The best bit of this week has been a walk to Ennerdale Water today, almost at twilight (although we set off at 3pm). The mountains were iced with snow and the lake was so clear the bottom was visible, with its varying depths, rocks and weed. The puddles were all solid, most of them frozen hard enough to stamp on without breaking. We found ‘the hollow tree’ and climbed inside. The light faded very quickly and the sunset literally crept over the hills, igniting the snow with salmon pink on the tops then creeping down like a log lit. By the time we reached the carpark, birds were roosting and there were scuttlings in the bushes. It made me want to stay out longer and see the countryside as it really is when all the loud people, dogs and children have gone home (including us). We went and had two pints each (two of Ennerdale Darkest, two Blonde beers and two J2Os). We drove back and ordered take-away pizzas.
Unfortunately – being a bit of an idiot, as I can be – I then managed to pull more than a few stacked sheets of thick plywood onto my legs that were propped in the living room ready to make bookshelves. I had no idea they were that heavy and had no way of getting my legs from under them. It was agony and I’m scraped and bruised and look a mess but, hopefully, nothing’s broken. I’m lucky.
I’ve enjoyed reading Alison Brackenbury’s Skies this week. She’s also written a poem about elms and their demise and it was beautiful. I hadn’t read another ‘post-elm’ poem before wrote one in August. I also loved her short poems written in the early hours. I’ve also bought a copy of Outlaws and Fallen Angels by John Foggin and I’ve loved what I’ve read so far.
I’ve been thrilled to have two poems accepted in The Fenland Reed. A wonderful magazine I’m proud to be published in. I need to get a move on with my writing my but the darkness of the year and the frost seem to have stalled words. They’re there but are in hibernation.
I just wanted to add that my poem, Stella, has been published in this month’s Mslexia. I’m really pleased. They’ve published it under Catherine Donnelly, however, so I don’t know who will link it to this site unfortunately. They also said it was my first published poem. Luckily it’s not. My first ever published poem was by Acumen in 2004 who took a chance on me very early on (more than once) and I’ll always appreciate that. I love Mslexia though and what a great feature to be included in.
As my partner’s dad has always said to him, in the darkest of times, it too will pass. All is transitory. Somebody wise once said to me on the subject of depression (although I don’t remember who, and it may even haven been something I have heard in my own head so often I’ve attributed it to someone else when it was a once just a seedling of a thought) the most dangerous thing about this illness is that it makes you feel that what you feel now is the truth and the truth forever. As we get older, we know nothing is forever, not even pain – although it does draw itself out like space (I remember asking as a child ‘what is after space, mum, a wall?’ Her answer was ‘just space’.) Having been there more times than I dare to remember, I can say to patients from experience, not just education, that the most important thing you can do when you’re low is to remember that it will end, the sun will rise. It’s not a cliche, it’s like a rope to cling on to when the earth is sinking. Don’t believe what you are feeling now is what you’ll feel forever.
There have been happy pieces to the week: watching Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them with my daughter’s head on my shoulder; spending the whole day today with my partner – me mainly reading the papers in bed with the woodburner lit, crackling with sticks, and hiding from the world with cups of tea. I’ve also enjoyed watching NW – I though Zadie Smith did an excellent job of portraying humans, humanity and our struggles. It was well-adapted for the screen too.
I want to say thank you to my sister, Sarah Donnelly, for improving the graphics of my wesbsite and for her generosity and encouragement. She’s brilliant too in her own write (not a typo for once).
I’ve been so caught up in the struggles of here and now I’d forgotten it will pass, feeling neither calm nor accepting, wanting to know when will it pass?? and no doubt causing upset to my family. The truth is we don’t know. I enjoyed listening to Michael Stipe on The Andrew Marr Show this morning. I thought of him often in the run up to the elections. It’s important to remeber the creative, musical, literary United States and the devastation they must now be feeling. There’s no over-reaction to extremism, racism, bigotry, sexual offending, discrimination, inciting hatred…It is as bad as it can be. A rotten movement is well on the march globally. I hope this poem says something to this effect. It’s not a ‘book poem’ but the message in it somewhere, I hope, and the message is it will pass.
