Saturday, 4 October 2008

No more tears?

When you meet me I am one of those people who comes across as pretty damned cheerful (I think). I smile quite a lot and even when I try not to I can't help myself making far too many light-hearted comments (some innocent, some quite the opposite...). In general (well, at least in public) I try to look on the bright side in a most Monty Pythonesque fashion and I suppose it is quite possible that I am more than a little least for some of the people...some of the time. Of course I'm not really that cheerful (you know!) but it's a habit, a mask (some of the time) and really it's just the way I behave around people. On the whole I like people – some more than others, obviously, but I am, as I think I've said before, a bit of a Pollyanna in this regard. I particularly like people who smile back at you in the street when they don't know you from Adam...and my experience is that it is often the people who have been through the toughest times who will be friendly and at least outwardly cheerful to strangers. If you've been through any kind of bad times you appreciate how important little things are – you know that a smile from a stranger can make or break a day or a hell, you smile back...what does it cost? This isn't true of everyone of course...but some of my loveliest, cheeriest friends are the ones who have been through experiences so horrendous that you would not wish them on even your worst enemies. Well, at least I hope you wouldn't...not really.

So last week... there I was being cheerful and sprightly as usual while all the time thinking about death and misery. It really was a week of gloom (on the inside anyway) - what with the talk of graves at Colin Will's and the dissing of poor old Frieda Hughes in the piece by William Logan (that I got to via Rob Mackenzie's Surroundings). The critic Logan may be right (I have read very little of her work) but the piece still made me's a fuck of a life Hughes has had. Of course she has been published and gets coverage...but how, why, when... Anyway, after some of these reads (also Sorlil's poem this week and the writing about rain question, in particular) the next step for me was all too inevitable...back to thoughts of death and suicide and misery and family and, like one of my still least favourite poets of all time (that'd be Plath, sorry fans), back to 'Daddy'. Oh gee (I got that from Hope), not him...not again!

Yes, indeed. Again. Reading about graves on Colin's blog (and especially Shug's comment about his mother) reminded me of the time I went to my Dad's grave for the first time in the late 1990s (he died in 1973 but we never went as kids or anything). It was so weird...I didn't really know him and yet pretty much as soon as we got there there I was crying, sobbing, wailing! I have a picture of me by the grave on that day...trying to smile...the me-and-my-Dad-holiday-snap that never was... but honestly, who needs to see that? Plus I was wearing a miniskirt...a very strange choice (I was proper mad then though). I cried so much by the grave that it hurt...and it was a Quaker graveyard, very plain and quiet and reasonable...not at all the place for histrionics. It rained some of the time we were there which seemed...apt... but almost the worst bit was afterwards when I went into a nearby charity shop (I am addicted to charity shops) and the song on the radio was Rod Stewart's 'The first cut is the deepest'. Considering my Dad's history (well..his ending anyway) this musical detail was so bizarre it was almost funny. I think I did even laugh. Ha ha bloody ha.

I wrote a poem not long afterwards about that day and the crying experience. I could have written a great long piece about grief and dealing with it...probably a whole psychology PhD (or a memoir...) but I didn't...I just wrote this one little poem. It's about crying and emotion and holding in and letting out and it did, pretty much, write itself. Like a good proportion of my poems it won't be winning any poetry prizes, I don't imagine. I put it in the book even though I knew it might one day form part of a 'this girl isn't a real poet' critique. The poem is no doubt too personal, too obvious, too clear...who knows maybe it's just too true. I don't think it's sentimental in the sense of 'having an excess of superficial sentiment' (believe me – the poem is fairly chilled compared to the day itself!)...maybe it is sentimental in the sense of 'resulting from feeling rather than reason' although...even that...there is reason in there too. I suppose if you called it childlike or na├»ve...I might have to give you that one. It is a kid's reaction to a kid's feelings somehow delayed and then relayed by an adult in a few lines. So, here it is...and thanks, as ever, for your attention.

25 year tears

Tears come
When they want to
When you let them
Only then

Tears saved
One by one for years
Appear strangely
On rainy days
In unexpected places
Feel comforted
By watery friends
Flow freely
Almost happily
Relieve tension
So clearly
Of long-forgotten
Constant grief



Ken Armstrong said...

