Things I Like / Things I Dislike

Susan Sontag’s diaries reveal a witty fondness for the humble list as a way of conferring value and exploring the realms of her knowledge. Her lists of likes and dislikes have become justly notorious. Here, acclaimed writer, critic and poet Seán Hewitt picks up that baton for issue 30

Photography Stuart Simpson / Penguin Random House

Like

Night-scented stock / Going for a run in the rain / A badinage of insults / Embroidered clothing / Dipping into the cool shade of an old church on a hot day / Wildflowers / Superstitions / Medieval architecture / Rewilding / Idealists / Gargoyles / Snowfall / Inappropriate jokes / The way Bessie Smith delivers an innuendo / A cutting remark / Grandfather clocks / Excessive swearing / The fiendishness of magpies, the way they hop / The sound of my own voice (my boyfriend told me to write that) / My boyfriend (my boyfriend told me to write that) / Hearing birdsong on the way home from a nightclub / The scent of barley that comes from the Guinness brewery / Millie Jackson / Singers so bad you can pick them out in the choir / A Manhattan / Iced vermouth with a slice of orange / Weeds / Unexpected reminders of the dead / Pets who are given forenames and surnames, e.g. a cat named Josiah Wedgwood / People who have unprofitable hobbies / Whistling in an empty house / Echoes / Fresh bedsheets / The harmonies of The Watersons / The gorgeous misery of a late Thomas Hardy novel / Allotments / A high-waisted trouser / Prosody / Art heists / The smell of peat / A run-down pub / Aquariums / Frozen spider-webs / Ruins / Effeminacy / Sarcasm / Scousers / Drunkenly telling women they are beautiful in the smoking area / Everyone being beautiful when you’re drunk / Shirley Collins / The saying ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ / Trade unions / ‘An Endless Sky of Honey’ / The quiet clunk of a record needle finding the groove / Being left to my own devices / Dissent / Graveyards / A pair of heavy boots / The Victorian sensation novel / The sound of my grandmother singing / Suddenly recalling a line from a book / A good autumn / Freckled shoulders / Mythologies / When a child first remembers your face / Pointedly saying ‘You’re welcome’ to people when they don’t say thank you to me / Greenhouses / Cheeseboards / Hearing an owl / The smell of your hair after a bonfire /  A perfect row of houses / Sash windows / When old people lose all sense of propriety / When people recite Middle English poetry with the ‘authentic’ accent / Double denim / Growing plants from seed / Ambient rain / Rehearsing arguments in the shower / The beautiful dissonance of an orchestra tuning up / The sound of spoken Irish / The steamy exhalation of an iron when you stand it upright / The Phoenix Park / Changing my mind / The variety of English accents / Peshwari naans / Writing a strongly worded letter / The “ll” sound in Welsh / Internal rhymes / Good thighs / The sound of the word ‘thigh’ / Likewise, its spelling / Boyishness / Migration / Lyricism / A well-structured speech / The smell of hawthorn blossom / Evening light

 

