Writing and Reading the Trauma Poems

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I used to think I was really good at splitting myself up to do lots of different projects at once. Turns out I’m not, really. If I can, I much prefer being completely involved in one project at a time. Right now I am fully invested in the non fiction book, I’m walking it, I’m talking it, I’m dreaming it, I have lost myself in it and it is a completely wonderful sensation. To be completely obsessed, completely in the work is where I always aim to be with every project. It’s part of being a writer for me; that deep dive into the thing I’m writing about. Part of my research involves walking, so out I go in all weathers, walking the local landscape, taking photographs, making notes, absorbing the land so that I can then put it onto the page. I’m sort of petrified by the idea of that delicate thread being broken and that has spilled over into fears of ‘tainting’ the place that I am in by reading something that will make me want to write differently. But reading is my life, I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t able to read. I have a stack of poetry books, journals and magazines to attend to, but find myself drawn to non fiction, and sometimes the escapism of fiction. I am finding it hard to even turn my head back towards poetry and away from the non fiction project. The poetry still returns, mind. A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to Sheaf Festival in Sheffield to read alongside Kim Moore and Rachel Long. It was quite a strange thing to return to When I Think of My Body as a Horse and I found that when I was looking through my poems, selecting the ones to read, it was like returning to visit an older version of myself. A much sadder version, I think. I felt tired out by that story, though, to a certain extent grief and ritual and remembrance play into the themes of the non fiction book. These are themes I have an interest in outside of my own story. I have not read out very many times from Horse, the pandemic saw to that, and perhaps that was a good thing as, while I do think the book is good, and I am proud of my work there, I’m sort of turned the other way now, looking away from that time. I feel like that about my other books a little too, but to return to Horse is to open a box that has my heart in, and to pick it up and to pin it out like an anatomical dissection. Oh, there she goes again with her highfalutin similes. I don’t know if I’m explaining this well at all. Anyway, for the evening event that the festival had organised I let my anxiety get away with me a bit. Imposter syndrome crept in, who the hell am I to be sharing a stage with these two stellar poets? For the first time in years my hands shook. I think there’s a recording, I haven’t dared to look at it, to be honest. I wanted to do a reading that said something other than ‘this is my story’, I decided to read in a different way, to involve less of the personal and more of the general, to talk about infertile women, bereaved women and the narrative around validation of women, how so much depends on whether you do or don’t have children. I had a good reaction from the audience, there were infertile and childless and bereaved mums in there and they came and spoke to me about their own experiences afterwards, which I always look forward to – that connection and sense of understanding – unfortunately I had to rush off as my last train had been cancelled and I didn’t know how I was getting back (it was a nightmare). I would have liked to have gone for a drink with everyone afterwards.

I felt as I was reading, and afterwards, and weeks afterwards because overthinking is a personal hobby of mine, that I had come across as ranting, or whingeing, or attention seeking or any of the those negative labels that are often put on people talking about uncomfortable stuff, challenging stuff. I am certain there are plenty of people who think of me that way, because people are people, but I don’t want to think of myself that way and I think it might be my default setting to do just that. I am confident in my reasons for writing, my style of writing, the content that I write and the quality of the work that I produce. i just need to tell my brain that. The non fiction book feels like such a joy to be writing right now, and such a balm, somehow, but that project is at the ‘not many people have read it and judged it, or me’ stage and perhaps that will change, who knows.

I think some of the things I’m doing right now that are part of my work for the NF book – visiting museums, walking, reading – are exactly what I should be doing and I am realising just how stressed I get if I do too much ‘people’ stuff in one week. I’m trying to train myself out of feeling and labelling myself as ‘pathetic’ or ‘ridiculous’ or ‘weak’ if I need more rest than perhaps other people seem to, or if I’m not juggling 100 projects at once and just want to plod slowly into a book. This is where I have always wanted to be – plodding into my work, absorbed in it like the utter library nerd that I am. I just want to read books and write books and have the time and energy to do that.

Perhaps my dad’s death has opened up a few old wounds, wounds I thought I’d packed and sewed up tightly. I don’t know. It’s been a hell of a year, again. I’m starting to think about goals for next year, starting to think about my rituals of the new year. I’m ticking off some big goals from 2022 and that makes me wonderfully happy, and I am surprising myself with the new goals in my planner, they are much less poetry centred. I feel strangely guilty for moving away from poetry, even if it is only while I work on the non fiction project. I’ve cut my work back to some mentoring, running Spelt and running the occasional course. which still sounds like a lot really, on top of writing a book. Having the opportunity to help other poets progress their own writing is really important to me, and it’s also a source of absolute joy for me, mentoring in particular. And I love the camaraderie of the email courses I still run. When I come to write prompts and notes for a course it feels like putting a comfortable cardigan on, and mentoring always feels like meeting friends. I find, more and more, that the work that I am choosing to do brings me joy, I find that when I look around myself, my life is good. Terrible fretting over what the next terrible loss will be aside, I am happy and enjoying the way my brain works, and I’m looking forward to reflecting that in my writing. But still a part of me clings to the idea that if I’m not cramming in more stuff, applying for more things, winning more things, making more connections…I’m not doing well. I need to change the definition of ‘doing well’ and emphasise ‘feeling happy’ more I think.

If you would like to work with me, I have a nw course beginning on 30th November. This one is called Exploring Ritual and you can read about it by following this link: Exploring Ritual. And if you want to polish your magazine submission skills I’m running this workshop next Saturday (26th November 2022) The Dos and Don’ts of Magazine Submissions

Thanks for reading

Until next time


2 thoughts on “Writing and Reading the Trauma Poems

  1. It’s good to read you are less sad and energised for a new year. I love the turn of the year, the freshness it brings. Not a leaving behind of the old year’s blows but a new way of being with them, warmed by the year’s joys.


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