Month: January 2014

Going to join the poets

A few years ago, I took Tamar Yoseloff‘s Routes into Poetry course at The Poetry School in London. On Tuesday evenings I would leave work in Victoria, walk past Westminster Abbey, along the backstreets to Lambeth Bridge, and cross over the Thames to join the poets. One of Ellen Gilchrist’s fantastic Rhoda stories is called ‘Going to Join the Poets’ (in The Age of Miracles), and I felt exactly like Gilchrist’s exuberant heroine, both desperate and alive when I was in that class. Tammy was a warm and engaging teacher, and my fellow poets – a journalist, a scientist, a sculptor, a civil servant and many, many teachers by day – were wonderfully generous with someone who hadn’t written a poem since school. But for two hours every week – longer if you counted the pub afterwards – I could be in a room where poetry & words, the breath & the line were all that mattered. I wrote some poems, mostly to do with either the Biscuit or the mice who had invaded our …

Dogger

We didn’t find out the sex of our children before they were born. I have a feeling that we said we wanted a surprise. But honestly? Honestly, there were two reasons. It felt like it would make it too terrifyingly real, and like it would be risking too much to know, tempting fate to find out. As it turned out, the first time I forgot to look. The Biscuit must have been at least ten minutes old when a midwife asked me whether the perfect bundle at my breast was a girl or a boy. I think she’d given up waiting for me to find out. (A baby! I’d had a baby! Particularly confusing because just an hour or so earlier I’d been told that I wasn’t in labour and been handed a couple of paracetamol. But that’s a whole other story). We were wiser second time round. Or at least I knew that when you have contractions at nearly 42 weeks, a baby is likely to ensue. I looked down seconds after the Moose …

Following the light

From painting I learned something else of infinite value to me. Most young poets have bad working habits. They write their poems in fits and starts, by feast or famine. But painters follow the light. They wait for it and do their work by it. They combine artisan practicality with vision. In a house with small children, with no time to waste, I gradually reformed my working habits. I learned that if I could not write a poem, I could make an image, and if I could not make an image, I could take out a word, savor it and store it. From Eavan Boland’s essay “The Woman Poet: her dilemma” quoted in The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long [underlining mine]. The start of another week. My twenty-first consecutive day of writing (something small, every day – I started on the last day of December). The pages of black ink an unbroken thread through my days. Mostly I feel like I’m just spilling out the detritus of my mind:¬†snippets of dreams, stray thoughts & …

The stack

A lovely weekend. B’s birthday & we milk it for all it’s worth: dinner out on Friday; the first picnic of the year (yes, really! see the blue sky & sun in the photos!) at an Iron Age hill fort on Saturday; and a trip to a hands-on science centre on Sunday (The Biscuit: “This is the best day of my life. Ever.”). Still with the something small, every day. But the small is starting to get to me. That thread of writing weaving through the days makes me aware of how little I’m doing. What can come of it?, I start to wonder. I know that this is the practice, to feel that and just sit with it. To remember that it may be small, but it is at least something. That one day there will be time for more. Continuing the frustration, I seem to be reading about five books at once and I haven’t finished one yet this year. Meanwhile, both the literal piles of books around the house and the list …

Density & speed

I watched the ever-sparkling Kirsty Wark interview Donna Tartt one evening just before Christmas as I was preparing dinner. Soon I was watching, cooking and taking notes. I just love what she has to say about the qualities that she looks for in a book: Reading’s no good unless it’s fun. But what I always want is…that childhood quality of just that gleeful, greedy reading, can’t get enough of it, what’s happening to these people, the breathless turning of the pages, that’s what I want in a book. But I also want something that’s well constructed too. I like to be able to drop down. Dickens goes so fast, he goes like lightning, but at the same time, any sentence you can lift up and it’s a marvel and a miracle. So to me, I want those two qualities, the two qualities of any great art: density and speed, density and speed. I stood stirring dinner and having one of those light-bulb moments: yes, that’s what I want, to be swallowed whole, totally consumed by …

Resolve

It’s been sparkly and bright. Full of family, food, togetherness & love, and crammed with nearly all of the Christmassy delights we could have wished for. We’ve had a fortnight of near-total bliss and I feel so very lucky. Today the older two little ones are back at school & nursery, B is back at work, and it feels a little like the real first day of the new year. It’s bittersweet: the sadness that we’re not all hanging out together anymore, but the excitement of new projects & plans. The whole year ahead, it’s shape yet to unfold. And all that I wish for, really, is that we’re all healthy, all happy (on balance), all still here next year. Which is, perhaps, a lot. I haven’t made resolutions or chosen a word for the year. Instead I’m following Austin Kleon’s wise advice: something small, every day. Which in this case is fifteen minutes of writing (truly small), every day (truly terrifying). Somewhere, somehow, the commitment to just fifteen minutes. It’s a test of my …