Dan Holloway

On January 20th, I was lucky enough to do a reading of some of my work at the Literature Lounge, which meets every third Thursday of the month at the Poetry café in Covent Garden. It’s a wonderfully eclectic mix of poetry, humour, and ambience, and I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone who can make it (plus, from what I saw over the table on one of my friend’s dinner plates, it does a storming veggie quiche).

I was particularly struck by a series of poems read by Clare Waters. She read a haunting suite of four poems marking her twenty-five year relationship with her husband, who was in the audience. She gave a very moving introduction, about the need to talk about the lows as well as the highs, to do justice to the fullness of their relationship. The poems themselves were beautiful – sometimes raw, often moving, always honest.

For me, the best writing, be it fiction or poetry, always has this kind of honesty. Whatever the clothes we wrap it up in, which can be fantastical, historical, or set on the other side of the world, the most effective writing starts with some seed of truth. We hear a lot about the power of poetry to distill universal truths, the truths of love, beauty, history, aspiration and despair. The things, in short, that we all share but so rarely manage to articulate, it is the job of the poet to communicate.

Communication, building bridges where there are chasms, all kind of other things that sound frighteningly like that morning after the election speech of Mrs Thatcher’s in 1979, this is a wonderful aspiration. Yet, for me anyway, it is one that lies beyond our grasp. And I don’t think I really go along with that reaching for the starts and getting the moon thing.

It comes down to this. All those so-called universals, beauty, love, and the like; they are all so personal I find it impossible to find any common ground between us all. And if that’s the case, then all attempts to portray these truths will end up simply as our own gloss on the world – but dressed up as something universal.

I think there are two reasons why we continue to strive to capture things that are eternally true. The first is that there is something about art that’s spiritual, transcendent, something that lifts us out of the everyday. And the second, and I think this is something we seldom admit to ourselves, is that it is so much easier to speak about eternal, universal truths, than about specifics. It is so much easier to look “out there” than “in here”.

That’s what Clare did so well. She turned her artistic gaze inwards, and found something that really was true, and not pretending to be something else. And that’s the paradoxical thing about poetry. The one thing every human has in common is that we are all different, all gloriously individual. By focusing without compromise on our particular, individual truth, we are doing the one thing that really does connect us to everyone else. We are reaching out in our aloneness to every other solitary soul. Our aloneness is the one thing in which we are, truly, not alone.

Dress it up however you want, in strange wonderful worlds, in lands far away and times of old or yet to come, but try writing something that doesn’t look out – but in.

Dan Holloway runs eight cuts gallery and holds a monthly night of words and music at the O3 Gallery in Oxford Castle. He is the author of Songs from The Other Side of the Wall and life razorblades included