Back to Poetry

It’s been a hectic and often stressful month, which I’ve felt in my liver mainly as, naturally, celebrating Chris’s fiftieth birthday with two sets of parents and various friendship groups has been something of a boozy affair. I’ve seen alcohol in all it’s forms over the month and people really struggling with addiction to it, and people really struggling with mood changes caused by it and the other side of the coin which was people enjoying alcohol and having a giddy, silly time slightly squiffy and knowing that it’s not an everyday occurrence. I’d like to place myself in that group, but I suspect everyone places themselves in that group whether they are or not. Anyway, we’ve been all over and met up with lots of folk and now I’m back and trying to catch up on a tonne of work.

The good news is that the Wild Within online course is now up and running and so far, so good. I had some concerns about managing it all, but so far people seem to be enjoying it, so I’m starting to plan my next one, which I hope to launch in September and it will be called ‘Season of Mists’ and will be about ageing and the different perspectives and stories our life journeys give us. I’m hoping to use solely older poets (I haven’t defined what ‘older’ might mean, yet) as examples and I’ll be on the lookout for poems which deal with the challenges and the celebrations of ageing. The poetry community and the world in general tends to be skewed towards the younger generation, and it’s always assumed that ’emerging’ poets will be younger, below thirty, but many, many emerging poets are older and they miss out on awards and prizes aimed directly at a younger generation. In fact I believe that there is a bias towards younger people. Art has no age constraints, one of the brilliant things about being a writer is that you never retire, until you can’t write or paint or draw, you work. You can’t not, how can you stop being the thing that you are. I think examining our relationship with age, time, life and yes, death (a reviewer once said my great theme was death- he’s not far wrong) is important because we don’t talk about death in our society. I strongly believe that the way we die should be as important as the way we are born, with as much care and compassion. I hope that when I die it is in a place of compassion.

Poetry is an incredible force. There’s a misunderstanding about what poetry is, to non poets, sometimes. It’s often seen as just a form of entertainment. But poetry is one of the oldest forms of communication, the rhythms and rhymes of poetry have been used to pass on information for thousands of years, before a written language existed. Tools such as imagery, simile, metaphor are used to make an emotional connection, a bridge between the reader and the writer in a way which strips away all the clutter that prose can come with. Poetry is the condensed emotional language of our ancestors and I believe it can be used as a bridge for understanding, not just as a form of self expression. We grow as a society through the art that we produce, it kills me to see art in this country so undervalued and underfunded.

I’m big on poetry this week because I’ve been reading a lot of workshop poems and a lot of poems around the themes for the workshop and I’ve been working on the new manuscript.

I polished and finished two poems this week and entered them into a competition. They’re both from the new collection, so this feels like a big step forward. My new collection is coming along well, it’s so close to being finished now, I can almost taste the champagne I’ll be drinking when I hand it over.  At the same time that I feel the collection is nearly done, it appears I have managed to circle around the hardest poems and they are being written last, ironic, because these are the poems about the start of a particular period in time. These are poems that are possibly the hardest to write. I’ve talked a lot lately, or I feel I have, about the need for there to be more poetry that deals with still birth and child death as experiences of motherhood, and not just as experiences of grief, it’s a very specific form of grief. I’ve been watching the news about the Orca that’s been carrying her dead baby with her for the last seven days, and is now dropping behind her group because of it. That’s an animal giving itself over to instinct and it is exactly the same animal instinct as human animals have. I don’t know any other grief situation that does that to a person.  Still birth and baby loss is usually treated as a disease that one must get over, or a terrible accident that one must get past to get back to normal life. But the beginning part of any baby loss journey is one of pregnancy, one of motherhood. It’s no wonder people don’t know how to talk about baby loss when it seems so complex, having the conversation involves a degree of emotional awareness of which side of the coin the bereaved parent is looking at, but there is no bereaved parent who doesn’t, didn’t love their child. This sounds really simple, but is a good way in to the conversation. We lose people we love, when our children die. The collection covers lots of different body owner ship themes and themes relating to fertility and at it’s core is the experience of stillbirth. I’ve not dressed anything up this time, this is a book about these complex life changing situations that women all over the world go through. I wanted, want the collection, rather than being solely about my daughter’s death, I want it to be about my experience of all the (I hate to use the word) ‘normal’ parts of being her mother too, I want to write about my pregnancy, her conception etc etc.

