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.
Friday, 29 September 2017
Words are powerful. The Nazis burnt books. It's said too that the Christian monks arriving on Iona burnt the druids' books. Words can change nations, can inspire optimism and activism (think of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream') or terror (think of Trump's tweets).
Words can be used to soothe and love just as they can be used to stir up racial hatred or guerilla acts of brutality.
Words cast spells, in the most literal sense.
'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the word was God.'
Words can change lives.
And here, in the UK, we are privileged to have what should be that most universal right: freedom of speech. Let's not take that for granted.
And words can set you free.
Yesterday, in a day where I switched from poetry in the morning to teaching novel-writing in the afternoon, I was reminded of the power of language.
I'm currently writer-in-residence at Greenway, as you will know if you're a regular visitor to my blog. Yesterday, for National Poetry Day, I was on hand to accost visitors to the property to encourage them to write some lines on a poetry postcard.
The morning was flatout busy, and it was very good to exchange poems and ideas on poems with some of the visitors who were well-informed about poetry already – I've felt 'dry' in relation to poetry as a way of life and thought lately, so it helped re-immerse me.
It was also so good to see the enthusiasm with which the more intrepid visitors allowed words to pour onto the postcard, and I was reminded once again of poetry as a means of connection and reconnection – with the wider world, of course, but also to the inner life. I gathered a fat handful of postcards, which will be exhibited in the house at the end of November.
After a quick lunch break I had to shift my mindset (although only a little) to offer the first of three sessions on writing the novel.
I always prepare my sessions, but sometimes find I can bin, or at the very least take detours from, my prepared material.
So I found myself talking a bit about 'essential nature' and 'prevailing' or 'conditioned' nature (can't quite remember the context but it was to do with creating characters and their part in driving the plot).
It reminded me that one of the gifts of writing is finding out the essence of who we are, how the world is, where we might belong; finding ways to cut through, even shake off, others' and our cultures' mores, expectations, demands, to find out what we truly believe and value.
No matter what we write, in some ways it shows us what we really think, are engaged by, love, or maybe even fear, about the world, what our beliefs and expectations are. Also no matter what we write we uncover themes, if we're looking for them, that arrive from the deep subconscious, personal or collective, and in some form or another can show us where the work of growth in our own psyche might be best needed.
For I believe, like many others before me, one of whom is C G Jung, that our 'mission' here is to do with wholeness; becoming wholer.
And this is perhaps one of the biggest gifts of the writing process: to discover, uncover, recover 'stuff' that, reincorporated into and thereby enlarging our conscious mind, can add our small flame that is now burning just a little brighter to the bigger collective fires of healing and wholeness we so need in our fractured world.
* the title is the title of one of Ben Okri's books; a very inspiring read (but not part of this blog).
Sunday, 24 September 2017
The Wheel of the Year which I celebrate cycles through the quarter dates of:
- the winter solstice in the north, where the fire of spirit and intuition glimmers like a distant belt of stars, not yet brought into being but poised on the cusp of bringing new light at this solar standstill before its return towards the sun;
- the spring equinox, dawn, and its element of air, new ideas, the thinking faculty, and birth, in the east;
- the summer solstice with its earthy warmth and sunniness, the waystation in the south for the physical body, earthly harvests, things coming to full ripening;
- and the autumn equinox, the mysterious west, the twilight station of water, the feeling nature, the ancestors and the harvesting and dissolution of what we know and are, before the move back to north for the cycle to begin again.
In between are the cross-quarter dates at exactly halfway between solstice and equinox: imbolc, beltane, lughnasadh, samhain. These too I celebrate.
These solar turning-points, waymarkers, or stations, are useful times to pause and reflect on the meeting-places and relationships between light and dark, day and night, birth and death, masculine and feminine, sowing intentions and harvesting manifestations. I like to look back from the autumn equinox* to the quarter just gone via the cross-quarter date of lughnasadh or lammas, sitting as it does between the zenith of fecund summer and the harvests, inner and outer, that have resulted. I also find it useful to look back over the whole cycle of the four seasons at each of these turning points.
