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 2022

Isle of Iona, again...

song from the Abbey
less precious to my heart
than this small sparrow




...And for a long space of time we voyaged on this glass-clear sea and knew no pain or fear, above or under it, and were blessed only by joy...


Sunday 20 March 2022

Between the Poles: equinox poem

Between the Poles

20th March 2022, 3.33pm: spring equinox

Beneath the newly-leafing elder
a shoal of wild garlic is secretly flourishing.
Above my head, a pair of buzzards flips and plays.

Yesterday I wrote ‘Saharan dust!’ in the thick
sandy spatters on the car bonnet. Today
the wind is backing; and here on the bench

at the top of the meadow I can see east
to the far horizon, though not enough
as to hear the bombs and smell the fear.

Everything cycles between these poles:
summer and winter, dark and light, peace
and war. For this one equinox moment,

though, on the cusp where day and night
are held in equal tension, I can almost pretend
we could change our lives, the world.

© Roselle Angwin




Tuesday 15 March 2022

A Tree Full of Birds PART 11


In my previous post I excerpted a section from the last chapter of my book Writing the Bright Moment – inspiration & guidance for writers.

The chapter is called 'A Tree Full of Birds', and is intended to keep us keeping on: not just with writing, but with active hope, as Buddhist scholar and activist Joanna Macy would say, for the future, remembering that we co-create it, in our own small but individual ways through our own unique gifts.

Keeping a sense of wonder alive seems particularly important at a time of great darkness. This is not naïve, not sentimental – it's a way of not giving up.

So here is Part 11 of A Tree Full of Birds.

Where do you start? Find a moment of glory. I’m thinking of Seamus Heaney’s ‘Postscript’ poem, of R S Thomas’ ‘Bright Field’, of Brendan Kennelly’s Glimpses. Early in her narrative non-fiction book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Annie Dillard mentions a tree, an Osage orange, which, ostensibly empty, suddenly flames with an eruption of blackbirds, previously unseen; then another, then another – hundreds of blackbirds from what looked like an empty tree. This was a moment of glory for her, to which she returns in the course of the book.
    Reading her passage, many years ago now, that tree became a moment of glory for me, too; one which I have not forgotten, to which I return, a metaphor against which I measure, or by which I name, other moments – including, of course, my own personal remembered gloriousnesses. The tree, in the book and in my imagination, is both itself and a metaphor for something else. It has become mythic in size, and that way contains magic.

It happens that many bright moments occur outside, when alone in nature; and many occur in the little ‘lost’ moments between people.
These events, I realise as I get older, are not the huge dramatic moments of intense revelation or passion, epiphanies, as they seemed to be when I was younger. Instead, they’re often tiny and easily missed; clichéd in their everydayness: a smile from a stranger, a hug from a loved one, a touch on the arm, shared words or silence, extraordinary light on the water, the glimpse of a kingfisher, an unexpected gift through the post, a card with kind words, pony’s breath or dog’s wet nose barely touching your hand, catching the dawn, an instant of total and spontaneous openheartedness. Sometimes you are prepared, maybe in a heightened state of some sort. Usually, though, these moments occur in mundane circumstances – and, let’s face it, much of our life is mundane; yet this, this quotidiennité, is the terrain of miracles. It’s the present moment that we inhabit – the now that is the only time we have.
    The writer’s job is to pay attention, pay attention, pay attention. Cultivate that kind of looking, and write with intention. Write to add to the positive stories that might help us keep hope, the tiny flame of hope, alive.

Slow down. Stay open, stay alive. Stay awake.
    Writing is a process that never stops. There is no destination; there is only the journeying. Sometimes it works; sometimes you’re off track. You’re always searching for the next step. ‘…It can take a lifetime to convey what you mean, to find the opening,’ says Barry Lopez. ‘You watch, you set it down. Then you try again.’

So you find something that inspires you and you let the pen catch fire. Find that moment of glory. Stay alert for it. Catch it out of the corner of your eye as it streams past, and slide it onto the page. Write what you’re passionate about. Really passionate about, deep inside. Let it have soul. Let your words matter. Make them count. Don’t waste them, and don’t underestimate them. Don’t worry whether anyone else cares about your writing. That way, you can’t fail. ‘People are hungry,’ says poet David Whyte; ‘and one good word is bread for a thousand.’

© Roselle Angwin 2004

Saturday 12 March 2022

A Tree Full of Birds PART 1


My friends, it's been a long time. I know that. I've been ill, and there has been far too much going on, personally as well as collectively; there is far too much to say; plus big changes are happening in our lives (of which more anon).