My head’s all over the place with it all and it feels like I’m entering this other place of understanding or acceptance or examination…not sure. But that’s poetry for you, it’s more than just words on a page, it’s more than entertainment, but it’s that as well. It creates something in the writer and (I hope) the reader. The collection has turned into something quite primal and visceral and I feel I have gone back to writing in a way that I am good at. Yes, I said it, I believe I can sometimes be a really good writer and I feel I am writing my best poems right now. Why does it feel so utterly wrong to say that you think you’re good at something. Sheesh.

I would like to think the collection, the nameless collection, will be under consideration at the publishers by mid August, but in order to get to that glorious place of having submitted it, I have to shuffle a shed load of paid work away. And that means I am worrying a lot about everything, to the point of my really good sleep pattern sliding away from me like a beautiful, beautiful pillow laden ship. Bye bye sleep, hello insomnia.

I still seem to have lots of energy though, which is good and I’ve increased my gym time to twice a day most days, increased my running time too and I feel quite fit. I AM RUNNING THE GREAT NORTH RUN in a few weeks and have not yet secured enough donations to ensure I’ll be able to run on the day, I’m about half way there. I’m trying to get people to sponsor me just a pound, so if you fancy it:

PLEASE SPONSOR ME

And finally to my other news: We have a new addition to our animal family. Pyewacket the kitten has come to live with us and he is adorable. He’s currently stretched out on my knee purring away like a tiny generator. 90% of the time he’s just a streak of ginger blonde racing over the furniture, and he is already much loved. Toby the dog has not eaten him, which we’re both surprised about, and he’s being incredibly patient, especially as Pye chews his tail and tries to climb on his face to lick his eyes. I’d forgotten the capacity to love that cats have. Yes, they are independent and self reliant, but they’re also very loving, Pye is very loving and I hope he continues to be. He’s already bigger and longer of limb in just one week, so I can see his kitten years won’t last long. We loves him, we do.

 

Until next time

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The Course is Launched, Book Now

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Lots of people have shown interest in the month long writing course, I am now open to take bookings. Please follow the instructions on the courses page of this website and if you have any queries or problems, just let me know.

Have fun. It’s exciting!

Coming Soon, An Online Poetry Workshop: The Wild Within

This week has been a week of disappointments. Apparently there’s been some sort of sporting event that’s got people a bit down, but for me the biggest blow was being turned down for an Arts Council England grant which would have enabled me to focus solely on finishing my latest collection and adapt it into a live event. I got the email yesterday and I have to say, I was gutted. No one working in the arts wants to be reliant on funding, but without financial support, getting any sort of project off the ground is difficult, so it came as something of a body blow. However, I am getting over it and marching forward, the rejection has given me the kick up the bum I needed to look at other ways in which I can pursue this project and I feel positive about the future. It helps that I have had another, non funded project to work on, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

In August I shall be launching an online, month long poetry workshop/course, called The Wild Within. This poetry course is designed to be accessible, both financially and artistically, meaning that anyone who wishes to write can get something from it; whether you are new to writing and would like some guidance, or you’re an old hand who perhaps wants a bit of affordable motivation to get the creative cogs rolling. The theme is The Wild Within and the course will look at poetry of nature, place and self, our connection to the living world and how poetry can not only be a way of noticing and describing the world we live in, but can be a way to evoke change within ourselves, and change in the outside world. You do not need to live ‘in’ nature, to be aware of it, it is there whether you notice it or not. This course is designed to help you notice and write about your own connection to nature. We all have a wildness inside us that connects us to the world.

