Phorgotography, 5

Next near-subliminal Facebook flashcard was from Depths of Lockdown. This was the same image I’d picked out to illustrate a point about Creative Procrastination in my piece for NCLA’s New Defences of Poetry, a website-that-shoulda-been-a-book edited by David O’Hanlon-Alexandra, so the first piece is the Effbok para, and the second is that section from my essay, which was subtitled ‘The Unfixed Collage‘.

It seems especially appropriate to reproduce these now, as the subject of collage was hanami: observing the cherry and other blossoms which are so briefly with us at this point.


This image was of some small significance to me then and still is, because it was the one in a long line of casual collages when I realised that collaging, and the general playfulness-without-purpose it signifies for me, was an important technique in just keeping going. And that just keeping going in a creative sense was at that time as important as in any of the other senses we were attempting to do so. 

I’d been looking for a way of understanding the link between two concepts: Creative Procrastination, and the Ephemeral – and, duh, suddenly it dawned on me this was it. Collage gets you down off the high horse of language (if that’s your particular high horse), while responding to the provisional materials supplied to you by the newspapers and magazines you interact with daily grounds you in the quotidian. 

You reach out to whatever those images refer to, and you reach in to whatever in you processes and blends them. The almost-wordlessness helps, because the words of others begin to stand out and reform themselves with the same compelling a-logic as language in dreams, and, when the occasional phrase forms in your head, it seems almost as if it too has come from somewhere else. 

And so you are carried through the days at the speed of a pair of scissors, snipping in order to unite as though reuniting the parts of something completely unimportant and meaningless, but, still, something you can nearly, almost, see.


I’ve been happily filling those weekends I haven’t been Wurking-with-a-capital-Urk with clueless n glueless collage. That being: images torn and snipped from recent newspapers and magazines put together with half an eye and half a mind, so that elements of the unconscious might gather close and peer out of them, the resulting image being photoed rather than fixed.

This unfixity seems to have been key in releasing a certain dreaming aspect, though of course these things can never be completely unfiltered, nonetheless the wish that image could drift into juxtaposition with image and text somehow reassemble itself has become more and more “important”. Though, equally of course, part of the point here is that these are unimportant.

In other words these are instances of The Ephemeral as one use of social media, i.e. not Publication with a capital P, but publication with a petit pois. Playful not point-filled. Sharing rather than declaring. Not harkening to the hierarchical.

After working pretty solidly from January 2020 to February 2021, I went on research leave. And creatively collapsed. As Wurk retreated reluctantly, and research proper began, I gradually found my way back to research improper – that is, the Ephemeral.

I’d contend that this sort of daily practice is what keeps things going between poems, and in the longer spaces between projects. That ‘proper’ writing and imagining may well go on any old how it can down in the Blue Crevasse, and not very much of that is shared – indeed most is shredded:

I heard the telephone ringing deep
Down in a blue crevasse.
I did not answer it and could
Hardly bear to pass.

(Graham ii.19-22)

But this stuff and nonsense too plays its part, particularly the nonsense. Because attention to ephemera is, for me, the miss-it-at-your-peril link between collage, haiku, political or occasional poetry, and that ongoing practice. It’s slightly more than practice, the Couch to 5K app replayed as Collage to 5 dreams per day, and so talking about it is a bit like, finally, gluing things down – something I’m not sure about doing, but am sure at least that it is right to be ambivalent about.

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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1 Response to Phorgotography, 5

  1. Great to read about this, the non glue of it & the collage as way of side-thinking that complements poem construction.

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