The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Thursday, 31 March 2011
One of the things we'll be looking at is the way words connect us to each other. John O'Donohue says: 'Words create the bridges between us. Without them we would be lost islands. Affection, recognition and understanding travel across these fragile bridges and enable us to discover each other and awaken friendship and intimacy. Words are never just words. The range and depth of a person’s soul is inevitably revealed in the quality of the words she uses. When chosen with reverence and care, words not only describe what they say but also suggest what can never be said.'
It's been hard, the last week or two, as I've said before, to know how to pick up threads when (admittedly as always) such big things are happening in the international community, and set against these one individual life and its reflections on itself and what passes for its thought processes seem freighted with insignificance at best, self-indulgence at worst. But. And/but of course there is a collective aspect to any suffering, on a psychic level – we are not separate organisms operating in a social vacuum; we are part of an ecosystem that operates at physical and subtle levels simultaneously, and as I mentioned before in relation to Indra's Net anything that happens to any one of us happens to us all; in a real way we are 'one another'. I guess the knack is holding that awareness in the forefront of our minds, and trying to step lightly.
If you read the 'blue boat' you will know that I'm in the Scottish Highlands, having travelled the exquisite West Coast shoreline and up through the glens with their lochs and lochans shades of pewter, reflected lilacs, ochres, rust, and the presences of mountains and islands. The places I had remembered from a life-changing journey here so many years ago when my life needed to take a different direction, and that I wanted to revisit: Eileann Donan castle (I know it's touristy but oh! - the quality of light! - And having remembered to recharge my camera it told me immediately that my memory card was full; and no I didn't have another. Will see if there's something clever we can do, with the help of my nephew, to download/upload from my daughter's camera via bluetooth); Shieldaig, Lochcarron, Plockton, and all those little lost bays and days between.
And here we've alighted for a couple of days on the shoreline of Gruinard Bay, in my sister's little house. From the garden there are more islands and mountain peaks than are countable; maybe one car an hour goes past, max, and the two perpetual sounds are the burn to one side and the waves, below. Yesterday we walked the dog at Mellon Udrigle – isn't that a great name? – near the little ruined Sand Chapel, built on the ruins of, reputedly, a chapel from the very early days of Celtic Christinity, ca. C6th, and that, of course, built on an earlier possibly Pictish and pre-Pictish pagan site. In the tiny graveyard there are vestiges of a double-ringed ditch enclosure. I spent a long time teasing out the etymology of the name from my knowledge of Brythonic Celtic tongues and my very scanty understanding of Scots and Irish Gaelic (family interest but also from my uni days reading Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic): was determined to find a way to make Maellan U Drigle mean 'hill/tump of the druids', but I think that was simply wishfulness. Anyway, we had a great walk.
The last five years have been a big time for my family. One of the changes is that my sister, R, decided that having hung on doing the 'right thing' with an outgrown lifestyle with its salaried job that caged her for the sake of the two adored sons, threw it all in once the second son left for university, and started the long walk, carrying everything she needed on her back, from Portland in Dorset to Cape Wrath in the far north of Scotland. It was hard. But the highland landscape infected her terminally to the extent that she has, for the moment, settled up here in one of the last of the few remaining wildernesses in Britain. She has very little materially (that's never been an emphasis for our family), but she's saved her soul.
And now, she and I at opposite ends of her kitchen table typing in disjunct rhythm, there is an incongruity in the writing about rather than the experiencing of. And there can be too many words. A new collection by Charles Wright offers this:
'Poems have too many words,
and not enough silence
Where words might have been.
Everyone knows what silence says, and says so eloquently.
But what do words say, what do they mean?
Not much just noise not much.'
I think of another little poem by a close friend which is full of silence; the silence that is full of the everything of the natural world. So, borrowing from him, I am going to close down this machine; and go out into the everything of everything...
