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

Friday 29 July 2016

non-toxic living 1: b of s

And now for something completely different. There is so much I could, and arguably should, write about in these (in any) uncertain times. But this is simple, and it's positive.

If you read these blogs you'll know that my core concern is how we can live more lightly on this beautiful planet: 3rd in line from the sun, and unique in our solar system in its ability to sustain life. (A couple of degrees more, a couple less, and things would be quite different.)

You will know that I'm passionate to the point of being obsessive about it. You should see me shopping: is it local (food miles), is it organic, is it recycled, has it ever been tested on animals, does it have any animal ingredients, does it contain microplastics, any (other) fossil fuels, toxic chemicals, is it unrefined and/or cold-pressed, is it in a degradable/recycled/recyclable container, is it Fair Trade (not relevant if local), is it produced by Big Pharma, is it biodegradable, is it in season? etc etc. And if yes to all that, can I afford it; and if I can't, can the planet afford my not affording it? 

Yes, I'm hard work to live with; I find so too.

But we've done a pretty good job of keeping our household and garden chemical free, almost entirely.

Many of you reading this blog will share my concerns (though you might not be quite as compulsive about it all, perhaps). So I thought from time to time I'd add some simple tips on making it easier for yourself to live lightly (I've done all the obsessive slog, you see).

I want to extol the joys of two very simple and safe household ingredients.

The first is white vinegar. If you have, say, a courtyard that needs weeding, you could first of all consider whether the 'weeds' are edible. Otherwise, try boiling some white (spirit) vinegar, and carefully pouring it on the weeds (it'll kill every other plant, too, hence the care). It's even more potent if you add salt.

Vinegar, of course, is also an effective cleaning product (especially when mixed with the second ingredient, below), and in the form of cider vinegar an excellent healthful aid.

The second product makes me smile; or rather, the occasion of my utter and zealous conversion to it makes me smile.

When I lead my annual courses on Iona, I usually bring myself back something tiny, as a keepsake. Often – in fact mostly – it's a found Iona greenstone. Once it was a dolphin vertebra that one of our group had retrieved from the shoreline (the owner no longer needed it, having long vacated its housing). Once or twice I've bought myself something small and special, perhaps a candle or something hand-made on the island.

One year – and I couldn't believe I was doing this – I brought home a tiny – around 10cms by 12cms – book on Bicarbonate of Soda. Yes.

This is actually a wonder mineral. I'd already been using it for years – when I can be bothered – to make a gentle whitening toothpaste, with powdered sage, a drop of lemon juice (not necessary) and a drop or two of an essential oil.

It's a good alkaliser for acid digestive and urinary problems (most of us in the West have an over-acid diet), including cystitis (a couple of teaspoons in a glass of water).

It's a good oven and hob cleaner, mixed with lemon juice or more usually vinegar (beware there'll be a grand fizz when you mix the two).

It'll take out stains.

But I discovered I was really a B of S (does that make it sound slightly dodgy?) virgin: there is so much more, this little book informs me.

Did you know that, if you are an Ancient Egyptian, you can keep your mummies fresh and unsmelly for longer if you use B of S? 

That it will refresh and restore gloss to your hair, whether or not you're an Ancient Egyptian? That you can use it as a dry shampoo for dogs, and that it will render them less smelly too?

And you can use it on smelly feet, in smelly shoes, as a foot bath and in your bathwater (it's the main ingredient of 'bath bombs')? 

That you can deodorise and clean showers and shower curtains, basins and taps with it? And silver and brass? Plus clean and deodorise fridges, carpets, nappies, drains and loos with it? That it will remove grease?

It's good as a facial cleanser, skin softener and exfoliant.

It'll also repel fleas and ants. 

And if you knew how you could make soap and glass with it.

There. There are other applications and the author of the book knows her stuff. 

