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From: “Writing Alongside the Disappeared – Margins and a composition exercise”

The margins are where the clues to the liveliness and breadth of the text make themselves apparent. Rowdy animals bodied like musical instruments gambol, exact and glorious and gross. They make fanciful noise. Tiny plants spread like gorgeous weeds, rendered with the detail which indicates a loving hand. The central space of the page, however full, is also a kind of blank, especially if lineated. That is where the official writing sits. It behaves well and commands, but cannot win, total attention: the dry and witty sermon; the frightfully serious love lyric. The margins are a habitat for curlicues, where unruliness may flourish.

I like this meditation on a single, yet plurally embellished leaf, with its delivery of a ‘main text’ only a part of its wider life. Personally, I prefer it to the nearly-related alternative exercise of imagining, or making, or interacting with, a web page. It involves a greater intensity in terms of the feeling of time and the organic connexion needed to inscribe and illuminate the manuscript. Painstaking physical labour, and high risk of ruining everything, go into my (still imaginary) composition by hand-done calligraphy and painting (in which I am quite unskilled in my real, mildly dyspraxic life). Intrinsic to is the sense of touch and experience. It is potentially translatable into an installation rather than a poem; but even that would neither exhaust nor be identical to it.

After this mental exercise in creating a blend of image and sound, the kind of mixed poem which I might then make would amount to an intersemiotic translation. Visual and musical elements which jostle for attention would have to find their way into flatness and words alone. Naturally, i.e. not as a failure or a challenge, the resulting poetry incorporates elements of my mind’s-eye, mind’s-ear manuscript’s centre and margins.

This exercise frees language and its arrangement on the contemplated and sounded page. Without criticizing ‘spoken word’ delivery of poems, or reading aloud, there still is an argument for the page as a literal performance space in itself, when co-activated by the readerly or writerly imagination. It offers many possibilities of reactivation and interplay. There may be multiple margins: stanzas side by side, running commentaries. There may be a feeling of change to where and how ‘margin’ and ‘text’ begin and end, or flow into each other, according to what happens with non-verbal (blank or illustrated) spaces, typography, or floating and clumped text clusters. Working from the mind’s leaf to the printed or written page can do so much more than the single, linear reading voice. It can foreground sometimes one thing, sometimes another, as the eye might roam and rest and depart again, or the ear tune in and out, or both be gladly, fearfully, or abundantly overwhelmed.

This exercise, where what is written lives alongside and in correspondence with something disappeared and uncollectable: the colourful and twangling arena which was summoned up as, and in order to be, both ephemeral (as memory is) and intangible (as thought is): is only one of the methods of composition which I use; and I do not always use it. There are cases where it is utterly inapplicable.

This article was featured in Magma 68 ‘Margins’. 

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