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
under its keel along the way to here
where I pull up and stand in dreichy mist drifting in
– Roselle Angwin
Saturday, 26 March 2011
OK, Libya. Qaddafi is using state television to incite violence; change.org has posted the following: 'In 1994, Hutu state radio played a massive role in the Rwandan genocide, inciting violence and giving directions on how and where to kill Tutsis. Right now in Libya, Gaddafi is using state television much the same way. As a weapon. On his three state-run stations, supporters are urged to hunt the opposition “alley by alley, house by house, room by room.” It's been reported that state programming is used to send coded instructions to loyalists and hired mercenaries.' change.org which, like avaaz.org, has seen a number of victories due directly to its online campaigning, has a petition circulating to close down Libyan state television: http://www.change.org/petitions/shut-down-gaddafi-state-tv#?opt_new=t&opt_fb=f
As for our involvement, it's hard to know what is 'just' (in the sense of 'justified') intervention. The New Statesman this week spoke of the 'Responsibility to Protect', formulated by the International Convention on Intervention and State Sovereignty in 2001, after the Balkan and Rwandan genocides. The principle behind this is sound: 'Every country has the responsibility to protect its own citizens from mass killings and other ethnic cleansing. If a country is unwilling or unable to do so, the international community has a responsibility to launch military intervention.' (Gareth Evans, co-chair; quoted by Mehdi Hasan.) Well, OK, with some pacifist reservations.
The difficulty, as I see it, lies in two things: one, the international interventionists' motivation; and two, the interpretation of the six criteria laid out in the commission's case for intervention:
Surely there are two at least, and three probably, of those clauses that are not met?
Right intention: why is it that, of the many dictatorships worldwide, and the serious crimes against humanity being committed in eg Yemen, Gaza, Bahrain, Cote d'Ivoire, Sudan, it has been Libya that we've chosen? Am I being unduly cynical (after Iraq) in thinking that Libya has oil; unlike say Israel and possibly Iran Libya does not have a nuclear capacity with which to defend itself; and Libya is headed by a dictator who is not 'a friendly dictator' in terms of his usefulness to the West? Yemen and Cote d'Ivoire, with their own grave humanitarian crises, have been fruitlessly pleading with the international community for help. Gaza could have done with a no-fly zone for the last 40 years. What is our intention, genuinely?
Proportional means: in the first day of 'our' intervention, 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched by the intervening forces. Each one costs, according to the NS – get this – £800,000. Yes, that's right. Maths is not my strong point, but that's one hell of a lot of money: £89,600,000, my calculator says.
And you look at the humanitarian crisis in Japan:
'“Words don't describe it,” he said. “It's total and absolute carnage.”
Friday, 25 March 2011
Thursday, 24 March 2011
Green soup: watercress, wild garlic, a couple of our leeks from the garden and a handful of green lentils. That and home-made bread, outside in thin sun and a tricksy easterly wind.
And talking of green things: I'm not sure how it happened, exactly, but The Man and I are both standing for the Greens at the local (rural) district council elections. This was on the assurance initially that we would simply be a name for people of a green persuasion to put a cross by on the ballot, with little chance of being elected, and no work or canvassing involved. (My position, because of the ward I'm standing for, is a little less clear, and I stand a slim chance of being elected.) Although we're both committed to Things Green, we're neither of us Party people, really, and local or party politics have not engaged us so much as current affairs and wider political issues (although I'm also well aware of the importance of 'acting locally').
My father, Celtic anarchist that he is (Celts – sweeping generalisation – rate the clan, pull together when necessary, but on the whole prefer to walk their own path), was a little disgusted, in a polite sort of way (that's new!), when I mentioned it. He thinks of local councillors as do-gooders and busy-bodies, and hadn't seen me as a Pillar of the Local Community (neither had I). 'I count on you to carry on being an iconoclast, girl', he said once, not long ago. But there it is. And I suppose in politics the Green position is almost iconoclastic. And more importantly I guess it's about walking one's talk in the wider world as well as at home.
What The Man doesn't yet know, but I do since this morning, is that we each need to collect ten nominees in the area for which we're standing. Luckily for me, since I'm still not well and am due away in a few days, our Green parliamentary candidate is going to collect mine. The Man, who is both private and introverted, will not take kindly to knocking on doors. But maybe the attractive and persuasive L will convince him; he respects her. Glad she's telling him, though, not me.
My Ground of Being workshop at Merrivale last Sunday is still humming in my bloodstream. As an excuse to not do what I ought to be doing (preparing the retreat programme for when I go away), I'm going to type in some little atoms of poems from the day (I don't normally manage to write much myself when facilitating a workshop).
atoms of song spell skylark
inside me a note starts to rise
high enough to join it
when your song stops, lark
the note will keep coming
out of my pen
these stone sentences remind me
where I've come from
give me an alphabet
to shape time
the texture of things –
inside and outside
not a day to be tamed –
away on the hill a dog
speaks for all wolves
sun on my back
feet on the good earth –
calling everywhere home
– Roselle Angwin
If like me you are still concerned about how best to approach this, I do recommend reading this through (there’s a link to an alternative, and much simpler, version on this same page of the site, and it may make the whole thing easier to face doing! – see 'alternative letter' in the bar above the longer main one on this site):
If anyone has the legal nous (sp???) to comment on this it would be very useful.
