Sometime near Christmas, it might even have been Christmas day, a black pheasant appeared in the woods and tree-lined lanes round the village. I say it was black, but in actual fact it was the most lustrous dark green/black, an oily, moss black. I was out walking the dog when it appeared from the grounds of the manor house: elegant, watchful, picking and placing its feet among the beech leaves, moving forward in that slightly hunched-shouldered way. It had with it a brown, bog standard pheasant and they were moving through the murky, rainy dusk of winter without knowing how beautiful they were.
It felt like some kind of ornithomancy, I kept reading into its appearance a dark mark. But it was/is so beautiful, I was always pleased to see it. I kept seeing it around the village when I was out and about, sometimes with its friend, sometimes on its own. I saw it after a flurry of snow had set once, it seemed to grow more elegant against the white. I wanted to write a poem about it, tried to write a poem about it and have been trying ever since. Nothing seems to quite do it justice, it slips from me, slips away from the poem and ends up being some Christmas card depiction of a pheasant. I can’t quite seem to find the way into the poem, the direction of it, the purpose of it. There have been some great poems written about pheasants, perhaps I should stop making myself feel bad about my own by reading them, but when I come across poems like this one by Graham Mort, on the Poetry Society website, it makes me want to read every poem ever written, and strive to create something better. Here it is on the PS website: Cock Pheasant. People are often caught by a regality in pheasants. You can see the sense of strangeness and regality here, in this Sylvia Plath poem:
Pheasant You said you would kill it this morning. Do not kill it. It startles me still, The jut of that odd, dark head, pacing Through the uncut grass on the elm's hill. It is something to own a pheasant, Or just to be visited at all. I am not mystical: it isn't As if I thought it had a spirit. It is simply in its element. That gives it a kingliness, a right. The print of its big foot last winter, The trail-track, on the snow in our court The wonder of it, in that pallor, Through crosshatch of sparrow and starling. Is it its rareness, then? It is rare. But a dozen would be worth having, A hundred, on that hill-green and red, Crossing and recrossing: a fine thing! It is such a good shape, so vivid. It's a little cornucopia. It unclaps, brown as a leaf, and loud, Settles in the elm, and is easy. It was sunning in the narcissi. I trespass stupidly. Let be, let be.
I wanted to catch a bit of that, but something else too; the view point of it’s special status, how it is only really us that see it, not them. I shall persevere.
I have been trying to write poems since January, not just poems about pheasants, but poems specifically for a new collection to be published by Smith-Doorstop. I’ve struggled a bit to push through imposter syndrome and also to remember how to write a poem. I heard this week that the collection has been put back a little, as have many other collections. I think the pandemic has had a big effect on the publishing industry and I do think the canaries are always the smaller, indie publishers. I thought I’d be disappointed, but all of a sudden, with the pressure off, knowing I have more time, I started writing more poems; in fact I started writing better poems and started to see how to edit and adapt the poems already written, how to push the boundaries in them. This week I finished the first draft of a sonnet crown I’d been working on since December, and whilst it needs fettling, needs the judders tuning and the angles sanding, I’m pleased with it. I’ve ended up writing about twenty sonnets in all, but my aim was seven, and I can see that the other thirteen sonnets are the tools I’ve been using to dig down to these seven sonnets, this sonnet crown. I collected all the other poems I’ve been steadily filing away as I try to reach this collection’s seam and was surprised to find there are about thirty six in all. I thought there would be about seventeen at most.
One of the things that has been blocking me is that I’m also trying to move the non fiction book forward, and in doing so I am waiting on various bits of news around it. I was worried how I would work on the two projects together and then, like I say, the collection got put back a bit and it opened up this gap of time where I could find the space to focus on the non fiction project, whilst allowing the poems to arrive when they wanted. They usually arrive in their own time, when I am relaxed and happy with time and space to write. I’m feeling good about the two projects.
This has been a much better week than last week. I am, finally, in a place in which work is not overwhelming. I have time to think and more importantly, time to write, so next week I’ll be continuing to try to tame the pheasant poem, but I’ll also be concentrating on the non fiction book. This week was very much about workshops, getting students to share work and engage with each other, and that will be happening a little next week, but while this week I did three nights working until 9pm, next week I only have one of those, and two afternoons of teaching and facilitating. I’ll get a chance to catch up on my ever over flowing inbox, to work through my ‘awaiting feedback’ folder and I will make sure I get some writing done.
Sometimes, of course, it seems that just when you get one area of your life sorted, back comes grief to knock you sideways. We’ll find out the treatment plan for my dad next week, and get some answers about his illness. So far the healthcare team are supporting my parents very well, which is reassuring. But still, what a shitty thing. A not uncommon thing (I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t been touched by cancer in some form or another), and of course it is not unexpected that as your parents age you should face difficulties, and be prepared to deal with horrible, challenging situations, it’s inevitable. But still, what a shitty thing. I hate the waiting and the not knowing. I hate feeling this useless. But I’m also frightened of knowing. How strange to feel so much like a child and so much like an adult at the same time.
I’ll be sending the newsletter out this week, so expect some promo stuff around the Spring Retreat. I’ve started to get some info on what the workshops that the guest facilitators will be running will be and it is so bloody exciting. I’m ridiculously excited about it. I should be able to share the full programme next week.
In the meantime