It's cheap, it's safe, and it's utterly non-polluting. So, other than laundry liquid or powder and washing-up liquid (and I expect she gives recipes for those too; if not, then Ecover can come to the rescue – I only use these), you could save a fortune and the planet by using this instead of proprietary products.

I can't think of anything else I need in the house that B of S won't do.

See BICARBONATE OF SODA, Margaret Briggs, Abbeydale Books.

Monday 25 July 2016


I enter the green light of the forest and I am in the Otherworld. 

Wren speaks in my chest; I feel the rush of wind in the wingpits of my buzzard self.

As wild St John’s Wort I hold my many faces to the sun. I am the green thought driving the idea of bilberries towards their fruiting.

I’m the leaning rock and its twin towards whom it leans, my feet deeply buried in the good soil. As moss, my green pelt gently coats the stone.

Am hazel. I exhale in spring and my thousands of leaves open. Through summer’s dreaming I let my fruits swell into slow new life. I inhale in winter, give away the fruits, let drop all my leaves back into the rich earth.

I spill with the waterfall into the little pool; I become body of otter, fish, dragonfly, deer, badger, boar who lap, breathe, sip, lick, suck and drink me in. Drink us all in. 

I spin through the canopy with my fellow goldcrests. 

Movement. A flicker of lightdarklight. Sniffing the air, I freeze, then bound with my kin up the steep track to the lost glade. I breathe out the breeze; I breathe in the small summer rain.

I am here, now, and I’ve always been here, or there

or everywhere. 

© Roselle Angwin July 2016

Thursday 21 July 2016

Poetry: that tension between the ordinary & the glorious...

I'm delighted to say that the narrative non-fiction book about the enchanted forest that I came to Brittany to begin a year ago is now just about finished. There's a great deal of work still to do, though, in redrafting, tidying up, confirming factual details, as well as in stitching together what is really 100+ fragments.

Speaking of things that are 100, today Stride magazine online has put up a short sequence of prose poems of 100 words each that I wrote in spring on the Isle of Iona (how privileged I am to work in thin-veil places). The 100-word prose form is something I love to use as practice. Should you wish a minute's distraction, you can read the sequence here (July 21):

And meantime, as light relief, I wrote a poem this morning (I can't easily run poetry and prose together), and then spent some time thinking about (note not 'working on'!) the second part of my new online 'introduction to poetry' course (the one I teach currently is an advanced course). 

Afterwards, I thought about how a 'good' poem involves a tension between the daily stuff of our lives and the poet finding in it something that catches fire, and therefore also lights the imagination of a reader. It's about levels, and about letting the world of matter conjure something more subtle. 

I remembered how, as a beginning poet, I tried to find high-flown language to write about abstract concepts; and how that simply doesn't cut it.

What we remember from a poem is primarily the imagery – the life of the senses brought to life by our being able to picture the scene described – and our feeling response to that. There also is a sense that we are taken into an arena much bigger than just a few words should be able to conjure. (Of course I'm oversimplifying, but that'll do for now.)

If we can pay such attention to the minutiae of our small lives – arguably the poet's job – as to convey the huge issues of our time, to speak through the personal to the universal, we're halfway there. 

But I don't really mean the 'domestic poem'. It needs to be more than that; it needs to lift clear of such constraints somehow. I mean the poem that is made so that it transcends the personal and domestic even as it is rooted in such apparently small and mundane detail; what my friend Ken Steven would call 'quotidiennité'.

It works better if you can draw on your own life experience, so that even when you're writing about someone else, or an event at or situation in which you weren't present, you are writing from what you know as well as what you can imagine.

Better, too, if you can find surprising and original ways of using and combining everyday language that is true to who you are and what you want to express, rather than striving to use heightened and therefore too often contrived diction.

