Today marks the end of Baby Loss Awareness Week which culminates with a wave of light event when candles all around the world will be lit to remember the millions of babies who have died before, during or just after birth. If you follow this blog you’ll know that my husband and I are part of the club you never want to be in, the club of the bereaved parent.
I talk a lot about raising awareness, making sure people talk about death, making sure people know that grieving is important, that no one should ever feel shame over the death of their baby, that things need to change so that stillbirth and miscarriage and even infertility are seen as part of a spectrum of motherhood, so that we can help to prevent the isolation which happens when you fall out of that hallowed space and become a statistic.
I just want to tell you about my daughter today. She was her own person, a part of me, she looked like me and she looked like Chris and she was perfect in every way. She fell between a crack in which she wasn’t quite a neonatal death and wasn’t what you would think of as a stillbirth. She was alive when I was rushed into theatre and anaesthetised, and she had died by the time I came around. When I looked at the hospital notes when we were having her death investigated, half of the resuscitation team had thought she’d made an effort to breathe; had gasped, and the other half weren’t sure, so she was documented as a stillbirth. I had made the decision moments before, that they should try and revive her even if she showed no signs of life and I am now split in two: glad that I gave her every possible chance to have the life that would have been so rich in love, and half worrying that I allowed her last few moments on earth to be away from me, the only place she had ever known, and possibly frightened and in pain. I will be told hundreds of times that that wouldn’t have been the case, but hundreds of times my body and my heart will reply that we don’t know. I carry that around and will do forever. That’s the reality of it, a lot of what we do as bereaved parents revolves around guilt that we should have done something else.
She had very curly auburn hair. She had my husband’s forehead, my chin, my feet and fingers. But she was her own person, and would have been an actual, walking about person with opinions and interests and hobbies and quirks. She wouldn’t have been perfect, but she was perfect to us. There is still not one day goes by when I don’t miss her and think of her.
I’m still struggling to give the Moses basket away. The Rosemary bereavement suite at Leeds have very kindly offered to pick it up, but every time I go to answer the email and arrange a date, I come apart because it is like giving her away, it’s like she didn’t exist and now we’re covering up the space that she was and it feels all kinds of level of disloyal, of cruel, and my heart breaks again. Someone suggested putting it in the loft so that I didn’t have to face this bit, but the thought of putting it in the cold and the dark feels even worse; like putting away an old unwanted gift that you don’t want but because it was a gift you don’t want to throw it away. No, I can’t do that. It’s cold up there, and it’s cold in the ground where she is and I still, eight years later, feel a mum’s panic that I can’t reach her and care for her when she’s all those feet down under all that black, loamy soil. This is the reality of it.
I have beautiful memories of her. We went to Ikea to buy things for her room and she kicked me in the cervix all the way there until I felt sick but it sort of tickled too.
The first time I felt her kick, I was writing about what it would feel like to feel her kick, it felt like an in joke.
I had cravings for vinegar and jalepenos and ate them out of the jar. She kicked me when I did.
Her skin was so soft I almost couldn’t feel it.
She was the palest baby I ever saw, like porcelain and I couldn’t imagine that something so beautifully white and perfect could have come from me.
She would have been loved. She was loved. That is all.
Here is the divide: here
the pregnant wife, here
the grieving mother.
And in between,
a father, a husband, a man in a vacuum
as the surgeons run past.
After the sudden hydraulic drop
when the time of death is called
the woman will emerge,
a sleeping Cleopatra on a white barge.
That little thing they lost between pregnancy and birth
is a sink hole beneath them,
sudden and inexplicable.
And don’t they look uncomfortable
for the photos? Their unnatural smiles, their heads
I’ve been so busy running workshops, running the latest online course, planning the next course, going to National Poetry Day readings and catching up on unpaid work that I literally haven’t had a chance to look at my blog. Apologies if you’ve been on the edge of your seats waiting for it to fall into your inbox.
Today I want to celebrate someone working in the arts who grew up poor and not only over come all the obstacles, internal and external, associated with poverty but who is now using her platform as a successful working class writer to make sure the industry knows that it’s time to change.
I’m talking about the brilliantly talented writer, Kerry Hudson. If you don’t follow her on social media, ( @ThatKerryHudson ) you should, because she’s funny, articulate and is one of those people who enriches lives. All this might sound a bit arse kissy, but I am of the opinion that good people should be celebrated, and Kerry has taken a few unwarranted kickings lately. Kerry is a hero of mine. I’ve been social media friends with her for a while and have worked with her on the womentoring project for a few years, something which I have gotten so much out of and I know that countless women have benefitted from. She’s that sort. She doesn’t just sit on her laurels in an ‘I’ve made it out of the pit, yay’ manner, she reaches back down into the pit and hauls other people out too.