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Later still: a Buddhist contact sent me a link to the job description for the census processing facility. Looks like an hourly rate after all; although it's not clear exactly whether that applies to those who will be entering manually the info provided by those of us who are following the guidelines in the peacenews link above.
I'd still appreciate any further info, especially if you have links; if you refresh this page the Comments box should appear; if not, try commenting on my original 'up in arms' post... More when I know more.
Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Had I managed to get out of our icebound drive to make Merrivale at the winter solstice with the group of writers who join me, last Sunday would have completed the wheel of the year. I began last midsummer solstice, the longest day, with the intention of meeting with whoever wanted to join me on the equinoxes and solstices to celebrate the changing stations of the turning year with silence, writing and very slow walking. We start in the little walled and treed car park, once a school house here in the middle of the moor, near the ancient megalithic avenue of Merrivale with its twin rows of paired stones, and travel via the stone circle and menhir (Brythonic Celtic word meaning 'stone tall', or longstone; standing stone, in other words) to, eventually, the drovers' track, or 'driftway', into the wooded depths of mossy rocks and little bearded oaks, landing eventually in a space I think of as the Sacred Grove.
It's a profoundly peaceful and meditative time, and yes it gives me such joy to see people so immersed in their experience of relationship with the land, and writing the land. The immersion and writing process seems to start the minute we exit the cars into this beautiful small upland wilderness with its 360 degree views. It can be hard even to get participants beyond the little grassy enclosure adjoining the car park, or if I manage that, beyond the stream just the other side of the wall! When I pulled up in the parking area, where normally there might be one other car, if that, last Sunday there were a number of minibuses (students practising for the gruelling Ten Tors trek in May), and it was jammed with cars. The middle-aged man next to me said 'Are you walking, too?' 'Sort of,' I replied. 'I'm leading a poetry day.' 'How far do you go?' 'Oh, maybe 3 miles?' 'How long does that take you, then? An hour?' 'I guess we'll be back around 4-ish,' I said. 'SIX HOURS to walk three miles?' 'It'll take me an hour to get them as far as the stone rows,' I said. 'That's five minutes' walk!' he responded. I know. And it did. And everyone wrote. And wrote.
Merrivale is likely to be both ancient ceremonial site and stone astronomical calendar (see 'Merrivale and the moor's white winter grasses' in my December posts). The double rows can be shown to be aligned to certain landmarks that point up the most southerly and the most northerly points of the setting sun's journey in the west. This in turn would allow our ancestors to calculate equinoxes and solstices, and therefore too sowing and planting times.
The equinox, occurring midway between the longest day and the longest night, is a point of balance, or creative tension, where night and day are, of course, of equal length. It's useful to allow these macrocosmic events to shed light, symbolically, on the microcosmic human turning points, so for me the equinox is a fruitful time for looking at how I relate to or hold together (or don't) the many pairs of opposites in my life, from working/playing doing/being active/receptive to letting go that which is outworn in order to make space for that which is new to balancing time alone with time with others. Or time talking with time listening. And so on. It's also for me a kind of caesura; a pause, a heartbeat, time to take breath in the turning year.
And to do this with the other wonderful people who join me on this day, and to do this as my work – mmm. Bliss. Even though I'm still not better and could barely make it back up to the car!
I leave you with a little poem of mine from the day:
The light has come
such a long way
to fall into your eyes
– Roselle Angwin
Monday, 21 March 2011
Why am I so surprised at the news? Maybe because it stinks of the Iraq situation. Maybe because we in our wisdom have decided to force regime change – again. Maybe because the French were so outspokenly against going to war on Iraq, and de Villepin made some impassioned and convincing presentations to the Council.
Anyone else smell oil and the odour of power mixed up with blood in all this?
And you may also be aware that the contract for the UK census which, administered as it is by a US firm, raises questions about data security, is under the control of Lockheed Martin. Chris Browne in the Guardian on Friday wrote:
'Lockheed Martin is best known for its production of cluster munitions, F-16 jets and Trident Missiles. It is one of three contractors that run the nuclear weapons facility at Aldermaston, and has been a beneficiary of both the US's bloated military industrial complex, and the "war on terror" for the past 10 years.
