LUCY Holme has ended up living in a similar place to the one she couldn’t wait to leave.
Having travelled, quite literally, around the world, she sees various connections between her home town, Maidstone in Kent, and her adopted city on the banks of the Lee.
“Cork is on a river – the city is a similar size and there’s something deeply familiar about it. It’s strange that, out of all the places I’ve lived in, I’ve ended up here; it’s very comforting.”
And her journey between the two couldn’t be more interesting. For 13 years, Holme worked on luxurious yachts, serving the richest, most glamorous people on the planet.
Her Patrick Kavanagh Award shortlisted debut chapbook, Temporary Stasis, launched in Cork recently, is inspired by these experiences, working as a stewardess for the rich and famous.
But readers shouldn’t expect to deep-dive into the secret lives of shimmering politicians and film stars. Holme is not interested in divulging any such details. Rather, she’s offering a meditation on what it means to be a woman in a very male dominated world.
“The yachting industry is a place that, for a young person, can provide freedom and independence, but which can also be politically and socially problematic.
"The stories are not only my own, but the stories of many women I encountered during years working and living at sea, forging lives in often inhospitable circumstances, trying to carve careers, and make sense of an industry with such huge social and economic disparity at its centre.”
Her memories of that time are not all bad. Many aspects of the work appealed to the Cork-based poet.
“I really enjoyed my time in the job. They say it’s like a 6-star service because it’s meant to surpass anything your guests might experience on land. It requires a high level of professionalism because part of your job is about being discreet. You end up in a position of intimacy with powerful, famous people. You learn to respect that.”
When I ask her what she’s learned from knowing people who want for nothing, her response reveals somebody whose head isn’t easily turned, and whose feet are firmly planted in the ground.
“They taught me the value of hard work because for the most part, these people have worked very hard for what they have. But they also taught me that money can’t solve your problems. They still experience heartache, grief, and stress. In the big things, they’re the same.”
The poet had a kind of wanderlust as a child. She also wanted to write from a young age. Her poetry pamphlet combines these two interests, but the writing came after the adventure, a considerable time after.
“I felt when I was on the yachts, enjoying sunrises and sunsets, that I should have been writing but I was too busy experiencing it. It took me about five or six years to really process my experience.
“When my father died in 2019, I felt a compulsion to finally write something. His death really pushed me to write this pamphlet. The poems aren’t about him but he’s in all of it.”
Some poems derive from an old text she found in a second-hand shop, a book about crafts for women, written in the early 1900s: Hundreds of Things a Girl Can Make. The poet took poems and erased certain words to see what would ‘float up’ to the service.
“It is an instruction manual for domesticity, listing examples of handicraft specifically for girls,” she explains.
“I sort of reflexively started erasing parts of each chapter and then finding these ominous poems underneath. The small vignettes worked extraordinarily well alongside my seafaring poems and added to the idea I was developing about containment and escape.”
Holme has always been drawn to making, to the skill, patience, and precision such activities require. In this way, the work of a stewardess suited her.
“The crafting book depicts a very safe world with clear rules in black and white. But there is also the issue of containment and control.
“The yachting world is reminiscent of an older world. You learn how to set a table, to create underwater dining, and how to fold linen into fish. There are those same rules of crafting, doing things precisely. But there is an uncertainty about being on board as a woman that’s far more difficult to navigate.”
She avoids being specific but hints at a certain double standard, another arguably inherited tradition.
“The older text gives the pamphlet the dark centre it needed. The yachting industry has a lot of unwritten rules for women. You learn them by making a few mistakes. It’s a very constrained environment in that sense. You enter the profession as a very young girl, and you learn so much.”
Holme asked permission to use other women’s stories in her chapbook.
“When I was writing the pamphlet, I asked women I had known if they’d like to share their stories or not. Some did and some didn’t, but every story is true, told through a mix of poetry and snippets from the non-fiction book on craft.”
She is passionate about the process that went into the pamphlet, the process of erasing as well as writing.
“I’m really interested in non-fiction and the potential to be more explicit. I also like how oblique poetry can be. I am writing about my experience of being at sea, but you certainly don’t need to have a nautical background to read the poems.”
The poet hopes that a lot of people will relate to the work.
“I imagine women will connect more but I’ve been surprised by how many men also enjoy the work. My editor at Broken Sleep Books, Aaron Kent, has been enthusiastic from the start. I hope that even without a nautical background, readers might find something in the poems that speaks to them about the nature of loneliness, of growing up and not knowing any of the rules, of the roles we play, and the complicated feelings that distance and solitude can bring. All set against an overarching backdrop of an endless ocean world where borders and delineations are constantly moving.”
Holme’s poems have featured in various Irish journals as well as UK journals. Earlier this year, she was the May winner of the New Irish Writing in the Irish Independent. In April, 2021, Holme was a recipient of a Munster Literature Centre Mentoring Fellowship with the poet Grace Wells, and she has just completed her poetry thesis for an MA in Creative Writing at UCC.
“I owe a debt of gratitude to Grace, with whom I was lucky enough to work in a mentoring fellowship. She assisted me in fashioning the stories I had gathered during my 13 years working at sea into something which resembled a collection.”
She is also preparing for the launch of the inaugural issue of new Irish biannual print magazine, The Four Faced Liar, of which she is founding editor along with Patrick Holloway, Stephen Brophy and Rosie Morris. The first issue will be out this month.
Temporary Stasis is published by Broken Sleep Books. It is also available to purchase at brokensleepbooks.com, amazon.co.uk, bookdepository.com and other retailers