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This article is taken from PN Review 238, Volume 44 Number 2, November - December 2017.

Evidence of a Fool Dan Burt
Here I sit, an old man in a grand house on a cliff above the North Atlantic, ruminating on failure. It’s nothing new.

Half a century ago, in January, 1965, when a concatenation of flukes sent me to St John’s College, Cambridge, to study English, I began to keep a notebook. An early entry acknowledges the shadow beside me now: ‘I am still dogged by that feeling of failure, of lack of effort, and of ignorance, which chases my spirit into the gutter with dirty rainwater.’

John Crook, the tutor who had admitted me to St John’s twenty-five years before, said Feeling a bit manqué, eh?, as we talked in his set about what I’d done since ‘going down’. A decade later, I wrote of ‘my fear, push come to shove / I am no good at what I love’ in ‘Manqué’, a poem about writing. A few months ago, in another poem, I reported ‘my familiar hissing / You have no business in this place / […] / you’re a wannabe from a trading floor’, during a recent stay at a research institute.

I have less cause than most to dwell on bars uncleared, races lost, nests fouled, love denied. Yet nothing, wealth, honours, love, a compliment on a poem, shoos the shadow away for long. Experience argues it will attend the years to come.

You cannot lose your shadow, though many try. This is a history of my attempts.

1. Shadow Maker

I hewed to my father as a boy, and craved, if not his love, a word he never used, at least ...

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