Kerry Has been writing a book, and writing for The Pool about her experiences and her background, and the difficulties faced by working class writers trying to be writers. This week I watched Kerry take a completely unwarranted and vicious beating on social media, all because she’d been asked to write an opinion piece on which working class writers to watch out for: Where are all the Working Class Writers . The title is definitely a bit click baitish, but the article itself is just a light opinion piece. So I was astonished when so many writers, including well known writers with large twitter followings, jumped on Kerry to tell her she was wrong. Why was she wrong? Because they were successful, so any working class writer could be successful.
It’s such a sweeping genralisation. There is no one rule for all the working classes. It’s not just about what you do for a living, or what your parents did for a living, it’s not even wholly about the amount of money you make in a year, it’s much more complicated than that and a lot to do with the social stigmas attached to being working class and working in an arena which is dominated by the middle classes. Art and literature are for everyone, art doesn’t belong to one sector of society, but it’s much easier to break into the arts and much less stigmatised in your own community if you’re not working class.
To watch working class writers attacking working class writers because they were trying to shine a light on working class writers doesn’t even make any sense. And whilst it’s great and I’m glad some working class writers have made it to the top, there is absolutely no avoiding the fact that being working class DOES throw more obstacles in your path.
I identify as working class, I always have. My family didn’t live in poverty, but we did get a lot of our clothes and toys second hand, we couldn’t afford holidays, we never had the latest stuff, we didn’t eat out, we relied on the library for books (thank god we have libraries) my parents worked hard and we never went without, but I did get picked on a bit at primary school for it. I mostly grew up around working class people. I come from a seaside town with high unemployment (because jobs are only available half the year) and a high drugs mortality and suicide rate. The running joke is that Scarborough is 43 miles from England, it’s out on the edge and rural in location, surrounded by the dales, the wolds and the moors. I still live in this area and I am very proud of my working class roots and my working class family and my little home town. But I can’t, for example, afford to travel from Scarborough to England very often, I do have a monthly allowance for readings and such like, but it doesn’t stretch very far unfortunately. Which means promoting my work becomes difficult and so does taking work in other areas. Monetary problems aren’t a solely working class problem, but you are much, much more likely to be on a low income if you’re working class and much more likely to be lacking routes to financial help.
Also, being working class isn’t so much about where you come from, it’s a lot about never feeling you are meant to do anything outside of your class. I have three degrees which I completed mostly through distance learning. When I came to do my PhD I really struggled with confidence. I hadn’t gone to do A levels after school, I’d gone and got a job like just about everyone I knew, and that meant I didn’t really get to my university education until I was in my thirties, and doing the PhD meant that I was around people who had climbed academia from the inside. I’m certain that they have struggled to fund their living expenses while they studied, and I wouldn’t dream of belittling their experiences, but I don’t think they fully comprehended what being on your feet all day in a cake factory could be like or working in a shop or in a printing factory, or working in a hospital working all your breaks and feeling like the government wants to crush you. I struggled with huge imposter syndrome and still do. I ‘m a writer now, I worked very hard, but finding work is difficult because funding for art tends to be less available in the north, which means jobs in the arts are less available here, and tend to fall into the areas where arts and culture is already established. I also can’t afford to subscribe to the journals or societies of my trade and I struggle to afford to enter competitions, a lot of the time, those avenues to success are closed to the working classes, and if journals ask for payment to submit, more doors close. This isn’t meant to be a whine to elicit sympathy, I work hard and I am slowly, slowly getting to where I want to be. I’m happy, for the most part, with where I am in my career. But I wish I didn’t carry my class around like a big sign that says ‘I am not worthy’. So much of the work I’m offered I am expected to do for free, or for ‘exposure’ (I tried to pay my mortgage with exposure and they called the police) which again means that writers who need the money to survive have these opportunities closed to them, and because working class writers, as I’ve already said, are less likely to be able to find financial stability in the form of spouses, family or funding to support working for nothing, essentially, they miss out, or they’re like me, working seven days a week to be able to fit paid work and unpaid work in because they’re trying to forward their career.
When I mentor working class writers through the womentoring programme, I generally have to start with a basis of ‘your work is important, you have just as much to say as anyone else’. Which is sad. Working class writers are prone to low self esteem and a feeling of being an outsider, no matter how hard they work.