The Cat that Comes and Goes with the Mist
We know when it’s coming,
ears to the ground like Red Indians –
like hooves up the track, pawing the earth.
What started as anger – that red roar on the plains –
returns as fear now, fear
shifting like sands, paralysing whole villages.
It’s worse when darkness falls.
Its hunger’s a palpable
gnawing in the chest.
A heart digesting itself.
Light torches, stoke fires, take to high ground
clutching what you hold most dear to your breast as amulets.
It loses interest. Sun will rise.
Leonard Cohen has been a part of my life as long as my memories stretch. My first conscious memory is of Suzanne playing as a background track to war scenes on the Rock and Roll Years. I remember a woman in rags (in memory or in video) and a war-torn landscape. When I couldn’t sleep as a child (which was every night, life-long insomnia) my mum used to sing I Love You in the Morning. When I was 8, I’m Your Man was released. Both mum and dad, now separated, had it on cassette players constantly. I remember sitting on top of the washing machine at home in the 1940’s kitchen in Highfield Avenue with with a gas freezer, constantly having to be re-lit, listening to I Can’t Forget. I also remember going to see dad in Jericho in Oxford and trying to breathe, through panic attacks, to First We Take Manhattan.
Everything I’ve written has been influenced by his poetry. It’s not only his words and music, but his graciousness that sets him far, far apart. He’s one of the most creative and moral human beings to have graced this planet.
Some time in the 1970’s my dad had an embarrassing incident when he went to see Cohen with a ‘friend’ who was off his head on something or other and focussed only on eating the pizza Cohen had ordered. Cohen was gracious and spoke in depth about the (family) reasons he felt he couldn’t write another novel. I believe he sent my dad a letter after this on the subject. I’ll have to search amongst his (many, many boxfiles) papers.
I went to see Cohen three times, the last time on September 20th 2013 in Amsterdam. When he said goodbye, he made it very clear that it was final. I didn’t want to believe it. You know a final goodbye when you see it, but sometimes the sheer flame of personality seems too bright to extinguish. It wasn’t just the music that I loved but the man, the poet and the humanity in him. It felt better sharing the earth with his breath mixing in the atmosphere.
Sour times, unsettling times. Politically, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so entwined with what’s happening – this huge potential for what could happen, what’s bubbling on the stove. It’s real too, there’s no place for drama in the seriousness of the world we leave as inheritance. The best writers should look outwards as well as in. I struggle to find words that do justice, not to how I feel, but to the gravity of the situation on a world scale. It’s creeping in to my writing though, and so it should.
This week has been a juggle between work and a child with norovirus. I had a good day in Keswick yesterday with my sister who’d driven up from Leamington Spa. We walked around the shops at dusk, drank tea, talked about people we knew and drove back to fireworks in the yard. The house had been transformed in my absence by a very creative ‘elm’ shower feature. I’m very lucky to have a joiner and an artist ‘in house’.
I haven’t written as much as I’d like. I have submitted a few things (again with one eye closed). I know I can write but I do need more time – reams of it, acres of it. Maybe hours would suffice. I think of my dad’s two wonderful novels, unpublished despite the best efforts of me and my sister and the best living literary critic. There are no more novels coming along so commercial value is limited. Publisher’s responses – full of praise but rejecting publication for financial reasons. I have them all in a file, letters flattering and futile. A cul-de-sac. I believe in those books more than I believe the sun will rise tomorrow (around 7am), though I’m sure it will drag itself onto the winter horizon.
Winter’s definitely in the air here. Tights and cardigans. Soon, hats and gloves. I bought a thick silver scarf on the way to a social services conference this week. “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” We’ll see on Tuesday.