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