The plan is to make a whole pack of collage poems based on Tarot cards. This is as far as I have got with the collage part, though I have written twelve poems. I thought it was time to bring the visual art and the poem writing aspects of my practice together and it will give me something to work on project-wise now Bluebeard is (hopefully!) roaming the bookshelves.
The idea is still very much on the cutting mat as this picture demonstrates. The scalpel to the left is the one I bought when I began my Foundation Art and Design course when I was 19. I’ve changed the blade more than a few times of course, as needs must.
I haven’t been told officially yet, but it’s been in the Eastern Daily Press, and shared about on Twitter and Facebook, that Waiting for Bluebeard has been shortlisted for the East Anglian Book Award this year, along with Rebecca Goss (Her Birth) and George Szirtes (Bad Machine), so it must be true. I am of course extremely pleased to be in such company! I don’t expect to win, but I’ve never been on any kind of shortlist before, so to say ‘I already feel like a winner’, while reaching for the schmalz-cliche-sick-bucket, is an actual state of fact.
Because Bluebeard is such a personal book, I was taking quite a risk (as risky as you can get with poetry!) by putting it out into the world: Here is my life: please be kind. So far, I have had some wonderful online reviews, and there are some paper ones coming up too. People have emailed me and facebooked me and tweeted me with lovely comments and lots of women have come to me with their own Bluebeard stories and I feel so blessed that the book has not gone unnoticed. The word ‘blessed’ here, has me reaching for my aforementioned bucket. I do not use that word in everyday parlance, but somehow it’s what I arrived upon here.
(Dear reader, if you have just happened on this site and don’t have a Scooby Doo what I’m talking about when I say the book is so personal, follow this link to something I wrote about the writing of Waiting for Bluebeard for Michelle McGrane’s Peony Moon)
Back to my thread, if I had one…oh yes, I was getting all gushy…So, to conclude: I am enormously pleased that the book has been recognized in the world of prizes. It took twenty years to make and five years to write. More than half my life. It’s probably the best book I will ever write. *looks wistfully into the middle-distance*. Coffee time!
I said I was going to write something every week, and this has turned into a ‘what I did on my holidays’ type post. It’s what I found myself writing, so here goes.
In an attempt to catch the last light of summer, we borrowed a friend’s caravan for a couple of days on the north Norfolk coast. It’s one of those deals where the caravan lives on the site all year, and the owner tows it to plot when you want to use it and hooks you up to electricity if electricity is your thing. We decided to forego electricity and be closer to nature. Apparently electricity doesn’t go as far as the sea. We noticed on the way in to the site, there were a Crazy Golf course and a field of show-jumping hurdles.
There were a few dogs on the site, not any old dogs – pedigree creatures with a sharp intelligence about their eyes. Their humans had set up little fences around their vans, and more and more, the site resembled a dog compound. The thing about intelligent, beautiful dogs is that their audible mode of communication is barking, and to the untrained human ear this can sound the same as the mutterings of a lower-minded canine. Caravans are not known for their high levels of soundproofing and barking – barking growing by the hour as more and more dogs arrived – is not kept at bay by plywood and glass fibre alone, we found out.
By the second day we seemed to be the only unaccompanied humans on the site and it had transpired the previous evening that there was going to be a Dog Agility Competition on the site over the coming weekend. Suddenly the penny dropped with coppery clarity – the hurdles for ponies were in fact hurdles for dogs. The formation of these hurdles had altered into more complex diagrams since our arrival – presumably the early-bird dogs were being put through their paces in preparation for the trials ahead.
The barking didn’t travel over the dunes so we took a few beers to the sea, which was bigger than usual. I’d cut up some lime to go in the fancy beer as we sat drinking and gazing out at the horizon, we were joined by three very friendly Border Collies and their proud owner who told us of their rosettes and triumphs. The dogs showed no respect for my neatly sliced lime sections, which were now very just soggy sand-clumped somethings. The owner appeared not to notice how his trio had laid waste to our idyll, as he cheerily waved goodbye and they marauded off.
We packed up a day earlier than we intended deciding if you can’t beat them, run away. The week was rounded off in a more rock ‘n’ roll way by witnessing a friend jump, fully clothed into a swimming pool at a house party. I’ve since written two new tarot poems, none with barking in per se but the sea and immersion figure in both. I have also just looked up the term ‘Dog Days’ and should have liked to have woven it into this somewhere more neatly, but have instead tacked it on the end because I need to make a potato, tomato and tamarind curry.
