Ellen

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29 March 2017 Entry: "Keep on Keeping on"

I’m reading online articles and newspapers, morbidly avid for information to get a grip, some clear understanding, on the turbulent times we live in - Brexit, Trump in America, the rise of the Nationalist Right in Europe. There’s a lot of anecdote and ironic joking mixed in with polemic out there, and some serious thoughtful stuff too. I don’t know quite what to think anymore.
Writing is some sort of answer, like a conversation with oneself, and so is reading. I read Ali Smith’s Autumn, described as the ‘first post-Brexit novel’ which is a fascinating attempt to anatomise and explore the ‘nation’s psychology’ I suppose:
“All across the country, there was misery and rejoicing. All across the country, what had happened whipped about by itself as if a live electric wire had snapped off a pylon in a storm and was whipping about in the air above the trees, the roofs, the traffic. All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing. All across the country, people felt it was the right thing. All across the country, people felt they’d really lost. All across the country, people felt they’d really won.”

I’m also reading Writing Motherhood, a creative anthology, edited by Carolyn Jess-Cook. I have a poem in it among many other wonderful women poets, but it also has essays and interviews. It is a real attempt to get under the skin of what it means to be a mother and a writer. I wish I’d read it when I was a young mother, struggling with my own doubts about writing alongside the difficulties - the cast-adrift sensation of being in a lonely boat of two - me and the baby.
This important book says the ‘unsayable’, reveals the deep-seated contradictions of wanting to be a mother and then being appalled at the reality. It also gives hope and strategies to live through those life-changing first years.
By the time I was pregnant with my second child, I was having my work published in the Poetry Virgins’ anthology Modern Goddess, and I was au fait enough with babies to scribble beginnings of poems while peacefully breastfeeding (which was the only time my second child stopped crying). I was forty-one: a late starter, a slow reader, always trying to catch up with the rest of the class.
I particularly liked the article from Zoë Brigley who asks and I quote:
‘Does creativity have to be incompatible with domestic life?”
She argues that being a mother doesn’t have to mean being conventional or boring, and:
“The tortured male genius with the sensational life is a dead end as a productive route to creative success.’
Julia Darling always said she wrote as a way out of the slough of motherhood, a creative response. Finding myself a single mother, I didn’t have the luxury of being a ‘tortured genius’ - angry and tortured though I was. In the end I found writing was the only response, the only life-affirming, positive answer to circumstances that were crushing me. It’s the old cliché - you just keep on keeping on.

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