Tuesday, 6 September 2016

"To make an end is to make a beginning..."

I write, and time feels geological. Vast and slow. I move through the hours like a glacier, stilled to a cold and concentrated point somewhere deep in my own centre. And then when I’m done, and the last full stop is placed, I blink, and the world comes flooding back, a rush of quickness and colour, sounds so loud I can almost see them, doubling and redoubling in the air.

The poems in my first collection are poems from the start. Of everything, of my life as a writer. Poems from the tap-root, from the well’s heart. I imagine the book as a map: follow a line with my finger, trace it all the way back. Here, I am twenty, and sick, writing in the bright library between doctor’s appointments. Here I am thirty three, in New York, and in love. Here is  a bedroom I remember every detail of. A classroom. An office. Each poem a snapshot. Each poem a journal. Each poem a lovely anchor, fastening me to a time or place.

Some of the words, I can almost taste: the wine I drank while teasing out the tangles of a phrase; the vending machine cocoa, rich brown silt at the bottom of the cup. I remember the paintings that hung on walls, the glossy books thumbed thin. I remember the essays and articles I read – a spark of interest that caught and leapt, and burned, intensely, in my skull’s crucible. And I wrote while they burned, until all that was left was the ash of black words on a white page. News stories. How sounds were sent on discs into space: human voices, whalesong, nightingales. How a herd of three hundred reindeer was felled by a single lick of lightning in a Norwegian forest.

My friend once saw an exhibition in Manhattan – human bodies, split and cut. The heart, visible. The layers of spongy yellow fat. And the one thing she described to me with exquisite clarity: a red net, delicate as wire, hanging like art behind plate glass. A lattice of blood vessels, removed from a once-living body by injecting the arteries with plastic and then dissolving everything but that. These tiny tunnels that once ran with breath, with life; a tangle in the air describing the place they once inhabited.

That is how my poems feel, now. Like an entity separate from myself. They hang together, hold my shape - but they no longer live in the dark of my body.

There is a tribe in the Amazon whose chief wears a cape made from hummingbird feathers. Imagine it - a wake of blue and yellow that falls like fire and sky from his shoulders. But the cape is so heavy that he cannot walk when he wears it.

I come to my writing desk, find the slate completely clear. The first time in a decade it has been this way. I imagine my book, I imagine that bluegold cape. The shrugging off of all that beautiful weight.

How naked and vulnerable it is to be without it. And yet, and yet: how utterly free, how wonderfully light.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

"Perhaps one day you touch the young branch / of something beautiful. & it grows and grows".

Months have passed again without my visiting this place. The world turns, and the world turns. I have been writing, just not here. I committed to journaling for a hundred consecutive days, so the words that normally spill into this place have been diverted there instead, like a river forking, carrying its water to the same sea, but travelling its light a different route. And the poems have been coming and coming. My body brimming with them, my bones humming with their bright particular music.  

A week now, since I got the news that my first collection will be published in the Spring. I remember thinking, So this is what yes tastes like. As happy tears fell into my beer, as the pub spun. The weight of all that work, the years of words, the book, there and then gone - fallen out of its life with me, quiet and small, and out to live its own life in the bright wild world. Is this how a mother feels when her child is pulled out from that tucked place under her heart? There it is, after all that growing in the quiet -  fully realised, and breathing. A part of the world now, free of your body, free of your blood.

I am flush with happiness. But there is also a part of me that is small and scared. How I want people to be tender with this soft thing I have made. How fearful I am of it failing, of my tiny fledgling falling, not flying. Which would mean I have failed, and fallen. That my words aren’t good enough (and my words are the best thing I have). I need to let go of that sense of dread, and be glad, only, that my words will exist in the world at all. That my mouth will not be their only home.

A confession: on Saturday, C and I went to the bookshop in the city. I found the place on the poetry shelf where my book will fit – after Paterson, before Plath – and tested the way it will feel. To touch a finger to the shelf and find my name. It felt like belonging. Like my life had both shrunk and swelled to fit that slender space. The sweetest of beginnings, which is also the sweetest of returns. The coming together of me, and home.

(title quote: from "Elegy", by Aracelis Girmay)