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Long ago I promised to keep writing about our Italy adventures. Well, time has marched and I start teaching tomorrow, and I’m up to my proverbial in (lovely! hello John!) Canterbury Festival things, and and….

However. I’m finding that certain things float back nonetheless, even so far away. And they soothe me.

One is the series of Great Rescues carried out every morning, fishing whatever creatures had stumbled into the pool overnight or at dawn. M, as you can imagine, was the dogged proponent of this, and over the days watched butterflies, moths, wasps, bees — and one lizard — grow warm in the sun and return to the wild. 

Here are her hands, and one of the many wet swallowtail butterflies. And the rescued very baby lizard hiding in E’s pool shoe. Ah, the important things in life….

 

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All of this has reminded me of a poem I wrote for How to Be a Dragonfly (see sidebar!), about a spider falling into a swimming pool. The idea came from another family holiday, long before M was old enough to rescue anything. Now I reckon there are times when she saves us all.

 

Pool Spider

 

One step too far and you’re head over heels.  At first it’s refreshing, this surprise encounter.  You’ve never liked nights alone and lately the heat makes something unsettled in you rise.  All you did was get up and walk out into the cooler air, stretch, and close your eyes for a moment.

It’s a funny kind of death.  You feel your own insignificance.  Everywhere you look is blue, blue water.  You climb back up a step before you can move no further, then roll onto your back and curl your legs up over your body, await rescue.

 

 

 

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Brother-in-law Hugh’s wonderful photos have arrived. I’m going to take my time… Here’s the first –the main view from the house.

On the hill, three kilometres away, is the village of Civitella, the history of which turns out to be remarkable: established in Roman times, like so many villages in Tuscany it was fought over by the factions of Siena, Florence and Arezzo, settling with Florence in the mid 1300’s.  

World War II didn’t treat it any better. When we went to see it, we found a hillside town almost entirely in the shadow of its past. The castle, bombed by Allied forces, remains split open and unrestored. And on 29 June 1944, 244 citizens of Civitella were massacred by German forces, in retaliation for the murder of two German soldiers by partisans. The church marks the spot, right in the middle of town, where it happened. There is a room, a tiny museum, with documents and artefacts, picture after picture too of those who were executed, and the transcript of the martyred priest who tried to stop it.

There is also a plaque in the town, next to the church, commemorating the liberating forces. Who, as it happens, were British. 

A moving place. We only went there once, despite it being the closest village. Something about it just needed some peace, perhaps…

Yet again it’s been a grueling few days. If it weren’t for the fact that all of life is precious, I think I might be under a rock by now. But all of life is. And with the terrible news of a student dying, and the mother of one of M’s friends also dying, both last week, came R’s and my 20th wedding anniversary. We went away for a night, just us, eating good food and ordering a different wine with every course. The weather was blazing, and we slept on the beach. 

He also sent me flowers.

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I’ve been looking for a poem to gather everything into one place. The fact that so much can co-exist, that indeed it must. Love and grief in the same room. Dread and longing, to paraphrase Adrienne Rich. So. An approximation via one of my all-time favourites, by Mary Oliver. Won’t have you rolling in the aisles. But goes partway toward something.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — 
over and over announcing your place 
in the family of things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Right. Several things to say:

Went to the eye-doctor’s yesterday. He said, and I more or less quote: I hate to mention the ‘a’ word, but you are at the prime of it for this. By ‘this’ he means presbyopia. By that I mean: reading glasses. And, for the days when I’m not in contact lenses, vari-focals.

Dig it.

Yesterday I also went to the hair-dresser’s. To gently,  um, cover the, um, grey. At the prime age for it, you understand.

Also yesterday (after the hairdresser’s!) I was talking about reading glasses (as you do), and someone I barely know said, but you’re not past 40 yet, are you?

Flattered, but ultimately — confused. 

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And also yesterday: writing group. Wonderful. Such great work, so exciting. Craig reminded me of one of my all-time favourite stories, indeed probably the first literary story I ever read. And what a story: Secret Snow, Silent Snow by Conrad Aiken. If you don’t know it, read it. 

Just thinking about that story, the memory of the rush of how very remarkable it is — plus Nancy’s amazing cheesecake — I felt five years younger.

Today in the half hour between another laureate school assembly and a dissertation student, I got myself some funky blue glasses. Hey, I can live with it. I’ve decided to live with everything, as long as I never lose art.

 

I HAVE MOVED

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.