An Island that is all the World

– an unfinished conversation over a number of incomplete rounds. I finish, as always, on the ropes and gasping for breath, casting glances at my corner and wondering if I'll ever reach it.

Ian Davidson

. . . pages become bright islands floating in darkness . . . (p53)

The island might be Brightlingsea, a town down a road like the neck of a womb that ends in sea and swamp.

The islands are almost still places in memory . . . (p53)

The island might be the Yachtsman's pub in Brightlingsea. Oliver smoked small cigars and played pool with the unhurried calm of the snooker player. So maybe he was the island.

The island centre is a darkness through which all islands are linked together. (p53)

The island might be Oliver's seminar series in the University of Essex. It's where I first read Creeley. As I sd to my friend John I sd. Or maybe the Creeley poem was the island.

The island might be Oliver, sitting in his front room in New Street or Sydney Street, working at a typewriter while I walked past on my way to another pub.

Sometimes I return to the sea scenes of childhood to seek the origins of whatever stabilises myself in space and time. (p46)

The island might be my room overlooking the Colne from a poor terraced house.

The island might be surrounded by a sea of whisky, or it might be my car, it's floor littered with empty cigarette packets.

None of these islands were all the world to me.

I never hear rich calm voices in my imagination. I hate them. But I'm interested in people who do.

. . . once we touch more profoundly natural unconscious sides of ourselves all the cultural rubbish falls away and we recognise a deep kinship, an international kinship . . . (p92)

I don't think culture is inessential, or more or less than an unconscious, or that there is a 'spirit' in a poem. But when I say that I don't think I don't quite believe it, or that I'm right, and I'm interested in people who do think that and try to argue it.

The island might be Oliver in my imagination writing in a room in Paris.

When I lived in my literal home island, at each moment the outer British world became part of the deep self creation: my family life, my village, the near town, distant friends . . . (p81)

The island might be Oliver's Englishness which he took everywhere with him as he traveled the world; like a character from Graham Greene who never could quite grasp how slippery everything is. Or maybe he did but chose not to.

Though as a foreign observer I was safe . . . (p95)

The island might be Oliver's place of attack against the choppy waters of literary theory.

The island might be Oliver's archive in the library at the University of Essex.

The island might be Oliver performing his poetry.

It was verray intense . . . (p92)

I don't really believe in stopped time or the instant. My life is more fluid, or liquid. One moment flowing into the next. But then again one time in a pub in St Albans in 1980, and honestly I hadn't been drinking, the whole scene slowed down and the voices went slurred and the faces slipped like a Francis Bacon painting.

If a past memory comes into the present and simultaneously the present is vivid, then the past shares in the immediacy; for a second or two I sense a potential to bring all the intervening life into the immediate as well. (p105)

I come from a bilingual culture; hybridity is my 'natural' state. It is for most people in the world. Others seem to think it affectation or fancy – a kind of willful construct. They believe in the possibility of a stable or essential relationship between language, culture and geography. The popularization of linguistic and literary theory in the 1970s and 80s validated my life experience rather than challenged it. Kind of sad when you think about it.

Unity of form disappears into ambiguous dark whenever we examine it analytically, but its heart is always like the beating heart of a poem: it is the precious origin of our lives' form, or of a true politics. (p107)

The island might be a place of nostalgia, of longing for a certainty that, for some, is only ever a promise.

It could be any moment in any adult life when a past island is left behind; a new one not yet reached. Unfortunately for them, poets often get their work out of such tenseness; they're washing about in a mid-sea . . . (p78)

The island might be a raft made out of the debris that is left after global capitalism has swept through, and the poet a Crusoe figure trying to construct a meaning from the bits and pieces long after capitalism has constructed a number of other possible futures and turns to point and laugh with many empty voices.

And an island might be a place for the avant-garde to hang out mulling over what things might mean while the rest of the world goes scudding past. A kind of post-garde with poor fashion sense, bad haircuts and ethical concerns and endless bickering over definitions and readings in places not designed for readings and picking over the debris of capitalism while capitalism consumes and discards.

