Sunday, 31 March 2013

States of Independence '13

I have found myself with a bit of time to catch up with the blog. It's over two weeks since States of Independence was held at De Montfort University and by now most of the keen bloggers have blogged so before March is through I'll write about the event. Certainly 2013's 'States' seemed to be one of the busiest, well so it appeared to me. There were some fabulous panels, such as Ian Parks' talk on Chartist poetry; a talk on sex and censorship before 1963 by Kathy Bell, Gina Greaves and Elaine Aldred, and I read with Jonathan Taylor in the afternoon. A husband and wife act if you will. Jonathan's novel was shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Award and it was made public on the day.The shortlist also included Will Buckingham's novel The Descent of the Lyre which was a book I enjoyed reading last year. It was rather lovely to hear a reading from Alison Moore too. There was also ample opportunity to buy books as well and I purchased Angela France's Hide and Joel Lane's Flarestack pamphlet Instinct as well as others. It was also good to catch up with friends as well. If you're curious to have a look at exactly what the day consisted of have a look here.

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.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

My Father the Gambler...

I am somewhat allergic to writing competitions. I tend not to enter many and when I do I go for competitions where I know the money is contributing to something important. Most of them are. Call it poetry tax. The problem is though that I cannot see how anyone goes about winning anything, it seems so random and so subjective. Obviously someone does. I recently judged a poetry competition for Leicester Writer's Club and it was a real challenge settling on the winning and commended poems. I really enjoyed that experience and wanted to be a fair and considerate judge. I took the role very seriously indeed. It made me realise that being a judge is actually not straightforward at all, especially when you're giving feedback and dealing with dozens (or hundreds, or thousands) of hopeful entries. As an entrant are you competing or gambling?

My dad is about to turn 76 this year, he has gambling running through his veins. I swear that when his ship to England from Cyprus docked in '61 he must have headed straight for the betting shop. Growing up I watched my dad alternate from feelings of elation and frustration. He never watched the horse racing on TV quietly, there'd be a lot of high speed 'cmon, c'mon' and then a barrage of swear words when the wrong horse won. He always backed the wrong horse most of the time. When he did win he seemed generally very surprised, as if losing where in fact the expected outcome and winning was something alien. Me and my dad spent a lot of 'daddy-daughter' time engaged in gambling pursuits. I spent a lot of time outside William Hill waiting for him to place his bets, they were smoky, male places. Children weren't allowed. At home he'd read out the names of horses for me to pick and him to bet on. The 1989 Grand National was a lucky one. He read out the names and 'Little Polveir' stood out. 'Yes,' I said, Little Polvier!' He grunted a comment about it only being good for dog meat and put the bet on. I didn't like the Grand National much because I knew a horse was likely to die. Still, I insisted on Little Polveir. It won. I received £20 and my dad took out a commission fee. I was in Primary School by the way.

Spot the Ball
Spot the Ball was another family favourite. It seemed more artistic than the other games, you actually had to guess where the ball might be in the picture. It was like finishing off a painting for a great master.
I'm not sure if it was my father's favourite, but I loved that one. Then of course there was the Pools, everyone played the Pools until the lottery came about. You had to guess which football teams would achieve a score draw. My dad was convinced this was a science and not random. You could guess which teams could achieve a score draw. So when I was 8 or 9 I was brought a copy of Football 87, a sticker album which featured all the teams in the top divisions. You had to buy the stickers of all the players and teams. The album also featured lots of statistics and info about the teams as well. Somehow understanding football from the inside would help. The boys in my class were very impressed and we'd swap stickers and things. I think my dad really wanted to join in as well.

Fond Memories...

One Saturday I got several score draws and my dad was happy with the promise of £11 until he realised that one more and we would have been in the thousands. Or something like that, we were always one draw, horse, or ball away from a fortune. He would scowl, bemoan his lot, vanish into the kitchen.One more draw/ball/speedy horse and we'd be millionaires. Alack! Alas! Back to work on Monday then.

Then 1994 - the lottery. No more £3 or £10 there, it was £18 million here £7 million there. The good people of Acton were quivering with expectation and my dad was among them.

'Give me 6 numbers, Maria!' That would be on  a Friday.

I'd give him six numbers. Saturday night the lottery was on TV. Six little balls and a bonus ball would levitate on air and be chosen by an unseen force. We wouldn't win. It was of course my fault.

So the years went by, as they do. There was the odd win here and the odd win there. My dad aged in front of the TV. When he comes over from Cyprus he still sneaks into William Hill. What has this got to do with the more genteel world of poetry competitions? Surely there's more skill and delicacy involved. I suppose there is, but that feeling is just the same. I grew up with my dad experiencing that feeling. I'd see him waver between joy and scowling. He once won £800 on the horses, you should have seen the smile on his face. Bless him.