Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Matthew Sweeney read at Sussex University last week and it was a treat. He talks about the 'jag' in his poems that give them such knowing humour and unselfconscious wisdom. He was also selling some tiny one poem booklets, printed traditionally and hand set (with tweezers and magnifying glass!). On from Matthew's early evening reading to Lewes for a meal and back to Brighton for the launch of Brendan Cleary's new book, Some Turbulent Weather. Brendan's reading, too, was amazing - sharp, streetwise and tender.

Both these poets are prolific writers. Brendan is uncompromising in his ambition to write only poetry, to live as the writer of poetry. Matthew's latest book, Black Moon, was shortlisted for the 2007 TS Eliot prize but he's already close to finishing a new one. He read many of these new poems and as he introduced them explained how they'd been written during a series of different residencies throughout Europe.

So this is my point - every writer needs time away from the demands of daily life and ideally some different views. It's always been the case and almost always produces results.

But the concept of 'buying time' to write has fallen by the wayside for many of us, particularly women, who cannot apply for residencies lasting longer than a week or two, who are maybe unable to leave the country, who do not have a specific project or book deal, but want a few days to experiment. The Arts Council grants for artists no longer support time to write without a book deal. Other sources of cash for writers seem incredibly thin on the ground.

I was chatting to a woman recently, another single parent who's a writer. She's had a gap of nearly 20 years since publishing a critically acclaimed novel. Those 20 years have covered bringing up children and single handedly supporting the family. I know how little time there is left over after shopping, washing, cleaning and so on. A woman reviewer (shame on her) once made a snide comment in print about me only being able to work up a sweat cleaning the kitchen floor.

These issues are important. I heard on the news yesterday about the rise in poverty for children and pensioners. Somewhere along the line the discussion about daily life and how we get through it or make it worthwhile, has been hijacked by those with cleaners, gardeners, au pairs and paid dog walkers. Yesterday, too, my daughter asked me what the phrase 'disposable income' meant. Funny how two words can contain such vast differences - from a tenner a week to a grand or so......

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