Geraldine Mills – Become a Voice – Guest Editorial

Geraldine Mills LEP&W Sept-Oct V1 2022

Download PDF Here Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume One Sept-October 2022. 

Become a Voice, guest editorial by Geraldine Mills


Butterfly on the banks of the Mekong Photograph by Mark Ulyseas
Photograph by Mark Ulyseas

‘The imagination is wired to make great leaps into the unknown,’ the author, Nikki Ducornet, says but very often these days when I write, it feels like I’m sowing stones. Planting little pieces of rock in the ground and watering them, in the foolish hope that light and heat will bring forth something worthy, but nothing sprouts, no little hint of leaf-line breaking the hard surface, no stem-sentence emerging. No scent of granite, limestone or moon milk calcite couplets filling the air around me in the way the first tiny leaves of lemon balm carry their primordial scent. The language that I need to put a shape on this unstable world of ours fails me. Again and again.

I recently read an article in The Paris Review, about the Italian Poet, Patrizia Cavalli, who grew up in Umbria and died in June of this year at the age of 75. A celebrated poet from an early age, she was audacious, with no regard for authority. Apart from being a writer who took leaps into the unknown, she was famous for her fantastic dinner parties as well as being a performer who loved to get up on her table and tap dance the evening away. She was also very clear in what she says about poetry: ‘The word must surprise you even in its necessity as if you were hearing it for the first time. Poetry knows how to glide into the air.’

My stone words don’t glide into the air. They merely stay where I put them, unmoving, inert. Where do the poems hide when I go looking for them? Why do I still do it?

I take to the woods across the road from our house, let the sounds of our frantic world be shrouded out by the trees, until I can no longer hear the cars whizzing by, burning up millions of years of making, the birds the only noise in the lift of sky above me. I walk differently here, the softness of the ground yielding to my step, lightness entering it until I find my own rhythm and my heart slows. All the greens become their own luminous selves, oak, ash and alder. Pennywort shows off its navel as it grows from a tree stump, mosses and ferns come into their own. And yet I know that no matter what I write it will not capture the grace of the moment. My words are impotent, are not worth pulping a tree for. I go back and sit at my computer. Try again, fail again.

When I first see the photograph on my screen, I think how beautiful the light that falls on the lushness of shrub and the way it comes through the open window. The room is almost in darkness. The colours, the shading, remind me of a painting of the old masters, Rembrandt maybe, or Goya. ‘Beauty can bite,’ says Yusef Komunyakaa. And it does. For when my brain finally registers the truth of the picture, what it sees are the rows of metal supports that were once students’ desks, their tops burned away, shrapnel pockmarks on the walls, the whole floor covered with pulverised concrete, windows not open to the air but the glass panes completely shattered, leaving nothing but skeleton frames.

Where can we find the language that will portray clearly and accurately the devastation of war and all that it brings with it?

I look for inspiration everywhere that might let me do that: the taking in of breath, to inspire, to breathe into.

And then I listen to the Ukrainian politician, Kira Rudik, being interviewed on the radio. When asked what was the thing that she missed most since the Russian invasion over six months ago, she said it was the freedom to exhale, having to hold her breath while all around, her country is being bombarded by missiles. Unspeakable crimes against men, women and children. A nuclear plant in the balancing act. A woman gathering linden blossom and brewing tea, once a herbal remedy for anxiety.

While elsewhere in the world all the other atrocities barely make our news.

Cavalli’s first publication in 1974 was: My Poems Won’t Change the World. I am drawn to the title, knowing from my privileged position that it’s a tall order to expect a sonnet, a pantoum, a villanelle to change the mind of a leader/government hell-bent on destruction and domination.

And yet there is that blessed moment when something happens. Somewhere amidst the world’s woundedness, I lift my head and something miraculous catches my attention, the morning breathing out the chill of autumn, the silver-washed fritillary that lands on the Buddleia, or a heron rise so silently from the pond that if it wasn’t for the side of my eye registering the grey glimpse, I would never have seen him draw me towards something that previously didn’t exist. While I’m focussed on that, a tiny seed of hope surfaces. Like the hazel seedlings that are forever breaking through their shell and sprouting, becoming what they are ordained to be.

And so I write.

Most days I continue to sow stones. But I hear Sappho say, ‘Become a voice,’ and I make another effort. My voice is a tiny one, but a voice, nonetheless, as I try to use language – however paltry that is – to make sense of what is happening in so many areas of our planet.

For over twelve years now, Live Encounters has given the space to writers from all over the world to become a voice. There is power in that. There is hope.


© Geraldine Mills

Geraldine Mills is the author of five collections of poetry, three of short stories and two children’s novels. She is the recipient of many awards including the Hennessy New Irish Writer Award, three Arts Council Bursaries and a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship. Her New and Selected Poetry Collection, which was awarded an Arts Council Agility Award in 2021, is forthcoming from Arlen House.

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