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 16 November 2018

November ragbag: tongues in trees, wellpools and grail maidens, books (rejections & acceptances)

If you don't believe, look at September, look at October –

The golden leaves falling to fill both river and mountain!

(from The Zenrin)

How the trees have filled our eyes this autumn, in the northern hemisphere. Astonishing colours; almost too much to speak of. The more I find out about trees, the more astounded I am at their intelligence (yes, intelligence). (We'll be exploring this more in my Tongues in Trees course kicking off at the winter solstice.)

And their fruits. If each of us committed to taking a pocketful of acorns, hazelnuts, beech mast and so on out when we walked, and a stick to make holes, imagine what a company of trees we could plant. And this may be one of the few things we can do as individuals in this crazy careering-towards-climate-emergency world of ours.


On Sunday last, Remembrance Day, I led a contemplative walking workshop in the beautiful grounds of Dartington Great Hall at the invitation of my friend Sam Wernham, the visionary founder of River Dart Wild Church. We met at the great yew, and nine of us spent a few hours together with poetry, silence and celebration after we'd processed to the newly-rediscovered wellpool. (This may happen again, should you be local and interested.)

We remembered those lost at our hands, in conflicts (human), and I also wanted to remember those killed as our prey or 'collateral' victims of our greed (animals). We also remembered those whom we love, who are no longer with us.

The afternoon was gently powerful, with some truly beautiful contributions from participants.

Sam had invited me because she knows of my nearly-lifelong passion for holy wells, sacred sources, and their literal and also metaphorical life-saving qualities – for which of us can live without water, and its archetypal significance, the moistness and feeling-nature qualities of soul?

As you will know if you follow my work, the Grail legends and their associated earlier Celtic stories from, for instance, Y Mabinogi, have been my special subject of interest for decades, personally and professionally. I find them astonishingly prescient, and several decades later they are still giving up their meaning to me as a living source of wisdom and inspiration.

In the Grail myths there’s a little addendum to the Parsifal story that's usually known as The Elucidation. In it there are stories of the well-maidens, keepers of the waters, being raped. A consequence was either floods or drought. This is the Waste Land that inspired T S E’s poem of that name in which he speaks of ‘voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells’.

After a brief introduction from me about the relevance of stories recorded nearly 1000 years ago from earlier oral sources in relation to the 'feminine' principle and the heart-nature in our psyches, how if we ignore it we create a waste land, and their relationship to holy wells and sacred springs, we slowly walked the grounds. (My latest article on this, 'Sacred Feminine, Sacred Masculine', has just appeared in the ever-inspiring Green Spirit magazine.) 

I had been slightly disappointed to realise, when I first visited this wellpool a couple of years ago, to find no thorn tree nearby. Almost always, it's a thorn that is guardian to a holy well. I was delighted, then, when Sam identified the little white plants growing in the wellpool as the blossoms of water hawthorn!

Before we walked, I read this little poem of mine. When I lead The Land's Wild Magic in West Cornwall each year, we visit many of the Bronze Age stone circles, iron age forts, dolmens and holy wells of the area. One of our visits is to Carn Euny Iron Age courtyard village. For years I've known there is another well close to the main St Euny well, but...

The Lost Well

is always closer than you imagine,

simpler. All these years. So here

a step into belief is all it takes –

the hidden is only the secluded to the seeker.

Part the thicket of yellow irises, step

gently through foxgloves, and there – a drift

of shingle, tumble of ancient stones, and

her water of course the purer for being lost.

© Roselle Angwin 2018


I have finally finished the seventh draft of the book I've been writing (and rewriting!) since 2015. It's been such hard work. Since I can no longer see the wood for the trees (that is actually a very good pun on the subject matter!) I have simply been sending it out over the last week; and have done what I insist my students do: made a list of likely agents and publishers and sent it out immediately it's come back with a rejection. (So grateful that everyone who's received it has been so swift.) 

I only began the process just over a week ago. Result: first agent really liked it but wanted a rewrite as it's difficult to pitch. No. Second agent didn't think it was right for her. Third submission but first direct to a publisher: yes, would like to read the whole thing but it might be two or three years before it appeared in print. (Am considering what next - this is a small indie publisher but would fit my book very well. However they'll have almost no marketing budget. Hmmm.)

And now? I find myself, without actually meaning to, beginning to compile a plant-based cookbook-plus – AND I'm enjoying the focus on something as simple, as basic, as good healthy suffering-free food that is also delicious.
This may seem utterly irrelevant to the state of the world, but actually, it's not, as meat consumption (quite apart from the enormous levels of suffering involved) is a major driver of climate change. A report came out the other day that said that if, in the UK alone, we could cut our meat consumption by 50%, we could actually meet our own climate targets.
If we ate plant-based meals, and grew, bought locally or foraged for seasonal food, things could change, perhaps.

The book began from the fact that, as you will know, we grow a lot of our own fruit and veg here in our garden, and I'm forever having to create new recipes for, for instance, yet more black kale, or butternut squash, or apples (since it's been a bumper crop here in Avalon, as my sister calls our little orchard).

I'm planning for this to be more than another vegan cookbook. It will be perhaps what they describe as a 'lifestyle book', and I have various creative ideas.

If you have created any vegan recipes, or have, for instance, a poem that might be relevant, I'd be delighted to see it (you can contact me here or via my websites). I can't pay people for their contributions but I would of course fully credit you.


Meantime, barely ever having the time to put my own creative work out into the world, I was pleased to be reminded that work of mine has been accepted for two anthologies this year. A prose poem anthology is due out from Valley Press next year, and meantime a copy of this anthology below has just plopped onto our doormat:

It's edited by Deborah Gaye, and is the 4th or 5th of hers I've been invited to contribute to. My five poems are in most illustrious company; for instance, poets such as Mimi Khalvati, Lawrence Sail, Alison Brackenbury and Katrina Porteous have also contributed, along with a host of others. Flipping through I'd say, as objectively as I can, it's worth the cover price of £10.95 plus £1.50 p&p. Contact me if you might like a copy.

This is one of mine in it (for copyright reasons I can't print anyone else's), though it's more of an early-spring poem:

Apple Tree

Wassail night has passed and winter’s 

blue flames have retreated for now.

In the orchard, a thrush stabs the last

soft apple, and another calls from the tallest

tree. If you were to come by here, come

and stand by me here, I would hold

your palm to the trunk, tell you how to open

the eyes and ears of your hand so you

could feel how again the xylem and phloem

are waking, making their long slow

streaming journey between earth and star,

if you were to come here, to come by here again.

© Roselle Angwin



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