Wednesday, May 4, 2011

where I first saw you, must be just beyond

Standing by the bookshelf in the bedroom the other day I picked up the Selected Poems of Geoffrey Hill and began to read the Triumph of Love --

Benevolent, like a Young Fabians' Club
vision of labour; invariable routine
produced the same hot water, brought to the boil --

-- and at that moment I heard the electric kettle in the kitchen switch itself off. M. had turned it on to make hot water and now it had boiled. The coincidence gave me a shock, and I saw my own shock in the form of a luminous electric halo that appeared and expanded in front of my forehead. When I went back to the book later and opened it at roughly the same place I was ready to hear that click from the kitchen again, even though this time I knew that the kettle wasn't on.

When I walk outside now, after nearly stepping on that rattlesnake, I have a similar sense of anticipation; I'm always ready to hear the rattle again and meet an identical snake, I tow this snake invisibly on an invisible string, like an invisible helium balloon or a pet, as Little Dorrit in the second part of her book is followed around by the debtor's prison where she spent chapters two to thirty-six.

She describes the sensation in a letter: "For instance, when we were among the mountains, I often felt (I hesitate to tell such an idle thing, dear Mr Clennam, even to you) as if the Marshalsea must be behind that great rock; or as if Mrs Clennam's room where I have worked so many days, and where I first saw you, must be just beyond that snow."

My adoption of the invisible parasite was quicker than hers; she suffered quietly for more than twenty years (or over thirty chapters in book time, which makes chapters something like dog years), I only had a sharp surprise. Picking the Marshalsea out of London she brings it around with her, either stripping the building of London or stripping London of the building, pulling it off the street and forcing it up hills, around rocks (unwilling shepherd with her sheep as internal as hookworms), dislocating it from its place as I dislocated my kettle-click from its specific time and attached it for an unknown number of days or years to that line in the Selected Geoffrey Hill.

Detaching it from the moment of actual boiling I have tucked it forever on page one hundred and eighty-four, where I am coercing it into the shape of a bookmark.


  1. Not only strange you should read that just as the kettle boiled but funny you should mention Little Dorrit just as I was about to send you a link to further ranting on my part about television - in this case the BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit:

  2. I've been thinking of hunting down that adaptation, though I know (as you say in your post) that it won't have the language that animates the book. Dickens' prose is an energy transmitter, and if you don't replace it with something, if you don't have a director who can fill that void with themselves, then you don't have the central character of Little Dorrit (and all of his other books), which is that expansive and dominating energy.