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 27 March 2016

of animals 2: downturn in welfare

(Post thunder and lightning): I knew there was something else I wanted to speak of; and that's the Government's stated intention to scrap animal welfare codes in the farming industry. Instead – get this – the industry will regulate itself. You can see where that will go, can't you: only downwards. I am despairing.

We have supposedly some of the best animal welfare standards in the world, and it is still appalling. Battery hens still only have a cage the size of a sheet of A4 paper; one-day old male chicks are minced alive, or gassed, or suffocated in plastic bags; breeding sows are still kept in in tiny metal breeding stalls (and it's said the piglets are dropped through metal bars onto conveyor belts); veal calves are taken from their mothers at a few days of age and raised in the dark, in small areas, for all of their short lives; and mares are kept pregnant, in confined spaces, in order to produce the hormone used to make HRT for menopausal women (it is NOT necessary, folks; go the herbal route; contact me, or better still, search the web, for more info) – hence some of the brand names (eg Premarin). This is our 'high welfare'.

As John Vidal said in yesterday's Guardian (March 26, 2016), the plans may knock a penny or two off an already-cheap chicken, but are likely – quite apart from all the welfare issues – to see the continued disruption of health scares.

How can deregulation do anything other than intensify the conditions, ripe for disease, in which already-intensive animal farming rears its victims?

Vidal points out that 'it was the total failure of the industry ability to regulate itself that led to last year's chicken bug scandal when [it was found] that nearly 8 out of 10 fresh chickens bought from British supermarkets were contaminated with the potentially lethal food-poisoning bug campylobacter, costing the NHS nearly £900m... more than 240,000 people a year were getting ill and up to 100 were dying... Salmonella in eggs, BSE in cattle, foot-and-mouth disease* and swine flu – all followed cuts in animal welfare standards or inspection services.'

This is Liz Truss' drive. Vidal points out that under TTIP, if it happens, there will be a downfall in food and farming standards; the US agribusiness will be exporting to Europe animal products from a farming system with much lower welfare and hygiene standards than our own.

If we exit the EU, then clearly, as he states, our welfare standards are likely to fall, anyway.

Whichever way you look at it, animals will suffer more. Chances are humans who eat them will, too. We cannot let this happen. There are, hooray, greater numbers of people becoming vegetarian for a range of reasons: animal welfare, personal health, budget, awareness of the environmental cost, and the enormous and inefficient demand for land and water to produce such a small amount of food for a burgeoning population. More people, too, are looking at vegan options.

But we have a VERY long way to go before we can be proud of the way we relate to animals. (As TM said yesterday: many people unthinkingly consider them really to be automata, more or less.)

Meantime, we need to challenge, at the very least, this proposed downgrading of animal welfare and the knock-on effects on humans.

If anyone knows of a petition started up to protest this, please add it to the Comments. If it doesn't happen, I might just have to start one myself.

And you could also write to your MP?

March 30th: here's the link to the petition:


* Foot-and-mouth disease: I documented this as it happened in Devon, and in fictional form but with factual accuracy it forms part of my last novel, The Burning Ground.

of animals, of birds, of plants

Of animals
How amazing today, right on cue, that a large hare should lope unconcernedly into our courtyard, fewer than 3 metres from our glass doors and windows, do a short circuit, then head up into the field where we have our orchard, veg plots and woodland margins. What a gift; so long associated with Eostre and Magna Mater, the Great Goddess of pre-Christian times.

But I'm not going to write about Easter; if you want to read a blog I wrote previously on the symbolic resonances of Easter/Eostre and hares, you can click here.

My own celebration is the spring equinox, and I had a wonderful evening round the equinox fire (from which arose the poem in my last posting), and then a day working with Jonathan Horwitz and Zara Waldeback at Schumacher College with 'Stories of the Earth'. My role was to take their group up onto my favourite bit of Dartmoor with its stone avenues, stone circle, menhir and leat, for a day of deep listening to the earth. For many years I'd lead groups up there at the equinoxes and solstices, and something in me was profoundly restored by the day this time, after a hiatus. So much so, in fact, that I am now certain I need to reintroduce this into my programme of courses.

I've written before on this blog about learning to live in harmony with the species we tend to think of as pests; hornets, for one; slugs for another. (Slugs: this is still difficult. Having our veg plot in a field means that we provide cover for 100s of those huge black ones, as well as the tan-and-orange monsters, and last year, between endless rain and slugs – and pigeons – we lost a very large part of our harvest.)

Currently it's a rat; or maybe rats. Both dogs have been ill lately, and my ancient hound is once again really not at all well. (It's amazing that she's made the great and unusual, for a big hound, age she has, given all her many and serious – at times life-threatening – illnesses and misfortunes since 2011.)

