January Round-up ~ 2020

Image: Violet Daniels

So how was January?

I’m writing this with very mixed feelings. Most of January felt like an endless slog. Everyday I had a new rejection and the weight of not being able to find a job took its toll.

However, today (on the last day of the month) I have found out that I have secured a job, so hooray! I no longer have to feel like a complete mess.

As many people say, January always feels like the worst month of the year. My first experience of 2020 wasn’t great. I sent out nearly 100 job applications and got rejected from most of them, I have had many rejections from national newspapers (again) and have generally felt a bit lost.

I still don’t know what to do about finding this ‘career’ us graduates are expected to get… but I still have time so that’s what matters.

But what I have felt happy about, and inspired by, is this blog. This blog may still be small and insignificant but compared to what it started out as, at the beginning of the month, I feel very proud. I started 2020 with just 19 followers, I now have nearly 30. Over the course of the month, I have achieved 251 new views and 47 likes on posts I have written. The numbers are small in the grand scheme of things, but nonetheless, it is progress.

I have realised that posting regularly and engaging within the WordPress community, really plays a big role in building up a following. My writing on here isn’t solely about gaining some kind of reception. I write above all, for me. I find this little corner of the internet that I have crafted myself, somewhat reassuring in times when I feel lonely and losing hope. I know I will always be able to bash out a blog post and feel a sense of achievement (even if it’s a bad one!)

After struggling over the past three years at university with reading for pleasure, I managed to read five books this month, but yes, I am still persevering with Ducks, Newburyport (will it ever end?).

Above all, this month I obtained my degree – which was quite a special moment, and one which drew a line under my time at university. It was a bittersweet day, but one I shall always remember. Although I feel panicked because I am officially a graduate, I am becoming more okay with the idea that I have no idea what I am doing, sort of.

This month I also finally got back into exercising regularly (cliche I know, as so has everyone else by the state of my gym) and feel far better for it. Lifting weights has always given me a sense of mental clarity.

However, this month, and this day in particular, is tinted with a bit of sadness for me. Today is the final day that Britain will be part of the E.U. I voted to remain and will always hold the view that Britain is better when it is part of a more global and outward looking community. But, I know that I have to put these views aside so that the country can attempt to try and move forward from the political rupture that was created. I just hope that he doesn’t make too much of a mess of it.

I feel at odds with the Labour party and have no idea who to vote for in the coming months. My heart leans towards Rebecca Long Bailey but none of the contenders fill me with the same amount of hope, passion and inspiration as Jeremy Corbyn did when I was 17. Part of me just doesn’t know what to think…

January had its ups and downs, but I am very glad to be ending it on a positive note. by securing a job. Onward and upwards as they say!

Quote of the month

“Books have a unique way of stopping time in a particular moment and saying: Let us not forget this.”

Dave Eggers

Lemn Sissay: “Going Places”

Image: Pixabay

After my first poetry post, I have since read two new poems. One being, “The Salutation” by Thomas Traherne (1636-1674), and the other, “I am” by John Clare (1793-1864). Although I enjoyed both, it was the fourth one I read that I felt the need to share.

The Poem

Going Places

Another
cigarette ash
television serial filled
advert analysing
cupboard starving
front starving
front room filling
tea slurping
mind chewing
brain burping
carpet picking
pots watching
room gleaming
toilet flushing
night,
with nothing to do

I think I’ll paint roads
on my front room walls
to convince myself
that I’m going places.

Immediate thoughts

Wow. No, seriously. That’s exactly what I thought. It might not be comprehensive, or insightful, but nonetheless, that is what I thought.

In these few lines and words, Sissay manages to convey a feeling not too dissimilar to what I have been feeling at the moment. Daily life when you have nowhere to go, or no distinct direction can be draining. The routines of life can suck the hopes and dreams out of you if you’re not careful.

With a form mirroring breathlessness urgency; this poem manages to bring to light the vulnerability of being young and trying to make it for the first time. Being a recent graduate trying to find work and not giving up on my ‘hopes and dreams,’ this poem really resonated with me.

