Let’s Get Metaphysical

My next performance will be at a reading inspired by Metaphysical Poetry next Friday, March 11th, at the Poetry Café in London’s Covent Garden. The event is organised by Anouche Sherman and features (alongside myself) Nicki Heinen, Tom Bland, Isabel del Rio, Anthony Howell, Cameron Uzoka, Stephen Watts, Ziba Karbassi, Michael Wyndham, George MacBeth and Woldek Fenrych–all incredibly cool and talented people. Please join the Facebook event page here, or check out the website of the venue.


When I first started advertising this event, a friend texted me one afternoon asking, “what does ‘metaphysical’ mean?” Incidentally I had spent all morning discussing Nietzsche’s project to overcome metaphysics, and knowing that this was rather different from the dictionary definition of the word as well as what is meant by the genre of poetry, I failed to give a proper answer. I’m still not sure. Metaphysics as a branch of philosophy can be criticised for pursuing abstractions detached from their context in the everyday experience of life, which is what phenomenology and existentialism react against. I agree that when answering the big questions such as what should we do with our lives, it’s useful to focus on the tangible realities, but if you’re ever going to get metaphysical, poetry is the place to be.

What I do know is that one of the reasons Metaphysical Poetry was called as such was the literary device of a metaphysical conceit (old word for concept), popular among the poets now called The Metaphysical Poets, including John Donne and Andrew Marvell. Poetry Foundation’s excellent glossary of literary terms describes the conceit as “an often unconventional, logically complex, or surprising metaphor whose delights are more intellectual than sensual.” Donne’s poem The Flea does indeed surprise by using a flea sucking blood as a metaphor for…sexual intimacy? That’s how I interpret it, at least, when the speaker is jealous of the flea for getting physically closer to his woman than he could be, by containing a bit of her (blood) inside itself. Or maybe it’s a reference to vampires?  Anyway, another beautiful one is Marvell’s The Garden, where trees are, well, kind of sexualised, too. I’m trying to think of an exception but from what I’ve read by the most famous metaphysical poets, they were basically frustrated men who saw everything from fleas to trees to compass needles as metaphors for sexual desire or possessive greed (for a woman). But the readings at the Poetry Café on Friday will be about being inspired these guys while coming up with novel and broader ways of using the conceit–or, indeed, metaphysics. Metaphysical Poetry is a rather narrow genre, but poems about metaphysical topics are endless. I’m looking forward to hearing the different ways in which everyone will interpret the theme.

There will also be an open mic, so please turn up at the venue well on time to get your name on the list. Hope to see you there!



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