Sunday, 29 November 2015

Running again

I went for my first run yesterday since having Gabriel two and a half months ago.. and it felt soo good!
I had forgotten how running is the best form of "me time" (don't like that phrase) - far better than a bath with scented candles for example! I had forgotten how the action of running shakes your mind clear, a bit like a sieve, leaving only the interesting nuggets to think about..
I had forgotten how free you feel, moving without anyone else, but yourself, and moving with your own energy and will.
I had forgotten how good it is to sweat
It was also very gratifying to feel my body remembering what to do, and how to do it. I was a little scared putting on my running stuff - what if it didn't fit, or it felt uncomfortable. It was like trying on an old self.
It was only three miles and  I am a little stiff today. But it helped me feel more like myself again, which is interesting, as I wouldn't have necessarily thought running was that integral to me. Perhaps it is. And I am grateful to be healthy enough to do it..
Actually, I have applied for a media place for the London Marathon again. If I do get it (I'm on maternity leave, so may not) then I may defer till the year after. But I have already thought about the charity I'd like to run for - the Aiden Goodwin Foundation, so we shall see.

I've read a couple of good first collections recently, but it was Andrew McMillan's Physical (Cape)that really stayed with me. I loved the visceral tenderness of the poems, many about being a young gay man, and the explorations of masculinity.  What is it to be a man in 2015? How can a man be? I don't have the book to hand to quote, but I will add to this later when I do..
I especially liked his poem Urination, which is an almost spiritual celebration of the male body, and what enters and leaves it. Highly recommended..

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

New mother ramblings

It's been so long since I had a small baby - 11 years - that I have forgotten what it was like. Or maybe it is simply different with each child. There are some lines in a poem by Fiona Benson that keep coming to me -

'It was always like this;

a long line of women
sitting and kneeling,
out of their skins
with love and exhaustion.'


[break off to tend to baby who has woken up with a cross cry]

I am out of my skin with a gentle, deep tiredness. It's as if I am living in a slightly different medium, more viscous than air and tinted with extra light and shade.
The days are simple; days of feeding and wiping and holding, singing. I only realise how much I talk to our baby when I am not alone with him and become self-conscious. I read his face every hour, watch it changing. Already the furrow between his brows has gone, and his eyelashes are growing. I can, and do, gaze at him for hours. Not particularly thinking anything ... just looking.
I'm sure there is an evolutionary imperative for this intense focus.. one of the delights of being a new mother is being swept up in the sheer biology of it all, from the flowing patient breasts to the particular, distinctive scent of each child, which is beyond description. The particular cry, too which I could pick out from dozens of other baby cries as my own baby's. The changing parameters of what is important.

I am well away from the wider world, and at the heart of this safe, small place. For now, anyway.

[break off to tend to baby who is looking at me like an imp ... I cannot ignore his gaze]


[baby has cried for most of the morning, I think. My watch has broken. I have given him a dummy which I didn't want to do before he was born.]

[I have written one sentence and he crying again]


Back again ...

Something I have been doing a lot is walking with the baby and the dog, an hour or so each day. I have walked the same route, through September and October, and watched this local world change as Autumn deepens.
The quality of light has altered - it has lost its golden slant and the dampness has thickened. The rosehips' hue dulling from brilliant, shiny red, the leaf fall, drifts of it, the russet creeper leaves dropping like hands, the gulls on the street lamps, the adolescent magpies with new adult plumage.

As the days shift, the world shifts, in tiny increments and over the weeks and months, quite profoundly. There is an aggregation into drifts of weeks, but also something unique to each day, whether it is the cloud cover, leaf fall, or stillness of the air.

I watch the leaf colour change at the base of a scraggy oak, and leach upward, as my baby's bones lengthen and soon he becomes too long for his suit.
Semi-delirious, my perceptions take on a gritty intensity. We do not need to speak. The traffic drone is incessant, benign. On sunny days, there is an ornate dragon fly that comes to our garden.
So much washing; tiny suits drying.

And to write of this is a release, and an honouring, for I know how fleeting these days are, how particular and specific, and how I will look back on them with clarity, and a sense of loss, as each leaf breaks itself down to nothing.


