I must admit, I have never been one for problem-solving. I approach tricky problems the way I approach mountains – this particular example may look picturesque from a distance, but if someone else has already climbed it, and there’s a handy funicular, why reach for the rope, pitons, tent and bivouac? I sometimes find myself gazing at Parsonage, sitting at the Ferranti Pegasus’ well-tempered key-enterer with a mixture of admiration and incomprehension. There he is now, clacking away, coding an algorithm to grade various poetic onomatopoeia by similarity to the sounds themselves, not only solving a problem which has never been solved before, but also raising the Pegasus’ own intelligence by a degree or two, towards an eventual goal he calls the singularity.
The singularity (always in italics) is a mind-blowing tipping point in artificial intelligence, by which theoretical time the machine becomes so dashed clever that it can work out what problem we want to solve before we have even thought of it, and will then immediately go on to solve that problem – but most importantly, will not endlessly bang on about it, meaning that vital afternoon naps are not disturbed.
It is for this reason that I have not volunteered my peerless intellect up to the nation to help solve this Brexit thing. As far as I am concerned, Brexit should be corralled with the Irish Problem, the 38th Parallel, Roswell, The Marie Celeste, The Priory of Sion, The Voynich Manuscript, the smile of the Mona Lisa, and the inverse motivational characteristics of the domestic printer (it only works when you don’t need it to and never works when you do) as unsolved and insoluble. I am not interested in Occam’s Pendulum, Foucault’s Razor, the Gordian Riddle or the Knot of the Sphinx. One might as well attempt to cross the Rubicon in a Ship of Fools using the Sword of Damocles as a paddle as attempt to pass a Brexit Bill through the eye of a needle, as my old Classics Professor used to say.
This week’s Workshop was an exercise in peace and understanding, with no requirement for anyone to cry, ‘order, order!’ Peter Francis was given the first turn at the dispatch box with a gender-identity poem about his own childhood which could nevertheless be set in the present day. Pat Francis then took control of the order-paper, offering up a proposal on the impossibility of designing either flowers, or one’s friends. Nick Barth stood up next, recounting a possible present in which a certain politician just did not exist. Roger Becket presented a very plausible treatise on the value and structure brought to him by work and honest toil. We almost believe him! Daphne retuned to a theme she has brought to this august assembly in the past, also to do with work, but the great pleasure brought to her late friend Beryl by embroidery. Michael Harris made two very short interjections on the subject of love, the house approved of them both. Doig Simmonds brought the subject of death to the table, recounting a story of a ghostly flight to the other side. John Hurley professed himself tired of mere talking shops, perhaps in contempt of the very Place where he was speaking. Finally, Owen Gallagher spoke up for parents condemned to silence, specifically his father.
Now I’m not saying that poets as a species are incapable of exploring the mysteries of existence, far from it, it’s very much what we are here for. It’s just that the poetic form has considerably less space for showing one’s working out, and as my Mathematics master always used to make clear, that’s a very good way of losing marks. Perhaps there’s no reason why the poet cannot step up to the Scientist’s blackboard, covered with the densest mathematical symbols representing her life’s work and rather like the alien Klaatu in the film The Day The Earth Stood Still, fill in a blank space, solving the problem at a stroke. On the other hand, poets have an approach to truth that Alan Chambers, the inestimably talented poet and sailor of this parish would understand as going towards. A navigator aboard a sailing vessel would never claim that he is going to a destination, only that he is going towards it. An approach to addressing great mysteries such as Brexit which reminds me of a line of Donne’s; ‘On a huge hill, / Cragged, and steep, Truth stands, and he that will. / Reach her, about must, and about must go’.
Which is why when a Workshop is ended, I never propose going to the bar, only going towards it, for if one gets there first, one is bound to have to buy the first round.
If you have been, thank you for reading.