A childhood filled with make believe

When I was little, one of my hobbies was ‘writing’ — I sat and covered sheets of paper with looping, wavelike lines. Soon enough I was in a classroom, and being taught to write cursive letters, then words. I was read to, and learned to read. I discovered books contained worlds; I could climb into a story and so escape for hours, days, years. I walked to and from school reading a book; I read in bed, in front of the television, while eating, in the bath. To my frustration I could not read in the car. Instead my sister and I told each other stories, played make believe, sang along with the John Denver tapes my mother kept in the glove box.

One summer I taught myself to type, and began writing and making books. I loved books for what they contained, but also as objects. I filled my room with them, but there were never enough words, stories or books to satisfy me. Even when I ran out of room to shelve them. Even when the shelf over my bed gave way in the night, and the falling books shocked me awake. I was shocked awake again listening to my teacher read ‘The Listener’ by Walter de la Mare, and found the poem in an anthology, The Dragon Book of Verse, and read it aloud myself, over and again:

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,

Knocking on the moonlit door;’

And his horse in the silence champed the grasses

Of the forest’s ferny floor:

It was a gift. It taught me I like poems that have heartbeats, that canter across the page, that tell stories, that contain mystery, and music, that breath, that beg to be read aloud.

I still have a box of my handmade books, and now I have something else — a book of my own poems, that I hope contain some mystery and some music — and that have been brought more fully to life by Reena Makwana’s fabulous illustrations. These poems have been taking shape since 2014, finding their way into the world, and it has been such a pleasure these past weeks to see the process by which a clutch of poems is turned into a book. And then to hold the book in my hand, a physical object, beautifully designed and illustrated, ready to head out into the world and find its readers.

You can order a copy of Rebecca Hurst’s debut pamphlet The Fox’s Wedding here.

The featured image on this post is from the British Library collections via Flickr Commons. British Library digitised image from page 7 of ‘Epping Forest’ by Edward North Buxton.

Rebecca Hurst is a writer, opera-maker and illustrator. She was born in East Sussex and now lives in Greater Manchester. Rebecca’s poetry has appeared in various international magazines, including The Rialto, PN Review, Agenda, Aesthetica, The Clearing, and Magma Poetry. In 2021 a selection of her poems were published in the Carcanet anthology New Poetries VIII. Rebecca has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester and was artist in residence at the John Ryland’s Library from autumn 2019 to spring 2020. She is co-founder of the Voicings Collective.

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