I’ve been back from Brazil almost a week and have been reflecting on my experiences there. Time for a wrap-up post!
I (rather reluctantly) left Boiçucanga about ten days before I went home – this was because the residency actually officially started a week before I came (with short notice I had to come later!). So I took the bus to Sao Paulo and hung out with the artists I’d met in the beautiful spot by the sea in their city – there I saw the bustling streets, high-rises, graffiti, buses and underground, restaurants, bars, art galleries (MASP was a highlight), and their homes. The video of translations and original versions of my work was broadcast at a gallery opening, which was, quite frankly, mindblowing. People were so incredibly generous to me, and I felt that I didn’t have enough time to give everyone their due. Huge thanks in particular to Lourdina, the residency founder, for her kindness, and to Bea, for putting me up for so long.
While I’d had warnings that Sao Paulo was dirty and stressful with little to attract tourists, my experience was so personalised that I couldn’t help but see the sunny side of things. I managed to do less work than I’d have liked, since my laptop succumbed to the blue screen of death for reasons unknown early into the Sao Paulo stint. But I took a lot of photographs, some of which I hope to share on Twitter and other places.
I’m home now, and as I thought, have a lot to think about regarding my time. I started work on a poetry collection while there – I’ve had a few poems published over the years, but have never really felt like I had a whole collection in me, until now. It’s exciting and challenging to approach it. They are poems about Brazil, about Boiçucanga and my time there. There are possibilities of working with a translator and getting in touch with Brazilian publishers about the finished work, and ideally I would like to return to the country for further research. I’m working too on a project to build a connection between Scotland and Brazil for visiting and local artists and writers, though it’s at a very tender stage, with much research still to be done on the practical points. I hope it will bring good things for many people.
So, at the end of all this, I think back to the point where it started – where I realised I could actually make it. Massive thanks to Kaaysa for hosting me, and biggest of all to The Saltire Society and the Society of Authors for providing the funding – at great speed, as was needed – to make it happen. Thank you for everything. The effects are ongoing, and I will feel them in my work, possibly forever.
Something a little different from the formula so far – the staff of the excellent Edinburgh bookshop Golden Hare Books give their recommendations in this week’s tinyletter!
Anything I can say about these poems feels inadequate. They brim quietly with the joy of life, reminding us that “the business of our days” is to “hold strong, hold strong and hold to praise” (‘Enough deathbed talk:’). Yet at the same time they are clear-sighted, never falling into pathos orcliché.
One week ago, the first online literary festival of Scottish writing happened – right in the wake of Britain voting to leave the EU (as you may know, while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted strongly to remain within it). #ScotLitFest took place across Twitter and livestreams and Youtube, and was fantastic, a shining point in moment where the future yawned open ahead of us. You can catch up with some of the discussions, readings and interviews of #ScotLitFest by checking out their Youtube page. And there you’ll see a discussion between Kirsty Logan and myself, as chaired by Sasha de Buyl-Pisco. It’s about an hour long, and we talk about all sorts of things, from short stories, to novels, to bad art and notions of reality.
Make yourself a tea – perhaps this is even a two-tea event.
On the topic of Brexit, 3AM Magazine (who have published my work before) have been gathering the single-sentence reactions of writers, publishers and other literary types on this article. I’ve contributed my instant impression, though others have had more constructive or analytical things to say. On Wednesday I took myself and my opinions outside, and attended a pro-EU rally outside Hollyrood, the Scottish Parliament.
There were some good speakers (and some harder to hear) but Patrick Harvie, leader of the Scottish Green Party, said it best – humans are a migratory species, and that is a good thing, he said. He wanted us to celebrate the inherent value of all people. No ‘good’ migrants for him. I have to hope that voices like his win over. Brexit has caused a lot of division, and have led already to a bubbling up of (of course always present) racism and xenophobia. Where now for us? Well, for Scotland, as for Northern Ireland, the future seems particularly uncertain, but with a way forward for Scotland at least that I am putting my hopes on: There is talk of a second independence referendum for Scotland, and a few previous ‘no’ voters I’ve spoken to have said with Britain wanting to leave the EU, they would now vote ‘yes’ for an independent Scotland within the EU – an community which after all protects so many rights as well as providing funding for infrastructure and institutions alike. But this is all ahead, all possible, or impossible. The future, as I said, has opened up its jaws. What happens now depends on the voices of the people and the actions of those in charge.
Things are brewing here, but nothing I want to lay out yet. If we are friends on Twitter or Facebook, or in real life you probably know the plans. But it’s early summer, and the process of fermentation is a slow one that cannot be rushed.
Summer barbecue smoke drifting across The Meadows. Little day trips when the weather holds. And very soon, at the end of the week, a trip back to America for a family wedding. It’s been four years since D and I left. All these things to be done, and quietly, this great exciting thing that will follow, at the thick end of the season.
Forgive me for taking up this space with dreaminess and vague words. But I hope these images will be enough to charm a little.
For now, this waiting, exploring, hoping with purpose and work that’s too young to share. See you again with photos and snippets of America, sometime in the next few weeks.
To those who celebrate – Merry Christmas for tomorrow. Here’s hoping it’s a peaceful one, an easeful one, peeking at the edges with tinsel and maybe, if you are one of the lucky ones, a sweep of thick snow. I’ll leave you with this poem I found that I think fits the harshness of the year in its gentle hands:
Let midnight gather up the wind
and the cry of tires on bitter snow.
Let midnight call the cold dogs home,
sleet in their fur—last one can blow
the streetlights out. If children sleep
after the day’s unfoldings, the wheel
of gifts and griefs, may their breathing
ease the strange hollowness we feel.
Let midnight draw whoever’s left
to the grate where a burnt-out log unrolls
low mutterings of smoke until
a small fire wakes in its crib of coals.
There are 1.6 million voters grieving here in Scotland for the loss of the independence vote. Myself, my family, my friends, the people who spoke to me in the street with hope in their hearts. What to do, in the midst of loss? And now in the newspaper headlines ‘Public funds to decrease to Scotland, says no.10’ and ‘English votes for English laws’ usurping the priorities of the promised powers (on tax, welfare) that were supposed to go to Scotland on event of No (a vow signed by three leaders, a vow that looks likely to crumble under their shrugs of indifference). Now bloody strikes with ISIS, with a multiheaded concept, at the behest of America, likely. Meanwhile the shadow Labour government of Westminster say they’ll cap child benefit, as a way to help fix the economy they told us was so much more robust that Scotland on its own. Dystopian.
What to do?
What we can. I’ve been reading. Burrowing down into books, though none of them comforting. Thirst, by Kerry Hudson. A heartache of a book, all tactility and full of fumes and grime and hope. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, that reclaimed feminist classic, gloriously landscaped, which nevertheless suffers for its undercurrents of racism, classism that go unacknowledged. Revenge by Yoko Ogawa, a series of strange, interconnected salt-sweet tales with a smack of coldness to them. Now biting into Gone To the Forest by Katie Kitamura, placeless colonial tension in a world of violent men and arid fields. All in the last three days.
Writing. I’ve finished the flash novella of island-bound witchy girlhood and charismatic monsters and abandonment – Villain Miriam. Looking for where to send it to, this tiny shattered fairytale. Aside from this, I’ve been job searching, for work in Creative Writing, for ESL, for volunteering opportunities that fit the skills I have to offer. This takes time. And in between the leaves still fall and the nights creep closer, huddling in. Seasons change – at least there is always this.