It’s hard to be a novice in your fifties


At fifty-four, I started a poetry course. A keen reader of poetry and novels, I hadn’t written a poem since secondary school.  A few ditties for family gatherings and daft verse about politics were my ventures into rhyme and rhythm.

Most of my writing was research reports, academic articles and policy documents.

With some trepidation I set off to a course in my local university – a warm welcoming class full of folk with life experience and lots of words. I loved it and lost myself every week in the challenge of writing a poem and sharing with others on the same journey.

My secret weapon over the years was not confidence but fierce application.  It meant that rather than say I’m rubbish at things, I put my head down and set about learning what I could – from my early years in pharmacy to my later years as a policy expert.

People assumed I had a plan, a strategy or a vision of my end point whether in my policy job or in my writing. When a friend asked what do you want from the writing I was stumped.

Starting late, it was about learning, finding a new way to be in the world after personal and professional challenges. But most of all, it was about finding better words to write my poems.

And it was hard!

Having competence and confidence in some areas, being a novice poet and writer was daunting. A keen hill walker despite asthma, it’s like climbing a serious mountain. I learned to pace myself, to take rejection and to take time!

I find a walk most days help clear my head and helps rearrange lines and thoughts. Many of my poems originate on the hill – a bird singing or running water in the burn, or a splash of unexpected colour from dainty flowers in sparse grass.

Reading poetry inspires me and listening to others read is energising – whether it’s my regular poetry group or well-known poets – I feel renewed and excited. I’ve also done courses and writing weeks, which contribute to sustaining enthusiasm and spirit.

Over the years, I’ve got better at editing, at placing poems in print and online publications. Yet, I’m still on the foothills, working, writing and walking every day to craft better poems.

It’s been liberating in a surprising way.

For years, I wondered what to focus on. I didn’t have the confidence or the courage to see myself as a writer.  Writing is my way of being now; even when I fractured my right hand and knee last year I managed to keep going.

Perhaps writing about our experience of the coronavirus will help us get through!

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