We haven't, even with our wonderful vet, been able to diagnose what's wrong with Ash currently; my daughter's younger lurcher is fine now (they've both had stomach issues, and Ash has had a hot dry nose and been off her food for a couple of weeks now, with the runs – hope you're not eating an Easter egg?).

But I've done my usual and gone down the route of worst-case scenario; it's not that I'm a drama queen (much), it's more that the last 10 years have brought so many serious illnesses and bereavements in my family that I feel unable to cope at times with another potentially serious situation.

So in my darker moments, having always preached the 'we can accommodate a rat outdoors' thing, I now have convinced myself that, since I see the rat appear fairly often, very close – in fact at the birdfeeder in the courtyard – it's clearly contaminated all the drinking water with leptospirosis, which can be serious and even fatal in dogs.

A few years ago, I was teaching a poetry week in Sussex, and one morning the group came in in a mild – and in some cases not-so-mild – state of hysteria at the fact that someone had seen a rat at the compost heap maybe 500 metres away. I couldn't believe it. Talk about demonisation. So I had them write for half an hour on their 'inner rat', and then we talked facts.

There are ways to manage these things, though I have discovered that those electronic beeper things don't work, and neither did the expensive humane rat-trap cage I bought – I loaded the spring-gate mechanism with cheese, which had gone every morning, while the gate remained unsprung; field mice, no doubt.

But my usual calmness at animal 'pests' has disappeared over the hill with its arse on fire, currently. So I moved the birdfeeder and cleaned the courtyard and all the (now-redundant – there is water trickling from the stone wall that is part of the face of an old small quarry that the birds can drink from) drinking bowls with anti-bacterial essential oils, and vinegar. I shall scatter powdered garlic around the place from which the rat always emerges, and clear away the undergrowth. Then I'll cross my fingers.

Photo at our feeder by Francis Jones
Of birds
One of my favourite times of day is early morning, when I sit by the window with a cup of tea and watch the birds at, or below, the feeder: six species of tit, greater spotted woodpeckers, nuthatches and finches are daily visitors, and then the little shy dunnocks, robins and blackbirds, and an occasional house sparrow, clean up beneath. Having removed the feeders, I mourn this loss; but remind myself that the feeder is primarily to keep the birds going, not for my pleasure.

I took the feeders up to the field and they now hang from beech branches. I call the birds when I go out to fill them in the mornings, and they know my voice. The great and blue tits were up beside me in minutes. I'm not sure who else has discovered where I've put them, apart from a jay. The robins and dunnocks appear hopefully when I go into the courtyard, and I feel so mean not feeding them.

My sister tells me we should keep feeding the birds into May, as they 'calculate' brood size according to the food supply. Let's hope TM will still fill the feeders in the early mornings before work when I leave for the two retreats I'm leading on Iona in April.

We had little egrets who'd roost in the old oak tree above the brook every winter. I haven't seen them for a couple of years, but one was back last week. A day or two later, s/he was back with a second. They both circled the area. ('Here do you, darlin'?' 'Nah. Don't like it. Wrong neighbourhood. Don't want to raise me kids here, do I?'), then one followed by the other flapped off, and I've seen neither since. Heron is there, though; and yesterday I disturbed a snipe in the undergrowth near the brook.

The young owls have started hooting in the daytime, and there were larks aplenty the other day up on the moor; where they were, however, 'swaling': burning off vast tracts of gorse and bracken to promote new growth for the grazing ruminants – and killing thousand upon thousand of small mammals, ground-nesting birds, slow worms and snakes, and billions of insects. Grrr.

Of plants

At last some of the broad beans are through in the greenhouse, and yesterday TM planted out the new potatoes. My garlic is bravely shooting above its coverlet of kelp.

We've been collecting wild garlic for a few weeks, and today I picked the first nettle tops. I'll make soup tonight from both those plants, along with our last potatoes and leeks. If I can find some still – and they've been around all winter, so I probably can – I'll add sheep sorrel leaves, for the tang. I love making this part-foraged soup every year, and it feels so good for you. The nettles add a blood-cleansing component, and various useful minerals; it occurs to me I might add a tea of that to the dog's water.

Having spent my whole life using only herbal medicines for my family (daughter, dogs, ponies and bantams; my daughter has never had a dose of antibiotics – as far as I know – in 37 years), I notice how these days panic drives me to throw any allopathic medicines I can find at the dog, just to stop the symptoms.

Of course, there are many times when allopathic meds are useful, even necessary; but my conviction is that, as long as you know what you're doing (and I do, pretty much, at least to some extent), giving the whole plant with its alkaloids embedded in a matrix of other components rather than a synthesised extract, or a wholly-lab-manufactured alternative, is slower, but a much more gentle and sustained approach to healing of the cause, rather than simply relieving the symptoms and obscuring the cause.

So alongside the pain-relieving meds that I have succumbed to this week, for the dog's chronic back and joint pain, I'm slowly building up in her body various plant supplements including turmeric that will help ameliorate the pain longer-term.

