Psychogeoferric Footnotes

(This is the last of the plunder from Tumblr: displacement activity for not finishing off the Mexico City post, which I have now no excuse not to return to apart from the full time job. And my accounts.

I’m adding these three short pieces because in their various ways they touch briefly on and perhaps even sum up the themes and atmospheres I was exploring in the four previous posts. They arise from specific photos, so, when there is next a moment, I will add those. 

But they also act as a bridge from the re-examination of nostalgia to the later posts with their exploration of the results of procrastination, ‘dark whimsy’, as a response to or coping strategy in relation to trauma, and, particularly, loss.)
1. Slomadicity

How peculiar it is to be at home in a place that at once always was and, for decades, has never been, my home. Just looking at the Tay – the movement of the tides, how the light sits on the water, how the breeze lifts the waves – seems to perform deep suture work down where we suppose we have a soul.

My daughter came up with the Joycean (or is it Carrollian?) portmanteau ‘slomad’, to describe the way we went round the same circuit of places – Newcastle, north-west Crete, Dundee and (formerly) Donegal – over the course of a year.

Slomadicity isn’t exactly the art of going slowly mad, it’s more the condition of living in two or more places on an almost seasonal basis.

Some people holiday in the same place every year, or are rich or lucky enough to maintain a holiday home because they love another place enough. Others simply live in a different city or country from the place they identify with strongly enough to need to return there regularly.

The experience of returning to any of these homes seems to refresh the eye at the very least, lending a sense of immanence to remembered and unnoticed sights alike, as well as a chance to revisit the values which laid them down in our memories in the (often unconsidered) first place.

2. Dream Tenement

There is an immense resonance about looking out of the kitchen window of one tenement in the quiet of the night, and seeing the lights in the stairwell of another tenement across your two back greens. You feel it moving through you like a music through the body. It is the exact reverse of your building, as though you were looking into a mirror, but a mirror you know you can, by leaving your flat, going downstairs, crossing the grass and the invisible boundary – the looking glass symbolised by the low fence – actually inhabit.

The light inside the stairwell seems dimmer, the colours both more muted and more russet, more golden, more intensely nocturnal, as though they were caused by gas lights, as though you were looking at a past building, or this building in its specific past, but somewhere you could still visit, though you feel any attempt to do so would be transgressive, requiring massive effort, as though moving through fathoms of terrors, as though moving into the heart of dreams.

In just this way the dream world stands across from ours, exact in its similarities and in its differences, perfectly accessible – but we resist and reject it, turning our heads away from its expanded realm, its openness to an intensity we dread as much as we desire, thinking it a chaos because we want to call this thin space we cling to an order.

3. Omphalos

This morning, after Andy Jackson and I did a photoshoot for Whaleback City down at the Discovery, I was able to visit the old childhood hub of the bandstand at the Magdalen Green, and check out its approach, interior and views.

I was also able to contrast it with a couple of ‘centres’ I’d visited a lot more recently than it: the actual omphaloi of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome on the Rock, the Wailing Wall; ‘kilometre zero’ in Madrid, the middle of the Hagia Sophia, the heart of the Forbidden City, and others.

I feel daft saying it, but this little place has the same charge for me. As in a weird way it has for the kid compelled to draw a phallus practically in the centre; or whatever accident it was left that odd little eight/infinity symbol/ampersand; or the little yellow arrow pointing to the gate.

Graffiti surrounds but somehow doesn’t encroach on that central space, in relation to which we are all eccentric, daft. Daft is good, sometimes – daft might mean you’re exactly, momentarily, home

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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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One Response to Psychogeoferric Footnotes

  1. Olivia Byard says:

    Loved this — but it made me think that I don’t have places to go back to — homes from the past– all homes were scary — and when I’ve gone there they have been remade into something else – their fairy doors closed to me. Similarly, the dream world can as easily be associated with terrors, and loss insanity, as with fairies and magic.
    It’s like the loss of pleasure in recreational drugs if you’ve been held down and forced to swallow their brothers or pharmaceutical cousin.
    I say this not out of self-pity but because order of some kind, some metaphysical structure that stays and you can rely on can be almost an unreachable desire and goal for some of us, and always letting go, letting it out, getting to the edge is considered revolutionary or a definition of the way to paradise. BUT that is dependent on having had a trustworthy order somewhere in yr life. Otherwise, a love, a life, messages you can trust and rely on are the only things that allow you to stand On the ground, reach the heights, explore the greys.
    Great description in here, Bill. 🌺🌞X

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