Phorgotography, 3

vii  this is enough
(This is another instance of Facebook popping up a few photos at random, me finding myself responding more thoughtfully to them than Ι’d expected – ie being a bit floored by the coincidence – only not to be able to post the result, as in the time it took, Facebook’s inexorable algorithms had already moved on.

In this case, just as I had hit the Post button, news came up of a dear friend’s bereavement, and floored me all over again. I’ve dug out the relevant snaps and am posting anyway, as it feels in some small way meaningful to do so.)

We (Brian Holton and friends) were reflecting yesterday on the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananman Square massacre, and now these images from my last trip to China in 2017, to the Tianjin festival, pop up.

I’d been thinking of Nikola Madzirov, now slowly recovering from Covid, who was on that trip with myself and Yang Lian, and these images now seem haunted by history both past and, then, yet to come – or are rather revealed to have always been thus haunted.

I always thought of being able to travel in this way as a revelatory privilege – going back to my earliest journeys as a child, to Italy and Greece in the first flush of package holidays, these seemed like I was being shown something it would take a long time to understand. It now feels like if (as seems sensible if perhaps not entirely likely) I never went anywhere again, it would still take a lifetime.

I go back as I often find myself doing to Sydney Graham having been brought to Crete by (I think) Michael and Margaret Snow, sitting on a balcony in the Street of Knives and saying, ‘This is enough…’ – I suspect, Sydney, that it is already all too much.

viii  replica temple replicas
‘They build replica temples here’ – usually when Effbok randomly selects an image from the past I have an instant sense of place and time and the company I was keeping. But this, from Anhui Province back in 2008, is as though from a dream.

I have very strong memories of that trip, but none at all of this small hut, but then all instances of such small huts are, properly, emissaries from that place in the unconscious our parents and grandparents retreat to, where they can store the ideas of their gardening and other gear and from which one day they no longer emerge.

I expect all these huts, once forgotten properly, fit back together with an almost audible click like the rooms and corridors of Minoan Knossos, which the Greeks, seeing for the first time but half-understanding it was not for the first time, recognised as the Labyrinth.

Maybe/perhaps that’s how those replica temples get built. Maybe that’s what temples are replicas of.

ix  arriving tay
Still grateful for this flat and its magnificent view and the opportunity to spend what I didn’t then know would be a last 9 months with my father and just bide and abide in my ain toun for a few years before the expense became too much to maintain.

Sterted oot as Makar o Dundee, ended up as amateur keeker at this view. The auld imagination tells me it was aa worth it but whit does it ken, ken?

Still fretting unduly about whether or not everyone on the front will still be able tae open their windies eftir the new flood barriers are finally in place and jist hear the Tay arriving amang the pebbles, regular as breathing.

(Realising as I write this that, as ever, my brain had already made the connection between hearing that sound at night in Beach Terrace and sitting by my father’s hospital bed watching the pulse in his neck.)

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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2 Responses to Phorgotography, 3

  1. richardgwyn says:

    Thanks so much for this Bill – I didn’t know about Nikola’s COVID and will write to him . . . the exact words of Sydney Graham, as recorded by Ronnie Duncan (rather than the Snows) were – apparently – ‘It is all better than I could ever have hoped’. I’ve got a photocopy of the article from ‘Aquarius’ here but (coincidentally, again) cited the whole passage in an article called ‘With Lowry in Cuernavaca’ which appeared in PN review last year. All best, R.

    • Bill Herbert says:

      Thanks for that, Richard – I don’t suppose you can tell from RD’s account where in Irakleio the fabled street of knives actually was? I’ve checked out a couple of establishments over the years, but they’re scattered around the old centre.

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