Sunday, 18 April 2010
As I have been reading various letters written by the great and the good and the not so good to each other lately I thought it about time that I wrote to you just to acknowledge the debt I owe you. So often we become so used to something or someone being always there, part of the furniture in our emotional house, that we take them for granted. We have been friends for a long time now and I have never ceased to wonder at your capacity to inspire, infuriate, console, stimulate, perplex, bore and sustain me. I read voraciously as a child , books being a constant bolt-hole from real life. However I found something more profound and exciting than mere escape in the form of poetry, when I was thirteen. Rather it was the case that you found me when a new young English teacher read the class Prayer Before Birth by Louis MacNeice and did not dissect it or interrogate it or come with any educational agenda other than to help us engage with the words and the tumbling sound of them. Then through these words and images they created to the feelings they engendered. She read it in a way I had never heard a poem read before, in a way that did not make a straight –jacket of received BBC pronunciation but in her robust Lancashire accent. For a Midland girl who had been suddenly parachuted into the alien vowels of the posh south only a year previously this experience was revelatory. Poetry did not require you to be posh, nor did it demand you totally understand what it all meant, that could come later, but what it did demand was that you close your eyes and just listen, really listen. This same teacher managed to make Dickens as exciting as any TV soap and Richard III positively oozed with all the twisted thrill and urgent barely repressed sexuality that any bad boy with long hair and the gift of the gab had for any one of us installed in an all girls High School. I even managed to find literature walking the streets of my old Midland home town when she lent me copy of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe
Almost from then on, Literature, we came to an understanding you and I, that we would be connected in some way. You would give me something I needed even at times when I did not know I needed it myself and I would give you at the very least, time. At fifteen I told a man who was very old, very wise, very well published and very kind that I wanted to be a poet or a writer some day. He did not laugh, he told me that what I needed to do first was read as that the greatest way to learn how to write. So I read as I had as a small child ,voraciously, for nearly thirty-five years. I read anything I could get my hands on that seemed at first glance to be worthwhile. At first I did not know what to make of what I was reading and quantity might have outstripped quality however I always found something that excited me enough to make me read on. After thirty-five years I eventually decided that I might be ready to write something other than private meanderings. This was in itself quite a difficult decision as the more I read the more I realised I had so much yet to read and whilst I wrote for my own private consumption I wondered whether with so much poetry and fiction out there I really needed to add to the amount available. Maybe this wise man did not intended that I should read for quite so long before I wrote for an audience of any kind but time spent reading is never wasted even if you throw a book across the room in disgust or fail to get past the half way mark in a book because you realise the author and you have diverged on what you deem to be good writing.
You and I will always be life long friends, in poetry at its best I find something almost mystical and yet solid and organic in the way sound and words work together to make something happen for me as the reader. In fiction I can be invited into a world that binds me so closely to something ‘other’ that at times I have been genuinely startled when I have lifted my eyes away from the page to find myself in my own room surrounded by my own things. If books were to vanish from the face of the earth and I could never read another poem or book again I can still be in your company for the best of what I have read has always stayed with me.
So this is by way of a thank-you letter, in case I should never have the opportunity again to ensure you know how I feel. Of course it really is a thank-you letter to all those poets and writers who have struggled, agonised, battled to bring me so much. Some have found neither fame nor riches from their work but nonetheless they have made my life the richer for their words. They may never know this, they may be long dead, but nonetheless thanks are owed to them. It may be that only one poem or one book out of many they have written has allowed me some connection with some thought or experience that I would otherwise have missed but this is more than enough to warrant my thanks. If anything I ever write or have written gives just one person something they feel worth holding onto, then I would be content. In the end Literature, you and I both know that I would be a sadder and maybe a more insular person without you and we still, hopefully, have a long road to travel together.