Monthly Archives: January 2019

Feeling like myself

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For the last three days, I have been feeling like myself. I hesitate to write this in case it stops being true.  It feels strange to suddenly slip back into the place and the routine and the way of moving through the world that my old self occupied, but this seems to be what has happened.  It started slowly – Monday evening I took myself to another room and sat and picked up a book for my PhD that I’d started reading back in September, before I got pregnant.  The book is Relating Narratives by Adriana Cavarero.  I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest read, and I was worried about how I would get back into it all, but it felt like a relief, like climbing into a hot bath when you’ve been cold for a long time.

Reading Judith Butler back in September led me to Cavarero.  Cavarero says things like

the story reveals the meaning of what would otherwise remain an intolerable sequence of events

which makes such beautiful and perfect sense that I don’t mind not understanding anything else that she writes.  She talks a lot about narratability, about knowing the self as being narratable, or worthy of narration, and also of being exposed, and how we are all exposed to the world and to each other, that a life-story cannot exist without these two conditions.  She says

Only in the improbably case of a life spent in perfect solitude could the autobiography of a human being tell the absurd story of an unexposed identity, without relations and without world.

And though I have felt lonely in these last four months, though it has felt at times like everything was moving on without me while I was trapped in a body that was betraying me somehow, I know that later on, I will be able to find the story behind these events, the story behind the days when all my restlessness was taken from me.

On Tuesday I read more of Caravero.  When she says that women’s art ‘aspires to a wise repudiation of the abstract universal, and follows an everyday practice where the tale is existence, relation and attention’ something lights up in my mind, and I know that there is another path that I need to follow, around relationality and everyday practice which will link to another part of my PhD, that currently sits in darkness, because I’ve not reached it yet.

She writes about exposability, and exhibition of the self and the lack of space for women to do this in a political sphere, but by political she doesn’t mean political institutions, but rather ‘the plural and interactive space of exhibition that is the only space that deserves the name of politics’ which I take to mean that we need the space to talk about our experiences/lives/life-stories in a ‘space of exhibition’ and what better space of exhibition than poetry and poetry readings?

And through all of this, I have started to feel the baby moving, so though I say I feel like my old self, which is true, I am both my old self, and I am changed because there is someone else with me.  The movements feel like tiny bubbles, usually on the right side of my stomach.  They are not uncomfortable, but they feel strange, and I’m still not used to them – I am still surprised every time.

On Tuesday evening I am due at Barrow Writers, a monthly critiquing group run by one of my friends, the excellent poet Jennifer Copley.  I haven’t written a poem since all of this started except when I look back through my notebook, I find some notes, about being ill, about realising, no not realising, knowing, knowing as completely as I will ever know anything again, that I am trapped in a body, about not knowing.  I type it up, even though even the act of typing it makes me blush. I feel embarrassed now, now that I’m standing on the other side of the sickness and the fatigue.  It feels like exaggeration when I type the words, but I have nothing else to take, and sometimes embarrassment means the poem is risking something, which might mean something later.

On Wednesday I run for four miles, my longest run since being pregnant.  It is a beautiful day – the type of day that is cold enough that the air hurts the back of your throat, but the sun is still warm enough to feel.  I get back, and read more Cavarero and then get distracted by reading a book of essays called Soul Says by Helen Vendler.  An essay about Louise Gluck’s collection The Wild Iris sends me back to the collection again, maybe my fourth or fifth time of re-reading.  The first poem ‘The Wild Iris’ is one of my favourite poems.  You can find it here http://www.poetrymountain.com/authors/louisegluck.html

but is there any more perfect start to a poem than ‘At the end of my suffering/there was a door.’

The next essay is about A.R.Ammon and I remember that I saw that Simon Armitage has an essay in the recent Poetry Review about Ammon, who I’d only heard of and not read anything of.  Vendler says that Ammon in an interview wished to ‘draw a distinction between public responsibility  (writing with one eye on the topical) and public effect (in the short run, subversion; in the longer run, perhaps, conversation)’ and that this is ‘only one proof of his careful and anxious intelligence’.

It sends me to my anthologies to find poems by him and now it’s Thursday and I like the distinction between the short and long term public effects that poetry can bring about.  Poems that start conversations – to write such things, seems like the smallest ambition and also perhaps the most generous, all at the same time.

I’ve read two more chapters of Cavarero interspersed with writing quickly four terrible first drafts – more ‘All the Men I Never Married’ which might not ever make the light of day but I hope have something of Cavarero’s thoughts inside them, when she says that identity ‘from beginning to end, is intertwined with other lives – with reciprocal exposures and innumerable gazes – and needs the other’s tale’.

 

You can buy The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck here from the Carcanet website https://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781857542233

You can buy Relating Narratives by Adriana Cavarero here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Relating-Narratives-Storytelling-Selfhood-Philosophy/dp/041520058X

You can buy Soul Says by Helen Vendler http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674821477

Hello 2019

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It’s been over a month since I last blogged and I’m really pleased to report that I am feeling a lot, lot better than the last time I wrote on here.  I seem to have turned the corner with the worst of the hyperemesis gravidarum that I’d been struggling with.  In fact, I woke up in Week 13 of being pregnant and felt suddenly better – which seemed completely bizarre, even though lots of people had told me that this would happen.  People kept telling me to hang in until Week 12, the end of the first trimester and I’ve got to say that Week 12 was probably the worst week for me mentally.  I felt really depressed and down as well as being physically exhausted, and started to worry that I was going to be ill right through the pregnancy which is a possibility with hyperemesis gravidarum.

