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

Monday 30 June 2014

knowing who you are

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


I find myself writing a long poem again – this happens infrequently. Here's a sneak preview for you (first draft) of one of the several sections:


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.
                                                                                   And yet
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.

© Roselle Angwin

Thursday 26 June 2014

contents - writing the bright moment

Right now, I'm immersed in three things: responding to an assignment from a participant on my poetry course; working on some creative non-fiction for the next book; and rather more urgently tweaking the material for my tonight's talk in Totnes (I'm speaking on imaginal, feeling nature, and shamanic/liminal modes of consciousness – so nothing too demanding to squeeze into a half hour...!).

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


Introduction – Living the Writing Life

Part 1 Mapping the Territory
Eau de Vie
Telling Tales
Writing From Life 1
Writing From Life 2
Assume Zebra
Standing in the River
Tales of Wonder
Shifting Arenas (by Andy Brown)
Catching the Wave
Car Mechanics (by David Keefe)
Begin Anywhere, Begin Somewhere
Going to the Coal Face (by Andie Lewenstein)
Beachcombing – bits of blue plastic
‘Spoon’– How Do You Spell It? (by Paul Matthews)
Feather Slippers
One Foot in Front of the Other
The Writer & Threshold Consciousness (by Stephen Parr)
The Still Small Voices
Tongues of the Earth (by Jeremy Thres)
Dark Matter
Perspective, Perception and Preconceptions
‘Only Connect’
Thinking Wild
The Sudden Glint (by Chris North)
Eternally Opposite, Eternally Connected
The Power of Dream
The Creative Process
Altered States
Wild Thinking

Part 2 The Practice of Poetry
Fractured Light (by Kenneth Steven)
Wrestling with a God: Making Poems
Whole Fragments
What I Look For in Poetry
The Unsettling of Language (by Rupert Loydell)
Lakes and Rivers
The Pearl from the Gravel (by Kenneth Steven)
Late September (by Mario Petrucci)
The Poet’s Career: a short gallop at full speed, or the flight of a bird (by Keith Jafrate)
Haiku, Tanka and Haibun
This Bright Moment: the Practice of Haiku
Joy and Grief – One Brush (by Ken Jones)
Where Boundaries Blur: The Prose Poem

Part 3 Storymaking
Heart of Story
Out of the Labyrinth
Once Upon a Time
Creating the Universe
The Alchemy of Objects (by Jane Spiro)
Stranger Than Fiction
Beginnings, Middles & Ends

Part 4 Writing For Life
The Night Sea Journey (by Rose Flint)
Writing for Wellbeing
A Candle Against the Dark
A Tree Full of Birds

Footnotes & References

Notes on Contributors

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Writing the Bright Moment (the book)

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.)


Introduction – Living the Writing Life

For a long time I thought – I hoped, perhaps, as it would make my job as a facilitator easier, and also my course descriptions – that you could differentiate writing from living; or creative writing from reflective writing; and of course, in one way, you can. A novel, a play, a poem speaks its own language, out there in the world, self-sufficient, finding its own way. And at the same time, the distinction is false. The more I work with people, and the more I explore my own creative processes, and my life, the more I recognise that fundamentally the separation is illusory.

   For me, writing is a way of meeting the world; of becoming and staying more conscious, more open, more imaginative; and then expressing that experience in whatever form is appropriate to the context. That expression will then feed back into the way I meet the world; a kind of Möbius strip.

   Clearly, writing is, or often is, an expression of creativity, a thing-in-itself. But I believe it’s more than this. It is also a form of intimacy: becoming intimate with the world, with others or another, and with oneself. It is also, therefore, a way of connecting or reconnecting, which means that it is as much a path of practice, a psychospiritual journey, as it is an art form.

   No matter what result you’re looking for – and I hope that this book will help you to stronger more exciting results – to my mind the writing process matters as much as the ‘product’. The act of putting words on paper is one of the most potent acts available to humans. We take language for granted, and we can forget that words can change lives. Writing at its best can be a way of making your world larger; and that of your reader, too.

This book takes a holistic approach to the writing process. We all write, in the course of our daily life; and we all improvise with words every time we open our mouths to speak. Creativity is part of life, an aspect of being human, not just the province of those few artistic geniuses who live permanently at full creative tilt. And creative self-expression has an important contribution to make to full health and wellbeing. In addition, how you live shapes how you write. And as a writer, how I write also shapes how I live.

   Nonetheless, creative writing is a discipline with its own requirements, its own parameters and its own tools and skills, and this book, I hope, will encourage you to explore these things further. The exploration never stops: my own experience is that one is perpetually apprenticed to the practice of writing.

