I walked past a drunk man lying on the pavement once in Leytonstone. I mistook him, in the evening and on the badly-lit road, for a binbag that someone had dumped beside the clothes recycling station opposite the job centre. By the time I realised what I had actually seen, my feet had carried me around the corner and onto the High Street. I would like to say that I went back to check that he was all right. I would like to say that.
I am reminded of that today by two things. One is the wonderful novel by China Mieville, The City and the City, where the central character has to busily “unsee” the other city that overlays his. (I will come out now and say it: I love Science Fiction. I love watching it and I love reading it and as far as reading it goes, I have read relatively little. I wish more literary authors would let go their hang ups and actually OWN the science fiction novels they have written instead of calling them speculative fiction – or maybe we should call ALL of it speculative fiction? Who cares anyway. A good book set in another world is a good book full stop.)
The other is the bewildering news that the Director of the Poetry Society has resigned. I thought the organisation was going from strength to strength, certainly in terms of presence and diversity of activity, but I am apparently wrong. Squint at it differently, and it’s not all hunky dory as I and many other Poetry Society members might assume. More on that at Baroque in Hackney’s site.
There’s plenty out there we can all busily “unsee”, to use Mieville’s concept. And we do. In a city like this, perhaps we have to. If you saw it all, all of the time, all of the trouble, you’d be like River. You’d never be able to switch it off. You’d go mad. But perhaps it’s time to stop unseeing. Perhaps it’s time to look.
(Meanwhile, my stomach upset proceeds. I’m hoping it’ll subside and let me go and see my family in the Forest of Dean tomorrow. I was promised a cricket match, but apparently the opposing team found out that my nephews were playing and cancelled.)
(Oh, and yes, of course I will be going to the British Library to see the exhibition. Did you even have to ask?)