This week I have been getting behind with my mentoring duties, procrastinating over my teaching work, sleeping, dog walking, looking after bunnies, fretting over the manuscript for the MA and working on my Selkie poems. I’ve had acceptances of my poems to Prole and Three drops from a Cauldron. And a very kind rejection from Butcher’s Dog Magazine. That’s a very good week. The poem I had accepted by Prole is an older poem, and I am very pleased that it has found a home. It’s one of those where i worried about the style, it’s quite straightforward, I used quite blunt language to talk about repressed memories. I’m glad it’s been picked up. Three drops accepted a new Nan Hardwicke poem, a sestina, which was extremely good fun to write. They also accepted a poem from Lapstrake and the first poem from my series of Selkie poems. I was incredibly pleased to hear about that one, and Kate Garrett gave me such lovely feedback. 90% of being a poet is being insecure, so it’s always really nice when someone tells you off their own back that they enjoy your work.
I feel like I have been scuppered at every opportunity to write and mentor this week, something has cropped up every day. This week I managed to get out for a run, my first since getting this awful dry cough and my first run since the 10km that I ran to raise money for The Genesis Research Trust, using Just Giving. I raised £400, incidentally, which pleased me no end. It must have been playing on my mind some what because when i went to my monthly Stanza group I wrote a poem about it. My lovely friend Sue was set the challenge of creating a mini workshop, something we do at every stanza. She chose a ‘game’ where we all wrote five words on a piece of paper that crop up in our writing very often, and three words on another piece of paper that we never use or would like to use. Then we exchanged pieces of paper with other people and we built a poem using those words. Sue was very keen for us to recognise that the prompt words were just prompts and we should write the poem that was waiting to be written. So I did. i wrote about the 10KM and raising money. Because i think that was a poem that was sitting just behind my eyes, waiting for it’s turn. I believe that you can only ever write the poem that wants to be written. anyone that has seen me read will know that I will stand in front of 40 people and read poems about the death of my daughter, and not cry. I do shake sometimes, but not always. i am used to reading poems that break my own heart. But for some reason, this poem, and it’s quite a crappy poem too which I’ll post here, this poem had me in tears and I couldn’t read it. I felt like I had made a massive tit of myself and was so embarrassed. Of course, everyone was lovely. i’ve been a bit run down of late and I’m dwelling on fertility issues too, a bit hormonal so maybe it was that. It’s very hard for me to explain how much raising money for genesis means to me, how much raising money for any cause that might prevent another couple, another parent going through what we went through. i think it’s a form of atonement because i still blame myself to a certain degree. I can’t quite find closure with it, which is why my work comes back and back and back to it. However, with the MA manuscript, a collection of poems about the IVF, I feel like I am trying too hard with them. They don’t read well, they are clunky, boring, no spark, no connection. I’ve been wondering this week if actually they are a defence mechanism. They are a sort of a shield around the poems I want to write.
Whenever I think about the way a poem surfaces I am reminded of my dad’s hands. He had a piece of glass in his hand for years that had become encapsulated beneath the skin. Some accident of the DIY kind I imagine had put it there, and there it stayed. His flesh formed around it, nested it in, until one day, for reasons unknown, it surfaced, broke the skin and became a part of the outside world again. That’s what poems feel like to me. They form themselves before breaking free.
Here’s the very rough draft of the poem. It won’t be going anywhere so I might as well give it up to the universe now so you can all see exactly why I made a knob of myself. It’s just a really unmoving poem. A bit cliched, very rough. I can’t believed I cried for ten minutes over this.
At the 8K mark the crowd
become manikins, maintaining a static,
smiling cheer. Raised flags are frozen,
high fives go un-slapped,
the only movement is my self
and the burning fire in my legs.
The river is slick with rain,
trees refuse their shade,
the graphite grey of the road
begins to fade, one footfall
at a time.
The devil appears in the last kilometre,
bribing me to stop. But I think
of the cash, at home in the pot, the alchemy
of pounds turned into microscopes, lab coats;
hospital wards where midwives
click reassuringly by, and babies cry.
