30 before 30

Whaaaaaaat, Beccy? A list post? Really? That’s SO done!

I know, dear reader, I know. This definitely falls more into the navel-gazy category of posts than the ‘check out my journalism skills, future employers’ category. That said, I love noseying at other people’s hopes and dreams, and I’ll wager that I’m not special or unique  in that way, so hopefully or two people may enjoy reading this, too.

(For those who don’t know, I turn 30 in 3 years, 8 months, 16 days and 29 hours. Approximately.)

I know the first one is cheating because I’ve already started it, but if you tell me that you’ve never started a list with things you’ve already done to make yourself feel better then you’re a liar.

NB: This is an aspirational list, not a realistic one. I fully expect some of these things to take longer than three and a half years and others may simply not appeal to me in a few months time, but mainly these are things I’ve wanted to do for years.

1.Teach English abroad
2.Be able to make small talk in Welsh
3.Go sailing again
4.Go on a camping/trekking trip self-navigating
5.Go to Northern Ireland and see the Giants Causeway
6.Put my best poems in a collection to publish and illustrate it
7.Find out the name, place of birth and occupation of 4 ancestors born before 1900
8.Start teaching writing workshops
9.Start making most of my own jewellery
10.Start drawing every day
11.Finish reading the Bible
12.Start reading the Quran
13.Go to Sapa
14.Meet an Orangutan
15.Try street food in Penang
16.Go back to Nepal
17.Go to Myanmar or Laos
18.See Arctic Monkeys live
19.Write a stage play
20.Develop a daily writing habit
21.Start a PhD
22.Go to Cornwall, Pembrokeshire, the Outer Hebridies, York and Winchester
23.See the Aurora Borealis/Australialis
24.Run another half  (sub 2 hours)
25.Make a lemon Meringue pie
26.Move out of Mum and Dad’s…permanently! (My parents are lovely. But I graduated 4 years ago…)
27.Read poetry every day
28.Print off more photographs!
29.Read a book in German
30.Keep seeing loved ones regularly

If you fancy sharing your bucket list, before x y or z list, please do…as I said, I’m nosey 😉

 

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Museums are my happy place

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Artwork by: Ann Eames, Chris Keady, Kevin Willets, Helen Stevens, Marine Dalleas, Paula Hallam and Jan Gough at Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

I went to two museums in two cities in one day yesterday, and it was lovely, felt like spring time in my imagination.

Shout out to:

Derby Museum and Art Gallery where a colourful exhibition titled ‘Everyone — Your Place in the World’ is on until 25 September.

Nottingham Contemporary, which is showing ‘Pump House’, a whimsical and fun installation by Michael Beutler, also until 25 September (Pictures below)

I haven’t photographed ALL the best bits though, so if you’re in Derby or Notts soon you’d better swing round 🙂

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Masculinity shoved into a blender – an interview with Jim Hall

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Back in September I interviewed Mouthy Poet alumnus and fellow Derbian Jim Hall after the release of his debut pamphlet, Upon Arrival, Drop Your Cool. Not one to rest on his laurels, Jim has been working furiously on his first full length collection, Boy, since then. After reading and rereading my copy on the buses to and from Glastonbury festival, I gave into my curiosity and grilled Jim about music, self publishing and what it means to be a boy.

So. The difficult second book. How was it?

Thankfully, exactly that. Difficult.

I write to loosen the collar of my silence’s shirt. To project my endless film reels of feeling somewhere less private-screening than the inside of my bones. Somewhere more mouth than heart. This is gruelling work.

All of it is, I swear, worthy.

The poems in this book have been writhing inside me, gasping for language-air, for years. Not unlike the boys who roam through its pages, waving dramatically in the reader’s direction. Begging to be noticed, understood, loved.

It was charged with the urgency to reach out to any boy made to feel that they were too ‘beautiful’ for this world. To explore gender as a conversation more than as a convention. To write you do not require permission to be who you are, over and over again.

Also: a personal journey into the struggle & the joy that fills my own chest, poured out into poem bottles, hurled to the Is-Anyone-Out-There? ocean.