For her currently-very-upset stomach, she is on natural probiotics, yogurt, plus a herbal digestive mix from Dorwest Herbs, and I'm putting an infusion of fennel and a leaf or two of mint in her drinking water.

Plants are amazing; they are our support infrastructure. It's easy to forget that. And they form a large part of everyone's diet; they form all of mine.

I use witch hazel every day on my skin, and for bruises or knocks on any of us. Aloe vera too. I'm about to sow various companion plants to help boost growth and repel pests from our crops this year.

I myself am on various tinctures daily, with the advice of a medical herbalist friend, that have helped to contain and support my heart, which has noticeably improved over the two or three years I've been taking them (though – and this is where it all started – I'm taking a low dose of allopathic meds, too at the moment; I've been able to decrease it with the herbs, and hope to stop it altogether before too long. It was panic that drove me there, too – your heart misbehaving, apart from the symbology, is extremely frightening; or at least, was to me; it being central to staying alive.)

And then there's the 'spirit medicine' aspect, which I've written of elsewhere; will no doubt do again; and which focused me on something that was to prove important to me in my personal and also professional life when I had an unexpected experience of the 'spirit of willow' about 20 years ago. This underlies aspects of my ecopsychology work; of that, more anon.

And now, with a wild storm coming in and the possibility of thunder and lightning (last time, a few weeks ago, it took out our electricity and routers), adieu in some haste...

Monday 21 March 2016

spring equinox poem 2016

Spring equinox 2016
for Zara and Jonathan

Last night, after the flute, as the moon
rose over the fire and the pines leaned closer
to listen, we spilled our stories one-by-one
to the flames – our hopes, our dreams, our fears.

Suddenly from the belly of the dark wood
a rook rose flapping and creaking its song
to the night, and something in me
struggled free at last from its tangles and knots.

You remind us of how harmony and sympathy
can triumph over conflict and antipathy as you speak 

your tale, scooped from the heart of the flames,
of the dance of sun and moon in the great cosmic crucible,

how light and dark now hold each to the other
in equilibrium. Later, following the flute, stepping back 

with you through roots and humus, feet finding the way,
I remember again the paths of re-enchantment –

how we are not alone amongst the wild things,
how the stars come down to touch our faces,
how there is only this, this trust, this mystery,
our stories, this fumbling for the way.

© Roselle Angwin, 21st March 2016

Saturday 19 March 2016

a coming-up-for-the-equinox ragbag blog

We arrived on the ferry at St Malo about 20 minutes before the mother of all gales unleashed herself on land and sea; the postman told me that winds in the Channel were gusting at 130kph. Driving the high-sided van inland from there was hairy. (The compensation was the way so many trees were dressed gold with mistletoe – not connected with the gale, btw. Getafix clearly hadn't visited in a while.)

And then there was sun.

I had a whole week free from e-gadgets. It took me a couple of days to stop twitching about all the work undone and emails unanswered while my computer was at the vet's and I was in Brittany; and then suddenly a glorious rush of freedom took hold and filled my sails.

Plus I didn't catch any global bad news.

I hadn't realised quite how much of my life is dominated by the mild stress of never quite feeling I'm on top of all that I should be doing workwise, and in terms of keeping up communications, let alone the sitting on a cliff-edge income-wise, as happens when you're entirely freelance in the arts, as I have been all my working life.

Then there are the greater and collective stresses of our being bombarded by all the awfulness of what humans are doing to each other and the world; for myself, I only just keep despair at that a hand's breadth away.

I can't tell you what a relief it was not to be summoned by the phone, or to open my laptop – once, that is, I'd faced my addiction to the latter and gone cold turkey. (I did miss writing blogs, though. I hope you missed me too?)

We walked. We read. We (that is I) wrote – longhand and with joy. We spent time with friends. We spent hours watching the lake with a good coffee, or a crêpe, and the wild waterfalls (without coffee and crêpes) with their brimfulness from winter storms. We looked for spring creeping towards us across the land at – what is it, 2 mph?

And I remembered slow living. I noticed that we were both lighter in spirit (being away from work too I guess).

Try it. Really. Try it. I usually switch my computer off for one day of the week at least, but I still feel harried by the phone.

And yes, we were back in the Forest of Huelgoat. TM reminded me that the first time I took photos here 150 of them were of the leat (that's one of them, the photo that permanently heads this blog), so I was hurried past that, just a little. I found another stream in compensation, though – at the top. And revisited several waterfalls, including this one which has an interesting legend attached – I'm writing about that at the moment, so watch this space (for the book), as they say.

Just above this fall, Le Gouffre, is a viewpoint called Le (La?) Belvedere, 'belle vue'. I only just clocked that all the many Westcountry seaside hotels called that too are because they have 'beautiful views', etymologically speaking.

