Archives for posts with tag: Marriage

“People are supposed to be married, supposed to go through this world two by two.”

from Clock Dance, Anne Tyler

I spent New Year’s Eve at a dinner party. I had a truly super time – lovely people, wonderful food, great fun. Eleven sat at the table – five couples, with me as the uneven eleventh. A not unusual situation. I have been divorced a long time, and more single than coupled ever since. The uneven number thing did strike me, though. Coupledom is the norm. Singledom creates an unevenness, an asymmetry that can be uncomfortable for many, and even threatening for some.

Most people I know (particularly in London, less so in New York) are married. Having once been married, and now residing in the alternate de-married world, I often consider my status/non-status. Rachel Cusk, in her novel Outline, says much that is interesting on the topic, including:

“You build a whole structure on a period of intensity that’s never repeated.”

“You don’t renounce it because too much of your life stands on that ground.”

Her words remind me of Philip Larkin’s, from his poem Marriages:

“To put one brick upon another,

Add a third, and then a fourth,

Leaves no time to wonder whether

What you do has any worth.


But to sit with bricks around you

While the winds of heaven bawl

Weighing what you should or can do

Leaves no doubt of it at all.”

Cusk also considers the illusory impossibility of marriage:

“When I think back to the time before, and especially to the years of my marriage, it seems to me as though my wife and I looked at the world through a long lens of preconception, by which we held ourselves at some unbreachable distance from what was around us, a distance that constituted a kind of safety from what was around us, a distance that constituted a kind of safety but also created a space for illusion.”

from Outline, Rachel Cusk

Elsewhere, Larkin is more playful in his ruminations:

“My wife and I – we’re pals. Marriage is fun.

Yes: two can love as stupidly as one.”

Marriage, Philip Larkin

Where does all of this leave me on the topic? I am not sure. For the most part, I am perfectly okay with my uneven number contribution to social gatherings. I hold no envy for married friends and strangers. Marriage is a complicated business, and one that I do not currently subscribe to.

Of course, coupledom and marriage are not synonymous. I absolutely believe in the possibility (and impossibility) of love, short-term or other:

“Il n’y a de vrai au monde que de déraisonner d’amour”

[The only truth is love beyond reason]

Alfred du Musset

This belief brings me to Shikibu’s words:

“My pillow

has become

a dusty thing–

for whom

should I brush it off?”

Izumi Shikibu

For whom, indeed? It will be interesting to see whether this time next year my contentment remains at being the uneven 11th, or whether I will choose to present myself within the evenness of a coupled 12.











I saw this play in the lovely Arcola Theatre in Dalston over the weekend.

With just two characters, the piece is about a marriage, about all marriages perhaps, and how fragile and precarious their survival can be.

I loved it. It is about words, those spoken and often misunderstood, and the unspoken, which can be equally treacherous.

In the end, it is about humanness, and our innate potential to reach out to those we truly care for.


It has been a poetry-themed week, ending with a wonderful evening tonight with the American poet Sharon Olds reading of some of her old and new poems at the Southbank.

I have long been a huge Olds fan. I love the visceral aspect of her poems, and her fearlessness and generosity when it comes to expressing the intimacies of her life and the rawness of her emotions:

From The Sisters of Sexual Treasure (Selected Poems, London: Cape, 2005, p.2):

‘As soon as my sister and I got out of our

mother’s house, all we wanted to

do was fuck, obliterate

her tiny sparrow body and narrow

grasshopper legs.’

She deals with the realities of life, and its losses, adorning, even embracing, them with beauty within tragedy:

From Miscarriage (Selected Poems, p.14):

‘When I was a month pregnant, the great

clots of blood appeared in the pale

green swaying water of the toilet,

brick red like black in the salty

translucent brine, like forms of life

appearing, jellyfish with the clear-cut

shapes of fungi.’

Her poems on her father’s illness and death deal with both the fact of his dying, but also the difficult relationship she had with him. In The Race, she describes her desperation to get to his bedside before he dies, and her relief at arriving ‘in time’.

From The Race (Selected Poems, p.50-1):

‘…I walked into his room

and watched his chest rise slowly

and sink again, all night

I watched him breathe.’

In Wonder (p.52), she analyses her own response to hearing that her father is going to die:

‘… If I had dared to imagine

trading, I might have wished to trade

places with anyone raised on love,

but how would anyone raised on love

bear this death?’

This is what I so love about Olds’ poetry – her honesty, her refusal to gloss over the less acceptable, and her courage to put the imperfections, the flaws and the rawness of life out there, on a very personal level. She is so aware of our humanness, in its totality, and is unashamed of this.

In The Feelings (p.53-4), she describes the moment when she is present at her father’s death:

‘…I was the

only one there who knew

he was entirely gone, the only one

there to say goodbye to his body

that was all he was…’

‘…The next morning,

I felt my husband’s body on me

crushing me sweetly like a weight laid heavy on some

soft thing, some fruit, holding me

hard to this world. Yes the tears came

out like juice and sugar from the fruit –

the skin thins, and breaks, and rips, there are

laws on this earth, and we live by them.’

Olds’ poems are often rooted in a bodily, fleshy, visceral world, yet there is no sense of a body/mind duality. On the contrary, both appear entertwined in the physical selves that we live in.

The current collection, Stag’s Leap, which has just been nominated for the TS Eliot Prize, is about the end of her marriage, her husband leaving after many decades of togetherness. He features, perhaps now poignantly, in many of her earlier collections:

From This Hour (Collected Poems, p.85):

‘We could never really say what it is like,

this hour of drinking wine together

on a hot summer night, in the living room

with the windows open, in our underwear…’

The title of the new collection, Stag’s Leap, refers to their favourite wine. The opening poem, While He Told Me, positions her, and us, in the room where she learns of the end of the marriage. Her love for her husband refuses to die despite the desertion. Yet amidst the pain, there is also much humour, and Olds as a performer is hugely charismatic, and funny. In Telling My Mother:

‘…So the men are gone,

and I’m back with mom. I always

feared this would happen…’

Re-reading some of her older poems after tonight’s performance, I came across The Wedding Vows (Collected Poems, p.128-129):

‘I did not stand at the altar, I stood

at the foot of the chancel steps, with my beloved…’

‘…We stood

beside each other, crying slightly

with fear and awe. In truth, we had married

that first night, in bed, we had been

married by our bodies, but now we stood

in history – what our bodies had said,

mouth to mouth, we now said publicly,

gathered together, death…’

It made me feel sad, reading this, with the knowledge that all is now broken, and cast aside. But Olds would probably not share this sentiment, her works are never maudlin or self-pitying. She would, perhaps, stop, and consider, and with a wry and bemused smile conclude that making and breaking is the stuff of life…