Monday, 30 December 2013

The End Of That

Well, that's torn it. 2013 is almost over and done with, and did I set out to do everything I promised myself? Not at all. I began the year setting myself a strict target for the number of poems to write per month, intending to apply the same discipline to that I had to building my fitness up to a strong showing in a 10K race a couple of years ago.  In the end, I failed and didn't even have the decency to be disappointed in myself.  So it goes.  If a publisher or editor had been on my back in the same way that sponsors had been gambling on me getting a good time in the 10K run, I might have ended up nearer my target.  I like to think of myself as being self-motivated enough to not need external pressures to get work done, but the reality is that I'm as prone to procrastination as most people, and probably need to have somebody with a clipboard stood behind me telling me to get on with it.  If private humiliation as opposed to public humiliation is all that's at stake, well, I can always lie to myself.

But… but but but… it's not a lie to say that I did get some writing done, and no more or less than usual.  I'm also proud that a short story of mine got used by "The Alarmist" for their second issue, which was the first story (as opposed to poem) I'd ever had published anywhere.

And then in the summer, this happened…

I was carrying a bottle of water around with me in my work bag, and it burst open on to my poetry notebook, completely wiping out a lot of the new work in the process.  I think that most of the ideas it flooded had either already been typed up or disregarded as bad material, but I'll never really know for sure.  With incidents like that one slapping me in the face, it's no wonder I didn't write as much as I aimed to.

Looking forward, I have absolutely no idea what I'll be doing in 2014 in terms of live performance work. I have two gigs lined up, one in January, the other February, but by the autumn I'll have spent fifteen years on the London live poetry circuit.  Given that fact, it's no wonder I feel I've hit a point where I'm no longer in the mood for spending time constantly chasing live work at the expense of creating new written work (and possibly getting it published).  We all have to network and maintain a physical presence in the real world to get work offers whether we're at the top of the game or at the very bottom, but it's now becoming harder and harder to get heard through the noise, and near-on impossible to persuade the bigger promoters to attend low-key gigs whether you're a new poet or an established one. I'm questioning whether I should just focus on writing and let people come to me more in 2014 (and if they don't, so be it).  This might mean a slowdown in the amount of gigs, or it might not - but I'm not going to get worried about it.  Poetry will still get written, and hopefully more of it will get published if I give it enough focus.

If I have one big hope for 2014, it's that poetry in general will finally gain a bit of self-respect.  I'm talking to all of you here.  At the very start of 2013 I was at a private showing of work by some highly touted up-and-coming artists, and all of them were able to present themselves with huge confidence and knew that what they had created had huge cross-appeal.  They weren't perfect in the way they conducted themselves, rolling their eyes now and then at the odd stupid question from an arts administrator, but I couldn't help but contrast their behaviour with those of the poets I knew, who have always felt cloying and desperate for attention in comparison.  Poets are either apologetic about what they do, self-deprecating to a fault, or they'll come across like Youth Club workers or leaders, trying to be accepted by the gangs around them and using all the right language whilst knowing deep down that their faces don't quite fit. The best artists and musicians aren't generally afraid to be themselves, are proud of the work they've created, expect to be accepted for the absurd nature of what they do, and couldn't care less if they're not.  Poets, on the other hand, are utterly desperate for acceptance and truly terrified of any criticism at all.  There are no easy answers to this, and it seems like too much to hope for that such a huge problem can be resolved in a single year, but let's all at least have a crack at it.  Let's pretend that we really are at the start of a brilliant new phase in British poetry, and that it can only get better if we're proud of both of the form and the unique attributes we're able to bring to it.  Let's be confident enough to be ourselves, and turn down that glassy-eyed, over-enthusisatic handshake just a few notches. It might get us somewhere.

See you in the new year.  

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