Anyway, we climbed the narrow, steep path up to where a memorial stone has been set on the spot where poet and naval doctor Victor Segalen was found dead nearly 100 years ago, a copy of Hamlet beside him. (Gives extra poignancy to some of the most famous words in that play, doesn't it?)

And we found another beautiful path back into Huelgoat (though not the one below).

So back here in Devon, normal stress levels have kicked back in. In fact abnormal stress levels, to do with the sheer quantity of emails that have arrived, and the fact that I've spent so much time and energy the last few weeks promoting a course which I might have to accept will not run (with all the ramifications of loss of income, loss of work time, and the fact that I passionately want this course to happen).

Not for the first time, I wonder why I want to be self-employed, and why I haven't yet learned the lesson of knowing when to stop. I blame it on being brought up with the injunction that 'There's no such word as can't' – but when does it become energy-draining at best, pathological at worst, to keep knocking and knocking at a door that simply won't open? When does one cut one's losses and turn to greener fields? I guess the answer is different for everyone.

Things seem to have been out of kilter, off-balance, for many people lately, with interpersonal conflict and difficult decisions to be made, close to the surface. It's not, I've discovered, just me. I say this tongue-in-cheek, but only slightly tongue-in-cheek: there are very challenging planetary alignments and transits 'up there' in the skies right now; the symbolic implications in an interrelated universe need very careful handling in our individual lives, with an eye kept on the internal pressure cooker.

Let's hope the upcoming equinox, when I'll be taking a group of shamanic students out onto the moor, will bring some balance.


Speaking of the skies, after a tough day yesterday I received in the post this morning a complimentary copy of Rosie Jackson's wonderful new poetry collection The Light Box. This lifted me. Her profound, lightly-handled and luminous poems really touch me; something that happens only too rarely with poetry these days.

There are so many I could quote to you, but here's one:


We never thought to learn the names of stars.
They were just places light once found a home.

But now you're gone I need to know
which one you've become. Are you

hidden in Lupus, Orion, Cassiopeia?
Perched like an egret on the back of Pegasus?

Flying to Pyxis? Equuleus? Kissing the Seven Sisters?
Is it their love you're coaxing into being now?

Tell me, so I can aim my telescope.
There is so much dark.

There's another fine poem by Rosie on Josephine Corcoran's poetry blog:


is the last day for earlybird bookings on my course Poetry, Place & Pilgrimage in my 'homeland' of West Penwith, at the Land's End tip of Cornwall. This 5-day retreat among the holy wells, stone circles and stunning cliffs is a time for falling in love with the land and one's life again, slowly, walking and writing. I'm so looking forward to sharing this place, with words and silence, with anyone who cares to join me.

You can, of course, sign up at a later date, but for those of you who like slipping under the wire by the seat of your pants (is that an unfortunate mixing of metaphors visually?), you've until Sunday night to get your name to me for me to honour the discount (use the Contact page on the website).

You can see from the photo below why this area was used for filming Poldark (and in fact had I been younger and single I'd have easily been seduced by a gypsy-looking extra from the second lot of filming playing his violin on the cliffs just above the little cove above, early one September morning last year).

Perhaps you've had a surfeit of pretty images now. Here's a wordy invitation: I asked my poetry group the other week what book was most inspiring them right now (it didn't have to be poetry).

If you'd like to answer that q for me, with brief details of the book (author, title, publisher, a line or two about the content, and why it's inspiring), in the Comments section below the blog, or by email if you have my email address, I'd like to compile a short blog including a few of them. Any book is good: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, something more experimental and unclassifiable; whatever you like.


As I type this, and only about 20 minutes after I typed the relevant word in Rosie's poem, a little egret has come up the valley and pitched down in the oak by the brook. We used to have a pair of them who alighted there all winter every winter, but this is the first time I've seen one there since the winter of 2013. That's good news.

And regarding good news and birds, if you haven't seen this piece, do visit it:

Sunday 6 March 2016

for a coming extinction

Creative Commons image

Like many people who are engaged in any kind of campaigning in social or eco-activism, I feel much of the time a mix of hope and utter despair. 

I do believe that slowly, slowly there is a movement towards transformation taking place, an evolution of consciousness.

When I look around, though, at the terrible cruelty and suffering we inflict on others – our own species, and the other-than-human – and the way we are trashing the planet, it's hard to feel much other than despair at the fact that it may all be too little too late. Can we really change so much desperate stuff?

I know that what is happening is rarely intended to be cruel; it's not deliberate evil. It's out of ignorance, and a kind of blindness because our desire-bodies, as they say in esoteric teachings, want what they want to the exclusion of the needs of others.

Then there's our unexamined assumptions, beliefs, values – often things that are sanctioned by our family, our nation, our society as a whole.

And too the fact that we are not always taught the much wider and often invisible consequences of our actions. 

