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This report is taken from PN Review 136, Volume 27 Number 2, November - December 2000.

Informing Silences Lawrence Sail

At the start of the second week in November last year I found myself in a late fifteenthcentury underground passage beneath Exeter's High Street. The atmosphere was a little dank but, surprisingly, not very cold. The darkness was complete and, as it seemed at first, so was the silence. Later in the month I found darkness and silence again, at a Buddhist monastery (despite the title, in fact a community of nuns) deep in the Devon countryside, where the meditation with which the day formally began and ended took place in the context of the winter night.

I have the Poetry Society to thank for these and eight other locations, the upshot of a proposal I had made earlier in the year with the suggestion that, alongside the numerous residencies and placements for poets involving, for instance, solicitors, shops, financiers and oil rigs, it would be interesting to spend some time in places where silence had a part to play. After all, 'the common of silence', in Emerson's memorable phrase, surrounds us despite the world's cacophonies. Yet it is far more than the blank margins surrounding words or music, and far more complex: there are, as Thomas Cromwell says in A Man for All Seasons, many kinds of silence. Many poets have been aware of the adjacency of silence, and of its variety: it can be 'the perfectest herald of joy', as in Much Ado about Nothing, Wordsworth's 'eternal silence' contrasting with 'our noisy years', 'more musical ...


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