PsychoGeoFerry 2

(This second note from 2013 is almost literally about finding my feet: I was doing a lot of walking, revisiting and revision ing and revising my perception of the Ferry and Dundee. The ‘Ginsberg glimpse’ from the flat window presaged, as it turned out, a new set of Doldrums, a re-exploration of the premisses to test what is unchanging, and what should be, in Edwyn Collins’s phrase, ripped up so one/I/you can start again. Here, it’s all about trying to see through the superimpositions of custom and consciousness to the possibility of some underlying prompt.)

2I come through to the bay window in the morning and sit down, noting as it vanishes a dark head in the smooth river – probably a cormorant, though I’d love it to be a seal. That reminds me of looking at the buoys up toward the Yacht Club yesterday, and seeing them first as I would see them in Crete around this time of year: as the heads of swimmers in the cool of the evening water at Georgioupouli.

That prompted me to write a note about the doubled lenses I’m looking through here:

‘I see my past through the frames of both North Shields and Georgioupouli: not having lived so close to the Tay before, I see the haar through the fret, and my eye assumes the buoys bobbing in the waves are the heads of Cretans.’

I look out now at the waveless but swiftly moving waters of the river, thinking how the reflections of the white lighthouse and the buildings of Tayport against the darker image of Fife itself remain constant, at least to my point of view. I’ve already been reminded of the man I saw a month ago from the same window:

‘Bloke like a thin Ginsberg (black-bearded, bald), in skinny jeans, charcoal jacket and tan sneakers, lit up as he crossed the road in front of the flat.’

I was proofing the 2nd Doldrum last night, as part of a final read-through of the Dundee anthology – one of the earliest things I wrote about Dundee – and trying to remember the figure it describes, rolling a wheelbarrow up Peddie Street from the Hawkhill, the part of town I associate with my earliest childhood. It had already dawned on me that, as the Dundee Doldrums was inspired largely by the Beats, an echo of Ginsberg was an auspicious image, but the almost filmic nature of the glimpse I had, as though of a piece of documentary film being superimposed on the scene in front of me, struck me anew.

(I had of course written a further Doldrum about the Fisher Street graveyard in the meantime.)

It had also dawned on me that the first of the two exhibitions I’d been to see, ‘What Presence?’ the photography of Harry Papadopoulos, had of course focused on the Scottish bands of my twenties – the last time I’d lived for any length of time in Dundee – including of course another personal icon, Billy MacKenzie, and had done so specifically through a sort of Greek lens. Two such events of course are mere coincidence, but their close proximity encourages me to take or make some meaning from them.

We may not perceive at the time all the possible meanings, personal and other, of a given experience, but we nonetheless feel their resonance, and grow to understand that certain experiences will yield meaning on further meditation more readily than others. We gradually gain a knack for that.

The experiences themselves remain simple, open, without the constraint of a frame. They are just occurrences which happen to happen in our presence. It’s the layering of our perceptions, their lenses of memory and their filters of ignorance and impatience, our need to make different senses at different times, that causes the delay. And the delay itself leads to a replaying and reconfiguring, a reinterpretation that translates the experience from itself into memory.

But still, at the point of encounter, we know something, and we begin to see something of the way in which all events are interpretations.

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About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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