Sometimes a latte and a very chocolaty muffin really do solve the world’s problems. Well, maybe not the world’s problems, but definitely my own stubborn writerly problems. After slogging away at my chapter all day (with, admittedly, fluctuating levels of concentration), by half past three I couldn’t bear another moment at my desk. I trecked up to Headingley with my notebook and my printed draft, but without Webb’s Collected Poems. I have more than enough textual analysis, and always fall into the trap of doing more and more. Anyway, after ten minutes browsing in the second hand bookshop (without buying anything, phew), I settled down with aforementioned treat.
I made some lists. I ate some muffin. I wrote down some questions. I smiled at the babbie on the next table. I wrote a short paragraph comparing Webb with the writer I talk about in my previous chapter. I stirred my coffee. I was looking for something to tie this chapter together. I first wrote it two years ago, and my work on it over the past six weeks has involved chopping out vast portions of it, writing at least 8000 words of new stuff, and condensing four rambly pages into one rather nice paragraph. It was coming together, but it wasn’t there yet. I needed something else, something new, something that would bind the different sections into a coherent whole. Something that would enable me to engage in a productive way with the very good work that’s already been done on this poet. I wrote down my key words and looked at them sideways.
And then I realised. ENCOUNTER. It had been there all along, but I just hadn’t been able to see it. Hiding within my ghastly old conclusion (that one of my supervisors had been kind enough to describe as possessing a ‘certain eloquence’) were the words: ‘above all, they are moments of encounter…’ My other supervisor had already mentioned that this term might become more important, but it just hadn’t clicked.
My old chapter title was ‘Difficult Epiphanies: Francis Webb’s Middle Ages’, and I quite liked this. In fact, I was inordinately proud of it. What a lovely term, I thought. It gave me shivers. But this old title caused all sorts of problems. What has annoyed me most in my attempts to rework this chapter is the naive way I wrote about temporality, epiphany, revelation. Yes the poems do strain towards epiphanies, but they more often than not don’t get there. (And sometimes, when they do, they’re not quite convincing.) This was why I’d called them difficult epiphanies. But encounter is so much better because it encompasses so much more. And as soon as I’d latched on to it, I realised it works for every single section. Because he writes about all sorts of encounters: temporal, spatial, cultural, religious…. And there’s some really good stuff that’s been written about ‘encounter’ in an Australian context. I read it a couple of years back but it didn’t sink it. ‘Difficult encounters’, here I come.
I made some more lists. Happy, springy lists that refused to stay put on the lines. I drew smiley faces in my margins. I finished my coffee. And grinned like a Cheshire cat, all the way home.