I was out shopping with my family today – our usual Saturday thing. I drove into town, stood in the usual shops, then drove home. Empty handed. The world of material goods just doesn’t do it for me any more. What I’m looking for is a mystery and does not exist in tangible form. It seems I also look for it in all the wrong places – mainly charity shops these days, where the books are cheap, and the titles somehow more alluring than in the proper bookshops, where the prices are eye-wateringly high, and the argument over what’s hot and what’s not is still dictated by the false war of commerce and the locking of publicists’ diabolical horns.
Ironically, it’s in the charity shops, I think, when the books have fallen off even the backlist and are consigned to oblivion, that the titles finally have their proper say and speak to us as the author perhaps intended all along. Here, the titles seduce, intrigue and entice, vying with their delightfully jumbled bookshelf neighbours for our attention. But I already have a pile of unread charity shop books, so I kept my hands in my pockets today.
I caught a glimpse of it in the supermarket – this thing I’m looking for – but only recognised it by its antithesis. Valenetine’s is coming up of course – hard to miss at the moment, with every shop window filled with satin hearts and roses and cheap red knickers.
I took a while, away from the good lady Graeme, to peruse the Valentine’s cards, but came away dissatisfied and empty handed. They were either saccarine sweet – all fluffy teddy-bears and heart shaped balloons – or unashamedly smutty. Here’s my gift of cheap red knickers, the cards seemed to say, so let’s drink this bottle of crap pink plonk, then let me tear those knickers off you and,… well,…
We’ll draw a veil over that one.
The good lady graeme is more than pair of cheap red knickers, I thought, even though the marketing gurus of my local/global supermaket chain are trying to tell me otherwise.
How to celebrate it then?
Love, of course.
I tell a lie, I did buy something today – a copy of the Times. I’m not a frequent purchaser of newsprint but George Clooney was on the front page and I know my good lady has a secret soft spot for the man. And buried deep inside the paper was an article on Love poems. The aim was to get you to invest in an iPad app, but I resisted the temptation and, in a mood of deepening introspection, I read the poems instead.
As an old Romantic, I discovered I was familiar with most of them: Wordsworth’s “She dwelt”, Shelley’s “Love’s Philosophy”, Yeat’s “Song of wandering Aengus”. But there were other poems I’d not read before – Rossetti’s “The first day”, Keats’ ”Bright Star”,… and as I discovered these poems, really focussed on them and tried to feel their voice, I felt a final shuddering of something.
What the hell was that?
Ah,… I remember,… Emotion!
But it was not the words of long dead poets that finally connected me with the soul of the world. It was Carol Anne Duffy. I don’t know her work very well. There are too many dead poets to be worrying about to have to consider the living ones as well, and I’m an ordinary man, not a literary buff. Carol Anne Duffy is the current incumbent of the British Poet Laureateship, our queen of poets, and her poem “Valentine”, read aloud this afternoon, finally moved me to a place where I found what I’d been looking for. I hope I’m breaking no rules by reproducing it for you here:
Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or a kissogram.
I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
Read aloud? Yes,… as far as the line “Trying to be truthful”. Then something took my throat and I finished the poem in silence. Love is more than a pair of cheap red knickers. However you celebrate Valentine’s with your lover/wife/muse, be truthful. And do not be ashamed or embarrassed or afraid of love. It may be the only thing that connects you to what is real. And you won’t find that in a supermarket.
A moon wrapped in brown paper? I’ll never be able to look at an onion again in quite the same way.
My regards to all.