Also:

I Googled the statistics on male suicide & cancelled any plans that didn’t involve feeling safe & loved & okay with who I was. I watched Grayson Perry on Channel 4 comfort a mother whose son had taken his own life & took a week to stop crying, on the inside, at least. I wanted to both hug & hit the men hitting on the whole of carriage D on the train to Sheffield. I found my twenty-three-year-old self, knocking a Carlsberg over the Adele shirt of a girl whose name I had swallowed too soon, instead of knocking on my Dad’s music room door to ask if he could hold me until the loneliness no longer did. I stood by the bar as my friends spilled onto dance floor, wanting to tell them everything before another Jimmy Eat World song could do it for me.

Or:

The book is an invite to a house party where I shove masculinity into a blender & offer glasses to everyone I love.

Come?

I feel like the timeline of being a poet which I learned in academia goes like this: ‘Poet slogs for years, gets a few poems accepted by magazines. Poet is then in a position to be taken seriously, poet slogs a bit more and then puts out a collection. Repeat.’ But loads of the amazing writers I have met over the last couple of years are just not doing that; you yourself only released your first pamphlet last autumn. Do you think writers are becoming more confident in terms of judging their own work or is something else happening here?

I write as another black male is shot dead in Louisiana. While my country sags beneath the weight of a government wearing what next around its crumpled body like a poorly ironed suit. In a world where I do not know if my partner feels safe simply stepping into a taxi after work.

As 2016 swings another fist into the stomach of our lives, some of us crawl into the bravest pair of arms, avoid Sky News for a week. Some of us dive into a song, protest, Facebook wall. Whatever we choose, we have to respond.

I would like to think the writers you speak of write as a necessary reaction to the above. Because the work, like a bandage, is urgently required on this bleeding nation. Because they ‘must’ more than they ‘could’. Another line forged from thought to throat, another voice kicks to the surface of itself. Another poem pressed into palm, another refusal of that voice to drown.

There is no right way to do anything in poetry. I have yet to even submit a poem for a journal/literary magazine. This is not a good thing. It just hasn’t held me back in putting out something I believe in. The world right now demands us to keep challenging who we are, the same way it needs our poet-selves to step up, too.

Likewise. Just as I must now ask myself tougher questions on becoming a better lover, son, friend, I pause before hurling my everything into the mosh-pit of a blank Word document to consider I have my everything with me.

Productivity as a writer, for me, is less about how you shake hands with everyone in the room, more about how you continue to welcome your most honest self into it.

The collection is named after the ‘boy’ who features in/speaks all of the poems. Is there just one boy here, or do the poems shift between different boys?

The voices of so many different boys tumble in and out of these poems.

‘Boy Tries To Rap His Way Inside His Dad’s Arms’ was influenced both by a group of Year 10 boys I worked with in 2014 & a specific scene from the movie Short Term 12. (A devastatingly human piece of art. Please watch with care.)

‘Boy Rewrites The Sex Scene’ is the barely-heard whisper of every boy unable to undress in front of the one they love without trembling.

‘Boy Dreams Of Becoming A Violin On The Night Bus’ is a jumbled, spilling narrative of what I have often noticed/felt as I am carried away from the city on a Saturday to a quieter, arguably safer place.

The closing lines in ‘Boy Walks Home At 4.42AM..’ maybe capture best what I felt when writing this book, as all of the different boys stumbled through its many streets.

That of an attempt to forgive/save/appreciate my own flawed, human self, hoping to make others feel less alone along the way:

‘Reaching as one through the rain to hold the boy’s hand.

Finding only our own.’

Why call the collection and its characters ‘boy’, instead of giving them names? I feel like boy is a kind of semi-autobiographical everyman.

I toyed with naming each of the boys in the collection, giving them their own space in which to crawl into. It felt like too vast a space for one single boy to exist in, however, so I left things more open.

Weak–boy. Gorgeous–boy. Loving–boy. Lonely–boy. Wild-boy. Appreciative-Boy. All of these ‘boys’ hurry in & out of the book, often within the lines of a single poem. I feel like all of those ‘boys’ exist inside me too, so to speak. It just felt more truthful to let each of them enter the fray & see how they interacted on the page.