I firmly believe that the happiness on the outside is very important towards helping with the lack of happiness on the inside - it's more that just a 'facade' or a 'falseness'.

If we paint-on enough cheerfulness outside perhaps some of it can seep in and poison some of the sadness within.

'Wish I had a rude joke for you to raise a tolerant groan... I'll try to think of one, eh? :)

Rachel Fox said...

Yes I isn't false at all the's optimism (sometimes optimism fighting a battle with pessimism but optimism all the same). I'm not sure at what point optimism becomes insanity/smugness/extremely irritating...I suppose it depends on how it is doled out and also on the person involved and what you think of them in general.

Rachel Fox said...

And your post about climbing out of that window made me laugh anyway!

Colin Will said...

Sorry if my post made you gloomy Rachel. The Pere Lachaise experience was actually a very positive thing, and totally unexpected. Then the Moray trip last week was very life affirming. I've written loads since, so maybe I needed that cathexis.

hope said...

When I'm at my most gloomy/angry/frustrated, I find myself smiling like an idiot at total strangers. Holding doors open for people, saying something cheerful when inside I'd rather just be home. Being grumpy. There's some small section of my brain stuck on optimism that overrides my instinct to stay angry long past socially acceptable. Maybe it's a coping mechanism to keep us human. Politicians don't seem to have it. :)

There's an old Gullah quote which translates, "You can't know where you're going until you know where you come from." Emotions are an odd road map sometimes, but they do prod us from Point A to elsewhere.

Rachel Fox said...

No, Colin, you didn't make me gloomy! Not at all. I'm always halfway to gloomy (and halfway to only takes a couple of bars of a great song and I'm off in the other direction...). It was more that your post about how to mark the end of a person's life (and the comments that came after) reminded me about the day and the poem in question. It's not a poem I've ever done much with and I don't read it out much - probably because I think I might well cry if I did (I cry quite easily at the best of times!). So I thought I'd try it out here on you lot!

And Hope...smiling idiots together! Politicians have their heads packed so full with all the things they must do and say (and musn't do and mustn't say) that it's a wonder they get anything to come out of their mouths! They really are a breed apart...inhuman almost. My Beloved was watching your VP debate thing the other could hear their brains ticking as they answered all the questions and scored all the points. Quite terrifying.


hope said...

I really wish Jon Stewart would run for President. At least he knows why he's making me laugh.

Rachel Fox said...

There was a myspace page called 'Jon Stewart for president'!

Jim Murdoch said...

There is a place for personal poems. I'm not sure that place necessarily is in print. I've just had a poem like that accepted and am starting to think about doing my usual introductory blog but I'm finding it hard. The poem is too close to me, too much of it is still inside me. I usually use that as a definition of a bad poem, a poem that relies on background information to complete it. The bottom line is that I'm too wrapped up in the poem to determine how good it is and I expect I always will be. I suspect '25 year tears' is one of those poems for you; it will always be more than the sum of its parts and you'll never be able to let it have a life on its own.

Rachel Fox said...

Maybe, Jim.

Except this poem doesn't feel that personal to me in some ways...not now it's written and out and separate. The story is personal but the poem isn't, I think. I like bits of the poem - especially the contradictions (do you let the tears come or do they come when you're ready? Is the grief always there or is it forgotten? Answers - both and both most likely). I hadn't really figured those things out till I wrote the poem... then I looked at it and thought 'aha!'. Like many people I am great at sorting out other people's problems and nonsense but pretty crap at my own life. I'd be interested to know if anyone else who was bereaved as a child recognises these feelings - is it a specific type of feeling? Can it mean anything to someone who went through that? Can it mean anything to anyone else? You never know till you try. I suppose we all have our own version of risk-taking.

I tend to think putting the poems out there somewhere is almost always worth it...eventually someone will read them and like them (or love them) and even if it's only one person...that'll do for me. I feel slightly differently if a poem might affect someone else I know personally (as I've said before...there are some poems that remain private for various reasons!) but this one only makes me look like a soft twat who writes wet poems and I can live with that. No-one else need be harmed or embarrassed!


Colin Will said...

