It can sometimes seem as if all art forms are running along in their own gullies: visual artists staying in their lanes, fiction writers in theirs, poetry and pottery never encroaching on each others territories, all art and artists staying within their circles, poets talking to poets and so on and so on. But it’s important to occasionally put your head over the top of your own personal ditch and see what other creatives are doing. Working with someone in a different field is exhilarating, stimulating, it pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to look with an entirely different perspective at the thing that you know so well. I am very lucky to have been chosen by the artist Adinda van ‘t klooster alongside seven other poets in a commissioned collaboration for a project called Still Born. There has already been a Manchester exhibition of the Still Born art works and the next stage is for the poets chosen to be given a piece of Adinda’s art work as stimulus for a poem. This will then be made into a book that can be purchased. I received my chosen picture a couple of weeks ago and have been allowing the images to trickle through the filter of my own experience. Generally the process of writing the poem is not about me sitting down with it, not at this stage anyway, it’s more something that is happening whilst I’m out and about, walking the dog or sitting quietly at home. This is how it is arriving: like an animal in the hedgerow, or birds waiting to come down to feed at a bird table, shyly, unsure of its footing. It has presence and its rhythms are forming, I can feel it in my mouth sometimes as if I am about to recite it, and i can hear its heart somewhere, or a voice on a string telephone trying to get through. This is how it always is, it can’t be forced. The poem has not arrived yet, and will not for a while, but if I put my ear to the train rail that it is on, I can hear it.
I have worked with artists before, on various different projects, but never on something so close to my self. I feel that it is important for my growth as a person, as a writer, to experience as many different things as possible. To really experience though someone else’s eyes, something that has happened to yourself, is a catalyst for growth. To push out of your own enclosure, to burrow towards someone else, it’s almost metaphorical in itself, the process. That I am connecting with a person, on this subject, through the midway point, the translator that is the art work, is a beautiful thing.
The whole project is necessary, beautiful, heart breaking and it’s important because stillbirth is just not talked about enough. Like anything that frightens people, stillbirth is hidden. Added to this fear of baby death in particular, we have an odd way of treating death altogether in our culture. We don’t treat death as a part of life, we hide it, we try to sanitise it, we segregate ourselves from it. The Irish tradition is to have the body in the house while family visit and the ‘sitting in’ is going on, the body is visited and revisited and fully involved in the family get together that happens around it, goodbyes are said properly, grieving is a manifest, open process, not hidden. In Mexico the day of the dead is spent at the graveside of loved ones, singing, eating, drinking. We don’t talk about death here. And it’s important to. It’s important for the grieving, and there are a lot of us, to talk, and to be listened to, and it’s important that people know that not all pregnancies end well, not so we can frighten people, but so we can address it, fund research, help stop it happening, give women the power to question their own treatment, to speak up when something doesn’t feel right. Stillbirth is not ‘just one of those things’ most stillbirths occur due to placenta problems, and with the right care, with thorough and sustained care, a lot of these problems can be managed. Babies can survive, parents can remain whole, not broken. It’s important to connect and it’s important for art to cross boundaries and for creation to be collaborative. I’m very pleased to be working on this with Adinda, and excited to be working alongside Karen mcCarthy Wolf, Rebecca Goss, Christine Bousfield, Claire Potter, Jennie Farley, Roger Bloor and Sarah James.
Obviously it’s an important topic for me because of my own experiences with still birth and pregnancy loss, and infertility to a certain extent. I still need to talk about what happened to us, I still need to write abut what happened to us, but I’m in a place where it isn’t such a frantic, desperate desire to make sense of it and come to terms with it. Seven years has worn the pain down to something familiar, but not unbearable. When I was looking for images for the header on this blog I came across a lot of scan pictures in the search engine, and many inventive ways of announcing pregnancies. I felt the sharp stomach clench of grief, knowing that this will now never be us again, and remembering when it was us. But yes, joy too, because it was us, once, a lifetime ago and yesterday it was us, when I couldn’t imagine the pain of this loss, we loved and smiled and grinned and tried not to jinx ourselves. The day we went to the clinic to start treatment I found a shiny copper penny on the steps of the hospital, it was a lucky penny. I have it now and have felt a variety of emotions over the years. Now I feel lucky again, we were lucky to have her. The image, incidentally, is the bodhisattva Jizo a sort of patron saint in Buddhism, and protector of travellers and children who have died, including miscarriages and stillbirths. Statues of jizo play a physical role in grieving for couples in Japan, that physical grieving process is very important. Go to any cemetery in England and you will see the children’s graves dressed up, changing with seasons and birthdays, Christmas trees and easter bunnies, cards for birthdays, occasionally a bottle of champagne or a pint of beer when that lost little child reaches eighteen or twenty one. This physical grieving is more than just marking time, it’s used as a practical way to deal with the incomprehensible loss. When you lose a child your hands and arms don’t know what to do, they seem to search for the thing they’ve lost, almost independently. I think that’s why creative practices help so much. That’s why writing and creative arts are so important for translating emotion.
image via <a href=”http://www.peakpx.com”>Peakpx</a>