It took 7 years to make Keeping Bees. And a broken heart. And some guts. A lot of guts.
I won’t go back to the beginning – to the broken heart, except to say that without it, I would be a very different writer, if I had carried on writing at all. No – I’ll start here, with this: Madrid is a woman. In every way that matters – in every way that counts.
In 2009, I went to Spain to attend a friend’s wedding. She is one of my soul mates. We met in Edinburgh when I was 26 and she was 24, and it is one of the greatest relationships of my life – this friendship. And her wedding, one of the most beautiful I’ve ever been to. It was my second time in Spain, and I decided that I would use her wedding as an opportunity to spend more time there, to eat, and drink, and write in Madrid. I rented a small apartment in Barrio de las letras, and for the next five weeks I lived as romantic and as free as I could have ever wanted, as I had ever allowed myself to be – as a writer.
I don’t speak Spanish – but I used my hands and I pointed and made the shapes of things, to communicate. Over time, my face opened up – I smiled more, relied on that to say things, to relay a kindness, an understanding. I ate gorgeous things, and I spent time in the Prado and the Reina Sofia, and it was something beyond words, to be in the same room as Picasso’s Guernica, or to look at all the small etchings of Goya’s Disasters of War. I was moved, and I allowed myself to be moved. It was everywhere – and it suited me.
One of my favourite things was Sunday mornings in Madrid. I loved seeing all the women dressed for church – how put together they all looked. And no matter the age, always something red. From the shoes to the lips, they were never without it. They were vibrant. I loved the sensuality – the sense of womanhood – each one conveyed. How, no matter the age, the sensual and the feminine throbbed – and because of it the city throbbed too. This is when it hit me: Madrid was a woman.
One night, on my way back from a visit to the Reina Sofia to see Guernica, I met a Spanish poet. Looking back on it, it was a very significant encounter – likely responsible for the fact that I find myself here, in Dublin, with a poetry collection. Over the course of my stay in Madrid, we met – for coffee, sangria, tapas – and we talked about writing, and art, and duende. If there is a more perfect word I do not know it. Look up Lorca’s essay on the topic – it is absolute magic.
I told him I wanted to be a writer. To that, he turned quite serious and said I had to commit myself. At least 5 hours a day. Looking back on it, he was telling me to stop ‘wanting to be a writer’ and just write. For me, those 5 hours (or however long you devote to the craft on a daily basis) translate into commitment, consistency, and focus.
Commitment. Consistency. Focus. That is what it has taken to make Keeping Bees.
I committed a year, over two years ago, to writing. This is why I came to Dublin. This is why I have stayed. I set myself up at the kitchen table – and I wrote. And when I wasn’t writing, I was editing the things I had written. And when I wasn’t doing that I was submitting to journals. And sometimes I got published. Most of the time not. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was reading. Taking things in. Learning. And then, with all of that, I went back to my kitchen table I did it all over again.
Consistency. Writing is a craft – every part of it. The writing of new things, the editing of older things – every inch of that is part of the craft of writing. The only way to get better at it, is to be consistent. And you have to push yourself. You cannot get better for writing nothing – or think the best thing you ever wrote was last year or the year before that.
The best thing you ever wrote is ahead of you. Always ahead. It takes focus to see that. And I was (am) focussed.
I submitted my initial manuscript to Doire Press in the summer of 2013. Between then and now, it has changed shape a number of times. The initial manuscript was 55 poems. The final collection is 43. The best piece of advice I got while pulling the collection together was to see it as an exhibition of my best work. That in order for that to be true I had to be ruthless and cut away poems – even if I thought they were good. Preciousness has no place in making a collection. I had to look at the work and see my weaknesses – know what I could and could not fix. Beyond the initial spark of the creative, the best tools at a writer’s disposal are their ability to know themselves and what they are (and are not) capable of. And editing. I cannot stress how important it is to edit. I have spent the last 7 months, of the last 7 years coming to terms with my weaknesses, editing them out in order to put together the strongest collection I am capable of, a collection reflective of my skill at this stage in my writing career.
The collection is full of poems about love and the body. I am a visceral being, in every way. And so it is that the poems in the collection are visceral too. In some ways, I look back at my time in Madrid and it is true to say that this collection owes much to the woman that I felt myself to be when I was there. And I saw myself as vibrant as Madrid on a Sunday morning – never without its bit of red.
Madrid is (still) a woman. I remember saying that to the poet one night, when we were drinking sangria. I told him I thought Madrid was a woman. His response? Well, if you really want to know that, you’ll have to buy the book.
(c) Dimitra Xidous