I recently read Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing With Feathers, and was completely blown away by it. It is an incredible and unique work, funny and moving and just brilliant. I then went back to a bit of Hughes and Crow which felt like revisiting an old friend. It was one of the first poetry collections I read. It felt strange to be looking back to the place where my love, my obsession with poetry started. It was always there, I think, or the desire to write has always been there, but it didn’t appear fully manifest itself until that first handful of books I read. feathers made me feel like that again, it is that good. Back then I didn’t know what to do or where to start, only that I wanted to write. I took an OU introduction to poetry course, really I just wanted to find a way in, and after that I couldn’t stop. Fast forward a few years and here I am, trying to transition into a full time freelance poet and writer, and it’s taking a lot of work and a lot of perseverance. The arts are not very well funded under this government and there are not that many paid opportunities. Teaching jobs too are scarce with everyone applying for the same jobs. But I figure the right thing will come up at some point, if I just keep trying. In the mean time I run my little business and remind myself to be happy with what I have, to ‘want what I have’. In Buddhism the source of pain is desire, it’s the desire for things that causes pain. Being frustrated and grumpy about feeling over worked is really born out of a desire to move forward and get further with my writing career, but that’s moving forward with me doing exactly what I am doing, it’s just a slwo process. I’m trying very hard not to stress. I had a bad day yesterday which ended with me accidently dropping a bottle of wine on the kitchen floor and smashing it and crying about it, which seems a bit silly but was probably what I needed.
I’m having quite a full on work period at the minute. I have been working long hours on the business and averaging between ten and thirteen miles of walking every day as a dog walker. On top of that I’ve had a lot of horse Faecal Egg Counts coming in and I have taken on some paid mentoring, which has been the best bit by far.
I love the mentoring process. Each person I help with their writing is different, every one has different needs. Sometimes a mentee will be quite far on in their career but will be finding it difficult to make the next step without someone to guide them. I find lack of confidence to be the biggest stumbling block between a writer writing poems and sending them off for potential publishing. Sometimes it’s straightforward critiquing, perhaps a writer is at the point of having enough poems for a collection or a pamphlet, but wants help with content, proofing, ordering. Sometimes a writer is struggling to find their own voice, and being able to offer exercises that help them find their own poems and their own style is a great feeling. I get a lot out of it. I’ve been lucky enough to have benefitted from mentoring and guidance from some amazing poets, and I like passing some of that on.
The only problem with such a busy workload is that I am not getting the time to write my own stuff. I’m catching up with uni work at the weekends, and applying for lecturing jobs too. Ideally I’d like to start reducing the amount of time spent dog walking and replacing it with more freelance work, teaching and mentoring, but until something regular comes along I will be out in all weathers picking up poo and walking dogs of various obedience. I do love being outside, in fact I plan my PhD work while I’m out walking, I write poems in my head, I take photos, I explore the local area, I watch animals, birds, but I’d still like to start scaling that part of the business back. I have spent thousands of pounds on my education, and fourteen years studying to get to this point. Admittedly, four years of that was doing my BSc, part time, for my previous career as a pathology biomedical scientist, but you get my point. By the time I finish my PhD I will have been studying for nineteen years. Fifteen years of which I will have been studying English literature, creative writing and poetry. It’s probably about time I started doing something with that. What’s holding me back? Partly it’s a confidence thing, that little voice (not so little sometimes) which yells FRAUD! or YOU’RE GOING TO COCK THIS UP or WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? or YOU’RE TOO WORKING CLASS FOR ACADEMIA holds me back. I end up rushing applications for things because I can’t bear to think of myself putting myself forward, I’m embarrassed to think that I might do something I love and perhaps be paid to do it, because I might be talented or educated etc. It’s quite exhausting to live with low self-esteem and self-doubt. However, one thing that never ceases to thrill me is filling in the higher education section of a job application form. I go all twinkly and the little negative voice inside shuts the f*ck up for a bit and is replaced with one that says I DID THAT and I WON THAT and I’VE BEEN PUBLISHED THERE and that’s the voice I listen to.
You have to find your own way to where you want to be. There’s no right or wrong way to go about becoming a poet or a writer. I think if you’re going to be a writer, like being an artist, you will just be it, you won’t learn it. You’ll learn tools and skills and learn about the giants you’re standing on, but you won’t learn the thing that comes bubbling up out of your chest, like ectoplasm, desperate to form itself on the page. That’s the thing that can’t be taught. Ted Hughes famously abandoned his English literature degree because he felt it was stunting his creative writing. I have felt like that at times. But I think I have too much of a working class mentality to assume that I will make money from writing, and yes, shock horror, I want to be paid for my work. I must have a back up plan and that is lecturing, teaching, mentoring and that’s what my education has bought me, something on paper that says I am qualified to do this. The negative voice can’t argue with that very well. And I love it, I really do. I love learning and I love teaching, especially one to one. But I never forget Hughes and the Thought Fox, and that decision to rely on his wits and on his talent, and I find it reassuring, because the lad did OK, didn’t he.
Here’s Hughes talking a little about the poem, and reading it. He’s a story-teller and a half.