His tiny nostrils are like this  '   '
What do they say in that darkness, that space where he draws up air to his lungs?

Already, it is November
Already, I have felt impatience as he cries
Already, he is learning to miss the warm teat in his mouth
Already he knows of absence

He looks into corners; what does he see? The fall of light
Already, he turns to our voices; smiles
I learn the patterns of his breath
I place my ear to his chest and hear his wild heart going
A stranger tells me how lucky I am
Yes, I say, yes

Monday, 19 October 2015

When I was born

Just posting up occasional poems that haven't quite been finished or are flawed but have a pulse ... here's one I thought I'd share. It is in keeping with the theme of babyhood that is running through my bones at the moment..
The premise for this poem is the rather comforting fact that the world existed before you were born and will go on, blithely and regardless, when you've Alice Oswald said: "The only cure for mortality is mortality".
Happy Autumns, all.

When I was born 

Perhaps there was a man on the 18.18 to Dartford
and a blackbird swooped across his thoughts
and he noticed how yellow its bill was, like crocii,
and the train was bang on time
meaning he caught the fast connection to Dover
and ate stew with his children, told them tales.

I know it was a Friday afternoon 
and I’d like to say it was raining hard 
when I pushed through and the streets were
shining and the birds were singing 
but really I’ve no idea
if the world paused for a second,
in fact I’m sure it didn’t,
as indifferent as it shall be when I breathe my last
sweet breath and this is a comfort -
such bland indifference, 
though I like to imagine my father’s eyes.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Mary Evans Picture Library

hello there
Just a quick one ...

Our poetry group, the Nevada Street Poets, were delighted to be invited to respond to one of many thousands of images at the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath, this summer.
This wonderful building houses literally half a million images, from fine art to art deco to 70's advertising campaigns. Whatever you can think of, there will be an image of it...(within reason!)
My image below of the sculptor Charles Giron, produced a poem about the nature of art - and was chosen by fellow poet Kelley Swain.  I think we all made a point of choosing images for each other that perhaps would not have been our natural instinctive choices, and perhaps that made for quirkier, more suprising writing.
Anyway, you can read the poems below, in honour of National Poetry Day tomorrow.
And if any poets are reading this, you can respond to an image too, if so inspired, and send it in - details are on the site

Picture 10530690, portrait of the sculptor Jean Carries by Charles Giron, c.1880

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

brave new world

Hi blogsters.

Our beautiful baby, Gabriel, was born a week ago and he is a wonder. Sometimes impy, sometimes very old, sometimes just a tiny boy. Feeling very lucky to have him here safely in the world. And strange to think that less than a week ago he was still inside me and what a huge journey it is from being unborn, to born.  His umbilical stump is drying up hour by hour as he learns to live in his own body..

I also think a lot about the world he has been born in to, and what all the babies born now are inheriting from us. If he is lucky to have a long life, he will live to 2100.

All newborn babies are so precious and innocent. I think of those born into a world without a home, or a father, or safety, and how lucky we are to have our own beds, own front door, our freedoms.
Anyway I am writing this with one hand so will stop now but yes, a profound and moving experience to have him here sleeping in my arms, dreams running over his face in little mysteries and flickers..


Onto some poetry matters - I was delighted to have a poem painted up on a giant bill board on the corner of the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve as part of the Phytology project.

The billboard changes every few months, and there are some more details here -

My poem was inspired by St Jude - the Patron Saint of Lost Causes and the name of the church on the site which was bombed in the Second World War. There are still lumps of rubble and brick in the soil, which once were thick church walls. I must say it was loosely inspired by the structure of a poem by Mona Arshi, called You Are Not, from her collection Small Hands. I tried to write about the specific nature on the site - it's full of mushrooms and cyclamen at the moment, and i wanted it to be accessible for people passing by..

I've also got a poem going round Guernsey at the moment on the buses, which is fun. It's great to have some work 'out there'.
Back soon and thanks for reading

Monday, 7 September 2015

To the LIght of September

I love early Autumn, just as it turns. The light is slant and golden and there is a dampness in the mornings. At dawn, the windows are slick with dew and trees near our house are loaded with plums, pears and walnuts that have not fallen.

The nights come in, quietly with a grace to them. The air is more mineral and the light grainier,  rationed.

