Monday, 15 December 2014

Shell Shock

Last week I went to my first poetry reading.

Hang on, you say, Denise has finally lost her marbles. We all know she has been to poetry readings before, in fact we know she's organised a fair few of them herself!
You're right, I have. But this was different! This was a reading for the launch of a new poetry pamphlet that includes me. I stood up - well, sat up - and read words written by me, to complete strangers.

I know!
Steps back in amazement!

Me - the "I am not a writer" person. I have poems (plural) in a book (published!). And what's more I'm in there with proper poets. People who do write, and call themselves writers.
I am, to put it mildly (and not too poetically) a bit gobsmacked. And it is perfectly okay if you all are too!

How on earth has this astonishing thing come about, you cry? And well you might.
For the past year I have been part of a project set up and run by Martin Malone, writing poetry to commemorate the centenary of the Bombardment of Hartlepool in 1914. I have spent a Saturday afternoon once a month holed up in the Heugh Battery on the Headland, Hartlepool, learning about war (and people's reaction to it), and poetry (and people's reactions to that, too). I have in fact spent not much of that time actually producing poetry, much to the consternation of Mr Malone. (If his hair had been long enough to get hold of he'd have torn it out by now).

Martin's idea was to produce a pamphlet of poetry that went to the hearts and minds of the people affected by the Bombardment. Not to glorify the fighting or lambast the politicians, but to document the emotions and reactions of ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary event.
At the time Martin was trying to get the group up and running a few people had said one or two nice things about the scraps of writing I had done and I was looking for a way to develop myself and my writing. Writing about people and feelings was something I was pretty sure I could do, I thought.
But, oh my word it was hard! Coming from a base of inexperience and very shaky self confidence, and discovering such a wealth of talent in that little cafe in the Heugh, I wondered what on earth I was doing there. I felt a complete fraud, sitting among people who could pull words together and create such expressive and poignant pieces. Surely I had no right to be there? But I gritted my teeth, girded my loins and I held the line.

Every month I brought along a scrap of writing, and every month I skulked away with it unread in my notebook. Mr Malone, I am sure, despaired of me. It became a something of a standing joke that I came to a writing group but never wrote anything. In actual fact I was writing, I just wasn't confident enough to share it (imagine that!). In eleven months I handed him three poems and each time I felt sick with trepidation, because surely to god, this four or five lines couldn't count as a poem? And even if it did, it was not likely to be any good...but apparently (to quote another proper poet*), "it was good enough".
In the end, I managed four scraps, handed in at the 11th hour (but not of the 11th day) and probably surprised everyone, but frankly, no-one more so than me.

It's been an experience - a scary one, and a challenging one but a good one. The reading was unbelievably daunting, but the work, read in sequence as it appears in the book, sounded amazing and incredibly moving. I am immensly proud to have been part of it and to have my words included in the pamphlet alongside some right proper poets.

If you are interested in the pamphlet, get in touch with Martin via his website or Twitter, or pop into Hartlepool Central Library where they will be on sale shortly.

*John Hegley - another proper poet who has considered my words good enough.

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