The Inside Story
I first started writing the poems in my collection, ‘Bullet Proof’ in 2009, when my son joined the army. I wrote because I began to observe and experience things that were new to me; the bizarreness of these new things gave me so much ripe material that I couldn’t help but write.
At first I only wrote a few poems as and when they occurred to me. However, when my son flew out to Afghanistan in October that year, they began to occur much more frequently.
I think I used writing poems as a way to stay sane. I wrote because the poetry presented itself to me, and to no other purpose. At this stage, I had no thought of publication; the poems felt far too intimate to share.
Then, in the summer of 2011, I attended a poetry workshop in Crete run by the poet Ruth Padel. I showed her some of the poems, and she told me that I had to share them with the wider community: this was a story that needed telling. Ruth very generously agreed to be my mentor and helped me shape and edit the collection.
In 2014 I received an email from Neil Astley at Bloodaxe saying that he would like to publish my collection in a book alongside three other women poets who had all been through a similar experience. Being able to read and share with my fellow poets Isabel Palmer, Jehanne Dubrow and Elyse Fenton felt like coming home: I had no idea that there were other out there writing about the same experiences.
Isabel Palmer, like me, is English and experienced her son going to Afghanistan. We first met and shared the stage at the launch of Home Front as part of the Dulwich Literary Festival on Remembrance Day 2016 (13th November). Since then we have corresponded regularly, becoming firm friends and supporting each other in trying to come to terms with what we actually went through. Two of the Home Front poets, Jehanne Dubrow and Elyse Fenton, are American and although we have corresponded I have not met them.
Since the publication of Home Front in 2016 I have heard from two other women who are also writing poetry in a similar vein: Gill Lambert and Jo Younge, who is herself an Afghan veteran and, I believe, one of the first modern day female soldiers to write poetry. I have more poetry on the same theme that needs editing, but I have not yet decided if I want to revisit them–it feels a very painful place to revisit.