I do like your way with metaphor, I think you should patent the Jim Hall MetaphorTM. ‘Dad showed up to…gather what I felt from my throat like love notes he would pin to the fridge for Mum…’ or basically the whole of the poem ‘Boy Auditions for the X Factor for Jokes Only For It to Become The Most Viewed Audition of The Series’. Is this something you’re conscious of doing to put your own stamp on a poem or story?

Jetaphor? Jim Metaphall? Jim-Metaphor-Hall? Take your pick & we’ll stamp that somewhere on the uncurling fist of my next collection.

I really struggle with form, with analysing a poem I am writing in a way that picks out the metaphor/technique/etc. I read fiercely & forcefully, in that I ask more questions of what I read in terms of how it works than perhaps I do of my own writing, initially at least.

I spend most of my energy simply getting everything out of my head in the first place, before then trying to make that everything roar/purr/speak clearly.

This involves painstaking excavation as much as joyous generation of lines, ideas & images. Speaking of images: All hail imagery! My dearest friend. My drink of choice. My framed photo in a house of many photos.

I think I work hardest on guiding you around the house of a poem, without trying to force my opinions down your throat as you explore it.

Hopefully. Eeek.

I recently saw an interview where (to paraphrase) Buddy Wakefield said he was more influenced by good music than by other poetry. The poems in ‘boy’ refer heavily to pop music, is Buddy’s statement something you can relate to or is it more a way of pinpointing your poems in a certain setting for you?

Buddy Wakefield & I had a moment last month. I walked into the Poetry & Words tent at Glastonbury the instant he dropped a line about missing obvious social clues. He stared at me forever, before winking in hyper slow-mo. There’s good music for you.

Moving on. I reference music way too often. 99.8% of what I write has been written with something causing a ruckus inside my earphones. Having said that, if music was the first thing I found in which I also found myself, is it not natural to involve it within another thing in which I continue to find myself, over & over again?

I have accepted that no poem ever has, perhaps never will, make me feel how (for a right-now of the many, many examples) 3 minutes & 28 seconds through to 4 minutes & 1 second of ‘Phantoms’ by Burning Down Alaska makes me feel.

Music stills the buried language suddenly fluttering everywhere inside of me until it softens into something I cup in my hands, even if only in private.

Poetry feels more like the unsaid touching the small of my back, than wrapping its arms around my whole body.

I just try to welcome as much music, as much feeling, into my poems as the poems can squeeze in, before figuring out how to make space for my own voice as it shows up, drunk on itself, itching to dance with everything in the room.

Boy is out now from Big White Shed.

Opera at the pub, obviously

So I’m on annual leave at the minute, which was supposed to mean I became a full time writer for two weeks but actually it’s only meant I’ve spent time with friends I never normally see and had a few mini existential crises thrown in between.

On Friday I managed to be meeting friends, having a mini existential crisis AND doing some writing, which is why I ended up at the Opera. Obviously.

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Rewind. OK, so I wasn’t full on sitting in red velvet seats or wearing a sparkly dress while looking at people singing on a stage far away through those little binoculars — I’ll tell you what happened.

I was in a cool little gift shop next to the Malt Cross in Nottingham — in fact it’s attached to Malt Cross through a not-so-secret door which I was about to step through to contemplate one of their yummy-looking cakes — when a booming voice in the bar announced that somebody or other was about to stage a half hour performance.

My semi-conscious gut reaction went: ‘Aaaargh! New experiences! Loud people! Code Red, abort mission!’ but my logical brain said – ‘Don’t be silly, we can probably have cake and listen to the performance for a bit, then sneak off.’

Now if you’re not from Nottingham, you’re probably Googling Malt Cross and finding somewhere which is basically a  pub BUT it is a pub that used to be a music hall, so it does kinda make sense.

Anyway, logical Beccy dragged herself through the door and pondered the cakes before irrational Beccy turned away and made for the exit (loud people, new experiences, cake makes you fat – before being pounced on by a professional looking lady dressed in black.