The sense of repetitiveness it creates with alluding to routine human actions, “tea slurping,” “cupboard starving” and, “toilet flushing” mirrors the sometimes emptiness of being alive. The simple language reinforces this lack of variety that having a busy schedule can bring. Days are counted by how much tea you’ve consumed, and how much food you can eat from your cupboards out of boredom, rather than countless office dramas.

For me, as I am struggling to get a job, I am taking note of the more mundane things. As a result, I can empathize with the, “mind chewing” Sissay so portrays. Your mind is constantly “chewing” over not being good enough, comparing yourself to others and trying to fill your empty days.

For me, this is a poem about losing hope among the relentless mundane aspects of everyday life. It is a poem that feels vulnerable, lonely and sad. The fact the protagonist feels they have to “paint roads” on their walls instead of having a set path or journey, is revealing. I feel like every young adult, struggling to try and make it for the first time, can relate to the vulnerability which seems to be expressed in this poem.

Lemn Sissay

Before reading, I hadn’t heard off Lemn Sissay. But upon a quick google search, I realized I have read his work before. I am slightly familiar with, “Love Poem,”

You remind me
define me
incline me.

If you died I’d.

however, I had never visited his work properly, or taken the time to find out more about him. His work is exactly the kind of vulnerable, honest poetry that I love to read (and attempt to write.) Sissay had a difficult start in life, he was put in foster care between the ages 12-17 and upon leaving, used his unemployment benefit to self publish his own poetry.

Local authorities placed him in the care of a deeply religious foster family in Lancashire, as his birth mother (who came to the UK from Ethiopia) tried to pursue her own education back home. Being subject to abuse in care assessment centers and racial slurs; Sissay has used his poetry as an outlet to portray life in care and the still ever present stigma’s that are attached to having this background. As care leavers; these individuals are naturally assumed to not have the drive that other young people do. It’s a stigma and generalization that still remains.

He became the official poet of the London Olympic games in 2012, and many of his words feature on public monuments.

Image: The Guardian

As well as being a successful poet, Sissay is also the Chancellor of Manchester University and is a major advocate for increasing care leaver access to higher education. As a care leaver myself, this is a cause very close to my heart.

Austerity continues to affect Britain in many ways, but particularly among care leavers. Cuts to local governments have meant that foster careers and children’s center’s have received less grants over the years, and the support given to care leavers has been slashed. Stepping out of foster care for the first time as young adults, many of these individuals have no idea where to start in life and do not have a family network to support them.

The ‘life’ skills so many of students learn whilst we are at university; are simply not something many care leavers will have as they start independent lives.

I think Lemn Sissay is a real credit to the poetry world and to championing the importance of widening care leaver access to higher education. I’m sad I hadn’t heard of him sooner, but will no doubt be seeking out more of his work.

Reading more poetry

Image: Pixabay

As someone who claims they love poetry, my range tends to stick to those I know, (or studied at A-level) such as Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy and William Blake. During these years I enjoyed studying poetry but was consumed by having to memorise it for an exam.

I’ve decided that I want to read more poetry and have set myself the challenge of reading a new poem every day. Using the book, Poems for Life, I am picking at random a poem everyday to read.

Part of my appreciation for poetry comes from the process of ‘unpicking’. On the first read, sometimes things don’t stick out. On the second, comes the realisation that certain phrases, lines and images are of importance to the central message. I like the fact that the more you read a poem, the more you understand. Above all, what I like is that poetry can have so many different interpretations.

I won’t always be writing a post about each poem I read (as that might get a bit much!) but I thought I would share with you the first one.

Flicking through the pages, I stuck my thumb at a random spot and fell on the poem, “Casabianca” by Felicia Dorothea Hemans. Upon reading it, I had no prior knowledge of the poem (or even when it was written.)

The Poem

The boy stood on the burning deck,
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck,
Shone round him o’er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though childlike form.

The flames rolled on – he would not go,
Without his father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

He called aloud – ‘Say, father, say
If yet my task is done?’
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.

