Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The Dead

People keep saying 'you must be excited about your book'...and I am...but of course there are lots of other feelings too! I won't share them all with you...we'd be here all week...but here is one of the recurring ones.


Awkward pause.

Why sad, little girl? PMT? Probably...but that on its own is not worth writing about is it? No. I think instead (or as well) it's the dead relative question that never really goes away round these parts. It doesn't help when other poets title their books-to-be things like 'Me and the Dead' (see Katy Evans-Bush and her blog Baroque in Hackney in column to the right). My dead are particularly active in my imagination just now for the pretty straightforward reason that my Dad (remember him...died by his own hand, 1973) always wanted a book of poetry published (so the family stories go) but never managed it. And now here I am with my own...some 35 years later. It feels a bit weird - a bit like a Danielle Steele novel or something. Will he come and talk to me in dreams and say 'well done' do you think? No! When I was 10 I was convinced he talked to me in code through the chimney...I realised some years later it was most likely just trapped birds. And you know how I feel about birds...(not mad keen...).

I'm not surprised he didn't live to see his own book in all honesty - he wrote poems mainly whilst very ill (in the head - of course) and I've seen them and they are (a) illegible (no computers!) and (b) pretty dire (from what I can make out....lots of horsemen in the rain...a bit Bonnie Tyler). Plus he had a good career...he was a popular GP, looked after a lot of people, loved by many, couldn't fit all the mourners in the church etc. Not that I went to the funeral but my brother did (and got told off for messing about).

It's still sad though...suicides can't help but paint everything sad (no matter how cheery I try and make it...ho ho ho). I have his rejection letters from Faber & Faber and they're pretty sad. I have my own too...if I was one of those young (ha!) Brit art types I would make them into a...what do you call them...ah yes, an installation...about success and failure and mental illness and society...blah, blah, blah...But thank heavens I'm not! No, sod it.I've just published my own book instead and used habits and ideas that will make Faber & Faber editors weep with embarrassment on my behalf (should they ever care to look)! We all try to make our books different in our own ways...I like something a bit rough and ready...take from that what you will...

But for now... sad it is (except when I get a 'someone just bought a book' email from Paypal...that's a great feeling!) but poets are sad a lot, I think. It goes with the territory. I'll feel happier next week.


Hugh McMillan said...

It's a thougt. In fact it's THE thought. My father wrote a story about a tank crew which I thought was rather good but it's long lost, like him.

Your Dad would be proud of what you've done. You know that.
And you know that being sad is part of being properly alive. I find drink helps.

Raise a glass or two to your book and to your dad.

And ****Faber and faber, eh?

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks for commenting on this rather pitiful post! Honestly anyone would think I had written a misery tome not a book of what some will no doubt call light verse...**** them an'all!

Would he be proud? It's nice idea...I was a bit of an afterthought in his life...hence partly the burning desire to prove one's worth...but I had/still have a very adoring (if misguided) mother so I'm not some poor wee soul or anything. People have much much sadder stories than mine!

Faber & Faber...I forgive them anything for Wendy Cope. She may not be flavour of the month in any poetry scenes but I really like her. She has written some lovely poems (I like 'Manifesto' and lots of others). Plus I read the other day that 'Serious Concerns' sold 180,000 copies. Now that is some girl power!

Hugh McMillan said...

She's bound to be the next Poet Laureate. I've put on a double at Ladbrokes along with Scotland to be independent by 2020.

Unknown said...

Rachel, I wonder if poems and books are something like children... and when we're at the birth of them we think of those who aren't there to share it, who've played a part, been there in our hearts, heads, imaginations...

Being sad is absolutely part of being properly alive... and singing your song.

Thanks for sharing


Rachel Fox said...

Thanks for saying 'sharing' not 'moaning'!

It is an odd thing though...never having really known one of your parents...must be even odder if you never know both. All you have (if you're lucky) is bits of what people tell you (sometimes conflicting information), tiny bits of memory (a hat, a Xmas morning, a piggy back), lots of imagination...

Funny thing - one of my half-sisters just rang and said he would have been proud...and she knew him a lot better...so maybe Shug is right.

hope said...

No matter what troubles our parents, those things we don't see/understand as children, I still believe they'll always be proud of our accomplishments.

