea gathered the enchanted herbs that did renew old Aeson.

LORENZO: In such a night did Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew, and with an unthrift love did run from Venice, as far as Belmont.

JESSICA: In such a night did young Lorenzo swear he lov’d her well, stealing her soul with many vows of faith, and ne’er a true one.

LORENZO: In such a night did pretty Jessica (like a little shrow) slander her love, and he forgave it her.

JESSICA: I would out-night you, did nobody come; but hark, I hear the footing of a man.

 

it does everything. i mean, first of all, it’s shakespeare at his most musical: ‘in such a night stood dido with a willow in her hand upon the wild sea-banks, and waft her love to come again to carthage’.

i could take that line apart, but i really don’t want to.

there’s humour (‘i would out-night you’!). & it’s romantic, of course, but there’s an echo of tragedy- because all the stories referenced end in tragedy. & yet once you know the context- that jessica & lorenzo are the naive young lovers who never seem to be in any real body-or-soul danger, unlike the other inhabitants of merchant– there’s another layer of fun there. jessica & lorenzo know the context of these stories; they know that theirs is unlikely to end in death. & so they’re fantasising, they’re laying the ley-lined silk of literature over their own romance & glorying in the allure of it. it’s a love-scene between lovers of literature. it’s behaviour i certainly recognise; it’s behaviour that i imagine all bookworms who’ve ever been remotely lovesick ought to understand. i find that really charming. thanks a bunch, shakey.

 

opals & thunderstorms: the dreamscapes of rosemary tonks

my speech from the uea ‘reading matters’ conference 2018. performed whilst pacing around the auditorium in a dressing-gown & a faceful of fake diamonds.

rosemary tonks’ poems take place within a kind of highly extravagant dreamscape. she’s generally regarded as a quintessential poet of the sixties, but i’m not sure that’s really true. time is unstable in this dreamscape of hers- it’s decaying, like the rotting boards of the parisian waterfronts in blouson noir, like the velvet nights that her poems often take place within, as they swoon towards daybreak & the dream is over.

her poems are filled with anonymous hotel liasons and electric lights. they are poems of blood-caked traffic, of dust and narcotics, of modern life. but they also flicker with a half-lost past. the yellow fogs of victoriana are everywhere, and she has the romantic preoccupation with the divine dreamers and somnolents of classical mythology. soho is orpheus’s dark and tangled underworld; ‘hypnos follows me all day in a silk dressing-gown,’ says her narrator.

then there’s the opium-smoke that is the dark breath of her world. in sofas, fogs and cinemas, ‘the light is brown as laudanum’. then europe is suffocated by ‘hot fogs and poppies’. the victorian obsession with the idea of the east as the faraway magical “orient” is all over her writing. the result of these collisions of modern and victorian attitudes is a kind of wooziness, a decay of time. when tonks lived alone in paris, she swore that she met baudelaire one night on an empty street. here, in her dreamscape, she peels up the pavements to let out the ghosts.

and the resulting decay is voluptuous. tonks constantly manipulates our wonder and our disgust. there’s passages of overripe fleshy grotesquerie- for instance, ‘could i not read as well the tradesman’s hand/ with its magenta creases- whose soul turns blandly/ on a sirloin mattress to smile at the next meal?’ images of meat, of flies on meat, are everywhere.

but then there’s passages of luminous, synaesthetic loveliness, often to do with dreams- so long as they’re distant. in ace of hooligans: ‘the dream in fluent opal swam against his eyes/its waters sumptuously baited as the sea’. in ‘running away’- ‘i was a hunter whose animal/ is that dark hour when the hemisphere moves/ in deep blue blaze of dews/ and you, brunette of the birdmusic tree,/ spatter in spat diamonds/ drunkenly.’ aside from the sheer sensuous beauty of those lines, i think ‘birdmusic tree’ references the arabian nights’ tale ‘the talking bird, the singing tree, and the golden water’- again mingling the geography of this dreamscape of hers. it isn’t quite london or europe or the vague scheherazadian east, but a fantasy-place where they all meet and fragment.

