Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Why have I been so quiet?

It was of course foolhardy and poor planning to introduce Wednesday Word of the Week just before going on leave, and locking myself away in a friend's flat in Whitby to do some writing and editing. I had a week away from family, work, email, tv and only turned on the blackberry to check the football scores on Tuesday night. I'm slightly relieved to say I don't have to delete that bit to the left of here that says I am also a poet, or change the tense of the verb, as I managed to do a lot of writing.

Whether any of it sees the light of day, especially in book form, remains to be seen, of course. I've felt my Arts Council role has ruled me out of going back to fine publishers of my books such as Flambard, who we fund regularly in the North East. Given my national responsibilities now that probably also applies to RFOs elsewhere in the country. And I've never managed to nab a non-subsidised poetry publisher - of which there are precious few, of course. (Insert your own ironic aside about people who had funding withdrawn here: .) This has led to new work appearing mainly in anthologies such as this and this, and emerging from projects such as the ongoing North East-Bulgaria link which led to A Balkan Exchange last year. Clearly this has been a bigger sacrifice for me than it has for the world of poetry, and I don't lose any sleep over it - I've been getting my buzz in other ways. At least it gives me at least one thing in common with the great Irish poet Michael Longley, who went twelve years without publishing before retiring from the Arts Council of Ireland and beginning an amazing - and happily long - 'late period'.

The best thing about last week, as I think about it now, a day and a half back into work, was being able to engage with language without having to talk or listen to other people, to shape it to my own ends, or the ends of my imagination. When my kids were smaller and asked what I did at work I used to say I talked and listened and thought. (They added 'Have meetings and do emails.') I once listed all the decisions, large and small I was asked to make in a day - as part of trying to get better at both delegating and deciding - and found it was literally dozens. That takes up a lot of energy, and can make the useful space in your head shrink. (I decompressed from my retreat at an international seminar on commissioning opera, at The Sage Gateshead at the weekend. No easy way back for me!)

Anyway, I really meant to explain the silence here last week, and to recommend occasional silence to you. The really good news for you is I've decided to spare you any of the poems I wrote last week.

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