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I absolutely cannot believe how long it’s been since I’ve been able to get to this page, this computer. I can’t even bear to make a complete list of what’s been going on. Chickens, lack of heads. Hedges backward. Meeting myself coming. Etc.

Despite my general meltdown, everything seems to have gone just completely swimmingly. Where did I leave you? Ah yes, after wonderful Canterbury Poet of the Year. Then there was the Booker verdict night: really good fun, a good read, good writers — and a surprise winner in The White Tiger. Canterbury’s verdict was Philip Hensher’s Northern Clemency. I’ve read the former (which is why I was a little surprised). Will now read the latter, which got absolutely rave reviews, particularly from Andrew McGuinness, one of the writers there.

Then on the 16th there was the Canterbury Laureate reception and launch of the anthology from the year, called Entirely New: which was wonderful. I was digging deep as they say that day, starting exhausted. But the readings — the children, the adults — and my purple cardigan and tights — kept me going. Another good turnout, and a chance to read some new work. A real corker of a night, an uplift.

THEN at the weekend, a write around town day, only I didn’t do the around town bit. I went down and set up some triggers for whomever was there, then fetched and carried E to piano, made lunch, etc. Then popped into town for the end, to see how it went. By that point I was feeling altogether grey with it all.

Meanwhile the poems from the labyrinth day have been exhibited, and Jan Sellers and I have spent the last couple of days fine-tuning those to go up on — Canterbury buses! Yes, wonderful isn’t it? More on this when it comes to fruition.

Finally (for me, anyway) the Tuesday Readings I’m organising at University of Kent. We had Matthew Welton, then last week Perdika poets, and coming up I am thrilled to say that we have Moniza Alvi and Marianne Boruch joining us. I just can’t, can’t wait. They are both just superb, and exciting, and…if you don’t have your tickets and can get one, come. You won’t regret it. (Meanwhile I am charged with the nuts and bolts which are always the pain of it all: where to get the wine from, how to pay for it, how to pay the guest house, how to make sure the tables get set up when I’m busy with the writers and no one seems to be able to do it, surprise surprise. Etc. Hair-tearing.)

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But beyond all this, more and most importantly, two things:

1) M went to Howlett’s zoo with wonderful friend Nancy (see photos from flickr in sidebar). And how lucky were they?! Lions, tigers, bears…and M’s favourite show, Roar, being filmed! Nancy being Nancy, they managed to keep out of camera shot as requested, watch the whole thing, and get a photo of M with the presenter (who happens to be the one on this clip!). M has been drawing lots of animals this half term, freehand, and has committed whole books of information about them to memory. Hmm…a vet in the making?!

2) E played 5 different instruments in 5 different ensembles on Wednesday night at the Simon Langton Boys Grammar concert. Oh yes he did. Triangle in orchestra (hilarious! not as easy as you’d think, but it doesn’t half look funny); bassoon in wind band (again, an odd instrument really), sang in the choir (by the Rivers of Babylon, fab), some kind of massive drum in a New Orleans jazz band (that woke M up!). And his first piano solo in this school, Brubeck’s Take Five. He did a stunning, stunning job, strolling on without music, jazzing through it, standing up with a nod, and strolling off. Needless to say. We forget he’s only twelve. He seems to have a huge capacity for life, and remain essentially level-headed. We try not to be embarrassingly proud.

 

So, just so we remember what’s important (apologies for sound quality — went for a decent performance rather than purity of sound…amazing just how many performances of this piece are quite, well, below par, speeding up all over the place, messy…makes me realise just how accomplished E is, she says, once again basking in her son’s talents…):

Literally. I’m doing a lot for the brilliant Canterbury Festival this year, and the first of my ‘engagements’ is tomorrow night at Waterstones, St Margaret’s Street, Canterbury. The idea is this: you know the Man Booker Prize, yes? The shortlist announced two weeks ago, yes? Well, six writers from the area are ‘championing’ one book each from this list, then we are bringing our thoughts to three meetings for local reading groups. That’s two books per meeting, if you’re struggling with the maths… (Other writers include Andrew McGuinness,Tim Binding, Nina Bell, and Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski.

Anyway, I’m holding out for The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry — which I’ve read and very much enjoyed. The voices will stay with me, and the complicated central character Roseanne Clear/McNulty… She too will stay with me, and her oddly beautiful life in the midst of real darkness… Anyway, that’s mine. 

The other writer with me tomorrow is Danny Rhodes. He’s championing The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, and like a good girl I’m reading that too, in order to have a conversation. Since that’s what the get-together is about: discussion. A completely different book, with perhaps unreliable narrators in common — and perhaps too, this underlying deep violence and darkness. Through very dark comedy in the case of the The White Tiger.

Reading groups have been invited separately, but if you’ve read either of the books and want to join the discussion, do stop in. Admission is free but booking is advised; it’ll last about an hour, from 7.30 pm.

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The cool thing behind this two week extravaganza of reading is that on 14 October — that’s right, the night the winner of the Booker is actually announced — we will have our own Booker night, a final word about each and a counting of the online vote for Canterbury and environs. A little party. Fabulous idea, and so much fun. 

