Okay, here we go then. Here is the first poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some recollections of when and why it was written. I’m going to post these each Sunday night/Monday morning until Christmas 2013. This is a joint project with Dog Horn (publishers of my fourth novel ‘Mechagnosis‘) who will be posting each of the poems on their blog as we go along, with links back to here. My thanks go to their head honcho Adam Lowe for his support in this.
I throw a stone I kill a bird
my pebble falls beyond the arc of time
and sinks heart-heavy in the restless waves
like sorry words the little ripples make
to cover up the anger
where the fallen hero breaks
with pagan sight I gasp and grasp
the broken mirror’s shattered glass
the clouded cause and sad effect
an albatross about my neck
I changed my pebble’s course too late
a woman’s face contorts with hate
a body dies before a word
I threw a stone I killed a bird.
It’s hard for me to be absolutely accurate, but I believe I wrote this when I was between 12 and 14 years old. Remarkable to report, but I still have every single thing I’ve written in my entire life stored in cardboard boxes in my attic, and I have carried them between the various houses I have lived in, despite Rona’s protestations. This does not apply to the many songs and pieces of music I composed, the tapes of which I largely destroyed back in about 2005. The lyrics of all songs as well as poems and short stories are stored, but only in completely random order, and none are dated. Thus, only my changing ‘voice’ and handwriting provide any clues to the sequence in which I created them. I never look at them anyway these days, but somehow it’s important to me to know they still exist. This poem is only one of literally hundreds I would have written around this time, and has found its way into my typed cannon of things worth sharing, only because it seems to me (almost by fluke) to have a certain quality that transcends the immaturity of its then-creator.
So let’s face it, if I was say 13 years old when I wrote “I Throw a Stone” then I can’t possibly have had the romantic experience necessary to understand the sentiments I was recording. Possibly not. Thinking ahead about this post over the last few weeks, I had planned to tell you about how the poem probably records an incident in the childhood of my brother Ally Thompson, in which he inadvertently struck a seagull with a stone while playing on Elie beach. Indeed the image above* (*apologies for its blurriness, I shall endeavour to update it with a better version later in the year) is a painting Ally did about 20 years later which strikes me as his attempt at self-exorcism of this guilt-laden memory.
But once again I have been reminded of the extraordinary power of writing to bring to the fore repressed material in the patient, as Freud would have said. Only a week ago it finally dawned on me in the bath (where I seem to do all my best thinking!) that this poem is actually about a shameful incident in primary school (say aged about 11) in which I repeatedly struck a girl in my class. I did this, perversely, because I adored her. Yes, that’s how messed-up I was, even then. If by any chance ‘SL’ has remembered my name all these years and stumbles across this post, then please accept my humblest and most heartfelt apologies. In retrospect, I paid a much higher price than her for this incident, retracting into myself and becoming an effective recluse (except to go to school) for most of my secondary-school education. On the other hand, that reclusion and introspection probably gave rise to the “interior space” from which I have been able to feed my creative writing in adult life.
I was probably so messed-up because my mother’s Victorian values (I was born when she was 40) put me at odds with those of most of the children (and their parents) around me. Prudery is a very damaging thing, which no one reading my novels now could doubt that I have since thoroughly rid myself of. But doubtless we shall hear more of that throughout the year as I share more poems and unravel myself in public (!). I hope all of the above doesn’t sound too self-obsessed and self-indulgent: my intention is quite the opposite. So many deeply personal traumas turn out to be surprisingly common and universal, and I suspect and hope that many other people will find resonance in these reflections.