The spirit of competition

The writing world is full of competitions, for published and unpublished work alike. Several of my writing friends and acquaintances have won competitions, or at least been long/shortlisted in them, and it’s tangible proof that their work has reached a standard of excellence – that people think it’s worth publishing or, if already published, worth selling. There is of course a subjective element, in that the judging is done by a particular person with their own particular preferences, but nevertheless I can almost always see why a certain novel or short story or poem or collection of poems should have been selected. Yes, I think, X’s work has really got something. Of course people like it.

When it comes to my own work it’s much harder to see straight. I’ve entered for a good few competitions now – novels, poetry, short stories – and am growing used to the long and ever more disillusioning silence that follows the initial excitement. This one I’m submitting is so much better than the last one, I always think, I’m sure they’ll really go for it this time. Only of course they never do, and never tell you why because there are far too many entries – holding a competition must be quite a lucrative thing to do. The piece of work that you’ve laboured over with such love and care is lost without trace in the ranks of the mediocre and the not quite good enough. Or so it seems. I’ve no idea whether any of the work I’ve sent in has been rejected as hopeless or been a carefully considered near-miss, but the fact that nothing I’ve written has even been longlisted may be telling me something.

It hasn’t stopped me entering, though. At the moment I’ve got three poetry pamphlets and two novels, one finished and one still in progress, waiting in the endless limbo, and I’m about to send work off to at least three or four more competitions: single poems, pamphlets, novels again, perhaps even a short story. All of it costs money – usually at least £10 a throw – and all of it involves not only polishing the work to its absolute best but taking the time and trouble to make sure the entry fits all the competition’s requirements for layout and presentation. Why do it, I ask myself, when I know what the outcome is likely to be? Why keep throwing money into a black hole? But why not? Nothing venture, nothing gain, as people must surely feel when they buy their weekly lottery ticket. I don’t know if the odds for winning a competition are any better than those for winning the lottery – perhaps they’re in thousands rather than millions – but somewhere inside me there is still that little spark of hope or belief or self-delusion. If my friends can do it, why can’t I? People tell me my work is good, but I know good may not be good enough.

What will happen remains to be seen. Hope springs eternal, sometimes restrained by realism, but always lurking somewhere not far from the surface is the longing to become, even at my advanced age, a writer who not only writes but is published and recognised. Could it happen? I don’t know. In the meantime I can congratulate and celebrate those friends of mine who at different times and to differing degrees have had success in competitions: Tanya Atapattu, Daisy Behagg, Penny Deacon, Clare Donoghue, Hadiza El-Rufai, Emma Geen, Rebecca Gethin, Jane Shemilt, and most recently N J Hynes. All splendid writers whose reflected glory I’m proud to bask in. And I’m not giving up.

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Back again

If you read the post before last you will have heard from Adelina about my bad back. (You will also have heard her views on Poetry, but I take no responsibility for those.) I’m pleased to say that I’m now well on the way to recovery and have begun doing things again that for the past few weeks have seemed well nigh impossible: weeding the garden, going out for pleasure, even sitting at a desk. I’m only taking painkillers occasionally and the frozen sweetcorn is soon destined for the compost – though I have still got a rather neat gel pack that you can either freeze or heat up.

The thing about back pain is that it hurts. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such intense pain before, or had such difficulty finding a comfortable position to sit or stand or lie in. What happened was that an old injury from a fall I had in my teens, which normally hardly bothers me, somehow got disturbed. I felt it getting worse for a while, but the final undoing came when I had to empty the old garden shed and then put everything back into the new one. As with so many physical ailments, though, there was another layer. I’d just been through what you might call a romantic misadventure – a relatively mild one – and although nothing very much had happened it shook me up far more than I realised. At my age one doesn’t take these things lightly – not that I ever did. The physical pain and the emotional pain were tightly woven together, creating something that for a while was truly agonising.

As a psychotherapist and the sort of person who has been engaged in self-exploration for most of my life (meditation, Focusing, my own therapy and, in a different way, writing), I couldn’t help knowing that the emotional pain was not only connected with the current situation. Our bodies carry trauma from the past, often from times well before we were able to speak or register it consciously. I was certainly in touch with plenty of that. I’m very lucky to live in an area where it’s easy to find good complementary therapists (for those who think I should tie my camel as well as trust in God, I have also got a very good GP) and I’ve been fortunate to have an excellent craniosacral therapist, who has been working with me intensively for the past couple of months. As the pain has gradually lessened I’ve come to the point of cutting down on the sessions, but without them I would have been in a sorry state. Craniosacral therapy works gently but deeply with all that the body is holding and allows it to release, be it physical or emotional or – more usually – some combination of the two. I could have gone to an osteopath or chiropractor instead, except that a previous episode of pain in the injured area some twenty-five years ago was triggered off by some over-zealous osteopathy. Softly, softly seems to be the order of the day.