When the working classes are portrayed in dramas and literature and art it’s often through the lens of gritty ‘reality’. I’d like to see a more normalised version of working class life being portrayed. Not just the ‘my coal miner dad is going to kill me because I want to be a ballet dancer’ type story lines but more of the ‘it is normal to buy your shopping in a supermarket and carry it home on a bus without it being the precursor to a story of drugs/violence/both story line’. I’d like to see more representation of people like me, and the people I know who love art and literature too. Incidentally, I think Happy Valley is quite a nice one for capturing normal working classes alongside the drama. And I’m dead chuffed that the new Dr. Who is a northern lass too, but that’s by the by.
Kerry wrote this article in response to the backlash she received and, true to form, she writes clearly and eloquently, finding the crux of the problem in the divisions within the industry itself. There is a great deal of shame attached to being working class, and a lot of chips on shoulders. It would be nice to move away from that.
Please do check out Kerry’s work, she is an incredible writer and an all round good person. It’s good to celebrate these things.
I’m in a weird hinterland in which I have sent a collection off, a collection that is brutally personal and one which has caused me no end of agony, and am now slightly lost, not quite able to settle to other projects. The collection has defined me for a few years and certainly over the last year while I put my mind to finishing it, and now, without it, I feel like I don’t quite know who I am or what I want to write about.
I want to start writing the play I have in mind, but something is holding me back, I need some sort of outside validation that says ‘yes, you’re a writer, creative writing is what you do for a living’ because, quite frankly, making a living in the arts world is really difficult, but worrying about making a living is not conducive to the creative process, which sounds like wanky, pretentious bollocks, but is, in fact true. My working class roots won’t allow me to comfortably settle into the job because I have a voice in my head which constantly tells me that it’s not a real job if it doesn’t make money.
The reason it is very difficult to make a living wage when you work in the arts is partly, I think, because the arts are so undervalued in this country. The arts are valued much more highly in Europe, which makes it even more upsetting that we are punting our little island further away from Europe. If the arts aren’t valued, then the artists aren’t valued. Art is no longer seen as the mouthpiece of society, it’s seen as entertainment. It can, of course, be both, but when it’s pushed down the order of value then it becomes more difficult to explain to the wider non-artist community how important art is, as a means of communication. The current state of world-wide society is that artists (and actually scientists and teachers it would appear) are some sort of elitist PC brigade which wants money for drawing pictures, or writing books. BOOKS! Who ever thought that paying people to write novels and plays and poetry would help society? How does a book help someone out of work or help fund the NHS or help mental health services or help the housing crisis. We seem to forget what art does, it’s function, it’s place in society as a means of communication. It’s absolutely vital that art, literature, poetry are given to children as a way of learning how to express complicated and often really difficult emotions. These are the sorts of emotions that will bubble up elsewhere and be expressed in ways that can be detrimental to society, and to the kids. It’s vital that the pure, animal emotion that is inside us is given a way of communicating with the pure, animal emotion that is inside everyone else. There’s a reason why it’s used as therapy. Art has been used for thousands of years as communication, and we have not changed, we still communicate through art. I’ve seen people scoff at hospital trusts which have budgets for artwork, and yes, the NHS is in crisis, it needs to be funded and it needs to be managed better and more cohesively, but there definitely should be room in that for art, not only as active therapy, but as wall art, sound art, and poems, poetry should be a part of that. We don’t connect with people with facts we connect with emotions and art allows us to do that.
I’ve been thinking about a long term project based around the grief of baby and child loss and childless-living-not-through-choice, and thinking about how much I have benefitted from poetry and art as part of my grief process. These last few weeks I have started, finally, to sort through Matilda’s things and started to find ways of dealing with that side of it. It is very much like opening old wounds. I took all my maternity clothes and all of the baby bedding and waffle blankets out and all the cloth nappies and muslins and found there to be a lot. Boxes and boxes. An overwhelming amount. I was extremely well prepared for the birth of my daughter. My original idea was to give the things away, but faced with the actual realisation that I would be without her things, it became far too painful. I ended up contacting SANDS for some support, because I felt suddenly bereft and needed to speak to people who would understand. SANDS were amazing and I am so grateful that charities exist, even for people like me whose loss is a good while ago. The loss might be eight years ago but when I opened the box of maternity clothes I could smell the perfume I’d been wearing on the day we went into the hospital and it was both beautiful and devastating, all at once. So I contacted SANDS for support, but also for advice. What do I do with her things? They said, whatever I do (and they gave me some great suggestions) a good idea would be to take photos so I will always have an image of the things. I started taking photos of the process, and immediately felt better, because when I am transforming experience into art of any kind, I feel like I am coping – actively coping – and it’s quite nice to be taking photographs and thinking of visual reflections rather than writing. I decided in the end that I would donate Matilda’s Moses basket, but I’m still sorting that out. All her soft bedding, well, there’s so much of it, and her bibs and my maternity stuff, I decided that I would make a memory quilt from it. I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing someone with her things or even wearing my maternity clothes, that would be too painful and I’d be always watching for it around town, so I couldn’t give them away, and doing something for myself and her is the better option. And of course this won’ be any old memory quilt, because I never do anything in a normal, straightforward way, and I like to make things as complicated and difficult as I can for myself, I want to make a quilt with panels which depict our story, little pictograms of our life together, such as it was. And now it’s no longer a quilt but a wall hanging which will go in my office, when my office is completed. My office is going to be the ‘guest room’ but is currently the box room, decorated with Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger since we moved into the house. We were just about to start decorating it with Beatrix Potter for Matilda’s room when we lost her. The box room is crammed like Tutankharmun’s Tomb with books and junk and clutter, whilst the ‘guest room’ in which we have virtually no guests but do have a double bed, is also crammed with crap and clothes and boxes of f*ck-knows-what, ironing etc. I’m moving into the big ‘guest room’ and the box room will now be Chris’s domain where he can display all his signed football shirts and have his own computer. I have basically moved all the soft baby and maternity stuff into storage boxes, out of the drawers in the bedroom and labelled them as ‘Matilda Memory Blanket Project, which I will start once I have done some research and practiced and it will take years I should think and I’m not unhappy at that.
