Third time lucky. I've been trying to write a blog post for a while now, and actually wrote two pieces that both somehow vanished when I tried to save them. I was hoping to manage a post while it was still August, which would have meant for the first time achieving two posts in the same month. But it was not to be. A poor show, considering I have been aiming for once a week! But the weeks fly past nowadays, as fast as months used to do.
One of the lost posts was about the tragedy of another terrible earthquake in Italy, while the memory of the 2009 devastation of L'Aquila, once my home for five years, is still fresh. That city and surroundings lost 300 people and will never be the same. Nor will Amatrice and the towns around it. But whatever I said about it would have been not very coherent and after all, what can one say, or do? Except weep, and prompt each other to donate to the Red Cross....
Now it's September. My poem "September Afternoon in the Schoolyard"—its final lines are on this website's home page—begins like this:
Taut, amazing, lazuli sky: September: four o'clock: each leaf is distinct: the brightness edges every pebble: the shadows sharpen woodchip and grassblade.
This is North America's clearest season, lucid, unequivocal; this light suits white clapboard houses ruled like unwritten schoolbooks.
It was started, as the title indicates, in a playground in the town in Pennsylvania where I lived for twenty years, in that extraordinary clear light you often get in the north-eastern US in September and October. But as the poem shows, lovely as that light was and as much as I enjoyed its clarity, I missed England:
But I keep wanting muted English shades; and a crumbled honey limestone wall, its time-softened contours blurry, lost in moss....
Now I'm in England again, among the muted shades and limestone walls. Yet sometimes even here there is a clear bright day, and yesterday was one of those. Bright sunshine, brilliant blue skies, and in the afternoon as the sun dropped lower, the air cooled fast, and this autumnal hint gave me that September feeling. A feeling of those new school notebooks, and of new beginnings. I haven't been part of academia since I left university, but I have three children fairly widely spaced, and so for a huge swathe of my life September meant "back to school." Once they were all at school full-time, this also meant back to work for me, back to days with solitude and time to write, as I was in the lucky position of not having to go off to a nine-to-five job. So the feeling of a clean slate, a new leaf, a fresh notebook, affected me too.
Today, on September 1st, I have this frisson again. Over the last month I've been sorting poems with a view to gathering them into a collection. Despite the luxury of time over the years (or some would say, because of it) I have a very small oeuvre (!); I am an exponent of slow poetry. Very trendy, surely, like slow food. Also of slow novel writing. And slow essay writing. So there aren't that many poems to sort.
But I am done with the collection-gathering, for now, and am ready to turn to other work. I have a couple of projects in view: my embryonic new novel is seeking its shape; I also want to write a couple of essays, and re-enter the freelance world. Time to dig in, to get cracking....slow writing is all very well, but I don't have all the time in the world. I must work harder, I must do more.
What is it that drives us to write? It's a mysterious thing.....though in my own case, using language is really all I know how to do well (except for various skills acquired during the raising of those three children, skills that aren't much appreciated in the world at large). But still, what impels me to keep doing it, to keep honing words and phrases and listening to their sound and trying to balance it all? I am not sure; its something to do with loving what Jean Rhys called the "huge lake" that is all writing. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, she says, and we can add the writers we admire; and there are "mere trickles, like Jean Rhys." (Of course now she is acknowledged as much more than a trickle). I do not matter, she says. Only the lake matters. You must feed the lake.
And so I keep trying to feed the lake with my own tiny runnel of writing. And now, the nights are drawing in.