New life

crocusesWell, the halls of Baroque have been more or less closed for the winter, and there has been black crepe hung along them for Thomas Vink-Lainas, my  much-loved uncle, who died one month and one day ago. He was an artist – a painter, a graphic designer, a maker – a furniture restorer, a framer, a builder of dry stone walls and staircases and anything else that needed building – and an intellectual, who loved Nabokov and Wendell Berry and Guy Davenport. It  had been a long time since I had been able to have a conversation with him about any of this kind of stuff, but his conversation is always in my head no matter what I’m reading or looking at or listening to, and his pictures hang on the walls here.

All eyes, in the meantime – all Baroque family eyes – have been focused on the Catskills, where our two cousins – the two babies of the cousin family – have heroically worked to sort out an avalanche of disasters that originated with that one: one thing tumbling down as the thing above it goes, right down to keeping the driveway ploughed so one of them can get up to the now-freezing house, which  now has frozen pipes, to feed the two freezing cats. They still have so much snow that it’s almost hard to remember that right here it is beginning to feel like spring. There are snowdrops and even a few crocuses in the park and the air – even when cold – is beginning to feel softer.

New life. I’m not sure this kind of new life really feels softer, though. It’s to break through. Yesterday my musician cousin took his dad’s drum kit from the house, to put it up in his new band’s studio. That was a wrench, but it’s new life and my cousin acknowledges it.

I went, without reflecting that it was a month on, and had my hair done, properly done and everything for the first time in years. Well – I had a cut the other week but that was only Stage One of this thing. The reason I mention it here is that what has been done is a big step. Basically, working in around the grey. The solid colour is gone, the roots are gone, the bleach has been applied to start working with what’s actually happening instead of what used to be happening, or what one wishes might be happening. So I now have a rather amazing streak of white at the front – that’s natural – and streaks of brown and blonde and grey all over, and it all looks both dramatic and oddly a bit younger. I don’t think there is ANYTHING as ageing as bad supermarket colour with roots growing out; that’s a truism and a true one. And if you think about it, this is Baroque in Hackney, not trying-to-be-normal in Hackney, and I have always loved that 18th century grey hair fashion. They did it with powder, they did it with wigs. It’s a very beautiful look and it is now, in a way, going to be my look. Here is a slightly lame selfie taken this minute:

better baroque

It makes sense to do it now. For one thing, there’s nothing like a personal crisis to bring out the hairdresser’s appointment card. And the world feels upside down right now – nothing is quite real – what better time to do something that also feels unreal, but is in fact a turning towards what is real.

My very much-loved aunt, the one who is widowed by this bereavement, has been revealed to have more of a dementia than any of us quite realised, and was being both cared for and slightly shielded by my uncle. She has always coloured her hair a signature red all her life, and is now grey. I think part of me just went, well if Mary can be grey, so can I. Let’s all just do it. Let’s be different from how we were.

And that’s aside from all the feminist aspect – the Patti Smith and Mary Beard thing, and the fact that when I did an informal count in the tube the other week, in rush hour, there were plenty of men with grey hair, and only one woman – and she had highlights in it of the kind that are trying to disguise the grey. Something clearly needs to be done. DOING it is after all the only Baroque thing to do, the highlights and the lowlights and the artifice that brings you to what is most real after all – the life in death and the death in life, and the snowdrops pushing up under your feet even while your heart is turned towards the snow.

So 2015 maybe starts here. It’s like The Magic Flute, there’s been trial of one sort and trial of another. It ends with wisdom and with a thaw.

I’ve just finished judging the Members’ Poems for the next issue of Poetry News; the theme I set was ‘the tiny world’, and the poems, many of them, were stupendous. I was only allowed to choose six, and I can’t say here what they were, but at least one of them was resonant to this moment.  The world got tinier a month or two after I set the subject, and now it seems to be stretching out again, in a paler way – maybe full of possibilities.

In 2015 I’m going to be putting together my manuscript for my as-yet-untitled collection of essays. Due out in December with Penned in the Margins. This will involve both editing and collating things I already have and writing new things  to flesh it out and provide – maybe – direction.

A couple of the new essays may be published in magazines before then.

This year I hope to write some good new poems, so that there will be a manuscript I can start sending around. There are poems forthcoming in the spring issue of Poetry Wales; in an anthology of poems relating to the news that Jude Cowan Montague is editing; and in the excellent Fulcrum, published in Boston by Katia Kapovich and Philip Nicolayev. I’m reading for Poetry in the Crypt in Islington on 30 May, which will be- I think – the first reading I’ve done in about a year. Details to follow in due course.

There’s also going to be more, and somehow or other it’s going to be about typewriters.

And now, off into a late afternoon that is still light, and whose clouds are just turning pink around the edges.


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