I’ve been tidying up, in an attempt to make my writing space less cluttered and, inevitably, I got distracted. This time I was waylaid by some of my old notebooks.
The ones pictured here are from 1983, when I was 21, living and working in Paris as an au pair – ah! Paris! *settles into a chair with a large cup of tea to reminisce*….
For the first six months of 1983 I lived with a family in the 7th arrondissement and then I moved to be with a (much more interesting and kinder) family in the 16th arrondissement. At the end of the year, I moved with the nicer family to live in the south of France for another 18 months.
There’s actually very little of Paris in these notebooks apart from the mention of ‘Passy’ in one. There are lists of clothes I either wanted to buy or wanted to wear in a particular combination on a particular day (I used to be obsessed with achieving the right look). Other mundane lists. Lists, lists, lists, my life lived out in lists. I was also trying to learn Italian and have written a few phrases – perhaps I’d already moved south at that stage and was living close to the Italian border. I used to have the idea that I’d move to find work in different European countries and learn a range of languages but France was as far as I got – and I do speak reasonably good French.
Ten pages that stopped me in my tracks were ten poems I’d written. I had completely forgotten that I wrote poetry then. I think I even sent a few poems off somewhere, to one of the magazines, possibly Ambit but I can’t remember. I do remember, vaguely, receiving a kind rejection letter from someone!
The poetry is desperately bad. I cringe to see that I decorated the titles. I seem to have copied the poems out in neat – there are rougher drafts in the smaller notebook I found. I didn’t own a typewriter and word processors were only just being invented! So these were my fair, final copies, collected in one ‘special’ book.
They are mostly introspective pieces about being sad, or happy and then sad again. I mix tenses and change perspective from line to line and have no idea about how to end a poem: it either trails off or something dramatic suddenly happens – in one, I’m in a park, enjoying “sharp, spring weather” feeling “giddy and dizzy” as I “swing in circles” when a car suddenly screeches to a halt and someone shouts for me to get in. Fin.
The language is clichéd and unoriginal, a sign of being poorly read, I think. And I was poorly read at that time. I’d been out of formal education for five years and I don’t remember reading any poetry at all. I read a lot of novels, mostly best sellers, sometimes ones which had won a big award (which is how I knew about them). I used to read a lot of magazines, as well, Cosmopolitan is the name I remember but I’m sure there were others.
So I had a go at writing poetry – and even submitted it to a magazine for publication – obviously believing that I could do it. How many times have you met someone like that? I meet people all the time who tell me they write poetry and yet haven’t read any poetry since they left school. I was one of them! I’ll be less judgemental next time.
My writing style at 21 was undeveloped, immature and unsophisticated in a way that had nothing to do with age, I don’t think, but was all to do with my lack of wide reading, and writing experience. Maybe the truth is that at whatever age you start writing, it’s bad to begin with, until you widen your reading, offer your work to others for criticism or develop your own critical eye, then keep writing, keep reading, persevere, and, if you’re a bit lucky, your writing might develop into something that might be the start of something more interesting.
Anyway, even though I cringe, even though the poetry is dreadful, I’m glad I’ve kept the notebooks. And I still find endings tricky.
à la prochaine !