Tag Archives: peace

COMPASS/NO COMPASS

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Peace & Poinsettia

In Turkey I was very excited to see poinsettia growing wild – flowers the size of dinner plates, brash and beautiful, like their botanical name – Euphorbia pulcherrima.

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Its English name derives from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first US Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the US in 1825.  In Turkey they are known as Atatürk’s Flower, because Atatürk, the father of the modern republic (1881-1938), liked it and encouraged its cultivation in Turkey.  There are many statues of Atatürk around the place, often with a bird or a child,  accompanied by a plaque saying Peace at Home, Peace in the World in Turkish, English, German and Russian.

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I arrived home to an article by Alys Fowler in the Guardian recounting the story of how poinsettia came to be associated with Christmas.  In Mexico, where they are native, back in the sixteenth century, a poor girl called Pepita (or possibly Maria) couldn’t afford to buy a present for Jesus’s birthday.  An angel told her to gather a bouquet of weeds to place on the altar of her church, where they transformed into the blood-red bracts so familiar to us today.

IMG_0058Once you’ve seen the poinsettia growing where it’s meant to, it looks too much like a caged bird in a centrally heated living room.  To relieve our wall-to-wall grey, Alys Fowler advises a Christmas cactus instead because as well as being easier to keep alive after it’s bloomed, it also filters out pollutants in the air.

 

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