As long as a personal poem has what I call emotional truth in it, it can be shared by others, and it's satisfying to feel that communicating your true feelings might strike a chord with readers. The only ones I keep to myself are the ones where I think that knowing the truth might be hurtful to someone close to me. I wouldn't want that to happen, but at the same time it's important to write these things, even if the poems stay in a folder.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, Colin and well put all round. Thanks.

I had a horrible thought this morning that maybe I had already put this poem on here a while back. I've yet to go through and check but if so...sorry about that! I must have hit a blind spot there. I don't think I've ever done that before. I try not to bore you too much.

On this specific issue of, if you like, coming to terms with a childhood bereavement a long time after the event...there was a documentary on TV about a place where kids can go to work all the emotions through a bit (throwing beanbags, shouting, talking, painting, crying...). I watched it (at least once) and, of course, cried (of course!) like a mad thing. It is a very specific type of sadness losing a parent or sibling when you're young. I wonder how those kids will feel they're older (the ones who talked about it, thought about it, tried to understand it). Will they be better adjusted? Or will something else get them where it hurts anyway?

I know all this talk of issues is not very literary...but I have never pretended this was a literary blog! I don't even know if I would call myself a literary writer (I've never been one much for genres or labels or pigeon holes). I have literary moments...and less literary ones. I don't see it as a problem. I like variety.


Rachel Fox said...

And then an aside on Frieda Hughes...I was flicking through 'Staying Alive' reading Derek Walcott poems (after reading an interview with him online...after reading about that at Dave King's) and I noticed there were two of hers in the book so I read them. One of them 'Stonepicker' is not didn't make me cringe particularly so maybe I was a bit quick with the adjective there. I'm not sure. Another reason why literary criticism is not for me! Can't be doing with it...I change my mind too much!


Rachel Fox said...

Sorry for the multiple comments to self but I looked through and I don't think I have posted that poem before after all. Double doh!


The Weaver of Grass said...

I agree absolutely about smiling at people in the street - I find that most people smile back (I live in the countryside - don't know whether this would work in the town) and often we will say a few words. Dogs are a great communication link - "can I stroke your dog?" or "what breed is it?" Even the most grumpy-looking person usually responds and we both go away feeling better. Think your poem is very moving, Rachel - and so true.
Thanks for visiting my art blog.

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks so much for the comment. I'm glad I've got at least one vote for this as a poem worth having (as opposed to an overemotional, perhaps even embarrassing waste of space!).

As for dogs...I find people with young Border Terriers are particularly friendly! Ours is 6 months now...just about the cutest creature you ever did see!


Dominic Rivron said...

It is often the doom of an artist to bring so much pleasure to other people and yet feel things like they are sometimes "more than a little annoying" or that their poems "won't be winning any poetry prizes".
Hardness on the self can certainly make one more self critical, but if you can write stuff like Dad's Army (to pick a good one at random)you're allowed the odd night off for self cogratulation :)

I have a love-hate relationship with Plath's poetry. I DO know of a what I think is a very odd photo of her with Ted and his parents. I never thought I'd mention a link to the Daily Mail, but it's here:

Is it just me, or is that photo full of the most disturbing body language, suggesting all sorts of tensions? I might be completely wrong.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, Ted Hughes looks fairly uncomfortable! They met at uni didn't they? I don't know many couples who meet at uni and stay together anything like happily. If I'd married any of my uni boyfriends...horror upon horror! In my experience it takes a good while to find a human being that you can live with for anything like till death and all that.

Thanks for the good words re 'Dads army'. Did you read that on my website? I don't think it's been anywhere else. I sent it off to magazines a while back but no-one ever picked it out so I pretty much retired it. Maybe its time has come at last.

As for self-criticism...I know I am one of those people who tries to get in all the possible insults and put-downs about my own life and work before anyone else does. I suppose it makes me feel I am ready for it then...if I've already thought of it! Maybe I need to spend less time on that. If the criticisms come...they just come. It's not the end of the world...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting your poem and these difficult memories, Rachel.

People should write what they like and publish what they like. To hell with critics, who are mainly constipated academics who couldn't get a real job.

Hugh McMillan said...