Most of all, perhaps, we forget we live in a web of interconnectedness, where everything is essential and has its integral place, and where any rip anywhere in the fabric of things ripples through the whole.

A week or two ago I blew off at a kind, lovely, intelligent and talented friend. (I've mentioned how my anger is close to the surface at the moment.) His crime? He said: 'But what about the fact of our dominion over the animals?' 

This phrase (belief) really presses all my buttons, and has done for a very long time. Because he is who he is, and because of the circles I move in, he could hardly have shocked me more if he'd turned out to be a climate change denier, or to exhibit Nazi sympathies, for instance.

I'm aware that I didn't handle it skillfully. A better way to relate to what he said might have been to ask him why he felt what he did: 'That's interesting. Why do you feel that we have dominion over the animals?'

Trouble is, I know only too well why people – many people – feel that. Our Western culture espouses a hierarchical view of planetary relations, with us, humans, at the top (as I've no doubt said many times on this blog before). Everything else 'below' us is there as a – red rag to me – 'resource'.

I don't know how long this has operated in at least the Western psyche. (I'm not saying it doesn't happen elsewhere; I'm simply not qualified to judge that, but historically at least in the Far East the web model of Indra's Net [a Buddhist model, also occurring in Hindu philosophy] has held more sway for longer; this is a more 'horizontal' view of interrelationship.) 

My own hobby horse is that our sense that we 'own' the earth, and that its fruits and animal species are ours to use as we see fit, as 'resources', crept into our ideology with the Neolithic farming revolution, where we moved away from the hunter-gatherer model and started to co-opt land, annex animals for our benefit, and grow crops.

Plato has to shoulder some of the responsibility. And then the entrenched bulk of it comes from Judeo-Christian teachings based on (mis?)translations and (mis?)interpretations of the Bible.

It is THE NORM for (at least Western) humans to view everything else on the planet as being put here for us.

The worst thing is that we dissociate from other species; forget we're all in this together. The Enlightenment has a lot to answer for, too – underlining this view, stressing the importance of reason and cultivating a suspicion of feeling and the feeling nature. Without feeling, how can we empathise enough as to change our ways?

What happens, in this worldview? Bit by bit everything else is co-opted for our benefit (64 billion land mammals and birds killed for us to eat every year, mostly reared and killed in conditions of terrible suffering, and a trillion aquatic animals), or is simply extinguished (like the many many species lost each week). 

And we don't even want to know, or examine our habits; if we did, we might need to change.

That's what I'm angry about. 

I've been thinking a lot the last few weeks of a heartbreaking poem by W S Merwin. Here's the opening; do read the rest on the link.

  For a Coming Extinction

     Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

it ends like this:

    Tell him
     It is we who are important.

Thursday 3 March 2016

The teachings of anger

How strange, now, not to be thinking of prose poems! I can about write anything I want, and topics jostle. And then dissolve. But here, because it's been uppermost recently: anger.


Today, 2nd March, 100 years ago it stopped being illegal to be a conscientious objector. Can you imagine being imprisoned because you didn’t want to fight? Wouldn’t the world be different if you were imprisoned because you did?

War, after all, begins in every individual’s heart – with fear, with hatred, with anger. All it takes is a collective projection for a war to start; or simply agreement between the handful of people whom we have(n’t) elected to govern us.

But first, you need to own the anger.

They say, don’t they, that one teaches (or writes about) what one needs to learn. What ‘they’ don’t say, except in New Age or psychotherapeutic circles, is that what you need most to learn will be what you bump into, over and over again – your psyche drawing to itself ‘out there’ what hasn’t been as yet incorporated, integrated ‘in here’. (Jung believed there is a drive towards wholeness in every psyche.)

So anger seems to be my thing of the moment. I've recently had to deal with someone else's rage, which has triggered my own anger.

When I first learned Five Rhythms dance, the 2nd rhythm, ‘staccato’, was the one that held me up (for several years, in fact). Staccato is seen as a ‘masculine’ rhythm; it’s about clear yeses, clear nos, fixing your eyes firmly on a goal, not allowing yourself to be diverted, and most especially about boundaries. This is OK. This is NOT OK. Not being pulled off your track.

Staccato is about fire, but it isn’t really about anger except in its imbalanced aspect. It is about knowing your rights and needs, knowing it’s OK to have them, being able to defend them, and saying a firm ‘no’ when they’re violated. It can also be, then, a knowing of anger to be a clarifying purifying thing.

I was brought up a) a Catholic, with all that implies of the fear of sin, and of striving for selflessness, and putting the other first; and I was brought up b) by an unusual, sensitive, multi-talented, creative and very volatile Celt for a father. With a big temper.

I grew up terrified of anger, unable to recognise, let alone access, my own anger, and willing to do almost anything to defuse another’s while still rationalising and forgiving that other’s anger until I could almost convince myself it was my own fault, somehow. (I should say here that it’s never been too hard for me to be angry about ills done to another; especially to animals; this has meant that I’ve been involved in a lot of campaigning against the various forms of cruelty at which our species seems to be so adept.)

