I’m writing again

And it feels wonderful. I’m part of a group delving into folklore and witchery as part of The Corn Dolly Speaks it’s a course which sparks my imagination and sends me off on merry research missions that spark it even more. I’m reading some amazing poetry, working with amazing people and feel excited by writing for the first time in a while.

I’ve been looking forward to this so much. I’d set my mind that I wanted to refocus on my work this autumn and this first week has proved positive. I have a schedule for going through my notebooks, planned time to explore submissions and I’m saving hard to afford some mentoring for what may be a new pamphlet next year. This feels like new year for me.

And perhaps it is. Working on Dust has taken more from me than perhaps I realised. Not so much the writing, but the fund raising, self promotion (thank you so much to everyone who’s joined my FB and Instagram campaigns) which never sits well has taken quite a lot from this old introverted psyche.

On the other hand working on this project has given me a huge amount. The sense of “I’ve done this” is hard to ignore. Realizing that I can collaborate with others to come up with something that really does what we hoped it would is fantastic. Reading the words of people who’ve got in touch to say that the work has moved them and even helped them with their own experience of grief, or the people who’ve just got in touch to say “well done”has had a huge impact on how I feel about putting my work (and by default my self) out into the world.

I’m reading a lot about Anglo Saxon tradition and understanding of the wheel of the year, how summer finishes so quickly, with winter coming in fast behind. There is something grounding about realising that our response to the seasons has barely changed and reading Eleanor Parker’s stunning book is a real joy. I’ve started reading a section each morning and the things I learn before even my first cup of tea are wonderful.

I usually dread this period just before Christmas – it’s been a grim countdown to the worst anniversaries for several years. I feel different this year. More understanding. More accepting. Peaceful, despite the absolute chaos going on in the outside world. I’m writing again and somehow that makes things feel alright. Bearable. Hopeful, even.

Read poems – save lives. Project update.

I’m almost a week in to my crowdfunding project and things are going well. Funding is coming in slowly and it seems like there will be enough interest in the book for it to go to press.

I’ll be honest, this is hard. It’s so much more than a book of poems I suppose. It’s a stage of grief – I won’t say final because I suspect it never ends. It’s part of my goodbye to my brother and part of my learning to live with the jumble of shame, sadness, anger and guilt that weaves through the very real fact that I don’t have a brother any more.

I have spent the last week wondering if I’m doing the right thing, if I should just do a sponsored run (!) whether that would get more money. It probably would. But this isn’t just about money. .

Until we start talking about suicide, about the impact on those left and the things that lead people to decide the world will be better without them then this will keep happening. The work I’ve written is honest, brutal and suffused with love. These are poems that will start conversations. Framing this work as a fundraiser places this work firmly in the poetry with purpose category. And I suppose this is another way of absolving the never ending “if onlys” that pepper my thoughts each day. It’s difficult to revisit all those feelings, but the support and care I’m getting is so helpful. Thank you.

Over the next few days I’ll be writing more about the charities, and about the look and feel of the book. In the meantime to find out how to support the project financially head over to my crowdfunding page.

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/poetry-for-calm—help-prevent-suicide

Publicity is king in this hideous world of algorithms, so even if you can’t donate, please interact with and comment on any posts you happen to see xx

In praise of understanding

I’ve had so many kind responses to my last post – it’s very much appreciated and heartening to know how many people want me to keep writing. The critical voice is strong (does that sound a bit Star Wars?) and the downside of increased socialising means she has so many more things to pick to belittle me about. Tools and tricks are there to be used though and I’m going back to basics in terms of managing my mental health. One of these days I’ll learn to take care before it reaches this point. 

Writing is a big part of this of course. Other than gardening and cooking it’s the only thing I know – the only thing I feel right doing. I wish I felt more certain about my skills, but I guess, unlike gardening and cooking, writing is incredibly subjective. I know if I’ve cared for a plant well, because it blooms, sets seed and continues its life. I know if I’ve cooked a meal well because it pleases my taste buds – and hopefully those of others. I deal with failures in gardening by learning how to do it right next time, I deal with failure in cooking by learning how to do it right next time. I don’t feel torn up, distraught or as though I never want to cook or garden again. Why so? 

The simple fact is that it’s really hard to know if my failures are because I’ve made a colossal mistake, or just because I’ve not tickled the metaphorical tastebuds of the editors or competition judges. There’s no-one saying – “oh it’s so close but a bit under seasoned” or “what the blazes made you put chilli oil in the rice pudding?”. It’s a simple thanks but no thanks and on you go. This, of course, is no fault of the many long-suffering lit mag editors. Many decline work in the kindest, fullest way possible. A few give what reads as a very formulaic response, but hey, these are busy, unpaid people wading through a colossal amount of work to find the perfect fit for their magazine. 

I’ve realised I need to wean myself off the dopamine rush of having work accepted. I love the thrill of opening that email, expecting rejection and reading that my work will be published. I love shouting about it all over the socials and getting the flurry of interest and interaction. It feels nice. It feels like I’m worth something. And it’s as addictive as all the other addictive things. 

