I've not yet told you about my serial read for 2015, have I? My friend Cath sent me a copy of Gillian Clarke's At the Source: A Writer's Year and immediately when I opened the package I knew it was the book I would read in monthly installments. I had never heard of Clarke before, perhaps because she is a poet, and poetry is a gaping hole in my reading history/experience thus far. I will someday rectify that (there was a time, too, when I wouldn't have dreamed of reading short stories either, and now look at me). Sometime this year I will find and read a copy of Clarke's poems. It's only fitting, right?
Cath and I will be reading the book in tandem and chat about it along the way. It is made up of six brief essays and a monthly journal, which as you might imagine (since Clarke is a poet) is gorgeously written. It looks as though it will be a series of ruminations and reflections of her life in Wales, the dilapidated longhouse she and her husband bought and take up residence in when she accepted the post as Poet in Residence at the University of Lampeter, and most importantly on nature.
I'm not quite sure how I will write about the book. The journal entries actually come after the series of essays, but maybe that doesn't matter (as I am starting with the monthly entries). You see the hare on the cover? I think he is going to be a recurring motif throughout the book so I will try and see what I pick up along the way. Maybe it is best to begin with a few of my own reflections and share a few of my favorite passages. I took a few notes as I was reading, so a few thoughts on 'January'. . .
The drama of extreme weather is "both fearful and thrilling"--how fitting that 2015 began for me with extreme cold, too. Subzero temperatures during my break and return to work was what greeted me at the beginning of the year. It was so cold I had to buy little handwarmers to stowe away in my gloves to keep my fingers from going numb (have you seen them? you take them out of their plastic sleeve, shake them and let them heat up--genius).
Clarke is living in Wales, which I imagine to be lush and green and exceedingly cold in winter. In the 1970s she bought an old longhouse which was in a ruinous state and moved in with her husband and children. This is really how I imagine Wales:
"We spent our holidays walking the land, fetching water from the spring and collecting wood by day, and reading by oil-lamp light and a big open fire in the evenings."
I like this--talking about her children:
"They lived through books, as I did as a child, playing out their imagined stories in a place where poverty was not difficult to imagine. "
Despite the condition of the longhouse she buys, she decides to move in and live there--a braver soul than me.
"Solitude in a primitive house in winter"--how serendipitous that on the day I read this January journal entry I also came across a book by Doris Grumbach called Fifty Days of Solitude in my library. It is another book of reminiscences on those days alone in Maine when she lived without speaking to anyone. Which leads me to another favorite author, May Sarton, and her journals.
Clarke measures her own life against the previous owner of the longhouse who lived there in the 1930s. She wanted to know how Marged lived. Did she?
"No, but I thought of her a lot, and constantly imagined her life as I measured it against my own. I learned about silence, independence, solving my own problems, not being afraid of the dark, sleeping alone miles from a neighbor with only a dog for company."
I'm hoping she goes into much more detail about this experience as I want to know about these things as well and apply them to my own life. Solitude is a subject never far from my mind. I am very good at appreciating solitude, but loneliness is still sometimes a problem I feel burdened by.
I love this bit and find it true as well:
"Each day sunrise and sunset inch apart by minutes. Long, light evenings seem normal, short days like sickness. In the darkest days you can't believe in light."
Ever so slowly the days seem to be lengthening, which for me is like a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
The first essay, "A Local Habitation and a Name" is just as it sounds, all about her new home--the history, the grounds and views and landscape surrounding it. Those Welsh names--so full of consonants! And so intriguing to learn about that longhouse. Two centuries old and built from stones in the field. Imagine! Hard for me living somewhere so 'new' in comparison. It seems almost romantic to think of this place she lives as being smuggler's country. The chance of ghosts? And she is living alone?
Well, these thoughts of mine are all a bit random, so I hope I can gather my thoughts a little better next month. This is going to be a treat to read, something new and different and refreshing. And February is just around the corner. That much closer to spring!