her imagery of rotting flesh and turning meat- of erotic mortality- makes sense in this context; wonder and disgust are both valid reactions because her dreamscapes- her dark cities- are in a constant state of bloom and breakdown. there’s the ‘shabby thrilling twilight of the street’; the ‘rank elegance’ of rome; and, ultimately, in her poem ‘escape’, she acknowledges this- ‘and your soul knows half the flavour/ lies underfoot in dirty flagstones’. the beauty of decay is their enchantment. it’s what makes her dreamscapes so strange and so wonderful.

shylock, domestic bliss, i am a degenerate

-my rosemary tonks presentation is undone, A Certain Project is languishing on 23k, & all our tea-towels are starting to smell funny. but i don’t care because i’m reading ada or ardor & it’s so dense & sumptuous & weird & i cannot. put. it down.

-finished king john; onto the merchant of venice! this play is fucked UP. the part where he’s an anti-semitic stereotype aside, shylock’s dialogue is so interesting- there’s layers & layers of ambiguity there. he’s not a caricature. he’s complex. & bassanio is way more interesting than i expected him to be (i think i was anticipating another antipholus)- he’s an enormous fuckboy & terribly reckless with money & also the only character who actually seems to respect shylock & then there’s… the whole… thing… with… antonio…

-also i LOVE gratiano. there are just no boring characters in this one, guys. well, i haven’t met jessica yet.

-despite the fact that i have about sixteen films lined up to watch that i haven’t got round to yet (hello princess kaguya, hello lost highway) i’ve ordered the 2004 movie adaptation already. whoops. it looks good! jeremy irons is the absolute perfect choice for antonio, joseph fiennes’ hair is giving me stitches, & i may just be a huge sucker for the whole crumbling-venetian-glamour thing. okay, yeah, i am.

-i’m trying to restrain myself from buying call me buy your name on d.v.d. also an ophelia t-shirt. & the new fleurs du mal translation. the government probably shouldn’t give me money. i bought perfume instead of new trousers the other day. so, you know, on the one hand i smell like jasmine & sandalwood, but on the other hand i’m wearing holey purple cords. which is admittedly a look. lucy thinks i’m appallingly vain & she’s right. we were late to squad breakfast at ziggy’s the other day because i took an hour deciding which of my four black chokers to wear.

-i have a grand total of sixteen days left in norwich. & then it’s back to the dark & savage north, & lighting tallow candles to read by, & galumphing around in untreated sheepskins, & stewing young children in pots, & communicating in a complex system of grunts & gesticulations. (okay, full disclosure, my mother’s house is about sixteen times as clean as this flat & candles aren’t allowed upstairs anyway. & it’s like, five minutes away from the library, which is nice.)

-the main question is how on earth to say goodbye to everyone i’ve met here. of course i’ll be seeing jo, will, lucy & jamie again within three months- our lease on the Beverage Cult begins august, & we’re thinking about going to see as you like it at the globe in july, if we can scrape up the cash- but still. & it won’t be as easy with some of my other friends here.

-there is also the somewhat high probability that, Mallet Moron, banshee taps & minor floods notwithstanding, i will miss mcc. i mean, we have a balcony, for god’s sake. a balcony from which you can see the cathedral spire, & a lamp-post that illuminates the falling snow in winter. we have a topaz-eyed courtyard cat that i’ve only just got to like me. we have a river that the lights fall on like copper etchings. i have a bloody enormous desk that supports, atlas-like, my entire world, i.e my laptop, my complete works of shakespeare, my nabokovs, & quite a lot of tea. also currently my right leg.

-so, yes, going up north is going to be something of a shock to the system. but there are people that i love there too. & forests that drip with blackberries in august, & little bohemian theatre-cafes where i’ve read at open mic nights, & deep, dusty library archives. that’s one thing about being a wanderer, i suppose- to some extent, you carry your world with you.

-&, oh my god, hills. when was the last time i saw a hill? i don’t remember. it’s been so long.

-lucy has returned from hiding. we have fallen easily back into our delightful routine, by which i mean that every so often we emerge from our bedrooms so that she can deride my “rabbit food” & i can pillory her ridiculous love-affair with gravy granules (for god’s sake), & she mocks me for nerding out over the richard ii beach scene, & i throw overripe soft fruit at her & challenge her to arm-wrestles. ah, domesticity.

30/5/2018