You’re always more unreal to yourself than other people are.
Marguerite Duras, ‘Practicalities’ (1990)
This is the epigraph to Deborah Levy’s new book, The Cost of Living (Hamish Hamilton 2018), the second instalment of her ‘living autobiography’. It’s a compelling account of her attempt to create a new life for herself and her daughters outside the strictures of a long (middle-class) marriage. Her reflections are multivalent – practical (the value of an electric bike), philosophical (re-reading Simone de Beauvoir) and psychological (grief at the loss of her mother around the same time). The writing is unpredictable, playful and ultra-cool.
Just as when I read Things I Don’t Want to Know (her first memoir/instalment), my breath came in little bursts as I recognised so many things I felt about female experience but hadn’t quite been able to articulate. This doesn’t happen for me very much these days and I am grateful for it – one of the deep delights of reading, helping clarify thoughts and grow a little. It felt like one of those books that keep you pointing in the right direction, not not-saying.
I’m very lucky to have been chosen as one of the Featured Poets in Issue Six of The Compass Magazine. It is a fine online space for poetry, sensitively edited by Lindsey Holland and Andrew Forster. There are two fascinating interviews – with Sinéad Morrissey and Pascale Petit – as well as lots of exciting new work by a wide selection of poets.
I had the chance to include poems here that were written since my last collection was published (two years ago) and before I embarked on my new PhD project. With hindsight I can see it is the place I sprang off from (somewhere along the Whin Sill). A sequence called ‘Soil’ looks at the small patch of Northumberland where I live through the battles it’s become known for and shaped by. The more time I spend looking at the past, the more things seem to have stayed the same. Military intervention, power struggles, righteousness, xenophobia – these offer no sort of compass.
Two shorter poems, Her Voice and Tattoo, look at the whole business of trying to speak the truth, finding the right words and knowing what’s worth writing about. There’s another page (‘Poetics’) where I attempt to review my position as a writer. I could write a different piece on this subject every week – it turns with the world and the light. It seems to be changing apace as the PhD process rolls on – doing strange things to one’s sense of ‘audience’ – mostly walking in the dark.
But the last words here are Deborah Levy’s last words:
When a woman has to find a new way of living and breaks from the societal story that has erased her name, she is expected to be viciously self-hating, crazed with suffering, tearful with remorse. These are jewels reserved for her in the patriarchy’s crown, always there for the taking. There are plenty of tears, but it is better to walk through the black and bluish darkness than reach for those worthless jewels.
The writing you are reading now is made from the cost of living and it is made with digital ink.