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This article is taken from PN Review 200, Volume 37 Number 6, June - July 2011.

'Only practising how to speak to speak'
W.S. Graham's Art of Letter Writing
Angela Leighton
A shortened version of a lecture delivered at the University of Sheffield on 17 March 2011, under the general title 'Seven Talks on Letter Writing'.

Meanwhile surely there must be something to say,
Maybe not suitable but at least happy
In a sense here between us two whoever
We are. Anyhow here we are and never
Before have we two faced each other who face
Each other now across this abstract scene
Stretching between us. This is a public place
Achieved against subjective odds and then
Mainly an obstacle to what I mean.1

That is the first verse of W.S. Graham's poem 'The Constructed Space', a poem about writing, figured as an 'abstract scene', where 'we two', 'whoever we are', face each other. Graham might be describing a lecture theatre: this 'public place' where (as any panicking speaker hopes) 'surely there must be something to say'. He might be describing a poem, 'Achieved against subjective odds' and 'Mainly an obstacle' in the straight road to meaning. He might even be describing a letter, 'between us two', but two, however intimate, divided by that distance 'Stretching between us.' 'The Constructed Space' is a strange place: a 'here' conceived as nowhere in particular; a communication conceived as 'obstacle' to communication; and a speaking, not by 'we' but by 'whoever / We are.' What happens in this space is 'at least happy' - that is, cheerful and chancy, enjoyable and ...


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