I like what Eavan Boland has to say in the book she co-authored with Mark Strand, The Making of a Poem: '...if I get up from the table, walk out of my room, I can hear the breathing and stirring of my small children. All day I will have been with them: lifting them, talking to them, drying their tears, setting their clothes aside at the end of each day. Through all these talks and pleasures I have begun to hear my voice. It is the entirely natural, sometimes exasperated and always human voice of someone living in the middle of their life, from task to task, full of love and intense perceptions.

'Is that all?... Yes it is, but strangely... it is enough. That voice I hear every day, which is my own voice, which is emerging from the deepest origins of my self – which is never practised, rehearsed, or made artificial by self-consciousness – has begun to invade my lyric sense of the poem.

'Now when I sit down to write a poem I am determined that this voice will be integral to it. That I will hear it in the poem, just as I have heard it an hour earlier as I lifted a bicycle and said goodnight to a neighbour. Just as I heard it when I opened the window of a child's room and put out the large brown moth that was fluttering behind the curtain.'

An excellent example of what I'm trying to speak of, and one of my very favourite poems, comes to mind here: James Wright's 'Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota'. This is one of those tiny-huge poems that I want to read over and over (and over).

If you don't know it and you'd like to read it, and maybe consider why it's so effective, you can see it here.

Friday 15 July 2016

small candles in dark times

' is important that awake people be awake.../... the darkness around us is deep.'
(William Stafford, from 'A Ritual to read to Each Other')

Thank you, my friends, for visiting here, as well as for keeping those small candles burning in the lives you live, as I know you all do. Let's not forget that together we're hugely powerful; and the changes, no matter how small, start with us.

Tuesday 12 July 2016

elephants on the brink of extinction – and the EU is partly to blame

There is so so so much that's brutal and painful in our world, and I almost never use this blog to post about specific campaigns. There are so many, and I am not in any way pretending this is more significant than others.

It's just that this one was one too many in my email feed today, and it really broke my heart – I could say it's the last straw on the camel's back.

One move to eliminate human or (in this case) animal suffering is better than nothing, and in a symbolic way stands in for all the others, though of course doesn't reduce the others or the need to address them.

What arrived was a picture of an elephant with its face hacked away. Worse is that it seemed to be still alive. I will spare you the picture, though I am aware that it's often the sight of such atrocities that triggers action. Elephants are on the brink of extinction, with one being slaughtered for its tusks EVERY FIFTEEN MINUTES.

I feel devastated this morning, and of course that's on behalf of ALL the human and animal suffering.

I'm not using the word 'devastated' lightly. The levels of others' suffering that we become aware of through the media nearly take me to the edge.

Sometimes I am ashamed to be human. Where on earth to start to change all this?

Perhaps right here. Please please would you take a moment to sign this petition, and share it with friends?

Here's what campaigning group Avaaz has to say:

'Every 15 minutes an elephant is brutally slaughtered for its tusks, and at this rate they will be gone forever in just a few years. Momentum is growing for a complete global ban on ivory – but the European Commission has just come out against it!

'The elephant crisis is heartbreaking. In some areas these magnificent, sensitive creatures are so terrified of people they only come out at night, and mourning baby elephants refuse to leave the butchered corpses of their mothers. Now 29 African governments have said if Europe gets its way, it will spell extinction for our elephants, and they need our help.

'A key global summit is just around the corner where we could win the total ban we need, and there are signs powerful countries like France and Germany could lead a rebellion against the EU’s elephant death sentence. African governments will deliver our giant call straight into key meetings to build support for the ban – sign now to keep our elephants safe, and share with everyone you know.'
(Be aware you'll see the photo)

Monday 11 July 2016

high summer, and the 're-enchantment of the world'

The verges have lost their earlier spring and summer colour; high summer is now creams and whites – surprisingly, more muted than late spring or late summer. 

Meadowsweet is in full flower; what countryfolk cynically traditionally call 'love and marriage' – I think I've written before: sweet from a distance, with a slightly bitter sickly note up close. But let's not dis it – it provides salicylic acid, the active ingredient of aspirin, and is a whole lot gentler on the stomach than aspirin.

