This Paper Speaks Volumes (What Is The Language Using Us For #14)

It appears I’m more superstitious than I thought.

I’d wanted to leave W.S. Graham at 13 posts, but that 13 niggled. So here’s the 14th, still about WITLUUF, but also about Nick Pole. Nick who wrote this poem after hearing Willie’s.

Here’s my by-heart recital of Nick’s poem:


This paper speaks volumes
In being so white.

 This is more than just a neat pun. As I wandered around Fryent Park committing the poem to memory, I had a Day-The-Saucers-Came moment.

What I realised through Nick’s poem is the self-evident, but not-oft-considered truth that the blank page already communicates much of what we need to know about ourselves. And would certainly communicate this to them, the extra-terrestrials, landing in the school playground, rifling through empty classrooms for a some notion of who we are or were: faded wall-charts, unlined exercise books, poetry picked apart in essays.

A few hundred years ago, these mass-produced, bleached, pressed sheaves of cellulose pulp costing just pennies to own, didn’t exist. Not to the masses like you and me.

Those who write tear their hair out in front of the chiding blank page. But the page itself, without anything on it, is already a kind of ode to human ingenuity, civilisation and desecration. And let us not even begin looking at the computer screen.

Were we to get over, to get beyond (“through the suburbs” as it were – thank you Willie) our own middle class fraughtness and simply be grateful for the blank page as an object and what it tells us about our own species, so much neurosis and suffering might be allayed{{1}}.

Another part of Nick’s line that began to niggle like an age-old superstition against the number 13, was that ‘in being so white’. Depending on your circumstances, being-white means more to some than others. Having grown up in South Africa under apartheid in which whiteness mattered (“spoke volumes”)  and non-whiteness didn’t, or rather mattered only in order to be effaced, that line cannot help but disturb and shift some of the terrain within.

Is this all getting too metaphysical, political? OK, let’s talk about the body.

As if to lay a single word here
However carefully, or prayerfully
Would be a sacrilege, a sacrifice.
What can I do? How can I say this,
Without my pen?

As I walked and recited, and walked and recited, looking down at my mobile phone on which the document was stored in order to check that I wasn’t making the words up {{2}}), my mind kept on substituting penis for pen.

Although the popular imagination would have it that this is de rigeur for psychotherapists (we don’t see pens, just phallic objects, everywhere), generally, for me,  a pen is just a pen. And a pen in a poem is still a pen.

So why did the poem seem to want me to substitute penis for a pen? What was the language using me for? What was the language using Nick for? I wasn’t in his head when he wrote it, but I bet he didn’t think (consciously at least): “OK, now let’s make some allusion here to Renoir, Miller and a century of Feminist discourse on the connection between Phallus (Lacanian or otherwise{{3}}) and the creative process.”

I realised rather that the penis was calling to be heard through a sort of syllabic cipher, an “empty” echoing stress that needed to be filled. Here’s how I think it works:

How can I say this?

Five syllables, stress on say, line ending on “weak” this.

Without my pen.

Four syllables, stress on pen. And so the minds desiring symmetry (both in poetry and love-objects) hears an echo of the word “this”.

Without my pen (this).

This further enriches the poem. It is now not just metaphysical{{4}}, but extremely physical, pitching us straight back again into (gender) politics too.

Is there something about writing, historically done by men, that has a phallic-energy to it, whatever that means? What would it entail to write without the symbolic or even actual penis? Would it mean not-writing, not creating, being more open to blank spaces and places within and without, not needing so desperately or ardently to fill them? Or a different kind of writing? Maybe something less prominent? Like blogging perhaps?

I don’t know.

[[1]]This line of Nick’s makes me want to take a blank sheet of A4 paper, just any old 80gsm from a Value Ream-Wrapped block you’d buy from Staples, and place it with much care and attention into an austere and sacredly expensive Habitat frame. Just to remind me that emptiness is “OK”, the “grounds” of emptiness being a somethingness. Maybe we don’t always need to fill the world with stuff (write poems, have children), maybe we can also be filled by stuff (learning poems, having children).[[1]]

[[2]]I kept on wanting to say “no matter how carefully, or prayerfully” as opposed to “however”. However is more resonant, more in keeping with Nick’s voice which is soft and resonant; whereas my ear maybe just wants things to matter, matter, matter (natter, natter, natter).[[2]]

[[3]]”Lacan distances himself from Freud’s emphasis on the biological organ of the penis. Lacan talks instead of the phallus. What he is primarily referring to is what the child perceives it is that the mother desires. Because the child’s own desire is structured by its relationships with its first nurturer (usually in Western societies the mother), it is thus the desire of the mother, for Lacan, that is the decisive stake in what transpires with the Oedipus complex and its resolution. In its first years, and later whilst writing poems, or short stories, or blogging on the Internet, Lacan contends, the child devotes itself to trying to fathom what it is that the (m)other desires, so that it can try to make itself the phallus for the (m)other- a fully satisfying love-object. At around the time of its fifth or sixth desire, however, the father will normally intervene in a way that lastingly thwarts this Oedipal aspiration. The ensuing renunciation of the aspiration to be the phallic Thing for the (m)other, and not any physical event or its threat, is what Lacan calls castration, and it is thus a function to which he thinks both boys and girls are normally submitted to both online and off.” ([[3]]

[[4]]Although what I love about it is the viscerality of his metaphysics. By hitting hard and through repetition the stresses of SACrilege and SACrifice, Pole draws our attention once again to ying-yang binaries: the non-SACred already holds within it the sacred, even if only (if only!) lexically – its absence being its presence.[[4]]


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