Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Clearing the mind

I set off ridiculously early for Aldeburgh the other weekend because I had a reading at the Pumphouse at 4 pm and the M25 is so unpredictable. It was clear almost all the way so with at least three hours to spare I had time to wander around a car boot sale, where I bought chilli plants, a flask and strawberries, as well as an old gardening encyclopaedia.
I at my lunch sitting on the grass by my car, which reminded me of childhood and picnics on the way to Cornwall by the sides of roads or on the edges of fields.
Then I wandered into Aldeburgh, parked at the reading venue and walked around the place where I spent a month more than 10 years ago, as a poet in residence.
It was a beautiful day, windy, sunny and the town was packed with tourists. It was also an open house weekend and on a little track going into the reeds, I thought I'd found a path away from the town towards the sea.
This is what I came across. How it reminded me of Surrey.
There was another sign in the same black felt tip capitals telling me it wasn't a footpath and to check my map.
So I turned around and walked along the seafront, then back through the town taking photos of roses in people's gardens and on walls.
I also noticed an exhibition in the Peter Pears gallery, which always has poetry related work during the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival.
The fish caught my eye but when I tottered up the stairs and saw the work I found it really moving.
John Craske's embroidery of the rescue of thousands of soldiers from the beaches of Normandy during WW2 is unfinished but magnificent. His pieces aren't finely stitched, but that's not the point. They were also done as therapy. What they do have is an amazing sense of the sea's life, of its movement, of danger. Craske was a friend of Sylvia Townsend Warner and the writer Julia Blackburn has just published a book about him.
The reading in Aldeburgh, with Tiffany Atkinson, was like a holiday: a weekend away, the sun, a beautiful cottage for the night, beer and a wander around Halesworth afterwards with new Poetry Trust director Ellen McAteer. She writes an interesting blog with a feature on protest art. Well worth looking at.
So since then I've been trying to clear out my mind to write. It's been too cluttered, like my house, and full of worries about damp, dust, cracks in walls, cobwebs, peeling paint, cracked window glass and at the forefront of my mind, the cat's habit of using the space outside Giya's room as a toilet - which I thought I'd put an end to by strewing lavender on the carpet.
So she switched to the kitchen and although she is still using the litter tray for wee, she now poos in the same spot just by the table.
She used to go outside until new neighbours brought a big fluffy cat that insisted on sleeping on our sofa and terrorised her.
Now she ventures outside if I'm in the garden, but otherwise is much too nervous and the consequences are daily deposits in the kitchen. I tried a new tray full of sand. She did a shit next to it.
I have made a cat repellant spray with eucalyptus and lemon and today she goes to the vet for her annual check up and cat flu booster jab so I'm going to pump them for advice, given what that 10 minutes generally costs.
Mind clearing's easy. The allotment has my body and soul for as long as I want.
But I still have to earn money. And I want to write again after months of feeling drained by teaching on a course in Brighton, when one student's appalling behaviour convinced me it wasn't worth the risk or the energy.
So I quit. I have two teaching commitments left - the Open University and a residential course for the Poetry Trust as part of the Aldeburgh Festival, The Aldeburgh Eight. Ellen took me to see the place where we'll be working: Bruisyard Hall a magnificent place in Suffolk that we eventually came to the day after my reading via various single track side roads.
The Aldeburgh Eight is incomparable to most workshops I've done in the past. Closest perhaps to the pleasure of a week's residential course at Ty Newydd or for the Arvon Foundation, but with even fewer participants. I'll be tutoring with Peter Sansom, who I admire enormously as a poet and publisher. I also know he knows how to run workshops and scrutinise poems.
Clearing out enough space for writing means appreciating the good work, like the Aldeburgh Eight, and being brave enough to stop the time-consuming, fiddly, draining one-off workshops - a single day or two hour slot - which now I struggle to see the point of. Too often, they're tagged onto events to tick a community involvement box, to satisfy funders, to expand an audience. Too often workshops represent the worst kind of tokenism - shamming involvement in the arts for a particular group for the time the workshop lasts and then snatching it away, just as their expectations are raised. I don't want to be part of that cruel game anymore.
But the Royal Literary Fund reading group carries on and copywriting work for a friend. Hopefully the OU course will also recruit enough students.
And breakfast yesterday with Brendan Cleary revived my enthusiasm for the summer's poems after reading his new work.

The Aldeburgh Eight
A piece on John Craske in The Guardian