Parting, Picking

Outside Job, Locky Morris, Void Offsites, Derry-Londonderry, 2021. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

In the moments before lines of writing tip out, from limb to fingers, onto page or keypad, I want to look away. The feeling of waiting arrives, as Elizabeth Hardwick says of boredom, ‘always ahead of time, ready.’1 

I’m scared of missing thinking. Of that which is not written down in time. The pencil grazes the wall as I walk from room to room, with my notebook in hand. 

When I can’t get the words out, but do, anyway. The words might be woefully inadequate, boring, or just wrong. But now that they’re said, they can’t really be unread. My version of not-writing is making lists, small observations, whatever hums, or echoes. This means that when the words aren’t the right ones, at least their movement and rhythm give a feeling of it having been swept in; thinking. Although effusive, ‘there is pleasure in poetic exactingness.’2 

Denise Riley talks about cutting through the thickness of your own silence in her book Impersonal Passion. An atmosphere is inhabited, just before speech occurs, of ‘linguistic aggression which the speaker knows she is about to commit, the aggression of cutting through some settled state.’3

Circling a line to hear the sound of circling. Chalky pencil, the rough of paper. 

Walking through the street, a poetic proposition enters my field of vision. A new image written over the space where fast food adverts and jobs for tech companies arrive each month, lustreless and tall.  

I stop. The art on the billboard speaks to the street, conversing, holding the etymology of this word, it ‘turns with’ my feet. Looking feels like ‘trying vainly to weigh the quiet fringes […] the trailing filigree of association which are part of its meaning.4 The viewer knows in their un-seeing of what would normally be on the billboard that they’ve encountered something else, interruption as a place, an interstice, a station.  

Salomé Voegelin writes in The Creative Critic, ‘how do you know how to listen out for something you do not know?’5 Here, in the stopped walk, or passing glance that echoes loosely inside the rest of the day, interruption reveals itself as interval. One might propose to ‘attend to the interval [between art and words] as an active space.’6 But what happens when we think of this interval not as active, but acute? An acute angle, the two sides pulled close enough to touch, where doing and thinking meet.  

A happy drowsiness so shallow that it feels deep, the artificial breeze from passing bus exhausts, hair at the crown where the parting curves, fricatives, the pop of a pillowcase shook out, motes in the air. 

Page Break 

‘Doing nothing and saying nothing is an important statement that should be considered, even if I end up rejecting it,’7 says Jutta Koether in her text on the ‘things that make art.’ I think I am saying little, instead of nothing. Or; little nothings. 

The sounding of words as interruption is part of a cycle. There is thinking, unfastened in its light wordless movements, until words do arrive, and with them all of the difficulty of setting down on the page the tenor of the previous associations, some of the arc of its movement.  

I looked for a long time for the fly I saw in the fridge earlier. How to keep thought porous, by not thinking spatially, but in forces? The same forces holding the ordinary and the exceptional together. 

A pocket full of lighters. Picking over stones on the ground with my feet. The panoptic shudder windscreen wipers lend to the inside of a car.  

When you roll over in bed and ‘write down the thought which is just enough of a thought for you to know you are thinking it when you should be sleeping […] the one that rattles,’8 or seems made of little nothings, maybe, ‘the force [of writing] is on loan’9 from a place that traffics in emotion and excess, from things that build, without stopping or full stops. Sleep codifies, the billboard says: around me there is only blankness! There must be some sort of gravity working for anything to end up on the page, yet the words don’t have any weight, making work instead.  

I watch a golden shaft of sun for a long time until it fades. I watch the sky slope off somewhere, a blue reflection on an open window, all warped. The frosty roof tiles, the lines of boning across the back of the neighbours’ heavy cotton blinds. The radiator stretched and sagging at its centre. The smooth streams of liquid formed down gutters. A van turning a corner, a full stop; floating. The plastic tablecloth, wet with strawberry jam. Now, what was it I was going to write? 

This text is inspired by Outside Job, Locky Morris, a billboard art project by Void Offsites, Derry-Londonderry, 2021  

  1. Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights (New York: New York Review of Books, 2001) p 5
  2. Denise Riley, Impersonal PassionLanguage As Affect (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005) p 71
  3. Ibid. p 72 
  4. Ibid.
  5. Salomé Voegelin, ‘Writing about the Sound of Unicorns’, The Creative CriticWriting as/about Practice, eds. Katja Hilevaara and Emily Orley (Oxford: Routledge, 2018), pp 129-134
  6. Emma Cocker, ‘Writing Without Writing, Conversation-As-Material,’ The Creative CriticWriting as/about Practice, eds. Katja Hilevaara and Emily Orley (Oxford: Routledge, 2018), p 50
  7.  Jutta Koether, f., translated by Nick Mauss and Michael Sanchez (Frankfurt: Sternberg Press, 2017), p 33 
  8. Sarah Tripp, The Self-Illuminating Pen, (Glasgow: MAP Editions, 2020) p 26 
  9. Writing is…Art’ online event with Kathryn Scanlan and Maria Fusco, Maynooth University, accessed live 16 March 2021, recording available at []