Thursday, 4 March 2021

With Such Caution - A Life Glimpsed in Short Pieces

‘I think With Such Caution is alive, raw in its emotional reach, finely polished in its language, and has a universal relevance.’ A.J.

The bright spot in my lockdown year – drenched as it was with the caring, health preoccupations, peripheral boredom and occasional panic - found real value for me in the form of my self-elected task of collecting short pieces sometimes called poems from 50 years of my working notebooks.

Cheered on by my friend the fine poet and novelist Avril Joy and literary scholar Donna Maynard - who is fascinated by the notion of archive -  this very special collection has finally blossomed during this year of confinement.


My hundred or so notebooks have served through the decades as my best friends, my confidantes, my research assistants and my counsellors. In this way this Lockdown Year has given me the space to survey my notebooks, harvesting short pieces which – I discovered – had captured a range of universal truths about my life as though they were  butterflies in a net.  So I have spent this fallow time exploring these harvested pieces and moulding, editing and refining them to the point where they have revealed true elements of my whole - pretty long - life.


So these poems are pure glimpses of a long life - some glimpses recalled again 30 or 40 years later; most of them written on the cusp of the events that inspired them, to be revisited during this fallow year and re-interpreted as I reflected on them  afresh.


I think your voice is one of the collection's great strengths, I hear it speak clearly and candidly throughout and, among other things, it sounds frank, intelligent, intellectually curious, honest, questioning, hurt, warm, amused, reflective, probing and combative. It is a great idea also to include footnotes which add another aspect or layer of voice as if you are speaking directly to the reader.’ DM.


And now I have moved on to the complex process of publishing this collection - a very different process from from the more familiar tasks of writing and editing my own work.  Here was a very different category of decision-making. Readers of this blog wilI know that I have embraced this new publishing process several times before but it is never easy. It is so much more challenging, in my view, than actually writing my long novels (see list on the right) which were published by mainstream publishers.


‘I am wholly convinced of the value of short pieces/ poetry as memoir. It is every bit as much, as authentic and true, as any prose account and there are ways in which it gets beneath the skin of a life to the deep self - in a way - to the soul. AJ.)


One important decision was the title: after much head-wrangling I decided it would be With Such Caution - borrowing the title from one of the pieces in the collection:  


         In her early life, timid and shy,
         she pre-empted risks by keeping
         her horizons low and her head
         bent down over her books.


,
With Such Caution is a perfect title choice. As a title poem it gets to the heart of the shy, timid, girl that haunts you still. She is alive in these pages, Wendy, we feel her caution, her apprehensions and fears’ AJ.

Then there was the decision about the cover – very important, as I know, to engage  potential readers.

 My collaborator in this part of the  process was the talented designer Kate Hall  of Kate Hall Design, who worked her special magic on my concept of the book and developed exactly my dream cover. This image  too - like the title - begins with a little shy girl who would always be a writer. Take a look. 


If you get hold of the book you will realise that this is not a conventional memoir. You will notice that the poems are not set out in here in autobiographical time. Rather they are inspired by my feelings about the pieces in the present time, as I have edited them and put them in order for this special collection. Perhaps you could say  the ordering constitutes a glimpse of my state of mind in the present day while I have been working on this collection.


 ‘I like so much that you haven’t chosen a linear path - I think when we reflect on our lives we do so in myriad images and scattered memories. I suppose I’m saying that your chosen form mimics the process of remembering…’  AJ.

Inevitably members of my family have roles to play in this collection, albeit seen  through the veil of my selective memory and my  idiosyncratic emotional perceptions. I have already posted on this  blog one of the poems featuring my mother, Barbara. (Scroll down...And now the poem at the end is this pieces focuses on Billy, my father. I thought you might like it as is just one illustration much of what I have tried to say here. 

'... there is a creative unity which is an important part of your authentic writer’s voice, aligned as it is with your refusal to be confined or limited by genre or received wisdom - something of course which is underscored in the collection in poems such as Outsiderness, With Such Caution’and ‘Different Worlds.' DM. 

 I very much hope you  enjoy reading With Such Caution and perhaps reflect  on your own lives, And I hope the writers among you will be inspired to survey their own notebooks for similar inspiration.  


I am pleased to day that With Such Caution is available now in paperback and ln  Kindle on Amazon  HERE


WX


Billy: A Daughter’s Tale

 We walked along, your giant’s hand in mine, 

 long fingers poking inside my hand-knitted sleeve.

Remember the nights she left the house for work?

You sat and read the paper as I scaled your knee

settling, birdlike, into that rustling space.

 

Remember how we cut out pictures

and pasted them into the Panjandrum book?

Remember how you read us stories -

your voice going up and down

like the waves of the sea?

 

So very sorry you don’t know my youngest –

like you he’s  highly numerate - you

did not see him standing tall for Tai Kwan Do 

(white clad and obliquely oriental)

or cricket-ready, complete with pads

and helmet and faceguard protection.

 

It’s a lifetime since I passed your dying age

of thirty seven. And now I contemplate

how very young you were  when

you abandoned your life and mine,

when - to my nine-year self - you seemed eternal.

 

It has taken two generations

between then and now  for me

to ventilate  the retrospective pain

of losing you too soon.


                 Note :  My father died when I was nine and I see now  that our relationship was the template                                                                         for my whole life.

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