Bye bye 2014, Hello 2015

Before it gets too late, I’m going to round off my 2014 with a few thoughts and a few Top Tens.

2014 was a big year for me and my family. Between us all, we:

  1. Had a baby (Rhys, born in January)
  2. Got a visa to move to America
  3. Got a place on the MFA in creative writing at UNH
  4. Sold our house and car
  5. Said a lot of goodbyes to UK friends, family, colleagues, and students
  6. Packed up a house
  7. Moved to America
  8. Bought a house in South Berwick, ME
  9. Started schools, namely UNH Gradschool (me) and pre-Kindgarten (daughter)
  10. Unpacked the contents of one house and tried to fit them into a new, rather differently-shaped house
  11. Made many new friends

That’s an 11-item Top Ten, which seems about right for the year it was.

We’ve been in New England for just over six months now, and I’m getting used to it being home. Going to my wife’s parents’ place for Christmas helped: when we came back to Maine and South Berwick, rather than the UK and Winchester, it solidified the sense that this place is where we now belong. I felt a little jump of recognition when I saw the snow, the trees, and the little high street, and even when I heard the cacophonous Amtrak trains crossing the Salmon Falls River, not far behind our back yard.

The same goes for starting the new semester at UNH on Tuesday. Last semester was mainly about settling in: getting to know the American academic system, getting to know the campus, and of course getting to know the people. It wasn’t always easy – I have a default tendency to look wistfully back at the past, and I missed Britain a lot at times – but there were plenty of highlights. I loved working with my tutors, especially Mekeel McBryde, who’s bonkers and lovely, and my fellow students are a great bunch of people. I saw some astonishing poems in the workshops and I learned a lot. My own writing took off in a way that surprised me: I was a little blocked at first, but once I’d had some encouragement from Mekeel, from my workshop, and from David Blair, I felt more confident and produced a lot of work that I was pleased with. I was especially happy to get back into experimental techniques like cut-up and cento, but I also focused on persona pieces and extended my interest in writing mini-sequences. I had particular fun writing about the fall foliage: in the second half of the semester virtually every poem of mine had leaves or trees in somewhere. As I went through the semester, I was so surprised and happy with the levels of my creativity that felt I was writing more good poems than ever. Having reviewed them all since I’m not so sure about that now, but I was pleased enough with four of them to send them out to The Rialto.

This semester I’m going back to something I know, which makes me feel much more settled.  But I am excited to have three new teachers: Charles Simic, whose name first drew me to the MFA at UNH; David Rivard, who’s teaching what looks like a fascinating course on Poetic Influence; and Tom Payne,  with whom I’ll be workshopping fiction.

Here are some Family Highlights of 2014, big or small:

  1. Rhys being born
  2. Imogen (that’s my daughter) enjoying school very much, which we never would have thought possible a year ago
  3. Seeing my wife happy at being back in America and meeting lots of friendly American moms
  4. Imogen learning to make lots of spectacular art, thanks to the libraries and museums of New England encouraging her over the summerimogen art
  5. Rhys dressed up in a tuxedo at Christmas and generally being cute (too many occasions to list!)rhys tux book
  6. The autumn foliage. Sorry, I mean the fall foliage…red tree
  7. Snow!snowy woods
  8. Swimming at Hamilton House
  9. Walking Imogen to school one day through the fallen leaves.
  10. Amazing frozen rain that covered individual blades of grass and fir needles their own sleeves of ice, and turned cars into ice art.

This year I hope there will be less upheaval and change! I haven’t made resolutions as such, but here are things I am looking forward to or hoping to do in 2015:

  1. Getting involved in my local writing community by running the Quiet Hour writers’ group (and also I hope some workshops) at the Sarah Orne Jewett House in South Berwick.
  2. Expanding my project (started last semester) to get UNH MFA students teaching creative writing in local schools
  3. Hopefully doing some teaching in schools myself
  4. Working with Simic and Rivard
  5. Writing a lot more poetry!
  6. Reading a lot more poetry. Actually that one is a proper resolution: I Will Read More This Semester.
  7. Writing some fiction again – not that I expect to be very good at it, but it will be interesting to do it again after a ten-year hiatus, more-or-less.
  8. Family fun in the snow, including taking tobogganing and skiing on South Berwick’s own (very small) ski hill
  9. My parents coming to visit in March
  10. Going back to visit Britain in the summer.

Enough already! I hope your 2015 has started well and gets ever better.