And I really hate (which probably means ‘fear’) the distance anger creates between people.

This has meant that for most of my life I haven’t even recognised anger in myself, except as a vague discomfort when my own needs and rights have been trampled.

I think I’m not alone, at least among women, in struggling with my right to own and express anger; and struggling, too, to know how to do so (I don’t know if it’s the same for men of my generation? – if you have any thoughts, as always I’d love to know). As a girl, there was an implicit assumption, back in the 60s and 70s, that our gender didn’t ‘do’ anger; it wasn’t ‘feminine’. Plus, of course, we all know that anger is A Bad Thing.

I considered it a huge step forwards, then, when, a handful of years ago, I started to recognise times when I felt a bit angry about something. The trouble was, it was often several months after the event.

A year or two later, it only took weeks, and was helpfully triggered by someone whom I trusted betraying me; not once, but several times in a way that affected various major areas of my life. (Usually, I'm so overly trusting and naïve that I don’t even recognise betrayal when it happens, or I rationalise and deny the other's intentions, so that too feels like a step forward. Normally I give someone – anyone – the benefit of the doubt. But once the same thing has happened two or three or even four times – well, what's the message? One part, for sure, is that I have to shoulder some of the responsibility for still being there, in the same situation, over and over.)

Now, I’m pleased to say that the gap has bit by bit closed, until a negative event and the anger it triggers in me are almost instantaneous.

The thing is, if you are never able to express anger (and of course there are skillful and unskillful ways to do this), it is hard for people to know what’s going on for you beneath the surface. The 'stuffed' emotion can turn to resentment, bitterness, disappointment, depression. What’s more, unacknowledged anger can build until it blows, like a volcano, scalding everyone in the area.

The trouble is, now that I’m learning, my anger is a bit close to the surface, and rather easily triggered. Because I’m a learner, I’m clumsy; and what I have learned is that that’s also OK – at the moment. I’ve tipped the other way, from being unable to request or even require that I’m treated well, to being only too ready to express it when I’m not. My use of assertiveness skills is a bit too – well, assertive at times. I trust that I will find a balance; hopefully soon.

And I’m not beating myself up (too much), as I would have in the past. I don’t like upsetting or hurting people; but I’m human and my intention is not to upset people but to be clear about what’s OK for me, trusting that it will help the relationship in the future. (And it might also mean that that relationship is not going to work, for either of us, in the future. That’s a risk.)

I've still a way to go to express immediately and calmly something that's bugging me (if it's bugging me badly enough to need to do that). What’s different is that I’ve stopped (mostly) being a people-pleaser, and needing others’ approval. So I'm perhaps less likeable but more authentic.

Anger is a tool. There are times when it's a very useful pointer to what’s wrong. We don’t have to simply let it blow, but we can recognise the prompt: that it’s brought to our attention something that doesn’t work for us, and we can then find a new way to change it. It gives us choice. 

Anger is also often a prompt to activism; when we witness cruelty, or injustice or oppression it is our anger as much as our empathy that pushes us to act. In situations of social or environmental justice, it may prompt us to have the courage to speak out and keep speaking out.

So fire can be an ally. If we hold down the fire of anger in our belly, then our passion and creativity can suffer too.

So the question then is ‘How can I best direct this fire?’ Then I’m looking for a way to channel it to shift an imbalance in a situation without burning myself or others. It might simply mean finding a way to express it to myself: shouting, dancing, painting, writing about it. Or it might mean finding a way to talk about it without blaming, and kindly, to the other/s concerned. Or I might simply hold it in my heart, so to speak, look at its message, and breathe it out.

We have to learn to dance with it. It’s a problem only when it becomes an aggressive and/or habitual response to others.

And it’s a problem for us, as I’ve written at various times on this blog, if we start to identify our core selves with the emotion of it.

If we can sit as the Wise Observer at the hub of the wheel and notice that anger, too, has its place in the whirl of emotions around us, but is NOT us, even when we’re subsumed by it, we’re one step closer to knowing the darker places in our hearts. When we recognise them, we’re one step closer to removing ourselves from their grip.

Down the line, we may even be able to quieten the war in our own heart. Once we can do that, peace, in here and out there, has a chance.

Tuesday 1 March 2016

final guest prose poem: 15 Vivienne Sansum, & some closing comments.

So here we are on the 1st day of March. It's been a rich journey for me curating this near-month of offerings in relation to my prose poem invitation.

The final one is this small treasure, stunning in its simplicity, from Vivienne, who tells me it came from the 'Inward Flame' retreat of mine she attended at the end of January to mark Imbolc, or Candlemas: the point when we feel we begin to leave the dark behind in our northern hemisphere on our journey round the star that is our sun.

