about:blank is a piece of writing that both defies categorization and pays homage to the great literary innovators of the 20th and early-21st century. It’s chimera-like, engaging in a process of making and remaking, of peeling away and collaging different viewpoints, times and experiences. It’s experience without ego, with the figure of the writer guiding these drifting spheres as they pass each other in a Dublin both strange and familiar.
Extract from about:blank by Adam Wyeth
Read by Olwen fouéré and Owen Roe
Music by Frieda Freytag
Sound Design by Cormac O’Connor
Dublin is a major character in about:blank. Cityscapes seem to exert a strange pull on writers. These Flâneurs – these Joyces and Calvinos – wander the streets, it seems, in order to see the city through the eyes of passersby. And what they find on their travels reconfigures our idea of the living city, raising questions about how we constitute a single city out of so many lives and perspectives, constantly jostling against each other. What happens when the act of looking occurs? How does this act effect the thing seen? And, to quote another of the poetic fragments:
Who is the one
beyond the city
beyond the man
and the woman
divided by the city?
In the Dublin of Adam Wyeth’s imagination, those seen and unseen are acted upon by forces beyond their own understanding. They’re transformed through the very act of being seen, through being imagined. They – like the figure of Claire – both exist, and don’t exist. In some sense of the word, they are blank: ghosts haunting the text. In a quote from Pinter’s No Man’s Land that prefaces the collection, however, the idea of the dead being ‘blank’ is dismissed as nonsense. In about:blank it becomes clear that blankness is not synonymous with emptiness. Rather, it’s the conceptual beginning, the space in which Schrodinger’s cat can be both alive and dead.
about:blank proposes that this space is endlessly fertile; a space in which the imagination can make entire universes. But the current that flows throughout, shaping the energies that make us is love; the love inherent in the potential of a book resting unread on a shelf, in the celebrations of the Celtic calendar, in the practice of yoga, in the works of Rumi, in the writer’s care for his creations.
So what do we see when we gaze through the eyes of the figures which populate about:blank? We see some familiar topographies; canal banks, the seaside at Irishtown, Rathmines Town Hall, the nearby park at Grosvenor Square. We see the inside of a woman’s apartment, we search for a black cat on a dark night. We try our hand at some yoga. We worry about the roses and the railings. We try (and fail) to become poets, we try (and fail) to understand the butterfly effect of a glance shared between a woman on a bus, and a man walking by.
And then something strange happens. As we read further we come to realize that we’re not seeing the world through the eyes of these figures at all, but rather, that the world is looking through us. ‘This’, as the poem tells us, ‘is what happens when we look out of the window/ all of the time/ everywhere/ now/ in Dublin.’
Adam Wyeth, like Joyce, is chronicling a day in the life of a city, but the question of which day is not so simple here. It’s both everywhere and Dublin, both all of the time and now. And although the figure of the writer may recede behind the scenes, it’s the generosity of this expansive vision that allows us to become wholly immersed in about:blank, and to emerge, again, changed.
From LAUNCH INTRODUCTION SPEECH by poet JESSICA TRAYNOR (Museum of Literature Ireland, Dublin – 13 October 2021)