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.