I find it hard to begin. Moving from thought, research, notes, sketches of ideas, to a fully-formed sentence is hard. I don’t like to rush things. I don’t like to feel pressed. I don’t want to write something that begins badly. I want to open with the perfect sentence. I was one of those children who, in an exam, would look thoughtfully at the blank answer booklet in front of them for at least five minutes, much to the concern of the teacher at my shoulder. I still am.
Invariably, I’ve learnt to write that first sentence – to be unafraid of its imperfection. I’m lucky. I passed my exams. That first sentence now can be written, and rewritten. I’m happiest when I am writing, and it’s usually through writing that I work out what it is I’m trying to say. The ideas come (partly, at least) through their expression. I have a long runway, but once I get going, I can fly.
I didn’t know how to begin this post today, for instance. I knew I hadn’t written here for a while, and that’s because I’ve been finishing things. I’ve been bringing to land my ideas from a very great height. It feels like I have been circling the runway for YEARS. Which, I suppose, I have: two weeks ago, I printed, bound and submitted my PhD thesis, a project which I started in 2010. It’s about how the pregnant body is represented in texts by women writers. It looks at the actual bodily experience of pregnancy and its use as a metaphor for literary production (the idea that books are ‘born’ like babies). I’ve read and reread texts such as Frankenstein, Aurora Leigh, Orlando, The Weather in the Streets, and ‘Ultrasound Poems’ by contemporary women poets during the course of this project. I’ve written 80,000 words about them. I’m shattered, but very, very happy to be finished.
And a couple of months ago, I finished a draft of my first poetry collection, and submitted it to Seren, a great independent publisher based in Bridgend. And it was accepted. It’s going to be a book – an actual book, that you can take off a shelf in a library, or bookshop! I’m thrilled, and excited, and grateful.
So, this is a time of endings and beginnings. I’m not sure what the next step is – or, at least, I know how to step, but not where my foot will be placed when it lands. But it’s the start of a new term, and National Poetry Day, so it feels rather apt to be at the threshold of something, whatever that something is. Here’s a poem by Philip Booth, called ‘First Lesson’. It’s from his collection, Lifelines, which you can read more about here.
First Lesson, by Philip Booth
Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.