* 'Equilux', I'm told it should be called; though whether you emphasise equal night (‘nox’) or equal light you're still buying in to one or the other, when at this time of equipoise maybe neither should be the 'default' title.
Unlike the solstices, which are fixed points in space/time, the equinoxes 'wander'. (This is due to the earth's wobble on its axis.) They can take place any time between 20th of the month and 23rd.
Technically this year the autumn equinox, alban elfed, was on 22nd, late in the evening here in the northern hemisphere. Still, I always mark the autumn equinox on my birthday, the 23rd September (my mum’s was 23rd March, on the spring equinox or alban eilir).
The Dreamtime's approaching now with its inwardness and reflection; its gathering-in of all the harvests of this summer and the turning solar twelvemonths, or thirteen moon-months.
For many years my Ground of Being quarter-day workshops took place outdoors on Dartmoor on the Sundays closest to the equinoxes and solstices throughout the year. Up at the megalithic site of Merrivale on Dartmoor we would each ask the questions of ourselves, and in relationship to the land, that would provoke reflection, creativity, depth, connection. This is a way of creating sacred space, time out from our driven lives in a materialistic culture.
So four times a year I walked out on the moor with others who wanted to share these turning points with me with words and silence in an ancient place. At the autumn equinox, the time of balance, of the creative tension of complementary poles where sun and moon hold steady, as it were, symbolically, as day and night are of equal length, we would focus on harvests, on what we might need to bring something of balance to each area of our lives, and what we might need to let go of from summer, before the tumble on with dark now in the ascendant towards the winter solstice and its longest night.
Here at the equinox balance and harmony are the keys: the bringing-together of all the pairs of opposites. At this time, day and night are of equal length; such a powerful symbol, to be poised here at the gateway between inner and outer, dark and light, night and day, summer and winter, masculine and feminine.
The sign of Libra the Balance begins here, and all whose natal sun occurs in Libra will know how this is the essential struggle: to hold the opposites in balance whilst sustaining the tension that incurs, making of it something creative rather than letting it break us. For instance, how do we each contain and express a need for fixity and a need for fluidity; a need for solitude and a need for intimacy; a need for travel and a need for home? We all, of course, have to resolve these questions; but Librans seem to feel these apparent paradoxes keenly; it’s said that their (our) esoteric task is to find harmony through conflict (and this is as much inner as anything else). And to resolve the opposites, we first have to experience and recognise them.
For me, it manifests as a kind of restlessness: as we approach the autumn equinox part of me remains turned outwards, wanting to walk towards the horizon, part thinks 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.
Autumn is a poet's season. I can't pretend I don't love the melancholy, the wistfulness, the dreaminess, the inwardness trailing in autumn's slipstream. The quality of nostalgia and yearning are also friends to the Celtic soul. And I love times of transition, borderlands, thresholds, cusps. Times of ambiguity and paradox; of misty blurring of edges.
So here are some of my autumn equinox poems.
At dawn the air is dense with contrails almost not-there,
yet meadow, hedge and sky are all a-glitter: the time of year
when small migrating spiders launch their bodies into space
on less than a breath, and mesh the light. They can’t know
where they’re landing or even if they’ll arrive; but autumn’s
glow is richer and the day brighter for their risk. Microscopic,
their trust in life is one that we can’t have, with our
knowingness, the way we lumber through our years;
and oh what I’d give to rest this body on space and sky
like that, not caring where I’m going, if my fragile tensile arc
will lasso the future, if I’ll ever get there, or who comes with me.
© Roselle Angwin, 2014
Later, in the mist, rowanberries glimmer like fireflies;
up here at Four Winds I am unstrung,
the beads of me scattered to all directions.