'It has sold arms to the repressive Saudi and Bahraini regimes, but perhaps most controversial was its provision of private contract interrogators to Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib – the site of the infamous prisoner abuse scandal.'
Well, you can fill in the forms. We are between a rock and a hard place here – the census is used to make valuable, crucial even, decisions about the needs of the population, and public spending. But to have that overseen by an arms manufacturer ... hmmm. I don't think so.
The size of our defence budget: how is it that we live in world where tens or hundreds of thousands of people are starving or freezing to death in Japan (and elsewhere, of course), not to mention the scale of the rebuilding of infrastructure needed, and we still think it necessary to spend billions on maintaining our weaponry, and a whole lot more on developing more...
Friday, 18 March 2011
At the risk of this seeming fragmented – which is pretty much how I feel at the moment! – I want to try and plait up some loose ends here. And also pay attention to my present moment:
Every day the courtyard is filled with wings. The birds are coming in in flocks, but pairs within those flocks now. The nuthatch has brought a mate. The woodpeckers arrive in a twosome. The single shy greenfinch now comes a deux. I notice that though the males are fiercely territorial, the females get to feed first and determine who else (ie no-one) joins them on the feeder! I guess they're gearing up for breeding and brooding.
'You're creating a cargo cult,' says The Man. 'As in the Pacific Islands, where trading vessels arrived to empty abundance onto the shoreline, and the islanders had no context; saw it as an almost mystical manna-from-heaven experience. What'll happen when you go off to the Hebrides in 10 days time if I forget to fill the feeders? They'll forget how to forage...'
I remind him that the RSPB (I think it was) says that householders (actually it said housewives but we shall not dwell on that) are responsible for keeping alive tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of birds in the UK each winter.
Then I try to think of a pithier wittier reply along the lines of being a minor deity to birds as well as to dog (see 'inner city Totnes and the Shamen' post; January I think) as opposed to worshipping a cat, but a) can't get braincell to work sufficiently and b) it wouldn't be kind, true (he doesn't actually elevate the cat to godheaddom, quite) or fair (and probably not very funny either), and c) am trying very hard not to fall into this whole polarising thing we all do: self/other, right/wrong, good/bad, rich/poor, urban/rural, nation/nation, sacred/secular, man/woman, doglover/catlover... OK I shan't start. Another day. But:
see how the world
along these faultlines
we falsely draw
And that leads me on to mindfulness. (Sort of; in that it's connected with the non-dual thinking that characterises Zen.) One or two of you have asked about it. I'll say more another time, but if you are interested, in brief a good description is Jon Kabat-Zinn's: 'Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally'. Living in this way frees us up to participate more fully in our own lives, as we're not losing the only time we have – this moment – in fears and hopes for the future, or longings and regrets in relation to the past. It also means we try not to bring habitual ways of perceiving and reacting to each experience, instead receiving it freshly. And of course it's a way of healing some of the fragmentation so many of us feel in our hectic C21st lifestyles.
This, you will realise, is all good theory – and after all the years between my teenage self first enquiring into Zen and the present day still I lose myself all the time. But hey how good it feels when I remember! And it's simple – peeling this orange, washing up, writing this blog, walking, listening to this friend, sitting by the fire with my partner – all done with full attention and as few preconceptions as possible makes such a difference to the quality of that experience.
And I think I posted before something on the 'two arrows' teachings from Buddhism? The first arrow is what happens, and there's little if anything at all I can do about that. But the pain of the second arrow is avertable: is entirely a result of how I experience each experience – and therefore how I relate to and experience the world, moment by moment. How I react entirely conditions that experience, and subsequent experiences too. This I do have some control over. (Yes, OK, the theory's easy!)
And that brings me onto a definition of qualia - and that too will wait.
These are the days
The poem I posted the other day, since two of you have asked: no, I don't understand it entirely, either. Well, I do, but I can't really offer a context, except current affairs. Nor do I know who it's about. It came complete from a dream!
And so, my friends, back to bed for me; rain at the window; birds in the little weeping willow outside, just waiting for that trading vessel to sail by...