It’s only in the past week or two, as spring has unmistakably announced its arrival and we’ve begun to remember what sunshine is like, that I’ve started to get my life back properly. Since mid-January I’d hardly been out anywhere except down the road into town, and that only for treatments or shopping or to do a very small amount of work. I’d been having sessions with my psychotherapist on the phone as I couldn’t get to Exeter to see him, and also Focusing with friends via the phone or Skype. I even joined in a couple of meetings with my writing group – which meets in the Bath/Bristol area, some way from here – on Skype. The rest of the time I was in semi-hibernation: feeling sick and woozy with painkillers until the GP found me some that weren’t so disabling; struggling to get through my dissertation marking and other paperwork; reading; distracting myself with emails and Facebook and videos on YouTube; and sometimes feeling able to be with the process in meditation – walking meditation more easily than sitting. Apart from that I was simply trying to manage the pain as best I could – an enormously time- and energy-consuming process.

However, as Adelina told you, I did also do some writing. Not only did I finish the work for the poetry course; I also entered two novels for a competition, one finished and one still in progress, and put together some pamphlets of poems to enter for other competitions. The first pamphlet doesn’t seem to have been shortlisted but I won’t know for some while yet about the others. Completing the poetry course was a real rite of passage – I’ve now got my ‘poetic licence’. I said to my writing group that it was like getting a pilot’s licence, and lo and behold someone came up with the perfect image. Not only is the plane ready for take-off; it looks as though the pilot herself is about to take wing unaided. Ah, the power of poetry!

aviatrixb

The whole experience of being confined at home has been in some ways rather isolating, despite phone and email contact with friends. Some people have said it must have been like a retreat, but it was notably lacking in the focus and discipline that I associate with being on retreat. However, it has in its way been a time of regeneration. Coming out of the house again, in the beautiful Devon spring, I’ve been rediscovering a simple joy in the natural world, whether in the gardens at Dartington Hall – for a long time one of my favourite places – or up on Dartmoor, wandering through the woods or stopping to gaze at the wide sweep of hills and fields. I’ve been enjoying my own garden too. Though there’s still a limit to the gardening I can do, I’ve managed to start planting all the plants I’ve bought for a herb bed and a new herbaceous border. I’ve even got a tree peony – a magical plant – for the front garden.

The sense of coming alive again in the spring is always wonderful, but this year I’ve been even more poignantly aware of it. Walking in Dartington gardens, recognising the spring flowers, daffodils, primroses, bluebells, grape hyacinths, fritillaries, anemone blanda, and the pink and white magnolia trees down the flight of stone steps, was both a sharp reminder of previous springs and an exquisite pointer to this moment now, just as it is and unlike any other. The beauty of the setting, the vista of hills and fields and river, the terraced landscaping of the gardens themselves, the fact that just as I arrived a wedding party was assembling, all touched something in me that after a time of solitude and pain was perhaps more open to being touched. Eventually my back told me it had had enough – there’s a little way to go yet – but still it felt like a privilege to have been able to be part of all this: not only the trees and flowers and fields but the wedding guests struggling to carry oars up from the car park for the guard of honour, the bride in her cream silk dress, the families with noisy or curious or bored children, the elderly people with walking sticks hobbling up the steps, the staff bustling about too busy to notice what the rest of us had come to see.

It’s good to be back in life again.

 

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Happy or normal?

The American website Upworthy, which in the past I’ve found unexceptionable, if at times rather sentimental, recently posted a video that brought me up short. It was praising an American Christian company that, unlike the infamous Hobby Lobby, was apparently funding its employees’ healthcare insurance without exceptions. So far so admirable. The first employee interviewed was full of praise for his employers’ generosity: they had funded all his therapy. “And what therapy was that?” asked the interviewer. “Gay conversion therapy,” he said, his eyes shining. Her reaction: “Wow, that’s wonderful!” When he then said how many people there were who needed it, I’m afraid I stopped watching the video. For ‘religious’ reasons Hobby Lobby refuses to fund female employees’ contraception; I had a strong suspicion that for the same reasons this other company might be only too delighted to fund gay conversion therapy rather than have gay employees.

