there’s a strange sense of community among those who call the small hours their friend: those who see dawn from the dark side and sleep with the starling’s waking. although insomniacs and night-owls naturally incline to solitude, knowing that there are like-minded others in the quiet distance provides some solace. that’s why, last week, greeting first light, i wondered why debbie barham hadn’t been emailing the bbc’s up-all-night radio of late: i’d grown used to her one-line comments, always pithy, usually (and thankfully) acerbic, sometimes bordering on the corny, but a constant reminder of presence.
and then i find out why. and it breaks my heart.
i didn’t know her, hadn’t met her unless at a mass gathering with mutual friends, so i’ll leave them to speak with better eloquence. but reading the obituary, i think back on the poets who prompted my thesis: firstly, the americans of the post-war decades, then the english poets of the mid-1700s, and the sense of how those writers drew too much upon themselves, often without alternatives; when first reading them, and still now, the image that possesses me is that of the body in extremis, forced to burn up muscle and vital organ to fuel itself. such a demand cannot be sustained for too long.
perhaps this is over-projection, of which i’m terribly wary here; but as a thirteen-years-on recovering anorexic (à la Alcoholics Anonymous, which I’m inclined to believe) and an unrecovering writer, on a continuous basis, the mapping feels embodied, not intellectualised. i’ve talked before about the task of ‘writing oneself out’, with a tip o’ the hat to Blanchot, and thinking more, it becomes clear that the writer plays at being schroedinger’s cat: the play, the palimpsest even, of ‘there’ and ‘not there’. (never more so, i suppose, than when writing for the voice of another.) and though you may want to extinguish yourself in writing by becoming a sure mediation, sometimes you have to reach into yourself and grab what’s there: steal fire to fuel the fire.