I can’t believe the last time I blogged was on the 10th January and that a couple of months have whizzed by. I’m now 27 weeks pregnant – way over half way there. This is a photo of me and my super mum, who has just started running a few months ago, and you will be able to see the bump if you look carefully! This was park run a few weeks ago so it’s even bigger now!
Although I’m feeling a lot better now – the hyperemesis gravidarum has passed, thank goodness, it has still been a strange experience negotiating this new relationship with my body, which seems to change every day. I’m under the care of an obstetrician, because I lost so much weight (about a stone and a half) in the first trimester. I had my appointment the other day and was told that the baby’s size was at the ‘upper end of normal’ which sounds a little ominous to me, but better I suppose than not growing at all. So I am feeling better, except everything feels like hard work at the minute.
The thing with being pregnant is that it feels like there are often a limited set of acceptable ways of feeling about it – I’m talking about the way pregnancy is portrayed and talked about but also the way people expect you to feel about it. The accceptable feelings, which I feel like I’m expected to feel at all times are grateful and wildly excited. Sometimes I do feel excited about it – but I probably feel terrified a lot more! Also I find it a bit awkward when people ask if I’m excited – because I am – but more quietly excited, a kind of private excitement, and it feels like what people expect is a more performative excitement? Maybe this is just me imagining things also though. And of course I do feel grateful that the baby is ok, grateful that I got through that awful trimester, but also resentful that my body has been taken over, that it has stopped being able to do the things it could do before, and is now doing a whole other set of new things which I have no control over.
My conclusion, which I’m sure I’ve concluded in other blog posts is that pregnancy is really hard work – mentally, physically, emotionally. It’s strange to feel like I’ve been doing sit ups all day because my ligaments and muscles around my belly are hurting so much when in fact I’ve just been sat at my desk. If there was any justice I would be left with a perfect six pack when the baby comes out! Feeling the baby move inside is exciting, and strange and unsettling – I read the other day that the reason the baby gets more active just before I go to sleep is because that is when all the muscles in the body start to relax, so there is more room for the baby to move, which made me think about how much tension we (I)must hold in my body throughout the day for this to be true. The baby also gets very active when I am giving a poetry reading – does this mean I am relaxed on stage, or is it the baby reacting to adrenalin? When I’ve played gigs with the soul band the baby doesn’t move at all – does that mean the music has sent the baby to sleep – seems unlikely, given how loud it is, but who knows!
I have had a flurry of freelance work in these three months and have been up and down the country on the trains. I’ve been in Barnsley this weekend taking part in a ‘Me Too’ workshop and reading around the Me Too book, published a year ago by Fair Acre Press and edited by Deborah Alma. I’ve also been to London to take part in the final judging of the National Poetry Competition – results announced any day, and given readings in Lancaster, Cardiff, Bath and Newcastle. I’ve been making a radio programme about my poetry and which will feature poems from my first collection which is due to be broadcast on Radio 4 on April 14th, provisionally called (I think) ‘A Psalm for the Scaffolders’ – I’ll post details of times etc when I have them. I also took part in BBC Cumbria’s ‘Life Stories’ feature and that has been on every day last week and will be played in its entirety on Tuesday evening, I think.
Making the programme for Radio 4 was a strange experience – it involved spending a day down in Leicester on my dad’s scaffolding site, interviewing him and recording some of the sounds on site, and then a further two days recording up in Cumbria. I’m really pleased that the brilliant artist Claire Eastgate will also be on the programme. Claire came up a while ago to paint my portrait as part of her ‘Painting the Poets’ project which will involve Claire painting portraits of 26 UK female poets. Claire came up again to take part in the recording and did another painting whilst the radio producer recorded our conversation. Claire is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and it was only really through this second conversation that I realised what a huge impact our first conversation had on me – it sent me off on a new direction in my PhD as well as leading to some different ways of approaching the poems I was working on at the time. We talked a lot about the female gaze which led to me thinking about address, and mode of address in poetry.
I’ve also been keeping up with my regular sessions with Dove Cottage Young Poets and meetings with Poem and a Pint to plan our reading series, and various doctor and hospital appointments to do with baby and around all that, trying to get as much PhD work done as I can whilst on the various trains. I am going on maternity leave in May from my PhD, so I want to get as much of the critical writing done as possible before then. I’m definitely feeling more positive about it all now – coinciding with having the energy to start my reading and writing again. I’ve been reading Irigaray for the last week or so and even understanding quite a lot of it – something I never would have thought possible at the start of the Phd!
The book I’m reading by Luce Irigaray is called To Be Two and some of it is really beautiful. Right from the beginning of the book she asks the question:
How do we share the air….how is the between-us possible?
This idea of the ‘between-us’ and exploring this runs throughout the book, alongside the idea that to be truly together with someone, the other must remain a mystery and that we must respect ‘the transcendance of the other’. She talks about the idea of the gaze as grasping, which I think is interesting, and that avoiding the urge to grasp, to possess means that we can concentrate on the ‘between-us’ instead, and ‘look at each other between each other’. The idea of perception as a ‘path towards you, towards us, an us which is always disunited, distanced, always a “two” irreducible to one” is also important.
I’m aware I’m paraphrasing and shortening complex academic ideas here, and cherry picking things that have caught my attention so I would definitely advise looking the book up if you’re interested, but these ideas of perception as a ‘path towards you’ fit with some of the things I’ve been trying to write about in my All The Men I Never Married poems. Until very recently I thought of them as almost being like ‘portrait’ poems, poems where I ‘look’ at men, poems where the female gaze rests on one man before moving on to another and another. Then I realised that my self, or at least ‘a self’ is being looked at in these poems at least as much as the men involved. Now after reading Irigaray, I can’t get this idea of perception as a path out of my head, and the idea of ‘between-us’, of what happens between two subjects being explored in poetry. Poetry is surely the ideal form to explore something so ungraspable as the ‘between-us’ of encounters with another.
And of course, a huge part of the poems, and this PhD is the ‘between-us’ of the speaker in the poems and the audience, whether that is readers or audience members at readings, that these poems in speaking about sexism, in speaking about female desire, consistently ask the audience to position themselves, again and again, in relation to the ‘I’ or the speaker of the poems, and in relation to the men that are portrayed, which takes me back to Judith Butler again, who says in Giving an Account of Oneself:
When the “I” seeks to give an account of itself, it can start with itself, but it will find that the self is already implicated in a social temporality that exceeds its own capacities for narration
I can give an account of sexism, but I cannot account for the reactions and responses that come about, that are in themselves part of the account of sexism, part of the ‘between-us’ experience.
I don’t feel like I fully understand all of this but I don’t feel particularly stressed about it. It feels like wandering around in a landscape which contains both bright flashes of sunlight where the trees are so cut out against a blue sky that it feels as if I’ve never seen a tree so clearly before, to turning a corner into mist and fog where the trees are only thoughts of trees or shadows of trees. I will leave you with another quote from Judith Butler which seems to relate to me to writing, to the ‘moments of unknowingness’ which I think are the impetus behind the best poems:
Moments of unknowingness about oneself tend to emerge in the context of relations to others