By MICHAEL BLACKBURN.
THE POET’S HOLIDAY is supposed to be the same as a busman’s, that is, one in which despite putting on the appearance of an ordinary mortal he nevertheless practices his vocation by wandering along quayside, lakeside or seashore, or among the venerable stones of Venice, etc, gathering unusual metaphors for his poems. I’d supply a couple of strikingly ridiculous examples but my Muse has been on holiday for a couple of years and I’m not up to the job on my own.
As a creative individual of any sort you’re not expected to throw yourself completely into holidaying and forget your calling. As Barthes wrote, concerning writers on their hols, “One of them is writing his memoirs, another is correcting proofs, while another is working on his next book.” Or writing this article, in my case.
Anyway, here I am, on holiday in Norfolk, maintaining a residual aura of creative specialness by choosing to read the visceral brutality of The Iliad one day and the eviscerative wit of Evelyn Waugh the next. I’ve managed to read more than usual this time probably because this is the first break we’ve had without the grandchildren. The other benefit of that is we no longer have to visit sea life centres, dinosaur parks, petting farms and military museums. No more cycling, kayaking or anything physically demanding. A bit more time in the pub, definitely.
As for the bourgeois aspects of all this, here it is: north Norfolk has the tallest hollyhocks you’ll see anywhere. It’s also gone distinctly upmarket in the last decade. Cottages have been painted and refurbished, and the tiniest spaces in between old buildings filled with new builds. The tourists are no longer just the old working class types, but the sort you’d expect to encounter in Aldeburgh in Suffolk — people with big, expensive cars, and dogs (usually plural), and little boys called Gabriel and Sebastian. We put it down mainly to the fact that the decision of Kate and Wills to set up house near Sandringham has upped the desirability of the area.
It is a superb place for writers of all kinds to live in — if they can afford it. I can’t, which is why I live in Lincolnshire. Both counties are civilised, however, and serve as a reminder of how valuable that civilisation is, given that the bombers, shooters, axe men, lone wolves and machete wielders have abjured the bourgeois attractions of vacation and set about their bloody work with zest, on the Continent, at least, which is where they can stay. Last year on the eve of our holiday a Muslim terrorist massacred tourists on a beach in Tunisia. This year there had been a whole week of Islamic terrorism in France and Germany. Unfortunately on arriving back at our apartment after a day in Walsingham the first thing we hear about is an attack on a church in Rouen.
Day by day, the brutality of The Iliad becomes more relevant. I bet Homer never went on holiday.
Currente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.