Straight off the back of feeling better about having made a small breakthrough in dealing with her things, yesterday I decided to tackle the massive bin bag full of full sharps bins that have been sitting in the ‘guest room’ for three years. This would seem to be a very simple thing. I’d not done anything with them as I’d assumed, originally, that I would return them to the clinic when we had our next round of IVF but, of course, the next round never happened and they became something of a symbol of…failure? Or broken hope. Something heartbreaking anyway. Now I’m embracing a child free future and it’s time for them to go. The problem I faced with them is that A. I didn’t want to have to do a 2.5 hour round journey back to the clinic just to drop them off, and B. I didn’t want to have to return to the clinic and walk though rooms of pregnant women, and women who are still actively trying and in the process of becoming mums. Not in that environment, not in in the building where one day a few years ago I came to have my last miscarriage induced, and had to grit my teeth and get through yet another loss and, God, the last disastrous IVF cycle and…just thinking about that time upsets me. I don’t really want to be upset like that if I can avoid it. I don’t need to do that, I don’t want, or need to do that to myself. There’s no fixing my situation, it is what it is and there’s no making it better, it’s really just managing it (please please don’t email me to tell me not to give up hope, thanks) and getting through it, and I’m quite tired of gritting my teeth and getting through horrible situations and I’m quite tired of dealing with the pain of it all. So I’d messaged the clinic to see what my options were, they suggested ringing the GP to see if they’d take them, which I did and got a militant receptionist who wanted to ask loads of questions in a sharp ‘I AM BUSY AND IMPORTANT YOU ARE WASTING MY TIME manner and couldn’t help, I then rang the council, who were lovely, but don’t take these particular sharps bins. And it was suddenly, really really upsetting. This is one of the reasons why I have put off sorting this stuff out, it hurts and it is made 100% more difficult when people are See You Next Tuesday job worths. When my husband came home last night I cried on his shoulder like a child. I haven’t cried to my husband like that for years, not for years. It felt like this is bloody hard, this part of the process is bloody hard and red tape and nasty receptionists are just making it harder and that feeling of being outside of society looking in came back. That’s how infertility makes you feel. To get past that you have to own it and talk about it and make sure that the water doesn’t close over your head, make sure you don’t disappear in a society that is so geared towards people with children.
This is becoming something of a waffle/rant, so well done to you if you’ve made it this far. Several things happened during this little bout of grief – 1. I reached out to a specific charity and knew exactly where to go for help, and received it 2. I realised how hard it is, still, to deal with the aftermath of this loss and the moving forward part of it 3. I realised that when I am processing things through some medium of creativity, I feel better.
One of the things that I have been thinking about for a long time, is what I would like to give back. Give back is perhaps not the right word, more thoughts of how can I, as a writer, use my experiences to help other grieving parents and people who are trying to move forward with childless lives when it wasn’t their choice to be childless? There are lots of resources which will provide facts and advice and support, but one of the things that I have found is that by viewing art and photography about stillbirth or baby loss, by reading poetry, fiction, creative non fiction about childlessness, by seeing others in our position creatively managing their grief, even in films, documentaries, animation, I have found a conversation going on in which I am involved just by observing, and better able to process my own grief because of it. I can connect.
