I have been ‘abroad’ – broadening, seeing and learning new things, new people, new horizons. Calstock Poetry Festival was wonderful. With my locked and paining knees I wondered if I would ever make it – but we arrived, in the evening, looking for the house with the outside stairs next to the Arts Centre and finding it, by the river, just by the viaduct. That last haul up the steps was the best because it left me sitting by the window looking out at the Tamar rising and falling, sucking at the reeds on the opposite bank.
The ambience of poets and poetry was like entering water, slipping at last into the cool and the wetness, everything un-curling and becoming smooth again. I felt full of ‘upfullness’ wished upon us by the rasta man of Kei Miller. Kei Miller, David Morley and Imtiaz Dakhar all have roots that are historic and rich in language and movement. They all moved out from rooted communities with a language that celebrates, moved outside the language which they now live in. Yet those roots are deep and invigorate their poetry and take the reader on a journey where words, landscape and meaning all come together. Horizons are various but lovely.
Then there are other books that have fallen into my way. Penelope Shuttle’s ‘In the Snowy Air’ also takes me on a journey, redefining London and leading into the politics of place and aspiration. Niall Campbell writes, as I am trying to write, about the islands of the Outer Hebrides. All these books have been ‘under the skin’ reads.
The start of a recent poem of mine goes:
I have left suitcases in rooms
across the world.
Unwanted gifts, my ethnic clothes,
a book of local birds,
alphabets and letters – Urdu, Hindi
Viet, Cantonese, Telegu.
A little Swahili and my Sinhala notebook too.
I am a kind of poet in reverse I think. My suburban roots, trim gardens, lines of red salvia and orange French marigold are in thin soil; it does not allow for a wandering that echoes with language and myth. In all my travelling, and now as I try to write my journeys, I am trying to find the language in which to root a wandering self. I think this is why these poets that have fallen into my way in the last few weeks are so important. They have shared in challenging, beautiful, thought provoking language and words both their roots and their movement from their roots. They live and write outside the roots that nurtured them but they share those deep resonances in words that buzz and circle in my head.
Now I am back in the language pool in France where I lack both vocabulary and culture but live among a lively and friendly community. Between the long silences there is the unseemly scrabble to communicate and the longing and intention to learn more.
David Morley ‘The Invisible Kings’
‘The Gypsy and the Poet’ both from Carcanet
Kei Miller ‘The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion
Niall Campbell ‘Moontide’ Bloodaxe
Penelope Shuttle ‘In the Snowy Air’ Iota Shots winning pamphlet
16th July 2014
When I arrived back from Calstock there were two of my wonderful ‘gift’ books waiting in the post box – Moniza Alvi’s ‘At the Time of Partition’ and Fiona Sampson’s ‘Beyond the Lyric’. I read the Partition immediately – from beginning to end at a rush; it allowed all kinds of images, conversations and ideas to come into my head. The paintings of Iqbal, many of them on the walls of the cafe at the bottom of the house where he lived in the Hira Mandhi, the red light district of Lahore, show the women in exhausted groups on the long trail from India to the newly created Pakistan. My friend Iffat’s photographs of her grandparents and the stories of their journey, and the books I have read like ‘Candy Man’. It filled my head with things that I want to write and express about Pakistan.
‘Beyond the Lyric’ took me into a different space altogether; a space that has left me confused and a bit unsure of where to go next with the hundreds of poems that I have now assembled into files and cross-indexed and started to send out to magazines. In the introduction there is a quote from Sean O’Brien talking about a lack of contemporary awareness ‘..that poetry might require an investment of time and patience, and that publication might not come as a result of wanting it but deserving it’.
This has a real resonance for me, one of the reasons why I miss a critiquing group so much. The revising process though is difficult. I guess particularly when one is in a bit of a vacuum and it bounces back – one day looking better but the next I am not sure again. I have been a bit FPG ‘ish and started cutting off tops and bottoms and shaking around what remains – I think I like it but then again…… Nevertheless the process is very useful and looking with fresh eyes at something that has been sent off and returned and making notes – what am I saying here? what does this mean? is actually helpful. I’m about to send out my hair-cut Himalayan trio and hope they do better this time. Things are beginning to fall into place and recognising themes and connections is definitely a useful thing to do.
I would welcome a dialogue about revision and finding where one’s work sits in the overall map of things. I have maps very much in my head at the moment (partly due to Kei Miller I guess) and intend to revise Reading Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘The Map’ in the Northern Areas of Pakistan as soon as I’ve finished this blog – starting with a better title perhaps?? I am also trying to find a way to post my poems within a private bit of my blog that would allow people to read them without it being ‘publication’ – knives to the throat of the poem as Roz Quillan Chandler would say!