One of the things I love most about poems is how they’re like little frames on the page. A poem can be like a picture on a wall: here is a scene, often with a twist. A collection can be like a gallery of one person’s work (an anthology, or magazine, is a gallery of a range of artists’). Of course the pictures have been hung in a certain order, in certain spaces, and in conversation with each other, as well as hopefully with their reader (viewer, as she wanders through).
By writing The Girl Who Cried I’ve taken a gamble: I’ve hung an exhibition that’s tried to frame something fundamental from my own experience, and see if anyone responds with recognition. There’s the gamble: on it not being just me who carries this intruding burden, which is a particular kind of severe, anxious loneliness.
And frames have been important in my thinking. The thing I’ve yearned for, or think I’ve felt myself lacking, has been a kind of ‘framing’: a wish for someone’s understanding to ‘frame’ me. Hold me together. (This is matched by an equally primitive terror: the fear that I’ll get trapped, perhaps inside that person’s ‘frame’. A space that’s far too small and confined. A space that’s dangerous.)
So, frames play out in this drama I am also trying to find a frame for. (A drama whose very nature feels pre-word.) How to find words to frame my experience?
I’ve tried – in my book. I’ve tried to document a lifetime’s navigating. With its title-less poems, each their own shape on their page. I’ve even added drawings – the thing looks rather like a room in a gallery, as you come in through the door, into its frame. And there are a couple of notices at the entrance: two epigraphs, and opening poems that sound an alarm, and lay the ground: The work you’ll find in this exhibition, they alert, concerns the artist’s preoccupation. And there are two key poems in the book which make explicit use of the frame-image, and a number more that do so obliquely.
But… things don’t fit neatly into frames. It’s been a long work-in-progress, a to and fro. How to find words to frame these things, when the experiences are themselves without the frame of words?
Another thing I love about poems: that they can frame sensation, felt sense, bodily trauma, not just thoughts.
I find my poems wear their frames quite closely. There’s a claustrophobia perhaps – well, that is pertinent. A confined space inside the frame I allow myself, (too fearful to expand and speak).
But the other thing is this book is a conversation. It’s trying to provide the frame as well as explore the search for it: to be, or provide precisely the kind of connection it seeks. At the same time as keeping safe.
And actually, yes, in writing the poems I have been having that conversation with myself. Crucially. And attempting, eventually, to render my wordless experience intelligible: to frame it in words.
These poems are also in conversation with each other: albeit separated by the white wall between their frames. And they hope very much to be in conversation with a reader. A conversation that has started now.