Image Credit: Sophie Lutkin
When I was eighteen my dad told me about how he’d remembered me writing several fairy stories when I was of primary school age, which I would then present to him with all the ceremonial flourish a toddler could muster.
I was just moving into university halls, confidence shaken from not achieving the A Level grades I had hoped for, worried about the term ahead, and seemingly surrounded on every side by a mound of unpacked boxes.
I don’t remember writing anything before the age of ten, so his words intrigued me. He continued to tell me that as he read the words written in my childish scrawl, he recalled being shocked: he thought he had taught his daughter not to copy the stories other people had written.
The look of suppressed excitement on his daughter’s face melted into one of despairing protestation—I wrote this myself daddy! It was all I needed to hear in order to reassure myself that I was where I needed to be.
Since then, I have been published in numerous poetry anthologies, served as the Young Fenland Poet Laureate, chaired my school’s extracurricular creative writing club, delivered poetry workshops in primary schools, and have recently been awarded the inaugural Ruth Selina Poetry Prize by the University of York’s English and Related Literature Department.
As a young, working-class woman from a vastly underrepresented area, these accomplishments continue to reassure me that my work is good enough. That my voice is valid and that I have something to contribute to the wider literary conversation.
However, the acquisition of accolades is not the reason why I write. I don’t write in anticipation of award celebrations. I write in anticipation of providing my family with a better life; I write in anticipation of giving back to the school that gave me so much; I write in anticipation of growing into a better, stronger, more confident woman.
I write in anticipation of myself.
Writing is a selfish practice. You can’t escape what you have written. You can’t escape the pride of having written, either. It is indulgent, like a moonlit rendezvous with a lover or the slow, ceremonial peeling of an orange.
It is inexhaustible. The pages call to you, like a newborn in the next room you are constantly fretting over, the cry that jolts you awake before the warmth of the dawn.
And yet it is irresistible. I yearn for the small hours of the morning, poring over my journal, consulting treasured novels, writing furiously through the inky veins of my literary foremothers.
I can’t write in places I don’t know; in nooks and curves and dark corners I have not yet explored. I have tried to write in courtyards, on riverbanks, in kitchens, in libraries, on trains, on planes, on countertops and in sitting rooms. My body preempts itself; it will not write.
It wants to understand the laughter, the conversations, the relationships, that have occurred in these new surroundings. I can only write in my bedroom—the room I can call my own.
Poetry more than any other written form demands an attention to rhythm, which is why, for me, its closest neighbour is music. There is a lyricality to poetry that novels and plays - try as they might - simply cannot reproduce.
I grew up listening to the jazz, funk, soul and blues of Black artists: from James Brown to Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone to Shalamar, George Benson to Evelyn “Champagne” King, there is an emotional gravity in these voices that inspires me and reminds me of home. Esperanza Spalding’s song “Precious”, for example, is what I feel the colour yellow would sound like.
However, I also love to write about the struggle of working-class women, meta textuality, walking, the Fenland landscape, families, cooking, intimacy, the movement of water. At the same moment a fire is consuming a building, someone is walking their dog, a couple are sitting on a park bench, a mother is cooking dinner.
There is a banality, an ordinariness, to crisis that literature can create. Relationships can be reconfigured, just like Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death”, on the page. I write in order to change these preconceptions.