ALS: That last line really sends me Max… captures so beautifully the notion of ‘a birth and a death’ that you mention. By experiencing the show, the teens lives have altered, been forever changed… and with all change, something of our former selves is lost. Loss is another recurring image in many of your poems. Before we lose each other again contains some of my favourite lines in the collection: ‘I’d hear your name on a stranger’s tongue’ and ‘all our blood beats to the drum/ of a hunter who can never rest’, make the hair on my neck prickle. Loss is something we all experience, so I am interested in how it influences your writing.
MR: Thanks for pointing that out. It makes me realise another element of that last line… the man remembering is forever captured by the spell of another time and place, even imagination or the world it conjures implies some kind of loss…
Loss is at the heart of all poetry, methinks. Something Michael Dransfield says:
to be a poet what it means to lose the self to lose the self
I guess I don’t see this loss as necessarily a calamitous thing. Keats seemed to be pointing to something like that in his notion of Negative Capability: because the poet (not the person) has no fixed identity, is in a sense lost to the sureties of worldly existence, he/she is made open to the experience of ever-changing life. Also, the art of haiku in a sense necessitates this loss of self which is why it’s truly a humbling art.
But yeah, there’s a fairly strong theme of loss and an attendant sorrowful tone in Before the Sky. I remember being struck with that when I first saw the proofs and Judy Johnson, who edited the book, had placed two elegies at the start. Maybe I’m particularly drawn to the subject… I couldn’t say I’m an especially moribund person, there’d be few people alive who hadn’t been made aware of how precarious this existence is. There’s a beautiful section in the film What Happened to Kerouac? where Allen Ginsberg speaks about Kerouac’s death and (I can’t remember his exact words) explains how we mourn for existence because we know that this very place is it, it won’t come again.
Before we lose each other again is my first attempt at a villanelle. The title implies that the woman is one I’ve known before and am destined to meet (and lose) again and again. The form of the poem with its recurring lines and cyclical, incantatory cadences is ideal for such a theme. Without going into a discussion of transmigration of souls or somesuch, I think there’s often this recognition when we encounter certain special people that we somehow know them in an entirely uncanny way.
Kieran Ryan (on the Kid Sam album) says it nicely in the song Mirror Drawings:
I’ve been around once or twice now
Come around a few times more
but I can’t always recognise you
in all your different forms
streets of jogjakarta touches on something similar:
the rooftop thrums with rain
as she comes back to say goodbye
calling you to go or stay
like she once did in another time
Going back to the villanelle, the image of the hunter is of course a symbol for death or mortal fate, the thing we can never escape. So the very thing that pursues the lovers, the knowing that ‘one night the hunt will end’ instills a kind of desperate passion in their lovemaking. The ‘faceless hunter’ beats the drum and we can only dance to it:
and all our blood beats to the drum
of a hunter who can never rest