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Saturday, 13 March 2010

Shutout Island?

There is a scene in Shutter Island where a doctor tells the Federal Marshall hunting a lost mental patient that "once you are called crazy" every protestation of sanity only confirms the diagnosis. Foucault 101 this may be, but it bears recalling. The same is true for any self-description. They are fraught, minefields. The moment "I" reply to someone's label of me, I am implicated in their discourse. Denise Riley has written of this alienating linguistic situation in several of her studies. It occurs to me I am creating the same linguistic vicious circle by asking the question - as I did of Roddy Lumsden recently at Eyewear - am I a British poet? The answer is a resounding no. And, in fact, it explains a lot about my behaviour these past 7 years, doesn't it? Imagine if you think you are a cat, but are a dog.

Every catlike thing you do will be met with scorn or derision or confusion from the real cats; and dogs will not recognize you either. You become lost. Disoriented. Readers, I entered into the British poetry community from day one - naively and enthusiastically and genuinely - as someone who thought their identity was "British". Having lived in London now for 7 years, my editing, compering, teaching, and research work, all is based on the idea I have a hyphenated identity - that I am British-Canadian (born in Canada, long-term tax-paying resident of Britain). Of course, not ever being included in anthologies here (or in The Poetry Archive etc) was always puzzling and frustrating. I also have operated under another assumption: I am a good serious poet. So, let's spell it out. Todd's delusion: I think I am a good serious member of the British poetry community. That means I consider myself on a level playing field with Lumsden, Farley, Laird, Stammers, etc. If readers and critics think that, in fact a) I am not a member of the British poetry community and b) am not a good serious poet of that level - then they are entitled to consider me either deluded, misinformed, or tragically in denial. Just as in Shutter Island, the protagonist's vision of reality is so far from the truth as to represent a wound in nature, I either am completely out to lunch, or not. Which is it? Am I dog or cat? Shutout, or in? On an island, or a prison? The answer may require a decision to move to another country. After all, what point living in a place that thinks you should be barking at those you want to lick milk with.
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