Abandon is an interesting word, with many ramifications: to give up completely a practice or a way of thinking; to desert; to leave empty or uninhabited without intending to return; to leave decisively, as an act of survival.
Etymologically, abandon also carries legalistic meanings stemming from the idea of jurisdiction, e.g to put someone under someone else’s control. Also the French word abandonner, to surrender, is involved in its spawning.
Abandon and freedom are also related, as in ‘wild abandon’. That fearful, exhilarating kind of freedom which is absolute and fatal, and involves rushing headlong at your own death in the most ecstatic and self-abjuring manner available.
I found a latin word that has a sense of abandon, relinquo, on the internet. (One of the things the internet is forcing us to abandon is the idea of the scholar, or the specialist, who holds jurisdiction over an area of knowledge.) Relinquo also means bequeath. To leave and to give in the same three archaic syllables. This you can do, for example, by dying. Does anything a dying empire does make sense?
How many poets can you name that abandoned their children for poetry? You know a few at least or you don’t know poetry. It is such a selfish, wanton, even spiteful art-form, for some.
What greater freedom is there than the freedom to abandon your children?
Others abandon POETRY to become poets. Leroi Jones turns himself into Amiri Baraka.
The writer in the lead role of the 2006 film ‘A Guide to recognising your Saints’ has had to abandon the unliterary world of his upbringing to become a writer. Here I state the obvious and oft-remarked, but not so well digested fact, that the great majority of the world is outside and beyond literature and is peopled by those who have, generally, neither time for, nor interest in, nor use for poetry books. A writer occasionally escapes from this unliterary mainland. Or a person escapes who has found out how to use writing as their getaway vehicle, as their way of abandoning.
Clichés tell us whatever you leave tears some of you off as the price of the leaving. You are holed, wounded, by abandoning. A talking wounded. A gape that speaks. An eloquent and streaming abyss.
For me, the great poet of every kind of above-mentioned abandonment is Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s Barry Mcsweeney. What can I say? I love him. I love him for leaving us. I love how he left. I love what he left.
What he left us was ‘Wolf Tongue’. Selected poems 1965-2000, Bloodaxe, 2003.
‘Lipstick, she said, on a slate in the rain,
is a complete nobody to me.
I’d like a square meal daily,
for me and my mam’
These are the saddest and the truest lines I have ever read, and they belong to Pearl who breathes them in ‘Dark was the night and cold was the ground.’ one of the series of overwhelmingly beautiful ‘Pearl’ poems McSweeney wrote between 1995 and 1997.
Pearl is the figure McSweeney’s abandonment. She is everything that has been lost, everything that cannot be reclaimed, everything that should, could and would have been, but that never was, and is not, and now, we must realise, will never be.
Recall in order to relinquish. Abandon yourself as an act of survival. Leave yourself uninhabited. Abandonner. Relinquo.
Dave Lordan a poet and teacher. He won thewon the Patrick Kavanagh Award for poetry in 2005 and the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award in 2008 for his book The Boy in the Ring, published by Salmon Poetry.