I thought it was the doom of the artist never to make any money, but to have to carry on regardless. It's like a bat on the neck.

Being misearable as fuck is all part of being alive and of course we should write about it because it's all part of shared experience, the common misery pool. When I get depressed I walk to a place called Kingholm Quay and have 8 pints of cider. It usually works.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, SB...a little of your conviction wouldn't do me any harm! I'm such a bloody day I'm all 'bollocks to academic criticism...written by people who couldn't start a fire with matches, firelighters and a selection of molotov cocktails'...and then the next I get a bit 'well, I don't know...listening to all sides of the argument...what is going on in literature, not wanting to be wilfully ignorant etc. etc....'

So I end up getting a bit wound up in knots when what really interests me is thinking about the rest of life (and not academic views of literature in particular) and writing about whatever I can, reading whatever I can and then thinking some more. There is so much going on in the rest of the world - so much more to think about than the neverending analysis of texts, the scoring of points, the going round and round and round! When I was in the academic world it was SO not for me...I should have learned my lesson then and I should probably just keep away. But I never do...not completely...I think part of it is I feel strongly that poetry is a wider art than the academic view allows. It annoys me when only certain types of poetry get critical approval or discussion and are therefore seen as better (they win the prizes, they get reviewed in the posher papers, they are seen as 'poetry' whilst other stuff is 'just performance' or 'just humorous' or 'not serious'...that whole thing really winds me up!). Any limits on art wind me up!

As for criticism in general...I'm not saying other people shouldn't happily carry on with the academic literary debates (it keeps them off streets) but they don't suit me and never have. I end up having to put on some really loud music and sing at the top of my somewhat limited voice till I get it all out of my system!

Poetry is so far behind music in some ways. There are good bands, for example, who are popular (i.e. appeal to a good number and probably a good cross section of people) and yet they can still be taken seriously on some level. With poetry it does seem to either/or to an extent. I know the's a smaller field, less money spent on it, less public...but I still think it's a shame.

And Shug...8 pints...I'd better get your rider sorted out for November! Any particular brand...

Dave King said...

The poem in no way strikes me as falsely sentimental. I thought it was probably an example o Wordsworth's emotion recollected in tranquility. Tranquility is a strange phenomenon: it occurred to me that the grave, as you described it and its environs, was probably the the very setting to release those emotions, more than, say, a cluttered Victorian graveyard. Hugh Macdiarmid wrote (On A Raised Beach):
But an emotion chilled is an emotion controlled
I have no way of knowing if that is applicbable to you and your poem, but it would not surprise me to hear that it was. Only you will know.

Rachel Fox said...

Interesting and gentle thoughts, Dave, and thanks for them. When dealing with a subject like don't want people to feel they have to be gentle with you (kid gloves and all that) but at the same time it's still lovely when they are! I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again - gentleness is underrated these days!

Tranquility is something I've had a very strange time with! Quakers are meant to be good in that way (all the silence..) but of course I'm only a bit of a Quaker. The graveyard in question is a very quiet place - very sheltered and hidden and away from the bustle of the high street (though the shops and cars are really only metres can hardly see or hear them in the graveyard itself). It did give me a time and a place to see my thoughts and to hear them more clearly. I did feel aware of my Dad too in a way...seeing the name on the stone. It's so odd when a parent has only ever been other people's's hard to know who they were and what they were to you. I got a little closer that day. Just a's a bit of a neverending saga!


Marion McCready said...

I'm confused - did you find my poem depressing?

I often think about something I read in Dostoyevsky's 'The Idiot' - that people think if a person walks around with a big grin on his face then he is either stupid or not quite right in the head. I dared my husband one day when we were in Glasgow to walk around with a big grin just so I could gauge the reactions!

I'm not keen on the apparent willingness of Hughes to use her parents to boost her profile. Is she not one of the judges of this years National Poetry Competition - would she really be if it wasn't for who she is? Plus she seems to cause a lot of problems for Plath academics in not allowing them access to the Plath estate, people who are genuinely interested in advancing Plath scholarship.

Rachel Fox said...

No Sorlil - you weren't the depressing were the rain bit! Death and rain together reminded me of this poem and so I posted it. I just follow the signs!