I have an idea. I am about to start raising funds to set up a creative resource in which people grieving, and dealing with a childless-not-through-choice future can find the books, poetry, art exhibitions, websites, blogs, creative enterprises which are dealing with grief and childlessness. I want to be able to feature art, poetry and work every week by people who have experienced these things and I want to provide a place where people can not only see and read about grief and loss but also find courses or events where they can physically interact, if that’s their thing. As part of this I’m actually hoping to sell some of Matilda’s reusable cloth nappies and baby things to raise the money to fund it, and suddenly that feels alright, it feels ok because it’s part of something bigger and continuous. So watch this space, if you’re interested! I’ll be launching a crowd funding site but also contacting places who might hep to set it up. I might even go down the Arts England grants path, which will no doubt break my heart. I want the resource to be a way in which I can continue to work in an area in which I am invested through personal experience, and interested in, as well as to provide a place for others in the same situation and my hope is that it will provide a path for me to be able to go through this particular gate of grief into a place in which I haven’t forgotten her, or left her behind, but have created something positive from my little girls’ memory.
Don’t forget I still have a few places left on the Season of Mists course, so do book as the course starts next week! Exciting! And if you do know of any organisations or companies which might be able to help me getting the as yet unnamed resource off the ground, drop me a line.
It’s a funny old business, this poetry lark. This week I finally managed to finish the manuscript and submit it to the publishers in the hope that they will be happy and want to publish it. They did have a previous draft but have been very patient waiting for me to re-submit whilst I re wrote it three times and agonised over it. That’s the thing about this one, it’s different from the other collections. Whilst I’ve danced around my experiences in previous collections, this one is unashamedly personal (and yet I feel ashamed) I couldn’t help but write this one. It changed so many times I lost track, it changed because it is very much a part of my grieving and acceptance process. I feel like I shouldn’t say that it is cathartic, or that it was therapeutic. We frown on that sort of poetry. God forgive anyone that uses the language of emotion to talk openly about emotion.
I know full well that I am not everybody’s cup of tea, and it’s thrown me into a bit of a period of self doubt. Several times I’ve almost stopped writing this one because it is very honest, vey raw, very openly painful. I know very well that some of my poet friends don’t think I should be writing in this way for one reason or another. Some of them because they think it makes me too vulnerable to being hurt (As I say, I’m not everyone’s cup of tea and some people are quite vocal in letting me know, worse I think, are the one’s who have previously shone great big lovely lights on you, only to switch them off when they found someone better to like) and some because they think that what I write is self pitying, or whining or navel gazing. Lots of people prefer ‘look at this’ poetry than ‘look at me’ poetry. But I think they can be the same thing.
A bit about the now named (I won’t tell you what it’s called yet as I might change my mind) collection: It’s very much a look at how the body of a woman never really belongs to that woman. How right from being a child we are siphoned into roles, and how right from the start we are expected to alter our behaviour in order to prevent ourselves from being physically and emotionally damaged. It’s about my own relationship with my body, which has never been good, and about low self esteem and how that manifests itself, and about how this changed through infertility, IVF and pregnancy and then the loss of my daughter and how I have come to re-learn my own body as belonging to me, and not something that any other person can use against me. It’s very much ‘look at me’ because ‘me’ is the experience of many, many, many other women, which sort of makes it a bit ‘look at that’ too. A lot of it is about the experience of motherhood that is infertility and baby loss, because stillbirth, miscarriage and infertility are experiences of motherhood and not separate from it. We live in a society that is frightened to talk about death, and also doesn’t like talking about anything negative where motherhood is concerned, which mean us un-mothers and (space here for the experience of losing a child which oddly doesn’t even have a bloody name-not widow, not orphan, just NOTHING) we don’t get to talk about it much. We don’t get to talk about the good stuff, we don’t get to talk about the bad stuff. You know what happens when pain is contained and not allowed to come out in words? It comes out in self harm, substance abuse and depression. It’s really really important that people are allowed to talk about their experiences. And it’s important that their experiences are acknowledged.
Having said all that, I have had some very positive responses from people so far too. Lots of people offering to read the poems when I have been in a conundrum about how dark they are, how visceral and bloody and open and raw they are. I took some of the darker, more biologically visceral poems to a reading I attended recently. (It’s always a good idea to test new stuff you’re unsure of out on a live audience as it gives an indication of where they are losing interest or where they have lost the thread, invaluable for editing when you are far too close to the subject matter.) This was at the rather wonderful Puzzle hall poets where I have read several times before. It’s run by Bob Horne and John Foggin. I love this event and always feel so welcomed, especially by Bob who goes out of his way to email with directions, and ensure that my husband is well stocked with beer! The open mic is always top quality, and even though I have to set off before it’s over, I never feel that I have flown in and flown out entirely missing everything as it’s so well organised. It’s a fair trek, about a five hour round trip but worth it for the warmth of the audience. I chose to read those poems there so that I could gauge the reaction of a real live audience. The poems went down well and I had good, positive comments afterwards.
