We often hid behind the sofa when the Provident lady came
For her dues
And mum got done for stealing
Spam and cheese, so she could afford winter coats for us kids,
Though it was lucky
The council hadn’t bricked up our fire
On days the gas meter ran out
We still got free milk at school
And free school dinners
And even though
Mum wore her Dr. Scholl sandals in the snow, her toes blue behind her pink nail polish
And we wore our cousin’s hand me downs, and got free dinners from the Sally Army, and the Women’s refuge, but only sometimes, we weren’t beggars
Curled up in bed, the mass of old army blankets
Watching out the window
‘What’s that?’ Mum said
Pointing to a red light, flashing on/off, on/off, on/off
Curled up in bed, under the mass of excitement
Unsleeping but not seeing
Who’d left presents for us under the beautiful purple tinsel tree
And glittery footprints from the fireplace
And mum would moan about cleaning up his mess
And we would giggle
And laugh so hard we nearly peed
And mum would unwrap her rose petal water we’d made
In the summer
And the talc we’d bought at the school jumble sale.
And she would say
You are the best presents ever.
The Wild Culture Poet's Questionnaire
1. What is your first memory and what does it tell you about your life at that time?
I have so many vivid memories... Most of them tell me I was terribly afraid pretty much all the time. The world was a shifting, unsettling, dangerous place.
2. Can you name a few writers who have influenced you — a handful at the most — who come to mind immediately?
Elfriede Jelinek, Lynne Tillman, Adelle Stripe, Angela Carter.
3. Where did you grow up, and did that place and your experience of it help form your sense about place and the environment in general?
I grew up on a council estate in Kent. It informs everything I write!! for good or ill.
4. If you were going away on a very long journey and you could only take four books — one fiction, one poetry, one non-fiction, one poetry criticism — what would they be?
This is hard... I'd take a Neruda for the poetry, A Thousand Plateaus for the non-fiction, for the fiction, gosh, Borges maybe. Criticism — nothing springs to mind.
5. What was your most keen interest between the ages of 10 and 12?
Reading (and ballet, and dogs!).
6. At one point did you discover your ability with poetry?
I can't remember a time when I wasn't fascinated by language, though my teachers sending work off for competitions when I was little probably had significance.
7. Do you have an engine that drives your artistic practice, and if so, can you comment on it?
Fear, rage and compassion. In that order.
8. If you were to meet a person who seriously wants to write poetry, someone who admires and resonates with the type of work you do, and they clearly have real talent, and they asked you for some general advice, what would that be?
Read everything they can, and write write write.
9. Do you have a current question or preoccupation that you could share with us?
Letting go, and kindness. There's the adage that 'joy writes white on the page', I want to find a way to write joy in a way that isn't cliched or banal.
10. What does the term ‘wild culture’ mean to you?
Our extraordinary and fundamental connection to each and every thing, being, atom.
11. If you would like to ask yourself a final question, what would it be?
Why are you endlessly procrastinating???
HEIDI JAMES is a writer and academic. Her novel, Wounding, will be published by Bluemoose Books in April 2014.
* For more on how you can participate in our current collaborative project, We Revision the Winter Holiday, go here.
Add new comment