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 20 July 2015

summer rain

Look who I met in the forest yesterday. There are three of them, though you can only see two. I hope they’re feral, not just escapees who’ll be found and rounded up again.

Well, it rains. And rains. Like back home. But then, one of the reasons I like this area (in addition to the fact that the town is twinned with St Just, my family home) is because it reminds me of Dartmoor but with everything scaled up, and so much more wooded.

So of course I could stay in and write. And I am still not writing; but rereading Geoff Dyer’s book Out of Sheer Rage; think I’ve mentioned it before. It’s a great book about not writing; in his case not writing a book about D H Lawrence.

I tell myself I really need a holiday, with no agenda – not even writing. And that’s true, too.

Yesterday afternoon I distracted myself a treat; I went into town, looked at the tranquillity of the lake, just lightly dimpled with mizzle, watched the swallows winging so low for insects – around our ankles – that they swam, like fish.

And oh I found another bookshop – a wonderful 2nd-hand bookshop stuffed with lovely inexpensive books, mainly English. I gathered up a handful (I could hear TM in my head: do you really need another 7 to add to the 2000 at home? Well, on a wet solo Sunday when I need to practise more avoidance tactics, the answer of course is yes…)

Then I went to the summer show in l’Ecole des Filles – a big art space with a big reputation. This was a mixed show titled ‘Briser le toit de la maison – le sacré dans l’art’ – breaking the roof of the house – the sacred in art. In the flier, they quote that scholar of the sacred, notably the shamanic, Mircea Eliade: ‘Quelque chose de sacré se montre à nous’ – something of the sacred is showing itself to us’, a phrase I love.  

As always, much of it was interesting, and some pieces more powerful than others. There were a number of Chinese contributors – I think because of the provenance of the gallery and its origins – with, as you’d expect, quite a degree of stillness in the work; though one of them had depicted la Forêt de Huelgoat here, in its size and energy, with a matching turbulence. Photos were allowed but presumably not full reproduction, so here is a tiny corner of this painting:

I loved the work of Matthieu Dorval with its abstractions and vigorous colour, and the altogether different work of Loïc le Groumellec, whose preoccupation is with the prehistoric legacy of this country.

I came home longing to paint again; my fingers itching for a palette knife, my eyes for the non-verbal growth of something. Once upon a time I painted, and even sold; but I’ve done nothing now for several years, and am almost afraid to begin again.

But I’m storing the impressions up. Who knows.

Friday 17 July 2015

of Saturn, enchanted forests, and bogs

‘Ce n’est pas tous les jours dimanche, et longue joie’, wrote Paul Eduard in a poem. Roughly: ’Not every day is Sunday, with its long joys.’

In my last blog I spoke of inspiration, and not quite translating that into writing. However, I’m doing two things that seem really significant for me: picking up threads from earlier in my life is one; and spending time alone processing and grieving over the huge number of family traumas, severe illnesses, losses and deaths that have marked my last 9 years.

And so the Real Matter of my time here has arisen. Consciously, of course, I made this space to write; spending so much time facilitating others’ writing means that I rarely have sufficient unbroken time or unaccounted-for energy for my own (or at least, that’s a convenient excuse for not getting down to it). And in fact, a few days on, I am writing: I’ve picked up the book of essays I was working on last year, and have written a whole page – a whole page! – of a new novel.

But I knew, really, that this would arise. Crossroads time – again.  We bring ourselves to them, in big or small ways, over and over, don't we? And like everything else the soul needs, if we don’t appear to do it, ‘life’ will.

Astrologically speaking, I’ve hit my second Saturn return (we hit the first in our late 20s; a time of change for many, often in the shape of a significant relationship, marriage, children, new work or creative projects, or divorce). This is the time when Saturn ‘up there’  currently transits to conjunct your natal Saturn; that is, he returns in the sky to the position he occupied at your birth (his orbit of the sun takes between about 28ish and 291/2 years).

