Posts Tagged ‘story’


the courage to do
wrong — all our very cheapest
stories recognise
— in some blind way — that nothing
makes sense like a paradox

My last night’s dream was really quite powerful and significant. It entailed my being seduced by Beryl Graves, the wife of the poet Robert Graves. Currently I am reading his historical novel Count Belisarius, and finding it a little bit tedious. Graves is an important figure for me. He captured my imagination in my mid-twenties, when I was struggling with so-called ‘psychotic’ experiences, and I made the journey to his house in Spain, in 1982, to try and gain enlightenment from the great man. I knocked on the door and was kindly entertained for an hour by his wife (then in her sixties) while Robert himself sat inert in a wheelchair. He was 87 and had retreated into dementia.


personal history

my inner child’s heart
will preserve its innocence —
even should the world’s
evil speak using my voice
— act employing my own hands

We are all storytellers, and the inner child reveals itself by the stories it loves. It loves its own story of course, above all, and the story of its own innocence which it rehearses, in one form or another, constantly. These reflections were provoked by noticing how scared I was, this morning, by the memory of my last night’s dreams and by my latest pornography lapse (yesterday evening). In part, the dream itself contained this fear. I was handed some cake by a woman whose hands were diseased, and I was scared of contagion. But funnily enough, another dream last night involved my rescuing an MI5 agent who was drowning in a river — I didn’t feel as though the courage was mine, it seemed to come from somewhere else. So, unlike in the poem, it was good rather than evil which was acting through me.

post mortem

I chose to believe
his lies — they were beautiful
— I sacrificed my
sanity — what more precious
gift of love was possible?

This poem encapsulates whatever still remains these days of the affirmative attitude towards my teenage gay love affair which, after it had finished, throughout the eighties and nineties and noughties, I maintained quite doggedly — but which, in the last five years, has tended to fall away and fade. A much more cynical evaluation of it, and of my lover himself, has tended to get the upper hand recently. My lover’s grasp of truth and reality was always very tenuous — or to put that another way — he was a pathological liar. My dreams last night led me to reflect on this by a circuitous route: I dreamed I was revising the novels of Jane Austen for a university exam. Also, in the dream, I felt momentarily excited to discover that a woman I got on well with in my work life was in fact the owner of Waterstone’s bookshop. Books and novels and stories all led me to reflect that a storyteller is another name for a liar. Or vice versa, that my teenage lover was maybe a storyteller rather than a liar. This was my route back into recovering that charitable view of him which lately I have lost. I am proud of the final result, since this poem successfully sums up just how much one part of me still wants to celebrate that love affair.

organic fact

ego — fiction — fact
— who can fathom the divine
interplay of these
co-ordinates? — blindly, we
embody all three at once

I dreamed last night of the poet Robert Graves. He was saying that nobody has ever properly analysed the statement: ‘Fiction has the power to alter fact’. The exact wording of the statement was actually rather vague, but that was the gist. Last Christmas I asked my mother to give me Clive James’ translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy as a xmas gift. I did read the first section — the Inferno — but it was a struggle and I have now officially given up the ambition to read the rest of it. I’m positive if I could read it in the original Italian I would adore it. This Christmas she is giving me Yuval Noah Harari’s SAPIENS: A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMANKIND. Harari’s idea is that what distinguishes humans from animals is the ability to co-operate based on collective belief in a story. It’s astonishing how consistently and frequently this notion — this vision — of Harari’s keeps coming back to me in the process of blogging my dreams every morning. Hopefully the book won’t disappoint. Below is an extract from the Foreword to Robert Graves’ Poems 1970-72. When I first came across this paragraph in 1982, it was a revelation, and has stayed with me ever since:

Little need be added to my Foreword in the Green Sailed Vessel. I wrote there that, now well into my seventy-sixth year, I had been increasingly concerned with hidden powers of poetic thought, which raise and solve problems of advanced mathematics and physics. The word “poetry” meant in Greek the “act of making” — a sense that has survived in the old Scottish word for poet, namely “Maker”….The poetic power to make things happen, as understood for instance by the early mediaeval Irish master-poets, and by their Middle Eastern sufic contemporaries, raises simple love alliances to a point where physical absence supplies living presence. These experiences occur not only in the fourth dimension, where prison walls are easily cheated…..but in the fifth, where time proves as manipulable as is vertical or lateral space in the usual third dimension, and where seemingly impossible coincidences and so-called ‘Acts of God’ occur almost as a matter of course. In poetry, the fifth dimensional co-identification of lovers is truth rather than idealistic fancy….


