It’s a funny old business, this poetry lark. This week I finally managed to finish the manuscript and submit it to the publishers in the hope that they will be happy and want to publish it. They did have a previous draft but have been very patient waiting for me to re-submit whilst I re wrote it three times and agonised over it. That’s the thing about this one, it’s different from the other collections. Whilst I’ve danced around my experiences in previous collections, this one is unashamedly personal (and yet I feel ashamed) I couldn’t help but write this one. It changed so many times I lost track, it changed because it is very much a part of my grieving and acceptance process. I feel like I shouldn’t say that it is cathartic, or that it was therapeutic. We frown on that sort of poetry. God forgive anyone that uses the language of emotion to talk openly about emotion.
I know full well that I am not everybody’s cup of tea, and it’s thrown me into a bit of a period of self doubt. Several times I’ve almost stopped writing this one because it is very honest, vey raw, very openly painful. I know very well that some of my poet friends don’t think I should be writing in this way for one reason or another. Some of them because they think it makes me too vulnerable to being hurt (As I say, I’m not everyone’s cup of tea and some people are quite vocal in letting me know, worse I think, are the one’s who have previously shone great big lovely lights on you, only to switch them off when they found someone better to like) and some because they think that what I write is self pitying, or whining or navel gazing. Lots of people prefer ‘look at this’ poetry than ‘look at me’ poetry. But I think they can be the same thing.
A bit about the now named (I won’t tell you what it’s called yet as I might change my mind) collection: It’s very much a look at how the body of a woman never really belongs to that woman. How right from being a child we are siphoned into roles, and how right from the start we are expected to alter our behaviour in order to prevent ourselves from being physically and emotionally damaged. It’s about my own relationship with my body, which has never been good, and about low self esteem and how that manifests itself, and about how this changed through infertility, IVF and pregnancy and then the loss of my daughter and how I have come to re-learn my own body as belonging to me, and not something that any other person can use against me. It’s very much ‘look at me’ because ‘me’ is the experience of many, many, many other women, which sort of makes it a bit ‘look at that’ too. A lot of it is about the experience of motherhood that is infertility and baby loss, because stillbirth, miscarriage and infertility are experiences of motherhood and not separate from it. We live in a society that is frightened to talk about death, and also doesn’t like talking about anything negative where motherhood is concerned, which mean us un-mothers and (space here for the experience of losing a child which oddly doesn’t even have a bloody name-not widow, not orphan, just NOTHING) we don’t get to talk about it much. We don’t get to talk about the good stuff, we don’t get to talk about the bad stuff. You know what happens when pain is contained and not allowed to come out in words? It comes out in self harm, substance abuse and depression. It’s really really important that people are allowed to talk about their experiences. And it’s important that their experiences are acknowledged.
Having said all that, I have had some very positive responses from people so far too. Lots of people offering to read the poems when I have been in a conundrum about how dark they are, how visceral and bloody and open and raw they are. I took some of the darker, more biologically visceral poems to a reading I attended recently. (It’s always a good idea to test new stuff you’re unsure of out on a live audience as it gives an indication of where they are losing interest or where they have lost the thread, invaluable for editing when you are far too close to the subject matter.) This was at the rather wonderful Puzzle hall poets where I have read several times before. It’s run by Bob Horne and John Foggin. I love this event and always feel so welcomed, especially by Bob who goes out of his way to email with directions, and ensure that my husband is well stocked with beer! The open mic is always top quality, and even though I have to set off before it’s over, I never feel that I have flown in and flown out entirely missing everything as it’s so well organised. It’s a fair trek, about a five hour round trip but worth it for the warmth of the audience. I chose to read those poems there so that I could gauge the reaction of a real live audience. The poems went down well and I had good, positive comments afterwards.
I was really nervous about it, so it was such a relief and really reassuring and a great kindness when Bob emailed the next day to let me know how well the poems had been received and how nicely people had talked about them afterwards. I know, as I have said, that I am not everyone’s cup of tea, so small kindnesses are so welcome and reassuring. There is nothing worse than attending an event and opening your heart in the form of bloody, bleeding poems about your dead child, only to face a tumbleweed of silence. Not being the cup of tea that people want is hard, but hey, not everyone even like’s tea at all, and some people drink god awful instant coffee and wax lyrical about it.
Anyway, that was the thing that made me kick myself in the bum, stop procrastinating and get those poems off, finally. However, the ‘not being the right cup of tea’ thing, when the tea your offering people is made up of everything that’s formed your own low self esteem for your whole life, it’s a hard thing to deal with and I feel that this collection of magical, mythical, realist, lyrical, brutal, sweary, biologically graphic, loving and mental poems has been somewhat emotionally taxing so I’m trying very hard not to be on social media at the minute because my skin is very thin. I find myself comparing likes or comments or messages with other people who are the right cup of tea, or appear to be, in my fragile little head. I am glad that I reach out and I am glad that I make myself vulnerable and talk about my experiences, that will never change, but it doesn’t stop it being very difficult to do, and quite painful. But poetry should have truth in it, and I am not going to have my mouth sewn up by anyone.
Hopefully next week I’ll be just getting on with getting on. I already have my next two projects lined up and I am excited to NOT be writing about myself for a change and sinking back into Bronte love for a bit.
Don’t forget I’m still taking bookings for the new Course and although it is almost three quarters full now, I do still have places.
Thank you for reading to the end of this no doubt navel gazing, self absorbed and self pitying rant, I’ll catch up with you next week when it will all be about rainbows and unicorns I imagine.