As many people know, there is a good deal of evidence to show that gay conversion therapy doesn’t work – never mind that it has sometimes been seriously abusive and has undoubtedly left many people feeling depressed and even suicidal. What it has tried to do – with, in some cases, a certain gloss of depth psychoanalysis – is to help (for ‘help’ you may wish to read ‘coerce’) gay people who are unhappy with their sexuality to become heterosexual, or at the very least to refrain from homosexual behaviour. Often the methods seem pretty crude: getting a gay man to dress like a ‘real’ man, making him go to sports events instead of concerts or art exhibitions where he might meet other gays, teaching him to imitate heterosexual men’s behaviour and date women, encouraging him to marry and father children. Aversion therapy used to be part of some of these programmes, but it has had a bad press and has not been widely used for some time. It still has its advocates, though it’s hard to see how making someone vomit every time he sees an arousing picture of a man will enable him to feel positive about sex with women.

Several of the gay conversion therapy organisations have been forced to admit that people’s sexuality seldom, if ever, changes in response to this kind of brainwashing – I find it hard to not to call it so – and have softened many of their attitudes. Nevertheless, to judge from this video gay conversion therapy is still alive and flourishing, particularly among the American religious right. One of their assumptions is that homosexuality is a choice and people have been ‘converted’ to it – meaning, of course, that they can then be converted from it. According to them people aren’t gay by nature: they have ‘become’ so and therefore may potentially convert others. In the wider Christian anti-gay movement, alongside the assumption that people have been ‘converted’ to homosexuality often lies the uglier assumption that anyone homosexual is also a paedophile. From there it isn’t too far to the various gay conspiracy theories – which to me sound disturbingly like some of the Jewish conspiracy theories. I don’t want to start talking about Fascism but can’t help being aware that it casts a shadow.

One of the conversion therapists’ arguments is that the human genital organs are designed by nature for heterosexual sex – which clearly they are. However, it seems that a good number of non-human species, including dolphins and many of the apes, are quite happy to use their heterosexually-intended organs in other ways as well, and do so without obvious harm. It’s possible that some of the gay conversion therapists don’t accept our evolutionary links to other animals, and many more would make a distinction between instinctive animal behaviour and human moral choice. But the fact that we are not the only species to include homosexual behaviour in our repertoire suggests that perhaps it’s not as alien to us as we might like to think. Undoubtedly people do have a moral choice as to how they use their sexuality – and for some that may include the decision not to use it – but in the paradigm I prefer to follow it is their individual choice and not behaviour imposed on them from outside.

As a psychotherapist I’ve been aware that sometimes people’s sexuality does undergo surprising changes, whether temporarily or permanently. In my experience such changes, if they happen, don’t come about from deliberate choice or from any conscious attempt to make them happen. And they may occur either way – from straight to gay as well as gay to straight. As people begin to explore their feelings they tend to encounter areas in themselves that they had not known about before, and sexuality may be one of these. Most psychotherapists and psychotherapy organisations would say that the therapist’s role is not to influence the outcome but to support the client in finding what’s right for her/him. If homosexuality isn’t seen as a dysfunction (it was removed from the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual some time ago), it’s not appropriate to ‘treat’ it. Accept it, yes, explore the feelings around it if the person wishes, see it in the context of their whole life, but not try to make it go away.

I’m also aware as a psychotherapist that quite often – I can’t say always – there do seem to be factors in someone’s very early experience which may have influenced their sexuality. The view of some gay conversion therapists, following the notorious Charles Socarides, is that through psychoanalysis and ‘reparative therapy’ these factors (which Socarides seems to have reduced to a stereotyped few, rather than seeing them as unique to each individual) can be reversed. Exploring them in therapy can certainly bring greater acceptance and understanding, but time and time again it has been shown that there’s no guarantee it will change someone’s sexual orientation. One might see it as poetic justice that Socarides’ son is openly gay.

It’s common to most of us that early experiences – sometimes very early indeed – which have not been ideal may have led us to adopt a particular career or lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean we have to be ‘cured’ of the life we are living. I can think of all sorts of less than perfect reasons why I’ve so much wanted to write – perhaps even more why I wanted to become a psychotherapist – but those reasons don’t mean I have to see what I do as invalid. Someone who is lesbian or gay may well have been inclined in that direction from before birth, certainly from before the onset of conscious memory. It is what they feel and who they are; expecting that they should change is both a tall order and an unnecessary imposition. In a way that I have no control over, my body tells me I like celery; at the same time I know people who do not merely dislike it but feel physically revolted by it, and this too is outside their control. Imagine how preposterous it would be if the celery-haters tried to make celery-lovers like me hate it too, or convinced us there was something wrong with us for liking it.