I like writing and have decided I am going to try to do more if it. Yes, yes, I know I’ve said this before. I used to write a blog post every day and did that for nearly a year and for some reason I stopped, just fell out of the habit. I have decided latterly that writing a blog post every day . . . forever. . . is quite a commitment, so perhaps something just once a week is more realistic. We’ll see.
So what’s shaking Helen? Why this sudden lurch back? Well, it’s funny you should ask that because I was thinking the same thing myself. Ok, Waiting for Bluebeard was flung into the world at the end of May. And? Well, what do you write about when you have already written your life? Wait up, so you think all of your poetry writing is done and dusted and you’re making your laurels into some kind of seating arrangement? Would you ever stop talking to yourself?
New paragraph. So, what I am focusing on now is a series of poems based on tarot cards. I needed to get out of the space of my head and into more of an ekphrastic space, in order to get myself writing again. After I’d handed in the manuscript of Bluebeard last year, I wrote a handful of tarot poems. To my horror, a few weeks ago I noticed I hadn’t actually written anything save a couple of commissioned poems since last December, which is probably the longest I have gone without writing a poem since I’ve been writing poems. So as well as the blog-keeping horse, I am now also getting back onto the poem-writing horse. Oh, if only horses could write poems…Syllabics, I reckon they’d be into syllabics.
I’ve led myself into a blind alley with a syllabic horse. It’s night time and I can hear it meting beats with its hooves.
I started writing this book in 2008, but I didn’t really know I was writing this book. I found myself writing some poems based on part real, part imagined events of my childhood, and I was interested in how to get at a metaphorical truth of how parts of my childhood felt. After a couple of years I thought I’d finished that book and started writing poems about a person called Bluebeard (the wife-murderer, not the pirate - just to clarify!) and it slowly dawned on me that this was part of the same narrative. The book is in two parts – the childhood bit, then the bad relationship bit and the blurb I wrote for the back of the book (I hate the word ‘blurb’ but this is commonly used) …anyway, the blurb I wrote for the back of the book reads:
“Waiting for Bluebeard tries to understand how a girl could grow up to be the woman living in Bluebeard’s house. The story begins with a part-remembered, part-imagined childhood, where seances are held, and a father drowns in oil beneath the skeleton of his car. When her childhood home coughs up birds in the parlour, the girl enters Bluebeard’s house paying the tariff of a single layer of skin. This is only the first stage of her disappearing, as she searches for a phantom child in a house where Bluebeard haunts the corridors like a sobbing wolf.”
The cover image, photographed by my husband-photographer-poet in residence Martin Figura, is of things which I made using found and cast objects placed into Kilner Jars, which I call Preserves. The mouse is called Mouse, and he lives on my desk.
If you read it, I hope you like it. It’s the closest to autobiography I have come, so it’s all terribly exposing…..
There are a few poems on Poetry International from the collection here
And here’s is a link to the book on Amazon
And here’s a video of me (Heaven forfend!) reading from Waiting for Bluebeard and my third collection The Breakfast Machine.
I first had the idea for this anthology about a year ago As a poet and a teacher of creative writing, I have always loved hearing writers talk about their writing; about the differences and similarity of process and craft. I mentioned it to George Szirtes and he said he would be interested in working on it with me. I had a meeting with Chris Emery at Salt the day after and abracadabra, we had the makings of an anthology. I can’t believe it has all been turned-around so quickly – I was expecting, if anything for it to come into publication next year.
As ever, it was a joy to work with George on this project. It was remarkably easy to collate. The book is by no means comprehensive and not everybody we asked took part, as we say in the Introduction. Not everybody likes writing about about their own writing, and some didn’t have time to turn the piece around to meet the deadline. As we say in the blurb ‘This book is not a retrospective but a representation of poetry as a living breathing, evolving art.’ It is a celebration of variousness; an attempt at mapping poetry in the UK today and we are grateful to everybody who contributed to it and made it such immensely exciting and enjoyable read. We are delighted with it.
Here is the link to the book on the Salt website for more information about our 56 wonderful contributors.
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