I have come to the surprising conclusion that there’s not enough pomp in my life. I do like a bit of pomp and ritual. And latin. Give me more latin. There was plenty of all of the above in the graduation ceremony that marked the completion of my Masters in Creative Writing. Oxford University has had centuries to get the art of ritual down to a fine art and the day was conducted with the kind of seriousness and commitment that puts a little bit of magic into any performance. It was a lovely day, mostly because it was a wonderful chance to catch up with some writing buddies but also because it was a chance to feel like an extra in a Harry Potter movie – and a little bit because it was a reminder that I have committed myself to this writing life, however difficult it is sometimes.
It might seem that pomp and formality doesn’t sit comfortably with the rest of my politics or indeed way of life but –
a) I am steeped in research into the battle by women in the early 20th century to be awarded degrees and graduate at all, so it was important to me that I claim that hard won right, and
b) I love theatre – and especially a bit of commedia dell’arte – and what a commedia it was! In turns, funny, thought-provoking, macabre and riotous. Complete with hats in the air!
A second special occasion in Oxford was the launch of THE BITTERS in Blackwell’s Bookshop. It was a pure joy to hear my poems read by some of the most talented up and coming writers in and around Oxford in such a great setting. Thank you to Daisy Johnson, Sarvat Hasin, Katariina Kottonen, Shahla Haque, Sam Guglani and Rae Sunshine for reading my words far better than I ever could.
The magic of that evening was deepened by the honour of THE BITTERS being nominated for the Ted Hughes Award. What a privilege to know that my chapbook was being read by the judges alongside the work of some absolutely extraordinary poets. The final shortlist made me feel very humble that THE BITTERS was even nominated. But the real joy was reading the citation for the nomination by much respected poet, Jenny Lewis. She has given me permission to quote her words and I will, as they sum up exactly what I was hoping to achieve in this chapbook.
‘The starting point for The Bitters was the poet’s research into archives at the local mental hospital (where her grandmother was once incarcerated) while reading Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. The great strength of this pamphlet is how the experimental (collage, found poems, prose poems, Oulipo) is empowered by the passionate commitment of the author against the historical exploitation of poor, working class women. It’s good to see a pamphlet being used, again, as a vehicle of protest.’
Jenny’s words describe perfectly my aspirations for THE BITTERS, aspirations which I hope, in at least some of the poems, are achieved. They have also helped me to articulate my purpose as a poet and to help me on my way with my current poetry and fiction projects, both of which take as their starting point some of the themes introduced in THE BITTERS. So I would like to say a huge thank you to Jenny, and also to all who supported the London and Oxford launches, for the encouragement and challenge to keep writing.
So where do the Mad Hatters come in? This Saturday, I will be joining a troop of joyous and crazily-experimental poets at the Mad March Shuffle, hosted by poet Jill Abram, and featuring poets such as Swindon lovelies, Hilda Sheehan and Michael Scott, artist and poet Sophie Herxheimer, Mancunian writer Stuart Mckenzie and poet Mischa Foster Poole. And me, bringing the crazies. If you are near The Poetry Cafe this Saturday (March 28th) 7.30, do drop in.