Thursday, 17 March 2011
R posts: 'Internet time about to run out, but this is critical. From E at the frontline of the disaster in Japan... writing in haste and with passion. Whatever you might do to help, please do it, and urge those around you to do the same':
currently in fukushima city there are 1200 spaces in shelter. there are 6000 refugees. they have nothing to heat it with. it's minus 2 and snowing.
minami sanruku, endai, there are 500 spaces in shelter,6000 need shelter, it's minus 3
in ofutama, iwate there are 350 spaces in shelters and 40,000 need shelter. it's minus 5.
buses are shipping more people from evacuated areas to places like .....fukushima city. fukushima city is about 80km of the nasty reactor...
people have run out of gasoline and fuel for heating and cooking.
children are getting sick, chest infections are spreading, some women with babies have stopped lactating.
all this is direct from the ER response teams, not the mainstream press.
yes, there is a possible impending nuclear issue.
but the very real and happening refugee issue needs to be addressed as well.
i'm not harping for donations and bleeding hearts at all, but while the world watches the reactor there's several other impending issues not being reported it seems.
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
– Mary Gillett
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
when she can believe you might stir, open your eyes,
The phrase 'the light at the edge of the wasteland' is borrowed from Mandy's review of my book on amazon. Thank you, Mandy, for both!
Monday, 14 March 2011
Sunday, 13 March 2011
Saturday, 12 March 2011
And how does one retain perspective in relation to the numerous natural and human-made disasters that seem to have accrued around the run-up to and the turning of the millennium? Sometimes they seem insurmountable and endless.
We can, perhaps, avert some of them by paying attention to those we can do something about, at least in the shorter term.
My daughter has just posted on her facebook site the following:
'Richard Black (Environment correspondent, BBC News) writes at lunchtime today:
'"To keep things in perspective, no nuclear accident has caused anything approaching the 1,000 fatalities stemming from Friday's earthquake and tsunami."
'Er, perspective, Richard? Read Chernobyl Children's Project International's report, for a start:
'In the early morning hours of 26 April 1986, a testing error caused an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine. During a radioactive fire that burned for 10 days, 190 tons of toxic materials were expelled into the atmosphere. The wind blew 70% of the radioactive material into the neighboring country of Belarus. Almost 20 years later, the people of Belarus continue to suffer medically, economically, environmentally and socially from the effects of the disaster. These are the facts:
• The Chernobyl power plant is located on the border area between Ukraine and Belarus.
• The explosion of the reactor at Chernobyl released 100 times more radiation than the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (1)
• At the time of the accident, about 7 million people lived in contaminated territories, including 3 million children
• About 5.5 million people – including more than a million children – continue to live in contaminated zones. (2)
'1) Acute Exposure is a high dose of radiation over a short period of time. Approximately 134 power station workers were exposed to extremely high doses of radiation directly after the accident. About 31 of these people died within 3 months. Another 25,000 “liquidators” – the soldiers and firefighters who were involved in clean up operations – have died since the disaster of diseases such as lung cancer, leukemia, and cardiovascular disease.
'2) Long Term Exposure refers to various lower doses of radiation that result in tumors, genetic mutations, and damage to the immune system. In the case of Chernobyl, millions of people will continue to be exposed to such doses of radiation for decades to come.
'Read more (if you wish/need to) at: www.chernobyl-international.org/documents/chernobylfacts2.pdf
'Nuclear scientists in this country are already comparing today's explosion at Fukushima to Chernobyl. Speculative so far, but let's not relax too much...
'Positive solutions: www.greenenergy.co.uk'
Current news Sunday morning English time reveals the scale of the disaster. The personal stories emerging via friends on email are sobering, harrowing. And meantime a second reactor at Fukushima is understood to be at risk: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/12/japan-ministers-ignored-warnings-nuclear
My friend and fellow poet Dr Mario Petrucci, who is also a physicist and environmentalist, wrote a few years ago a profoundly moving book of poems based on the true stories of those who were at Chernobyl: Heavy Water. There is also a DVD of the same title. If you can stomach it, I'd recommend both. (Incidentally his new book i tulips has just had an excellent review in 'Poetry London'.)
Friday, 11 March 2011
Bly has been a favourite of mine for a long time. I come back to him over and over (currently reading his book of collected short essays on reading and writing poetry: Talking All Morning). Here's someone who knows how to keep heart and soul alive.
I haven't read his 2009 collection Turkish Pears in August, but while looking for something else I came across this little poem from it online. It makes me smile.
Orion The Great Walker
Orion, that old hunter, floats among the stars
Firmly... the farms beneath his feet. How long
It takes for me to walk in grief like him.
Seventy years old, and still placing my feet
So hopefully each night on the ground.
