Friday, August 21, 2020


As the title says, I've been feeling a lot of restlessness lately. 

I've written at great length, on this blog, about the problems of the contemporary world that preoccupy me. Homogenization. Globalization. The death of tradition. The sidelining of poetry.

But increasingly, I find myself asking what I'm doing about it, and feeling the urge to do something about it. Some kind of protest, or gesture, or stand.

And it's challenging for me, because I'm a shy and retiring sort of chap. I find it very difficult to do anything extroverted.

And yet I feel, by their very nature, the problems that preoccupy me require a more extroverted response than simply writing. That they require taking to the street-- or the supermarket, or the pub, or the other theatres of ordinary life.

My aborted novel, The Cross, in which the central character decides to carry a cross through the streets of Dublin, was an attempt to dramatize this urge.

I've seriously considered forming a group to distribute sheets of poetry outside supermarkets. Anything to disrupt the bovine soullessness of contemporary life.

The supermarket especially upsets me. It seems a provocation that such hideously utilitarian, characterless, consumerist places should be so complacently endured. But people spend far more time in supermarkets than they do in theatres or arts centres or cinemas or galleries.

But the supermarket is only a particularly galling example. I can't reconcile myself to the fact that most daily life is utterly banal, rootless, drained of the transcendent or the poetic.

Other things are fuelling this restlesness, this sense of malaise. I posted this on Facebook yesterday, to no response:

I've stopped keeping a diary after five years. It just became too much of a task. That was weeks ago. However, I've now found myself wondering about the value of the unrecorded moment, the unrecorded day. What value does experience have in itself? How does any given moment relate to your whole life? Where do the words go when they are wiped off the blackboard? Or, to quote Rod McKuen, what does it matter what's done in the day after the day is done? Are some parts of life meaningful and is the rest just about getting to those parts, or can it all be meaningful? Facebook, give me answers.

I wasn't really expecting answers from Facebook, of course.

This is where my head is at. I am bothered by things which seem to bother hardly anyone else, and the task of putting them into words is also troubling me.


  1. I sympathise very much with this post. I suppose one answer is that since we believe in objective beauty, that beauty exists regardless of how firmly a culture turns its back on it.

    The idea of giving sheets of poetry out at supermarkets — a kind of poetic evangelisation — certainly could work. But, apart from your aversion to extroversion, which I share, I think it has to work in people's minds and hearts, and just as with the evangelisation of the Gospel, people might (understandably) resist anything that makes them feel self-conscious. A great deal of good could be done if poetry-lovers didn't hide their love of poetry, and allowed it to influence their everyday speech. I don't mean giving ourselves airs, but simply dropping in fragments of poetry or poetic turns of phrases if we have the opportunity, as people always used to do. And having little poems up our sleeves — like Larkin's 'The Trees' or 'Jenny kiss'd me' or R. S. Thomas's 'The Bright Field', or the last verse of a poem, or a couplet — to bring out at an opportune moment. As with the Gospel, the best form of evangelisation is surely to live what you are preaching; if it is plain that poetry brings joy and consolation to our lives, people will be carried along with it. That, perhaps, is how you can 'take it to the street' without doing anything too extrovert!

    Just my two penn'orth!


    1. Your two penn'orth is good here, sir!

      Thanks for the comment. I do agree little low-key acts of "poetic evangelism" are necessary and good, but I remain compelled by the idea that grand gestures are also necessary, even if they fluster people. The whole idea would be to disrupt the flow of mundane, ordinary existence and do something totally unexpected that would get people talking and thinking! And in my view the gesture has a value of its own, like street theatre.

    2. Yes I see what you mean; perhaps I even agree! Maybe something along the lines of street theatre would be the way to go; for instance a performance of an extract from Shakespeare. There are videos on YouTube of impromptu performances by choirs singing in shopping centres, which has been met with surprise and delight.