I’m thinking that the infertility/baby death/miscarriage…life is playing on my mind quite a lot of late. Another thing happened this week when it was A-levels day. I was watching Facebook and all the messages of support for children getting their results and it made me think about the day I got my GCSEs. I never made it to A-levels. My GCSEs were crap. Four at grade C. English and science. I failed art. I wanted to be an artist. I am not from an academic background, my family are working class northerners. No one in my family had ever been in further education. So I wasn’t that bothered. Only, on the day I was that bothered, I just pretended not to be. I watched all these kids coming in and opening the flimsy little pieces of paper and congratulating each other and their parents hugging them and if I was asked, teachers would say ‘but you weren’t planning on college or anything anyway, so that’s good’ and I felt a failure. I had thought none of it mattered. I didn’t enjoy secondary school, I wasn’t popular, I was bullied and it was, quite frankly, awful. I had no self confidence. I spent the time there hating myself with an intensity that is all over my diaries and journals. It was something I carried with me for a long time, that intensity of self loathing. Anyway. Long story short, I am very proud of my achievements, I’ve done all of my degrees off my own back, done them part time and struggled. The OU English lit. degree was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, an incredibly emotional experience and graduation day was literally one of my proudest days. I wrote about it here, for Northern Soul. So I posted a status on Facebook about how A-levels and GCSEs are just pieces of paper, they don’t define you, and I posted about how well I had done. And it felt a bit like boasting. And after a while a couple of people posted about what was holding them back from going further in education, family, illness, finances. And I felt dreadful about it, so bad that I removed the post because I suddenly realised that in a twisted way I am fortunate to not be ill, to have the time put into studying because I don’t have a young family, and the degrees I’m doing now are financed from the compensation money from my daughter’s death. In a weird, twisted logic I was luckier than the other people. And a bit hormonal and generally feeling quite low, so I removed it. And spent a few days thinking about it. And came up with why it’s so important to me, and why I have such intense feelings around it. And it all comes back to not being able to have children, I think. I wrote this bit of waffle about it. It’s not supposed to be me moaning about my life, I’m very fortunate to have in my life the things I have. It’s just thoughts about how the transition to parenthood occurs, and what you do, or what I have done with the hole that my family should have been in. Reading it back it all feels a bit bleating and self involved, so apologies for that.
The three strings of parenthood
The thing about having a child is that once that child is born, or even before, your life becomes something akin to a parallel universe, with three more lives running all at the same time. The lives are thready, intertwined, plaited. In one life you are the parent, you feel the immediate bond of a love for someone else, you would give your life for someone you had just met, that you would love this person more than you love any other person on the planet, without really even knowing them, as soon as they take their first breath. That is something difficult to imagine without having had children. And that life is the life that marvels at the miracle of life, that is surprised and elated watching this new life taking shape and expanding into the world to fill its place. Then there is the life that is attached to your own childhood. That life revisistss your own childhood and compares and contrasts constantly, that’s the life that wants to protect your children from harm you might have suffered, and that’s the life that wants to expose your child to the things you loved so much, that is your own life reshaped and revisited. Then there is the third life that is the life relived in a completely different way through the miracle that is your child. That is the life in which you live an entirely new childhood through the eyes of this entirely new person. A new nostalgia is built up over new childhood television programmes, holidays, toys, troubles, problems, a whole childhood reimagined. And then, of course, there is the life you already had, in which you are an observer of your life, you are the you you were before, but different, you are the you you were and still enjoy all the things you used to, but everything has changed at the same time. How full is the life of the person that has children? And if you have two children, three children, how very, very full is your life.
Of course, I’m painting by numbers all the wonderful things. When you have children there are doors in the corridor of the universe that shut and can’t be reopened. You will not be the single couple completely absorbed by each other. You will not have the same time to be yourself, and you are entirely given over to the needs of someone you don’t even know. And it’s a hard transition, it breaks people, it breaks marriages.
My life is filled with other stuff. I have filled it with other stuff. I am in the awkward and painful position of having a hole where my family was. A wound. Where my children were pulled from me, where my daughter was lifted from the c-section wound, in a very literal way.
My husband once had a pilonidal abscess on the base of his back. After the operation to remove it, they had to pack the wound with sterile cloth so that it healed from the inside out. I feel like that is what I have done with my life. I have packed it with all those opportunities that closed to other people when they had families. I have tried to take the positives, the opportunities. I have started my own business, I have had exotic holidays, I have done two degrees and am currently doing degree number three and number four. I have pushed and worked to have a fairly successful writing career. All these things though, they’re just trying to replicate the threads that come so naturally into the lives of those that can have children. There are not the complexities and continued joy attached to it. My academic achievements do not talk back to me, and they will not have lunch with me in years to come. I don’t have pictures of my children on timehop, I don’t have childrens birthdays to celebrate. I doubt I would have done any of the degrees if I had children. They would have filled my life, I imagine. Who knows.
But there is why I write so much about the topics I write about. I am not quite finished with the infertility journey, another round of IVF is approaching, it’s more than likely our last. So that’s a huge thing to be facing. To admit defeat isn’t natural to me. And, God, I miss my daughter like you can’t imagine. She’s kept alive in my poetry so I find it hard to move away from that. But as someone very wise said to me recently, you have three books of poetry about her. She is immortalised. Move forward.
What I am Reading
Currently reading issue 17 of Prole, which is fab. I am making slow progress due to work and having a crap week. The car broke down on the way to the cemetery, I’ve had weird GP appointments and various cancellations in the business and am very much feeling like I would benefit a week off. But term is about to start and I have my degrees to do and all the other stuff that i fill my life with. I shall comment further on Prole next week. For now I feel I have waffled aplenty.