There's valerian in its tall spikes, too; excellent for insomniacs, and wired people.

Once the road becomes forest all the way, I drive an avenue of gold – all the many sweet chestnut trees are flowering lavishly, no doubt rich with bees, as they were when I first arrived here this time last year to stay either for a few weeks, or indefinitely; at the time, I didn’t know which.

Along the lane the sweet chestnut tree which provided so much of my last-winter vegan protein is veiled with promise, not yet quite as laden as the trees we've driven through.

Dog and I venture out into this morning’s drizzle. As on the first July Sunday I was here a year ago, swallows are swimming like fish around my ankles, performing dazzling aerobatics over the soft flowering grasses, presumably skimming off insects. The grasses have succumbed to the light weight of summer rain, and lie like sodden plumage.

Later, I go to the summer exhibition, 'The Fire Trick: how art can re-enchant the world'.

Each summer, the gallery offers a series of talks on the theme of the exhibition. This first was presented by Yann Queffélec, Prix Goncourt-winning writer, speaking on ‘when the novel re-enchants the world’. He delivered a good, engaging talk, and raised a number of laughs too.

I listened in vain, though, for some discussion of when, whether and how a novel might do such a thing. He did mention the idea briefly towards the end, saying that a novel and its author can convey human being, its issues and problems, with a degree of empathy, and that such a novel can enchant us, whether the novel’s tone is optimistic, uplifting, or sad.

Well, there’s nothing to disagree with in those statements. And he did emphasise the empathic qualities of good writing.

But is that really all that can be said about the role of art, or about re-enchantment?

At the end, I was thinking about the work I do under the banner of ‘Fire in the Head’. It seems to me that a writer’s task is exactly to be a lightning conductor, to catch a fragment of that Promethean fire, and pass it on to an audience or reader. In turn, that catalyses the fire in the witness or reader, potentially. It’s this spark, of course, that inspires imagination and creativity, whether through one's own written word or through facilitating it in others.

I wanted more. I wanted to know what lit his fires, creatively speaking. I wanted to know what sources of passion he knew of, both in his life and that reliably inspired others, and how he conveyed them to his readership. He spoke about sailing, and also about his car, but not really otherwise. (I never got the chance to ask the question which, given how hard it might have been to ask it in French with a big audience, was perhaps as well.)

I wanted to tell him that I was aware of at least three sources that, in my workshops, never or almost never fail to light the fire for a participant: the arts, whether the written or spoken word in its many forms, or visual art, dance or music; our relationship with place; and our discovery or rediscovery of the central relationship of our being – that with the whole of the rest of the natural world.

There’s a fourth, but I have learnt that this doesn’t do it for everyone, though it does for me: learning astonishing facts about our astonishing cosmos. (Of course there are many more directly personal inspirations in our human relationships, and the whole experience of being a human, alive in this life.)

So I left the talk feeling both inspired and also a little disappointed.

As I drove back, I was thinking again about the phrase, common to the extent of being rather over-used in certain circles (including my own) in GB: ‘Re-enchanting the world’ (or ‘the earth’).

I quicken at this phrase, without fail. It inspires me.

And it bothers me, too, as the suggestion is that the world has no enchantment of its own unless we bestow it from our grand human stature.

So I take issue with it. It seems to represent the majority view that I find so troublesome, that of unconscious anthropocentrism.

Actually, the world is perfectly enchanted and enchanting, all by itself – provided we can perceive that. It’s our lack, not the world’s; it’s we who have fallen out of magic and mystery and into disenchantment. What we need is to learn to see with different eyes.

I’m thinking this, and then a young chestnut deer, perfect in its deerness, leaps across the road in front of my van, from the woods on one side to the woods on the other.

There’s my enchantment for the day, and I will remember its sudden presence for longer than I will remember the content of the talk.

The world is world enough, and offers enchantment on every side.

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