In the beginning…’

I’m very near the end of the process of putting together my first collection to be published by Cinnamon Press next year. When I say near the end this is not so much me sprinting for the finishing line as edging my way up a cliff but my fingertips but I’ll get there.
I’ve started to reflect on the last couple of years and looking back to what it was that started me off writing poems about merchant seamen. The first poem came completely out of the blue and if you’d told me it was the beginning of a two year journey through Malta in the second world war I’d have told you that wasn’t what I wanted to write about. It began on 22nd November 2010 with Pascale Petit’s Poetry from Art workshops at Tate Modern. During the workshops you are allowed to go into the galleries after dark, after closing time when everyone else has been sent home. Coupled with the delicious feeling of doing something out of bounds is Pascale’s gentle facilitation to go with the art before you start to write.
On this evening we were looking at the work of Ana Mendieta; a video of her covering herself with oil and then feathers. Pascale had suggested that we make use of all your senses. So we read poems Sharon Olds and Selima Hill and watched the short film before returning to our places to write.

I went into my usual ‘oh-help-what-am-I-going-to-write-about-I-can’t-do-it-this-won’t-be-any-good’ when suddenly I was on board ship. We’d just been bombed – helluva racket, worse noise you ever heard and there was a injured seaman in a heap in front of me screaming except you couldn’t hear because of the earlier barrage of noise and I wasn’t looking at him through my eyes but someone else’s. That someone else was starting to move forwards, to pick up this lad. And there was a poem in it which has become ‘Under Fire’.

While he was alive (and he made it to the grand age of ninety) I never talked to my grandfather, my Taid about his experiences during the war but on that evening at Tate Modern it felt as though he had stories he wanted me to know about. All I had to do was open up and listen.

Thanks Pascale.

3 Replies on “In the beginning…’

  1. What an interesting piece. It's always fascinating to know how a poem was born and the Pascal Petit workshop sounds truly inspirational. 'Under Fire' is a stunning poem – good luck with the rest of the collection. I'll be first in the queue when it's published.

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