The equinox, my birthday and a full moon
bringing, at last, a closure to the turbulence
of this solar cycle. In this high rush of air
the ancient beech shivers off her leaves,
and, heedless of motorbikes, trucks on the road,
the yellow house, the currency of thought,
the moon lifts her owl-bone-white rim
over the moor’s horizon where we sip
at the autumn dusk, let it all remake us.
The full moon hangs in the pale sky like a revelation
awaiting its time. There are times when I know that
love might mean beginning over and over
and again. And how I’ll do that.
Once, in the future, I knew my way back.
The light beyond the forest
On the hill, dusk is the colour of violets.
© Roselle Angwin 2010
Thursday, 21 September 2017
'September has come, it is hers
Whose vitality leaps in the autumn,
Whose nature prefers
Trees without leaves and a fire in the fire-place...'
Being a September equinox person I love that passage about 'my' month.
One thing about posting blogs so rarely is that I have far too much to say when I do arrive here; and nothing at all, simultaneously. My apologies to those of you who read this for my sparsity of entries; there are many reasons for this, one being simply immersion in redrafting my current book of narrative non-fiction (what a treat to edit longhand, on the typescript – also useful for picking up errors and repetitions I don't see so easily on the screen) in the gaps between all the courses I lead and mentoring I offer, and all the associated admin.
We're not long back from a fortnight in Brittany – where it rained and rained on all bar the first afternoon.
But it wasn't so different here. September, it seems, threw a switch weather-wise, and autumn is here. The robin's song has changed, some of the swallows and martins have left, and the lanes now wear toadflax, bedstraw and St John's Wort flowers, with a few honeysuckle, but the bright flowers of summer have gone.
The weather affects us more than we'd like to think, or are maybe even conscious of, despite the fact that we're a nation which seems fixated on weather. (Is it because we're an island [or islands]? And temperate?) – I love that it changes fast, and in fact I love all the weathers, though I'd like more sun than we have here in the southwest. (And we have had three days of sun – what bliss to eat lunch outside.) Our default here though is brooding moodiness and mist; but early this morning the rain with its westerly breeze was invigorating when I walked out in it.
I'm speaking of such things because I'm not speaking of the awfulness of other things – the dire situations globally, whether with climate-change-related events, earthquakes, Trumpisms or massacres; and also because in our family we're facing yet another potential bereavement after a long decade of losses, serious illnesses and deaths.
And life is fragile; and so precious. So precious. How easy to moan, to dally, to fritter it away. 'The way you live your day is the way you live your life,' says Annie Dillard (I think).
I have been reading Michael Cunningham's novel By Nightfall (he wrote, you might remember, The Hours). He's an extraordinarily sensitive writer when it comes to human situations and dilemmas, and I can so relate to the protagonist Peter's interior monologue and musings – I guess some people might find them annoyingly slow and navel-gazing but I'm glad to have this sense of connectedness from a novel.
So Peter holds simultaneously his sense of personal privilege and relative safety (if some ennui), and an ever-threatening sense of despair and distress at the sadness and horrors in the world that could so easily overwhelm him: 'You could panic in the face of it all – your brother dead at twenty-two (he'd be forty-seven now), along with his erstwhile boyfriend and every other friend he'd had; slaughters in other countries that might give pause to Attila the Hun; children killing their teachers with guns their fathers left lying around; and by the way, do you think it will be another building next time, or will it be a subway or a bridge?'
Some of the questions the novel addresses, albeit obliquely: What is the place of beauty in a life? How do we find it amongst the horrors? Can it somehow redeem us?
Novels – story, poetry – are at their best when they connect us somehow to a shared ground of being. Music, and art too. So here he is again: 'Isn't this part of what you keep looking for in art – rescue from solitude and subjectivity; the sense of company in history and the greater world; the human mystery simultaneously illuminated and deepened...?'
Can art ever save us?
So look, here, in this green pool is a statue of Kwan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of Compassion. If only this principle could guide our life; all our lives.