Many years ago, back in the 1970s, I was powerfully impressed Arthur Janov’s The Primal Scream. Among his many assertions he insists that people who are gay are living an ‘unreal’ life. His view is that by feeling and experiencing the original trauma in his particular way, i.e. through Primal Therapy, people will then be able to let go of the need for their homosexuality. In some of the dramatic accounts of his clients’ therapy this seems to have happened: the person becomes more ‘masculine’ (if a man) or ‘feminine’ (if a woman) and vilifies their previous ‘unreal’ relationships. Again stereotyping is rife. (Janov later modified his view that all homosexuality could be ‘cured’ by Primal Therapy and moved more towards acceptance of it.) For a while –  before I became a therapist – I almost bought into Janov’s ideas, but then as I explored my own confusions about sexuality I began to look at the lesbian and gay people I knew. Were they necessarily any more ‘unreal’ than anyone else, or more neurotic and unhappy? I have to say I didn’t find them so, except perhaps in relation to the pressures and discriminations they encountered from the rest of society.

We are fortunate in this country that religious conservatism doesn’t have the same hold as it does in the United States. Nevertheless  homophobia, including the internalised homophobia that seems to drive people into gay conversion therapy, does exist, as do the dilemmas of gay people who try to reconcile their sexuality with conservative religion. At the same time we have just celebrated the coming of gay marriage and greater tolerance – though the word makes me want to ask why those of us who find ourselves elsewhere on the sexuality spectrum than 100% heterosexual should have to be ‘tolerated’. There are many options open other than gay conversion therapy, and many more opportunities than there used to be for being happy without having to be ‘normal’.

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An Announcement from Adelina

Adelina

Dear Blogg Readers

Some of you may be wondering why the Belated Writer hasn’t done any Belated Writing for such a long time. She has asked me to let you know that it’s because she has had a Bad Back, which has meant she has spent a lot of time taking Pain-killers and lying down on top of a Hot Water Bottle or a packet of frozen Sweet-corn. (She has promised me that she won’t eat the Sweet-corn afterwards, because of Health and Safety.) The Pain-killers have sometimes made her rather sleepy and also a bit forgetful – though she is often that anyway – and she has told people she has not been quite her Usual Self. I’m not sure I know what her Usual Self is, except that normally she goes out a lot more and doesn’t spend so much time in Bed. It’s fortunate that my Husband and I have been able to keep her company beside the bedside, as it seems that Bad Backs can make people quite miserable sometimes.

As well as taking Pain-killers and spending a lot of time looking at things like Face Book and You Tube on account of not being able to think properly, the Belated Writer has been writing Poetry (or trying to – I still don’t think her Poems are a patch on my Husband’s beautiful Compositions). She has had to finish the Nodules for her Correspondence Course, which has been all about how Poems are made and how to write them. The strange thing about a Correspondence Course is that you don’t see the other students and only talk to the Tutor by E-mail, but perhaps there are real people there somewhere too. Some of the Poems the Belated Writer has written have also been a bit strange, if you ask me. There was one about a Pepper Mill and another one about black Mould. We have unfortunately had some of that in the Bathroom, but I wouldn’t have thought it was a subject for Poetry, would you? I think Poetry should be about Serious Things like Love and being miserable and the Meaning of Life, or at least about Nature and so on. The Belated Writer once wrote a Poem about Vegetable Soup where all the naked Vegetables got together, and I didn’t think that was in very good Taste. (My Husband has told me I have just made a Pun. I’m not sure where it is.)

Anyway, I’ve told you now why the Belated Writer has been neglecting her Blogg and I hope you will understand. I think she will probably tell you more about it herself quite soon, but in the meantime I do like to be helpful. I hope I have put the Belated Writer straight about Poetry as well, as she does get some funny ideas sometimes. (She doesn’t mind me saying this as she knows I like her to Do Things Properly.)

It’s been very nice to talk to you again. I wish you well with your Poetry, if you write it.