I want to make it as accessible as I can, so the fee for the course will be an upfront payment of just £10, paid through PayPal. I’m currently writing the course content, which will consist of five ‘lesson plans’ in which poems by established poets will be used to talk through the theme for each week, and then there will be a daily prompt delivered to your email address, aimed to get you writing. There’s no pressure to produce, and although there will be a closed Facebook group where you can share ideas, thoughts, poems and even photographs (moderated by myself) there is certainly no pressure to share anything online. You don’t even need to join the chat group if Facebook isn’t your thing. As I say, this is a no pressure approach to writing and is as much about stimulating ideas and enjoyment of the world we live in, as it is about actually producing work.

I’ll update soon on how to get involved, I’m pleased to say that there are several people interested already, and I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing how things work out. This is something of a tester course as I’d like to run some more courses, following the same design, for different subjects.

In other news, the new collection is coming together well, I decided to chop out nearly half the poems in it, which was both terrifying and freeing. The poems I took out were not moving the collection forward in the direction I wanted it to go and once they had gone I found myself suddenly writing good, strong poems which some how fitted the themes and brought the collection to life. more about that at another time.

I’m also thinking about setting up another website to deal with infertility, grief, miscarriage and baby loss. I have a lot to say on the subject, but I’d like to keep this site for poetry really. I’ll share a link to the new site once it’s up and running, I’m hoping to make it more of a magazine type website in which guest bloggers will be invited to share their own journeys and it will feature resources for those dealing with childlessness, loss and all the other stuff that I’ve just mentioned. I’d like it to partially focus on the nature of creativity in the grieving process, so there’s likely to be some crossovers.

See, nothing like a bit of list making, tidying and mental health housekeeping to get one back on one’s feet. Onwards!

Wendy

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Finding the Words – How to Talk about Baby Loss

This week I had the pleasure of being a guest on the Victoria Derbyshire Show to discuss my experience of still birth due to medical negligence. Here’s the link to the programme, the segment starts at about 16:00 minutes in: Link to programme

While I often talk openly about my experience of losing my daughter, I write about it here and in articles for the media, I have posted You Tube videos and written a lot of poetry about the experience, I very rarely talk about my experiences with clinical negligence and the effect that it has had on my life. Partly this is because people have very strong opinions on the NHS and if I talk about it in the media I tend to get quite a lot of negative comments, no matter what I actually say. The Victoria Derbyshire show is thoughtful and I was treated sensitively. It’s not the type of show where different opinions are pitted against each other, so this was a really good opportunity to speak up for, not only parents who are at risk of losing their babies when mistakes are made, but also NHS workers who aren’t being given the opportunity to work effectively due to circumstances like funding, staffing and a lack of protocols. One of the things that was brought up on the programme was the lack of training available and how this differed between hospitals. There’s a real need for training that is the same not only across different trusts and hospitals, but also within those hospitals too. In my own experience I can say that I was given different advice from my community midwife, my GP, the out patient clinics and the consultant, which led to a very confusing situation, but also, long term meant that it was difficult for robust communications to be present between departments and different hospitals. I believe that had better communication been present, among other factors, my daughter would have made it through the delivery and would have lived. Perhaps she’d be alive now, she would certainly have had a better chance. It’s important that we address failings like this, it’s also important not to demonise the NHS staff, or the hospital, or the NHS as a whole. I worked as a microbiologist in the NHS for thirteen years and can assure you that, as I said on the show, no one in the NHS is out to do a sloppy job, or let their patients down. I have never met another NHS worker who didn’t want to do the absolute best for their patients, but if they don’t have the tools to do that, how can they do that?

