Lately I've been reading a collection of James Lasdun's poems that will be coming out from Farrar Straus and Giroux this spring. I'd never read his poetry before. (That's a phrase I should stop using on this blog. I say it too often. One must accept one's newbishness. Mustn't one?) And I'm really enjoying it, mostly.
The Poetry Foundation has made a few of his poems available online. "Blues for Samson" is one of my least favorite in the collection. I get the clever play on a modern Samson and Delilah story, but it's a little blah, a little too clever and macho for it's own good. (Side note: The best thing I've ever read about men's haircuts is the story "A Short History of Hairdressing" from Julian Barnes' The Lemon Table) But the other two poems they feature are ones I've really enjoyed. Here's "It Isn't Me":
It isn’t me, he’d say,
stepping out of a landscape
that offered, he’d thought, the backdrop
to a plausible existence
until he entered it; it’s just not me,
he’d murmur, walking away.
It’s not quite me, he’d explain,
apologetic but firm,
leaving some job they’d found him.
They found him others: he’d go,
smiling his smile, putting
his best foot forward, till again
he’d find himself reluctantly concluding
that this, too, wasn’t him.
He wanted to get married, make a home,
unfold a life among his neighbors’ lives,
branching and blossoming like a tree,
but when it came to it, it isn’t me
was all he seemed to learn
from all his diligent forays outward.
And why it should be so hard
for someone not so different from themselves,
to find what they’d found, barely even seeking;
what gift he’d not been given, what forlorn
charm of his they’d had the luck to lack,
puzzled them—though not unduly:
they lived inside their lives so fully
they couldn’t, in the end, believe in him,
except as some half-legendary figure
destined, or doomed, to carry on his back
the weight of their own all-but-weightless, stray
doubts and discomforts. Only sometimes,
alone in offices or living rooms,
they’d hear that phrase again: it isn’t me,
and wonder, briefly, what they were, and where,
and feel the strangeness of being there.
Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" comes to mind. Who is this character? What's his relation to "it"? What does he mean by "me"? Is he right to demand that the circumstances of his environment and his job and his social arrangements suit him? I want to say to him, "Of course it isn't you! That's life!" But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I feel so vehemently opposed to his way (or rejection) of life because I'm suppressing my own inner mantra of "it isn't me." The repressed always returns in disguise, often as a strong emotion.