Michael Blackburn's ART ZERO


Something has happened to that other man, Blackburn. Of him now I hear nothing at all, though I used to glimpse his name in small literary magazines, in newspapers or on lists of committees. I have a taste for pictures of naked women, maps, old typefaces such as Caslon, Bembo and Sabon, walks in the country and the company of good friends. The other Blackburn liked these, too, but not in such a way as to make people connect them with his personality. It is true that some excellent poems were published under his name and that a stream of books and magazines appeared with him as editor. But now I believe he was merely a phantom, a sickly vampire whom I fed with my own blood, my own imaginings, my own talent, a vampire who failed to materialise fully. Despite my efforts he remained almost invisible, repeatedly crumbling away in the sunlight of other people's indifference. And so, luckily, I did not suffer the fate of being mistaken for him, of having his contradictions and foibles mistaken for my own. He did not exist, he does not exist. Only I exist, and, as Spinoza asserted, everything desires to persist in its own being. And so, in my self-persistence that other Blackburn has vanished. I am taking back all the words and images I gave him, all the poems I lent him which he published under his own name. He allowed me to bestow them on him, and therefore, in a sense, he stole them from me. I now reclaim them. I shall never expect to encounter his presence again as I walk by the Tower in Newcastle, or by the river in Richmond. I have a few copies of his books and pamphlets, the uncollected pieces and manuscripts of unpublished poems. These I may keep or give away, as the fancy takes me; perhaps I may burn them or turn them into compost. My power over him and everything he named his own is total, if inconsequential. He's not coming back for anything.