Walking into the New Collection

Yesterday I had the most amazing news. I’ve been awarded a Society of Authors Foundation Grant to help me to develop and work on my new poetry collection. I’ve been working on the collection here and there for a while. Just last week I had a look through my files to see how many poems were suitable for it and found, to my surprise, that I have between fifteen and twenty poems that fit into the concept that I’m working towards. Are they any good? hmmmm some are, some aren’t. I’ve begun to realise of late that my own writing process has changed considerably over the last couple of years. I used to write a lot of poems, I used to have fits of writing that were like purges, poems flowing out of me. These days the process is much slower, much more like waiting for something to grow and quietly feeding it; mushrooms, perhaps, or lichen or moss. I like the idea that the things that I do in my everyday life – reading, contemplating, walking – feed these poems and that my writing process involves trying on lots of different poems before I find the right one, something like burrowing into the poem to find the source.

Between working on poems I’ve been working on the novel a lot, which is a slow business. I invariably have several projects on the go at any one time. I know other writers do this too. I also have a non fiction project which is on the back burner. Sometimes working like this feels a little chaotic, but what I’m learning is that this is my process, this is how I work, other people work in other ways, and that’s OK. I don’t work on all three projects at the same time. It’s more like I have periods of excitement about a project and wear myself out with it, so work on another project for a while; thinking differently, writing differently. Like using different sets of muscles in a workout.

I have a couple of nice poetry commissions to complete before December, commissions which sort of tie into the collection concept, which is good, so my writing time will be taken up with those, and then in January I’ll be starting work on the new collection for real. I have cancelled some of my teaching responsibilities for January and am working out how I will physically fit bits and pieces of work around my writing time. I have got my planner out and I’m planning the collection, loosely, looking at where I want to explore, what topics I want to investigate through poetry. I like to start with a mind map, with the central concept in the middle, and all the things: places, events, people, etc I’m interested in, all the themes I’m interested in writing about, radiating out from that central concept. I then create webs that link these ideas together. This plan isn’t the writing, it’s the concrete block on which I will tie the balloon that is my creativity to, it will stop me wandering off on a tangent, though some evolution and change of the initial concept is to be expected. My main process with the new collection is being inside nature: walking, visiting, existing, revisiting some childhood haunts, being physically present in certain situations, reconnecting to events. These things, these personal poem prompts will go in the time plan for the grant, so that I can use the time as effectively as possible. I am a chimera poet: half crazed and uncontrollable writer driven by the blood jet of poetry (Happy birthday Sylvia!), part scientist, stationery obsessed, spreadsheet wielding planner queen. Reader, the combination works.

I feel empowered by the grant, recognised. The content of my last collection When I Think of My Body as a Horse was challenging. It made it difficult to promote it in the way that I have with other collections. I did some readings, little bits here and there, but I am happy knowing that the book did well, won a big competition, and more importantly it was a book that I needed to write, for myself, for my daughter. I sometimes think people have an idea of me as a writer who is bleeding the subject of the death of my baby dry, using that loss to promote myself and push my career. The truth is, it’s what I’ve needed to write about, I’ve examined that loss in different ways and now, I am done examining it. And that’s OK. I’m not a one trick pony. This is the way I work. But I sort of feel I need to write the new collection almost to prove that to myself. That’s one of the reasons the grant feels so significant and means so much to me, because I didn’t win that grant on the shock factor or sob story of my daughter’s death, I won that grant by persistently putting myself out there, developing my voice, and creating a solid, workable concept for a new collection of poetry. And I intend on making this collection something I can be proud of.

I feel energised, like a ‘proper poet’, whatever that means. The grant will allow me to work on the collection in a focused and productive manner. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a collection that touches on rural working class identity, nature as a lived environment. The grant will allow me to leave my desk and go out into the weather, to go to museums and to take some mentoring from a poet who I respect. I have been granted enough money to give me two days per week to work solely on my poetry, for twelve weeks. I think, alongside the few hours I am managing to carve out every week for writing, and some hours on the weekends I will get this collection written, within six months, I hope.

This feels like coming home.

Until next time



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