Monday, July 18, 2011

Word of the Quarter: Haecceity

This word had been sitting on my desk on a yellow post-it, with mysterious numbers whose purpose I have now forgotten, for the last three months. Somewhere in a folder, among other post-its that I swept off my desk, it still sits half-stuck to another chanced-upon word.

I don't know where I read it, but I recognise it every time it reappears now. We smile faintly at each other in acknowledgement.

No we don't. A word like 'haecceity' is not whimsical. It just - how do I put this? - is. Which is why to even begin a sentence with 'a word like' and then follow it with 'haecceity' seems wrong.


There comes a moment while reading a collection, when my attention snags and then I really begin to read the poems. With me, this is never with the first few poems, which pass by the way a Films Division documentary passes.

Reading Roddy Lumsden's new collection, Terrific Melancholy, the first poem that sinks its hooks in is the 22nd one: 'Duology'. This is not the fault of the collection but mine. My attention is scattered and hard to rein in. But once I've been caught, I find more and more lines and poems I want to savour. 'Duology' has the word of the quarter. Two poems on I find my Word of the Day.


The Word of the Day is selvage. In my mind, it's always said by my mother, or some lady like my mother, as a word in the middle of a sentence in Tamil. For a long time it sounded like self-edge, which makes complete sense and is total nonsense all at once. It's most frequently heard at the tailor's and comes with a smell of new cloth and starch, of dark corners and bins full of odd-sized, bright tangles of left-over bits.

Nobody says selvage anymore. It's been stiched up by the picos and the falls and has fallen silent.

And is given voice again in Lumsden's'The Sign of O': 'that which dallies/ at the selvage of our apprehension, blinking/ seldom, as the Titan arum lily blooms;'

Or maybe not.


by Roddy Lumsden

Le jeu lugubre - not one of Dali's lighter pieces:
autoerotic, omnisexual, a spandulous whorl
of heads and hats and hands. Translated
by bottom feeders as The Lugubrious Game,
by the enlightened as Dismal Sport, the former
sends the arrow close to its quiddity, the latter
pins its haecceity to the canvas.
                                                    The way we dress
is beyond determination, gene-gleaned:
one girl looks a fool in a gown, another glides
into the nightlife in a catsuit; one lad squires
in his homodox jerkin, another skives in a flat cap
he knows is a black fib. History's dayjob
is to usher us closer to its shady marquee.
And so we age: easier to love, harder to desire.

from Terrific Melancholy, Bloodaxe Books, 2011.

This must be one instance where looking at the image which triggers an ekphrastic poem has done nothing for me. Maybe I'm done with Dali.

Give him a word, someone, and send him home.

1 comment:

Cheshire Cat said...

"Maybe I'm done with Dali."

I'm relieved to hear it! No more dilly-dallying with melted clocks...