Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Rather than think about the year just gone I've been looking through a compilation I made of my writing from 2003. I put it together a year or so ago, so the dates aren't entirely accurate, but it came to a massive 150 A4 pages. 2003 was a watershed year in my writing as it was the year I started taking it less seriously; actually that's wrong - I've continued to take it seriously; but the year I reduced my commitment to it. There were good reasons: I'd had 4 short term jobs in less than 4 years, each one different, but going nowhere, and was just about to start a slightly longer term one, which, amazingly I'm still in. I'd also run into the ground a bit with my fiction. I couldn't really see where I could find the inspiration or the dedication to write another novel, which had been my obsession for best part of a decade, I'd stopped writing my blog, and wasn't having any luck placing short stories, and my brief interest in drama was coming to an end. Poetry, ironically, which had always been there in the background, was coming to the forefront at least partly because I'd started, with a couple of friends, the literary magazine, Lamport Court.

Looking back, I wrote a lot of fiction that year, or at least, it seems so - but these were often stories I'd finished earlier, or new pieces that I began and petered out. I was 36; it perhaps seemed time to put my literary ambitions on hold and do something - anything - else. I went to stay with a friend in France for a few days, and the country calm emptied my head of the angst I'd been feeling having to apply for new jobs every six months or so. Returning to Britain I stood on the railway station and watched the trains go by, in a dreamlike state; returning to Manchester I heard a mighty bang in the kitchen as the boiled eggs I'd put on, dried up and exploded out of the pan.

I'd recently had some poetry in "Reactions 3" a well-regarded UEA anthology, and, through Lamport Court, and the growing creative writing alumni community, seemed to be having conversations about poetry, thoughts about poetry. But what of the writing itself? None of the poems I wrote in 2003 made it into "Playing Solitaire for Money", but a large section of "Extracts from Levona" was written that year. The "everyday" poems I was writing seemed a little strained, everyday anecdotes I was trying to coat with surrealism. Towards the end of the year I'd have stopped writing poetry for six months or more. In the wider world the marching against the Iraq war was going on.

But looking back on some of the unpublished work I was writing that year is intrigueing. I was trying out different things - I'd always done this in prose, but was now doing it in poetry - I was also thinking seriously of what contemporary poetry might look like. I didn't write any of the more "concrete"/"flarf"-like poems that I'd toyed with in the year or two before; I was experimenting instead with traditional forms - "dialogues", "sonnets" - and a couple of long sequences which, reading back are obviously flawed, but are fascinating in a way. It is not enough, I think, to just carve out poems (or stories or blog posts) in the time available, but that you need to be doing it in a fertile environment; where there is time to fail, time to grow. I look back on those sequences and they are unfinished business, straining for something. Amidst the groping in the dark, there's an odd moment of magic, of connection.

There's very little that I wrote in 2003 that I would consider amongst my finest work, in any genre, and it explains my confusion at the time - five years after completing my M.A. needing to decide a little where my priorities lie. If I said in "life" rather than "art" I wouldn't be wrong, but best part of a decade onwards, I realise they are not so easy to separate; more, that its a matter of emphasis.

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