July ends with my daughter’s birthday, but early August stores the anniversary of Ella’s death and my birthday – a day apart. Since my second child, Molly, was born her July birthday has been clouded by the dates that loom ahead of it. I don’t function well. I don’t plan her birthday well either. I put off buying presents. I never know what to get her. I panic buy, with 24 hours to go. I try to organise parties on neutral ground – at the beach say, with Molly’s school friends, their mums, my extended family – at a time when I don’t really feel like seeing anyone. I don’t like milestones or markings of time. The reasons why are both obvious and complex. But none of them is Molly’s fault. This summer I was determined to get her birthday right: a few friends, a sunny garden, a bag of streamers, a bag of balloons. It took place a week before her birthday. It made such a difference not to tangle her day with my unhappy calendar. It was only two hours, with some cake decorating, some dancing, some games but Molly loved it, and so did I. The fact that I achieved that for her may not sound a very big deal to you, but it was a very big deal to me.
The month improved too, when I received an Authors’ Foundation grant from The Society of Authors. The Roger Deakin award to be exact, which means a huge amount to me now I’m a Suffolk girl again. The grant was for a collection of poems I am about to start – about rural Suffolk lives. Something I’ve been thinking about since returning to live in the county, and a lot to do with my husband’s new life as a furniture maker. Through him – and through the restoration of our very old house, we’ve met a great deal of skilled people who work with their hands and I want to write poems about them. I want to write about the interesting, unique existences that are tucked away in this bucolic place. You can follow the project as it progresses on Instagram. It’s a complete change from my next collection, which is now finished but being edited. You can read about it, and a poem from it, in my recent interview for Poetry Spotlight.
I’m well and truly over pleurisy now, but it was good to air the poems I’ve written about the experience at UCLs Pain conference earlier this year. Such a fascinating two days, where I was lucky enough to meet Joanna Bourke, Rita Charon, Sharon Morris. A batch of the pleurisy poems are forthcoming in Stand next year. I’ve been writing articles/reviews for magazines. I reviewed Wendy French’s bold and brave collection Thinks Itself a Hawk for the medical humanities site BMJ Blogs. I wrote about Simon Armitage’s new translation of Pearl for The Lancet – and looked at the issue of fathers and bereavement. You can read the piece for free upon registration. And I’m delighted to be included in a commissioned series of short essays addressing ‘poetry in our secular world’ for Agenda, coming soon.
I’ll be mentoring the poet Victoria Kennefick over the next six months, as she works towards completing a full-length collection. I’m thrilled to be working with such an exciting new voice. We met on Twitter – where she is knowledgable, engaging and generous. I recommend you follow her. I especially like working closely with writers, on a one-to-one basis. If you are looking for a mentor, take a look at my teaching page, and do get in touch.
It’s not like me to do these kinds of posts – a summary of what’s been happening in my poetry life. Makes a change from the personal life I have shared so much of. I’m trying to shed the maudlin tone, believe me, but I will end with the biggest change this year – the death of my dog. A ‘rescue’ one year old, we had him for twelve years. He got a mention in Her Birth a few times, and even made a screen debut in an online poetry project a few years back. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start writing poems about his demise, but life is very different without him.