My Dad's gone [cancer] and yet I still hear him in my head during moments when I've done well cheerfully proclaiming, "You done good!" Yes, he knew it was improper English... he said it to make his kids laugh and to annoy Mom. :)

My first thought when reading your posts was that perhaps your sadness was a "end of the journey" phase of accomplishing what you set out to do. Ah, but the journey's not completely over. You now get to share your hard work with others. And I'm betting people who read it [critics be damned] will smile and think their version of "You done good!"

Anytime someone can get our busy society to stop and read, they've accomplished a small miracle. Good for you!

Rachel Fox said...

Speaking of Hope (and assuming it is your real name...) there is a poem at the end of the book called 'A song is a dream of hope'. I kept it in even though I know it is just the kind of thing that will make 'proper' poetry people pull their hair out! I like it and know quite a few other people who do too. And I wanted to end on a high! There are always so many lows...I like at least some variety...

Marion McCready said...

No wonder you're full of mixed emotions and thanks for sharing, I'm very nosy about people's backgrounds! Must be a weird feeling of accomplishing one your dad's dreams - there's a whole range of poems in that I'm sure.
As for me, well if I ever manage to get a book published I think my parents would be a bit embarrassed, they're pretty ordinary run-of-the-mill folk not really into artyfarty poetry nonsense!!

Rachel Fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel Fox said...

It's a funny thing because I've spent a lot of time trying NOT to be like him (for obvious reasons)...or at least not like the little I know of him... and yet...here I am. I look quite like he did, I can't cope with stimulants (found that out a bit too late...can't even drink coffee now!), I write poems, I like comedy and humour a lot (he did a double act with the local undertaker, apparently)...then you look at all that and wonder...what the hell am I? A carbon copy?

I used to think about it more but I have kind of been through that mill and I am more or less out the other side now (and maybe now you see why reading Plath isn't the obvious choice for me, Sorlil!). But this last week of book stuff has brought it all back a bit. Death, misery, loneliness...no good when you have a child to collect from school...but it's OK...our cooker is electric.

As for your parents...I'm not sure anyone is really ordinary or run-of-the-mill...they probably just don't tell you what they get up to when you're not looking!


hope said...

Sorlil, those of us who write aren't "nosy"...we're just natural curious. Okay, so we're more curious than other people. :) But if it weren't for our incurable need to know, what would those other people have to read?

Rachel, as someone who was once referred to as her Mom's "clone", I know what you mean. Bottom line is we share genes but it doesn't mean we have to make the same choices our parents did. My parents are nice people but, I changed a few things in my life that I didn't think worked so well upon viewing what they'd done.

Such is life. You have much to offer. Keep offering.

Fiendish said...

I think sadness is the default state for a lot of poets and artists. And the feeling you put forward in this post is real sadness - not cheap misery-lit melancholia, but a sadness that is shot full of the holes of reality. It was a beautiful post.

In the book "Everything is Illuminated," Jonathan Safran Foer talks about "useful sadness" as a reason for writing stories without happy endings. I think sadness can be useful.

Nevertheless, I hope you feel happier soon :)

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks f. I was worrying a little today that this post was maybe something I should have kept personal and not put on here. There is such a fine line between an emotional problem and a load of old whingeing! You've all been so nice though, so really sweet and caring and kind. I really a lot appreciate it (it's a quote from 'Broadcast News' - another of my favourite 80s movies).

Ken Armstrong said...

Broadcast News! Yay!! You like such cool movies!

Mind you, they *all* seem to have William Hurt in them - what's that all about? If there is something in my little WH theory then two words for you - 'Body Heat'.

Movies apart, I think it's a lovely post and you should try to feel reassured that a little honest-to-goodness blogging honesty in among all the hyped-up dross is reviving when found.

Rachel Fox said...

No I didn't much like 'Body Heat' though I did like 'The Accidental Tourist'. He's a very ugly man for a Hollywood actor WH and that coldness thing he had going on...it certainly made him stand out. He was good for that bit of the 80s at least.
'Big Chill' and 'Broadcast News' I like/d because they are mainstream movies with funny, intelligent scripts and varied, unpredictable characters (male and female). Anyone can write a wacky arthouse movie (nothing happens, everyone pouts a lot or just beams inanely) but writing a film that can play to millions but not be dumb or a genre filler...now that is a challenge. Bet you can do it though Ken!

Rachel Fox said...

that deleted comment was just me missing something out...and also...I just thought...why didn't I call this post 'Bring out your dead!'....oh, yes...I must be feeling a bit better...