How north is north? Or a strange sense of belonging.

August 26, 2018 sarahjameswrites

Light on dark: photo shot in Macclesfield

Light on dark: photo shot in Macclesfield

It’s not unusual for poets and other artists to feel like outsiders, or long for a place to call home. Perhaps restlessness runs through a lot of people who don’t write too. Maybe it’s an essential element of being human. Certainly, belonging and not belonging threads through a lot of my work, in every one of my poetry collections.

I was born in Hampshire, then brought up on the south coast for ten years before moving to the Midlands/Worcestershire. Over the years, I’ve lived in various places for various amounts of time, including Oxford, Cardiff and France. Meanwhile, I’ve one parent from London, another from near Monmouth, but now living in neither of these places, and a sister in California.

The truth is that the sense of belonging comes from inside though. Mine was at least partially upturned when I was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition/disability when I was six. Diabetes, all the small adjustments to life and outlook resulting from this, and my childhood diagnosis have become part of who I am. I accept that this includes the fact that it’s probably not in my personality to ever feel truly part of a group or welded to an area, much though I love currently living in Worcestershire.

I don’t have a second home as such, literally because of the finances of that, metaphorically because I only have a nomadic or shape-shifting ‘first’ one. For me, home is where the heart is – so spread across the world. Or it’s where I lay my head – always transitory and where I happen to be at that given moment, like life itself. Two places that I have strong attachments to outside of where I live now are Wales and the North. (If I tried to summarise this as objectively and concisely as I can, Wales because of family history on my Dad’s side and a yearning for established, historical roots to tap into. The North is more about making my own new and independent connections.)

I like to think the North might be classed a kind of second home, but this while also knowing that a strong part of my link with the North is the warm acceptance I’ve felt as a stranger. It’s often said familiarity breeds contempt, but, also, that support and acceptance are part of friendship, so hopefully a given at home. What amazes me about ‘the North’ is how friendly people have been to me, how easily I feel accepted and part of things every time I’m there.

But exactly how north is north? Where does it start and where does it end? This question is one of many explored by the ongoing (6-month-long) Poem of the North, where I had a poem published last Sunday as part of the second canto. Britain hasn’t got the North Pole, North Wales isn’t North England or North Scotland. The title for my 8 2 1 (stanza-line length) poem, “On the eyelid of the north”, is taken from a Dylan Thomas’ line in ‘a Dream of Winter’. I read this poem for the first time when it was published in Manchester-based PN Review.

Outside of the arctic, north is always relative; for me, it’s also friends. When I wrote and submitted my poem “On the eyelid of the north” for the Poem of the North, celebrating fifty years of the Northern Poetry Library in Morpeth, Northumberland, my concise personal statement was:

“My north is a landscape pulsing with connections, with people I’ve met, the places I’ve stayed and the familiar haunts I return to. I never intended to give part of my heart to the north. It just happened. From my masters at Manchester Writing School, to becoming a member of North West Poets, being published by Merseyside-based Knives Forks And Spoons Press to the Wordpool Festival and having a poem animated for the Blackpool Illuminations. I’ve friends born in the north and friends who’ve moved to the north. Through them, it feels like a second home.”

I could have added so much more (as this post shows)! Other specific examples include the friendship of Cheshire-based poet Angela Topping, who made me welcome in her home while we were working on our commissioned Mother’s Milk Books’ poetry duet Hearth. My commission for artist Adinda van t’ Klooster’s important StillBorn project. As publisher and editor at V. Press, I’m also very proud to have some great titles on our list by northern writers. And I’m delighted to have poems published by PN Review, The Butcher’s Dog, Stand and other northern-based journals, to have been reviewed in The North, to have read in Carol Ann Duffy and Friends Series 9 at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, as well as various Liverpool and Merseyside readings, to have been interviewed by and done podcasts with Manchester-based poet Andy N… I’ve found the northern literary scene alive, thriving and exciting. And this is without mentioning non-writing-related friends and family in the North! I could go on, but instead I’ll stop here and hope people will go and enjoy the North for themselves, in person and through the Poem of the North.

Essential symbiosis: photo shot in Edinburgh

Essential symbiosis: photo shot in Edinburgh

Entry Filed under: Uncategorized

Pages

Categories

Calendar

August 2018
M T W T F S S
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  
 
%d bloggers like this: