Yesterday I had an inspirational afternoon with the lovely Catherine Smith on the sunny terrace of Pelham House in Lewes. OK, so I’ve been a bit low this week what with the pending house move & lack of sleep for worrying about it. But I hardly have a bad life! I was reminded how crucial it is to spend time with friends and their different perspectives, different backgrounds, different cycles to their moods, just different lives. To get out and have conversations, to listen to the timbre of another voice, to be told something new, or see something differently.
I loved hearing Catherine talk about how she came to writing. And there in the conversation was something that set off a spark in my head. It was how she closed the gap between where she felt she was with poetry at the start of her Creative Writing MA, and where she realised she wanted to be. Her answer was simple: she read everything she could get her hands on.
The university allowed her to borrow 15 books a week, so she ‘devoured’ 15 poetry books a week. When she got through them, she went to other libraries. All this at the same time as condensing the MA into one year and bringing up two small children. This is what genuine drive looks like. A calling. I listened to this and thought about how I buy poetry books and then dip and pick at them, or sometimes have them there to read and never get around to it. How I don’t have any children or even elderly parents to worry about and the generous nature of my husband who allows me a free poetry rein. How I know in my heart I’ll never be a big-name poet but if I allow myself to think I’ve gone as far as I’m capable, then that indeed is as good as it will ever get.
At the end of a week in which I’ve gone into a mini meltdown of overwhelm, it’s probably really stupid of me to be setting myself yet more goals. But I feel inspired to follow Catherine’s lead and create a schedule for myself. I could start with the books on my shelf – if I read every poem I have in the house that would be a massive result! Part of me wants to make it into a ‘project’ and not only do the reading but create an online reading group and invite others to join me. But that would take me away from reading time! And I have enough damn projects on the go as it is, not all of which I’m managing to keep up…
When I took myself on a writing retreat it was easy to read a whole collection in a day (well, maybe not Michael Symmons Roberts’ Drysalter or the complete works of William Blake). So here’s the target: seven books a week, and no cheating by choosing just the slim volumes. Catherine suggested picking every fourth book on the shelf, or working through (roughly) in alphabetical order.
Of course, if anyone wants to join me and compare notes, that would be lovely! But I won’t turn it into a PROJECT, at least not unless it becomes A Thing. I can’t promise an in-depth review of every book, but I will report on what I’ve read in any one week. If life (or work, or a house move, or a holiday, or a good conversation) gets in the way, I will try not to beat myself up about it. This is not a competition, and as long as I’m reading, I’m not worrying so much about the writing …
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