In praise of simplicity

I think there is a profound and enduring beauty in simplicity, in clarity, in efficiency. True simplicity is derived from so much more than the absence of clutter and ornamentation – it’s about bringing order to complexity.

This are my thoughts about poetry, but not my words – they come from Jony Ive, Senior Vice President of design at Apple, talking about iOS 7.

I was thinking about clarity when reading last Saturday’s Guardian Review which featured this poem by Sinead Morrissey who won the TS Eliot Prize recently for Parallax:


was not last winter, we said, when winter
had ground it’s iron teeth in earnest: Belfast
colder than Moscow and a total lunar eclipse
hanging its Chinese lantern over the solstice.
Last winter we wore jackets into November
and lost our gloves, geraniums persisted,
our new pot-bellied stove sat unlit night
after night and inside our lungs and throats,
embedded in our cells, viruses churned out
relaxed, unkillable replicas of themselves
in the friendlier temperatures. Our son
went under. We’d lie awake, not touching,
and listening to him cough. He couldn’t walk
for weakness in the morning. Thoracic,
the passages and hallways in our house
got stopped with what we could not say –
how, on our wedding day, we’d all-at-once
felt shy to be alone together, back
from the cacophony in my tiny, quiet flat
and surrounded by flowers.

Perfectly formed, it does so much and makes it look effortless. I’m trying hard to resist buying her book and put in on my birthday wish list instead. Though the summer is a long time away and I want it desperately – not as words on a screen, but the actual book to hold in my hands, its cover a promise, with pages to linger over and turn.
Meanwhile, I have Louise Gluck’s Poems 1962-2012 (a much-awaited Christmas present). Luxuriating in its generous bulk, I’m enjoying being at the beginning. In her first book, Firstborn (1968), the poems don’t feel in any way dated – with their strange, quiet beauty, their forms a delight, they could have been written today. This is Solstice:

June’s edge. The sun
Turns kind. Birds wallow in the sob of pure air,
Crated from the coast… Un-
real. Unreal. I see the cure

Dissolving on the screen. Outside, dozing
In its sty, the neighbours’ offspring
Sucks its stuffed monster, given
Time. And now the end begins:

Packaged words. He purrs his need again.
The rest is empty. Stones, stone-
blind she totters to the lock
Through webs of diapers. It is Christmas on the clock,

A year’s precise,
Terrible ascent, climaxed in ice.

We have time. There is so much to be grateful for, such pleasure to be had. So it’s raining again and our debt is growing, worry climbing like ivy, obscuring the weak winter light… But we are alive and there are so many ways to feel happy.

In The Seagull, which I’ve been reading, the characters are also worrying about money – there isn’t enough to live on, to pay for horses to take one to the station or back home to the baby, not enough money for Treplev to have a new coat to replace his shabby one which is 3 seasons old. Chekhov’s stories and plays have that deceptive simplicity, the writing uncluttered and resonant with truth. The characters fall in and out of love, have dreams, are disappointed… Is anyone happy? Probably not – and probably happiness is not the point either, in life.
Is it foolish of us to keep pointing ourselves at happiness? We know it’s fleeting but we’re disappointed when it goes, even associate this with failure.
And if we could be happy with what we have?

In The Seagull, Nina quotes a line from Turgenev:
‘On a night like this, happy the man with a roof over his head and a warm corner to rest in.’
But of course, she wasn’t happy.

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