Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections – Will Burns

20th December 2014

Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings where Caught by the River’s ever-reliable contributors and friends old and new take a look back on the events that have shaped the past twelve months. Today it’s the turn of Will Burns.

new-Will-Burns-c-Stacey-YatesPhoto: Stacey Yates

It’s been a few years since I have written one of these. This is partly due to reticence on my part, a reluctance to look my inertia over the previous 12 months squarely in the eye. But there’s also the very real knowledge that the chances are I won’t have done anything of interest to anybody else. I don’t choose to write this now because that last point has changed – 2014 as seen through the lens of my experience is probably still only of interest to a very few people. But it felt like a hell of a year, so I wanted to book-end it somehow.

It started with a big decision. I left the place where I had worked for nearly ten years, the record shop Rough Trade. A place I loved and still do and which I feel proud to have been a part of. It’s a storied institution and it was an honour to have contributed to its recent history. Time’s time and all that, but it was a heavy feeling to leave.

And on the very day that I was due to leave the shop for the last time, as I was walking down the stairs with my bag and coat and hassling people to finish up and get to the pub, I received a phone call from Martha Sprackland, the assistant poetry editor at Faber & Faber, to tell me I had been selected as one of the four Faber New Poets for 2014.

It seems glib to describe something as life-changing, but being part of this scheme this year has genuinely had that effect. Not only have I made new friends, and had some incredible experiences while away giving readings all year, most notably on our tour in October when the pamphlets came out, but there have also been certain subtle, almost intangible changes to my feelings towards my own writing. In those first conversations with Matthew Hollis and subsequently with Martha, or with the other four poets on the scheme, I had that thrilling feeling of other people taking my work seriously. It felt like being offered the idea, as James Salter said, that I might belong, if not to the highest company, at least to the broad realm of books. It’s a small step towards something, but to know that you might be doing something right, that you’re on the right track somehow has been invaluable.

But to return to hard narrative, the year has passed like the view out of a train window – festival fields, readings, good times with good friends. To be able to meet, or get to know better, or just to listen to people like Melissa Harrison, Richard Benson and Julian Hoffman at various Caught by the River events has been a privilege, as it always is. I missed my favourite weekend of the year, Port Eliot, but Festival No.6 more than made up for it. The first year of truly great weather on what is a beautiful site and followed, the week after, by three or four new poems. Then a couple of weeks later there was Branchage Festival, which loomed large all year in our household, as my wife oversaw the whole thing for the first time. A huge undertaking, and handled with no little poise, I felt. It was a very emotional thing to see Nina on stage on the opening night, after watching her work herself into the ground all year. She should feel very proud of what she and the team made happen. It was brilliantly achieved. For my own part, the Marx talk at the festival was one of the highlights of my year, it was a huge honour to be on a panel with Rachel Holmes, Robin Blackburn and Anna Baghiani to discuss Marx’s time on Jersey and the continued relevance of his ideas today with three insightful, smart people. Again an opportunity that the Faber scheme afforded me and an experience for which I’m extremely grateful.

So the year has almost passed. The football teams are back on the marshes. The Christmas lights are hanging over Wendover High St. Next year promises much again. But my final words have to be of thanks. To Jeff and Nina, who have been so encouraging the last couple of years and so helped me write these poems which this year found themselves out in the world. Which is an idea I still can’t quite believe.

Will Burns archive.