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.
Monday, 30 June 2014
I had a precocious boyfriend when I was 17 (there were many other adjectives that would fit him too, but I think we'll leave it there. Let's just say I learned a lot!).
My time with him was one of those fork-in-the-road times. We were committed members of the counterculture: hippies, or 'heads' or 'freaks' as those-in-the-know would refer to us. He and I and two friends at the time had a dream to go off and set up in self-sufficiency in the Hebrides; consequently I was teaching myself to spin, knit, weave, dye wool using plants, milk goats, and learning basic herbal medicine and growing.
However, I took the other path: having left the convent school which didn't take us beyond O levels – GCSEs – I was doing A levels at the local technical-college-as-was, now setting itself up as the North Devon College and incorporating arts and A levels.
The NDC wished to acquire a name for itself. I was headhunted as potential 'Oxbridge material' and persuaded to apply for Cambridge.
I had no intention of going to Cambridge, and in fact when I was offered an interview (which I agreed to attend for the fun of it, really) I went hoping to put off the interviewer. I wore my long skirt, which was more patch than skirt, bare feet, and (accidentally) my hair was green.
Unfortunately, the tutor – not many years older than myself – and I struck up an immediate rapport as she happened to mention the Mabinogion and the Grail legends, both already major passions of mine, and off we ran onto an exciting and inspiring conversation. I had the 'uhoh' moment about 30 minutes in, by which time it was too late, and she offered me a place.
Said boyfriend was very sniffy about this, and gave me an ultimatum: him or uni. I don't like ultimata. So there we are.
Anyway, one of the several things he introduced me to was a book by the wonderful and very readable writer on Eastern spirituality, Alan Watts. He gave me a copy of The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, a book that I realise has shaped a lot of my thinking since then (along with a couple of other books from the same time, Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, which introduced me to the work of Gary Snyder, 'Japhy Ryder' in that novel, and Beyond the Death of God – the gospel according to Zen, both of which I believe I've mentioned here before, and alongside a great many books on mysticism, and Celtic, pagan and mystery tradition spiritualities).
I mention this because a friend who came to my talk on soul and ecology the other night also mentioned this book, about which I haven't thought in years.
Here's the first para of the Preface:
'This book explores an unrecognized but mighty taboo – our tacit conspiracy to ignore who, or what, we really are. Briefly, the thesis is that the prevalent sensation of oneself as a separate ego jammed in a bag of skin is a hallucination which accords neither with Western science nor with the experimental philosophy-religions of the East–in particular the central and germinal Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism. This hallucination underlies the misuse of technology for the violent subjugation of man's natural environment and, consequently, its eventual destruction.' (My italics. How prescient was that, published in 1969, 45 years ago?)
The friend has sent me what she calls her 'adaptation' of Watts' book, and since I thought it was an excellent little précis-poem, I've her permission to post it here:
I shall never tell you to 'face reality'
for you ARE reality.
Never say 'I came into this world'
for you came OUT of this world
as leaves come out of trees
Don't see yourself as
'someone acting in this world'
you are the action OF the world
(Thalia Vitali courtesy of Alan Watts)
Friday, 27 June 2014
Midsummer. The month pours itself through the eye
of the year and we follow in our wake of days.
In the courtyard the weight of blossom has brought
the purple hebe to its knees. The weight of rain.
A family of tits chatters on the ox-eye daisies
and the resident magpies have stripped every cherry
ripe or not from my new ‘Sweetheart’ tree. They –
the magpies – swoop like stormtroopers at the woodpecker
on the feeder, steal all my soft fruit, loiter on the gutter
by the great tits’ nest to pick off the hatchlings.
I stoop to lift this one my heart contracting at its useless legs
its spread-eagled flapping at the side of the lane –
lift it into green – what else can I do? We’re all in this together.
Each of the ten thousand things does what’s in its nature
to do. We’re all in this together – tree rain midge magpie snail.
The earth turns on its axis another year and another year.
Thursday, 26 June 2014
So without further ado, here's the promised Contents list for the reprinted book, in the hopes that if you don't already have it you'd like to buy it... All the unattributed chapters are my own. (Apologies if the spacing's weird – it was yesterday – copying from Word doesn't work, but going via an intermediate text document loses all the formatting. The joys of technology.)
Writing The Bright Moment
Wednesday, 25 June 2014
There. It's happened. Writing the Bright Moment – inspiration & guidance for writers has been reprinted at last – the printers near Exeter have done a beautiful job on recycled paper, and the cover image, a photo taken by my daughter many years ago, glows deeply. Because of the size restrictions of recycled paper, it's slightly smaller than the original, which was, I think, 'Royal' – but it's still pretty regal. I wrote it 10 years ago and I'm still very happy with it. It's had a number of great reviews, too.
