The turn of the year: darkness, light, art, enemies

Steve Fowler bear

Bogged down in a tether

Ugh. I hate New Year’s Eve. I’ve been trying to write this post all day with no enthusiasm, no idea what to write, and a growing awareness that even thinking in terms of the old year just makes me queasy. This time last year I was on ten eye drops a day, waiting for surgery, going to Moorfields on average once every 10 days. and dealing with the absolute sharp end of austerity dementia care.

Then it all kicked off.

I was much further out than I thought, and not reading but knitting.

I spent the first half of 2013 compulsively knitting a scarf; I started with no plan – just about ten balls of a very nice quality grey cotton/wool mix from a sale box in Peter Jones. Think of it as a tether, and a tactile reminder of WC Williams’ dictum, ‘No ideas but in things’.. I was knitting in the Moorfields waiting room, knitting at home, knitting on buses; & thus I went along, treating it as a stitch sampler, then realised it looked like shit and ripped most of it out.

Aunt eventually got picked up by a neighbour, went to hospital & put on 12kg in three weeks, and was moved to a nursing home (near us, thank the Lord) the day before my first operation. The operations (under local anaesthetic – think of it like going to the eye dentist) changed my vision completely, so I had a month of one old eye and one new eye.  After the second one I had to wait two months to get my eyes tested. Like having to put the three-year-old in charge of the baby.

Somehow I did keep the classes and workshops going, and some bits of work, and even a few readings. Once the eyes settled down a bit I looked at my scarf, saw all the mistakes I’d been making, and ripped the whole thing out again. It’s done now and really nice. Very complicated Victorian lace pattern, and colours along with the grey. Finished in July.

And there you go, you see? Bogged down already! The year of the scarf it took six months to knit. And a crocheted flower-garden tea cosy. And measured out my life in glasses prescriptions. And piles of books unread.

Flowers and sunshine and friends

But the year has also shown lots of good and even wonderful things. There was a glorious week in the Slad valley, working with 15-year-old writers, and there were five wonderful days in Norfolk with a giant house full of friends. The weather in summer was simply amazing, hot and sunny and enough to burn off several years’-worth of cold, grey hopelessness. People were the core of what was good this year – aside from actually getting a summer! Family, friends, kids, strangers. New friends, old friends, absent friends, generous friends, funny friends, surprising friends, touching friends, and, I suppose, enemies. The guinea pigs are brilliant. I wrote some good stuff in the summer that I was pleased with, and have sent it out, and have ideas. I was lucky enough to get to see several plays with friends in, a slightly mad rehearsed reading of King Lear with Joss Ackland in the lead (& two friends in), and even a production of Cosi Fan Tutte at the Hackney Empire (in the middle of the eye thing, with a tissue stuffed inside my left lens against the stage lights).

We’ve ended the year with a good family Christmas – including miraculously getting my aunt to the local Wetherspoons for an insanely cheap and slap-up roast Turkey dinner – and I’m about to go to my fourth party in two weeks. There is work on, work to be done, in fact a slight thicket of insane deadlines in the first half of January, and much more to be done to keep it going. Life!

N.b., I am available from mid-Jan for copy-editing, copywriting, manuscript appraisal, poetry tutorials, etc.

So although things here in Baroque Mansions continue a little bit superstitious and I’m touching wood as I type, may all of this please provide the foundation for a productive, financially stabilising, and emotionally fulfilling 2014. (Tap tap.)

What will the new year bring?

(What will it bring you? Click here for details of poetry workshops coming up: Tuesday nights are Poetic Technique – you can join for one term or for both remaining terms of the year – alternate Thursdays are the advanced workshop, and 11 Jan is the TS Eliot Prize shortlist workshop.)

Resolutions look awfully familiar

Time to get serious. Shake off the dust of 2013, get fast again, get more work in, do some proper writing. Same as it ever was. These New Baby Years begin to look awfully similar to each  other; they have a family resemblance. I find it a bit artificial and depressing. And today is a stalled day: you either look back on the old year (and turn to salt) or you look forward to the new year (unknown), or you write about something else, but you can’t, because it’s the New Year.

I was lying in the bath today reading The Brand New Ancients, the Picador book of Kate Tempest’s Ted-Hughes-Award-winning performance piece. That, with its godlike overview of all of us, who are also gods, seems to me to strike about the right note. And so the years spin round, one on top of another, and we do what gods did and humans still do, and we keep doing it.

We keep doing it

The picture at the top represents a blog post I never wrote, back in the thick of things. It’s SJ Fowler, living Dada, on stage at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green, in an experimental mixed media spoken word show called Electronic Voice Phenomena. I was meant to review the show, which was brilliant and included a variety of pieces from people like Hannah Silva, Ross Sutherland, and others, but somehow got bogged down in the bog of life and – though I spent months feeling guilty and unfinished – never did. SJ Fowler was the compere, and came on in a different sort of persona each time. As the show went on his linking acts became more and more broken down, more and more unstable, more inaccessible, until – I think just after the break – he came on in this amazing bear suit and started reading in a stentorian chant. Symbolic communication only and WOW. It was a bit terrifying from below; you can see where I was. The show ended with Mr Fowler coming on and ranting in German, on and on, building in fury – and fury is the word – until he finally melted down and gave every realistic semblance of being violently sick into a bucket on the stage.

This isn’t sounding  appealing, is it! I asked him afterwards what he’d been reciting, and he told me it was a recipe. Full of eggs. (There, that’s better.)

The show, produced by Penned in the Margins and Mercy, was brave and exhilarating. It poked around in the idea of  what lies beyond, but left the beyond firmly in the beyond. Rather than the usual ghosts and gloating hints of the paranormal, it gave us shadows and fragments of meaning and perception. (What is ‘normal’, anyway?)

SJ Fowler has a book of collaborations put with Penned in the Margins, called Enemies. By ‘enemies’, he means those personal influences and interactions that spur us to action – I think – I mean, I think he means friends. He opens with a surprising epigraph:

We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only though our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.

– Orson Welles

The introduction is a very satisfying essay in its own right, and among other things he asserts that poetry ‘lends itself to collaboration as language does to communication… in the shaping of every fragment of language there is a response taking place’.


Where does creation spring from? What was that voice? These may be my questions for 2014.

 Happy New Year! 

Here’s to 2014. Let’s do it this time.

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