‘Speak, father!’ once again he cried,
‘If I may yet be gone!’
– And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames rolled on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath
And in his waving hair;
And look’d from that lone post of death,
In still yet brave despair.

And shouted but once more aloud,
‘My father! must I stay?’
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud,
The wreathing fires made way.

They wrapped the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound –
The boy – oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea!

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part,
But the noblest thing which perished there,
Was that young faithful heart.

Reading “Casabianca” for the first time

Before researching , I believed this poem was about the departure of childhood, set against the natural rhythms of nature. The poem features a father and son on board a ship in the middle of the sea. Thus, the passing of nature could be related to the certainty of the end of childhood. Lines such as, “The boy stood on the burning deck, / Whence all but he had fled” and, “Yet beautiful and bright he stood, / As born to rule the storm” suggests the idea of departure with words like, “fled”. Additionally, the image of a boy ruling nature suggests an element of leaving childhood behind.

The poem also contains the repetition of a heroic like theme, words such as, “heroic,” “brave,” and “gallant” which suggests the idea of conquering. Whether that be over nature itself during the sea storm, or over the eventual eradication of one’s childhood. Thus, the conquering of childhood, as it were.

In sum, I read this poem to be about the gradual but relentlessness transition from childhood to adulthood, mirrored by the undulating rhythms of nature presented in the waves. The timeless image of a ship sailing away, relates to the human life cycle passing into the next phase of life, from childhood to adolescence. Like nature – life always has a next stage, or ending.

History and impact

Image: Felicia Dorothea Hemans National Portrait Gallery

Although this poem does contain a considerable element on childhood, it also documents an actual event.

Published in 1826, this poem details events that occurred on the Orient during the Battle of the Nile in 1798. It was a French ship commanded by Louis de Casabianca. The poem features a scene between a 12 year old boy and his Father; whereby the boy refuses to abandon the ship during a series of attacks. It becomes clear during the course of the poem, that the young boy tragically dies, he only ever wanted to protect the ship and perform his expected duties.

Thus, the poem explores elements of death, as well as transitional life. It’s a tale of commitment, resilience and dedication from a young boy, but also the bond between father and son.

The poem became a classroom staple throughout the United Kingdom between the 1850s-1950s. It is therefore, a classic example of classroom poetry recital. It explores a sense of military prowess by featuring the 1798 Battle of the Nile, between the British Royal Navy and the Navy of the French Republic. Hence, I suspect it was chosen for classroom recital due to its demonstration of patriotism and British victory.

Felicia Hemans was a known poet in her day, whose major collections included: The Forest Sanctuary (1825), Records of Woman and Songs of Affections (1830). She was known to be quite popular, especially among women. It is welcoming to note such a successful female poet during this period. Sadly, she died from dropsy in 1835. Despite the beauty of this poem (and probably the rest of her work) it was often used for school children – due to its discussion of morality and patriotism, and easy to remember rhyming rhythm. (see what I did there…)

Upon reading this poem and unpacking it, I was able to reflect on the many things I had learned just from reading these few lines. I had no idea to begin with that it was written so long ago, and about a true event I wasn’t even aware of. I nearly always learn something when I read a new poem, and this one didn’t disappoint!

Graduation (a reflection)

Over last weekend, I managed to successfully graduate from the University of York and obtain my degree certificate.

It was a successful experience on the whole. I managed to climb the stairs in sync with the processions of the ceremony, had the correct name read out alongside my degree, and didn’t manage to trip on my way down. I was relived when I could sit back in my seat and enjoy the rest of the ceremony without having to worry if I would make it up and down in one piece.

After the ceremony came the onslaught of photographs – both professional and ones taken by my parents. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. It isn’t often that the sun shines so brightly in the North of England – but it did on the 24th.

Sitting in central hall, surrounded by so many others – PhD’s, Masters and Bachelors, I couldn’t help but think how amazing it was. Every person in that room had to put up a fight and keep themselves going throughout the pursuit of something they love. Seeing the array of mortar boards worn by people of any age, was incredibly inspiring (and I definitely hadn’t expected it to be.)

