Monday, April 16, 2012

Insects and poetry

My cat ripped the curtain by my desk
so she could look out at the street 
Insects and the poetry of Etel Adnan have characterised the last two weeks and I can't even talk about work with the insects, but it was as intense as Adnan's poetry is difficult.

I have been guiding Maria Jastrzebska, a Brighton based Polish-English poet through a residency at Fabrica gallery, which is showing a film on Etel Adnan by the Ottolith Group during April and May.

I'm in a poetry group with Maria so I'm delighted she's doing this residency, since she shares so many concerns with Adnan, a lesbian Lebanese born poet now living in Paris after a long spell in the US.

The show opened on Friday and there was a talk by the Ottolith group as well as the usual gathering of Brighton people - volunteers and friends - associated with Fabrica. It was such a crush, in fact, that the hum of conversation seeped into the room where the talk was happening, dipping occasionally in response to a handclap or tap on a glass, then rising back to the level it had found, rather like the sea.

Which is the subject of the Ottolith group's commission and of Etel Adnan's most recent collection of short poems, Sea and Fog, that the Ottolith group's based its film on. She is filmed, mostly from the back, reading her work. It's 30 minutes of meditations that take their own courses, liberate your own thoughts and have made me think again about poetry that I've dismissed in the past as too cerebral.

I had to do a lot of research on Adnan to help Maria settle into the residency - which she has now done, brilliantly and is embarking on the challenge of asking the public three very resonant questions: What's the purpose of your visit? Where do you come from? Have you anything to declare? She's asking for answers on her blog: unquiet border.

As for Etel, who wasn't able to be at the opening, I'm going to explore her work - she's been writing for more than 60 years in English and French.

I left the opening with Jane, David and Maude, who had a bottle of Prosecco waiting in her fridge. We bought two more and later they tipped me out of the car, flapping my insect wings.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A sheaf of poems


In Stanmer woods
I've moved my desk, cleaned away the two piles of cat poo I discovered, replaced a bookshelf with a chair and filled the Dyson in one go. I've mended, been ruthless with drawers, emptied boxes of saved rubbish, lined up my inks. I've given the statue of a boy pulling a thorn out of his foot a better place to sit, I've sorted envelopes into three piles. I've put up a new curtain, washed the bedspread and transferred my earrings into a bowl. I've walked my neighbour's dog in wind and rain, weeded the raspberries.
So it's time, this morning, to look at the sheaf of poems I've been collecting since I finished Commandments in 2006. My first working title was Sweats, but I've changed it now to Words for Women.
The big task, starting properly today, is to decide if I have a good enough collection. I have two self-contained sections and two others - one clearer than the other. So it's that uncertain fourth that I need to scrutinise in particular. Then print, copy and send to friends for feedback.
Over Easter I've been reading Rumer Godden's autobiographies - A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep and A House With Four Rooms. Godden, famous for her novels Black Narcissus and Greengage Summer as well as her work with Jean Renoir on The River was an utterly focused writer. She sent her children to boarding school so she could write. But one of the points she makes that has been in my mind too, is to live on less to allow more time to write. She was single minded.
And it is too easy to be distracted - not by tidying and sorting which are part of the process, or the allotment and dog walking which are sanity channels. But I mean clothes, gadgets, socialising, anything that involves spending money, or phone calls from friends.
So the answerphone's on. I will not answer emails, texts, bbms or go on Facebook.
I'm in training for a summer of writing.
First leaves in the beech wood