Last Autumn, I was struggling with everything. As I’m sure you’ve noticed there is not much light around in our socio-political climate, and in the bad news we contend with daily. I felt (still do feel, much of the time) full of despair witnessing the cruelty and carelessness with which some of the humans on this planet treat their fellow kith and kin. On a personal level, my husband and I were getting approved to be foster carers, which although incredibly exciting was also fraught with terrifying questions, difficult decisions, and going back over the most traumatic experiences of your life with strangers. It was a lot. Also, I just wasn’t having many triumphs in my writing life. Its not really cool to admit that, but I honestly must have submitted to over a hundred magazines, journals, writing competitions and funding pools over the course of about 18 months and had zero successes. I was feeling ready to knock writing on the head, wondering if maybe my work just didn’t really have anything valuable and useful to offer anyone at the moment. But I still had a notebook full of poems from a trip I’d taken to New York in the Spring (to look after my friends’ kid while they made a record – I know, great work if you can get it!) so I slowly and methodically got to work cutting and sticking the poems into a zine, to self-print, publish and distribute in the old-fashioned way.
I’ve always loved zines. I have baskets of them which I’ve collected over the last decade or more, tiny testimonies to the passions, cares, thoughts and secrets of friends and strangers alike. All collated on a living room or bedroom floor somewhere in this world (the furthest one away I could find was from Alaska) and run off on a photocopier or home printer to be shared trustingly with fellow humans. Making the zine was therapeutic, to say the least. Doing something creative and methodical with my hands, putting together words and pictures without any pressure of wondering what a prize judge or editor or funding board might think of it, creating a space for magic and curiosity and my own thoughts, for the sake of it. For its own sake. I really needed to do that, and I was pleased with the results, in a zine-y kind of way. I sent it out into the world on National Poetry Day 2017, with a full heart and a expecting nothing in return.
Things picked up a little after that. I mean, Faber didn’t call or anything but I had some offers for some lovely poetry readings over the winter, I enjoyed posting out copies of the zines the friends and even a few strangers who expressed an interest, and I also picked up the confidence to put myself out there and book myself a few shows in Sweden the following February. The trip was about the adventure as much as the poetry for me. I went the whole way over land on trains and buses which gave me so much time to think, read, talk to strangers and stare out of windows in preparation ahead of my impending new life as a foster carer. It was a magical experience for me, and I was lucky enough to catch up with some old friends, as well as make some new ones and experience some incredible kindness from a person I have still never met, who trusted me to stay in their beautiful apartment while I was in Gothenburg.
A few months after I got back, I received an email from a woman who had bought the zine at one of the shows in Gothenburg. She was kind enough to share with me that she had read it recently whilst in a long, dark night of illness and despair. She asked for me to send her 5 more copies so she could distribute them around the world to women she loves. I don’t have the words to describe what this meant to me, for so many reasons. Being on the edge of delving into this strange kind of parenthood, and learning that my words had managed to provide someone with a little comfort and solace was so very encouraging to hear. Also, having been feeling so helpless and isolated and unable to reach out and support my fellow humans in so many ways, the small victory of a little zine that I had made prompting women in different countries to contact each other and remind each other that they are valued and important very like such a special tonic. I sent the zines off on their way around the world, hoping for the best.
Over Spring and Summer I made a little more progress. We became foster carers which has been its own glorious, terrifying, rollercoaster. I was also elected as a parish councillor in our strange and beautiful little Forest town. Such a small step in terms of being to affect any social change, but I have always found so much solace in the old adage ‘think global, act local’, so I put my money where my mouth is and ran for the post. And while I’m really nowhere further along in terms of any on-paper successes in my writing career, I have discovered the joy of it again, just finished editing the script for a new show that I’m developing, and I am a good chunk of my way into a writing new novel (written in between packing lunches and doing school runs and washing school uniforms and doing crafts!). Why? Maybe just because. Because writing is fun and soothing and a valuable use of my time and thoughts. It helps me figure things out, and makes me feel more open and courageous when communicating with the people I love. Of course I hope for the show to be booked and the book to be published, but that’s not why I’m writing them. I’m writing because I’m a writer, and no amount of packed lunches to dirty dishes are about to change that.
As a wonderfully-timed and curiously neat closer to this extolling of the values of writing poetry for the sake of writing it – yesterday, on the eve of this year’s National Poetry Day, I found myself lurching through a dark day of ground-spinning, head-swimming virus. The kind of virus that makes your ears and your throat and your joints ache, but also makes you question your value as a human, as a partner and a daughter and a parent and a friend. And friends, its was in the midst of this temporary darkness that THIS ARRIVED!!!
A zine, made by the fair hand of Anni in Sweden, who had been kind enough to read my zine and buy five more. It is full of love and positivity and hope and most importantly, strong women. It reminded me that there are few things more powerful that open-heartedly, simply, vulnerably sharing your thoughts and fears with the people around you. Yes, you leave yourself open to mockery and even hurt, but you also open up hesitant little streams and sometimes wide, grand canals of bravery and common ground and understanding in yourself and others.
Thanks Anni, thanks zines makers, and thanks sad and brave people everywhere. Especially the women. Here’s to getting better. This ones for you xxx