I am so relieved this week is over. It has been filled with the misery of the annual tax return. I think I’ve spent about three full days on it. Every year at this time I make a resolution to keep my books up to date, to file both my expenses and my income from my writing as I go along, to file my receipts according to month and not just throw them into a shoebox in the corner of the room. I said all of these things to myself last January when I was in the depth of despair and by February I’d forgotten. But this time I really mean it! I have even labelled envelopes month by month and I am slowly sorting through the receipts I have so far for this year. I have to get more organised about this because this coming tax year, my third working as a poet will be the year I make a financial profit from my writing. The first year I made quite a substantial loss and got a lovely tax rebate. This year I just about broke even, and next year, I will be in profit. For the last two years I’ve had the same amount of expenses, which shows that I’m doing the same amount of poetic stuff, but maybe getting paid better, or at least more often. This is amazing to me still, that I can earn money from doing something that I love so much. I hope I never take it for granted.
This time of year reminds me of why I started this blog as well, which was to document what it is like to be a poet, as well as other things. The best paycheques are always the small amounts from magazines – the £20 note from the lovely Rialto. The more hefty cheques from the TLS, Poetry Review and Poem. At the same time as feeling excited and happy for getting £20 or £50 for a poem, (a poem!) at the same time, I’m aware that if I divided the amount by the hours it took to write it, I’d probably be on a minimum wage of about thirty pence an hour but it doesn’t matter. These are the best paycheques because they are directly related to the physical act of writing.
But there are other things you can earn money for as a poet – thank goodness. Running workshops and residential courses, writing reviews and articles and of course performing have all added up to mean I’ve broke even this year. The cost of being a poet – buying books, magazine subscriptions, going to readings and attending workshops runs into the thousands, but I would do all of this if it didn’t earn me a bean.
The only break from the tax return this week has been rehearsing with my junior band on Monday and rehearsing with my quintet on Tuesday, and then finishing off the last few edits of the collection. It is now with the proof reader ( I think) and is starting to feel more and more real. Some exciting and welcome news for me is that the residential at Grange Over Sands in April has now officially sold out. If you are devastated by this news, it is worth contacting the hotel and putting your name down on the waiting list as sometimes there are cancellations.
Today’s Sunday Poem is by Roz Goddard who was one of the wonderful poets taking part in the St Ives residential poetry course. Roz read this poem on the last night and I found it really moving. It is a deceptively simple poem but it has a big heart. It strikes me now that a lot of the poem is centered around movement and journeying – the emotional journey of the speaker of the poem from ‘cracking jokes on the terrace’ to holding the hand of Gwen, the physical movement from a ‘little club of the well’ to the ‘circle of the dying’. The heart of the poem is for me in Stanza 3 – for such a quiet, self-contained poem I find this stanza shocking – although shocking isn’t quite the right word. Maybe surprising, or arresting is closer. It is the ‘circle of the dying’ that brings me up short and the hospice patients described as ‘serious gods’. Perhaps the most telling phrase though is ‘when I’d grown up’. Think what the poem would be without it – it would be completely transformed – the ‘I’ of the poem would be too satisfied with themselves. But with it, it becomes powerful, it becomes not just a poem about learning something about the world outside ourselves, but also about learning something about your own self.
I think I’m right in saying that this poem was highly commended in the Bridport Poetry Prize in 2014 – it is easy to see why – it has an emotional truth and a directness and is quietly powerful.
Roz Goddard co-ordinates the West Midlands Readers’ Network, an organisation that works extensively with libraries and readers’ groups, produces reading events and commissions new work from regional writers. She is also a poet and short-fiction writer. She has published four collections of poems, the most recent The Sopranos Sonnets and other poems (Nine Arches Press) featured on R3’s The Verb and her work is on permanent display in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. If you would like to find out more information about Roz Goddard you can check out her rather funky looking website
I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Roz for letting me use it.
Touch – Roz Goddard
That first morning at the hospice
I hung out with the ambulance men
cracking jokes on the terrace.
We were on the sunny side
a little club of the well with our
smiles and grand summer schemes.
Inside, I was afraid to step into
the circle where the dying sat.
Serious gods with their own laws
and freight of terrible plans. As if in
their territory there was no love
or laughs or splashes of gin.
Months later when I’d grown up I
held Gwen’s hand and found
her skin like mine, warm, craving touch.