Symbolically, it’s a time when limitations and restraints become most apparent, often very uncomfortably; when you feel blocked or stymied in particular or significant ways; when old structures need to break down in order for the new to enter; and one has a chance to re-vision a way forward.

It’s also a kind of karmic time, when we reap what we have sown in an earlier period, and also have to look at what serves us and what doesn’t in our life; what we need for integrity and wholeness; what we can accept or give energy to, and what not. What we can or can’t live with; what we can or cant live without. (I’m not pretending that these things don’t arise unrelated to the movements of Saturn, clearly; just that they seem also strongly and not coincidentally, in my view, in an interrelated cosmos, to be manifestations of this particular archetype at certain times in an individual’s life.)

Sometimes, to paraphrase Chase Twichell on poetry, cleaning the windows isn’t enough; one has to break the glass.

It’s an uncomfortable, challenging, inward and difficult time, and for me I’m having to take stock of everything in my life. Grief is a bit forefront; my father’s death 7 months ago brought with it a whole raft of our griefs.

And uncertainty is forefront. I take comfort from Keats’ idea that nothing is certain except the ‘shaping spirit of imagination’, and the ‘holiness of the heart’s affections’.

I don’t think one necessarily needs physical time out to take stock; but it certainly sheds light on aspects one can’t always see in close-up.

 Undoubtedly my primary relationship has suffered from the fact that the whole time I’ve known TM I’ve been immersed in dealing with the very considerable demands of taking a share of the care of the needs of one parent with Alzheimer’s and the other parent with post-stroke dementia, and family fallout and other severe illness as a result of all that, while still working full time. In addition, there have been several other significant deaths and losses in my life in that time, and a serious health problem in someone I’m very close to; and my own not-insignificant health issues. Not surprisingly, TM has found the effects of all this on me very difficult. 

How to move forward now, then, with grief and emotional exhaustion filling the frame?

And it’s just beginning to dawn on me that this is the first time since I was 23 when I have had no dependents (I’m including sick parents in that), other than the dog, who is easy. My daughter, who’d been away on and off at university and then abroad for several years, finally moved out, with her two ponies whom I’d also adored but who’d been in my care when she was away, in May 2006.

As a single parent, although of course I missed her like crazy, something in me breathed out at an opportunity to consider where and how I wanted to live, now that I only had me to consider (plus two dogs).  I lifted my head to sniff the air.

At this point, my mum already had mild Alzheimer’s, but my dad, with the help of my three local sisters, was able to cope. Two months later, in July 2006, my dad had a stroke, and that was the end of life as we’d all known it, and inevitably the end of my ‘freedom’ as I’d imagined it as we all struggled to cope, and for various reasons finally I was doing it alone for a couple of years.

Later, I’ll no doubt look back on that period as a time of privilege, seeing two people I’d loved deeply over a final threshold. For now, I can still only see it as a traumatic and enormously distressing time.

So inevitably my time here is also a time of mourning, including for some 9hopefully temporary) loss in my own vitality; and yet there is something liberating and uplifting about such stripping down to the bone.  There’s a clarity that comes.

Or at least, there’s a clarity that comes after the muddiness. I smiled wryly yesterday at the demonstration of just how off-balance I am at the moment: using stepping stones to cross a boggy weedy pool whose surface was dense with mosquitoes, I thought: ‘Great not to fall in there!’ just as PAF! (as they might say in the Asterix books), I did, slipping off a wobbly stone. Smothered. Filthy. Head to toe. Then trying to be cool and elegant whilst covered in slime and blackness on issuing directions in French to a couple who asked.

In this magical place I’m peering ‘between the worlds’ for a glimpse of a creative heartful way forward, and for what that might mean, too, in my personal life which is buzzing like a hornets’ nest with confusion at the moment.

Not that easy, of course: in any forest, and especially an enchanted one, any suggestion of a clear path ahead is likely to be a ‘glamourie’ right now, a chimera; and as likely to offer a baptism of mud as a glimpse of the Grail castle.

