Glyn Maxwell: An Exercise

by Aki Schilz

I am currently reading Glyn Maxwell’s On Poetry, which was recently gifted to me for my birthday by a friend. Clearly, this friend knows me pretty well. I’m two thirds of the way through and the book is excellent. Funny, intelligent, and with a real thoughtfulness about poetry, and in a larger sense about literature, and words. Their shapes, colours, textures. The way we can squint at a page and get a sense of the shape not only of the words and their relationship to the space around them – as Maxwell puts it, the black and the white, competing or accommodating, space opening or encroaching on itself – but also of the presence behind them. The poet. The writer.

Here’s an exercise (p.27) around which I am planning an interactive performance piece. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s tried it:

Take nine sheets of blank paper and pretend the following things about them:
That the first page is physically hurt by your every word.
That the second page is turned on by every syllable.
That every mark on the third page makes you remember more.
On the fourth, less, like dementia.
That God can only hear you if you’re writing on the fifth page.
That only touching the sixth page are you hidden from God.
That every word you write on the seventh prolongs the time from now until the moment you meet that mythical creature known as The One.
That every word you write on the eighth brings that moment closer, yes, but makes your time together shorter.
The ninth page says you have only nine words left in your life.

The nine sheets are nine battlefields. The black will win some, the white will win some, it will be silly as war and bloody as chess. If you get any poems out of it, any lines at all, pin them to your breast. If you get any white sheets, bury them with honours. Remember where you won, remember where you lost. Wonder why.