Poetry and Displacement

Poetry and Displacement

Poetry and Displacement

Poetry and Displacement

Excerpt

In the 1961 Preface to her fictionalised autobiography, The Journal of Mary Hervey Russell, the novelist Margaret Storm Jameson summed up what she saw as the central dilemma of the contemporary self, realised in 'intuitions which suddenly cut us to the bone':

Like the moment when I understood that if our age is remem
bered at all it will be as one when exile was not simply an event,
something that happened to a great many men and women, some
of whom survived it, but when it became the whole meaning
of life. Suddenly I knew that there is nothing else, no closer
meaning. Exile. Behind it, what? A void - filled with stones we
have touched, streets we looked at in another life, reeds that in
another life slashed the finger drawn across them, rotting timbers,
images, a young half-effaced smile, the shadow on wet sand of a

For Jameson, it was the experience of the Second World War that brought about this dislocation in being, in the fabric of reality itself, after which nothing could be the same. The exilic modern subject, unable to root itself down in any particular community or place, was now constructed from those 'moments in and out of time' of which T S. Eliot wrote in Four Quartets, a collection published as the war moved into its final phase. The last of the Quartets, 'Little Gidding', a text situated ambiguously, during a German bombing raid, at the interface of a terminal modernism and an emergent 'contemporary' poetic, offered an image of the modern self as a 'spirit unappeased and peregrine', pacing anxiously 'Between two worlds become much like each other'. It was inevitable, perhaps, that the state of mind which Storm Jameson describes would secrete a poetry of exile . . .

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