So, 2013. Nerve-wracking. For a lot of people these are scary times: climate change is tipping, the global power-balance is shifting, and the Conservatives are destroying the welfare state with such speed my sense of reality is struggling to keep up. (I keep reading articles about new policies and assuming they’re spoofs. ‘Fat Benefits Claimants Told to Go to Gym or Have Handouts Taken Away’. What, seriously? Are the unemployed going to end up in some Gulag run by Poundland and Fitness First?)
Still, I resolve to hope. Today I went to see Everything Was Moving at the Barbican – an exhibition of global photography from the 60s and 70s. It was absolutely wonderful, and full of reasons not to give up (and it’s only open until the 13th, so do go quickly). The exhibition is a reminder of how vast and strange and beautiful the earth is – journeying from the colour-steeped Deep South of William Egglestone to the ‘Ganges Modernism’ of Raghubir Singh. And it shows that the world has always been full of war, injustice, poverty and brutality, but people have risen against it and created change for the better – from the ‘freedom riders’ in Bruce Davidson’s moving pictures of the civil rights movement, to artists like Li Zhensheng (who hid his ‘negative negatives’ under floorboards during the Cultural Revolution, risking his life to bear witness).
(Photos by Bruce Davidson and Ragubhir Singh)
As a self-employed writer at a time when publishing and arts-funding are in decline, it’s easy to feel anxious and insecure. But there’s still a chance that new, radical art might emerge from these dark times. And I’m travelling into 2013 hopefully, looking forward to what it will bring.
I’ve been writing a lot of short-stories (a form even less commercial than poetry, but screw it) and am enjoying experimenting within a different genre. I’m teaching a university course on short-stories for the first time, and have loved drawing up a reading list of my favourites (O’Connor’s ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’, Cheever’s ‘The Swimmer’, Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’) in preparation. In poetry, I’m looking forward to judging the Hippocrates Prize for Young Poets, for a poem on a medical theme – an award that encourages 14-18 year olds to think of art and science as linked rather than mutually exclusive (do encourage teenagers you know to enter).
Beyond work, we’re doing up our house and have the plumbers in, so downstairs is cold and cloudy with concrete-dust, and spring will bring a whole garden that needs planting. And I’m also pregnant, which means my life is going to be completely transformed in June (the baby’s due is two days after the publication date for Ovid’s Heroines, which should make for a, erm, fairly eventful week.) Last night I felt it kick for the first time.
As the news gets worse, it’s easy to look at the future and see diminishment. But let’s hope for a New Year full of possibility.