Smiley lady: Would you like to see a half hour performance? It’s free.

Me: Oh, um, I’m meeting someone at 4…

Smiley lady checks her phone

Smiley lady: It’s 3.11, you’ve got time! Go on!

Me: Um…

Smiley lady pulls out a chair fairly near the back.

I sit

And the performance began. I hadn’t heard who the performance was actually by so I was a bit surprised when people started full-on warbling. (There was an accordion too. Props to the accordion) It was in English – I guess they knew it had to be something accessible if they were going to interrupt people’s afternoon pints – and it was funny too, the storytelling felt totally natural, not just like a bunch of people singing at you and they really made use of the fact that they were up close and personal with their audience in a way that you wouldn’t normally be at an Opera. It was a love story about a charlatan doctor who sells an elixir of love (which is really just wine) to a lovesick bloke who wants to win the heart of a beautiful girl. Only the elixir ends up working, sort of.

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Anyway, these guys were obviously pros and Smiley Lady had sat next to me, so I sneaked a glance at her clipboard — and it was only flipping Opera North! Proper Opera singers in Nottingham, and it happened to be when I was there, how cool is that?

Anyway, after the performance I signed up to a mailing list which apparently gives me £10 Opera tickets and discounts on cocktails when Opera North come to Nottingham (It’s for under 30s only. Sorry.) Of course, it’ll probably just be one more email to delete every month and I’ll never actually go, but for now I’m enjoying feeling slightly cultured. Take that, illogical Beccy.

 

Things recently enjoyed #2

Lincoln. How incredibly friendly the staff at The Usher Collection are * Seeing my writing on gallery headed paper in a little reading snug at the back of a gallery * Seeing two whole people actually take copies! * Soaking up being in a gallery again, enjoying the little world created and curated by Lothar Götz and the Collection * Eating vegetarian food with all the people who made their vision possible * Being able to stumble into a bed at the end of it (thanks to my mum for finding cheap hotel rooms instead of deciding to drive home at obscene o’clock!) * Going for a run in Lincoln on Saturday morning and the views over the town being SO worth the hill climb * Brunch at Stokes Cafe  with the parents and seeing the Methodist Modern Art Collection at Lincoln Cathedral. Finding a new favourite picture and realising, as we were about to walk out of the chapter house, that the windows are works of art, too. *

Derby. The swishy-feeling of a new hair cut * Spending money and time in Derby with my best friend * Running in familiar places and feeling new again.

Books. ‘Hold Your Own’, Kate Tempest – Love how she weaves the kind of childhood  I remember into the myth of Tiresias. Her poetry is music but not at the expense of believable, breathtaking imagery * ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’, Azar Nafisi – Dangerously beautifully written. I mean literally, you’re in danger of forgetting that this happened, is happening to people right now. I love books about bookworms but Nafisi’s story saddens me too because I can’t bear the fact that people are so dehumanised and oppressed in the real world. * ‘An Aviary of Small Birds’, Karen McCarthy Woolf – I hadn’t read or heard a bad word said about this book. All I can add is, believe the hype.

And also cookies still warm from the oven.

 

Say Sum Thin 10

FB_IMG_1452970181053Sorry for the deafening silence on here over the last month, BUT I have exciting news. One of the reasons I’ve been so busy over the last month is because Mouthy Poets have been busy preparing for our spring show: SST10. We’ve been polishing and rehearsing our poems for the show over the last month and along with our headliners, Deanna Roger and Raymond Antrobus,we have such a variety of poets and as well as the performance itself we’re working on a gorgeous risograph-printed zine of our work which you’ll be able to buy. SST10 is at Nottingham Playhouse on the 5&6th of February so just search Facebook for the deets 🙂

 

In which I use technology to talk about the joys of being cut off from technology (and what it can do for your writing)

Last week I was lucky enough to go with Mouthy Poets on their annual Arvon course at Totleigh Barton in Devon. It was basically a boot camp for the imagination — we were warned in advance that the cottage has no wifi or phone signal. What it does have is a well-stocked library, an equally well-stocked kitchen (because cake and biscuits are essential to the writing process, duh), nice squishy sofas to write from and snug rooms to sleep in. It wasn’t a holiday though — all the tools are there for you to allow you time to really push your craft and, from talking to others on the course, it was great hearing the thought processes and little triumphs of other writers on the course.

