I am delighted to be a part of this wonderful anthology of poetry and prose celebrating women’s loves, lives and landmarks.
Fourteen women have contributed to this anthology. We share our experiences of love and life … and the landmarks that mark our progress through our lives … in our own very varied styles, using poetry and prose.
We want to tell you how … contains deeply heartfelt, pain-fully honest, and beautifully written pieces of writing. For those who have ever lived with hope or regret, you will find your own story amongst these pages. —Clare Summerskill
How awful the gap between the ‘authentic me’, the person you see when you look in my eyes, and the ‘me’ defined, confined by my peers, my achievements measured against my years.
How awful that gap, like the door left ajar to creak, inviting in a chilling breeze that dries eyes, cracks lips, so that tears of indignity are pointless and the humiliation of explanation hurts to speak.
How awful that gap, like a crevasse, deep and shocking, dizzying if I cared to stare down over its icy lip, to gauge the drop, to see how terrible the injury would be if I were to slip.
How awful the gap, and how hopeless my attempts have been to close it.
But that was then. I see now that you don’t need to heave that boulder that will leave you weak to fill that void, or to climb that rope that burns and cuts or traverse on a ladder that asks you to balance too much.
No. Find the paper, grasp the pen – an act of faith, and leap.
My poem ‘Writing is a leap of faith’ has been inspired by the extract from ‘Autobiographical Fragment’ by Charles Dickens. In the extract Dickens expresses ‘the secret agony of his soul’ when the reality of his situation of working in a rat infested warehouse is set in stark contrast to ‘his hopes of growing to be a learned and distinguished man’.
This sentiment struck a chord with me, as I have felt ‘the agony of my soul’ in relation to what I define in my poem as ‘the gap’ between ‘my authentic self’ and ‘the self’ measured and defined on society’s terms, and how exposed I have felt by this. The act of writing, becoming a writer, described as ‘the leap of faith’ in this poem has offered me identity on my terms. I no longer seek to close ‘the gap’ but rather have found my own way to traverse it. I can imagine myself in nightmarish dreams, like Dickens, looking back and shuddering at the awful thought I might not have found writing.
I have utilised the prose poem form to speak to the flow of Dickens’ narrative.
‘Writing is a leap of faith’ has been published by Leicester University’s Centre for New Writing in a pamphlet and online.
Carol Ann Duffy – the compassionate and authentic Poet Laureate.
As the UK’s first female Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy has re-imagined the role on her own terms. Gone is the notion of a patriarchal remote, aloof honour and in its place the Poet Laureate has become an open, engaged, and fearless defender of not only poetry but of social justice and equality.
Her impulse to address questions of justice and equality means that Duffy does not shy away from emotive subject matters such as climate change, the banking crisis, and more recently the Orlando nightclub massacre. It is these sorts of life-events that ignite her imagination and stir her to write.
Of her writing intention and process Duffy explains, “It all comes from the same place. There’ll be what you might call a moment of inspiration – a way of seeing or feeling or remembering, an instance or a person that’s made a large impression. Like the sand and the oyster, it’s a creative irritant. In each poem, I’m trying to reveal a truth, so it can’t have a fictional beginning.”1
I particularly admire Duffy’s compassionate search for the truth, her desire to remind us of the simple humanity of things. Her uncomplicated explanation of sexuality in Pink News, for example, was not just simply wonderful but important for people to hear “…it’s fantastic that I’m an openly gay writer, and anyone…who feels shy or uncomfortable about their sexuality should celebrate and be confident and be happy. It’s a lovely, ordinary, normal thing.”2
In my favourite poetry collection ‘Rapture’, Duffy invites the reader to experience the joy of new love, the ache of a lover’s absence and the heartbreak of love lost. The images of the natural world and of the changing seasons are frequently employed and personified to embody emotion, and to enlarge the landscape of the unfolding narratives. But also everyday objects, such as a mobile phone, are drawn into the drama and become the focus for action and feeling. In the poem ‘Text’ the obsessive beginnings of love is found in the words ‘I…look for your small xx feeling absurd.’3
Duffy’s poetry works so well because the reader can relate to it. It is authentic to our experience. She does not want poetry to be remote, either in subject matter or availability.
She is actively seeking out new poetry talent4 and wants poetry to be everywhere. As Jeanette Winterson observes, Duffy ‘has often spoken about poetry as an everyday event and not as a special occasion. She wants us to enjoy poetry, to have as much as we like, to be able to help ourselves to a good, fresh supply, to let poetry be as daily as talking – because poetry is talking.’5
The skill of ‘talking’, however, escaped me when I met Carol Ann Duffy. I recall standing in the queue at the Warwick Words Festival in 2009, nervously waiting for her to sign my copy of ‘Rapture’. When I reached the front I told myself ‘say something memorable to her’. I managed to mumble shyly “Thank you for your poetry reading”. I remember she looked up at me, pen in hand, the edge of her hand pressing against the open title page “Thank you for coming” she replied, holding my blushing gaze, as she signed a kiss beneath her name and across my heart.
composed mixed tapes, wrote odes, baked cakes, your name
on my lips, in my brain. ‘Be mine’ I implored,
as I failed exams, missed deadlines, endured pain.
I lost sleep, got sick, felt weak, refused to
see sense – still convinced that you could be mine.
And through it all, silent, wise and kind, you
knew the one answer for me would be time.
You were so gentle with your rejection.
Yes, I can see that now, on reflection.
‘On Reflection’ has been published by Paradise Press as part of We want to tell you how… a wonderful anthology of poetry and prose celebrating women’s loves, lives and landmarks.
‘We want to tell you how … contains deeply heartfelt, pain-fully honest, and beautifully written pieces of writing. For those who have ever lived with hope or regret, you will find your own story amongst these pages.’ —Clare Summerskill
‘On Reflection’ has also been published by Leicester University’s Centre for New Writing in a pamphlet and online.