Friday, 24 May 2019

Writing as a Woman of a Certain Age

I finally get a quiet day to sit down and work and I'm aching and tired and just want to go back to bed. But there's only one week left of school and no summer camps booked this year, so I need to make use of this me-time while I have it. I'll soon need to balance it with entertaining four kids, mostly on my own. 

I've broken the 400 poem mark this week. I've written over 400 poems in my writing life, that just blows me away. This is only counting the proper, grown-up poems that I think are worthy to share and try and get published. Over half of them are published in my books or in journals. Over 150 of them have been written in the last two years. Just imagine how much I could have written if I could have figured out the secret of writing a poe daily earlier. I used to write every day pre-kids and even a bit after they were born, but I was slower at sculpting my poems and have spent a lot of the last decades writing novels that went nowhere.

I feel like I've found my stride in what most people would consider middle age, though I don't feel middle-aged. Or at least what I thought middle-aged meant before I got here. I just feel like me, maybe more tired and achey though. 

But then I looked at a list of competitions calls yesterday and realised once again that I don't fit into so many boxes in publishing. Most of the competitions I couldn't even consider because of my age, I'm over 30 or 37 or whatever random cut-off they choose. I get it, publishers and grant bodies want to support young, struggling, up-and-coming writers. I also read recently that more poetry is being read by under 35s these days than any other age group, so they want to appeal to that audience. But what about us older, struggling writers, there must be a group of us searching for support and an audience ready to read us. 

I also am the wrong nationality or live in the wrong place or have the wrong career or write the wrong genre. Does anyone have a call for poems from a 48-year-old white cis-women US poet living in Finland?

I worked at Chapman Publishing in Edinburgh for many years and while there we published a book of poems by Magi Gibson called Wild Women of a Certain Age. It was a brilliant, fierce and powerful book and I loved being involved with it. I was in my late 20s while my editor and Magi and some of the other women we worked with were almost a couple of decades older and though I loved the fire of their writing and intensity of how they approached the issue, I couldn't understand why this idea of fighting against the constraints of this 'certain age' was so important to them. I get it now. I need to find my own tribe of wild women soon.

Joining Twitter has opened my eyes to the new network of writers out there, I've discovered Maggie Smith recently through her empowering tweets. Her book Good Bones is the next book I plan to buy, her poem of the same name is a heart-shattering force, especially if you have young children. She's definitely a Wild Women I'd invite. 

Good news for my old bones, two of my poems have been included in this online anthology from the course I did with poet Wendy Pratt. I really enjoyed all of her courses and it was nice to have this as the cherry on the cake at the end of this one from April. 

Another Wild Woman, Wendy is running another course in June. I'm still debating whether to do it due to time and money constraints. And Jen Hadfield, another amazing poet and friend, is running a free 5 day online course with Arvon which even though it falls while I'm on holiday I am definitely doing as I've never had the pleasure of working with Jen and am really looking forward to it. I'm not sure if the Arvon course will have the sharing element that Wendy's course does, but I'm sure her prompts and ideas will be worth trying. 

So I'll keep writing daily and churning out my work in the hope that I will soon find my niche, my tribe, my audience. 

Keep going. 

Saturday, 18 May 2019

A Poetic Detour

I took a little me-time this week and went to St Petersburg, Russia. I didn't really have a plan, just wanted to take it easy, eat, walk, write. The weather was warm and bright, so it was a perfect short break. 

I was half-planning on going to the Russian Art Museum, but stumbled across a sign for the Anna Akhmatova Museum at Fountain House and decided to go there instead. It's set in the apartments that Akhmatova lived for almost 30 years with her son at times and her lover the art historian Nikolai Punin and his family. It's where she wrote some of her 'Poems without a hero' and other poems that so challenged Stalin and his regime that she was forced to hide her work and was a prisoner in the house. 

It was a place of such sadness. They've tried to gather photos, furniture, artworks that represent Anna, Punin and the period: Punin's overcoat left behind when he was arrested with Anna's son Lev, a drawing by Modigliani, travelling cases. They've also set up one room as the White Hall which is taken from 'Poems without a hero', featuring her poems and pages of handwritten texts. It felt so weighted with loss, every item connected with someone who carried so much grief around with them daily. 

No one wants to help us

Because we stayed home,

Because, loving our city
And not winged freedom,
We preserved for ourselves
Its palaces, its fire and water.

- 'In Petrograd, 1919'

The museum has an audio guide in English, but in the White Hall room the poems were all in Russian, which added to my feeling of disconnection, but it also made me want to read her work again.

Visitors scribble their favourite lines or dedications to the poet on the walls in the garden. 