If you are a writer, or know a writer, I hope I can tempt you to buy this. It won't entirely help you to procrastinate and avoid your own writing, which is partly what I'm doing right now, as it's full of juicy exercises for which you'll long to reach for a pen or cursor (I hope).
Here's the intro. Tomorrow I'll post the 'Contents' list; and you can buy it once more from the Paypal button, below right. You won't regret it (I can be boastful partly because there are a number of chapters contributed by other writer-teachers whose work I respect and like).
My friend J says when she moved on to a narrowboat, she passed on all her writing books, even Natalie Goldberg's (reverent bow), except this one. As they say on facebook, *blushes*.
PLUS: it's slightly cheaper than a copy I've just seen on Amazon for £4,701.74. YES, that's right. (I imagine that might change now since the new ones are listed again.)
Monday, 23 June 2014
but please note that my Iona retreat in April 2015 is fully booked with a waiting list. I am considering offering a second with a different focus.
I very much look forward to meeting some of you at one or other of these events. You can see more details on www.fire-in-the-head.co.uk; www.thewildways.co.uk
I've highlighted two events coming up very shortly.
Oh and my Writing the Bright Moment coursebook (which has had excellent reviews) has just been reprinted. I'll be updating the Paypal button, below, right, soon.
‘I thought I was coming on a writing course. Now I see it’s really about how we live...’
January 31-February 2: ‘The Inward Flame’ retreat, Devon
March 22: Teignmouth Poetry Festival (reading)
April 6: Peter Brennan workshop on T S Eliot, Devon
26 April–2 May: ‘Islands of the Heart’, Isle of Iona
18 May: ‘The Branscombe Day’, writing & land art, Devon
21 May: writing workshop on Bodmin Moor
June 26: talk: 'ecosoul: the ecological imagination' for Consciousness Cafe Totnes
July 6th: ‘The sun doesn’t know its name’ (poetry & meditation), Devon
Aug 6th: ‘Talking Feet’, (general creative writing) near Bodmin, Cornwall
Aug 10: ‘Breaking New Ground’, (new ways into poetry) Poetry Teignmouth
August 23–30: ‘Writing the Bright Moment’ retreat, France
October 5: ‘Tongues in Trees’, eco-writing, Devon
October 14: poetry workshop in Glastonbury
Oct 18/19 tbc: ‘Leaps, bridges & lightning’, Moor Poets
November 8-9: ‘Storylines’: writing from life, Devon
January 30–Feb 1: 'Imbolc: the inward flame', inc 'Thresholds', Devon
April: NB IONA 2015 is FULL
May 17: 'The Branscombe Day', poetry & land art, Devon
Oct 18: 'The Branscombe Day', ditto
I'm currently shaping The Wild Ways closed eco-soul group, taking place largely outdoors in the Westcountry.
Please do pass this info on to anyone who might be interested!
Friday, 20 June 2014
In the throat of the valley the brook is a trickle of song
coming out of darkness and homing to light and ocean
between the sussurations of midsummer grass and birdsong.
A year and a year and a year and still the world issues its questions –
sometimes the answers show themselves in full sun
sometimes the same faint question drags the same furrow, in shade
winter by winter a little deeper, a little more raw. We have no choice
but to turn towards the question and be willing to drink it deep. In
the dusk the roe deer treads quivering the path through the valley –
I track it into the woods, and the shadows of who I’ve been follow me.
Here, the new long-tailed tits quicken the oak tree above our heads
and the magpies thieve the first few currants. Like the year
we’ve come now to our full ripeness and soon must fall from the tree
to reseed ourselves, like the earth at its zenith turning back away from the sun
and beginning once again its long descent to what it needs to be.
© Roselle Angwin
Thursday, 19 June 2014
Back in 1996, my friend, collaborator, poet and publisher Rupert Loydell sent me a book. With its pleasing cover, I knew instantly that this book would become a close friend, and it has: read and reread, giving up more of itself, as good poetry should, each time I read it.
Since then, I've devoured as much of this quiet reflective poet's work as I can find.
Wright is, I think, a unique voice in poetry. He's nothing like as well known as he ought to be in Britain (Zone Journals includes some of his poems written in England and Italy as well as America). And he's the new US Poet Laureate.
He's an interesting choice. Although his work is very sensual, very image-based, and not 'difficult', he's not as immediately accessible as, say, Billy Collins, a previous laureate. It's mostly not the language he uses – perfectly-chosen diction, balanced and honed – but the fact that a great deal of knowledge and wisdom, some of it esoteric and arcane, some of it literary and allusive, resonates behind his work. There is also a 'sacred' quality to his writing that suggests an interest in Buddhism as much as in Christianity (but there is no thrusting of 'faith' in your face).