I was really nervous about it, so it was such a relief and really reassuring and a great kindness when Bob emailed the next day to let me know how well the poems had been received and how nicely people had talked about them afterwards. I know, as I have said, that I am not everyone’s cup of tea, so small kindnesses are so welcome and reassuring. There is nothing worse than attending an event and opening your heart in the form of bloody, bleeding poems about your dead child, only to face a tumbleweed of silence. Not being the cup of tea that people want is hard, but hey, not everyone even like’s tea at all, and some people drink god awful instant coffee and wax lyrical about it.
Anyway, that was the thing that made me kick myself in the bum, stop procrastinating and get those poems off, finally. However, the ‘not being the right cup of tea’ thing, when the tea your offering people is made up of everything that’s formed your own low self esteem for your whole life, it’s a hard thing to deal with and I feel that this collection of magical, mythical, realist, lyrical, brutal, sweary, biologically graphic, loving and mental poems has been somewhat emotionally taxing so I’m trying very hard not to be on social media at the minute because my skin is very thin. I find myself comparing likes or comments or messages with other people who are the right cup of tea, or appear to be, in my fragile little head. I am glad that I reach out and I am glad that I make myself vulnerable and talk about my experiences, that will never change, but it doesn’t stop it being very difficult to do, and quite painful. But poetry should have truth in it, and I am not going to have my mouth sewn up by anyone.
Hopefully next week I’ll be just getting on with getting on. I already have my next two projects lined up and I am excited to NOT be writing about myself for a change and sinking back into Bronte love for a bit.
Don’t forget I’m still taking bookings for the new Course and although it is almost three quarters full now, I do still have places.
Thank you for reading to the end of this no doubt navel gazing, self absorbed and self pitying rant, I’ll catch up with you next week when it will all be about rainbows and unicorns I imagine.
You’ll be glad to know I survived the Great North Run, and it was marvellous but right now I can’t get up and down the stairs without swearing. Thank you so much for the donations, you are all utterly wonderful and you have helped to save babies lives, which is just an incredible thing. I’ll blog more on the GNR another time, along with some other bits and pieces (readings, books etc) but today I’m talking about the new course for which I am now taking bookings! See this page for how to secure your place: Season of Mist
Ah, autumn. It’s almost upon us, we’ve got the darker nights and the turning leaves, the elderberries just waiting to be made into wine and the sloes just waiting to be made into sloe gin (bit of a theme emerging here) but it’s still riding on the tail end of summer. It’s a strange time of year, after the buzz and flurry of constant bird song, fledglings, flowers, crops, and sunshine it’s almost a sheer drop when we find that it’s dark by 7pm, and it’s raining and you wake up to the sound of the heating coming on, and then you notice the birds aren’t singing anymore, and the stillness and quiet gets under your skin. I feel particularly peaceful at this time of year. It’s a time of year for re-evaluating life goals. In fact, I make better resolutions in autumn than I do in the New Year. I’m lucky enough being self employed to be able to take a break from work and get outside to walk the dog during the day time. We either go down onto the beach, or round the back lanes and farms or sometimes down Forge Valley. I feel like the world belongs only to me and I take great pleasure in my time out in the fresh air. But I also miss the summer. I miss the ease of summer clothes, not really needing make up because the sun does such a good job keeping my skin tanned and fresh looking, I miss sitting out and snoozing to the sound of bees and of course, any change in season is a reflection of time passing, age approaches, the years go quicker, our opportunities to do the things we want to do get fewer. As a social animal, especially in this age of instantaneity and immediacy, it’s difficult to not feel angry or frustrated over the changes we see, in the world, in society, in ourselves. There’s so much pressure to do everything while we’re young, and then it’s almost as if, post forty, you start to disappear, and by fifty you’re obsolete. Newspapers and magazines seem to have the sole aim of making us feel old, and advising us on how to fool the world into appearing ten years younger, because who wants to be their age and be obsolete? We’re on the outside of the pack, suddenly, and vulnerable to attack, we’d be picked off in the zombie apocalypse.
There is power in acceptance of change, there is power in allowing ourselves to be angry, there is power in sodding the rules and doing whatever you want to do despite what society thinks of you.