Without sinking into another maudlin post, I will say what I said on the show. The effect of losing my child in this way has been life changing, literally. Apart from the obvious things that you can probably imagine – the devastation at losing a baby, the absolute devastation of losing our only child, our IVF baby, our miracle- there are other effects directly associated with clinical, medical negligence. I have changed my life almost completely in order to cope with the effects of PTSD, I have minimised the amount of triggers (I hate to use the word trigger, it’s so over used, but that’s exactly what they are) in my life, in order to live a life that is comparatively normal, to be able to enjoy my life again I have left my job, I have less contact with friends from my old life (some of which has been their choice, some mine – someone this deeply affected is often hard to be around and I understand not everyone can deal with that) I struggle to be around pregnant women, not so much because of envy (which is a completely normal reaction, incidentally) but because of the utter rising fear, the hyper awareness and the associated anxiety which regularly rises into bad panic attacks, due to the fear of something being wrong with their pregnancy. It’s ruined friendships I might have other wise enjoyed. It blocked me from being able to enjoy other people’s pregnancy experiences. I worry about their pregnancy, the baby, them so much that it swamps everything out. This of course runs parallel with the sadness that my baby died, and I would dearly love to be pregnant again and be successful in having a family, but partly due to the anxiety and depression that now goes hand in hand with IVF and pregnancy, and partly because our chances are so poor, it isn’t going to happen. By the way, I’m saving the ‘why I am not adopting’ post for another time.

There are other effects too, I don’t trust doctors, I always have to have every little bit of information about any medical situation, I need all the details to feel safe. I have to have second opinions, I have to question and question everything any doctor says, it goes on and on. I worry constantly whenever friends need medical treatment. It is an exhausting sort of anxiety, and very intense. So now I work for myself, rather than worry about being around that, which is fairly unavoidable in a hospital environment.  And to be fair, I would have always ended up working for myself, I think, and I absolutely love it. I always wanted to be a writer, full time and I am now, so that’s great. Go Me! But I don’t think I have been in the hospital which I used to work and who let us down since I had one of my miscarriages and you can only imagine how stressful that was, to have a missed, or silent, miscarriage induced, with all the anxiety around it, added to the fact that actually that went wrong too. It’s too much. I went for a scan at Hull once, a few years ago, because I was having some investigations for a uterine problem. It should have been done in my local hospital, a quick, easy out patient appointment. The scan took four minutes. I drove all the way to Hull (about an hour and a half away) rather than go to or local hospital. I could go on and on with examples like this, such as in one of our pregnancies; which sadly ended in miscarriage anyway, when we were putting a plan together for my care the consultants advised that I could have all my treatment in Hull, and spend time as an in patient there from 24 weeks until I felt safe, but in an emergency situation I would be taken to our local hospital. I strongly considered moving house.

I’m not asking for sympathy when I write this stuff, by the way, but it is vitally important that we talk about failings in the healthcare system, and vitally, vitally important that we talk about baby death. People do experience the death of their children, people do lose their babies and it is isolating, pretending that it isn’t happening or hasn’t happened doesn’t really help anyone. We don’t talk about grief in this country, we are a nation so clammed shut by the fear of offending the bereaved, that people would rather hide in a cupboard than talk to someone who is bereaved. (true story). yet it’s only by talking about it that we reach a point as a society where that taboo dissipates and people can be supported more effectively. By talking about problems, problems can be addressed, change can happen and no one should have to go through this. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.  I think now, eight years on, I could probably visit someone in that hospital if needed, but I would be in pieces inside. I can visit my GP now, but I always, always leave it until there is no other option and I’m always terrified by what’s going to happen, always hyper aware over what they are doing, what they are not doing. It takes quite a bit of preparation to get from my house to the GP if I need to go there, despite it being a seven minute car journey, because of the anxiety. These are things that my family don’t really know about, my friends probably don’t really know how bad the situation is. But it doesn’t affect me 24/7 anymore. And though I still struggle with it all, I do not wish to be ruled by it all, like I say, I have adapted my life in order to deal with it. And it is a lot better than it was, but it won’t go away, this is pretty much my life now. I used to have terrible dreams, I rarely do anymore. I used to have terrible… well I guess you’d call them flash backs…where I wasn’t present in the moment and an hour or so might have passed before I realised I was standing in a supermarket, or sitting in the car and had no recollection of time passing, because I’d been time travelling inside my own life to my daughter’s death, or more likely the weeks and days leading up to it. I became adept at carrying on conversations whilst watching her death play out repeatedly in my head. It was an incredibly unpleasant time. This still happens sometimes, a lot less frequently, it has happened this week a bit after the TV appearance, but that’s what you might call a trigger, and it doesn’t last, I have had a mint week in a lot of ways and my life is very good at the minute, I am incredibly happy with where I am. I have a select number of good friends who support me, who even put down what they are doing to meet me and normalise my life a bit when I need it, who can ground me and pull me out of the time machine that I get trapped in, and mostly my life IS normal. I tell you what, you don’t know how much normality is craved when it’s not present! I woke up yesterday and sat and read my book in bed and wrote a poem and it was blissful, without anxiety or fear and God, I would just live in that little pocket of time forever if I could.