Hopefully I’ll share some of the poems from the course on here soon 🙂

Our tutors:

RA Villanueva (caesura.nuwas scheduled to tutor us on this course, but his baby son arrived the week before over in America so at the last minute…

Roger Robinson (rogerrobinsononline.com) a Trinidad born, British  based writer and musician stepped in. This was a real bonus firstly because I got to discover the work of another great writer, but also because Roger’s straight talking advice is right on the money. He reminded us all that we need to be reading reading reading all the time, figuring out what we love about a poem and also what we can learn from the ones we don’t love. Just as importantly, we need to be getting our work out on the internet and performing it. Roger’s words reminded me to really reprioritise life towards the things I care about and a week with the absence of Facebook and the presence of a poetry library really kick-started that for me. Roger is working on a new and selected works and he had us in stitches with tales of his youth in Trinidad.

It would be really easy to hate someone who had their first poetry collection published at 15, especially since the poems are actually good, but Caroline Bird (carolinebird.co.ukis lovely and her anarchic sense of humour comes through in both her poetry and her teaching style. Caroline was fond of getting us to write about the really deep, dark topics we would never usually touch — and it’s surprisingly easy to go really, really deep when you’re writing about it in a playful way! — and then ‘persuading’ us to read what we’d written to the group. Caroline’s workshops helped me to see that, especially if you’re writing about something personal, you’ll often make a more interesting poem if you approach it in a kind of sideways, playful way. It’s a bit weird being taught by someone whose poems you’ve read in an actual real-life book (at uni it happened the other way around) but Caroline was really encouraging to all of us as well as being an insightful editor of early drafts.

And our special guest, for one night only…

Jess Thom, aka Touretteshero (touretteshero.com)

Enthusiastic people make you enthusiastic about things. Playworker, artist, performer and superhero Jess decided a few years ago to use the ‘word-generating machine’ which her tourette’s tics supplied her with for the greater good of humanity and started her website and blog with the mission to change the world one tic at a time.

Jess has faced overwhelmingly positive and ridiculously negative experiences because of her disability, and she shared some of these with us on Wednesday night, as well as a little segment of her show Backstage in Biscuit Land. Jess was engaging and funny, and her performance was just the tonic for the end of a busy day writing and cooking. I also learned a whole bunch of things about Tourette’s syndrome, without it feeling like a lesson, so I’ll share a couple with you now:

  1. A tic feels like a blink. Tourette’s is a neurological disorder, not a behavioural or mental health problem, so a person with Tourette’s can no more not tic than you or I can not blink or sneeze. It’s just a case of the brain telling the body to do something.
  2. It’s not x-rated. Despite the reputation, only 10% of people with Tourette’s have ‘obscene tics’. Jess is one of the 10%, but she is still more likely to tic ‘biscuits!’, ‘hedgehogs!’ or ‘I love cats!’ than a fruity four-letter word. Tics can also be movements like clapping.
  3. Tics are not what the person is thinking. Jess clarified for us that she has no strong feelings about cats and she doesn’t spend all her time thinking about biscuits. (Incidentally, I do spend most of my time thinking about biscuits, but hey, no one’s judging)

I’m reeeeeaally looking forward to Jess’s show arriving in Nottingham in March, and also (hopefully) reading a guest blog post one of the Mouthy’s may be doing for her website. It’s been a tiring week but I really feel like I’ve been pushed in my writing life, and just at a time when I needed it and I’m grateful to all the Mouthy’s, the Arvon Foundation and our lovely tutors for making it all happen.

What I’ve been reading recently

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Gut — I heard about this book when I was listening to Women’s Hour with my Mum a few months ago, because I just live a dangerous lifestyle like that. Anyway, the segment was basically this charming German medical student talking about what an interesting system the digestive organs make. My interest was piqued because I have IBS, and so anything to do with the gut is interesting to me partly in a knowledge-is-power-and-maybe-hopefully-a-cure way, but also because part of me despairs of ever finding a cure so in the mean time let’s just laugh at how funny-gross poo and farts are.

