Thursday, 26 November 2009

Graduation, Derwent and beyond

I graduated last Thursday so I now have an M.A. with distinction! This is not what I expected when I started the course: my previous formal education is quite scant and I don't have a first degree or even 'A' levels. I started the MA because I had been working at my poetry on my own for a few years and was getting a few journal publications but felt I was plateau-ing and wanted some input to shift up a gear. I was also attracted to this particular MA because it is Creative and Critical Writing and I felt the critical writing part might fill in some gaps for me in essay writing, reviewing etc. I wasn't sure how I would cope with the more academic parts but I do quite a bit of bid-writing, reports and so on at work so thought at least I could put something together that would read reasonably well even if it only scraped through.

What I didn't expect was just how much I would love every minute of it. I am so glad that I did part-time; full-time would have been over much too quickly for me. So, because I have been enjoying myself too much to stop, I have started a PhD and if anyone is looking at MA courses I can heartily recommend University of Gloucestershire (course leader is Nigel McLoughlin).

After I'd done the formal cap-and-gown graduation thing, I also had to go to the prize giving as I had won the Bible Society (heh!) post-graduate creative writing prize. This was for poetry or prose rewriting of a bible story and - while we were assured it didn't have to be pro-bible - I didn't expect mine to be favoured. I always loathed the Abraham and Isaac story (man almost cuts his son's throat to prove his faith) and this was my take on it:

Sarah talks to the Social Worker

If I’d known what he was thinking
I’d never have let him go.
Some Father-Son time, he said.
A bit of quality time, me and my son
and the mountain
, he said.

No, I didn’t throw him out
straight away; I didn’t know
what happened. Isaac was quiet,
started bed-wetting.
I thought it was bullying at school,
maybe, or worry about tests.

When the nightmares started,
I couldn’t understand what he meant.
I wondered if thugs had moved
into the area, worried about knives
and gangs.

Once I understood,
his father’s bags were packed
and on the doorstep before
he got home from work.

He’s got a nerve to complain
about supervised visits.
He isn’t the one left holding
a screaming child
whose nights are sharp
with the raised knife, the gleam
in his father’s eye, the blood
of that poor lamb.

It seems odd to me, a self-confessed heathen, to get a bible society prize, but I was delighted to get the cheque that came with it as it allowed me to go to Derwent Poetry Festival without worrying about the cost.

I had planned to go to Derwent anyway, and was reading there, but the extra cash meant I could stay somewhere nice (where Byron once stayed and scratched a poem on a windowpane). I drove up the day after graduation and was happy to see Pat Winslow read on the first evening as well as seeing the Templar pamphlet presentations.
The next day was full of poetry. The setting at Matlock Bath is lovely and I wished I'd had more time off booked to stay there a bit longer so I could walk and explore the area. The venue, in a restored cotton mill (now a shopping centre and museum) was quirky and just right. I really enjoyed all the pamphlet competition winners' readings: Paul Maddern, David Morley, Nuala NĂ­ ChonchĂșir and Dawn Wood and came home with all the pamphlets to read. Each one of them is a worthy winner; I had only heard David Morley read before and was so pleased to be introduced to the work of the other three. As well as these, other highlights for me were Jane Wier's reading from Walking the Block and the evening reading from Nigel McLoughlin and Maggie O’Dwyer . I have heard Nigel before, of course, but always enjoy his readings - his latest book, Chora is amongst my current favourites. I didn't know Maggie O'Dwyer's work though, and was delighted to discover it (and another pamphlet added to the pile by my bed).

I was very sorry that I couldn't stay for the Sunday readings as there were poets there I would really like to have heard such as Angela Cleland and Katrina Naomi but I had to get back before the kennels closed at lunchtime to collect the golden boy.

Tuesday was another poetry day as I was reading as guest at Jacqui Rowe's 'Poetry Bites': the venue was lovely and very full with an audience who were warm and attentive (and I sold a couple of books). I usually enjoy driving at night but the storms on the motorway coming home were pretty bad and I had to battle the wind to keep the car in a straight line.

So, a full, tiring, but thoroughly wonderful few days. I'm back to the day-job now but the saturation in poetry helped my dry spell and I wrote a poem I'm quite pleased with after the weekend. I have written other things recently, but this is the first for a while where it has felt right instead of laboured and awkward.

I really must try and update this more often....


Sunday, 1 November 2009

Eye, eye, I

Your eye is no eye but an exit wound

This line is from 'Phantom', Don Paterson's elegy for Michael Donaghy in his new collection 'Rain'

It is occupying my thoughts a great deal and hearing the line, in thought, rather than reading it on the page inevitably foregrounds the connection between eye and I, which sets off further layers of meaning to turn over and prod at.

Last time I fixated on a line of poetry this way, it was John Burnside's No-one invents an absence (From the book 'Gift Songs'); it is slippery to think about and the more I thought about it, the more amorphous it became. It sqautted in my hind brain like a toad in a cellar for about 4 months and I couldn't think about anything else but it did generate a series of poems.

But I need time to think; I am in the middle of a round of funding bid writing at work and that tends to get in the way of poetry as it takes language in a different direction. When work is demanding in other ways - for instance working with a very challenging group of young people - it doesn't get in the way of poetry even though it is absorbing and draining. But bid-writing, I suppose because it is writing rather than verbal, seems to suck up my words like a black hole. I could do with taking some time off but have leave booked for other things (Derwent Poetry Festival, reading at Poetry Bites, graduation day for my MA). I also have interviews to get done for Iota, papers I need to write for conferences and journals, and work to do towards a new litfest I'm involved in next spring.

Your eye is no eye but an exit wound is demanding my focus and attention and I know from experience that I need to listen so I will have to book some evenings: not take work home, unplug the phone and hope for no family crises or demands.