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

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

fire in the head

I was planning to write today about the experience of watching someone very close to me close down, bit by bit, with Alzheimer's; and the questions this raises about meaning, and caring, and loving, and about how we live our lives. I have been reflecting for months now about documenting this, and something is stopping me. Is it because she is still alive? Is it because I feel so deeply about it that I can't quite bring myself to do so? Is it because there is so much to say about all of this, and I would want to do it with great care and thoughtfulness?

In addition to those possibilities, I have been saved by the fact that I really do have to focus on making a living, marginal as it always is if you don't buy into mainstream values; and because of that I'm going to use this blog post instead to tell you of the autumn programme of courses and readings I'm offering here in the UK. Most of them are in the westcountry, but there is a chance of leading a workshop next year in Sussex, so do please let me know if this would be of interest to you.

The title of my course programme, Fire in the Head, as you'll perhaps know, comes from the W B Yeats poem 'The Song of Wandering Aengus' - Aengus being the god both of love and of inspiration, or the shamanic fires of transformation. This idea – the fires of inspiration and the ability of the word to transform – blazes away quietly behind all the work I do. So below are some examples.

I blogged in March or April of the retreat I lead ('Islands of the Heart') on the magical Isle of Iona in the Scottish Hebrides every year. It's already half-full, but if you need the restorative powers of a very special island in the company of a group of people all of whom turn out always to be special, and with much fertile ground of inspiration (not to mention much laughter, some tears and some very good food – oh and the odd seal), check out my website for Islands of the Heart, April 2012. And if anyone thinks they might be able to raise a group of enough people to pay me to lead a workshop en route to and from Scotland/Devon, let me know – I'm always happy to consider new projects (I work right through the age groups from 8 to 100). And I neglect my own work sometimes – so please do consider me for a reading, too, if you can think of a venue.

Please see below for details of the various courses; I'd love to meet or see some of you on some of them; and note too the poetry readings I'm giving in Exeter and Plymouth. 

And forgive me this blatant plug.


As we approach the autumn equinox with its harvests it’s time to turn inwards a little again. This is a ‘dreamtime’ in our calendars – a threshold where inner and outer might meet.

At these threshold times there’s a kind of restlessness I recognise in me: part turned outwards, part thinking of moving inwards, towards lighting fires – whether the one in my study or the ones of new creative projects, the inner fires of the imagination.

If you’re gearing yourself up to focus on your creativity now too (why do we do this? Is it because of the habit of the school year starting here in the UK or is it a seasonal thing that keeps us in tune?), let me offer you a feast of possibilities in terms of courses etc below.

Below you’ll find my autumn programme. There are new things in the shape of

  • four one-day workshops, all bringing outer and inner worlds together, in my study near Totnes, in Devon; and discounts if you book more than one;
  • there’ll be a weekly Monday evening session in Exeter for the Poetry School;
  • I’m doing two readings, one in Exeter and one in Plymouth this autumn;
  • and if you like working outdoors, celebrating the cycle of the year, in silence and with words, and don’t mind a bit of weather, see my Ground of Being details on the website under Courses - Course Details.
  • Islands of the Heart on Iona is a retreat course unlike any other. It’s April 21-27 2012.

If you live in or near the southeast of England, I’m thinking of offering a weekend course in Forest Row next spring. If this might interest you I’d be grateful if you’d let me know.

I am once again offering mentoring and coaching from this autumn on, in person or online.

As always, more details on my website (address at bottom).

As always, I’d love it if you maybe signed up to follow my blog; joined me on twitter or facebook; and also if you forwarded this to anyone you think might be interested.

Oh and bought my books!


Fire in the Head programme 2011/12


Of Love and Hope
: I'll be reading from Deborah Gaye's anthology of poems in aid of breast cancer charities as part of the Exeter Poetry Festival, Exeter Central Library, Sunday 9 October, 3.30pm (+ Chris Tutton & others). Entry free but donations to breast cancer charities invited

Language Club, Plymouth:
I'm the guest poet at the public poetry group where I possibly read for the first time ever at an open mike more years ago than I like to think. Please come if you can! Thursday 10 November 7.30 - 10.00, Plymouth College of Art, £4, £2 concessions for unemployed and OAP (Students free with Student Card)

Courses and Workshops

Ground of Being
Dartmoor outdoors: re-imagining the world: poetry, land and silence, solstices and equinoxes. Sundays: September 25th, December 18th.

Poetry School sessions
I'm going to be leading a weekly reading/writing/discussion group ('Staying Alive') on a term-time Monday evening in Exeter for the Poetry School from October 3rd; and again in January (

Fire in the Head creative writing: day of inspiration: it doesn't matter whether you're a novice or experienced writer; this is simply to light the fires of imagination and then hopefully channel them down through your fingers onto the page... As always, it's the process, not the end result, that we'll roll with. Near Totnes, Devon Saturday 15 October, 10-4

Writing the Bright Moment: a Zen approach to writing: exploring attention to the moment, haiku and haibun. Near Totnes Sunday 16 October, 10-4

'In a dark time the eye begins to see.' Poetry and story are tools for healing. We'll look at the stories of our own lives through this lens. This day took shape from my re-meeting the quote 'What use are poets (mythmakers, storytellers, writers in general) in times of need?' And I think again about how one of the most important aspects of poetry and story is their capacity to heal. Today we'll explore the losses and fractures in our lives as a way in to working with transforming them into a quest for healing. Near Totnes Sunday 20 November,10-4

'If nobody speaks of remarkable things' The art of seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary, and the joy as well as the despair of being human at this time. Although this day is self-contained, it also follows on from the November day on the uses of poetry. Today, we'll be remembering the remarkable things about being alive, and celebrating our place in the family of things by writing about the unique gifts of our lives as human beings at this time. Near Totnes, Sunday 11 December, 10-4

Please see website for more details on all these: Courses then Course details, scroll down. There is a discount on the four one-day workshops near Totnes if you book for two or more.


Poetry School 'Staying Alive' cont. From January in Exeter

Islands of the Heart creative writing retreat on Iona
Saturday (eve) April 21 to Friday morning April 27.

Zen and Poetry, weekend residential, Barefoot Barn, Chagford, Devon (tba; with Martin Pitt)

The Grail of the Heart (ongoing group to begin)

Further day courses in progress:

The Pairs of Opposites

Riding the Big Waves

Ongoing courses

Elements of Poetry
6-month correspondence course; next one begins January 2012 

6-month intensive novel writing correspondence course. You can sign up for this at any time.

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