(Another cool thing is that I did a digital television slot about this series of events. When it comes online week after next, I’ll link it through!) 

 

Someone else f(l)ailing rather is Tom, over on The Weirdie-Beardie Chronicles. Apparently his Master is 42 as of last Sunday, and is feeling his age. I say pah! to that as a hardened 44 year old myself — but it’s true that at certain ages certain things seem to turn and turn again.

In response I thought I’d post a poem from How to Be a Dragonfly, about the 42nd prime number. Writing this one just about killed me, for some reason. Well, I know why: the whole book waited on this poem before going to the final edit — the last poem, the 42nd poem, about the 42nd prime number. The confluence of it all just did my head in.

Reading it now, I try to remember the source of all the fuss. I remember that I wanted it to be about (if there is such a thing) the mystery and impermeability of — well, art. Even though all my poems were going into a book, somehow to be ‘understood’ by a larger audience… I wanted nevertheless to hang onto their essential nature, to remind myself anyway of central things that can’t — refuse to be — captured.

Now I see why it was so rough. Trying to capture something I didn’t think could or should be captured. Threw the whole book into question. Ack! Talk about a rock and a hard place.

Here it is, anyway. I hope your Master takes heart, Tom. If nothing else, maybe it says that we are in this for deeper, underwater things, for glimpses. Life out-manoeuvres us and our logic. Which is probably a good thing too.

 

Prime Number 42


We need to know you’re for real, not just some illusion, but bona fide one of a kind.

After all, almost everything is made up of components, the pieces of our lives:  foundation, construction, selling point.  Everything has angles and fractions.  So it makes sense that we look for second thoughts, for other hands, and even, etc.  First we look for a way to hook you and reel you in.

On screen, your seven point eight million digits snake down in scales, a shimmering skin.  We throw everything at you, all manner of dissection, but the surface holds — it’s not that long before we have to believe what we’ve always known:  that nothing can break you, or make you, for that matter.  Your lowest common denominator is only ever you. 

We get exactly what we came for, and throw the rest back in.  Here, you can pretend:  one swish of your tail, and you’re gone.

It’s been a tough old week. After Tilly, a number of things. But it’s also been life-affirming in many ways. Mainly because of friends. And R and Mom. And E and M. 

I came to friends late in life, having the ‘desert them before they desert me’ mentality of someone used to not trusting anyone. For good reason, I might add.

Anyway. Despite several wonderfully loyal and giving friends hanging with me through my teens, twenties and most of my thirties, it wasn’t until my late thirties that I finally stopped running. I looked around. I saw wonderful women (mostly) around me, offering friendship, true friendship. Most of them had been there for some time. I have the feeling somehow they just decided not to give up on me. For which I remain absurdly grateful. Such a simple thing.

I have a thing about not taking anything for granted. Seems almost disrespectful to do so. Yet some things are meant to be taken for granted. They flourish by being as a ‘matter of course’; they quietly sink roots beyond the surface, where wind and a heavy rain can’t dislodge them. They need tending, but only in the daily run of things, no more, no less. They are there, no matter what happens.

No matter what happens! No matter what happens. This is the secret celebration for me, the unexpected. It’s no big deal, no drama. No questions need to be asked, no unspoken price.

Two phonecalls, three texts, many blog comments. Several emails. Four, five, six face to face conversations. A raucous dinner.

So, to all of you, thank you. I’m not looking forward to the week ahead, but — cliche upon cliche — you’re making it bearable.

I started this post wanting to point you to my good friend Nancy Wilson‘s Flickr widget that I’m so thrilled with. I love her stuff, really love it. I just wanted a bit of her kind of light on these pages. 

To get you started. And me. Happy Monday.


Wow. Where to begin? Last night’s launch of Night Train 5 was a corker: a hundred people, great readings, splendid music, snazzy food and drink… and a shedload of books sold, apparently. Like, 150. Wow. Again.

Many thanks are due: to the contributors one and all, to the readers, to those who submitted. To the School of English at Uni Kent who support the venture with hard cold cash. To Vicky Wilson (Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year AND copy editor), Chris Lancaster at the Uni Print Unit for saving the day, Frances Knight (piano) and Paul Booth (saxophone). And of course to the editors, Susan Wicks and Andrew McGuinness, without whom, etc…

A particular thanks goes to the Gulbenkian staff, who just kept bringing out the chairs, adjusting the mic, and flogging those books! The theatre cafe also looked positively seasonal, red and tinselled — the end of term was in the air! Really fab.

And I’d also like to thank everyone who came up to me and said hello (along with so many nice things). Never one to shirk my social responsibilities (!), I took unadulterated pleasure in seeing so many familiar faces, so much energy, so much enjoyment, and so much success coming to so many of you.

As readers of this blog will know — and indeed, anyone who knows me knows!– I love a party. And what a party. What top notch work all around.

Finally, an appeal: if anyone took any pictures on the night, send ’em! I’ll stick them up….

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.