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

Sunday, 10 May 2015

poetry, politics, bluebells and the tiniest bee

Well, I'm still 'coming down' from the islands; and am completely amazed and grateful that both the writing retreat weeks I'll be leading on Iona this time next year (well, April) are already provisionally full. Quite apart from the joy I experience up there in the unparallelled Hebrides with such a group of people, in an uncertain and erratic worklife it's great to know that Iona is, for now anyway, a constant.

Here, the bluebells are scenting the air and astonishing the eyes. Have you ever seen such a heavenly blue? 

Each May I think of a beautiful poem by Paul Matthews, part of no 4 in a sequence called 'Bird of Morning' in his Slippery Characters collection (I'm linking to it on Amazon but of course so much better to order it from your local bookshop). For reasons of respecting his copyright I won't reproduce the whole poem but here's the bit that I love:

'... and there without a word
the Bluebells spread and I said
look at me you pure inquisitors

and this they did –
their mute gaze finding out a joy
I'd too long shaded from the view

and as the Blackbird
carolled in the sunlit glade
I wept for being seen through.'

Paul was the course co-ordinator for PoetryOtherWise, a summer school on which I used to teach in Forest Row, and he's not only one of the best poets but also one of the best writing tutors I've ever known. I love his collections and writing books.

In the lanes, the bluebells are part of a company of early purple and flyspotted orchids, stitchwort, campion and the filigree leaves of windflowers. The wild strawberries have been in flower since January! And in Simon's field, sadly just sold, the kingcups and yellow flags are lighting the pool like a tribe of little suns.

In the greenhouse this morning the tiniest bee, shorter than my little fingernail, was marooned on my cape gooseberry plants, with no food. She – for I assume she was a baby worker bee – climbed gratefully onto my finger and then onto the dandelion to which I took her, and I watched her proboscis drinking and drinking the nectar. I took a photo for you but I need my specs these days – it was so blurry I can't post it. But imagine a bee less than a 5th of the size of the diameter of a dandelion...

And such joy, after a week of very hard computer-bound work, to have my hands deep in the manure and soil of the veg bed, planting out this year's squashes, some from what are now three generations of homegrown seed.


After such depressing election results (though TM – as a Green the only official opposition to the Tories in the local elections – garnered 33% of the vote in his ward, one in which he wasn't really known, which says something, I suppose), it's hard to imagine what a serious Left Wing – well, any Left Wing – in our country would look like now. Electoral Reform has to be a must.

Nicola Sturgeon was an effective and impressive speaker, and who wouldn't want free health care, no tuition fees, and no Trident? (NS for PM, I say.)

The downside is that the SNP wiped out Labour's chances. And it's galling that under our current system at 1.4 million votes the SNP took 50-plus seats in the House of Commons, while the Greens with 1.1 million took only one seat.

That night I was due to give a poetry reading at the lovely Thrive café in Totnes. I'd prepared an eco-set of my poetry, but felt that I couldn't simply walk round the election-elephant in the room.

My poetry isn't political in the usual sense; and during the day I had the kind of occasional crisis I have from time to time about what 'use' poetry might be when, as I say in a poem in my first collection Looking For Icarus (reprinting in June via IDP - plug alert!): 

what use is poetry, if you're starving, or a refugee
squeezed between torture and war, or bleeding alone
in some dark alley

until I remembered that poetry is not necessarily about protest and justice and being right-on, but more about keeping alive the flame of the human spirit at times when external events, materialism and consumerism, capitalism and unsustainable growth, destruction, genocide, wrecking of the planet etc tilt us towards despair.

It's about meaning, about vision, about picturing an alternative world and committing to keeping that in view, it's about the imagination, it's about empathy, and a vote for soul and for the feeling nature – it's about how the world might be otherwise, in times when we're torn between witnessing terrible conflicts and utter media trivia, and for not being alone.

Sometimes these things are what keep us from falling over the edge; and sometimes this has to be enough.


  1. Thanks Roselle, should have read this earlier, marooned as we are in a red bit of the west/southwest. Uplifting and true

  2. Vivienne, lovely to hear from you! Thank you. Hope all's well with you, and you're coming through the dark forest. Rx


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