This poem is probably too long for its own good, but at that stage of my blitzkrieg on the written word (or perhaps I mean the blank screen), I was anxious to write anything at all. I had forgotten this poem completely, utterly, totally.
I had actually written about the etymology of pottering a couple of years earlier in an article commissioned for Studio Pottery, an assignment I was mug enough to … sorry. I used to use the strange process by which potian (the Anglo-Saxon verb), which meant ‘gouging a hole’ has come to mean ‘just frittering time away doing something-or-other’. It has no connection with potter as in wheels and pottery (the gist of my article). I used to use this odd process as an example, to prospective English Language A level students, of what they might be interested in, as against reading literary texts or creative writing. It was designed partly to put them off, because my department at that time was very light of English Language A level teachers, and yet you could see fifteen-year-olds being seduced by the A-level’s title (‘I speak it so I’ll do it’) – as they still are by ‘Psychology’ (‘hard to spell, sounds brainy, and anyway I’m a bit depressed’).
But I don’t think the poem went anywhere. But re-reading it, I am pleased with that image of the swing wincing, and will probably nick it from myself …
There’s no integrity in pottering. It’s like doing the lottery,
idle, pointless, like tracing the scum-line round a bath,
in some kind of admiration. You hang about in gardens,
asking the time (as if you didn’t have false alarms
stuffed about your barbour, as you stick to the shadows
at the hedge’s edge). You rifle the soil with a fallen branch,
or dibble in dark pools. Somewhere, a swing winces.
Probably, you tap some passing windows with the wrong end
of a pencil. It helps you think, even if
the neighbours, waiting there like furniture, wonder what
you think you’re up to. Up to here? No good, perhaps?
Filling the hours with thought is like eating water.
No sustenance but gust. The only exit’s etymology
when you’re pottering. Look. Look for its roots.
Forget the wheel, the wasp, the field. The earthen fingers
aren’t in this equation. To potter is from potian,
to take something sharp, and to jab and push, to gouge out,
to inquire into walls, to ask them their origins,
subject them to interrogation. You with the pocked face,
yes, you, who exactly possessed you, who piled dry
stone on stone, created your crevices, your corners?
And in time, therefore, to meddle, to tamper, to look
snidely inside another’s business. And after this, to be
bored with boring holes in bits of brick. Enfeebled,
the word becomes an invalid. It dwindles. It loiters
in back lots. It hangs about, sulking, in gangs of verbs
which couldn’t kick over a colon. I am a thousand years
of age, distracted by purpose. I potter, know what I mean?
You can hear the poem here: