Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ines and my first poem

When I was a boy I had a very clear sense I was going to be a writer.

Where this idea came from was a total mystery to me. It wasn’t something that I chose. It was something that had somehow chosen me.

Something that left me feeling frightened and embarrassed and ashamed. And that I had absolutely no belief that i could actually do.

My French teacher told me that Camus kept notebooks and he was a writer I completely admired and so I started to keep a notebook too. 

And then I wrote my first poem when I was about 14, maybe, and it was about my mother’s death.

I was twelve at that time and expecting to see her at my confirmation and first communion. I had seen her the day before and was so looking forward to seeing her again.

But there was my dad instead and he told me she had died very suddenly in the night.

And I went numb.

I was a great fan of C.S.Forester and his Hornblower books in those days and had read of a marine on a ship’s deck whose arm had been lopped off by a cannonball and just stared numbly at it in shock.

And I wrote something like 

“I’ve heard that when you cut off someone’s hand….”

to get myself started and when I had finished the poem submitted it to the school magazine.

There was a kind of wooden posting box outside the classrooms where you could put submissions. I was too shy to sign my poem and kind of hung about until there was no-one around and then posted it in the box when no-one could see me.

And then waited for the magazine to come out to see if it was published.

Which it wasn’t.

And that was that, I thought, assuming what I’d written was rubbish as I always did those days.

It’s our misfortune to live in a society that teaches us to stifle and mistrust our creative impulse; and that, together with all the appalling self mistrust that goes with being transgendered, meant it took me years to have any self belief.

I certainly never believed in that poem.

Until years later when I was writing the play “Ines de Castro” and had got to the bit when Ines hears of the death of her children, I found her saying:

“I’ve heard that when you cut off someone’s hand….” 

And I wrote the lines and Alison Peebles said them in her amazing heart-breaking way and they found their way into the opera and tonight and Saturday Stephanie Corey will sing them, beautifully, to James MacMillan’s wonderful music.

And to me they will speak of my mother.

I don’t know what they will mean to the audience. But I am sure they will touch someone’s memory of loss.

And I hope they will allow them to release a little of their grief.

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