   Much of our writing is a response to the world, to the experience of being alive. Humans live on many thresholds at once. It’s the job of the writer to be conscious of this and to find ways of articulating it. What ends up on the page is partly a response to the world we perceive through our senses, the feelings, thinking, intuition, life experiences – our own and others’ – and the memories we bring. It is leavened and made into something other by the imagination’s ability to read even more into everything, by our ability to put ourselves into the shoes of another, to question and to respond, to ask ‘what if?’, to transmute the raw ingredients into something new. The work comes in the shaping of all those things so that the result is as near to what we want to say, in language that sings, as possible.

   No matter how innovative our work, we are also writing from within, or extending, a tradition, even when we are challenging it. That tradition uses the power of imagery as its foundation, and leads back through the written canon to the oral culture to the pictograms, stories, myths and archetypes of our prehistoric ancestors, elders, bards and shamans amongst them. We are drawing not only from our own conscious and unconscious wells, we are also drawing from the limitless well of what Jung named the collective unconscious.

   What this means is that the images we use and the language we employ are all freighted with decades, centuries and even millennia of meaning. As writers, we can excavate that meaning and bring it into daylight. We can also lay our own nuances over the top of it; a word, especially a noun or verb, is a kind of palimpsest. By changing the context of that word, assigning new tasks and neighbours to it, we can allow our reader to see new faces in everyday language. This is particularly true, perhaps, of poetry. ‘An individual word’, says writer and academic Peter Abbs, ‘will carry ancient poetic sediment, and one of the poet’s tasks – as language is the poet’s medium – is to shake the hidden pollen and seeds that lie there, to allow for a new and quite unexpected fertilisation… Not to work the deep geology of language is to fail the medium.’1

This book is for anyone who is interested in any form of creative and reflective writing for any reason – to make something new with words, to communicate something important, as self-expression, self-exploration, as a personal record or journal – or simply because you have to, because nothing else fills that space, because that’s what you do.

   Nonetheless, I am addressing the poet in every writer, and an exploration of poetry forms much of the substance of this book. Poetry, in a way, is a process of distilling, heightening and refining experience, and therefore is a core practice.

   Robert Frost described poetry as ‘a way of remembering what it would impoverish us to forget’; and its place in history has been about just that: it is the oldest form of verbal art, once indistinguishable from storytelling, and universally crucial in the preservation of important cultural wisdom.

   ‘I believe we need good poems,’ says Andrea Hollander Budy, writing in Resurgence 207, ‘because they are both entertaining and useful: entertaining in that they are rooted in the human traditions of telling stories and making music; useful in that they disturb our lives enough to reinforce our humanness. I don’t believe there’s another literature that does it quite like that.

   ‘Poems speak the heart’s language, an aesthetic language that is both spiritual and musical. It is a language that forms questions much better than it poses answers. It cradles the tongue and the heart but exists in the ear... poems provide one of life’s few defences against inevitable grief and intolerable, unfathomable disaster. Yet poetry is equally the language of celebration, of unexpected joy, and of human love...’

   In short, poetry addresses every aspect of being human; and there can be few people who haven’t turned to it as reader or writer, however briefly, at moments of extreme feeling in their lives. For many reasons, and in many ways, poetry goes where other things can’t. Its terrain is unique. It is also crucial, in my view, to the life of the soul, as a revivifying medium, a force for reconnection; perhaps especially in a secular dislocated culture. Peter Abbs says that in the present state of cultural dissipation ‘an inner connection to a larger symbolic world is essential for the imaginative life’. We suffer collectively from a failure of imagination. Without the imaginative life we become, as individuals and as a people, desiccated; and, worse, incapable of empathy. Adrienne Rich says that poetry is a means of saving your life. Poet William Carlos Williams said:

It is difficult

           to get the news from poems

                     yet men die miserably every day

                               for lack

           of what is found there.

My poet friend Brian puts it like this: ‘Liverpool manager Bill Shankley said that football isn’t just a matter of life and death; it’s more important than that. Speaking as a footballer myself, I say that poetry’s even more important than football...’

   Whether or not poetry is your own medium, as a creative writer you will live with a poetic consciousness. This implies a simultaneous immersion in the life of the imagination and the life of the senses. There’s something shamanic about poetry and about poets. A poet flies across the thresholds of many worlds, goes to where the veil is thin, but lives fully in this: he or she also looks deeply, listens deeply, feels, touches and tastes the world in all its moods.       
   The poet conveys through a deep-rootedness in the sensory dimension, the concrete world and the physicality of experience, the existential, the spiritual, and the intangible. The profound is more effective if carried in the simple. If this is done skilfully enough, the poem will carry within it and convey to its audience its own true terrain of subtle non-physical meaning.

