Monday, May 13, 2019

Dimitra Xidous : My (small press) writing day: table to bed, the body is (always) of great concern

Sitting down to write this piece, it feels important to say that I was only ever supposed to be in Dublin for one year.  Come July, it will be eight years, and counting.  The difference between one and eight is more than just the seven in between.  For only meaning to be in Dublin for a year, I did, in that first year, what I came here to do.  I wrote. Every day.  I sat a kitchen table, and there, at that table, I wrote, every day.  I could (and I will) write a heavy love letter to that table, the kitchen of that house; the kitchen, a great big heart in a house I loved, for as long as I lived there. The table, a steady constant thing.  Until it wasn’t anymore. Somewhere between the one and eight, I moved from one house, into another house, and then, again, into another house. This sounds a lot easier than it was. Inch by inch, I moved my way across Dublin.  From one to eight, and the seven years in between, I moved from Ranelagh to the Liberties. From the Liberties, I crossed the Liffey, to the northside of Dublin. For only ever meaning to be in Dublin for a year,  I am now living in Stoneybatter, and I am writing still, though not every day, and not at a kitchen table. 

Between the one and eight, I have had to carve things out, I’ve had to carve them out for myself.  I work full time as a Research Fellow in Trinity College Dublin.  Because of this, I write (mostly) on the weekends and always in my bedroom.   A couple of years ago, I bought myself a small tray table, with enough space for my laptop and for a notebook.  I’ll wake up around 7:30am, make a coffee, and by 8 or 8:15am, I’ll be back in bed, with my tray and my computer and all going well, I will start typing by 8:30am. At the moment, I am working on poems for a second collection.  The work is slow.  I wonder how much of this is due to no longer writing at a kitchen table (I do not like the one in the house I live in right now).  I wonder how much of this is due to not having written much poetry, until recently.  When my first book was published, I wrote nothing, not one thing for a whole two years.  I lost everything – the kitchen table I loved; the beat, the rhythm, the habit of writing; the turn (of phrase, the slight tilt that makes a poem a poem).  I forgot how to blow the world open.  

From my bed, I have had to learn it all again.  Find it all again.  Now, every Saturday and most Sundays, I go looking for these things, and more. On a good day,  I land on something worth working with by 11am.  Today, I have a big idea – to turn a poem into a hand.  This means, among other things, remembering what makes a hand and how – the timely and timed expression of genes along the way. Because I am too far away, in time, from a time when I learned all about it in a class at the University of Guelph, this means googling hands and genes and “what makes a hand” (fun fact: these are the five suggestions google gives me for my search: (1) “what makes a handsome man”; (2) “what makes a handgun ca compliant”; (3) “what makes a handwarmer work”; (4) “what makes a handgun ma compliant”; (5) “what makes a hand attractive”).  Sometimes, I follow one of the threads.  Not today.  Today, I’ll stick to anatomy – the 27 bones, the form and function (however it ever follows), the importance of them, of hands. 

By the time I get to the middle of something (and I am in the middle of something here), I have the ending in mind.  It’s a marker, for me, on whether I’m on to something with a piece (and because it’s a good day, by 11 am, I know I’m on to something here).  It’s how I’ve always worked.  My hands do the work (work meaning labour – and it’s important to lay it out clearly: hands do good work, hands labour to get it done).  My hands labour to catch up to whatever is going in my brain (on a good day, like this one, my brain is already lines ahead).  On a good day, I am chasing after myself.   On a good day, my hands run.

I used to sit there (here), for however long it took to write it all down. I used to lose days (in a good way). But in the last year, I’ve added something into my routine, and it has broken up my writing (for the) day (in a good way, too).  I’ve decided to get stronger.  I am working on a pull up. In September, I could lift  25% of myself (using an assisted pull up machine).  As of the writing of this piece, I pull 55%.  Here my hands, my arms, my shoulders, my back, my core – the body whole does the work (it’s the same with writing poetry, really).  I aim to pull myself up by September of this year (in time with when I hope to have a first draft of my poetry collection ready for my publisher). 

Breaking up my day has not only made me stronger; it has made me a more productive writer.  I can see it, the collection taking shape.  I’ll come back to my bed after the gym and work (put the labour in) for another couple of hours.  By 6pm, I draw a line under the day.  I look back at what I’ve done, spend the next hour reading it out loud.  Whatever sounds good to me, is worth coming back to the next day.  On a good day, I am exhausted (always in a good way, too).  

Between the one and eight, someone told me that I write with my whole body.  And it’s true.  I do.  Even with where I choose, where I have chosen to write – sitting at a kitchen table, in that first year, or here in my bed eight years in: the body is (always) of great concern to me.  Because of this, I write in those places concerned with offering good things to the body: a full meal, a deep sleep.  

Dimitra Xidous’s work has been published in gorse journal, Room Magazine, The Stinging Fly, and The Dalhousie Review among others, and her poems have been anthologized in New Planet Cabaret (New Island, 2013) and Hallelujah for Fifty Foot Women (Bloodaxe, 2015).  She was the Featured Poet in the Spring Issue (2014) of The Stinging Fly. She was a finalist in the The Malahat Review Open Season Awards (2014), shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and long-listed for the Montreal International Poetry Competition (2011). Her poetry collection Keeping Bees (2014) is published by Doire Press (Ireland). She has an essay on Leonard Cohen in the upcoming anthology Under The Influence, edited by Joanna Walsh (gorse editions, 2019). (M)others, M(others): In Which We Speak About Our Mothers, her collaboration with artist and printmaker Ria Czerniak-LeBov is forthcoming from gorse editions in 2020.

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