I’ll get to the strange and wonderful part in a minute, but firstly I wanted to briefly look back at 2019, which has felt pretty whirlwind so far.
January to March was spent completing my thesis, which I began at the University of East Anglia in 2018. The shorter timeframe of a PhD by Publication is intense, but I met the deadline, and could not have written my thesis without the help, guidance and support from my supervisors Rebecca Stott and Sophie Robinson. Both women were wise, frank and astute at every meeting and with so many things I wanted to say, they made sure I never lost my way. I passed my viva, with no corrections, in May. Poet Denise Riley and Professor Neil Vickers, Co-Director of the Centre for Humanities and Health at King’s College London were my examiners and to talk to them about Her Birth, grief and disclosure was illuminating. I spoke about my research for the first time publicly, at the Postgraduate Contemporary Women’s Writing Network conference in Hull at the start of September, and an extract from my thesis has just been published in the autumn edition of Poetry Review. I am still thinking about what to do with the thesis next, but for now I’m reassured by Rebecca Stott’s recent and accurate words to me, that the act of writing the PhD ‘did its immediate work.’ There were things I needed to explore closely, as a writer and as a bereaved mother, and I achieved that I think.
Three days before my viva, I launched my latest poetry collection Girl at the Parafin Gallery in London, where Girl’s cover artist Alison Watt, was exhibiting her work. I think most people know by now about my slight obsession with Alison’s work. (I wrote a piece about how her paintings have inspired me for the Carcanet blog several months ago). Despite feeling hugely anxious about the looming viva, the launch was a lovely night. A gathering of friends and family, with my bigger kids running the bar, John Clegg as LRB bookseller extraordinaire and my eight-year old Molly working the room, chatting to more people than I did. I am very grateful to Parafin for letting me use their gorgeous gallery space. To read my poems, surrounded by Alison’s paintings, meant a great deal.
Girl has had some nice reviews and has gone on to be Highly Commended in the Forward Prizes 2019, with the poem ‘Rachel’. The book has also been shortlisted for the 2019 East Anglian Book Awards alongside Lavinia Greenlaw’s The Built Moment and Helen Ivory’s The Anatomical Venus in the Poetry category. I’m honoured to stand beside them both. Carousel, my collaboration with photographer Chris Routledge, still feels like a new book, but is almost a year old now. There’s a lovely review at London Grip.
In July, I began the collaborative project Science, Poetry and the Brain, at Cambridge University’s Lucy Cavendish College. Eight poets have been paired with a scientist each, to discover more about their field of research and write a responding poem. The poems will be aired at an event with all the poets and scientists present, on October 26th, as part of Cambridge’s Festival of Ideas. ‘My’ scientist is the virologist Nicola Rose, and she wrote an excellent piece for the Lucy Cavendish College blog about the day we first met. You can read it here.
August began with a week long residency for Suffolk Libraries as an artist in residence at Hadleigh Library. It was part of the arts programme BLOC: Building Libraries on Creativity and involved five East Anglian artists being given the time to develop their own creative practice, as well as working together to share ideas and think about how libraries can become creative hubs. I was the only writer there that week, and loved being around visual artists for five days, watching them work. After that, the coast. For the Gosses, August is about birthdays and sad anniversaries, but this year we managed an overdue holiday, our first in four years. We didn’t go far, liking this county as we do, but just to be able to wake up and walk to the shore with dog, daughter and a crabbing bucket was enough.
My Suffolk Poems are (still) ticking over, and September has seen a new one published in the first issue of Bath Magg, an exciting online magazine from editors Joe Carrick-Varty and Mariah Whelan. The autumn continues with several readings coming up, including Manchester Literature Festival and Poetry in Aldeburgh. See my events page for more information. I’ve been mentoring some great poets this year. It’s wonderful to see their successes and I’m finding the role of mentor to be more and more rewarding. I’m still a regular at the Poetry Cafe, providing Poetry Surgeries to give feedback on poems in progress. Slots are available for my next session in a few weeks time. I’ll be back at Arvon too, tutoring ‘Discovering the Tools’ alongside Kei Miller in February 2020.
And the strange and wonderful part is that for the first time, in a very long time, I have felt happy. I mention it because I experienced it as a real physical sensation. No different from being aware of a headache, or an oncoming sneeze. Several months ago, I felt waves of genuine happiness rush through me, and I realised I had not felt anything like that for over a decade. There are lots of reasons why I think this is happening now, including feeling very settled here in Suffolk after our move from Liverpool, the people important to me are well and thriving, and I dealt with so much when writing the thesis. I have never believed in ‘moving on’, or ‘getting over’ grief, but I want to tell other bereaved people that one day, you might be out walking, maybe with a dog, the weather will be irrelevant, but you will feel happiness return to you. It may only be fleeting, but it will feel like the start of being restored.