Sunday, 31 March 2013

The Opposite of Money

I have been miles away. My head is in another country. My thoughts are with my family in Cyprus, many of whom will be losing jobs, houses and a way of life they took for granted only a few weeks ago. For the last couple of weeks I have been plunged into a crash course on EU economics. I'd rather I didn't, but it's been necessary. This isn't a problem affecting a few wealthy people but an entire country. Even those with less than than the magic sum of 100,000 Euros are still going to be hugely affected. Schools and hospitals cannot afford to pay their staff. I worry that my mother, who has a long list of medical issues, won't be getting adequate health care. There is no NHS in Cyprus and right now there is no money. Of course I am scared.

Then I remember that I'm a writer. I should say 'oh, the guilt, what I do doesn't help anyone financially. I don't make any money out of poetry.' Hang on, I always knew poetry was the opposite of money, no one expected to make serious money out of writing did they? Especially poetry. I have a part-time job and I write poetry. That's me. I read this by Alison Brackenbury from 'In Their Own Words,' edited by George Szirtes and Helen Ivory: 'I think our planet is almost ruined. In poetry, as in life, I am now intent on survival...' and something struck a chord.

Then I think that writing can be liberating and that has little to do with money. I like starting a poem without a map, I don't want to write A Priori, I don't want to know where I'm going on a page even though in life I am bound to news reports, politics etc. I might have a moment of revelation and realise that I was writing about such and such after all. When I was a little girl I'd spend hours in Greek Orthodox churches. I didn't understand a word of what was going on most of the time, the services were in Middle Greek. I had one technique to keep me entertained. I'd look at the icons around me and try to make up a story which somehow plausibly involved jumping from one icon to another. One day I made up a story so terrible I burst into tears. I can't remember what it was now, but it moved me so much. The point is I was trying even then to make sense out of something that I couldn't understand, but without logic or a priori facts. Maybe that's what poets are trying to do, not bashing us with rhetoric or cold hard fact, but getting us to look differently so we realise we understood all along.

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