One of the things that has made the situation bearable is when people have asked about my daughter. When they asked about her as a baby, as my beautiful baby, and not as if they were asking about a car crash. The tendency is to treat baby loss as something similar to a disease or an accident, a terrible accident that has been survived. But there is another part to baby loss, which I think makes it unique, in that yes, the trauma is there, but on the other side of the trauma is the love. I don’t get to talk about my pregnancy or my baby because her loss is a trauma, so it’s often as if she didn’t exist. It makes it, understandably, a difficult set of emotions for other people who haven’t experienced it to deal with, people struggle to get their head around it. People don’t know what to say, and that’s understandable. But let me simplify it, without the need to write a ‘ten things you should never say to a..’ or a detailed guide book to the situation. One thing that you can say is that you are sorry for that person’s loss. That’s it. If you want to be a total star, say I’m sorry your daughter/son/baby died’ If you want to be the best friend ever ‘I’m sorry —insert name here— died’ and if you want to break the taboo, ask them what their baby looked like, ask them what their name was, ask them what they weighed, ask to see pictures. But don’t cross the road to avoid talking to them, don’t change your break time to avoid sitting opposite them in the rest room. I didn’t fit in anymore when I went back to work after Matilda died. I had some friends who were brilliant, and some people I barely knew who asked to see her picture. But people I’d know for years avoided me, literally hiding or ducking down corridors or across car parks rather than say ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’ and risk me crying because my child had died, or risk themselves crying.

The brilliant charity SANDS have been leading a campaign recently about what to say to a parent who has lost a baby, this includes FATHERS. Men lose children too, but are expected to man up and get on with it all. Don’t forget to speak to them too.

SANDS has launched this little animation which is really very good, it sums up my own experience of returning to work perfectly. Please watch it, don’t be afraid to watch it. And by sharing it you give people a chance to understand how to treat us.

I’ll leave you with one thing, from an entirely female point of view: I am so pleased to see the reality of motherhood being discussed in the media and in art, I’m a poet myself so it’s bloody brilliant to see experiences of motherhood that don’t conform to the stereotype that the cult of motherhood would have us believe was the norm, there are poems about it winning competitions, collections about it gaining wide appreciation, women are now able to say: actually, I really struggled with being a mum’ and that is brilliant. But one area that doesn’t get a lot of air time is the experience of motherhood that I have had, and that many other women like me have had. Stillbirth, neonatal death are experiences of motherhood. My baby is still my baby whether she is alive or dead, I love her, I loved my pregnancy and it still made me feel like shit, I hated my fat ankles and even more hamster-ish cheeks and I loved my bump and I love my baby, loved shopping for her. I had an experience of motherhood, it was different, it was sad in many, many respects, but it was also full to the brim of love. Mine is not just a story of loss, it is a story of love.

 

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New Freelance Website!

I’m making a few changes to how I work and have been fiddling about on t’internet to create a couple of things. Firstly, I’m now separating my two career parts into this site, which will remain poetry based and will be where I talk about being a writer as well as the other things that are a huge part of my life (my daughter’s death, coming to terms with childlessness etc) and another site which is my freelance writer site, as well as a place for me to share recipes, articles and blogs about glorious Yorkshire. If you fancy the sound of that, here’s the link:

Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire

I’ve also got a Yorkshire twitter feed: Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire

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