Searing pain, dark earth
tell me how I leave you behind
and return to the light.

The light returns
so slowly
and sometimes the searing dark earth
pulls me back down.

But the light returns,
a different light – hazy, elusive; and sometimes
I am in it and sometimes I am not.

© Vivienne Sansum

Vivienne says: 'Something about me? I live in Bristol where everything is a bit squeezed in, I write to create order and space for myself.' 


Vivienne's prose poem gives me a context for discussing what exactly a prose poem is. I began this discussion back here. Partway through that post I mentioned that it's easier to describe what a prose poem isn't than to tell what it is.

What I knew I didn't want was something too one-dimensional, or too narrative, like a piece of flash fiction. An anecdote wasn't enough, either. 

I like it to sprawl over borders a bit; to exhibit some liminality, some refusal to be caged. Yes, that's it.

I was also looking for literary sensitivity, I suppose; a prose poem needs heightened language, like a poem, but handled loosely.

I wanted a layer beneath the topsoil; or at least a hint that there was one. I particularly like pieces that begin with the personal and incorporate interpersonal/universal human experiences, and maybe gesture at the wider picture. (Better still if they can be big enough to contain perhaps the slender thread of the transpersonal or metaphysical.)

Many of these poems do; an excerpt that comes to mind in relation to the universal is Betina's prose poem 'Shelter', about her child: 'you squeeze my hand... I turn my face, merge with the darkness, and think of all the orphans crossing Europe with no hands to squeeze.'

Vivienne's piece above speaks of the journey of grief at the loss of a loved one. Anyone above a certain age can relate to that.

Lesley wrote two very different pieces. The first one is, as I said when I posted it, heartbreaking; and a kind of prelude to Vivienne's piece. Her second one is humorous; it's a rare knack, the ability to write both serious and amusing pieces.

Rachael writes about grief in relation to the non-human: the loss, or anticipated loss, of a companion animal. This is hard to do without sentimentality. For those of us who live with animals, it's a pain with which we can only too easily identify; hard perhaps for people who don't have such a relationship to imagine the depths of unconditional love that one can experience reciprocally with an animal.

(I would have liked from someone to have had a prose poem submitted on our collective grief at the state of the world, or the disastrous loss of species. Hard to write about without being overly abstract.)

Gerald approaches the question of the very-human response to transience and fear, tangentially, in the last lines of his 2nd piece: 'Mortality frightens us, he thinks... But it’s not the mortality / that frightens them, he realizes. It’s the losing. / He anticipates plowing the snow. And shaving.' – As if we can erase these fears through the act of bulldozing that over which we have little or no control, like a snowfall, or by cutting the continuing growth of our hair (which continues to happen for a while even after we die).

I like it when there's an edge of mystery that the writer chooses not to explain to us via a context. Jeff finishes his prose poem with this: 'Here in the bow one sees only the soft thrusting forward, hears only the soft sweet sound of water separating, slipping past the steel: kind, supportive, untormented'– the implication being that a human is inevitably tormented.
Jean's passage uses a meditation on art to speak of a love triangle. Love, of course, at least in personal romantic and sexual relationships, is far from all cupids and hearts. Blood figures; as it does in Lania's passage which brings together the sensuous with the darker strands beneath, in that 'blood orange'.

Andy intermixes dream and reality through the motif of teeth and biting. His last line speaks of something that has not yet happened, and our tumble towards that line suggests a certain inexorability about the fading away of innocence after childhood: 'Inside the schoolboy’s mouth, the first taste of a stranger’s mingled blood.' (My italics.)

In Lindsay's piece which riffs around the idea of distance and the idea of self, there is a wonderful build-up to the final line: 'There is no distance.' There is no distance per se? There is no distance between self and concept of self? There is no distance between boot and snail? Between self and snail? Life and death (and madness)? All these, I think.

Miriam carries on a tacit theme of self-ness and and our desire to transcend that sometimes in her last sentence: 'Beguiled, be wild with me, fall into me and find your pace and I’ll carry you on and beyond and beyond yourself.' How easy it is to read 'pace' as 'place' in this line, which adds something again to it.

I love it when the language itself casts a spell, as 'Samhain, a Door', by Geraldine Green, does. 

Not enough people are willing to take risks with syntax, allowing it to be loose enough as to carry us with it rather than have us control it – just as the water does in David's passage, which exemplifies exactly that looseness for me.

Many of you are walkers, and write about journeys; whether that journey is the passage of the day, the travel through a moment, your presence in a garden, or a long walk. Hilaire's pieces are meditations on small moments that carry the weight of bigger ones.

And finally, Robert wrote of one of his long walks and introduced an element more commonly associated with poetry poetry: repetition, which holds his slightly varying 4 'movements' together. In this case, the repeated phrase is a question, which reverberates in us as readers too.


Which brings me to another issue: when is a prose poem actually a poem?

