A poem I’ve always loved by Stephen Dunn, Happiness, is particularly poignant for me at the moment:
A state you must dare not enter
with hopes of staying,
quicksand in the marshes, and all
the roads leading to a castle
that doesn’t exist.
But there it is, as promised,
with its perfect bridge above
and its doors forever open.
I am happy. I don’t know how I got to the castle but I did, and the crocodiles are nowhere to be seen! I don’t expect it to last, after all I am a manic depressive and it’s never been in my nature to be purely happy. I think I am contented though, and I think that will last because things lately are so much easier, and I love my family and we are having a lot of fun.
Something I am finding very difficult, however, is how to explain to people what it means to me to write poems, to read poems, to understand poems and to be an author. I don’t know many writers personally, I’m very much cocooned in my own world, my own castle. I find that people most often want to know if you’re making money or expect you to have done and are therefore puzzling to them because you are poor. I try to tell people that there’s no money in writing poetry and that it isn’t the point, but if not for money why would I waste so much time writing poems that aren’t even worth pounds? I never talk about this with anyone, it seems indecent for me to have to explain my art to people who have never even read a poem since highschool. I am feeling the tension about the book for next year with people who have just got the wrong idea. There’ s no wealth, no fame, no success worth having, and it cannot be achieved as a primary goal if you love to write. You write because you love. You write because it connects you to ideas, and readers, and life. You write because you are concerned for life and take interest in the minutae and have a huge heart. You write because you don’t know what else to do. It doesn’t always work, it doesn’t always mean anything at all, but you do it because you are human, and you want to feel human and you want to make an expression of humanity. You make a commitment to humanity when you write it all down, you make a little pledge with the world and with your emotions. You get somewhere, you explain things to yourself you would never have arrived at without poetry and thought. It is deeply pleasurable to write, when it feels right it feels amazing. You hold it all in your mind and in your body and then one day something snaps inside and you say, that’s right, and you put it all down, all that tension, all that language. It’s more often that not disappointing, because most things you want to say are so difficult and basic English doesn’t do them justice. But that spurs you on to try. How can you create poems and want there to be any other reason than you can’t stand it when you don’t write and you love to think that way and describe life and love in that way. This is not naivety, this is what I’m up against. I have the mental health team employment support coming round on Friday. Do you think they’ll be at all interested? They will get me a job at tesco in a flash. Even I, with no self esteem whatsoever, knows that I’m worth more than that.
And you are still wondering if I will make any money. Well it’s hardly vanity publishing but I assure you, the money is not even close to being worth anything to me, if indeed I sell any books, which I’m quite sure is not easy.
I wish I could say how much it means to have my work accepted and published. It is a justification, it is an honour, and it is a happy dream, you have always liked to think that your work would be liked and would be wanted and would be valid. It’s very hard to say what that means. It’s not about vanity, it’s about acceptance and belonging, it’s about being part of something really energetic and new that makes a change from being in your little house with your little notebooks and your little voice. And of course I always wanted to connect with others, I just found it easier to be alone. I feel like I can now call myself a writer, instead of always replying dimly,’ I’m a housewife.’ Screw housewife. I am a writer.
There’s been some setbacks with the schedule for Bite Your Tongue.. so I will announce as soon as it is available. I’ve been reading another Chipmunka writer’s memoir, Victim of Dreams, by Jeremy Gluck, who has a huge amount to say and to offer to anyone wanting to read an expressive account of mental illness. He has a distinctive prose style and is a unique voice on challenging mental health issues. Buy his ebook and help fight the stigma.