How long it takes for me to agree to sorrow.
But that great walker follows his dogs,
Hunting all night among the disappearing stars.
– Robert Bly
Thursday, 10 March 2011
The goldfish bowl
I'm about to confess two things to you: one is my goldfish memory ('that's a nice castle', 'that's a nice castle', 'that's a nice castle'). The other is that I am – shush, just whisper – a Page-Corner-Turner-Downer. There. It's out. (Well, why waste rainforests each week with Post-Its?) And to reassure all you lovely people out there – and I know of two of you at least – who are librarians, or who lend out books: I don't ever do that with books other than my own. Promise. Ever.
But oh the joy of knowing that tucked into my plethora of bookcases is a forest of ideas, or extracts from ideas, from others, that I can revisit whenever I need that little shot mainlined into my system.
And so? Yes? Why, you might ask, am I mentioning this? Because my inner goldfish had forgotten the many many wonderful quotes in Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist that I mentioned in this blog no more than three months ago (probably fewer) ('and so to books', maybe). But the page corners have reminded me after a friend Mandy, writer and writing tutor, reminded me of some of his words earlier this week.
In a minute I want to slip you a little sample. Sniff deeply, or inhale, or swallow neat, or lie down and inject – whichever.
High-voltage jolts to the heart
Before that, though, I want to raise that resonant little question: what is poetry for? Oh ho, four such simple little words. Over the months I might come at this obliquely (which is often the best way to approach the writing or reading of a poem too), but for now a few words before I hand the page to NB (metaphorically speaking):
I say, in my brochure for my poetry correspondence course: 'A poem in its way is a small self-contained unit of mystery that, as we approach, might just give us a high-voltage jolt to the heart. A poem can enlarge our experience; if it reveals something to us we are nourished by it, even if we don’t entirely understand it, even if the subject matter of the poem is strange, or sad, or difficult.'
‘...this deeply instinctual yet self-conscious expressive language, this regenerative process, could help you save your life... Art is our human birthright, our most powerful means of access to our own and another's experience and imaginative life.’ (Adrienne Rich)
‘It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.’
(William Carlos Williams; and he should know, he was a GP)
‘Poetry is that
which arrives at the intellect
by way of the heart.’
R S Thomas
So poetry speaks a priori direct to the heart. I'm sure I've said this before, but I know I've read a good poem when head, heart and gut all chime together in response. This isn't the same with prose, for me; but it is akin to my (yet different) response to music – music however will not require that I employ my intellect too, on the whole.
Like story, poetry is, we could say (echoing obliquely Keats), to do with soul-making. However you read that word, there is something it brings that is connected with wholeness.
Philip Pullman in last Saturday's Guardian Review, in response to an interview question by a 13-year-old boy ('Why do you think it's so important that young people read?') puts reading in the same category as breathing, eating, drinking, sleeping, running about, fooling around and having people who love and look after them. He says: 'It's part of what makes us fully human... [If I had] to get through life without reading an enormous part of my mind, or my soul if you like, would be missing. No one should be without the chance to let their soul grow.'
Nicholson Baker's white plastic chair
Where was I? Wasn't there a neat little castle somewhere I was wanting to take a look at? Ah yes, Nicholson Baker.
Many people (this is me, not NB) come to poetry at a time of great change in their life; often as a result of a loss. Poetry, the reading and writing of, both, is cathartic. (This is not by any means the only reason to go to poetry, and I'm not suggesting that poetry is or ever should be a kind of emotional sick-bag. What I am suggesting though is that there are few places to go when you're grieving, but this place, this poetry-place, can offer refuge.)
NB says: '[Y]ou have to be willing to be sad. If you go to the doctor saying that you've experienced some sleeplessness, perhaps some sitting in the sandy driveway late at night in a white plastic chair, accompanied by thoughts of mortality and aloneness – maybe some strong suspicions that none of the poetry you've published is any good – the doctor is probably going to say, Ah, you're depressed... [and] give you some pills... Isn't crying a good thing?... Why would we want to give pills to people so that they don't weep?... Poetry is a controlled refinement of weeping... And if that's true, do we want to give drugs so that people won't weep? No, because if we do, poetry will die.'
NB makes an argument for poetry with its rhymes and rhythms being a powerful form of self-medication, a tightrope over a personal canyon of despair. It's an addiction, he says (he uses the notion of rhyme here but I think we could widen it out to the whole thing of tracking down just the right word for just the right space), like chain-smoking – lighting the next line from the embers of the last. 'You set up a call and you want a response.'
