The problem with this blog, I’m discovering as I get more and more lax about updating, is that the longer I put off writing anything for it the more there’s a jumble of things to write about. And then I can’t find a solid topic for a post – or even any kind of hub for the mess to revolve around – and it becomes bitty and a rubbish read, and that puts me off writing, and the cycle perpetuates.
Anyway. Bitty it is. I’m reading On Writing by AL Kennedy at the moment. It’s one of the first books about writing I’ve read that rings true with my limited experience, my general fear of workshops and my knowledge (such as it is) of the publishing world these days – more on that sort of thing later. The book is taken from a series of blog posts – so guess what prompted me to get on with this entry? AL Kennedy is doing Word Factory this month, where ‘doing’ means talking at the salon and so forth. She ran the workshop about performing that I enjoyed so much last year and which has had a knock-on effect (again, more on that later), and I’m looking forward to heading down to London and seeing her talk.
The other reason I’m heading to London is because of Good News Part 1. Last year I audaciously plumped up my ego and sent in a few poems to Eyewear Publishing for consideration for their new anthology The Best New British and Irish Poets 2016. The anthology follows the set-up of the US version, in that poets could nominate themselves. I did not expect anything to come of it – so it was a wonderful, joyous moment to find learn that editors Kelly Davio and Todd Swift want to include one of my poems. And it’s definitely in there and not a dream: I’ve seen the proofs, I’ve provided a godawful photo and a biography and everything.
It was, and is, a wonderful boost to my confidence in writing, and while I was riding that particular wave of validation, I blithely said I would go to the launch (which is at 3pm on March 20th in Camden; click here for details, and you’re invited). So gung ho; so chill. And then about two days later I freaked out royally as all the reasons I thought my entry wouldn’t be accepted recast themselves as reasons I shouldn’t have been accepted, let alone go to the launch. They made themselves comfy in the roost of my mind like a bunch of raucous crows, shitting on everything and making a fuss about it.
I asked publicly on Twitter, and I still wonder – is it really imposter syndrome if you are actually an imposter? Can you be one of the Best New with only a handful of publications under your belt and no pamphlet waiting in the wings for someone to publish, let alone a collection? When you write at the equivalent speed of that fella dressed as a snail doing the London Marathon? And when you are, at absolute most, on the bare fringes of the poetry community in this country, because you are a) terrible at socialising and scared of workshops and b) regularly get overwhelmed by social media so much so that you can’t even reply to tweets or come up with anything interesting to say, when you’re supposed to be a writer for gawd’s sake. (Note: I’ve just realised that literally the only place I call myself a ‘writer’ is in my Instagram bio. The oddest of places. Even the bio I regularly send out with submissions says that I ‘write short stories and poems’. I shy away from the noun, even as I work for a mag that encourage people to embrace it. Such a hypocrite. I shy away from the noun ‘poet’ as well, which might go some way towards this slightly freakout. I do not feel qualified academically, readerlerly or writerlerly enough to claim the title of poet.)
So. Anyway. London next weekend, then. And on the back of that and some sun in the sky and even some blue sky, I had a fit of spring being sprung, and yesterday bought myself a weekend pass to this year’s Newcastle Poetry Festival in May, and a ticket to a workshop with Sarah Howe, and also tickets to talks with Jean Binta Breeze and David Almond. All for roughly the cost of a ticket to a half-day event in London. I ❤ the North East.
Something about Vitamin D in my system encourages me to Just Go For It. I’ve sent more stories and poems out as well, after a severe lapse at the start of the year – work remains lightly stressful, but with a big, beautiful light at the end of the tunnel that I suspect might genuinely contain summer and a holiday rather than various hellish demons dancing in flames. This is probably a good time to throw in the remaining literary news stuff. I’ve a poem in the current issue of Envoi, one which, in a rare turnabout, I actually still quite like even though everyone can read it now. I’ve also got a creepy, Welsh slate quarry short story take on The Princess and the Frog up at US-based lit site Gingerbread House. Lost to Dolly – please do have a read and then give the site more traffic by trawling the archives and the rest of this issue. There’s superb writing on there (I love it. It’s why I submitted.) Also, if you’re a climbing type, you might be interested to know that the story is very very much based at Dali’s hole in Dinorwig.
Just Going For It extends to music at the moment as well. After a shaky start to the year, the singing/writing side of things has been galvanised somewhat, a combination of two things. The first was my singing teacher – in the interests of getting me to inject some emotion into my singing (I have a tendency to go all mechanical doll) – picking out that heartrending song ‘On My Own’ from Les Miserables for me to learn. There’s nothing like musical theatre to get you to loosen up with the music, I suppose. Anyway, this particular song is like the tap root of my performance issues. There’s a whole story behind it and me, which in all likelihood no one remembers but me, certainly no one cares about but me, and this post is already really bloomin’ long, so I’m not boring you with it. But working on this particular song is not just me learning a song – it’s a full-on challenge. I’m going to master the bloody thing. I really am. And mastering it includes the full montage of doing all my singing exercises, shedding my inhibitions and acting it out, recording myself and queasily listening back to pi- point all the problems. (Also watching the film of Les Mis to understand the background of the song. I’m sad to say it did not enamour me.) Anyway, all the practice can only do good.
The second thing was that I went along to the first of the Darlington Music Forum nights – free music events, which combine masterclasses, jam sessions and, in this case, an open mic night. I didn’t perform (of course) but it was wonderful to just sit and listen to all the incredibly talented people do their thing. That ‘incredibly talented’ isn’t an exaggeration, either – it was so good, and a very supportive atmosphere, and it made me itch to be able to get on the stage and have a go. My teacher introduced me to one of the singers, who is looking for someone to collaborate with. We’ve exchanged a few polite emails and recordings and now we’re at the stage of meeting up to basically see what comes of working together. Tentative times, but I’m excited. So that, and the performances, and having had a go on my teacher’s lovely guitar a few weeks ago had me out this time last week at GuitarGuitar in Newcastle, perched on a stool trying out as many guitars as I could in the price range I could afford, and many thanks to the lovely, patient bloke who helped me out. Less thanks to his cold-riddled colleague who’s ensured I’ve spent the week with sinus pain, snot and general misery, missing this week’s DMF night. Anyway, I have a new guitar now, and it’s a proper acoustic instead of my lovely, but shy-voiced, classical. It’s also quite brightly coloured, which is taking some getting used to. It’s also my promise to myself that this year I am, definitely, doing an open mic.
And I don’t think I would have had the guts to do any of this without having attended AL Kennedy’s performance masterclass – which brings us in a neat loop. A tidy update. Which is nice.
Currently reading: aside from On Writing, also If You Look For Me, I am Not Here by Sarayu Srivatsa, which is beautifully written and, I think, about the inbetween-spaces of life and liminal space, as the young narrator sits between the living and the dead, being hated and loved, between male and female, science and religion. And it’s set in the years just after India’s independence, which adds a level of re-finding national identity to the mix. I suspect I managed to make that sound boring, but it’s really really not.