Book Review Musings Travel

Of Mutability, Sad and Sand: Me Reading Jo Shapcott in the Sahara Desert as I Really Start To Feel The Loss Of The Anti-Depressants


I’m pretty certain, as I write this on the minibus back to Marrakech, that I have sand inside my anus. I don’t mean around, I mean inside. When I clench and unclench my buttocks there is an unpleasant grating, rubbing, scratching, within the very fabric of my taught, though sometimes leaky, sphincter. Sand must have seeped in during my night under the stars in the Sahara, but VERY THANKFULLY not a single drop of effluence seeped out. I even wore (am still wearing) my most disposable underwear: a pair of novelty boxer shorts with “May Contain Nuts” printed across the front as if a stamped factory label. Drives the ladies wild.*

So, yes, I rode a camel into the Sahara and slept under the stars. Although it was still rather touristy and inauthentic, the spectacle of the dunes, the stars, the atavistic thrill of using an animal for transport like some kind of sexed-up, sexy, sex-crazed Victorian murderer, combined to create a pleasantly enjoyable and evocative experience. I wrote my bitter travel journal by moonlight, for once writing more about travel than bitter internal dialogues about how bitterly I hate everyone I’ve ever met.**

My one fear, as I smiled at the landscape, the sunset, the unbelievably straight line the wind had formed at the top of the dune I climbed, was that my enjoyment was rooted solely in some kind of chemical imbalance. Perhaps the worst thing about coming off unbranded-Euro-Prozac is the fear that any moment of joy is a last kicking remnant, rather than an organic psychological experience. Like having an AMAZING conversation with a cab driver on the way home from a wild party. I’ve now been off the meds for a week, and though the first few days of that time were filled with the heaviest drinking and smoking of my trip so far, since my North American Friends went home I’ve been much more sober. Theoretically I won’t be “clean” for up to another fortnight (the fluoxetine half-life being huge), but I certainly have already felt a rise in self-hating, anxiety-ridden thinking. But I enjoyed being in the desert. So that was either a late kicker or an honest experience. Who knows?

The Final Mistake I made regarding this “desert experience” was not bringing enough to read. Despite having three novels, three books of poetry and a bumper centenary edition of the New Statesman to choose from, I feared the last hundred (good!) pages of Ulysses might take days to get through, so only additionally carried the slim Of Mutability by Jo Shapcott.

Although being, generally, a nicely varied volume of poetry in terms of topic, structure and style, reading it through five times in two days didn’t really make for constant entertainment. I liked her discussions of death, I enjoyed her musings on mortality, on romance, sex, physical and mental decline (“decline” being my favourite topic for art), I did find the numerous nature allusions (particularly trees) a little tiring, but that’s personal taste. I liked Shapcott’s use of form, I liked the vulnerability frequently displayed, I liked a lot of the poems quite a lot. But as a needed and sole distraction from over twenty hours of minibus travelling, it wasn’t quite big enough. But is anything?***


* By “drives the ladies wild”, I mean that my girlfriend gets annoyed and embarrassed on my behalf whenever she catches me wearing a pair of six/seven year old lewd-joke-boasting, delasticated, faded panties bought for me by my mother. If I’d got shit on them last night – or do so today – I WILL throw them away rather than wash them. The joke is no longer worth that shame. Maybe in the noughties it would’ve been.

** Except for VERY few people, but so few that publishing the list (of course there’s a list) would do more harm than good.

*** Infinite Jest would’ve been. I wish I wish I wish I hadn’t lost Infinite Jest.  As an addendum to the second footnote above, the list of “Things/People I Miss Most Whilst Travelling” has Infinite Jest, which I lost only eleven days ago, RIGHT at the top. I’m talking above wine, above cheese, above conditioner, above mouthwash, above my hipster t-shirts, above my computer, even above my cat. Oh, yeah, and above “the people I care about”, sure, yeah. Whatever.

2 comments on “Of Mutability, Sad and Sand: Me Reading Jo Shapcott in the Sahara Desert as I Really Start To Feel The Loss Of The Anti-Depressants

  1. Pingback: Flaubert in Egypt by Gustave Flaubert (kind of)* | The Triumph of the Now

  2. Pingback: POETRY MONTH: poetry reviews from the vaults – Triumph Of The Now

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