ask Mother Nature:
What is justice? — she replies
simply a story,
one of the most beautiful
— it has no ending at all

This poem is based on a dream last night in which I was feeling very amorous towards the pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja (mentioned in a previous post here). She is ten years older than me and I was more or less aware, in the dream, of her true age of 70. There was music in the dream as well, which she had composed. The age gap set me thinking, awake, about the phrase intergenerational justice. I’m not really sure what it means, and I guess it depends on the context. I’m thinking much more broadly than legal justice. Maybe I could have called my poem karma. But the consequences of our actions do go on forever, justice is never finished. And ewig…. is meant to evoke the final bars of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Writing this poem feels as though it has brought me a step closer to understand what Mahler was driving at. I was thinking recently about the curious reluctance of my 88-year-old mother to plan her own funeral service. It occurred to me if she doesn’t choose any music I might choose something from Das Lied von der Erde, knowing how much she loved it.


children love stories —
old people too — but somehow
we manage not to
notice our own stories while
we’re in the middle of them

In trying to avoid calling this post Yuval Noah Harari #4 I’m afraid story is just an equally bland title. I really, really must read Yuval Noah Harari. I’m afraid of being disappointed I guess. His vision of what is a human being is the most convincing I think I have ever encountered in my entire life. No wonder he keeps cropping up in my thoughts and in my blog. I dreamed last night of my mother. She was culling books, or I was, but had bought the Bible, in several massively huge volumes, which were now filling up the empty bookshelves. Back when I was a child, Hollywood produced a Biblical epic and called it The Greatest Story Ever Told. Maybe there’s some truth in that idea of the Bible. After all, Harari himself is an Israeli! See here for his TED video.

Yuval Noah Harari

he’s so right — it’s our
collective capacity
for storytelling
— for believing fictional
narratives — makes us human

I heard about Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind when it came out about a year ago. I thought it sounded interesting, and probably correct in its fundamental premise. But I didn’t have the patience to even try and wade through it. Yesterday however, I heard him on the radio again, and this time hunted him down on the internet, discovering a superb fifteen-minute summary of his ideas on TED. The impact on my dreamlife last night is quite clear. I dreamed of the man who currently holds the post of Director at Mind in Camden, where I have been employed in an admin capacity since 2012. In the dream, he was being imprisoned on a technicality whereby the good work he was doing was actually illegal. Much of our work at Mind in Camden would be impossible if we didn’t believe passionately, as an organisation, in human rights and their application (or non-application) in the sphere of psychiatric treatment. And human rights is, according to Yuval Noah Harari, one of the ‘stories’ which underpins criminal justice. The implication seems to be that different ‘stories’ can be told on the same subject. It isn’t just that the human race can achieve marvellous things when its members all believe together in one broadly similar story. It’s also worth wondering about the process whereby stories get shaped and changed. Who gets to be the Storyteller? When two stories fight, which one survives? I wrote a poem some ten years ago, which more or less suggests God to be The Master Storyteller. Here it is:

Rag and Bone

The Master Craftsman, when he feels guilty
breathes the air and a picture is born;
when he wants to say sorry, drinks the water
and a poem rides the clouds.

But God is different. He has set love
to be the image of imperfection in the barren mind
— has made mud and filth to bathe and blanket human
arrogance — our hurts, hypocrisies and hopelessness.

Every twist and dislocation Fate has wrought He puts to use.
God is a rag-and-bone man, carting away
the bits and pieces of our lives to Wonderland
where stories are crafted by fools

and pictures painted by madmen; where chocolate
tastes of blood and earth, and sin is magic and forgiveness
is a falling of angels, a spinning of skies, a mirroring of souls —
a dance — the ancient dance — half-remembered, half-believed…..