Some time in 1985 or 1986 possibly during a very cold winter, as I recall sheets of ice around a phone box on Plymouth Hoe, I purchased a new book in a Plymouth bookshop. This is significant because I very rarely purchase anything at full price having been trained in second-hand shops from art school on. However on this occasion I relented and I wanted the book badly enough to pay full price ( £3.95) which in those days was equivalent to £10 or more now. I cherished the book so much I immediately bought a penguin plastic jacket for it maybe I knew I’d be keeping this book for a long time.
I would have been visiting my sister in Navy barracks in Plymouth and was probably almost broke or scraping along in my library part time post whilst I dreamt of artistic success.
I would probably have been better off listening to the author of these short stories and started writing then but it was not to be. I did write some poetry which kicked around in folders until finally found an outlet in John Harvey’s magazine Slowdancer which..yes you guessed it..I picked up in 1991 in the Poetry Library London because he had a picture of Carver on the cover. The next year I was lucky enough to meet Carver’s widow Tess in the flesh at a Poetry Library reading. She, William Trevor and C.K. Williams were the only people I truly felt were ‘real’ writers that I met then.
Life happens and it happened to me..paintings ended up in storage..a gamble on a new life in Scotland fell apart and I ended up back in Oxford with the remnants of a poetry career nothing more. Words would have to wait…..and art disappeared completely. I found solace in Americana music and writing about others…as music reviews for magazines and even BBC Radio 2 at one point. It was writing but at one remove. I also continued at a rapidly slowing pace to write Americana songs…at the peak a 100 a year until 1999 it had slowed to a dozen. Some poems seeped out but my heart was not in it. I constantly found references to carver in the songwriters I admired. The fuse was very slowly burning.
So I relocate to Nottingham the drip drip of poems finally stops….and so does the songwriting ..well almost. I find an outlet for the huge backlog of songs in a charity disc in aid of cancer Research as both my parents succumb to the disease. The songs on the record could be described as ‘dirty realist’ or ‘Carveresque’.
Finally and I’d say it was around about 2010 as my mother was diagnosed and finally died….the words stopped. Ironically at the very moment Chris Emery at Salt ‘discovered’ my poems ( well not discovered I sent them to him and he liked them and published them) I ran out of words altogether. My attention was on finishing a M.A. I’d begun and work was demanding ‘art research outcomes at an international level’ which I duly did.
My mother died in 2012 and the Salt book was buried with her. Right then I thought that was it. However things have a way of leaking out…or seeping back into view. My job became more and more ludicrous..or at least my managers did and an opportunity to take a different tack appeared like a patch of blue in grey skies.
I am now embarking on that ‘blue sky thinking’ and now concentrating solely on the word..something I never been afforded the opportunity to do in my entire adult life unless at times of unemployment which generally means depression undermines the apparent opportunity. I am hopeful that something will come of it. The Carver book is symbolic if I cared then I care now. …and writing is a kind of caring…and a craft. I need to practice.
Footnote: The cover illustration is by Clifford Harper who I now find out is a ‘Militant Anarchist’ …wonderful how well things fit together!