It is a truism, that love is the language of our films, music, and literature. Whether we like it or not, the theme of love (and all its connotations) is all pervasive, inescapably so. Even the conversations and statements of strength and independence are weighed down by their relationship to love and romance. Consider Emma Watson’s assertion that, ‘I’m happy being single, I call it self-partnered’. Seemingly to be in love, to be in a relationship is the norm by which we define ourselves. Undoubtedly, love and romance are deeply rooted within our lives, and it is almost impossible to talk about yourself without touching on the issue.
Perhaps, society’s obsession with love is linked to hope for a brighter future. In all about love, bell hooks writes about a statement emblazoned on a wall she would pass daily en route to Yale University, it read, ‘The search for love continues even in the face of great odds’. This suggests that love is something that as humans, as social creatures we pine for. What this graffiti confirms to me, is that love as a concept, is something we search for in the everyday.
I write this after reading two poems from my co-editor, Paul Robert Mullen. Paul and I have a number of things in common, but perhaps one thing that separates us is our relationship status. While I am a happily married man, Paul describes himself as happily unmarried. Now, Paul has an incredible ability to blend his own life-experience with his poetic voice, they are definitely not one in the same, but he blurs that line expertly. Two of his poems that deal with regret, with that search for a partner are somewhere in the countryside and unreachable.
somewhere in the countryside (originally published by Words for the Wild) is a tender poem, that recognises the sweetness of being in love. Seemingly, for the poet-speaker, to be without, is to be ‘outside the situation’ looking in. The language that describes the meeting of old friends, ‘joyful’, ‘sweet’, and ‘life’ are juxtaposed with words that describe life sans love, ‘agony’, ‘cold’, and ‘stillness’. In the middle of this poem, we find something akin to a volta, we learn why the poet-speaker may feel as they do, ‘you never called me’. Therefore, at heart of this poem lies deep regret, that has developed into something like an act of self-flagellation, that is drinking alone, listening to the velvet voice of Tony Bennett. There is a rawness to this poem, that is all the more meaningful because this is something that we all understand as humans.
In Mullen’s unreachable (originally published in Dream Noir) the suggestion is the poet-speaker here is perhaps undeserving of love and affection. As much as the speaker cannot find love, he is equally elusive. Indeed, just as the quote from all about love suggests that we are constantly in search of love and companionship, this poet-speaker here wonders ‘is this it ’? This is a succinct story, of a man who has traversed the planet in search of the seemingly unattainable. No matter how many ‘peaks’, ‘cities’, and ‘pathways’ have been trodden, something has always been out of reach, ‘you and yours/ […] further/ and further away’.
In these two poems, Mullen writes of the wilderness, of searching and longing. The fact that this is such an integral part of the human condition bestows this work with a gravitas. While I believe that finding happiness within the self is of paramount importance, I also contend that the ability to share that with another soul is the most fulfilled one can become.
somewhere in the countryside
the barge pulled in to dock voices
of those on-board joyful.
the clink of glasses a toast to returning
friends sweet memories life.
standing outside the situation
raising my eyes from wet palms
the agony of calm the stillness
of meadows stretched out over deep
contours like rugs of olive-rusty browns
and golds and auburn tan
spring is in the air cold draught blowing
through the stairwell as i return to
locked doors a note hanging limp
inside the letter box
you never called me it says.
i rattle keys lock the world out
for another night
malbec wine & single malt playing with
the poem under lucid carrot glow
listening to Tony Bennett
electric fan buzzing like an inflamed porthole
warming me from ankle up.
and i never will i scribble, sign, slip into an envelope.
a lone farmhouse just the outline
through the study window
standing its ground at dusk
the continents have become
i have trembled upon peaks
breathed the darkness
witnessed the peace
skimming dampness off the clouds
with wings bound
for something / somewhere
pierced the hum and haze
of a thousand cities
with hardened feet
and softened mind
i have trodden the pathways
of legends and lunatics
gripped the same bars unsteady 5am
as spirits scratching at the years to get back
like roller coasters at the origin
held a hundred faceless loves
wondering is this it
watched my youth roll away
then gently return (from time to time)
on outlandish beaches
written words like these
to help me hang on / believe it all
i’ve done all that
though every step i take
towards you and yours
always takes me further
and further away.