Adelina xx

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The whole package

I haven’t written on this blog for quite a while and thought it was about time I came up with another post. Usually I write about writing but occasionally I feel the need to have a rant about something Out There, in the hope that that will make me slightly less helpless in the face of all the dreadful things we are doing to ourselves and the world.

Those of us who are old enough to remember where we were when we heard President Kennedy had been shot may also be old enough to remember what shops were like in the time before supermarkets. (Yes, there was such a time – honestly.) You could go to the grocer’s and buy half a pound of mixed biscuits, scooped from a large tin into a white paper bag, have your bacon sliced for you from one of the sides that stood ready on the shelf behind the counter, or have your sugar weighed out into blue paper sugar bags. In the mid-to-late 1950s our local Sainsbury’s had long marble counters down each side of the shop, each counter divided into sections according to the foods it sold. All the cheese would be hand cut and weighed, the butter shaped with wooden pats and the bacon and cold meats freshly sliced as needed. Your cheese or butter or ham would then be folded in greaseproof paper and put in a paper bag.

Of course you could also buy such things as wrapped butter and boxes of cereal and packets of biscuits, but if you did you were careful what you did with the wrappings. Butter papers were kept to grease baking dishes, cocoa tins and cardboard boxes were used to put things in and fancy biscuit tins were kept for years and refilled with cakes or biscuits. C0rnflake packets were often printed with toys to cut out and assemble. If you bought lemonade or cream soda, you washed the bottle out afterwards and took it back to the shop to get a penny for it. When I was a small child even yoghurt came in glass jars that you handed back to the milkman, and it’s only with the demise of his job (were there any milkwomen?) that we’ve stopped using glass milk bottles and putting them out to be refilled by the dairy.

It was only when supermarkets arrived that packaging became imperative. If customers are to serve themselves from the shelves, everything has to be sold in neat manageable units that don’t require the intervention of an assistant. And increasingly those units began to be wrapped in plastic. At first the plastic bag seemed a wonderful invention – capable of keeping things dry and stopping them leaking, handy and space-saving – but slowly and then ever more quickly plastic began to take over, not only for wrapping food but for containing all sorts of things that before hadn’t needed such elaborate containers, from clothing and toys to kitchen utensils and DIY equipment. Once safely packaged – often in a cardboard box in a non-reusable plastic pack with a paper or cardboard insert and additional plastic wrapping – the item can be stacked on a shelf or hung on a hook so that the customer can simply pick it up. The inevitable question when you take said item to the till is: ‘Would you like a bag for that?’ so that in addition to all the packaging we can’t escape we also end up with yet another plastic bag that then gets thrown away. Even if you recycle it, there’s still no good reason why you should have had it in the first place.

I don’t know what proportion of manufacturing industry is now devoted to the manufacture of packaging, but it can’t be insignificant. Hundreds of thousands of people are employed in thousands of factories making an incalculable number of packs that are designed purely to be thrown away. Although I try to be careful with what I buy, I’m constantly appalled at the piles of plastic food containers that I amass – and that’s only the stuff that can be recycled. In addition there’s all the non-recyclable material that ends up in landfill, non-biodegradable and choking the soil. But even if the material can be recycled or composted, there’s the waste of its having been produced in the first place – the paper and cardboard (think how much paper there is in tea bags alone), the bottles and pots and jars that could be reused many times if only we were geared up to do it, the myriads of carrier bags that we could use again, except that if we’re not careful we accumulate so many that we seem to be drowning in them.

As well as deploring the devastation that all this unnecessary manufacture (and the energy that is used in recycling it) causes in the world, I continue to be shocked at the sheer wastefulness. In my childhood, not all that long after the end of World War II, the prevailing attitude was still ‘waste not, want not’. People had had to make the best of scarcity and eke out what little they had, so that the idea of wasting anything was painful. Before the advent of built-in obsolescence manufactured goods were made to last, and repaired rather than thrown away. The imperative of continuous and never-ending economic growth is forcing on us not only all the consumables that we never knew we needed but the endlessly spiralling amount of packaging that accompanies them. Surely it must be possible to call a halt and return to simpler ways.

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On not not being a poet

Some time ago I wrote a piece about not being a poet: not feeling I could claim the skill, the sensitivity, the specialness that people who are poets self-evidently have. It was slightly tongue-in-cheek and included a poem called I’m Not a Poet which ended by saying (more poetically than this, I hope) that there were moments when I did seem to be a poet. I’m quite sure that among the ranks of those who consider themselves non-poets such moments often occur, when we touch into poetry and perhaps don’t even recognise it.