Dislike

Artificial flowers / Authority / The idea of work as a virtue / Targeted advertising / Siri / Electronic devices that speak to you / Piety / Pesticides / The Conservative Party / Likewise, Fine Gael / Homelessness / Greed / The smugness of rich men / Stigma / Overhead lighting / The difficulty of remembering a loved one’s face / Likewise, their voice / Dust / Hayfever / Images of medical procedures / Being made aware of the fact that I have internal organs / Seats with no leg room / Disrespect / Classism / Institutional power hierarchies / Standardised grammar mistaken for intelligence / Likewise, RP / The private school system / WhatsApp / Carbon emissions / Complacency / Bad buskers / Borders / Straight couples who take up the whole of the pavement / When people announce their charitable donations / Cowardice / Privatisation / People who fetishise the rules / Jobsworths / The words ‘relevant’ and ‘relatable’ used as praise / Cliques / The extinction of species / Blood sports / Trespass laws / Inherited wealth passed off as talent / Nationalism / Legalese / Pub quizzes that don’t specifically cater to my own limited area of expertise / Socialists whose friendship groups consist entirely of rich, privately schooled people / Nepotism / London-centrism / The smell of hospitals / The overuse of the word ‘problematic’ / Likewise, ‘radical’ / The guilt that comes with grieving / The word ‘gift’ used as a verb / Pervasive transphobia / Americanisms used by non-Americans / Clothing with brand names on / Likewise, being used as an advertisement / Small dressing rooms / Having to take off my shoes to try on a new pair of trousers / Hangnails / That I rarely enjoy going to the theatre as much as I enjoy the idea of going to the theatre / Books printed with new covers to tie in with the film version / Pizza (sue me) / Spinelessness / The combination of sweet and savoury in one dish, i.e. bacon and maple syrup / Art used as a display of wealth / Self-righteousness / Exploitation / ‘Creative’ used as a noun, as in ‘a team of creatives’ / Hold music / My own tendency towards apathy / The celebration of imperialism / Imperialism itself / Tight socks / Shrinking clothes in the wash / Accidentally grating a portion of my finger and/or fingernail when cooking / The idea of producing ‘content’ / That I hardly ever cry anymore / When people ask what my writing is about / Paraphrasing literature / Also, how pompous that sounds / Ignorance deployed as humour / Servility / Competition / Having the rules of a card game explained to me / Littering / Lawnmowers / The institution of the five-day working week / Alarms

This article is taken from Port issue 30. To continue reading, buy the issue or subscribe here

Working with Words: Seán Hewitt

Farfetch and Zegna explore modern masculinity with the award-winning poet

All clothing Ermenegildo Zegna

“I am large, I contain multitudes”, wrote Walt Whitman in his seminal poem ‘Song of Myself’, and indeed, most can lay claim to this statement. Assumptions of character traits based on people’s gender, or assigned sex at birth, often fall short of reality. We are simply too complex for binaries. However, what does masculinity mean today? Its toxic qualities are easier to identify and are increasingly being called out, but what does a progressive version of it look like? What new opportunities do men have to communicate, to grow? Together with Port, Farfetch and Zegna have partnered to create two short films with poet Seán Hewitt and musician Azekel, exploring the subject as well as a recital of a text they’ve penned. 

Port caught up with Hewitt – whose debut collection, Tongues of Fire, won The Laurel Prize – to discuss his chosen work ‘Ilex’, the consequences of men denying their fragility, and writing as a means of investigation.

 

Why is poetry your artistic medium? What sets it apart from other modes of communication, literature, expression?

Fundamentally I write poetry because I like its mystery. I like the fact that rhythm and music and rhyme and language all play together. Often when you write a poem, you don’t know where it’s going and you find something out by the time you get there. I think of the poem as connecting two things that wouldn’t be connected otherwise and you basically ask the question, what happens if we connect them? So it feels like discovery to me.

Why do you often pair the natural world with the poetry of the body? What magic happens when the two meet?

I often think of using the natural world or looking through the natural world and back to the body as a way of rethinking what the body can be, or what nature – which is really the rest of the world – can teach us about being human, or what it might mean to be human. If we were to look at a question and ask, for example, ‘what would a piece of holly teach us about this?’, we come at it in such a strange way, a way that’s outside of our usual way of thinking. A poem might begin thinking about a piece of fungus, and if you turn that back and look at life or love or the body, you often begin to ask different questions and think how are things connected. Of course, as a poet, you think everything is connected.

I like the idea of poetry as a mode of investigation. The poem is beautiful by the way – why did you choose this text with masculinity in mind? Why is it important to you?

I chose this poem thinking about masculinity for a number of reasons. One, because it’s basically a really old-fashioned occasional poem, written on the birth of my nephew. But I was wondering, what would I wish for a young boy now? And it was the ability to retain vulnerability, the ability to be fragile. To bring into being a man or masculinity, where all these things that are often seen as weaknesses, might actually be blessings, in a way. Another reason that I like this poem is because originally when I wrote it, I sent it out to an editor, anonymously. My name wasn’t attached and they thought it was by a woman, and I liked the idea then that inside the space of a poem, I’m almost androgynous. Once you connect my name with that poem, people read it differently, but there’s nothing instinctively masculine or feminine about the person I am inside the poem. It made me think perhaps I’m not a static masculine identity, that inside the poem I have a freedom that perhaps I don’t have elsewhere.

