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, 7 December 2015

guest blog: Victoria Field on pilgrimage

I'm pleased that friend and colleague Victoria Field has agreed to writing a guest blog for me. Victoria's also a sometime participant on my Iona and Gardoussel writing retreats, both of which have a quality of pilgrimage to them (Iona more overtly). Thank you, Victoria.


Pilgrimage is a bit of a buzz word at the moment.  I live in Canterbury, a World Heritage Site where there is a constant flow of people passing through and, for a few hours a week, I volunteer at the Cathedral, answering questions and sometimes acting as a sounding board. Some visitors are traditional pilgrims – they carry rucksacks and are walking from Winchester, or to Paris, or even to Rome or Santiago.  But what of those who come on buses, in their own cars or simply wander in during their lunch hours?  If we take pilgrimage in the sense of any significant journey, then they too are pilgrims.

The NAWE conference in Durham this November was a pilgrimage for me. I’d never been to Durham before and have always wanted to see the Shrine of St Cuthbert, having visited Lindisfarne and his tiny cell on Inner Farne. The Farne Islands are famous for their vibrant bird populations, so that visiting requires vigilance above and below – to avoid treading on puffins and being dive-bombed by Arctic terns. In contrast to Canterbury’s Thomas, with his political nouse and legalistic concerns, Cuthbert is close to nature, the elements and non-human creatures. His cold feet were warmed by ‘sea otters’, an eagle brought him fish, a horse found him a loaf of bread found hidden in a barn. Like Francis, Cuthbert had an affinity with birds, especially eider ducks, known in Northumberland as Cuddy ducks, after the saint.

NAWE is the National Association of Writers in Education and the conference, the first I’d been to for a decade, attracted people from Australia, Europe and the States as well as all over the UK.  Like Chaucer’s medievals, we exchanged stories, slept in unfamiliar beds, broke bread together and then went our separate ways, somehow changed by the journey and its encounters. The conference coincided with the Lumiere Festival so the city was en fete, closed to traffic and its major buildings, squares and even the river, lit up in ways that inspired wonder and awe.

I love conferences and choose sessions by instinct as it’s impossible to know from the descriptions where connections might be made, what’s going to be alive and what not.  I attended workshops and presentations on performance and dreaming, boundaries and theatre, voice and work in art galleries, all of which were nourishing and heartening. My own slot was shared with Caroline Carver’s work on poetry in the Marine Institute in Plymouth where the fact that a whale heart is the size of a mini has stayed with me. I talked about my residency in Blean woods and afterwards attended a wonderful session on the imagery of birds, led by Robyn Bolam, Joan McGavin and Rebecca Smith.

In my own session, we made group poems using post-its, which later fell from the windows onto the carpet like autumn leaves.  We explored the grief of extinction by bearing witness to the nature words now missing from the Oxford Dictionary for Children, and listened to the spring song of a nightingale in a Kent woodland, now in peril because of drought in Africa.  As in all the sessions, we used language to make connections.

On a pilgrimage, at a conference and in writing, it seems everything can stand for everything else, the detail for the whole, the moment for a lifetime.  On the Saturday morning, we learned of the bombings in Paris.  Inner and outer. Our selves as individuals and as members of a world community. Our planet in peril.  The wonder of it all.

Here is a poem on that theme by the Swedish Nobel Laureate, Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robert Bly:

Victoria Field works as a writer and poetry therapist. Her memoir on pilgrimage and marriage, Baggage: A Book of Leavings will be published by Francis Boutle in 2016.

She is co-teaching a new online course Introduction to Therapeutic and Reflective Writing for the Professional Writing Academy beginning in January 2016.

Further details on 

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting blog Vicky. The idea of pilgrimage that you share is very inspiring.. Thank you...x


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