But for the sake of encouraging those of you who write (and encouraging those of us who do and haven't for a while!), I thought that in these times it might be worth posting part of the final chapter in my book above (published 2005 with Arts Council England support; available in the UK from me). In its way, it's about not giving up. I hope you enjoy it.

Part 11 next week.|


EXCERPTED FROM A TREE FULL OF BIRDS: the final chapter in my book Writing the Bright Moment – inspiration & guidance for writers

A Tree Full of Birds PART 1

‘If I were asked what I want to accomplish as a writer, I would say it’s to contribute to a literature of hope... I want to help create a body of stories in which men and women can discover trustworthy patterns...Every story is an act of trust between a writer and a reader; each story, in the end, is social. Whatever a writer sets down can help or harm the community of which he or she is a part...’
Barry Lopez


We know that we need to find a wiser, more sustainable way to live; not just for ourselves, but for the planet as a whole.
    What are the tales we tell ourselves? What underlying beliefs and truths do they portray? What stories support our values? How could we build on this? Do the stories in which we immerse ourselves enhance our view of ourselves, each other and life?
    Here’s another question: what responsibility does the writer have for what he or she puts into the world? No one wants chocolate-box stories and perpetual epiphany; you can’t make stories about only contented characters in a perfect world. But when did you last see a film that portrayed people relating in a healthy, loving and mature way to each other? What is the attraction of watching TV shows and screenplays that centre on human dysfunction and people behaving badly?

What stories do we need? At the end of my first book [written in 1992] I asked this question. Here I am again: nearly twelve years on [2004], I am still asking this same question. [Now, in 2022, it hasn’t changed.] In one way and another this question has been posed throughout this book, too: tacitly, or overtly.
    How would it be to read books that support us in being more fully and compassionately human? Ones that give us tools to grow and change; offer us models of functional, healthy patterns of relating – whether to ourselves, to each other, to the wider human sphere or to the planet as a whole, rather than narratives that merely underline how grim ‘reality’ is, and how untrustworthy and self-seeking people are, thus confirming our view of the world and the human condition as basically beyond hope?
    Perhaps our diet has become too thin, and we are looking for a different kind of nourishment. We need now stories that offer us healing, offer us the potential of wholeness, of coming through in the end. Empowering stories. Stories that show us human being at its best: its most courageous, generous, kind, loving, compassionate, wise, funny. Stories that celebrate the earth, wilderness, the diversity of nations, the diversity of species. Stories that allow us to imagine a new world order based on empathy, co-operation, kindness, discussion, negotiation, fairness, equality. Stories that celebrate what is green, what is vulnerable, what is innocent, what is childlike, what is wise, what is feminine, what is masculine; stories about co-operation and harmony rather than competition and conflict; about people making wise choices. Stories that celebrate magic, mystery, miracle. Stories that help restore some sort of faith, whatever that may mean for each of us.
    I am aware that these things on their own do not make story, or even poetry. But the way we deal with them, and the choices we make, do. I am not suggesting that we pretend all is not how it is. I am not naïve enough as to assume that war will end in my lifetime; that violence will cease to exist; that poverty will be an extinct word; that pollution will be outlawed; that conservation will suddenly become more important to the corporate world than profit.

I am not at all suggesting that we pretend pain does not exist. On the contrary. Go to where the pain is. Write about it. Make a story of it. The pain will show you where the work is needed, and it will, in its unfolding onto paper, show you the path for healing. Human life will always be hard, in parts – that is the nature of the egoic life, which sees itself as separate and all-important, that judges and picks and chooses: ‘I like this, but not that. This is acceptable but that isn’t.’. But the stories that matter, the big stories, are always a triumph over these limitations.
    It is important not to give up. Human actions matter; they make a difference. Even one person’s weight will make a difference. And who knows which of us will effect the final ‘critical mass’ moment at which a threatened downslide will wobble, pause, and start to right itself? And it is at that critical moment, when we are deepest in the darkness – maybe right now – that we need these stories of hope; when we need a lamp out of the cave. And we need to know we are not alone.

Find something you can really believe in; something that enhances your life; and a group of people who think like you, whether it’s a writing group, or a politically active group, or an evening class, or an online discussion group, or people who like walking out on the land, or are involved in life-enhancing projects in the city. Find a community that supports you in your vision. Maybe they’ll be flesh and blood people. Maybe it’ll be the books of poets or authors writing passionately about things you care about. It’s crucial. Make it the next thing you do. ‘Never doubt that a group of committed individuals can change the world; in fact it’s the only thing which can,’ said anthropologist Margaret Mead. And ‘Better to light a candle than curse the darkness,’ goes another saying. 

And again: ‘There is never enough darkness to extinguish a single candle.’ Hold that thought close, especially in these times.

May we together work towards freedom from suffering.

© Roselle Angwin 2005–2022

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