A Happy Clearing

pexels-photo-396714There has been some movement in my head. One way to describe this might be to say that, for months, I’ve been a bit like someone trying to take a stroll through a deep jungle, as if it were my local High Street. Which is, of course, impossible and ridiculous.

I’ve been hacking away at tangled ideas, attempting to make some kind of pathway to move myself through. Slow, messy work.

But I’ve had a ‘moment’ – the chaos has suddenly thinned out and I’ve unexpectedly tripped and fallen into a kind of thought clearing.

Let me elucidate. My head has been thick with contradictory ideas about what poetry is. Questions like: What should poetry be about? What should poetry do? What is it for? Pretty basic stuff but also pretty foundational. I’ve been continually interrogating my own writing impulse and its results. Perhaps no bad thing?

And the thought that’s opened up for me is this: I need to feel empowered to write what is true. So many philosophers/scientists/artists/thinkers have wrestled with the notion of ‘truth’, I’m not going to regurgitate any of their arguments in this blog, and I wouldn’t pretend to understand half of them! But in terms of poetry, I’ve come to think of ‘true writing’ as poems that are real, or become real while writing, to me at least. Poems that emerge out of a genuine moment/thought/event. I’m beginning to understand that, if the initial impetus is real, then the work has potential to initiate a change in someone, or something, somewhere, beyond myself.

Emile Zola, nineteenth century French writer and activist, believed that truth was potentially unstoppable:

“If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.”

Emile Zola, attributed, Dreyfus: His Life and Letters’

I’ve realised that it’s not only right and responsible, but do-able to grapple with meaty social issues in poetry, ideas that ripple out into the world outside myself. (Easier said than done to write like this, of course – this will forever be a work in progress!) However, at the same time I’ve also been welcoming the notion that if it’s true, if it’s real, if it feels like me, then it’s worthy of writing, and it can also have the potential power to change things.

I’d also go so far to say that it’s worthy of editing and publishing.

I’m delighted to have a couple of poems with political edge in the current issue of ‘Dream Catcher’ magazine (ed John Gilham, @literaryartsmag) and they sit alongside other work which doesn’t shy away from contemporary global debates. In issue 35 you’ll find honest, ‘true’ responses to Brexit, to Trump, to life. It’s a great read.

Finally, for my mantra, I’m going to borrow some words from the celebratory and momentous American poet Walt Whitman, quoting from his poem ‘All is Truth’:

“And henceforth I will go celebrate anything I see or am,
And sing and laugh, and deny nothing.”

 

Read more about Walt Whitman here

Read the editor’s overview of the current issue of Dream Catcher here

 

IMG_1154

Wishing I could have lingered longer

IMG_0590I know better these days than to pack in more than two events in one day at Ledbury Poetry Festival. I need time to bask in this chocolate-box town’s poetic tradition. Time to think. Drink coffee. And ultimately (hopefully): write.

But I was entirely satisfied by my two carefully chosen events (when the brochure arrives, how on earth to choose?) I had opted for a writing workshop with Tony Hoagland and an interview with the ‘Editors’, namely: Neil Astley, Amy Wack and Luke Allan, quizzed on stage by Debbie Taylor.

Led like a child by a poetic Pied Piper, I was enthusiastic to follow Hoagland’s lead and “write wildly” – sitting sipping my coke beside such a charismatic, mature thinker, quite frankly, who wouldn’t be? I came away with some pretty interesting free writing and some useful motivational quotations, including:

“Pleasure is a goal of art making …Get out and play!”

I love a poet who thinks, and works, like this.

I was caught off guard during ‘Meet the Editors’ – I wasn’t expecting Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books) to make me cry, but his reading of the late Helen Dunmore’s poetry was staggering in its beautiful precision, power and raw loss.

After hearing Luke Allan’s story of how he “got into the business”, I came away with nothing but admiration for these Indie poetry publishers and the sacrifices they make, to support and further the work of poets. It gives me hope. And a certain pride in this poetry community that I consider myself to be a part of.

It goes without saying that the Festival dates are already in my diary for next summer.