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In the last few days:

1) A single magpie

2) An older man standing in front of his house, black tie, searching the road for his ride

3) A young man in the same, glancing at his watch,  on a street corner

4) One church, weeping. Afterward, children running through the garden.

5) Yesterday another church, full of celebration. Then suddenly, weeping.


Never known such a time for sorrow and beauty side by side. One way this, another way that. An almost daily parade.  

Last week, M attended the funeral of her friend’s mother with me. We cried together. Later, on the way to the village hall and cake and tea, she held my hand and said that it felt right for her to be there. It did, and was.


I think that the last post had some kind of magical effect. Indeed! I don’t think it’s rained since. Seriously.

However it has been one looonnng week, and once again all I can do here is come up for air.

1) Poet’s Picnic on Saturday: a good time! writers, children, hot sunshine, and the most fabulous spot by the sea in Whitstable Tea Gardens.  A real pick-me-up.

2) Also on Saturday: a real live ball! This will mean nothing unusual to Brits, but to Americans…well, I’ve always wanted to go to one, and lo, I go. Long black dress, pearls (James Bond theme), stilettos. No R, not his scene, but I gamely sallied forth, and had a great time. I went for the dancing, and did plenty, losing my shoes more than once. Ahem. Also rode on bumper cars, four times. Ahem. Took a fake pistol. Ahem. And enjoyed draping myself over the pretend casino tables. I know, I know. I’m a child. I loved it. 

3) Journeyed up to Norwich School of Art & Design on Sunday night. I’m the new external examiner there for their creative writing BA programme. Given that I used to teach there (and so enjoyed it), it was a real treat to see what everyone and everything is up to. And it’s good stuff: fresh, vibrant, almost raw work sometimes — rarely if ever suffering from the over-writing that students also studying with literature with a vengeance can sometimes produce. There is also the added bonus of text and image work, which I’ve always found fascinating: index cards arranged in months, with an entry on each day. Accessible in order and randomly. Performance poetry with video link and guitar. Art house stuff. Exciting stuff. A pity then that the course has been cancelled. While there I heard that I shall see it out examining-wise: well, I’ll try to do it proud.

I’d like to be more involved with the visual arts. But I’m sorely, sorely lacking in skills and no doubt talent in that department. Alas.

4) Schubert has slain his first creature. After several weeks of (we thought) farcical hunting (I mean, a bright white cat jogging through the undergrowth, long hair flowing in the breeze — come on!), I walked downstairs this morning to frantic calls and a little deceased vole lying right smack in the middle of the doormat. He was delighted with himself, and I’ll admit it, I felt a tiny rush of pride.

5) M plays in yet another concert tomorrow. She has a new 3/4 Italian violin, which makes a much bigger sound. Suddenly her bowing arm has a life of its own. She’s the only first violin tomorrow, backed up by several second violins. She’s also the youngest. Somehow she just seems used to it all….

6) E is learning this. It is the cool of cool.


After a pretty awful 48 hours, during which I tried and failed not to phone all local birthing centres — after receiving a text that read ‘It’s started!’ — the baby girl has arrived on the scene, daughter of good friend Helena and her husband.

And she is absolutely gorgeous. Wonderful. So precious.

Another question, going on from two days ago: why is new life so very very astonishing?

My father-in-law, a retired GP, says the one thing he never tired of was helping babies into the world, that moment. I find that moving.

What do I remember about those first moments? Relief at E being so healthy, so solid from the beginning, an emergency C-section. Panic the first night when I couldn’t reach him, stretching to rock the crib. Relief at being alive. These feelings co-existed with some wariness until he was six weeks old, when I watched him sleeping at 6 am, his profile there, and thought yes, I am his mother, and I am so thankful.

With M: getting the shakes going into theatre, a planned C-section this time. The midwife understanding the flashbacks. And the irrefutable, instant connection, like an electric circuit. The same midwife nodding, standing next to me in the recovery room, M at my breast. Better this time? And not being able to speak.

Congratulations. Everything’s always alright in the end, even if the beginning is rocky. They are still the best things since sliced bread. Hell, they’re unspeakably better.

Fruition in Stereo — Manistee Lighthouse

I’m waiting on a baby. Several, really — but only one actual one. Most are metaphorical: the kitchen (how many people couldn’t have seen that coming); end of term writing portfolios from gung-ho students; Laureate activities. And a few are just plain wishful thinking: a clean and orderly house, a linen basket you can put the top on, a sense of completion in general.

Completion. Maybe I should have called this post that. Like with my prose poems, I almost always title posts before I write them. It gives me a space to go into. Maybe.

Back to babies. Three manuscripts on the go at once. Little done with them in two months. Enduring a familiar ennui. In suspended gestation.


Now back to the real one, the actual star of the show: my good friend Helena is expecting, overdue in fact. For some reason I find I’m almost waiting by the phone, double-checking for texts. I had lunch with her last week, and her house was at the peak of preparation: nappies set up, little folded all-in-ones, Moses basket, cot, and pram by the door.

Sigh. How the first child razes everything, then builds it all back the same but different. Things are so empty before the baby arrives, and you don’t even know it. It’s impossible to imagine how full life can be.

Stay tuned….

Paper Doves

I like this photograph of paper doves — made by schoolchildren in Seattle, Washington, as part of the World Harmony Run earlier this year — because they look so hopeful, well made. Never mind that they’re lining concrete pavement: a little wind, and they might be off.

Several years ago I was ready to give up writing. No biggie, perhaps. Except to me of course. I’d been writing since I was eleven, and had never wanted to do anything else. Yet the frustration of not getting my work out had completely undone me. I was ready to stop, to tuck that bit away, rather than fail — as I saw it — again and again.

I think it was R who then said to me, probably with more than a hint of irritation: well, what do you want? And I couldn’t answer him. Not properly. I made grand statements, I whined.

That day or the next, self preservation kicked in. If I couldn’t articulate what I wanted, how could I possibly even come close to realising it?

I decided I would have to try — one last time. I made three sentences for myself that encapsulated how I wanted to approach my work (not achieve — those sentences came later!), how I wanted to think about things — in an ideal world.

I deliberately chose areas in which I was most insecure. It took me a long time to make sentences that were easy to remember, but concise, resonant, concrete, in the present tense — and not copping out. Once I’d made them though, I repeated them to myself whenever I could, several times a day. I was willing to try anything.

And almost immediately, something in me changed. I felt stronger. Things seemed possible. Over time, I’m sure the sentences led me to do what I wanted to do. They brought clarity and focus. And — no exagerration — within 18 months I’d published my first book. Scout’s honour.

So when I woke in the night a few nights ago, feeling a little waffly and out of focus, I knew what I had to do. I’ve done it lots the last few years: get the birds to fly.


From January 2010, my new blog is Waving and Drowning


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Who am I?

A writer born in Texas, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (yes, like the song), and who's been living in the UK since 1988. I've published two books (see below), and teach creative writing at the University of Kent. I'm married to a composer, and we have two young children. See About for my full profile.