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Monday, 29 August 2011

Will Eaves on William Letford's 'Sunday, with the television off.'

Sunday, with the television off. by William Letford

I think of the future. My death bed. I imagine the man I will be. Then I pay that
man a visit. Ask him, what would you do?

So I leave the car and walk across town. Knock on my father's door to say hello
and listen to his stories, the ones I've heard before.

It's like I've travelled in time. Now he knows that someone is listening. On the
way home, the sun falls behind the buildings, and I walk into a supermarket.

from New Poetries V © William Letford

The poet thinks of the future, of his death and of his father; he makes me think about them, too, and about the way in which listening is so subtle a part of human attachment – a sensory connection that is the precondition for love, which matters whether or not we feel or can express love -- and of how not listening amounts to a cancellation of others' lives, and often informs our deepest regrets.

I think, too, of Henry James, when he said that 'to see and really to represent is no idle business in face of the constant force that makes for muddlement'. James's observation comes from the preface to his novel, What Maisie Knew. He is pondering more than prosaic clarity: he is speaking about what people like Maisie know whether or not they can express it, what they know regardless of what they are told they know, and therefore what they instinctively perceive, beyond the trap of language. It's a good way of thinking about poetry as well, and particularly William Letford's sort of poetry, which builds up
statements and rhythms like a run of bricks, so that you can see the wall clearly, but also sense, equally clearly, how real the rubble of life is – the state of 'muddlement' that is itself one of life's 'sharpest realities'.

I think this is a wonderful little poem. The muddle of going back in time, as one thinks about absent people, or mourns them, perhaps; the way one feels their absence as a kind of missed opportunity to right wrongs; the secondary loss (or is it a gain?) as the poet is brought back to himself and 'the sun falls behind buildings'; the artificially lit supermarket – all are present to me, and essentially mysterious.

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