It's like a crossword puzzle, he continues, but better, because you're creating (or co-creating if you're reading a poem) something beautiful. 'The addicts of crossword puzzles are also distracting themselves... [from facing] the world's grief head-on... But has anyone ever wept at the beauty of a crossword puzzle?' It's all about suspense, he says. That's why 'poets who have reached a certain point of depression are great letter writers, because they write a letter, and they send it out, and until they get a response they are in suspense about what the response will be. That helps them get through three days... or a week or a month... I never answer letters, so I keep my correspondents in a state of permanent suspense.'
On why not to be a poet
He also lists all the poets who are or were also depressives, or suicides. Rather a lot of them.
'God I wish I was a canoe,' he says. 'Either that or some kind of tree tumor that could be made into a zebra bowl but isn't because I'm still on the tree.'
Wednesday, 9 March 2011
What to say about Julie-Ann? She is a sip of cool moorland water. She is enigmatic. She has many faces, all subtle. I love her work, and I admire the range of her focus, whether that's a British landscape, a Hindu god, a displaced person or a New York vignette.
Convergence, her pamphlet, won a Poetry Book Society Award. Her first full collection, Letters North, was published in 2008 by Brodie Press.
An Struibh Broín
I dip my hand into the water
the tickle of the undercurrent
It’s said if you drink from this river
A cure-all for the heart is a common thing,
any power of belief as men set sail
their eyes like the pale river,
a face in mind, imprinted like a birthmark,
but not this. They will pull on their ropes
– Julie-Ann Rowell
Tuesday, 8 March 2011
Yesterday in spring sun I drove once again up onto the high moor through Buckland-in-the-Moor. It was that 'intertidal zone' time: not quite dimpsey but starting towards the evening stillness. The upland hills seem to stretch and elongate at this time of day, as features are absorbed back into the landscape.
I was making for the perfect little ancient hamlet of Bonehill, near Widecombe; or rather for the little group of tors just above Bonehill: Chinkwell, Honeybag, Bell Tor. Sometimes, depending partly on the weather and the clarity of the light, you can see the sea from here. As I climbed the sky seemed to become more translucent, more lemony-rose, and the crescent moon emerged; auspicious, I thought, the symbolism of the new moon for my daughter's birthday. And there she was, waiting for me for a walk and supper at the pub in the valley below, silhouetted on Honeybag Tor, where she'd been hunkered down in sun and moss in the lee of the wind for an hour or two, just being quiet.
Adding to environmental pollution were the swailing activities on Dartmoor today and yesterday, with belts of flame and smoke on various moorland shoulders. There's some controversy about this. Swailing is a burning-off of old heather, gorse and bracken in a controlled way; it stimulates new growth, and is usually undertaken by 'commoners' who have grazing rights on the moor for sheep, cattle and ponies. It's true that swailing and grazing both keep gorse and bracken from taking over, but there is an argument that, if left to itself and ungrazed, eventually woodland would regenerate here on the moor to replicate the old forest that was once Dartmoor.
The Western Morning News seems to think that swailing is 'to the delight of ground-nesting birds'. What, removing their cover? And what of those that had already started nesting/laying? I can't help being mindful of the tens of thousands of small lives extinguished in the burning: voles, shrews, mice, rabbits, lizards, snakes, slow-worms...
My daughter and I have spent all our lives alongside horses, handling them in a way that is as kind, collaborative and close to the natural as possible, given that we have domesticated them. We espouse the view that horse and human need to work as a team with any kind of coercion entirely absent from the relationship, and my daughter is using a way of training her young stallion that attempts to mirror horse-body-language.
We're both aware that we are strong-willed, idealistic and probably quite demanding people (I'm talking now of our human relationships). She smiled as she told me of something she'd been reading earlier, knowing that I would pick up on and extrapolate from it.These are the principles of this school of thought on natural horsepersonship:
1 Ask clearly and directly for what you want
2 Acknowledge a try, no matter how small
3 'Reward' that try by relieving any pressure
4 Let that be enough for the time being, each time...
Hmmm. Good guidelines.
which must seem far from paradise at the moment. It's a strange thing, isn't it, recognising the wonderful things about being alive when it is also so full of suffering (which might be why it's important too to remember the positives).
