And straight after the flooding came the plague, complete with panic buying and shelves being stripped before some of us could get to the supermarket after work. That is, while the job was still there during term-time. Many of my colleagues in the arts are coping with cancelled programmes and shelved festivals; I had signed up to lead a couple of workshops and take my books around the East Midlands arts fairs this summer, luckily with only one set of stall fees and a workshop ticket as collateral damage. Thanks to all the places who refunded folk on time and dealt in a good-humoured way with the unexpected surge of cancellations and requests. Round my area, Metal at Peterborough, Five Leaves of Nottingham, the Newark Book Festival and the States of Independence at DMU were good, going out of their way to inform people in time. We’ll all be back, sitting in your venues and lining up for tickets as soon as we can. No rural arts centre will be safe from my investigative footsteps once this horror is over.
I participated in Tara Skurtu’s International Poetry Circle @IntPoetryCircle sending short videos around – but instead of my own work, I read medieval verse which is safely out of copyright. I often wonder just how many unacknowledged poems are doing the rounds on the internet with their literary estates being unaware. Sooner or later, an organisation will be raking through that data, looking for used material which wasn’t authorised; I’ve worked with literary estates, and believe me, some of them get mighty mad when one of their works turns up unannounced. Meanwhile, being indoors brought some compensations. I’ve typed up loads of old draft work and prepared newer stuff for poetry journals. I’ve been more accurate over knowing what material is being sent where, and I’ve been in just enough time to submit for a scheme run by the Society of Authors. I had a few rejections, but one set of work has gone forward into the shortlist for a magazine I’ve wanted to publish in for a long while. And, at a second attempt, the Fenland Poetry Journal took some poems; work which had been to other places previously. I hadn’t altered any lines in the meantime…. poems are often revised, but sometimes I know they are finished, and an editor is only a signpost on the way. You really don’t have to accept their opinion as the final word. As you’ll know if you’ve read my blogs before, I don’t do a lot of creative writing advice on here – largely because I feel I have no right to pontificate over others’ hard-won lines.
I was so looking forward to a week in Northumberland over Easter; I wanted to be there in the Cheviots enjoying rural bus routes into historic towns, coming back each day with a rucksack filled with local produce and second hand books, having walked along the immense beaches and seen oystercatchers digging their orange bills into the mudflats. Instead, it was disinfectant, hands like lobster claws, monotonous food, and life lived by email. Instead of checking students’ work, I’m spraying my doorhandles with Dettol and wondering how I can make a facemask out of an old T-shirt without it looking like a bad effort from the village jumble sale. But I hope to ‘spark some joy’ later in the season. Stay strong, everyone! It ain’t over till it’s over. And wash those hands. Here’s some cheery seaside donkeys to liven things up a bit.