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, 7 October 2015

this writing thing...

How wonderful to be able to 'commute' to yesterday's work, leading poetry sessions in a tiny rural primary school, across Dartmoor. The moor is at her most stunning in autumnal stormy weather: shawling the tors in tatters of fog, then ripping aside a corner to blast a shaft of sun slantwise across a brackeny hillside, a berry-laden rowan, or to glance off the flush of a water-source where none was before.

How wonderful that 'rush hour' means a small herd of 5 or 6 Belted Galloway cattle, smaller and hairier, furrier, than most breeds, and charming with their white 'belt' on dusky black fur, with their gentle faces and long eyelashes, calves at foot, wandering down the moorland lane.

How good to arrive fifteen minutes early and lean on the old steeply-arched bridge listening for the ghosts of hooves where Daughter and self sometimes rode ponies up on to the open moor behind Sheepstor all those years ago.

And how good to journey the same trans-moor road again today, to work at another primary school.

And how very different the schools, and the ease – or not – with which the writing flowed.

Much of my time used to be spent in primary schools when I first started freelancing as a poet and author. It's a while, though, now, and it starts badly this time in that I have no idea where to find my folder of poems I've written for children. That starting point goes to the winds, as does my usual method of referring back to 100s of previous workshop notes to begin to build something appropriate for this day, for the same reason.

Well, I think to myself, if I can't ad lib a bit after 24 years of doing this stuff, what does that say? Because I'm not a teacher, I also have some kind of free rein; although it does mean I need at least to glance at the curriculum from time to time to make sure I haven't fallen off my branch in terms of content. But because they're paying me I also feel it has to be good, and productive, and fun, and informative. Especially inspiring. And something that the usual class teacher can't deliver.

No pressure then, as they say.

And I do ad lib (despite my newly-minted intensive notes), and the first class is attentive and engaged, charming and creative. By the end of the day the pupils, who range in age from 6 to 11, have written, with my input but their own ideas and vocab, a number of poems about their moorland environment that I feel they can be proud of.

Today was a different matter. Same material, loosely the same stimulus, same age range, another moorland location. Utterly exhausting wading against a tide of noise and disinterest (thank goodness I'm not a teacher who has to deal with this every day), and until early afternoon I had the sense that they'd no idea what I was on, or on about, that I'd lost them and that the day was a write-off (ha!).

But at one stage I had taken them outside, had them lie on the only-very-slightly-damp tarmac of the playground and stare at the clouds until they felt the clouds staring back at them (which was about 3 seconds in total duration for most of them). Another good idea that didn't seem to take off.

Nonetheless, something seemed to have happened; suddenly, about an hour before end of day, poems started to be born. Interesting poems. Original phraseology. Clouds figured a bit. And – hooray – the moor, which was the brief.

Big relief.


Why do we write? I asked the children yesterday. And why do we read? And particularly why poetry?
To make people feel things.
To make ourselves feel things.
To work out things.
What kind of things?
Sadness. Friends and stuff. When people go away. A pet dying.
Because sometimes I can write things I can't say.
To make other people listen.
To understand.
To sort of make music with words.
To make pictures! Pictures with words!
To think.
Not to feel too lonely.
Because it makes me feel calm.


Why do I think it's worth spending my life catalysing people's writing?

For the value in itself for people of spending time with the imagination, and an expressive art
For the journey: for what is discovered, uncovered, recovered in the following of the pen, or the cursor
For the results of that – poetry, story, creative non-fiction, journalling and everything that lies in the gaps
For writing's well-researched contribution to psychological and physical health and wellbeing
For the fact that it opens people up to the psyche and its wisdom
For its contribution to self-awareness, self-understanding, self-knowledge
For its potential to enrich relationship, empathy, a sense of connectedness
To explore and deepen our place in the local and global communities
To bring attention to our relationship with our environment, the rest of the natural world and other species
To help to heal splits: between self and other, head and heart, human and wild.
So – I know this sounds pretentious – but something to do with adding to collective consciousness, potentially, at least.

And perhaps above all, as Burghild Nina Holzer says in her journal on journalling: to be more deeply alive.


  1. Your words are always inspirational, Roselle. They make me want to write in the way that listening to Radu Lupu (Oxfam CD bought by J yesterday!) playing Schubert gives me the urge to play the piano (which I do occasionally but not enough, just like writing).
    And your experience in schools takes me back to my piano-teaching days, though it was one-to-one (could never face teaching a large class as my mother did so well) and I preferred it that way. Sometimes it worked, produced magic, it seemed; other times, as you imply, my ideas fell on stony ground and I'd end up dancing around the room alone with them staring at this mad woman!
    I'm so glad you're journeying again and effervescing with ideas. I'm intentionally not at the moment – too much in our heads about co-housing etc, lots of meetings and the decisions we have to make.
    But words and music are all in the mind constantly and life seems rich. I'll start again soonish, I hope – I miss it too much not to.
    Thanks as ever,
    Miriam x

  2. Miriam, thank you as always for the cyber-companionship, as well as the kind words and support. Yes, now far too many ideas for comfort!

    I'd love to hear more about the co-housing at some stage. Also, forgive but am frantically doing 2014-5 accounts and trying to update websites before I leave next week, and my work on TWR might have to be completed while I'm away. So sorry.

    Much love to both. Rx

  3. Lovely summary of why I write, and well done for making it through the classroom session. It reminds me of a lovely afternoon in my primary school in the Wye Valley where a visiting poet managed to get us to write a beautiful poem about must have really struck a chord because I can still remember my contributing line to the poem!!!

  4. Henrietta, thank you for commenting. How amazing that you remember that line (and how wonderful to have been brought up in the Wye valley!) Rx


Blog Archive