This week's editorial is written by Elodie Rose Barnes:
This winter, the ground has blanketed itself in snow and ice for months; perhaps trying to escape from the sky which is hard, grey, unflinching. Rare moments of sunshine are like icicles of light, as sharp as the ones that grow outside the window and eventually will become like bars. Thick. Solid. Impossible to break. Life exists, somewhere, in a world that isn’t frozen, but that place - if I haven’t dreamed it - is unreachable.
Strangely, I don’t feel the cold.
The above is not a metaphor for this winter, but my reality ten winters ago. I was living in a farm cottage in the middle of nowhere and for two winters running we were submerged in snow. Six-foot drifts. Icicles as thick as a fist. Blizzard after blizzard where you couldn't see the front gate. It wasn't particularly pleasant, but enough time has passed that I'm actually feeling nostalgic for it. I can brush aside the fear of running out of logs or food (even without the snow, the nearest loaf of bread was a half-hour drive away), and the worry that the pipes would freeze and we would be left without water. In fact, I can skim over the winter altogether. Instead what I remember, and what I miss, are the open skies, the smell of earth, and the constant noise of the wind, the rain, the sheep, the insects in summer. I was often alone, but never lonely. Most of all, I miss being able to step out of my front door and walk, sometimes for hours, without seeing another human being.
It's odd, I think, that during this time of enforced isolation I'm craving more of it, but I've given up trying to impose logic on anything. Besides, I'm using the wrong word. In this world, the world we've been thrust into without our consent, the lines between isolation and solitude are becoming increasingly thin and blurry. The words themselves are heavy with expectation. Isolation sounds awful, with all its connotations of imprisonment, of punishment, and yes, of infectious disease. This is the word we've had rammed down our throats for almost a year. We've been told to welcome isolation as a good thing, as something that will save lives, and our logical brain agrees. It still doesn't help when all of our associations around the word are bad.
Solitude, on the other hand, feels much warmer. Solitude conjures images of sunny hours spent reading, of quiet times by the sea, of time spent purposefully alone and doing nothing. In solitude, there's an element of choice without fear. It's solitude that I'm craving after months of being cooped up in the small one-bedroom flat that I share with my partner, and it's solitude I'm seeking when I walk at sunrise, every day, through the estate and up to the woods. I walk to become aware of myself in a world that increasingly demands my awareness elsewhere, and to be alone – not lonely – somewhere that is beyond the white noise. Out of these walks come lines, phrases, snatches of poetry, sometimes haiku. On a morning when the sky was wide open and everything seemed to be connected like a delicate, ice-encrusted spider's web:
both the breath
and the poem
Words begin as breath, words become poems. A poem starts as a breath not quite expelled; a glimmer of air remaining and seeding itself as a word, a vision, an image, a prayer. A poem starts in solitude – alone, but never lonely – and comes alive in togetherness, in conversation with others. There are poems in this edition of One Hand Clapping from many different people and from many different places. This is the invitation: to read each one as a shimmering drop of air, a breath, a word, and the whole as an interweaving of solitudes, coming together to make the world a little less big and a little less isolating.
Elodie Barnes is a poet, reviewer and essayist. She can be found writing in Paris, Spain or the UK (usually mixing up her languages), and is guest editor of the Life in Languages series at Lucy Writers’ Platform. Find her online at http://elodierosebarnes.weebly.com and on Twitter here: @BarnesElodie.