I’ve come at most things late in life. I’ve often thought I’m at least ten years behind, for all kinds of reasons.
Despite having a degree and two post-graduate qualifications, I haven’t had a high-powered career, I’ve never earned much money, I’m not a dynamo public speaker, I’m shy at parties.
Then I found new meaning in my 40s — a first child and my first published full poetry collection. Life delays can have so many complex causes. What happened?
Well, that is one thing that this first poetry book Hiding to Nothing explores — how traumas and violences — in all their forms — can hobble you. Especially when they occur early in life, sending you staggering down a different ley line to one you may have thrived along. And all the repercussions.
It took me a long time before I started to sort my life out and that, of course, is ongoing. And not until midlife where I was at the right stage to talk about things. After years of sending poems off to magazines, events seemed to coalesce only when I was ready — I think you have to be ready — and I was approached by a publisher around the same time I finally had my little one.
Hiding to Nothing looks at unbelonging/belonging, body image, relationships, violences (from domestic abuse to racism to body shaming), cycles and patterns of behaviours, and how we can get trapped in these cycles. It also documents the incursions a female body experiences when it is judged or abused or put under the surgeon’s knife or when it doesn’t perform in the ways society expects it to.
Some people flinch at these facts, polite people, successful people who don’t get it or don’t want to. Some people flinch at the book because it’s a little raw — and maybe a bit direct.
It’s important to say here too that the book is poetry rather than autobiography — I’ve used observation, imagination, research, wordplay and of course, my own direct experience — to document what I feel is important. But it’s all my truth.
Being a brown girl growing up in an unwelcoming white town in the ’80s didn’t help. Being chased as a child out of sweetshops or across playgrounds by adult right-wing extremists didn’t help. Nor did the pursed lips, the empty seats next to me on buses nor not being the ‘conventional’ looking blonde girl (and those girls had their own negative cycles of body battering to deal with).
But as a child I was also writing limericks and other poems, little plays, and songs that schoolfriends performed (but I was too shy to direct). This streak got tamped down for an age but is gradually returning.
And I know body image affects women regardless of such factors as race and age. As does infertility, miscarriage, relationships, un/belonging, self-esteem and violence.
When it came to having my own child, it wasn’t easy either: partly those delays, partly because of medical issues. The careless phrase “don’t leave it too late” (or its sadder and more ruthless corollary, “she left it too late”) ignores the myriad reasons people are childless by circumstance — emotional, physical, psychological, situational.
In the end, after rounds of fertility treatment, I was lucky enough to give birth to a gorgeous little boy and I know I am blessed. But on my travels I met many women — and for many years I was one of them (and a tiny part of me still is her) — who had complications or who were not in the end able to have their longed-for baby. I knew I wanted to write about their stories — the unglamorous, scary stories from which people recoil, the squirmish stuff.
So the whole middle section of the book, ‘Bloodfruit’, is a sequence based on interviews with women I spoke to during lockdown who shared their stories of difficult paths to motherhood or non-motherhood. Women who’ve experienced child loss, neonatal complications, infertility, miscarriage, and those who didn’t become a mother at all.
I’ve already had people — many of whom don’t normally read poetry — tell me how glad they are to read HtN although it is not necessarily joyous — who writes popular poems about fibroids for instance? (Not me! And in the end that poem just had to go into the book to find a publisher.)
I still hide a little but the book has given me the confidence to explore other forms of writing which in turn energises my own creativity. The more this happens, the better I can access my own ideas for other projects.
Life may have been slower at listening to me, and I may have been slower at reaching the milestones, but I also had to listen to myself before things happened — and they can.
– Anita Pati
Hiding to Nothing, published April 2022, Pavilion Poetry (Liverpool University Press) is available at Liverpool University Press (£9.99) and online retailers.
Poems from Hiding to Nothing
Copyright held and permission granted by Liverpool University Press.
Because he liked the toddy,
because he twinkled for her,
he beat her.
Because he towered and
she was a bird,
because he was soused
and the kerosene cask
to cook sabzi
exploded it seems and.
Because her nylon saree
of plum and curd
kindled and flared,
the thatch flamed
and the roof withered –
he creased back her throat
to see the sky.
Because she laboured
with filigree wrists of bone,
a waist you could twist,
to feed her boys, because
because the littler pined to be
an American rocket star,
his head bent up –
the rain came in and
she’d take his whipping
on her keloid skin
because through the gap
in the broken hut
she saw only stars.
how many of us never call it?
because when you smash your head
like a pumpkin on the Incarnadine door frame,
having siphoned the party’s Malbec
at a townhouse in Stoke Newington,
ethanol spearing darts through the gloom,
everyone too sober, in control, for you,
teen years caught up
like flames at your skirts,
polite chat, minted verbena, NO
and he pickets your elbow, and people’s laughs –
see the couple fly so witty that Man that professional
Man with the footballer curls, that Man’s
sluicy arm that projects you too hard,
that Man who protects: it’s your own stupid fault.
i’ve never called it, but
reformed friends need you to leave,
ciao go away good to see you next time.
still today you think it was you
after wine, doesn’t matter
what happened, it was me.
and all you knew was the charity worker, dapper, yes,
his ex-wife an author but him, met him twice,
at your back, Victorian squat with Last FM streaming
and only your screams like nothing you know
escaped your mouth since
shouldn’t have drunk, was me
couldn’t stop, rolled in carpet like that
such an intricate ceiling rose, these townhouses, one day i’ll live
in one, still i’ve said nothing and who knows
least me, drink and me close up your wineshame, that mouth
that wine shut your mouth
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