end of lockdown reading

by uzwi

Some people are going to want to be reminded of their confinement, some aren’t. I don’t seem to have minded, either way. Books I’ve had real pleasure from this year have been Underland by Robert Macfarlane; and the whole of Barbara Comyns, except for Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead, which I’m saving for a rainy day. I’m reading Charles Simic’s notebooks, The Minotaur Loves His Labyrinth, which are full of observations in tones both wry and surreal. He tells a story in a couple of hundred words about a woman who collected black buttons she found in the street. Some years she only got one. Sometimes she got one with a thread left in. Anecdote is the kind of story I prefer now: actually, since Climbers. “Be brief,” is Simic’s advice to poets, “and tell us everything.” I’ve been lucky with lockdown, because I could go out for exercise and walk in the local woods and still stay within the guidelines, when there were any. All that’s over for the moment, and we live on our wits in this confusion where we could do what we want, but we know we’d better not in case thousands more people die. In her essay collection, Funny Weather, Olivia Laing writes, about a collection of Egyptian coffins and other receptacles of the dead, “These objects attest to a leaky universe …energy rushing from form to form, a vast migration through space and time…” She always writes with a combination of care and brilliance about loneliness and how writers and artists relate to their work; but from this glimpse you guess that she could write about other things too. Dipping into Eliot’s translation of St-John Perse’s Anabasis for the first time in fifty years, I read “Eternity yawning on the sands,” as “Eternity yawing on the sands”. I’m obsessed recently, not just by the seaside but by the act of turning away from the sea. The journey up through the hinterland. (Obviously I’ll always love the Minotaur as well. Anything that lives confined in a serious maze and waits for you to come to it.)