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This article is taken from PN Review 255, Volume 47 Number 1, September - October 2020.

Essaying On… Kirsty Gunn
I have been keeping time to a sort of music in these pages recently. Writing first about exploring new ways of critical and poetic thinking in a beautiful Georgian room formerly given over to string quartets and a grand piano, and now of the activities circling around that composition, many and various yet in happy counterpoint to the original theme of risk, attempt and the give-it-a-go essayer that is the key note of essay form.

For essays are not just a way of writing about thinking, I am coming to realise, but a whole way of being in the world. They help us imagine and describe reality, discover fresh means of expression. They are not only part of that ‘adventure into language’ as Seamus Heaney, in his Nobel Prize Acceptance speech, described his own life’s work but are also a portal through which one can view one’s thinking, writing self. Essays are not just for essayists, then; they’re good for all of us. In that same speech Heaney talks about ‘the temple inside my hearing’, the place in the mind that is alert to and representative of the effect of poetry, and so it does now seem to me as though that kind of ‘listening’ might be applied as well to the circling patterns of thought around the short stories and poems that we make as it does to essays drawn from the world around us. Both require a fine tuning of words to discover the sensibility beneath  – to give to our mute, aphonic selves music.

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