As someone wise said: ‘If the path ahead of you is clear, you’re probably on somebody else’s.’

And that’s it, in the end, isn’t it? Making sure that the path we’re on, even when offering what we have to give back to the collective, is our path, and fits us.

Sunday 12 July 2015

Of stones, trees and enchanted forests

On the car deck of the ferry for Roscoff, early, a young man is saying to his two shih-tzus (spelling?) ‘Go weewees for Daddy; go on, go weewees.’ I slap down Ms Critical, who is whispering away that we wouldn’t encourage our dog to pee on the car deck, let alone ascribe role of Mummy to self and say ‘weewees’.

Despite the calmest of crossings – thank you, gods of the high seas, coward that I am – I haven’t slept. In the campervan, She-Who-Wears-Her-Grey-Matter-On-The-Outside has clearly lost the will to live. I’d been pleasantly surprised on boarding the night before to discover that the deck for vehicles with dogs is not down in the smelly noisy airless bowels of l’Armorique, but in an open but covered area that is actually pleasant, and with plenty of access to sea air.

She perks up significantly when we pull up an hour later, though, and walk in the forest, where the canopy is thick with swarming bees, probably from the apiary near Huelgoat, presumably feeding on the tree-flowers, like the sweet chestnut. We head for the Mare aux Sangliers, Wild Boar Pool, though I have a sad sense there are no more boar here, any more than there are wolves – the last was killed in 1906, I learn; nearly two hundred years’ later than in England.

It’s very good to be back on granite, my ‘natural’ stone, characteristic, of course, of the Atlantic coast and hinterland of the Celtic countries (near Totnes we’re on schist and slate – quite different in tone). 

I’ve written before here how I suspect we each have a geology with which we resonate; I’ve always
suspected I’m radioactive at core, like granite; tough, enduring, good at transmitting and receiving. 

I learned today that it’s very hard to ‘earth’ houses that are built on or of granite, no matter how many copper stakes an electrician bangs into the ground.

Something I love about this landscape is the way the enormous rounded granite boulders emerge into and shape the land and its tone. In a poem about the megalithic alignments at Carnac I’ve written something like: ‘animate and placid / in the warm summer rain / the stones point at something / five thousand years / beyond our knowing’.

The stones are animate in the way they lie around in the landscape. Although clearly they’re actually millions of years old in their making, when they’ve been shaped by humans it’s from the Neolithic period. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which are natural outcrops, and which have been shaped by humans. Look at this one, ‘Le Champignon’, now neighboured by an ugly modern house, and a supermarket –

this must surely be human placing? And they crop up simply in fields, where it’s as if they’re growing like very slow trees. 

I remember being struck, again at Carnac, where some of the standing stones formed the back wall of a cottage: of course I knew that the cottage-builder had opportunistically used the stones to save him making a wall, but I couldn’t escape the impression that over centuries the stones had grown inch by inch until fortuitously they’d sheltered the cottage.

This enchanted forest of Huelgoat, the ‘little Broceliande’, is like a massive version of Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor, the latter being a remaining fragment of mediaeval forest (most of Dartmoor Forest was cleared for building and fires, using stone axes, in the Neolithic period, unbelievably), in which stones and trees are virtually indistinguishable.

‘Wistman’ has been interpreted as being from ‘Wisht Maen’: ‘wise’ (or ‘sacred’) ‘stone’, in the old Brythonic tongue, which once would have held sway not just in Cornwall and Wales but in the land in between and above, too. And although I speak only a little Cornish and even less Welsh, it’s lovely to be able to extrapolate enough as to understand some Breton, too (and I did read – by which I mean limp through with a glossary and much sighing – the myths and legends of Wales, such as the Four Branches of the Mabinogion, the Hanes Taliesin [‘Song of Taliesin’], and the Black and Red books of somewhere and somewhere – Carmarthen and Hengest ring faint bells – in their original Middle Welsh at university).

