m

What the Water Gave UsTom has a tendency to trap you in places you can’t leave (often on trains) and talk to you about everything he is thinking. It comes out remarkably polished, like a sort of art theory lecture only more interesting and with more of a hysterical flow. Many of the ideas Tom talks about are ones I’ve been trying to use for a while. In particular the uncanny: the merge between the homely and unhomely which is visualised so well in the strange rooms which appear in these paintings, populated with plants and lamps as if we should feel at home; though of course we never do.

When he asked me to do a poem I knew what I wanted to work from because it was something I’d been trying to do for about three years. The strange doubling which runs through his work really stays with me: characters reappearing, changing, sometimes seeming to recognize one another and sometimes not. Equally the figure of the double has reappeared in my work over and over: always it is a woman, often a child is stolen, sometimes the double is only a twin.

Well writing is stealing. Whether you want it to be or not. And writing about the double didn’t, for me, work until I stole the detail of a friends preferred drink, whisky and ginger, (ultimately making her the double) and stuck it in. I think it worked because it made the poem uncanny for me, brought it into a world I knew.

It is important, in this poem, that we are watching women, that they are talking about swallowing children rather than having them, that she is drinking. It is, I suppose, about attempting reownership. The awful moment when you catch the characters in these paintings looking out of rooms at you. Or when you look at the paintings laid out together and realise there are no corridors; that doors and stairs don’t really seem to lead anywhere.

Looking at the poem now I think it fits, perhaps, with ‘What the Water Gave us’ best. The figures in Tom’s work seem, often, poised, stuck in stasis, observing or waiting and I wanted to capture that. A sense of a characters immediacy which is, however desperate to them, frozen.