This year New Writing North is celebrating the life and work of the wonderful, poet, playwright and novelist extraordinaire, Julia Darling.
‘To tie in with the tenth anniversary of Julia Darling’s death, Ellen Phethean, Julia’s business partner at Diamond Twig, is looking to publish poems inspired by Julia on her website.’
I read this yesterday in New Writing North’s Newsletter and immediately knew I wanted to write a poem for Julia.
Would I write about the first time I met her at a writing workshop in the Town Hall in Bishop Auckland, or subsequent times when we ate chips in Bar Mondo, smoked rollies in the Queens? Would I write about the time I took her on a tour of HMP Low Newton where I worked and which she thanked me for so generously in her acknowledgements in The Taxi Driver’s Daughter? Or would my poem be about how she was the first person, other than my great friend and mentor Wendy Robertson, to acknowledge me publicy as (in her words) ‘a talented writer,’?
In the end I decided I would write about none of these. Instead I’ve been writing about a snowy night in January when I read with her at Newcastle City Library. She’d had bad news that day from her consultant, very bad and yet she was as ever her warm, generous self. I’d given up smoking but that seemed unimportant in the face of everything else, and when the readings were over we nipped outside and shared a rollie. Wendy and I only just made it home that night. Sadly, Julia didn’t make it but her spirit, her smile, her energy, her inspiration live on.
I am not, first and foremost a poet and I wasn’t inclined to put my early draft up here for all to read but then, when I thought about Julia, it seemed cowardly not to –
At the City Library with Julia
It is snowing in the city when we go in.
You call us over, glass in hand, to sit at your silvery table.
We shrug off our deerskin coats, gather our wine.
You and I are reading. You are famous. I am not.
There are Russians in the crowd.
You show me your nerves, taking them out to air
subduing mine, ‘Be brief, that’s the key,’ you say
then, as if by way of something ordinary, of
something you forgot to say earlier: ‘Today
my consultant told me its spread to my liver.’
We murmur our sympathies, mime inadequacies,
we do not rant or rave or collapse in a public place.
We drink our wine.
Your words are miracles; operations performed by hand
without incision, scions of faith and hope.
You keep it brief. ‘She goes on too long,’ you say of the poet.
After in the doorway snow accumulates at our feet
and even though I’ve given up smoking we share a rollie,
wonder what the Russians make of it. As we say goodbye
you begin to fret about our long journey home.
We leave the city, its pool of yellow light and walled in
shelter, talking of Julia; the motorway is silent, the way ahead
turning to glass and white. The world is shrinking
under the weight of snow how life becomes so small.
I’m still working on this poem and would welcome any feedback – seriously, I want it to be the best it can be.
If you would like to offer your poem about Julia, please send it to Ellen at firstname.lastname@example.org with a short piece about a memory of how you were inspired by Julia. Poems will be published from April