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

Thursday, 21 September 2017

september is hers

Louis MacNeice in his wonderful Autumn Journal writes:

'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.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! Yes, that's a bit of a mantra for me, from E M Forster...

  2. Oh Roselle! You won't be surprised to hear that this lovely blog (we cheer when they appear) speaks directly to me.I very much enjoyed The Hours. Now I must read Nightfall ( interiority, musings, navel-gazing and all!) And that para on beauty: '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...?' It sums up what I'm trying so hard to achieve in my novel, if only the words would thin a bit more. Yes, art can save us, especially when it's shared.
    I feel uplifted and nearly ready to send the next instalment.
    Thanks so much,
    Miri x

  3. Yes, Miri, I think you might both enjoy 'By Nightfall' (it's not especially happy, but when did poety types ever look for HAPPY?!). And you know your writing reminds me a bit of Cunningham's I realise; and am sure you realise what a compliment that is!

    With love

  4. Thanks, that is praise indeed

    M x


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