Monday, November 28, 2005

THANATOS: the death-instinct

When I first started this blog, I thought it would be nice to post up some poems from time to time, but never really got around to managing that. But being deeply involved with a new novel at the moment, it seems a quick way of keeping the blog active without having to bare my soul online.

This isn't a new poem but it is one of my personal favourites. I wrote THANATOS in about 1998; it was published a year or so later in PN Review, an intelligent poetry magazine edited by Michael Schmidt of Carcanet Press (PN stands for Poetry Nation). Since my second collection is still forthcoming, it has not yet been published in book form.

It's never easy for a poet to 'explain' a poem they have written, but THANATOS, I suppose, is a poem which likens love to being caught in a cyclone. It's quite different from the poems in my first collection, most notably in terms of form; I'd been reading some of Ted Hughes' later work when I wrote this - his BIRTHDAY LETTERS, in particular - and I was rather taken with the prosiness (which I'm not convinced is a real word) and dramatic tone of that collection.

Thanatos comes from the Greek for death. I think it means something like 'death-instinct' - at least, that's what I took it to mean at the time I wrote this poem. Later, I agreed to medication and am no longer driven to write this sort of grim, self-involved poetry. I'm not sure if that's entirely a good thing. I prefer compulsive poetry to light anecdotal verse, and it's quite hard to write poetry of a compulsive nature when everything's sunny in your life and you're not struggling with some terrible inner demon. Though I imagine there are many poets out there who would - and probably will - disagree with that particular generalisation. Fortunately, I don't care.


Schoolgirl vulnerable, still smarting from
the fumbled mismatch of a love affair, I fell
straight out of space and into hell
that night. He was only a voice
on the edge of nothing, but I kept returning
to him, flickering like a stilled film
against the mindless black ferocity of wind.
The roof was trying to suck me out, vast mouth
clamped like a mad baby’s over the breast
of a house, whining for milk. I wanted
then to loose my hold, know how it feels
to spiral in the infinite, to Catherine-wheel
across the space that once was love.
Thanatos, pricking at my blood: the truth
that I came searching for, a weariness
that threatened to unclasp my hand, saying
it’s over, all over, why resist?
But at the other end of light, the funnelled dark
was a dead body I clung to out of
sheer stubbornness.

And the black wind
could not dislodge me from my welding-place,
though its eye bent in and saw me there,
plucked at my white knuckles, severed
the electric umbilical of light. I took
that place and hid it underneath the other times,
less brutal, more arranged. But it comes back,
obliterates that flash between dark and dawn,
and I pretend not to recognise it; call it
desire for solitude. Expurgate, disown the truth.

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