I've always loved Akhmatova's work, but haven't looked at much in ages, so I've ordered her poems and some biographies from the library. The visit was sad and brought a lot of things I'm dealing with to the surface, but it was cathartic and eye-opening. Definitely worth the detour. 

Friday, 10 May 2019

A New Normal

The upheaval of the last nine months is over and now I have a clear view in front of me. I know the next few years won't be easy, but at least it will mostly be on my terms. I'm trying to get my head around planning and figuring out what I want to do with it.

Writing will probably have to find a lesser place, I need to get a real job of some sort though I'm hoping I can work with some sort of creativity. We'll see, but the upshot is I need to find a way to keep writing within a different life once I get that sorted. So for now, I'm trying to keep to my promise of writing every day.

I'm setting out my shingle as an editor and proof-reader again, but it's a very different scene from the one I joined in 2003 in Scotland. I had been working in a publishing company since 1997 and had picked up some typesetting work that my employer didn't have time for or interest in. That slowly blossomed into my own little publishing company Grimalkin Press that I set up to publish short runs of work, usually connected with the groups I was teaching creative writing. They didn't have the resources or skills to publish their own books, so I would do the design and editing work, get it printed and they would fund it, usually through arts grants. I really enjoyed it and miss working with community groups and schools, helping them bring their projects to fruition. 

Social media wasn't a thing then so everything was done word-of-mouth. I was recommended by one organiser to another, from one poet to another. I miss that, it's still there, in various electronic formats, but I need to learn the new system. 

I can't publish books as I just don't have the contacts or funding here in Finland. Not speaking the language means I'd be very limited, so I will just focus on the editing side of the business. I'm building websites and linking medias accounts and joining Twitter and Linkedin. I've had some lovely friends and some new colleagues walking me through possible venues to market myself, looking over my website, suggesting places to contact for work. Good old school networking even if we're communicating at a distance. Hopefully something will come of it. 

If you're looking for a editor, proof-reader, typesetter, book designer kind of gal, contact me via the website link to the top right. I am also available to teach creative writing classes  and workshops to kids or adults or do poetry readings here in Finland.

Tiny steps, but I'm getting there.

Friday, 3 May 2019

My April GloPoWriMo Assessment

April is finished, thank goodness, it's been a tough month for a variety of reasons. Now I can do a review of my efforts over GloPoWriMo, the Global Poetry Writing Month - my attempts to write at least one, sometimes two poems a day for my two online courses. 

I wrote 22 poems that I consider done or almost done and 12 poems that still need a lot of work or will probably never make it past draft stage. There are also some drafts that I couldn't see going anywhere, so I haven't counted them. That's just over 30, so I'm very pleased with that. Some days I wrote nothing, some I wrote two, but I sat down regularly enough to have a poem-a-day for the month. 

Forcing myself to write a rough draft of a poem a day has pushed me to not avoid difficult subjects, to delve deeper into moments that have weight for me, but might not necessarily be an interesting telling on the face of it at first. I have pushed myself to write even when I'm not in the mood or don't like where my writing is going. Sometimes just ranting on the page or exploring those emotionally charged subjects helps me to deal with them in a healthier way than bottling them up and letting them fizz inside me until I explode over nothing. 

The online courses have also allowed me to join in a wider virtual community of writers, in the UK and Ireland. We support each other in the rough draft stages, but we also celebrate when we have poems published and do a bit of networking when opportunities come up. It's nice to see familiar names in journals and know that you will also be remembered when they scroll or flip past your work. Being so far away from my writing groups and publishing work in Scotland, from the collectives I spent so long finding my space in, it's reassuring to have that sense of community again but also to not just be a lone voice in the writing darkness. 

I've gone back to one of the online pages that the tutor has left open for former participants and will continue to try and write a daily poem draft there to keep up my momentum and to keep my mind focused. Writing daily has also meant I have more poems to submit, so am getting more work published and have a better chance of being seen by publishers. Just need to find one to take one of my collections. 

It reminds me a lot of my friend who decided to try running to lose weight. She didn't necessarily enjoy it, but after a few days she liked the idea of keeping track of how many days she had done in a row. It became an obsession with her, not to miss a day, even if that meant mostly walking or going on a treadmill, she did her run every day. Last I heard the number was in years rather than days. She's run a few marathons, lost tons of weight and now really enjoys it. Sometimes it's something as simple as watching the numbers that keep you going. I don't track every day I write, but I do track how many poems I write each year, how many I submit and how many get rejected or published. I enjoy seeing those numbers tick upwards as well as finishing a poem and knowing it works. 

I hope you find whatever works for you, to keep you writing. Keep on trucking.