|A Pilgrimage to San Isidro. Francisco Goya|
As friends will attest, I'm a pretty private person. A statement which, perhaps ironically, I find exposing.
We all are, in some way. I was thinking about how I try to avoid presenting my vulnerability this weekend, as I'd been invited to a party to celebrate 30 years of Wasafiri. I was planning to be in London as it happened, so accepted the invitation.
I suspected I wouldn't know anyone there, with the exception of deputy editor Sharmilla Bezmohun. How would that be? How would I be? The image of my wandering around, glass in hand, looking at art instead of talking to people, loomed large as I traveled to the October Gallery, absorbing myself in being of the atmosphere rather than simply being. Feeling detached, self-conscious... those attributes to exposure that when I considered it I had mainly felt when I'd been alone or in known company in nature: lost cycling in Spain, uncertain how to read the sea on the boat.
Those experiences and others arose from exhaustion often, a couple of times from the sense of the sublime perception that probably I was susceptible to because of exhaustion. Certainly this trip to London I had found particularly wearing. Work has been pretty full on - lots of different projects to juggle without enough slow time to work on my own poetry - which I think did not form a sound, solid basis for a trip to our hectic, stimulating, polluted capital.
I read the Female Eunuch when I was 15/16 and the only thing I carry from it - consciously - is Greer's declaration that 'there is no such thing as security'. Yet I am forever shrouding myself in something that feels like it: a veneer of purpose, understanding, connection.
The images of models that bombard us in public spaces or pages of magazines are, predominantly, images of women looking vulnerable: eyes wide, lips soft. Vulnerable, in this idealised state, is considered attractive. Of course they aren't vulnerable. They are made up, posed and studied, which means they don't make that emotional connection to me that true vulnerability might.
Yet to accept that state, hold it in a public place, be without the armour of social confidence and knowledge is an altogether different proposition. I had experienced that recently, perhaps only once before. In Goya's Black Paintings gallery in the Prado in Madrid I couldn't stop crying. I didn't care who watched me. We were here for the paintings rather than each other. And I had the paintings as a reason I could cite for the tears if anyone pointed or looked at me in horror or kindness.
I've been reappraising some poems recently. Looking at where I mask the vulnerability within them, as if suddenly fearful or doubtful of presenting this 'naive', 'simple', 'honest' perspective. And cutting these masks off to see how the poem stands. The poem below is an example of one. The first version (three verses) appeared in the latest version of The North. The second has the mocking adolescent voice removed. I find the second far more risky to me as the poet, but also far more moving as a poem. Since the poem is about itself and not me, then surely I ought to let it move without the corset/plating that is its social costume.
(As for the party: I did know one other person - who I hadn't seen in yonks, so had a great conversation with her. And met someone else who was a joy to discover. I also found Owusu Ankomah's enormous canvases perfectly absorbing...)