I received my author copies of the new book last week. Except for sending some copies out to the people who endorsed the book and a couple to friends who had been particularly supportive whilst I traversed the long journey to completing the book, I haven’t touched them. They are on my bookshelf, their lavender spines pleasingly neat. Next month the book will be launched officially, and I will begin selling some signed copies and it will be the end, properly the end, of me owning this story; the book will go out into the world and strangers will read it and form opinions on it, it will be reviewed; positively or negatively, it will be judged in competitions and will either be successful or not. The poetry, the stories, the craft in the book will be reimagined inside other people’s heads. They will connect with it, or they will read it and decide it is not for them. I have received a couple of bits of feedback from the people I’ve given it to, so far so good.
This is the part of the publishing journey where I begin to talk about the book in detail, whilst trying not to give too much of the content away. One of the pieces of feedback I received this week was from one of the people who endorsed it. She said (I’m paraphrasing) it was a story of love. I’ve also heard it described as a ‘survivor story’. It is both those things, I guess, in a lot of ways. But I have always been keen to ensure that it is a story of love, not loss, that the poems within it did more than just describe the trauma of losing my baby daughter. She died in 2010, during an emergency cesarian, a crash cesarian for which I had been anaesthetised. She was alive when I was rushed into theatre, dead when I came out and though I think about that moment, those moments, a lot. But the book is not about that. The book is really not about her death, or about the trauma of living with her death (an investigation revealed clinical negligence as partly to blame for her death, something that has been difficult to live with). I wanted to use poetry to describe something else, to draw associations between instinct, motherhood, grief and body ownership.
I don’t know what it is like for other poets, but when I write poetry, my own process is always to try to locate the thing that is beneath the words. What do I mean by that? For me poetry is the thing that emerges from between the lines, from between the thoughts that are created out of a need to define or rationalise life. Poetry is a translative process, part of our big brained human evolution. We need creativity to manage our thoughts, we need that translative device to make sense of the instinctive animal part of us which sits below the higher thinking, problem solving part of us. Poetry, then, sees the animal that is the instinct beneath the skin that is higher thinking self, it sees the truth beneath the words, the truth of ourselves. That’s how I see it.
I wanted to capture that instinctive self that we so rarely see. The places where we see it most are in the experiences of love, of grief, the experiences that cause us to transcend from the neat lines of humanity and function on and in the state of instinctive behaviour. Pregnancy can be one of those experiences. Not for everyone, of course, but my experience of pregnancy was one of experiencing the nature of my body. What I mean by that is that my body became a natural thing, a strange machine of cells and blood and instinct for which I had no control and didn’t need to control it. My body built another body, without me having to intervene in any way at all. It still amazes me to think I built an entire other person, once. I’m thinking of the instincts in pregnancy, which have to run alongside the mix of emotions and thoughts that the higher thinking brain gives us: the insecurity, the feelings of being overwhelmed of not knowing what we are supposed to do, the newness of knowing you are looking after someone else, before they are even born. This is a strange land, where the instinctive behaviours of pregnancy share the same space as the higher thinking brain. I’m thinking of cravings and an old friend who, whilst pregnant, was cutting the stems on daffodils to put in a vase. She’d had a craving for celery whilst pregnant and whilst cutting the daffodils she had had to step away into another room and call her husband to bring her celery because she was certain that she would start eating the daffodil stems otherwise. My cravings were for vinegar. I made excuses to leave my microbiology bench and go and buy packets of Tyrols salt and vinegar crisps which I would eat, hurriedly, secretly, in an ecstasy of craving, behind the door in the cloak room. There was no way I would be able to manage without the vinegar. I ate jalapeño peppers straight from the jar. I soaked sausage rolls in vinegar. I can still feel that intensity of craving.
I wanted to capture that, in the book. And I wanted to capture the doubling up of the instinctive animal of, for want of a better term, motherhood, with the instincts of grief. And I wanted to talk about the body and how women in particular are shamed or sexualised, how we never quite own our own bodies. All of that. Mostly, I wanted to tell a story about an alternative version of motherhood, a version that captures the grief and love of losing a baby, and of not having the rainbow baby; of accepting that whatever journey you are on, it has relevance, it has value. To lose a baby is not a failure. I am proud of the person I have become, not despite this long, long journey through grief, but because of it. this experience has changed everything in my life, has changed me, but my daughter was a gift to me, the experience of loving someone so much, almost in an entirely instinctive, animal way, allowed me to grow as a person and allowed me to accept the instinctive part of myself as not something to be repressed, but something to be celebrated. It has led to an interest in the instinctive nature f grief, of shared grief, of burial practices and archeological landscapes which are informing my current work. I wanted this book to be my story, but I didn’t want it to be a series of events depicting that story. I didn’t want it to be a Tragedy Thy Name is Wendy story, I wanted to use my experience to explore the nature of instinct in relation to pregnancy, motherhood, body ownership and the grief of baby loss. I wanted to offer this experience up to a wider conversation and, for me, poetry is the way to do that. I think I have succesfully done this. I am pleased with the work I have produced and I guess, once it is out there, once other people begin to translate it and own it, they will tell me whether I have been successful in their view. It won’t matter, though I’ll try not to be crushed by negative feedback. I know I have done what I needed to do here. I hope you enjoy the book.
You can pre order the book here: https://poetrybusiness.co.uk/product/when-i-think-of-my-body-as-a-horse/