In this new online poetry workshop/course we’ll look at change and how it affects us. We’ll look at change in the seasons, in nature, in animals and plants, we’ll look at the frustrations of a changing society, and the way that we are manipulated by societal pressures. We’ll look at our own personal stories of change, our own anger and our own acceptance, and we’ll write warrior poems and celebration poems and poems that tell it how it is. Each week there will be a ‘lesson plan’ in which we’ll look at a poem or two by published, emerging and established authors and we’ll work our week’s writing around them. Each day you will receive a writing prompt directly to your inbox. You’ll also be invited to join a closed facebook group, which is a safe place to share poems and chat to other course participants.
Because this is a straightforward, no pressure workshop, I want to encourage people of all abilities and experience. I want to make these fun courses accessible even for people on a low budget. The fee for the whole thing is just £10, I need to cover my own time but I think this is a low enough amount that most people can save for it or afford it. There is a limited number of places and the previous course proved popular, so if you can, you are best off booking ASAP.
You don’t need to be in the facebook group, lots of the previous course participants did not join the facebook group, nor do you need to produce anything finished, or anything at all for that matter. The prompts are there for you to choose to use or not, there is no pressure at all.
The fee for the course is an up front payment of £10, payable by PayPal. Once payment has been made you can request to join the closed Facebook group. The group is not going to be officially active until October 1st but if you could just post a ‘hello’ and your name post I’d appreciate it, just so that I can make sure the technical aspects are working well.
As I’ve said before, you DO NOT need to be in the Facebook group to take part in the course, it’s not for everyone and quite understandable if you are just wanting to see what you can get from the course without it.
I’ll be running some ‘how to’ courses next year, starting in January, these will be a bit more involved and hands on, details will be posted on this website!
It’s the day before the race. I’ve washed my kit, written my sign, checked the route, checked it again, checked my shoes, packed my bag, set up my 5am overnight oats and I am about to have a hot bath and then an early night. There are hundreds of thousands of people doing the same right now. The Great North Run is one of the most popular half marathons in the world. It’s going to be a great day, I’ve worked hard. I am not a natural runner and I’m over weight, but that’s the challenge isn’t it, that’s why fatties like me choose to take on something painful and difficult, that’s why people choose to take on the challenge because even though I’m looking forward to it, I’m not running for the fun of it. I’m running for my little girl, who would have been eight years old this year. In another life, I might well have been running it for fun, with my daughter and her dad cheering me on, and who knows, the other two pregnancies we lost might have gone on to be two more children, a whole family of cheering faces. What would it be like? It’s a guessing game, a pointless one at that. In my idealised imagination it would be burgers and milkshakes afterwards, my red headed girl would be cheeky and bright, maybe she’d be in a book reading phase and barely register my crossing the line, or a youtube fanatic like our goddaughter. She might have been engrossed in her iPad, she might have been having a sulk or turning her og out. Perhaps we’d have had a crap night’s sleep in the run up to the race because she would have been playing up all night, excited by the change of routine. We’d have been setting off early, the day after, to get her back to school on time in the morning. Maybe Matilda would have cried when we left the dog behind in kennels and maybe she’d be reluctant to leave the new kitten. I might have despaired over the state of her bedroom when I went in to get her up and dressed at five am, I might have sworn as I stood on a chunky doll, or a piece of lego. I might have cursed, trying to get her to be quiet in the faint early morning light. We would have bundled into the car, I’d be tense in the passenger seat, my husband would be quiet because he’s not a morning person. she might have been bored, she might have been excited, we might have listened to her choice of songs or sung ourselves, or talked. Perhaps Matilda would have snoozed on my lap while we waited for the metro taking us to the start. Perhaps she’d have waved from the Tyne Bridge as I ran proudly across. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
She’s doing none of those things. We’re doing none of those things. Instead, I will rise quietly, in my quiet house, and go about my business quietly, and I will drink my coffee watching the sun struggling up over the cliffs. We will get into the car tomorrow and I will not need to look to the back seat to make sure she is safe/behaving herself. I will be tense and quiet, as will my husband, though we’ll be in high spirits holding hands as we walk down to the start. I’ll run the race and I’ll struggle at about mile seven, and get a second wind around mile nine, and then struggle again and think I can’t do it at mile eleven and I’ll think of my daughter, my beautiful, perfect baby, I’ll think about those red curls and her perfect little rose bud mouth and I’ll think about how loved she still is, and the life she could have, should have had and it will push me on and on to the crest of the hill and the view of the sea. I will see my husband cheering me, and I will run across the line and I will cry, for my daughter and all the other babies whose lives could be saved, I’ll cry for that other life we might have had, and I will feel proud to have raised the money, proud to have achieved this thing that might well be a nothing thing to some people but is a big deal to us. And I’ll hold it in my heart for a long, long time.
