from BARDO

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.

Roselle Angwin

Friday, 29 July 2011

hayfields, horse-dung & blossom

In case you're in at 4.30pm in the UK this Sunday coming, July 31st, the first of the new series of Poetry Workshop on Radio 4 with Ruth Padel is broadcast. With any luck they won't have cut my poem! (Aired again the following Saturday, 6th August, 11.30pm.)

Talking of cuts, I've had another little flurry of communications about the absence of my regular column in MsLexia mag. Thank you, friends. This jolted my (also absent) memory about my intention to include previous columns here. This is one of them.

‘Being a writer is a whole way of life,’ says Natalie Goldberg; ‘a way of seeing, thinking, being.’
  In my columns I addressed what I consider to be core practice for a writer: finding ways to open conduits from the fertile life of the subconscious realm into the conscious mind, and finding starting points for making use of the flow of images, memories, associations and feelings that arise and are captured in ‘stream-of-consciousness’ writing.
  This practice can be deepened so much by including close observation. Paying attention, really paying attention, is key to writing of any kind: poetry, fiction, non-fiction.
  Much of the work I do with others, whether schoolchildren or adults, takes place outside. I ask people to register and record their sensory response with close attention to the environment, and then to pay attention to the relationship they make with what they perceive – in other words, to the flow between inner and outer.
  Something I stress is the way we overlook certain senses in favour of our eyes, or our ears; so I also ask people to relate consciously and singly via each sense (if appropriate, including taste): so often we forget the potency of smell, or the messages received via the haptic. There’s a certain Zen discipline in this: when we’re fingertipping the moss, describing the exact shade of the first bluebell, the feel of bare feet on cool sand or hot tarmac, noticing the distant roar of traffic, sinking teeth into a sharp apple, catching a whiff of hayfields or horse-dung, we’re doing it with all of ourselves, bringing everything to this moment, this now.
  Clearly, close observation includes observation of our own species, too: invaluable for fiction writers. More on that another time; but if you'd like to put this observation into practice, here's a start. Take your notebook outside, and find a place, where there is plenty of foreground detail but where you can also see the horizon. 
  You’ll see that in one of the five stages I also invite in imagination and/or memory.
  This exercise is most effective if you keep your responses brief and vivid – just a few lines each time, and stay with the present tense. Please feel free to be poetic!
  Spend some time noticing, and then jot down, what you perceive in the environment in front of you in the:
1.    Foreground – a spread of a few metres
2.    Middle distance – not close enough to be aware of much detail
3.    Horizon
4.    Over the horizon
5.    Very close up and detailed – within centimetres or fewer: an insect, a piece of lichen, a mark or stain, your thumbtip.

Which of these proved easy, and which more challenging? It can also prove fruitful to apply this template separately to your inner, or personal, life. Is there a way then to bring the two together?

Sharp-eyed readers might spot that my post yesterday sort-of followed these guidelines.


  1. Roselle, I will try to pick up the programme and your poem on i-player here in the Pyrenees. And I will write to you also in gratitude, you having written about and defended me. You will know from your own practice that there is no point in engaging with hatred and calumny. Even when most misrepresented and reviled, we must still try to win through to some compassionate sense of the pain (often of pathological guilt) which motivates those who abuse. You can, I'm sure, divine who this is from. I won't give my name here for fear of re-involving you in that demeaning and paranoid situation, but please know how much your wisdom and integrity is valued.

  2. That moved me very much. Thank you. And yes. (And I too lived in the Pyrenees at one stage - a very potent place, and my experiences there created my novel Imago.)

    I send you all good wishes and I think you know what difference your own work has made to my life.

    Thanks for your interest in the R4 broadcast. The poem of mine used is a 13-line sonnet called 'Snipe', and will I believe also be available on the BBC website soon (hard otherwise for people to follow the discussion). And of course since the 'take' ran to 2 hours and the prog is only 27 minutes, some poems, discussions and possibly particpants will need to be cut!

  3. Roselle,

    I have just listened to the programme on the BBC i-Player, after having spent an intensive weekend exploring the muscularity and physicality of Shakespeare's language. How invigorating then to be offered poems where the muscular and the physical meet with the visceral and the ambiguity of all things. A superb land/soundscape.


  4. Hi Julius

    The weekend sounds as if it was exciting. And thanks for listening to the R4 programme, and for your kind words (as always).




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