The most interesting things in life often happen by accident.
Perhaps it’s because I’m on the brink of a birthday but recently I’ve been thinking about how memory works and noticing my changing relationship with it. I used to think that memory and imagination occupied different compartments of my brain – particularly in relation to the making of a poem. Lately I’m more inclined to think they’re aspects of the same impulse – our need for assimilation and understanding. Memories aren’t fixed – they evolve over time and there’s always more to uncover than you think there is.
Since I became more thoroughly aware of that, I’m less interested in writing about ‘the past’, which feels like a slightly skewed concept – much more intricately stitched into our present experience than is always comfortable. If it’s true that we are the sum of our thoughts, words and actions, the past, present and future can be seen to work in parallel –all with the potential to be changed by our making different choices. I’ve often thought of this as manifest in the process of choosing the next word (and the next and the next etc) when writing a line of poetry. None of it is inevitable, although we might persuade ourselves it is so.
Today I have been looking at a friend’s gift of tulips (a gorgeous variety called Angélique). They’re just getting blousy – that knack tulips have of dying so very beautifully. Over sixteen years ago I must have looked at another gift of tulips and wrote Still Life (from Storyville, Bloodaxe 1997). Re-reading it is like looking at an old photograph of myself, a historical translation. A great deal of my experience and how I would choose to express myself has changed but I recognize the almost physical impact of the flowers’ beauty, the pleasure that goes in through the eyes and touches something in the belly.
Isn’t this how memory and imagination works? Not in the brain at all but somewhere in the gut, all those nerve endings stimulated into communicating a sense of perception, of relationship and intimacy. How we choose to respond to that moment of recognition and connection affects what the future looks like. And today, how my new tulip poem might unfold and what the coming year may bring…