Volume 1: Spring/Summer 08
A collection of writing from The Spider Project
This is a beautifully produced book. The restrained page layout renders
each page pleasing to the eye before you start to read. The cover design
by David Jacques uses three exquisite colour drawings of the kungull flower
by Njasi Ismail, from a series of drawings of plants grown on an allotment
run by the Family Refugee Support Group; they 'float' on the book's plain
white cover. These aesthetic elements create a sense of anticipation that
is part and parcel of the reading of small poetry books.
The collection is the result of writing workshops held at The Spider Project,
Liverpool, led by Paula Currie. There are seven women contributors and
twelve men. It is a mix of short stories, tales, expanded anecdotes, life
fragments, including (internal) monologue and dialogue; poems (short,
free verse, and longer narratives); and one piece of critical auto/biography.
The reader is confronted with raw and painful experiences and processes
throughout, entrusted with 'secrets': a child's pain on its parents' divorce;
domestic violence and stalking, the impact of alcohol or heroin on a life,
the experience of hangover, isolation, disorientation; prison, incarceration;
pain, loss, confusion, regret.
The matter of fact tone of 'Hooked', a short prose piece which entwines
twenty-three years of heroin addiction and a post-addiction fishing trip
with a mate into both a sort of male friendship narrative and an account
of aesthetic experience as the sun comes up, finishes:
I could hear skylarks above the sand hills behind me, the waves crashing
as the tide ebbed out. I realised the only reason I could appreciate this
night this way was because I was no longer an addict. FREEDOM.1
These poems and stories are all about dilemmas: the process of being
alive and struggling.
Burning bright, in vibrating light
Whether the writer's voice functions as confession, reflection, critique,
mourning, or challenge, for example, positions the reader differently.
And as long as self-absorption, self-pity and bravado are avoided, the
reader can be onside. The end result also depends on whether anger, fear
or insult is delivered 'raw', or acts as fuel for creative process: forging
something beyond the initial experience, through the struggle with language
and form. It is the difference between a scream and a call; a cry and
I need to examine why I chose famine and never got fed.3
The straightforward language and harshness of reflection come couched
here in soft alliteration, which heightens poignancy. And a buoyant rhythm
and use of rhyme can intensify both the alliterative impact and overall
But I never flew or flourished, I strolled upon street cred
Never thought of what I spoke, thought only what they said.4
Forceful final lines hook the reader back into the glare of the narrative:
'And I'm still running'.5 'Turn out to be one of his stupid fucking games'.6
'Which reminds me, I must go back and see that ming from the Caledonia'.7
'Get back in your cell'.8 'This wasn't her stop. She walked to the lift,
unsure where she was going'.9 'Starting tomorrow he was really going to
get his shit together'.10
Perhaps particularly because it encompasses the experiences and voices
of so many writers, this collection draws attention to and implicitly
interrogates the boundary between the extremes of lived experience and
the decorum of the published word - between life and art. This in itself
is an important project.
I try to live in the light but from
the shade there is always a shout.11
So I have been on this quest to find out
who she was. But her real life, not the one she always put forward. Because
it is only by finding out who she was, that I can find out who I am.12
Creative writing does not mirror or reproduce what already exists in
life, but is itself a process of discovery, rather than reporting. At
its best, it offers not a parade of experience, rather a series of sometimes
tentative gifts to the reader. And the friction of language and experience,
language and thought, language and feeling, shapes outcomes for both the
writer and the reader. A flame is lit in this process, which continues
to burn and change us.
There is language here that might make you wince; lines and sentiments
that might shock or make you laugh out loud, depending on your own experience
and background. There are voices and situations, which in real life you
might choose to avoid/would walk away from: 'That was twenty five missed
calls and twenty texts in half an hour'.13 The best of the writing holds
you close: you read to the end. Creative writing breaks the soundbite
mindset; pushes you as reader to take risks with your own version of reality.
It can create the uncertainty that precedes altered understanding.
The private worlds of the experiential and the therapeutic vie for attention
and status within the public world of knowledge production, dominated
by official narratives and soundbites backed by elites/power; what John
Berger has called 'the rubble of words that house nothing any more' (Hold
Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance. 2008: 7).
What counts can be contested and expanded. This book is part of that process.
1. p9, 2. p28, 3. p40, 4. p39, 5. p6, 6. p17, 7. p61, 8. p56, 9. p54,
10. p42, 11. p37, 12. p18, 13. p15