Though I'm not nostalgic about the past as a rule, I'm enjoying sifting through these drawers and boxes full of old poems, photos and family memorabilia. To be more exact, I'm feeling a mixture of pleasure and pain, a kind of uneasy and disquieting fascination. I always used to say the past is dead, long live the future, but I think I've probably used this strategy to avoid reopening old wounds. The past shapes and informs our present selves whether we choose to recognise it or not.
One thing that's struck me is how much I've changed and yet how much I've remained the same — if that makes any sense. And another thing I've found is how easy it's been been to reenter my adolescent mind through the portal of these early poems. Derivative they may be (I take some comfort in the fact that Philip Larkin's first book of published poems, The North Ship, was enormously derivative), and heart-on-sleeve, and more descriptive of the tormented teenage soul than the objective, observable world, but they are mine. In my twenties they became less ego-drenched, although in this poem am I portraying some mystic madman — or myself?
He is not like us. He reads strange books
Of mystic poetry, mythology.
He walks the beach alone, pausing to look
Beyond the black horizon of the sea
For hidden prizes. (An esoteric script
Revealed to him that all the world's contained
Within one word; yet all the words of men
In the whole world cannot explain the moon,
Heavily hanging above the indifferent ocean,
Which hugs its secrets like an octopus.)
Knowledge of visions, the mind's unreasoning ways
Cram his frail shell of silence till it shatters,
And the volcano of his crazed response
Erupts; its lava fills the darkening air
With symbols, gestures conjuring Atlantis.
He scrawls with seaweed his biography
Elliptically upon the watery rocks
Until the waves erase it; then retreats
From the sea's lacy edge as delicately
As any wader. He hesitates to view
The white-eyed moon; his wild and frenzied face
Avoids her haunting gaze; he cannot bear
Her intimacy and her dreadful distance.
Silent once more, shocked still, he is afraid
Nothing is out there but infinite space,
Dead as driftwood, speechless as the stars.
He fears that he can hear no sound at all
But the incessant clamour in his tight skull.