Speaking of Bretons, if anyone reading this is or was an afficionado of the music of Alan Stivell, my own first intro to Breton music when I was an A-level student, and a fan of the Celtic Twilight, I have to tell you that Stivell has made the most beautiful and inspiring book, with photographs, of the places and legends of the Celtic lands that have inspired his music: Sur la route des plus belles legends celtes. Of course, there are plenty of photographs of this inspiring forest.

And speaking of inspiring: well, I haven’t actually done any writing yet, the avowed purpose of my solo trip here. However, I’ve been productive in other ways; and I’ve also thought up a nice twist for the novel I’m not writing. Must note it down, in between being tempted by stones, trees, good coffee and crêpes.

More anon.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

oh yes it's out...

So the lanes are bursting with the exuberance of summer; as I wrote in a poem, almost heartbreakingly so. You know how beauty can cut the heart as much as sorrow?

And with each small degree of turn of the seasons, something reappears that I'd forgotten about, like the vast mass of little white fragrant escapee roses in the hedges of our track, and the arch of purple rhododendrons (rhododendra) topped with the curve of pale pink dog roses that drop heart-shaped petals at my feet each morning.
So much to be thankful for. The beans and squashes, after a slow start, are at last starting to take off in the veg plot. Each time I go up there two families of blackbirds and a thrush or three take wing from where they have, hooray, been picking off the slugs. The daytime and especially dusky time air are both scented with hay. Most days I see a young hare. My herb-and-bee garden is coming along nicely, alongside my globe artichokes, the 'mother' plant of which must be more than 10 years old now, and still fruiting well.

And as the season turns there are huge changes in my own and my daughter's lives. Most of these are very positive, but one of my transitions, potentially huge, is also challenging.

I think a lot about the idea of 'balance of attention': I've written of it one way or another in this blog many times. It's a useful tool from both Buddhist and psychotherapeutic training, in my case, and is about bringing presence to each moment as it is rather than as I am. 

For me, this means not losing myself – my centre, my awareness – in an emotional swamp when things are tough, but rather acknowledging that and continuing to appreciate all the many wonderful things about being alive.

And too, for me, it's about trying not to be immobilised by the vast sum of suffering in the world, human or animal, and trying to change my own pattern of feeling personally responsible for alleviating more than I possibly ever can, while still doing what I can. Not drowning, in other words – we're no use at all to anyone then.

And remembering to celebrate the small things. Here's one (finally she's explaining the title, then?): Looking For Icarus, my first poetry collection, in its new revamped edition with a wonderful cover image by Gay Anderson, is out EARLY! The wonderful people at Indigo Dreams usually manage to pull off this stunt; every book of mine they've published (four now) has been early.

Here it is. If you go to my author page on the publishers' site, you can read some sample poems; and I also wrote a blog on it here, featuring one of my own favourite poems from it. (If you then go to the IDP Bookshop you can see my other books too.) You know what? It would make a poor (though only in the fiscal sense) poet happy if you bought it. And it's wonderful to know that some of you lovely people do buy my work, (and have also bought this collection, now or a decade ago), and do seem to enjoy it.

One reviewer (there were a number of reviews) said:
'The poetry is a fusion of the natural and the metaphysical or quantum in varying degrees. There's often some mysterious third person in the poem; it could be the reader, a god, a lover, a spirit, or only an absence.

‘...there's a real need for a volume such as LOOKING FOR ICARUS.
The poems are readable, challenging and intriguing and far from daunting. Their descriptive power is immense, especially in the early part, but it is largely sustained through the middle and revived before the final gentle fallaway note. The whole hangs beautifully together as a symphony of light...'

– and of course, as in all poetry, there's a certain amount of love, sex, death... you know. (This is me, not the reviewer.) (Not trying to tempt you, by the way, or anything.) I'd like to think I handle them all subtly, of course...


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