Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Love or Death?

Anyone who has been in love (and let’s face it, surely everyone has?) will know how vulnerable one can become. Unlike the snail in the poem posted below, some retain an unbreakable shell to hide in. And anyone who has a relationship with a poet must know that they’ll end up ‘in these lines, from time to time,’ to quote Joni Mitchell. In that same song, ‘A Case of you,’ Joni takes a line from Julius Caesar: ‘I am as constant as the Northern Star.’ Having cited a play about horrific deceit and betrayal, it’s time to continue my tale about the person I thought I had fallen in love with last year.

When I first began to perform my work on the spoken word scene in Edinburgh, I found it nerve-wracking. Despite my experience as a performer, I discovered that reading or reciting one’s own words leaves a person exposed. It’s not the same vulnerability that falling in love brings, where one can risk being exploited with utter devastation – as have I learned to my cost. Edinburgh audiences are warm and supportive, welcoming people no matter where they are from or at as writers.

As I performed more, I became well-known for using props and pictures to accompany my words. I sometimes invited fellow-performers to recite with me. Playing my best hand, I sang in between poems, making my performance memorable to some. For one poem, I got a member of the audience (prior to performing) to flip a fifty pence coin at the end of the poem. This made the audience believe the poem’s end is decided by the toss of a coin. Not the case, but I like the conceit.


They tossed a coin.
She had to leave the next day, so,
as if their love was purchased by
a simple ‘heads-or-tails,’ they tossed a coin.

They met by chance,
so why not leave their parting up to Fate.
They tossed a coin before it was too late,
before affairs internal intervened;
decisions better made by flip-of-coin
than flutter-of-heart or flicker-of-brain.
Before they feared all hope of love was lost,
before she caught her plane, they tossed –
although she’d bought the ticket with
the same process; heads, return;
(or was it, single?) tails, one-way.
That lucky coin had much to do to earn its pay.

It seemed a flippant way to choose
between a part-time love, long-distance,
or a momentary muse.
They tossed a coin and left to Chance
a future separate or separated;
a fifty-fifty abdication of
decisions doubly complicated:
What if either was to disagree?
Should they try for best-of-three?

They could, of course, ignore Fate’s fickle hand,
and do whatever Love had planned:
Love, that faithless mimic of Fate’s random.
It was Love had thrown them both together, tandem.
And so, they tossed the coin the one time only.
It was that coin that held them both together, lonely.

This poem was published in one of the Blind Poetics pamphlets. When I performed it at The Blind Poet last year, I asked an attractive young woman sitting on the sofa next to the stage area if she could do the coin-flip thing. A grey-haired man, old enough to be her father’s older brother, said ‘She won’t be able to.’ I gave him a look that said, I wasn’t asking you, and handed her the coin. I hate to admit that her companion was right. I ended up tossing the coin myself.

The un-named person at the centre of my current tale was, I later learned, that girl on the sofa. We met, by chance, a few months after and began ‘seeing each other,’ to coin a phrase. I subsequently gave her a second chance to flip a coin in exchange for tickets I’d bought to see something together, and she succeeded. It seems the grey-haired man didn’t know her so well after all. It also seemed that fate in fact had a different ending in store, although I didn’t come to know this for some time.

I had no reason to think the newly-forming relationship that I was in was destined for the disaster that occurred. Since I have indicated that she was a manipulative schemer, I’m not sure it was down to fate at all. Were there warning-signs? Oh yes, but when you are newly in love with a person who is a figment of their own imagination, even those romantic composers can be quickly dismissed.


Neue Liebe

Mendelssohn began where Schumann left off,
took a newer, or ‘renewed’ love,
and set off on a pacing steed into a night
of moonlit passion and speedy quaver passages.
Did he think he’d found the key
to an eternal mystery that Schumann
attempted to bury at sea?
Old Felix liked the water, true enough,
but couldn’t stop the floods from drowning Love.
His diminished chord on ‘Tod’ proved it was not,
as the Bible claims, as strong as Death.
Maybe he was expecting something truly
novel out of Love, not just a dull repeat.
But this was a man who claimed he could
see Fingal’s Cave from Arthur’s Seat.

As I have said, our relationship wasn’t straight-forward. She was a busy person, with her tutoring, studies, and business arrangements (although I’ll never know how genuine these were.) I have to admit I was upset when she didn’t come to see me performing my work, especially since the poems were inspired by her. But I’m not a possessive type. Once, before we were formally introduced to each other, she asked if I was going to a particular poetry event. I had forgotten our first encounter at the Blind Poet, and was surprised to find that she knew I was into spoken word stuff.

I attended the event in question and, naturally, looked out for her. She wasn’t there. It seems that, from the start, she was plotting her connivance. The first part of her plan was to ensure that our social paths never crossed. I guess it was important that I didn’t see that grey-haired man again. Lately, a friend said to me that this story has become the stuff of myth; we can never be sure what happened or did not; what was true or fake. I put her behaviour down to the fact that we wanted different things from our relationship. Yet she made it clear that she wanted me in her life.


Mixed Doubles

I tried to explain polytonality
to a student.
It’s two opposing modalities
played at the same time.
He looked confused.
Don’t the differing tonalities jar?
No, said I: it’s about what you feel,
not what you think you hear.
It’s a four foot stop
on the organ,
or that bit in the Bolero, you know,
where the high winds play
the same tune in a different key.
I could tell he’d never seen
that dance made famous
by Torville and Dean.
At the same time? said he.
Yes, said I, consecutively.
The pleasure principle, doubled?
said he, clearly troubled.
So I said, it’s like two lovers
who want different things,
and yet their love still sings.
He looked at me quizzically.
It simply is,
said I.

Of course I’ll never really know what was going on in the mind of this person I was dating, if that’s the right expression. I had no reason to believe that the texts, emails and conversations that we shared were anything other than genuine. I knew that the expression ‘love’ was hard for her, partly due to the difficult up-bringing she had been through. That said, I don’t know how much of what she told me was actually true. Either way, she seemed unable to express those three magic words.

Fickle Daisies

She plucked another petal, then
another when she found it true.
And thinking she’d been fooled,
she plucked another petal. Then
presuming luck – or fate – pretend
to know the answer over-ruled
she plucked another petal; then
another when she found it true.

I’m going to end this post with another song, by Genesis. After Gabriel and Hackett left, there were only three. It seems there were at least three people in this person’s life. And I had been lured into a waiting trap that I could never have spotted. For all her reticence to utter the words, ‘I love you,’ this person who shall not be named was quite able to say another three fateful words.

‘I am pregnant.’