I don't know if you are aware quite what huge successes the online petition campaigns have achieved in fighting for justice and change? avaaz.org particularly has been seen to be effective in mobilising world opinion to fight oppressive regimes etc. They're asking at the moment that we join forces to call for a no-fly zone to stop Qaddafi's airstrikes on the civilian population: 'The Libyan opposition has called on the international community to help "protect the Libyan people from the crimes against humanity being committed on them". The UK Foreign Secretary says "there are credible reports of the use of helicopter gunships against civilians by government forces."' If you haven't signed the petition but are happy to do so, this is the address:
This is to ask the UN Security Council to impose the ban; the petition needs to be delivered within the next 48 hours.
I had some thoughts. Another day!
Sunday, 6 March 2011
I have just gone into labour and am in hospital. The noise, the machines, the bright lights are shocking. I wanted candles, classical music, a home birth; but home births, and certainly water births, are disallowed, at least out in the sticks, by The System for a first child, in England at this time. I have tried very hard to stay out of the system, but its machinery grinds a bit inexorably. And I suppose I am grateful - yes, I am - for the NHS (as it was then, before all the squeezes).
We live in a hamlet near the coast. I'm very fit; until recently I have continued cycling and, in the early part of my pregnancy, surfing and riding, too. Yesterday, we were walking and scrambling over the rocks at Putsborough, by the sea.
Now, there's a blizzard. (Trust my daughter to come in a snowstorm!) Over the next 24 hours my husband, an Italian whom I met in the Pyrenees, will alternate between tending me, crawling under our ancient van in the hospital car park to try to fix the water pump, and engaging in displacement activities such as searching for an ice cream (in the bitter cold?).
Twenty-five hours later (I'll spare you the grim details), our daughter, Eloise, is born. She is still the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Fast forward 32 years. If you're interested, you could visit her MySpace page (she tells me it doesn't always load properly): http://www.re-invent.co.uk. That's her in the main photo. My God. I can't believe how old she is.
For her, as for me too, the last few years have brought at times a burden of traumas. This little prose poem below marked her coming through from a big one.
You slid down the salt air in a slipstream of unpredicted autumn sun, circling the islands three times like a swan to drop where the sea thins to green glass, and the white sand shines; and you stood cuspal, ankle-deep in the intertidal zone, in the waters, like an early saint blessing the creatures you stood here where you needed to be, broken open under the huge sky with its bowl of birds and stars, harvesting flowers to bring back to me against the world’s woundedness, right out there on the edge, sketched in between sea and sky, home.
- Roselle Angwin
Saturday, 5 March 2011
each of us
seeking the sacred mountains
and the Other
stumbling tongues essaying
the lingua franca
still love to do with becoming
more not less
this trying to live wide open
the saying yes
while the head holds tight
but the heart like a
day after day leaps forward
- Roselle Angwin (in Looking For Icarus, bluechrome 2005)
Friday, 4 March 2011
Oh and yes a sense of post-post-jubilation that yes my novel is finally out, and now – and now??
In other words, this being mortal business...
So hello, and more very soon. Meantime I'm going to light the fire and, as they say, take five while I work out which priority is the most prior priority. Or sleep. Or errrr surf a one-way ticket to the parallel place of the Otherworld (as long as it's like here without the hassle). (Which of course I know is human-made anyway...) (The hassle, that is.) (By which I mean the world as I experience it is largely a result of my reactions to it in the first place, in Zen terms. That's one way of defining karma.)
Thursday, 3 March 2011
Wednesday, 2 March 2011
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- lochs, lochans, islands, sea
- the blue boat
- megalith sutra
- green things, merrivale again, & calling everywher...
- census TAKE TWO: arms, rocks and hard places - is ...
- census: arms, rocks and hard places - the answer?
- her birdsong and her cage: Brian King
- equinox, & the light has come such a long way...
- things to be up in arms about
- the ragbag blog: cargo cults, mindfulness, still n...
- REFUGEE CRISIS IN JAPAN - URGENT
- dashes of sunlight that slip through the trees
- These are the days
- the rips in Indra's Net
- quantum sutra
- earthquakes, tsunamis, heavy water & disaster pers...
- among the disappearing stars
- on poetry (and sickbags, canoes and zebra bowls)
- An Struibh Broín: Julie-Ann Rowell
- intertidal zones
- where the sea thins to green glass
- Learning the Language
- hanging five or taking five
- rainforests and fishing lines (the practice of wri...
- She wonders if she's losing it: Lyn Browne
- The Pyrenees, the Cathars and Imago: part 3
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