Someone commented on my facebook mention of Gerald's post that they seemed more like poem poems to her. One might perhaps say the same of Vivienne's poem above (which might have lost some of its formatting in cyber-space, but we were both happy with the end result).

Yes; it's true they are all three laid out on the page like poems. My criterion was how well they'd work if I 'translated' them to prose poems. In fact, they're arguably better, especially Gerald's, not having many of the 'devices' of a poem poem (except repetition), but not being 'mere' prose either. 

In the end, though, my choice was subjective.

In both cases I chose to respect the authors' original intention, but have a look at these two now:


The morning is a flat white white, dull white sky over matte white snow. The woman who was once a girl poses for a profile in a smooth white jumpsuit unzipped to her stomach exposing fat flat tits and cleavage. I glance at the photo on my phone, thinking I knew her mother at that age. The snow is fresh on the drive to town where the new government is holed up, scheming, in the white hotel.

Back home I fire up the old plow truck and drive it up and down the drive, pushing curls of snow, and scraping thin layers of dirty gravel as the blade sparks loudly across the ground. By now the clouds are gone and the sun is shining, melting and widening the holes in the snow where the edge has exposed the cold brown earth. The snow had fallen everywhere, thick and soft and white, the day before.

(Gerald McEachern)

What do you think? 


Searing pain, dark earth tell me how I leave you behind and return to the light.

The light returns so slowly and sometimes the searing dark earth pulls me back down.

But the light returns, a different light – hazy, elusive; and sometimes I am in it and sometimes I am not.

(Vivienne Sansum)

This works. And yet, because it's a small piece, it feels more perhaps unhelpfully strung-out on the page than when it's compacted.

I've said already elsewhere that the boundaries between forms in writing are permeable; increasingly so in our post-postmodern world. My analogy for the variations between creative fiction and non-fiction, prose poems and poetry, in my view, goes something like this (I know it's a bit artsy-flaky and imprecise):

A piece of narrative prose (say) we could liken to a rock in a stream: something prominent, which we lift and sculpt a bit to read and enhance its story, chipping bits off, glueing bits on. We don't need to pay too much attention to heightened language, alliteration, assonance, rhythm, verbs, diction, end-words or of course where we complete a sentence. We don't really care where the story has come from.

A prose poem is a pebble, smooth and satisfying, with a glimmer on it. It's perhaps not quite as immediately noticeable as the rock. We lift it out of the water with the sheen still on it, so to speak. We rub it over a few times with our fingers; polish the best bits to show it off to its best advantage. If there's a narrative, it's loose and implicit; slightly elusive. It belongs half to the water, and half to the imagination. This genesis – to me – is important, even though I can't articulate why.

A poem might be a neighbouring pebble with a different potential. This one we lift and dry off. We take possession of it. We polish it carefully. The human mind has more input into its final shape, which may bear little resemblance to our starting pebble and, despite the 'rules' being different, may resemble more the sense of being 'worked' that fiction exhibits, though in a different way. Now, it's a tad translucent, maybe; it's lost the opacity of the prose poem; has become something other.

Does this mean anything to anyone else?


And there is one further thing I want to mention. I said previously that Gerald and I had had a cyber-conversation between Devon and Canada. This was about another aspect of his first piece. I have been half expecting a response to his first piece from someone; perhaps a woman.

When Gerald sent the first piece in, I recognised it as a strong piece of writing. I wanted it for my blog. However, for many days I hesitated. I fell over the phrase 'fat flat tits'. (I hope you don't mind, Gerald, that I want to examine this further and in a shared context?)The feminist in me felt this was objectifying and judgemental; and like many women in our culture I have experienced judgements at the hands of men at not being bean-pole skinny. (I've no idea whether this happens to the same extent in non-hetero contexts.) If you are an average-sized woman, it feels horrible to be objectified and insulted as being less than ideal in your body shape (and who is ideal, man or woman?) – as if that is what you are, and therefore can be dismissed on a succeed/fail score. I didn't want to seem to be condoning male (negative – because 'fat' is a loaded word) judgement of women's bodies on my blog.

Against that is the fact that I believe in free speech, and Gerald was describing something he saw. (As you will have seen, the right to free speech is what I went with.) As far as I can tell, Gerald is not a sexist chauvinist.

I ran my dilemma past a couple of people close to me. The bloke felt there was no problem 'as we objectify all the time, otherwise we'd have no world to relate to'. (OK, it was TM.) The woman felt similarly to me: perhaps there was an element of unkindness in the judgement?

And actually it was a statement of perceived fact, written simply and plainly, in the service of art/creative expression, where inhibition and prohibition can seriously stifle and repress our exploration of what it means to be human.

So my question to you: none of you commented on this. What is or was your response? 

And if anyone has more to add about the prose poem, my definitions of it, or any of the specific pieces, then comments please, to any and all of this, not on a postcard, but below...




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