What are the consequences of denying the fragility you highlight in the poem?

Psychoanalysis tells you that you can’t bury anything successfully. Often what we’re asked to do is distraction or rechanneling that emotion into some other outlet, and eventually they catch up with us. We see often men dealing with the outcomes of that emotion or experience catching up. One nice thing about poetry or being an artist is that you get the chance to sit down with those emotions in a private way and figure them out as best you can, on your own, and then share them. I think that that is a connection between a writer and a reader or a singer and a listener – that you create this space where we can communicate with each other in ways that we don’t often do.

Roger Robinson said that poetry is an opportunity to practice your humanity with others. It’s a way to empathise, a vehicle to access other bodies, other states of mind. What would you say are some of the biggest challenges for men in communicating today? What can be done to remedy this?

It is a big question. My sense of it is, and this is probably because I’m not immune to it, I don’t think anyone is immune to it…There is a feeling that anything that we do feel might be particular to ourselves. I think the more we talk, the more we read, the more we listen, the more we learn that nothing is particular to any given person. No matter how embarrassing the thing you might want to say feels, it’s never embarrassing to the person who hears it, because they recognise something of themselves in it. That’s why in a poem or in a song, I can say I was doing this, this is about my nephew, this happened to me on this particular time. And anyone else can read it and see something of themselves in it. So nothing is a particular unique experience. It always has an element of universality if you tell it honestly. I think the fear of that isolation, or being the only one, is what holds people back from speaking. But the more we speak, the more we realise we’re not alone or isolated at all.

We’re living in a different world to our fathers and grandfathers. What opportunities do we as a younger generation of men have when it comes to defining and expressing ourselves?

We live in a world where people are beginning to be a bit more open about what masculinity or femininity mean, and whether we need those categories. Or, what it might mean to express oneself in a way outside what we think of as those categories. And that feels like a great freedom to me. We have technology, we have different jobs available. We have a whole history behind us, of men wearing makeup, you know, our parents grew up in the 70s, 80s. They shouldn’t be shocked! So maybe we should be a bit braver in doing whatever we want and expressing ourselves in different ways, because we’ve come a long way. I think grabbing hold of that freedom, making use of it, is what we should do. We should be brave enough to do that.

Are binary terms like masculinity and femininity, where we ascribe qualities based on gender, relevant anymore? Do you think masculinity can be a force for good and if so, in what way? What would it look like?

It’s hard to say what is a masculine trait and what is a feminine trait. In my mind when I begin to list what I think of as masculine traits, I think of so many women that display them. If I were to imagine an ideal masculinity, it would be one that was vulnerable, emotional. In fact, that borrows many aspects of stereotypical femininity. I think it would probably be a blended identity, because any polarised thing, any binary, is inevitably going to lack what the other thing has. An ideal always has to be a kind of compromise between the two. So yes – vulnerability, creativity, the freedom to express oneself, no fear of showing emotion, care for other people. That’s something I’d like future men and masculinity to exhibit. It must be widely defined enough that anyone can fit into it.

If I were to think about strength, I immediately think of my mother, if I was thinking about vulnerability I would immediately think about my father. That may be personally unique, but I’m sure it applies to many people. Good parents will have those blended identities. Speaking of – how is your nephew? How old is he?

He’s four, and he’s well. Apparently it’s quite common for a couple of weeks for it to be hard to get children to breastfeed. He’s absolutely fine. He’s a terror.

As his uncle, what lessons or qualities would you like to pass on to him?

It’s quite a nice role to be an uncle because you get to have fun and to steal children away for a day or so, and not have a great deal of responsibility. He’s very imaginative, so I like to play creatively with him. He loves to make up stories and I buy him books and read to him. He paints, runs around, dresses up, he just has that freedom and play that I think we lose too quickly. I would like him to get the most out of that and hold onto it as long as he can. At least until the world drums it out of him!

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Photography Benedict Brink

Styling Mitchell Belk

Grooming Roku Roppongi