Another thing: the spiders, poised and present, between bins and branches and doors. 

There is a delicacy in these first weeks of Autumn, of leaves and seed heads holding on with a dignity of form. Teasel. Of outlines and structures and a falling away of dressings, ribbons and leaves.

Anyway, a time of beginnings and also reckonings; more so than January. 

I thought I'd share this beautiful poem that captures the qualities of this time of year -  I like the way it directly addresses September. Another lovely poem is Ted Hughes' October Dawn, but October seems far's to September, walking away with her back to us, with skirts of trailing leaves.

To the Light of September

When you are already here
you appear to be only
a name that tells of you
whether you are present or not

and for now it seems as though
you are still summer
still the high familiar
endless summer
yet with a glint
of bronze in the chill mornings
and the late yellow petals
of the mullein fluttering
on the stalks that lean
over their broken
shadows across the cracked ground

but they all know
that you have come
the seed heads of the sage
the whispering birds
with nowhere to hide you
to keep you for later

who fly with them

you who are neither
before nor after
you who arrive
with blue plums
that have fallen through the night

perfect in the dew
Source: Poetry (September 2003).

Friday, 28 August 2015


Ah, I've missed this blog and somewhat neglected it this summer but it has been a busy time. 

So ... for fear for straying into more personal territory than I usually do,  it is less than three weeks until I am due to give birth to our son. 
As I type these rather plain words, I still can't quite believe it. But there is a focusing, a narrowing down of attention I can feel in myself as he gets ready to be born. I feel this as I wash and fold babygrows (which if people know me, is really quite uncharacteristic) and also become increasingly preoccupied with the world close by, and the certainties of home. 
(It would be interesting to research the behaviour of animals as they prepare to give birth).
I remember just before I had our daughter I went through a manic few hours down on my knees, weeding! This will be the third birth and I hope it will be powerful and strong. 
Yesterday I had a growth scan and the baby had his hands up over his face, like a dormouse. It all seems both remote and completely intimate...especially when I am waking up all night with his rolls and shifts. 
I like the idea there are two heart-beats in my body, beating at different speeds. 
I'm also going to ask to see my placenta, if possible, as I'd like to look at the organ that has sustained the baby for these months, and also think about the idea it is a genetic interloper. Both slightly sinister and incredibly rich, like a sort of benign second mother-lode..flesh that is not my flesh but I have grown.


Anyway, I have been writing as much as I can this month, as part of the residency for the phytology project at Bethnal Green Nature Reserve. Much of what I have been doing is, perhaps unsurprisingly, botanical, with some charms using herbs found at the site and based on Anglo Saxon translations. Someone recommended the Bosworth Toller dictionary which has been so useful. 
I like the AS riddles and charms best of all. Most exciting for me is when some of the language is directly linked to our speech and sentiments of today. There is also a lovely sense of rhythm and music as all these poems were meant to be spoken and heard, and were often performative charms. 

Here are just a few words..
Beaorn is child, flaed is beauty, frith, peace and weald power. Leof - beloved, wifcild (girl child) and fugol (fowl) with finc, cocc and nigtegale. Then there is meoluc (milk), and litmus (litr) is dye and moss. 
I've also been reading a bit of herbal folklore with remedies, often known as a 'purgative spew drink' for people with whom 'the devil has intercourse' for example.  Some of the folklore is pretty - if a girl washes her face in the dew from the hawthorn tree she will always be beautiful. 
And some are downright bawdy - "for a woman that has great breasts - anoint her paps with the juice of succory - it will make them round and hard.
"If they be hanging or bagging, it will draw them together, whereby they shall seem like the paps of a maid." 
Better than a dodgy silicone implant. 
That's from a book called Hatfield's Herbal, found here - 


I have also been reading a lovely Picador anthology somewhat soppily titled 'All the poems you need to say hello' and edited by Kate Clanchy. It's full of an eclectic range of poems about making life and this is one of my favourites so far, by Paul Muldoon, which captures something of the chatter and beauty and multiplicity of the world a child comes into.  I particularly like the banality and briskness of the ending which somehow both deflates any pomposity yet celebrates birth (and humanity).  Sorry about the picture quality!