And life is precious and I am privileged. In sun, in beautiful September sun, I was graced by being able to do what I love so much: lead an outdoor writing workshop in stunning gardens (all these photos come from there). AND be paid for it.
My three-month residency at Agatha Christie's former holiday home on the banks of the Dart near Paignton in South Devon has begun. This was my first workshop.
In late summer sun, in a beautiful woodland garden, something of the permanent and enduring glides in and for a moment, an hour, displaces even as it co-habits with the transience of it all. This is the task of poetry, to mark this. I can't – don't want to – name it, but it is of the same order of being as the redemptive qualities of art. Everything changes and something still remains.
I shall be there to assist the poem-making process in a drop-in workshop for National Poetry Day on Thursday 28th. That same day I'm offering the first of three sessions intended to sketch out a novel, for those who long to write one; and then there's another writing walk in the grounds. You can see them all (there are several more) here.
As always, I will be aware of how privileged I am, we are, to be able to take part in such life-enhancing things as creativity and beauty in a tranquil place.
As always, in the background, will be the shadows of the troubles and sadness of the world. We're creatures that inhabit the light and the dark both; arguably, our task is to hold them together and be grateful for this life in all its twisting ways.
Sunday, 10 September 2017
We've come a long way in the last few decades in our awareness of animal rights. Of course there's plenty of cruelty still – that's a given; but in 2015 the number of vegetarians in the world, for instance, was estimated at 375 million; a great many of those out of choice (rather than e.g. that their habitation doesn't offer animal protein, or they can't afford it).
Meantime, the number of vegans is increasing hugely: in the States, the last 10 years the number of vegans has grown by 350%. More than 3% of US citizens identify themselves as vegan. Here in the UK, our rise is 360% in the 10 years to 2016, with half a million people identifying themselves as vegan. China has a higher percentage than anywhere.
Can you imagine how few people would even have been aware of the concept of veganism 100 years ago?
For many people, this is a lifestyle/health choice. (There is a growing number of vegan athletes, for instance.)
For many others, though, including lacto-vegetarians or even fish and meat eaters, reducing or cutting out animal products is also driven by a greater awareness of the gross cruelties visited routinely on animals bred for – let's face it – our predation.
There is a great deal I could write on this; and there is much already written on many very good vegan or vegetarian sites (including a small contribution on my own site, 57billion.org).
But right now what I want to draw your attention to is the fact that the hard-won victory for animals in 1997, in which they were given legal status and protected rights as sentient beings – yes, it took that long – could now, just 20 short years on, be overturned if Michael Gove, DEFRA Secretary of State, continues with the intention not to honour this status.
When EU law has been converted into UK law, DEFRA has said they are likely to ignore Article 13 of the EU Treaty – which serves to acknowledge that animals can feel pain, suffer and experience joy (in other words, are sentient beings):
'This obligation will not be preserved by the EU (Withdrawal Bill); which delivers our promise to end the supremacy of EU law in the UK.' (DEFRA Under-Secretary of State, Lord Gardiner, August 2017)
If future British governments do not legally need to consider animal sentience, not only is this an enormously regressive step after such a struggle to have their rights recognised even minimally in law, but it could also let in further abuses. The idea that in 2017 it might be that we don't even recognise animals, legally, as being anything other than machines for our appetites or entertainment is beyond grotesque.
If you feel you could help, there's a petition to be signed, and a small donation to Compassion In World Farming would be very welcome. And, of course, you could cut animal products out of your diet; or if you can't imagine this step, you can reduce your meat intake and ensure that whatever you do eat comes from a more humane rearing method than factory farming (2 out of every 3 food animals are factory-farmed). Remember, however, that transportation and abattoir deaths will inevitably involve fear, cruelty and suffering.
Incidentally, Jeremy Corbyn is a vegetarian, and is (cautiously) possibly heading towards veganism (can you imagine Ms May being animal-free inclined?). The Guardian reporting on this gave a nod to the virtues of veganism. You can read a little more on this on one of the best vegan sites, One Green Planet.
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