I planned today as a poetry day. This is a luxury I rarely afford, and something I usually crave, like a warm bath, or a hot buttered toast. A poetry day usually makes me feel better. Today – oh how I wanted to roll over and ignore the alarm, How I wanted there to be some ad hoc freelance work that was just too good to miss. I felt scared. I felt as though I was setting myself up for more failure and more sadness. Today I sat and looked at my work and wondered why the heck I actually do this? Is it to make people like me? Is it to give myself status? Is it to justify my place in the world? Yes. Of course it is. But writing can’t only be about these things. It can’t only be about making myself feel better about not being who I feel I should be. For me, writing has to be about making a difference. It has to be about forging a connection and showing a way for people to feel less alone. It has to have a purpose beyond my personal vanity. 

So this feels like a point of maturity. I intend to step away from the submissions treadmill for a while and work with the work I have produced over the last few years. I’ve spent time today looking at the themes in my work (sadly there isn’t a strong theme of fluffy bunnies) and intend to spend a little more time with the poems, redrafting and wrestling them into a series of pamphlets, before approaching some of the people who showed interest in being a mentor to me and my work.  Above all, I’ll spend more time reading and listening to poetry, more time absorbing and enjoying, and less time listening to that critical voice. Honest. 

The power of the notebook

Today has been a gift. From me, to me. For the first time this year, I have allowed myself a morning to enjoy and absorb poetry. Word bathing, if you like. Time spent rolling sounds around, feeling the different textures, noting the first reactions, second reactions the oh of course reactions. This morning has felt like exhaling. For the first time in about a month.

February and rebirth

Imbolc, St.Brigid – February is a time of beginnings. The birds know we do not need to wait for the saccharine lambs and fluff tailed bunnies of modern Easter for spring to begin. The birds are already pair-swooping, dawn greeting, land grabbing. Sleep is over. Change is coming.

I wrote a lot last year about becoming more attuned to the seasons. Lockdown, writing for Spelt, understanding the importance of my own little patch have all led me to notice and nurture change and to learn more about the way the land speaks through tradition.

All of which sounds very calming – and it is. Unfortunately, I lost the ability to tap into this through January. The month was spent too much indoors, too preoccupied with the mess of life to step outside and breathe in the cold, watch the sleeping, listen for the first stirring. Too busy to be. It happens so often, and I always imagine I will learn from past mistakes and I never do. There is always hope and, so far in my life, there is always spring.

Snowdrops by Bruce Kelzer on Unsplash

The power of the notebook

Back to my morning. I love to write, and I have lovely friends who give me gifts of beautiful notebooks. Notebooks that I place on my dedicated notebook pile and save for when I will write something worthy of its quality paper and captivating cover. I promise myself I will redraft all those rough notes of poems on scraps of whatever, and copy them into the hallowed ivory pages, using my best copperplate handwriting.

I never do, of course. The notes remain scrappy, the lucky few make it into my computer and are sent out to the accepted/rejected by busy journal editors or sifted by competition judges. The notebooks remain pristine, unsullied by inexpert words or blotchy Bic biros. The notebooks, if they could feel such things, are probably sad.

Today, as well as giving myself time, I gave myself permission to use what is my very favourite notebook ( it’s so beautiful I shed a tear when I unwrapped it) the kind I would never, ever buy for myself. I’m not using it for a special project or grand, completed prizewinning poems. It’s for this year’s adventures in poetry. There are thoughts on what I’m reading, notes from my courses with Nine Arches Press and Wendy Pratt, and clumsy, jumbled responses to poetry prompts. The paper is divine, the physical act of writing in these books feels decadent, the sense of allowing myself to use something beautiful for my own work is liberating.

All this from a notebook?

Even as I write this, I’m second guessing and berating myself for being stupid. But yes – all this from a notebook. Choosing to use this represents permission, represents valuing my own words, represents not writing for the editors or judges, but writing to record, to explore and to chart my own adventure. It represents freedom.

Confidence boosters

I received pretty positive feedback for my accredited short course with York CLL, with some useful actions to help me improve my work. One was to work on my titles, the other was to have more confidence in my writing. The titles will be a challenge, but not unachievable. The confidence – a little more tricky. Two fab things have happened this week though. One was getting a message showing me a phot of one of my bespoke poems gracing the walls of its owner, and the other was getting a message saying how my crowdfunded poetry pamphlet Yes to Tigers inspired a fellow Raven Studios bursary recipient  Lewis Wyn Davies to self-publish their own work Comprehensive (which looks amazing). I often describe my reason for writing as being to connect with others -and I can’t think of two better ways to realise that something about all this is working, albeit intermittently.

So I begin this month in a better place. With a sense of possibility and hope, rather than panic and disillusion. The nature of my sometimes colourful mental health means this may all change tomorrow of course, but for today I will relish the feeling of being grounded, the noticing of spring, and the smooth bound pages of this beautiful notebook.