Wednesday 10 June 2020

Sirens - we face the uniformed wall

  As I’ve mentioned here before my Lockdown project is diving into fifty years of notebooks to see what pearls I come up with. Anyway in a 2017 notebook I found this poem called Sentinels. I have spent some time polishing it a bit, ready to join in new collection to be called With Such Caution.

And this week I’ve also been looking with some sympathy at the reportage around the Black Lives Matter demonstrations around the country and around the world. 

One account which touched me very deeply was a demonstrator’s account of her experience  of what is, apparentlycalled ‘Kettling’ (such a deceptively domestic term!) This is a really terrifying police strategy for controlling and containing demonstrators. 

I have said here before of my novels, that writing  fiction has allowed me to see through space and time.  This happens more through accident than design.

Looking at this poem  I see  that I was morphing into  the feelings I have now, years later,  when I am seeing the images of the police in action controlling the Black Lives Matter demonstrations.


They  stand there, the sirens -
short hair, muscular demeanour -
bluff, pragmatic - family men
here on the wrong planet perhaps.
‘I thought you were illegal.’

So much standing, waiting - .
suiting  standing, bristling types.
My Remegel and Ventolyn
are briefly challenged -
stupid me, still keeping  them in my bag

We face the uniformed wall with its 
 bullet-proof screens, which gives them  
an illusion of security -  
a sense of enclosure -
 without prioritising our safety.

                                                        Written 2017 Polished 2020

Lockdown Notebook Project

Monday 1 June 2020

Writing In Lockdown – The Stone Circle

Living in Lockdown is very much like living in a dark perpetual present with the feeling of death all around. But in this state I find my mind wandering back to other ‘presents’ which – I realise now - were to prove to be the roots of a whole range of novels. This is been hammered home to me in the last year as I worked on the stories in the Kaleidoscope collection - each fictional story set at some point in my 50 year past and rendered in the telling as the present. On reflection all my novels emerge from a sense of the present in the past: rendering the past as though it were the urgent, vibrant present. (The fictional stories in Kaleidoscope are  full of these urgent allusions. See right.)
And recently I have discovered -  in deep-diving into my 50 years of notebooks - how much my own present is bedded significantly in my own past. As well as this I am struck by how much an enduring sense of place has always featured in my writing.

I am not unique. I know that many writers clearly operate in the past in the present. And they add meaning to their fiction by their deep sense of place.  There are eminent examples of this – for instance we have Pat Barker bringing to present, urgent life the time of the Trojan wars and Hilary Mantel reliving for us turbulent Tudor times which have so many parallels in the present day.  

Anyway  the deep dive into my notebooks (from about 2008) I have discovered my poem called The Stone Circle. And now it occurs to me that in these stones crafted by human hands the present lives of the makers thousands of years ago still endure and add meaning to our contemporary lives. Certainly they have to mine.

 The Stone Circle

This stone circle was  formed 
by the chip chipping of men with skilful fingers.
And now it survives although though
 their string has withered  and their chalk 
has crumpled

Its original purpose was for,
 people coming  from miles around, to meet
at moon-rising to exchange their goods - 
and cream the profit from  
their surplus.

They sit here still, ghostly,  
in this green place surrounded by hills.
It mirrors the sun, which burns
  up there, not  acknowledging
 its puny planets.

ps. In writing this now I am reminded of lunchtimes in my Northern working class school when I escaped the pressures of the schoolyard and wandered around nearby graveyard making up stories in my head about the people whose names I read on the stones. I was nine years old and knew then I would be a writer. A working class writer, It seems they are trending now...


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