There were moments when I really didn’t want to carry on with the pregnancy because I felt so ill, and if I’m honest, the only thing that stopped me carrying that through was because I felt too ill to get myself to the doctors.  The thought of having the conversation was exhausting and overwhelming – it was easier to just lay on the sofa and feel miserable.  I’ve since found out that it’s estimated that 10% of women who suffer with HG end up having a termination of a wanted pregnancy.  It seems that there is still not a lot known about the condition, and it is pot luck whether you get a doctor or midwife who is sympathetic and knowledgeable.

Now that I’ve got through the worst (hopefully) I’m so, so glad that I stuck it out. I would say to anyone else suffering from morning sickness – the diagnosis of HG is not constant vomiting but whether your symptoms are so severe that they are debilitating – i.e they stop you living your life. As soon as I told the doctor that I was on the sofa all day and night and couldn’t climb the stairs, that I was unable to walk or stand because I was so exhausted and that I felt sick all the time, I should have been diagnosed with HG and given medication.  However, because I was still at that point, able to eat and drink a little, I was told basically to just get on with things, and things progressed and got much worse, ending up with a hospital stay and severe dehydration.

Anyway, that terrible period is over, and it is a new year! Over Christmas I made the mistake of stopping taking my anti sickness medication altogether because I felt really good.  Gradually, I became unable to eat anything again and things came to a head in an unfortunate throwing up episode in the services on the way back up north after leaving my parents house down in Leicester.  I only just made it into the toilets and had to throw up down a toilet which someone else had not flushed! I was breathing in someone else’s urine for a good five minutes – this experience probably comes in a close second behind the hospital canteen vomiting episode for pregnancy trauma.

I’m back on my tablets again and feeling much better.  In fact I can’t believe how different I feel now – not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.  I’m excited for the first time about being pregnant and looking forward to having a baby for the first time.  If someone had told me a few weeks ago, I would be feeling happy and excited about it, I wouldn’t have believed them!  That’s another weird thing that happens in pregnancy though – things change hugely from week to week.

In the last few weeks I’ve been running again, although very slowly.  I managed to play my trumpet on New Years Eve with the soul band I play with, the Soul Survivors, with a combination of sitting down to rest and standing up to play the high notes.  My stamina on the trumpet has never been better – maybe because there’s a solid mass of baby sitting underneath my diaphragm and helping to support it?  I noticed I was getting some pain towards the end of the night around my pelvis bone area – I’ve also been getting pain there after going for a run.  It was really bad yesterday but better today – I’ve ordered a belt to support my belly when I’m running and will take it easy and monitor it till then.  I really don’t want to go back to the doctors if I can help it this week, as I feel like I spend half of my life there at the moment!

I don’t really want to do a huge review of 2018 – so much happened, besides getting pregnant and becoming ill.  I taught on four residential courses – a schools course at Ty Newydd with Hilda Sheehan, a Garsdale Retreat course, a weeks residential in St Ives with Helen Mort and a Poetry Carousel in Grange-Over-Sands with Sean O’Brien, Greta Stoddart and Andrew McMillan.  Plans for next year’s Poetry Carousel are already afoot – I’ll be moving the course to Rydal Hall just outside Grasmere, so keep an eye on the blog for news of dates and tutors, which should be immanent.

I also did lots of readings all over the place – probably my highlights were reading at the Gdansk Poetry Festival in Poland in March as part of Versopolis and returning to Ty Newydd to perform as a guest poet for Gillian Clarke and Robert Minhinnick’s Masterclass.  This felt really special to me because Ty Newydd was where my writing journey began – it is still a little bit surreal to me that I’m returning there as a reader, after attending so many courses there as a participant.

Another highlight was Kendal Poetry Festival which I run alongside Pauline Yarwood.  This year it took place in September, but we are planning to move it back to June for the next instalment, which is looking likely (due to various commitments for both myself and Pauline) to be June 2020, giving us a year and a half to organise it, which worked well this year.

I also managed to pass my RD2 for my PhD and complete a good chunk of the creative work for it, and at my last count, I have about 9500 words of my thesis.  2018 was the year I really started to enjoy doing a PhD, instead of constantly worrying about it.  I feel like I’ve got my head around what I want it to look like now, what shape it is going to be, and I just need to find the head space and the energy to ease myself back into it now.  I decided to take a rain check on it all till after Christmas but am looking forward to getting back to it now I’m feeling a bit better.

Before that happens though, I have the small matter of 9500 poems sitting in my house.  I’m one of the judges this year for the National Poetry Competition, and I’ve spent the last few weeks reading for this.  I’m relieved I had this work to be getting on with, as it was something that I could do even whilst feeling really ill.  Our first deadline for sending a long list over is approaching very soon, and whilst I’ve enjoyed doing this, it will be a relief to tick this job off my list!

I’m not making any new years resolutions either – I want to try and keep the pressure off myself for once.  I want to keep running for as long as I can through the pregnancy, and once the National Poetry Competition reading is done, I’ll be getting back onto my PhD and getting as much of that done as possible before the baby arrives, but that’s about the extent of my plans!  I won’t be blogging on here every week throughout 2019, but I hope to keep in touch on here at irregular intervals.   Thank you to those who have been in touch and sent well wishes – I really appreciate each and every one of them, and I hope to see you all in person at some point during this year.