It’s been a while, again, since I last popped in to update the blog. I am always very optimistic with time and generally think I have more than I do. Sadly, when it’s all down on paper I can clearly see that I’m still working a massive amount of hours in the week with no time for my own work. But I am slowly, slowly scratching towards the new manuscript being finished. It will literally take until the end of the year at this rate though, which is depressing. I am trying all the funding avenues I can. I have applied for the brilliant Northern Writers Award and asked for help with finishing the manuscript and I am in the middle of working on an Arts Council Funding grant which will enable me to expand the manuscript into a project which I don’t want to talk about because I don’t want to jinx it. It is so very important to me and I feel like if I say anything about the next collection or the project attached to it, it will all go wrong and it will all be my fault. Such is the power of magical thinking. After I finish writing this blog I will go back to the minutiae of the application which I just find really stressful, I’ve always had an aversion to filling in forms. But it’s worth it, this is something special, I think, the best work I’ve produced, and I think it could genuinely help people. I shall persevere.
Last week I was on the radio twice within seven days. Once to be interviewed alongside Councillor Chatt over the cemetery problem on Radio York and then, the most amazing thing happened on the Sunday, exactly a week ago. The wonderful Liz Berry chose my poem, Nan Hardwick Turns into a Hare as one of the poems to read in her guest slot on Poetry Please. It’s still available to listen to: Liz Berry Reads Nan
That it was this poem, read at this time seemed significant. I’ve felt like I have been fighting for my daughter all over again lately, and it brought back in incredible, intense ways, her death, and all those feelings of vulnerability and fear and just intense grief. I think I’ve talked before about where the Nan Hardwicke poem came from, but I’ll say it again. It was the first poem I wrote after the death of my daughter, after we had left her in the hospital room, in her little whicker basket and we had walked away emptied and unsure, with a scar instead of a baby. I went dead inside, and my senses stopped working. When I think back, I can physically remember the sensation as feeling like I’d just been next a bomb that had exploded, I couldn’t recognise the life I was in, everything was different, gone. I feel like we staggered out of the hospital that day. We probably didn’t, we probably walked. I do remember the air on my skin as feeling odd, like a leg that had been in plaster, I felt exposed, vulnerable, everything was wrong. Back at home, things were still wrong. Her Moses basket was still up, her toys were out, the cloths i’d been sorting through were still on the bed. There was such a clear divide between before and after. And I couldn’t write, and I couldn’t write and I couldn’t write for a long time. I went to therapy, I talked, I cried, but I couldn’t write. And then one day, weeks later, this poem came, almost complete, just as it was, the witch Nan Hardwick appeared in my head, and she had colour, and sky and heather in her bones. She transformed into the hare, right inside me and I felt again what it was like to be two animals in the same body. it sounds so over dramatic and unnecessarily poetic when I talk about it, but that is exactly how it was, she came to me, fully formed in a poem.
Grief doesn’t come with a handbook. It’s complex and long and when you lose a child it is almost all instinctive, your arms flail around looking for something to hold, your mouth looks for the downy head to kiss, you search for the baby, the child, everywhere. We are animals, and we forget that.
That same week as I was on the radio, I lost one of my rabbits. People think that rabbits and small furries are interchangeable. They’re not. Poppy was small, the smallest of the litter, but by far the brightest, most inquisitive, brave and funny rabbit of all of my warren of bunnies. She interacted, played games, sought attention, would happily sit on my lap or use me as furniture to jump on when I sat in the run with them all. She’d lost weight, but they do over winter, I’d been concerned enough to bring her closer to the house so that I could make sure her bigger brothers and sisters weren’t stealing her food, and that seemed to work for a while. She turned a corner and put some weight back on, became plump again, inquisitive again, but then whatever ailed her came back. She turned lethargic, I brought her into the house, but it was clear she was dying. She lay down in her hutch, I covered her with a warm towel and she tried to stand up, so I stroked her back down to rest. Her nose was twitching, her ears were twitching, she looked like she was asleep and dreaming and I hope she was, I hope she was running as fast as she could, in the sunshine, binkying, flopping, nuzzling her brothers and sisters, I hope she dreamt into death. I would hope that for anyone. It’s how I hope my daughter died, I hope she didn’t suffer, I hope she felt no pain and knew only love.
And then, after a week of high emotion and stress (although I feel I did well on Radio York, I was shaking and crying afterwards it was so stressful) and feeling utterly wrung out worrying abut money, paying my uni tuition fees and not being able to find time to write, it all seemed to lift at once. I was driving between my home and my husband’s work, on the way to pick him up and I turned the corner into the next village and there was a hare, there was Nan herself in the road. I slowed, she locked those glorious amber eyes on me, and then she was gone. “You’re not forgotten” I whispered, and carried on my life.