On waking up poetry


I saw someone the other day who made me think about blogs and I remembered that I’d also, briefly, written a blog. Does that happen to anyone else? Remembering something you used to do and it being a surprise, like was that really me?

The person who made me remember was the lovely Anthony Wilson (and if you don’t read his blog you should, it’s here – read the archived stuff too) who was this year’s judge for the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Prize, which I was lucky enough to win, with my slightly sweary ‘Mary Magdalene in the Desert’. (Copies of the pamphlet with all the prize-winners and highly-commendeds can be ordered here.)

The prize-giving on Sunday was a lovely event, with some very welcome sun streaming in through the stained-glass windows, and lots of great poetry, not only from the competition winners but also from Andrew Rudd, Cathedral Poet in Residence, and from Anthony Wilson too. For quite a few of us it was the most magnificent space we’d ever read in.

So maybe it was a little bit because I’d won (I’ve never won a poetry competition before) – but it was also the space, and the calm, and the light, and listening to everyone’s words, how we’re all trying to express something, make it real for us, put it into a form in which we can share it – whatever it was, I felt like a part of me woke up.

Because it’s not just my blog that’s been dormant. I haven’t been writing much poetry this year, although I’ve submitted some stuff, and had a few things published by some journals I was thrilled to appear in (Bare Fiction, The Rialto). I’ve been writing other things – more of that on another day – but words haven’t been coming to me, demanding to be made into a shape, a soundscape. I haven’t really felt like a poet.

But since Sunday I’ve written the first drafts of three poems.

The wonderful Mimi Khalvati once said to me (and I’m paraphrasing) that the part of us that writes poetry is not necessarily the part of us that’s uppermost in our day-to-day lives. Every time I remember her saying that (there’s that forgetting again) the truth of it strikes me.

I’ve thought quite a lot about which bit of me it is that writes – is it my younger self trying to say all the things she didn’t say then? or my middle-aged self trying to express the rage I feel now? I can’t put my finger on it, but I know what it isn’t – it isn’t functional me, who tries to look after everyone, be an activist, change the world.

It’s a part of me that feels small and sufficient, who sits in the quiet and waits for words, not to persuade with, but to play with. She’s happy, cheeky, scared, sad. If she needed a name I think I might call her the poetry imp. I’ve missed her. I’m so glad she’s awake.



4 thoughts on “On waking up poetry

  1. Anthony Wilson November 4, 2019 / 3:33 pm

    Dear Ailsa, thank you so much for this wonderful post. It was a truly special occasion for me as well, and continues to affect me deeply. I have tried to put some of it into words which will appear on my blog tomorrow. Thank you so much for your kind words, which I appreciate more than I can say. With very best to you and especially for those new poems, Anthony


    • ailsaholland November 5, 2019 / 4:46 pm

      I love today’s post. I think you’ve helped me re-find silence a bit — I’ve been on Twitter and Facebook so much less — leaving more space for my own words. And it’s not a silence in which I feel alone, so that’s doubly special. All the best, Ailsa

      Liked by 1 person

      • Anthony Wilson November 5, 2019 / 5:02 pm

        Oh Bless you Ailsa. I think that is so kind of you to say and I really appreciate it. That has kind of made my blogging year to hear you say that. All power to you once again. As ever with very best, Anthony

        Liked by 1 person

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