Giulia Enders is basically a more sophisticated gut evangelist than me. Her book is direct, never shying away from the accurate details or the comical aspects of her subject, but she never goes all-out crude or sensationalist either. If you’re a proper scientist, you might find it a bit too popularist, but for whimsical humanities grads like me who are only just getting interested in How Stuff Works, it’s brilliant.

What I didn’t expect: Enders sister, an illustrator, decorates the book with off-beat drawings which could have come straight from my own imagination.

Presence — I’m kind of cheating here because I haven’t actually finished this book, but it’s basically about how much more we could all get from life if we stopped writing blog posts on our phones while watching Strictly Come Dancing and were actually, you know, present in the moment. It’s written by a drama practitioner who noticed how people basically ‘switch on’ when they spoke about something they were passionate about, and also how, people hide away or force their energy into the world when they aren’t comfortable. All this talk of ‘energy’ and ‘circles’ is a bit new agey for my liking but Rodenburg gives examples and anecdotal evidence which I can relate to, so that keeps me on board.

What I didn’t expect: To actually enjoy a self help book. Ever.

Over land, Over sea — poems from those seeking refuge, an anthology — A variety of writers contributed to this anthology, and crowd funding meant that the printing costs were covered, so any profits will be donated to local charities helping refugees. Though an East Midlands based project, the anthology has attracted contributors based all over the UK, including some refugees and asylum seekers. The premise of the book being this, I couldn’t help but hope that more of the poems would be written by writers who have experienced displacement first hand, but then, I’m nosey and I want to hear everybody’s life stories in the medium of poetry. If anything, this collection is testament to the human imagination. The poems I’ve read so far feel neither melodramatic or idealistic –they are understated, genuine, and all the more heartbreaking because of it.

What I wasn’t expecting: Such good and varied poems, to be honest, because I think it can be difficult to write convincingly about an emotive subject. That said, these poems are about humans, basically, and humans are varied and good, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.

 

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley — I read this for BooksQuad, my book club, then didn’t go to the meeting because a pub dinner with a friend who was about to fly out of the country beckoned. But good God, I was hooked. (Or should I say Good Ford?) I started to read this when I was in year 9 but I think I was basically traumatised by the bit about sex play and didn’t read any further (too close to home perhaps?) Of course now it is too close to home and that’s exactly why it is so compelling. Of course, all the characters sound like they’re from Downton Abbey, but I guess it was written in that era, so that was what sounded convincing. Yes it’s a caricature rather than a photograph of modern Europe, but caricatures are uncomfortable because they bear a likeness. Rampant consumerism? Check. Unpoliced recreational sex? Check. Reliance on drugs, and an obsession with sterility and hygiene? Check. Religion as a dirty word? Check. Aldous Huxley, how did you know?

What I didn’t expect : To be so addicted. My inner adolescent hears ‘Classic’ and thinks ‘hard work’, but for me Brave New World practically read itself.

 

Reliquaria, RA Villanueva — This is a collection of poetry by one of the writers who will be taking an Arvon course which a group of Mouthys, including me, will be going on tomorrow. I got the collection as an ebook and although I normally find poetry reading tricky on a small screen, Villanueva’s poems suck you right in —  they are complex poems, poems you really need to spend time with, and doing so is rewarding. Tiny details are zoomed in on, events captured so vividly it’s like being able to peek at someone’s memories, and just as you’re letting one image soak in, Villanueva moves onto another. These poems make me want to really study them, memorise them even.

What I wasn’t expecting: Recently,  I’ve been enjoying poetry about the every day, the recogniseable. So being plonked into the middle of poems where I’m not totally sure where I am has been invigorating.

