Possessed by the voice of a dead poet


Mara Jebsen on the pleasures of dictation @ 3Quarks Daily.
There's a shadowy black-and-white room crammed with schoolboys in Francois Truffaut's film 400 Blows. You've got to keep your eye on the boy who is not the principle character; the boy who is squinch-faced and clench-knuckled; the irrepressibly clumsy one whose inkpen just exploded. He rips out page after page of inky, sloppy copy and hides them beneath his desk. But all around, hypnotized, elbows crooked at identical angles, the other boys’ pens move in steady waves, drawn forward by the pull of the schoolmaster's voice. At some point I'm about thirty and standing in a tweed skirt in front of a classroom in New York with a poem in my hands. "Stop all the clocks/Cut off the telephone" I say. W.H. Auden first penned these lines in England at least 40 years ago. Now, fifteen hands move in unison, following my voice and Auden's beautiful, long-dead mind.I used to hate dictation. The first time someone tried to educate me that way it was in Lome, Togo, on the coast of West Africa, and in French, an impossible language I barely spoke. I was fourteen and I was introduced to the process not long after my American mother married a Togolese professor and we abandoned our apartment in Philadelphia to start life anew in Lome. The way I felt about French and dictation got mixed up in my mind with a conviction that something was horribly askew with all the grownups I met. Jokey, warm and tough, my new Togolese family seemed nevertheless to all have a headache. It was like they had had a headache since before I was born.read more