Sunday, 17 July 2011

True talent is so rare.

I'm a wrinkly - as most of you know.  And I sit in writers' groups, go to open mic sessions, spend most of my writing life with people whose children (if they had them) are well past the nappy stage.  We have been taught rules, dissect our words obediently.

And then along came Emily.  Aged eighteen.  With her scarlet lipstick and shoes-not-made-for-walking.  She's a poet.  I write that carefully - she's not just a young person who writes poetry.  I wrote poetry in my teens and it was excruciating.  She wears the word with panache.  It is who she is.  Her work is gutsy and honest and funny, rooted in the angst and energy of adolescence but without the whining.  She delivers it with crisp diction, firing words that stick to you.  The last line lingers - swims around the room somehow - and you want her to read the same poem over and over again until every little nuance is swimming too, but you know it won't be, there is always something more, a corner that is still to be explored.

I've no idea if anyone has tried to tame her, to work with rhyme scheme and form, to deconstruct line length.  I hope not.  Her talent is raw and wonderful and exciting.

There are few good reasons to live to be 130.  But one of them is to live long enough to see how Emily discovers which paths to take.  I want her to ignore the advice of crones like me; to carry on surprising us with the brutal honesty (and wit) with which she approaches her poetry.  I have no doubt she has the ability to be successful (in the sense that her work will be widely read), but want her to remain rooted in the immediacy of her feelings and experiences.  I want her to have plenty of Life, but not so much she drowns in it.

Am I envious - no.  I've made my own choices.  I've had plenty of Life.  Rather - I love cheering her from the sidelines.  It's a privilege, even to be peripheral (as I am), to her early efforts.  Emily Harrison - remember that name.


  1. Emily and her friends have been vociferous about this blogpost on Facebook. But not here. I wonder if they see blogging as the prerogative of the serious, with no space in it for their energy and wacky ideas? Such a shame if they do - surely we shrivel if can't listen to our young people.

  2. Thank you, Jo. I shall most definitely keep my ear to the ground. It's been an absolute privilege of mine to work with some of the most ridiculously talented people imaginable, and they come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, from Sarah Melville who was a teenager when she produced one of the most brilliant books I've ever read to Larry Harrison, whose stunning debut novel was written when he was well into his 60s.

    I'm not sure whether I think a writer's age matters much - I do think though that if someone is going to be truly great, they will do something spectacular very very early in their career (whenever they start) - and sped the rest of their career polishing that.

    I am regularly reminded (and rather flabbergasted) that T S Eliot was 18 when he wrote Prufrock.

  3. I took a look around the interweb and see Emily was last year's winner of the Tower Prize, which I know well - that's quite an achievement!

  4. Indeed she was. And it came as a such a shock to her - her poem was wonderful.
    She's publishing a small pamphlet before she heads off to uni - I'll let you know when I know more.

  5. Thank you! Is she coming to Oxford by any chance?

  6. I don't know where she's going - though I shall find out before the autumn. I'm very peripheral in her life - I posted this for two reasons -
    firstly - to tell people about her.
    and secondly - I don't think she realises how good she is - in spite of the big prize.
    (I hope she goes to a uni that doesn't try to shape her - she's so talented she needs to work it all out for herself. It would be dreadful if she were to be moulded, made to fit into targets.)

  7. Why do you call yourself a "wrinkly" or a "crone"?
    These are derogatory terms that, by using, you are denigrating not only yourself but all others - particularly women, one might think - who are older than you. Why would you do that?
    Which men would you put in the disparaging category of "wrinkly" or "crone"?

  8. Ah - Frances - it's interesting that you see the terms 'wrinkly' and 'crone' as derogatory. I'm sorry if you see it as disparaging. I'm using them with tongue in cheek - I see my age as something to celebrate - and am able to recognise that young people will take one look at my wrinkles and pass me by.
    But you raise an interesting issue - one that maybe warrants a fuller discussion. I'll draft a blog over the next couple of days, and maybe you'd like to come back and discuss it. Thanks for raising this.