In a poem each stress is held in memory and perceived as a unity of sound, meaning and special poetic emotion . . . The stress centres a tiny island in memory. The centre of the island is occluded; it is the moment when we believe the stress actually happened. (p57)

I have never been at home anywhere. Most people haven't. Or if they have they rarely need to bother to write anything down so you won't have heard of them. It's all around them, written in the material of their lives.

Separating from England almost cleaved my unconscious identity in half, an irreparable harm I'd done. (p91)

I live on an island and have done most of my life. The island might be Ynys Mon, or Holyhead Island. As I read I might be constructing an island as a reflection of my own island rather than inhabiting his.

I might be doing him an injustice. This reading might be a misreading.

The island might be a boxing ring. It might be a place of peace or a place of conflict. The boxing ring might be middle class family life in the South of England.

In poems
each beat
fills my mind with melody
half there from the past
half there from the future;
but if the boxer's punch
can catch an opponent
before the self has thought
to fill itself with the self
. . .
any moderately hard punch
at that moment
will K.O.
The island might be that moment between two events. Like the body of a bird between wing beats. Or it might be the point at which, standing straight up to take your medicine, all defenses are down and the knock out punch gets through.

The knockout catches the mind between its tiniest islands, in a moment when the instant has not quite entered memory to be filled with form. (p60)

The island might be the:

. . . deep whole healthy self that is constructed of all unconscious vividness built into it . . . (p103)

If he has a deep whole self how does he know it's healthy? Is there no doubt? Maybe in the end we're rotten inside, or some of us are, and all we do is for the wrong reasons. However hard I try to be selfless I end up being selfish. Or is that simply the result of my being ambidextrous, of the left hand never knowing what the right hand is doing. Or classic Gemini tendencies. I think, see, that all the interesting stuff takes place at the edges, just out of sight, stuff I catch out of the corner of my eye. Glances. Glancing blows that keep me rocking. Inside is full to bursting with organs. So the idea of the rays of the object brought to a focus, is replaced by constant blurred movement. No still center. No perfect rest. No possibility of sustaining a position, or an opposition, and a metaphysics of attention is replaced by movement. Movement between countries, on the flickering screen, from lover to lover, from job to job and from poem to poem. Never sitting still and thinking about anything. How to count the loss of that.

I hate authoritative voices. They make me want to spit. Or otherwise misbehave. I don't like the idea of an island but I've chosen to live on one. And it's an island attached to another island. So maybe I like the idea of an island so long as it's in relationship to a lot of other islands. And Oliver almost says that when he says that 'all the islands of ourself expand out to the larger self and the larger self takes place in the great unconscious universe . . .' and my heart goes pitter patter and I reach for the word intertextual or rhizomatic to pin it down and then I read the next bit 'always as itself' and how 'its heart is the precious origin of our lives form'. Islands are the temporarily visible high points of consciousness, arising out of the unity of the unconscious. In the same way that underwater all physical islands are linked by the unity of the world, all 'memory' islands are linked via the unconscious. Each island has its own bordered unity and each person has their own bordered unconscious. It's a tempting visual analogy. It gives a sense of security, and a sense of endless possibility within that security, where all islands are possible in their recombination. But if there are borders to the unconscious, and each conscious island, how can we recognise those borders without consciously crossing them? To recognise the border is to acknowledge the other side and challenge any notion of unity. What is on the other side? Will acknowledging that cause disunity?

An island might be like those islands where strange animals still live cut off from the rest of the world and missed out on mainstream evolution and where words still mean what they say. Why did Oliver go on so much about the similarities and differences of avant-garde and mainstream poetry? Is it because he thought somewhere, through all that, there was an island where he could write the pure poem?

There is no island that is all the world. There isn't. Show me, go on, show me.

Page references are to 'An Island that is all the World' from the Paladin selection Three Variations on the Theme of Harm.

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