Sonia Overall is a writer, performer and creative writing tutor at the University of Kent. She writes both poetry and prose and is particularly interested in crossover forms such as prose poetry and flash fiction. She also creates and abridges work for performance. She has published two novels, A Likeness and The Realm of Shells (Fourth Estate, HarperPerennial). Her current projects include a novel in progress and a collection of ‘walking’ poems.
After an exhibition of Hamish Fulton’s works.
Margate, 5th May
You make a pilgrimage to Hamish Fulton’s milestones and full-moon walks. Old straight tracks and forced courses. In the cube of the gallery you shuffle at the perimeter, safety in short distances, your own termite walk. You feel as if you are participating.
An object cannot compete with an experience. Even so, you linger over the smuggled Tibetan flag, hungry for reliquary.
You are enamoured with text. There is a pleasurable hollowness in your belly, like the spaciousness after a fever. Then a toddler breaks in, squeals at the giant red SILENCE on the wall, gleefully stamps in orange boots. You realise that she is participating.
The tide is high, swollen by twelve days of rain. The harbour arm struggles to contain it.
Flitting between galleries, you think: there is as much in a straight-trodden line as in any Turner firebomb. Visitors cluster before a furnace. No matter how you resist you are drawn to the light, the slow goosestep of the figurative.
That night your dreams are of levitation, of a marching bass, of an endless single line of yellow road-paint cutting through the Downs.
It is simple and soon you will be running. But now
you must make those tentative trails, the one two one
and expect to trip.
This is just a beginning. First you must fall.
Once you have balance you may begin again. You are coltish, a stripling. You are a swaying sapling feeling to the tips of fine-fibred roots and pulling them free. The ground is uneven. The plane is littered with obstacles. You will learn to negotiate these.
Left. Right. Find the rhythm. Grow taller. Take on speed.
Walk. Do this without thought, without effort. Walk as if your feet were lungs serving their unconscious purpose.
Walk holding hands. Walk on low brick walls and high grassy banks. Walk along the wet perilous perimeters of swimming pools. Walk on the gnarled foundations of Roman villas. Stub your toes on ancient hooks of flint.
Walk carrying lunchboxes in the shapes of animals. Walk carrying satchels containing Latin text books, plimsolls and unfinished homework in exercise books ruled with faint blue ink.
Walk carrying all of your worldly possessions in a bundle on a stick, a dog nipping at your heels, your clothes in rags, laughing.
Walk in parks. Walk on beaches. Walk beside busy roads and attempt to negotiate traffic. Walk in supermarket aisles steering trolleys, avoiding contact.
Walk for pleasure, slowly. Walk to clear your head. Walk to fill it.
Walk in sunshine with head high, seeking birdsong in trees, blinking in the light. Walk in rain under percussive umbrellas. Walk into high winds, gasping, shedding garments. Walk in sackcloth under raining blows, head bared, guilt-ridden.
Your soles thicken. Your legs fold like poorly-hinged gates. Your ankles soften with fluid. Your knees buckle. Take a seat. Allow your feet to rest on cushioned stools. Attach wheels to furniture, to stationary objects, to high-sided chairs. This is an ending: allow others to walk. Just watch.
Do not look down. You have no need of maps. The path is sinking sand beneath shallow waves. You keep the world on your left, the sea on your right.
This is the street. You simply feel it. At the corner is the abandoned grocers, shutters down. The sign is illegible; you do not need the sign.
You need no compasses. Your feet swim below you. You sense the quiet ticking metal of parked cars, the distant reversing of vehicles, the whirr of passing bicycle wheels.
You cross the street. Your ankles describe the inclines of curbs, the distinctness of grass and gravel. The house peers above a bib of white-pebbled driveway, fat-cheeked, pink, stippled.
You no longer notice how ugly it is. You no longer notice the yellowed newspaper against the porch glass, the abandoned milk bottles, the layers of weather.
You open the door, remove your skin, hang it on the coat hook.
A postcard or place poem from a trip to France last year.
six o’clock in the labyrinth of Pézenas
and you can buy a glace or a souvenir plate
but the cafés are closed
up the steep lanes and through
the mousehole arch
of seven centuries
from behind the silent shutters of the old ghetto
the smell of something roasting:
this is what it means to be elsewhere
A final prose poem responding to an evening with the very talented performance storyteller Ben Haggarty.
Everything happens in threes. There is comfort in these trinities, the sure beat of their logic, the tidy footfalls.
The teller’s voice is vast. He paces the small stage. He fills the room. You breathe as he breathes. Your chest rises, swells. The chests around you rise and swell. There is one breath in the small theatre, this single block of carpet, curtain and chintz.
As the teller speaks you begin to unfold. Your ears unravel like party trumpets. From within you comes a strip of red velvet, a broad unrolling tongue, beckoning in sound. You are a fly-trap for words.
You could hear the minutest rustles, creaks, hums. But there are none. They are drowned in the telling.
You have listened for so long that you cannot feel your feet.
You have listened for so long that the glass in your hand has softened, the whorls of your fingertips smudged, the pads of your palms pressing a waist into the warm, straight sides.
You have listened for so long that when the story ends the world has shifted. Wars have been fought and lost. Lands have been swallowed by seas. Everyone you ever knew has grown old, died, turned to dust.
You leave the theatre, walk home like a guided missile.
For weeks to come you will wake in the night, waves of story breaking across your bed.