 

How to inadvertently have a really productive day

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Turn your alarm off because it’s a non-working day and you can. Stretch like cat and fall back into that delicious dozing phase where you’re asleep enough to dream but awake enough to gloat because you’re in bed and the birds aren’t. Look at the clock and curse yourself. Wonder which item on the list of things you were going to do today to miss off. Decide not to miss any. Run. You’re slow and it’s hard but the air feels like a clean drink and your muscles like being used. Eat a thoroughly un-nutricious breakfast and get two buses. Go to a gorgeous library. Make a hot chocolate. Write. Read.  Suddenly feel inspired and emotional and write more. Read a bit about Sappho and learn that people have been a) homophobic b) fond of bitchy gossip, for thousands of years. Take solace in the fact that, if these have always been traits of certain humans, it probably means that humanity is not getting significantly worse. Walk to the shopping centre to get free wifi. Use the wifi to find out how to get to the venue of a Nottingham Poetry Festival event. Spend several hours wages on reading materials because that’s just how edgy your life decisions are. Successfully navigate your way to the poetry event venue and feel like Christopher Columbus. Go to the room where the poetry performance is happening and find that it’s not a performance, it’s a workshop.  Your brain runs screaming out of the door because you’ve got writer’s fatigue, but your bum remains planted on your seat because your parents raised you to be polite. Surprise yourself by writing two first drafts with potential. Get a snapshot into some other interesting minds. Walk to the bus stop with poems jangling in your backpack. Decide that maybe, you can actually handle life. Read poems from an anthology about refugees. Your tummy rumbles and although you’re embarassed you realise that your tummy has never rumbled at a time when food wasn’t going to be available, sooner or later. Feel angry and in love with the world. Fall asleep on the bus home like a little kid. But at least you read and wrote and heard today. Today, you were really alive.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Writer

For all my faults, let it never be said that I don’t have sticking power. Whether it’s a recipe where I don’t have all the ingredients, a degree from a university nobody’s heard of in a town that’s miles from anywhere or the wrong side of an argument with someone who is infuriatingly right, I see it through to the bitter end, and that’s just what I did one week ago when I booted another deed unceremoniously off my bucket list and ran my first half-marathon.

‘But Beccy, you’re a poet’, I hear you say, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be anaemic and basically allergic to fresh air?’

‘NO!’ I reply. In fact, I have a few reasons why I think running and writing are a match made in heaven.

  1. Inspiration comes to those who seek it (in expensive trainers and a technical t-shirt) Urgh. You know what I’m talking about. The Blank Page Fear is to the writer what shin splints are to the runner: A right royal pain that you need like you need a chocolate teapot. Luckily, there’s exercises you can do to prevent shin splints and there’s also exercises you can do to prevent Blank Page Fear; something else. Anything will work; cooking, painting, putting the contents of your floordrobe into your wardrobe, but a run has the added benefit that it drags you outside, into contact with nature, other people and all those muscles which have been neglected whilst you’ve been hunched over your laptop.
  2. The flâneurs did it. If it was good enough for Baudelaire it’s good enough for us, right? Okay so I’m asking you to put in a bit more effort than just a leisurely stroll around your environs, but the more you put in, the more you get out.  Bonus points here for anyone who has actually read anything by Baudelaire. 
  3. They’re actually pretty similar. Running embraces the paradox of being a solitary pursuit which gives you immediate access to a friendly, supportive community. Sound familiar? Just as your average open mic night will see all manner of poets, and storytellers applauded for work they may have spent hours working on alone, so every runner is congratulated on completing their race. Sure, there can only be one winner, but everyone gets a goody bag, and that’s because running, like writing, honours the fact that while each journey is different, all call for courage and grit.
  4. Writing snacks. Because I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly rewarding myself with carrot sticks for each poem I finish.
  5. It’s free research. As I mentioned before, runners are a pretty diverse breed. As are poets, too, of course,  but I tend to find that only spending time with other creative types does not necessarily benefit my writing. Unless you only want to write for and about other writers, it helps to have one foot in everyday life and running forces you to do that; to notice the way that elderly person walks with their shopping bags, what the air smells of and that blackbird shredding berries from a bush.

If I haven’t convinced you by now, I probably won’t. That’s okay; running isn’t for everyone, but just like writing, those who enjoy it tend to get a little bit addicted…

Enjoy doing what you do 🙂 x