In the post before this one I included some poems (quickly reduced to one poem when I found out it might stop me publishing them), and said again that I knew I wasn’t a ‘real’ poet. I suppose I felt that would let me off the hook if people didn’t find the poems very good. The response I got surprised me: not only that some people (some poets, I should say) liked the poems, but that they were telling me I was a poet. Someone in my writing group declared me ‘officially a poet’ and someone else sent me a picture of Hagrid from Harry Potter with the caption: ‘Yer a poet’, which made me laugh but also made me wonder if I did have to start laying claim to the title.

The trouble is that I still don’t see ‘poet’ as a job title in the way that I see ‘novelist’ as one. A novelist is someone who writes novels – good, bad or indifferent. I write novels – good, bad or indifferent – therefore I am a novelist. I don’t think it says very much about who I am other than the fact that I’m interested in human nature and like making up stories. But saying someone is a poet implies that they write poetry and not just poems – and the fact that there is a distinction means that in some sense a poet becomes something special. We can all look at a poem and say, ‘This isn’t poetry’ even if it meets all the requirements of the form, whereas we wouldn’t look at a novel and say, ‘This isn’t a novel’ – however bad it was – unless it failed in some very basic way to do what novels do.

So to say that you are a poet to me inescapably implies that you are laying claim to a certain kind of skill and sensibility – to being a certain kind of person. The connection between that and actually writing poetry is not entirely straightforward. Not long ago I was at an event where members of the public had the opportunity to read their own poems. There was one person there who I thought must surely be a real poet. He introduced himself like a poet and read his work in a proper poetry voice – you know, where the intonation goes up at the end of the line to show you it’s not prose and make it harder to understand. Before very long, however, it became clear that the poems themselves were excruciatingly banal and unskilled. This was someone who was ‘being a poet’ without being a poet.

In his autobiography World Within World the poet Stephen Spender describes his first meeting with T S Eliot. As far as I remember Spender was still an undergraduate. When Eliot asked him what he wanted to do in life he replied eagerly, “Be a poet.” Eliot’s response, measured as you might expect, went something like this: “I can understand your wanting to write poetry but I’m not sure I know quite what you mean by ‘be a poet’.”  Like the man described above, Spender in his youthful idealism wanted to embody his idea of what a poet was, to use it as an identity. The difference, of course, was that he had talent as well. But it wasn’t ‘being a poet’ that enabled him to write poetry; it was simply writing poetry.

Which sums up my discomfort at calling myself a poet. Not only would it require me to be that kind of person, which I sometimes am and sometimes definitely am not; I would also feel constrained to produce poems that I could classify as those of a real poet. And some of my poems may be that, while some certainly may not. The answer, though, isn’t to say that I’m not a poet – which again would be a constraint and would stop me writing. The best formulation I can come up with is that I’m not not a poet: I can be open to the possibility of writing poetry and equally to the times when that doesn’t happen, without having to become something either way. To paraphrase the great Thai Buddhist teacher Ajahn Chah: “Don’t be a poet. Don’t be an anything. Just be free.”

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A Poem

Well, here I am grasping the bullet, biting the bull by the horns and posting a poem. I had originally posted six, but then someone reminded me that if I want to publish them in magazines blogging could be considered publication and make them ineligible. So that leaves me with this one, which has already been published.

Never mind that I’m not a real poet; I’m unashamedly sending one of my efforts out into the blogosphere. Before I do, can I just put in a plug for some of my friends who are real poets: Rebecca Gethin, Aki Schilz, Lucy Sixsmith, Hazel Hammond and last but not least Daisy Behagg, who has just won the Bridport poetry prize. We’ll be hearing more of Daisy, who is working on her first collection.

Anyway, here is the poem. (Incidentally, does anyone know how to do away with the extra line spaces? Answer: go into Text view and do it from there.)

Memento  [Published in The Broadsheet, October 2013]

Opening a drawer I find in an old purse
a plait of hair once part of me,
child’s hair, healthy and clean as silk
spun in a fairy-tale, the copper threads
still tied with a red bow. Now it will not release
its time-firmed shape, its edge still ragged
where it was first cut off.

Handling its soft thickness now
I feel the loss. I soon learned to leave
parts of myself behind: this has survived
to meet me again and show
how time cheats. Who I was then,
each filament plaited fast
and set now for always, meets who I am
across the gap this shining cable denies.

Islanded from the past I cling to it
as if it held an anchor.

.

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