Guest Blog Post, Philip Gross: Three a.m., in Boston

Philip Gross at Boathouse (Stephen Morris)Twelve storeys up in Boston (yes, that’s in British-English, where storeys are not the same as stories) – three days into the word-storm of AWP… I wake after three hours sleep, on a still-visible tidemark of my home time zone. Other tidemarks show through, like one left by Anne Carson’s reading yesterday evening – the point-by-point enumeration, with the sound of logic, of a train of thought… What I sit up and write isn’t imitation, isn’t homage, and is nothing to do with her meaning. At three a.m. a tone, her tone, feels like a place, a set of inner rooms (look, with numbers on them). You can walk through them. Pausing. Glancing around a little guiltily, an interloper. Not quite sure if you’re welcome. But trying the sound of your voice, how it echoes, in each…

                                                   Theses at three a.m.

1. That even starting from nowhere, going nowhere else, still simply the numbering of things creates a sense of movement. An illusion… as innocent as a painted backdrop hand-winched along outside the window of a train in an early motion picture.

2. That I catch myself believing that’s what they did – the hand-winching, I mean – because I’ve written it, though I don’t have a shred of evidence.

3. That this too is a kind of movie. Stop-motion animation of a thought like Play-Doh or Plasticine.

4. That human figures made from Plasticine or Play-Doh, from beach sand or mud, grow naturally between our fingers, where they have a kind of life.

5. That somewhere a mullah might even now be denouncing a child for doing that thing, unthinking, with blasphemous hands.

6. That God might, secretly, be eaten up with fondness, at the sight of these blunt malformed child-made creatures. Sad too, knowing that they cannot be allowed to live.

7. That somewhere in the floodplain mud, the alluvium, just outside the city, where the shanties go up, is a lump that desires to be golem.

8. That it was people’s crying out for order, in unformed mud-voices, that set the golem’s mud-tread going in the alleys of Prague.

9. That Golem, in his off hours, must have dreamed of river beds. Or been afraid to sleep, always hearing the drying and trickling away of his skin.

10. That the mullah too wants to get some order into the sticky, the palpable world. For its own good.

11. That, equally, a monk might nail a numbered list of theses to a door, thud, thud, and hear the echoes spreading like the tread of boots.

12. That form is always, in God’s eye, reformation. And creation always recreation.

13. That the rabbi of Prague too watched his hands at their work, and wondered what was being done.

14. That a word breathed in to it made all the difference.

15. That in the breath of ‘thesis’, melting one way into ‘this is’ and the other into ‘these’, we already have a hint of number.

16. That verse was born from voice-mud, in the hands of recreation, with a hint of number, with a hint of tread.

17. That Thesis and Antithesis were a marriage made in Heaven, or in Hegel. Ask their only child, Syn.

18. That there’s always some danger when mud-shapes begin to conceive of themselves. (Aside from God: Don’t I just know!)

19. That each poor bare forked and early Play-Doh figure is somebody’s niece or nephew or great-great-grandchild’s thought nearly conceiving what it is.

20. That to give a child a doll too lifelike, too eyelash-blinking-perfect, is uncanny. Too made already. Too far from the true cloth or true plastic, let alone true mud.

21. That now CGI can seamlessly make seem such perfect monsters, we maybe have to hand-winch the backdrop, as clunky as this, or get clumsy as toddlers, just to reassert a sense of what is true.

Philip Gross

Philip Gross, son of an Estonian refugee father and a Cornish mother, is a poet, a playwright, librettist and writer for children. He won the British T.S.Eliot Prize 2009 with The Water Table, and Wales Book of The Year 2010 with I Spy Pinhole Eye. Recent collections Deep Field and Later dealt with his father’s final years and loss of language. His latest collaboration across artforms is with artist Valerie Coffin Price: A Fold In The River (Seren, 2015) and a new collection, A Bright Acoustic, appears in June of this year.

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