If you can spare a couple of quid, it would be so appreciated, click on the link below:
This week, as part of my mentoring service, I spent a day researching the poetry pamphlet publishing market, to find suitable publishers for my client to submit her brilliant pamphlet to. I’ve not been in a position to submit a pamphlet anywhere for a few years, so it was interesting to see which small presses were going strong, who the new voices were and which presses had fallen at the wayside.
I noticed quite a few things about the pamphlet publishers out there, some of which pleased me, some of which made me angry. Firstly: a massive round of applause for those small, independent pamphlet and chapbook presses that are working hard for the sheer love of poetry, supporting writers and getting poetry into the world; because there is F all profit in it, and often they don’t even break even. This is a labour of love, and whilst depressing because the arts continue to be marginalised and poetry more so than ever, it is incredibly heart warming to know that there are still those that value poetry enough that they will do it for love.
Pamphlets are viewed in different ways – they’re a precursor to a full collection, they may be a way of marketing a writer so that people are able to get a taste of their work, and often they are a little piece of art in themselves. There are several small presses which make what they are producing into an art form of its own. I have always thought of pamphlets are closer to visual art forms than perhaps full collections are, they tend to hold a theme together well, which means they can be quite narrative, without being overwhelming. The small scale of them allows for a the reader’s concentration to be held and this makes them more flexible, which means they can be more experimental. The work that Guillimot Press are doing with small collections is a brilliant example, they are aesthetically pleasing and very tactile productions, often with surprising turns and beautiful illustrations. There are also presses that are using traditional letterpress printers to create something that is, again, tactile, pleasing to the touch as well as the ear and the eye. There are many small publishers working on a shoe string and doing their best. Which is brilliant.
When I source contacts, agents, publishers or anything career based for my mentee clients, I always do so in a way that is tailored to that client. This time around my client is a woman and she has a beautiful, delicate pamphlet about her father. I’m a great believer in finding the right publisher for the right poetry, apart from the necessity of a smooth working relationship, if the publisher produces full collections as well as pamphlets you’re likely to stay with them, as a writer, if you’re happy. Publishing a book with someone should be a good, positive, life affirming experience. Yes there might be difficult decisions to be made on editing, or structure etc, but it should still be one of life’s achievements. I want my clients, my mentees to be well represented as people and as writers by their publishers, so I was really disappointed to find that of all the pamphlet publishers I researched, less than 5% had any women in the editorial teams at all. To a certain extent, this is forgivable, though disappointing, because small presses have small teams, often just one person at the helm, so with the best will in the world, one person can’t be more than one thing at any one time. However, I was seeing this on teams of sometimes five or six people. The really bad thing, though, and the thing that made me cross, was that a large proportion of the pamphlet publishers I researched had very few women writers on their books. Less than 8% women representation. (quick maths so only a rough figure – I’m considering doing a small study to get a more accurate count) And further more, very few people of colour. That’s a startling lack of diversity in the small press pamphlet publishing poetry world.
Why is this? Well, my opinion is that it is in part because, as I’ve said, the arts are squeezed virtually to death and poetry is a niche market at the best of times. This means that less and less people are going into pamphlet publishing, which probably means that the same people have been running the same presses for a number of years, with no change to the dynamics. You only have to do a quick google search to pull up the massive amount of research which tells us that as editorial and publishing is concerned, despite there being as many, if not more, women writers than men, there are far far more male editors and publishers than women. Where there were mostly or all men editorial groups, there was little gender diversity.
Having said all that, there are so many new online magazines out on the market run by women and men, and a lot of online magazine producers are publishing small pamphlets and small anthologies and this is good, of course. I imagine that this is going to be the future of printing. I certainly know of one well respected magazine that has recently announced it was no longer producing hard copy lit mags, which provoked a mixed response. There were quite a few people saying it was a good thing as it made the whole thing less elite, but a lot of people were saying that buying a physical book or a physical magazine is part of the pleasure, the tactile nature of poetry and books is important, poetry isn’t just entertainment, it’s an art. And I do sometimes wonder if we are losing the appreciation of that by switching to digital. But then, it was ever thus and everything changes, digital opens up the poetry world and makes it more accessible, and having access to art is the most important thing, isn’t it?.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s a real shame that quite a lot of the small publishers who are working in the niche of poetry pamphlet publishing are missing out on such a huge amount of talent because they don’t embrace diversity, but not stepping out of their comfort zones and searching out that diversity. Without diversity then the pamphlets are not representational, and the poetry pamphlet publishing ‘industry’ becomes another area where old white men are dominant, and therefore we lose out on the voices of other experiences outside of that realm. And eventually, these micro publishers become obsolete. And with them goes the art that is the small collection, the physical manifestation of art and poetry combined.
Or maybe I’m just not looking in the right places?