   Writing undertaken in this spirit is both a tool to achieve this, and the process itself. How to enhance this practice and ability is the focus of this book.

So writing is both an end in itself and a means to an end, both journey and destination. As I said at the beginning, it may also be a spiritual practice. In some traditions – the bardic, that of Japanese or Chinese sages, the Sufi, the Christian contemplative, the troubadour – poetry has been a crucial aspect of a spiritual path – a container for processing, refining and shedding light on the experience of being human, and of communicating that – both back to oneself and to others. It has its own psychology, spirituality, philosophy, history, cosmography and ecology.

But this source book is ‘hands-on’. I don’t want it to be merely theorising, although there will be times when I use discourse to explore the nature of writing. Nonetheless the emphasis is to help facilitate in you, the reader, the shaping of your creative voice. It is intended to inspire, to guide, and to remind you that though writing is a solitary path you are not alone in your practice.

   This means there are many suggestions and exercises to that end. This is a practical manual – a manual of practice.

   What I aim to explore in this book are three interlinked things.

   The first is those moments of inspiration that lead us to create words on a page (or in the ear), a largely subjective and usually solitary pursuit or phenomenon. How can we find, enhance, and commit to that process?

   The second is the shaping of those creations so that they do their job well. What does this require?

   The third is a holistic perspective, and underpins, overlays and surrounds everything contained in this book – living the writing life: a wonderful, terrible, gruelling, rich and all-embracing journey.

   All three perspectives are ones that I have spent the better part of my life exploring; and this source book is a way to collect, collate and reflect on the work I have done with groups of writers over fourteen years now, in the hopes that the final distilled result will create something inspiring.

   Most of the material in here has been tried out and refined on the people with whom I have worked. That way, I know that it does its job.

It’s also a record, in some ways, of my practice. And it will be a celebration of not only the writing process, but of the writing companions, friends, colleagues and students, who have travelled alongside me throughout my own solitary writer’s journey; in many ways it is our work, not my work.

The book contains a series of short essays. Many are pieces I have commissioned from creative writing practitioners who take their work out into the world by inspiring and supporting others as they themselves explore their own creativity. The contributors who have generously given their time to this project are people whose work – personal creative work as well as professional facilitation – I respect and admire, and whose approach chimes with my own. (Their contributions are named in the Contents list and at the heads of their essays; the unattributed pieces are, of course, mine.)

   My own pieces have been written over several years. Some of these are directly connected to various aspects of the writing process, what you might call the river; and many are ‘tributaries’ – less overtly related to writing but important ‘feeders’ into my approach to the whole adventure.

   Most of the essays are followed by relevant suggestions and exercises. I recommend that you take one of the topics and work with it and around it and through it and within it over a period of days, allowing your own imagination and associative memory to suggest new directions in relation to this topic. Allow the work to take you deep, to settle inside you, to suggest its own directions. Allow it time before moving on.

   You don’t have to work through the book’s contents sequentially. It may be more inspiring to take a serendipitous approach and open the book at random; then use that essay and any associated exercise(s) as a starting point for the week’s musings.

Can writing be taught? Is it about learning? I don’t know. That’s a continuing debate. I believe that while talent may be innate, technique – and, even more importantly, insight – can be learnt or acquired, and talent can then be manifest. It will require continuing dedication and commitment, clearly. The art is in the practice. Learning how to read, how to look, how to listen, properly and wholeheartedly, and then to reflect on what you’ve noticed is all part of that practice. The art of really paying attention.

   There’s the story about the sculptor, asked how on earth he managed to carve a life-size elephant. ‘I simply chip away everything that’s not elephant,’ he replied.

   Maybe writing’s like that too. Maybe it’s about peeling away everything that’s not what you want to say. As you work through this book, what I hope you will find is the courage to be the writer you could be as well as the writer you already are; and to allow your writing to feed your life, as your life feeds your writing.

© Roselle Angwin, 2004/2014

Monday 23 June 2014

fire in the head talks, workshops & retreats 2014

This is an updated calendar for the events (so far) for the rest of the year, should any of you be enticed to come along. Most of the day workshops are in the Westcountry, but there are retreats further afield: there are a couple of places for people willing to camp at a reduced rate or sleep at a local auberge on the French writing and mindfulness retreat at the end of August 

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;

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

poem for the summer solstice 2014

Summer solstice 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

charles wright, US laureate

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:

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

'after the poetry' (poem)

That fat buttery moon rising full
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

symbolic truths mark 2

So Richard Dawkins at the recent Cheltenham Literary Festival questioned the usefulness of fairy tales for children (though he wasn't quite as unequivocal in his condemnation of them, to be fair, as some journalists reported). But he did talk of the wisdom or otherwise of letting children read about 'the supernatural'.

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).

Blog Archive