Wright walks the edge of the literal and the metaphoric, the concrete and the allegorical, so easily that his work fluidly moves between the dimensions of being. He is also not afraid to incorporate the abstract, but, for my taste, in perfect proportion (many poets get the concrete/abstract balance out of synch, in my view), and always interwoven with sublimely-recorded notes on the natural world.
Sometimes his images are startling, like this:
'...The world is an ampersand
And I lie in sweet clover,
bees like golden earrings
Dangling and locked fast to its white heads,
Watching the clouds move and the constellations of of light move
Through the trees, as they both will
When the wind weathers them on their way,
When the wind weathers them to that point
where all things meet.'
(from A Journal of the Year of the Ox)
As I look through Zone Journals everything is quotable.
I learned from his easy languid style in this book, undeniably a collection of poems but very much in the style of a journal, the joy of long lines (these might be abbreviated by Blogger when I post this) that unfold and sentences that don't end for a page or more, and the discipline of making every word count.
Always he brings a lightness of touch to the big subjects: life, death, how we might live in a way that brings meaning. And none of his work is didactic: he prefers to question.
Like W S Merwin, a contemporary and another of my favourites, the natural world is his resting place. I learned too from him how to shift between the awareness of human frailty and the perfect unquestioning transience that other species seem simply to embody.
Here's another section from the same long poem:
'Last night, in the second yard, salmon-smoke in the west
Back-vaulting the bats
who plunged and swooped like wrong angels
Hooking their slipped souls in the twilight,
The quattrocento landscape
turning to air beneath my feet...
... and knew that everything was a shining...
That anything I could feel,
anything I could put my hand on –
That damasked mimosa leaf,
The stone ball on the gate post, the snail shell in its still turning –
Would burst into brilliance at my touch,
But I sat still, and I touched nothing,
afraid that something might change
And change me beyond my knowing,
That everything I had hoped for, all I had ever wanted,
Might actually happen.
So I sat still and touched nothing.'
There's an example of the beauty of some of his more obviously poem-poems, from one of his early Selecteds, here: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2014/06/read-for-yourself-why-charles-wright-is-the-next-poet-laureate/
So what difference will the Laureateship make – what will he do? He says he doesn't know what's expected of him, but he doesn't have a 'programme'. 'I'll probably stay at home and be quiet,' he says.
Saturday, 14 June 2014
last night over the Dart
over the new-cut hayfields
over the South Devon heifers
ruminating at rest on the red earth
they're made of
that fat buttery moon
taking its station in Sagittarius
sign of the fiery pilgrim
the way at its maximum wax
it insists each time
urgent as an unheeded question
you must change your life
you must change your life
one step and then another
you must change your life
© Roselle Angwin
Monday, 9 June 2014
The supernatural? What fairy stories are about is a symbolic representation of what it means to be human. They're about that most crucial of human faculties, the imagination.
Where they come from, if you subscribe to the views of depth psychology, is the collective unconscious. This is not 'supernatural', but the bedrock of the human psyche.
And magic? Oh, allow us a little, Richard, please. A novel is magic. A transporting work of art is magic. A piece of good music is magic – if by magic we mean the ability to transform our state of consciousness, for no matter how brief a period.
Dawkins is a champion of our current rationalist zeitgeist, of a materialist worldview. That is as troubling as his words. We live in impoverished times, in the Western world, in relation to our inner lives. That's the real concern, for me, in what he had to say.
A world that can only value what can be proven to exist by rational assessment, objectively and scientifically verified, is a world with a paucity of imagination. That's a dangerous world. That's a disconnected world. As I have mentioned so many times here, as author Lindsay Clarke says, without imagination, compassion is not possible.
There are, as I have written here before, literal truths and symbolic truths. Each is true within its own frame of reference, and it's as foolish to muddle them up as it is to discount one or the other. Both are necessary for us to live a full, rounded, creative and human life.
What symbolic truths speak to is an inner sense of what we need to know to best live our lives*. We are storymaking animals as far back as we can trace. Stories (and poems, and myths, and fairy tales) all speak of the garnered wisdom of our species in relation to not only physical survival but also the ability to thrive and grow as emotional, psychological, and spiritual individuals with our own unique talents to contribute to our community. They also speak of the gifts and dangers of being a human, being alive. Beneath them resonate archetypes from the great storehouse of the collective unconscious – this is what gives them their power.
What fairy tales offer to a child is a hook for the imaginative nature, so that it may grow and expand; a reassurance that children can and do survive all sorts of upsets and horrors; a reminder that that child's experience has been shared by others; a conduit for the outer and inner worlds to meet and cross-fertilise each other; a roadmap for the journey to adulthood and the particular types of trials and gifts to expect as well as their context in an environment; and a blueprint for the kinds of qualities a child may need to thrive and become an empowered adult.
And that's not to mention the sheer entertainment value.
* This is in effect the content of my first book, Riding the Dragon – myth & the inner journey (Element 1994).
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