It was while cooking breakfast on a bright morning this January that I made the life-defining decision to be a writer, full-time. I had just finished up at my copywriting job in London and was enjoying a break before resuming freelancing — at least that was the plan. But my real passion was, and still is, my poetry and novel, the latter of which is currently growing under my pillow in the embryonic form of iPhone Notes pages and half-page Word docs.
So far, I’ve shaped my writing to fit my career and, perhaps it was reading Ted Hughes’ own enthusiasm for a life led the other way around*, that I began seriously considering the idea for myself. And ultimately deciding on it.
Inside most of the next six months, I would write poetry and set my goal to gather a collection for publication.
And this worked blissfully in the weeks that followed. I scoped out a few quaint, doily- decorated cafés, with large windows for inspiration, and swept our loft clean of everything, except a vase of flowers, office chair and small round table, pushed under a parallelogram of light. Initially intended for lazy days, the peacefulness of the loft quickly became my daily writing perch.
I would go up in the morning, with a few snacks to hand, and write all the way until the pool of sun was at its brightest, go downstairs, have lunch, go up. And again, I would immerse myself in language, ideas, images, tiny dots of particles caught in the past and bring them back to life.
After a few weeks, despite residing in the highest point of the house, it felt like the loft was an ocean and I was under water, living like a mermaid — something that easily made sense up there, where I was always in my mind. Only when I came downstairs did I ever come up for air.
It is interesting that when most of us think of poetry, we think of intense focus. Particularly the kind of poetry that I and many others write, is filled with detailed imagery and language. Sometimes it will take me hours to think of that single word that perfectly conveys my thought or I will change the punctuation in a poem three or four times for particular effect. This is true — poetry allows for a granular perspective and celebrates, not only, the precision of an idea, but also how this is achieved.
However, spending hours, days, weeks crafting language and form in this way means that poetry is, simultaneously, a distraction from life. In the Winter 2018 issue of Poetry Review, editor Emily Berry draws on a comment from American poet, Mary Ruefle, who says:
“Sometimes I think a poem is the ‘essence of distraction,’ which is certainly an oxymoron, since an essence is that which is most concentrated and distraction so wide; in a poem life distracts us from our lives, and only with the utmost of our concentration are we able to follow the exchange as it takes place. So, the kind of distraction I am speaking of is one that leads to concentration, the concentrated form that is a poem.”
Life equips us with the experiences, emotions and inspiration we need to write poetry and when we do write, poetry, not only, distracts us from life, but becomes a concentrated form to crystallise life itself. It’s a fascinating way to perceive poems and highlights the idea of distraction as something which is hugely positive, but also potentially negative. For me, submerging myself in poetry for six months was becoming daunting prospect, not because it was a distraction but because it was a distraction for such a large amount of time. Present days would pour away like water and I realised that, despite doing what I loved most, I wasn’t happy.
Perhaps it was an urgency to nail down the sometimes-slippery nature of writing — I have definitely met people for whom it regretfully dribbled down the to-do list — or to quickly capture current life experiences, or perhaps it was just the wrong time to be distracted, but I realised, for me, that writing, could not be neatly sliced into a regimental block of six months, without it becoming cold.
Writing poetry and prose is a fluid and vital part of my life — during the day a notebook is always in my bag and sometimes the nights will write themselves into a few memorable lines — it’s not something to be forced into ‘work.’ Alongside, a few days as a copywriter, Ted Hughes has inspired me to distract myself more into poetic concentration and, on those days, I excitedly dive in to find the treasure below.
*Letters of Ted Huges, selected and edited by Christopher Reid