This may have been my first graduation – but I don’t expect it to be my last. If I can summon up the resources to finance another stint in education that is…

I feel a sense of sadness when I realise that last Friday were my last moments at the University of York as a student. But I also feel a huge sense of achievement and closure. My graduation was a long time coming, due to the delaying of my final exams. But now I can draw a firm line below my undergraduate life.

I’ll be honest, I don’t currently know what’s around the corner, but who really ever does?

Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Image: The Guardian

Title: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Author: Gail Honeyman

Rating: 5/5

Publisher: HarperCollins, Kindle Edition

Synopsis

Gail Honeyman’s debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, follows the simple life of a young woman. Eleanor goes to work five days a week, comes home on the Friday, has rather a lot to drink, and catches up on sleep over the weekend.

At work, she doesn’t talk to many people, but always gets on with the day. She doesn’t go out and socialize on Friday nights or the weekends, despite the expectation. Once a week, she receives a phone-call from her Mum, which is her only real form of communication outside work. She lives a simple life, but one that is seemingly lonely and void of human interaction, friendship and support.

Her relationship with her Mum, is told through a series of weekly phone calls. These phone calls are often hard to take in, due to the sheer level of emotional abuse her Mum conveys to her over the phone.

“Mummy has always told me that I am ugly, freakish, vile. She’s done so from my earliest years, even before I acquired my scars.”

Gail Honeyman

After a certain turn of events, feauturing helping an elderly gentleman after he had a fall and becoming (acccidentally) friends with a work colleague from the IT department, Eleanor begins to realise her life is very lonely, and in fact, socialising isn’t too bad (in moderation.)

The novel gradually unravels troubling elements of Eleanor’s past, we learn fairly early on that she grew up in the care system but for a while, never discover why. With the help of her new friend, Raymound, Eleanor begins the journey of coming to terms with her past. This novel is as true as they come. Through Eleanor, we get an insight into the realities of loneliness, depression, and fractured family life.

“I have been waiting for death all my life. I do not mean that I actively wish to die, just that I do not really want to be alive.”

Gail Honeyman

Review

Strangely enough, I picked up this book in the Kindle deals for £1, thinking it would be a nice ‘in-between read,’ as I am still ploughing my way through Ducks, Newburyport. However, I was pleasantly surprised and found myself utterly drawn to the book, so much so that I didn’t read a single page of Ducks, Newburyport. Nonetheless, it is far more complex than the ‘light and fluffy’ type read that I initially had it down for.

After reading internet reviews, it seems that many people didn’t take to the main character, Eleanor Oliphant, very well. Or rather, didn’t know how to feel about her. However, I immediately took to her. I liked the way she actively defies social expectations, says what she thinks – she conveyed a huge amount of honesty and integrity as a character; which meant I was drawn towards her. Often, she made me laugh out loud too.

Part of my reasons for loving this novel is because I found myself relating to Eleanor so much. Like Eleanor, I too experienced the care system, although not to the same extremities as herself. I too, sometimes struggle in social situations and often withdraw myself into the comfort of my own home. However, apart from feeling a sense of attachment towards her, I enjoyed the novel in its entirety. Upon reading it, I could not predict what was going to come next, yet I could not put the book down.

This novel should be praised and read for its sheer honesty and exploration of many contemporary, social issues which are not fully discussed openly within mainstream society. Eleanor is a young woman suffering from crippling loneliness, depression, social withdrawal and alcoholism – although she would rarely drink to excess in public. As a young woman in her thirties, society tells her she should have her whole life together. However, this novel sheds an important light onto the realities of everyday life as a young adult – and the fact that not everyone can always have it together.

It’s a novel that deals with some very difficult subjects but is delivered in the most lighthearted, honest and engaging way. Eleanor Oliphant begins to open up more herself as the novel progresses. Upon finishing the book; the reader begins to be reassured that Eleanor Oliphant; is going to be completely fine.