– the poetry and other makings of Anne Enith Cooper
This is the Seeds and Fuses blog. Here I share news of my projects and performance, writing by me and others, writing prompts, writers on writing, quotes that have moved me and musings on subjects close to my heart, plus the odd photo and images of my matter poetry.
Yesterday Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, won 50.9% of the vote in the second round of the Brazilian election. This means the climate change and covid denier Bolsonaro is out!
The stakes could not have been higher. The New York Times commented, “On Oct. 30, Brazilians go to the polls to elect their next president. But at stake is something far more important than just the leadership of one of the world’s largest economies.
Whoever wins will inherit control over more than half of the Amazon rainforest and, by extension, will determine the conditions for future life on Earth.”
Following the victory Lula has committed to invite international cooperation to preserve the Amazon rainforest and said he will seek fair global trade rather than trade deals that “condemn our country to be an eternal exporter of raw materials.”
Lula vows to unify the country and bring, “new times of peace, love and hope.”
A former steel workers union leader and democracy campaigner Lula, in this first two terms of government, introduced reforms which benefitted the poorest people in Brazil. In his first term child malnutrition was reduced by 46%. He began a housing aid program to improve the lives of people in the favelas. Anyone who has seen the film City of God will know how dangerous and precarious lives are there.
Prior to that he had campaigned for a direct popular vote in presidential elections, achieved in 1989. After the a coup in March 1964, backed by the US government, each “elected” President was a retired general.
According to The Washington Post, “Under Lula, Brazil became the world’s eighth-largest economy, more than 20 million people rose out of acute poverty and Rio de Janeiro was awarded the 2016 Summer Olympicsthe first time the Games will be held in South America.”
Popularity and the commitment to improve the lives of workers and the most vulnerable in Brazil came with risks. In 2016, prosecutors filed corruption charges against Lula. In 2017 he was sentenced to nine years in prison. He appealed, in 2018 the Appeal Court of Porto Alegre found Lula guilty of corruption and money laundering and increased his sentence to 12 years.
In 2021 all charges against Lula were annulled by the Supreme Federal Court.
It is worth noting, I think, that Judge Moro, who oversaw the conviction of Lula, who was accused of lacking impartiality leading to the annulment, became Minister of Justice and Public Security in Bolsonaro’s government. Furthermore it’s rumoured that agreement was in place prior to the election.
Lula was an inspiration not just to progressive forces across Latin America but the whole world. Reading this news this morning I felt not so much triumph but a huge relief.
In terms of environmental protection, his previous terms of office saw the creation of conservation areas and indigenous reserves which led to a substantial decrease in deforestation.
While the Lula pushed for progressive policies that significantly curbed deforestation in the Amazon he did not support legislation that would have required the country to phase out its fossil fuels.
Now he enters office at a time where fossil fuels are the frontline in campaigns against the climate emergency. During this 2022 election campaign, Lula has focused more on environmental issues.
Yesterday I dedicated my meditation to the Brazilian people. I sent light and love to all. When I went to bed last night I did not expect the results of the election to be out so soon. I wonder if people are dancing in the streets as I write, if so my soul dances with you.
And though Bolanaro’s supporters will no doubt call foul, I believe, the light in the world has increased and with that all will be able to see more clearly, love more dearly, follow more nearly a path to peace, justice and sustainability.
It is not going to be easy but I truly believe another world is possible. This is a significant step in the right direction. The obstacles facing Lula are immense with a slim majority, possible opposition from the Congress in the hands of opposition parties and Bolsonaro yet to concede.
Let’s not forget what he has overcome and perhaps our hearts can be a little lighter.
Tomorrow the RMT take strike action again. Wait for the headlines, we’ll see demoralised commuters and no doubt derogatory comments about selfish and irresponsible trade unionists. This is what Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the RMT has to say:
Why is a poet posting about a strike you might think. I’ll explain why and why I support these strikes; it starts with looking back at a bit of history.
When I listen to Radio 4 news about this dispute it sounds a bit like the reporting of strikes in the 1970’s, though no one yet has used the expression “reds under the beds.” That was a reference, I believe, to Jack Jones and Hugh Scanlon, trade union leaders in the 1970’s.
How I can remember this beats me when I can’t remember what I did last week. Is this senility?
In my minds eye I’m in the kitchen with Mum. She’s doing the laundry, putting clothes through the wringer, while a Radio 4 commentator whines on the trade unions insisting on “petty differentials.” The kitchen windows are steamed up, mums hands are red raw. I watch as a raindrop drop outside slips down and runs into another. I ask mum, “What’s a differential?” This leads to a fairly lengthly explanation of what both sides were saying.
I Google “reds under the beds” to check if my memory is accurate and among other things find this: Wilson government used secret unit to smear union leaders In this report from 2018 it’s all there and more. “Senior figures in Harold Wilson’s Labour government plotted to use a secret foreign office propaganda unit to smear a number of left-wing trade union leaders, according to government papers released on Tuesday to the National Archives at Kew.” Wilson’s actions make Keir Starmers threat to Labour Party members attending picket line sound a bit lame, and believe me I’m no fan of the present leader of the Labour Party who has carried out a vicious witch-hunt of the left since taking the position.
And, it would seem, this the government smear played out it the press; Radio 4, blaring from the kitchen, (Radio 1 was off limits until I was about fourteen) was the back drop to my life as as a child and teenager and the report I remember so vividly one of many that attacked trade unionists.
What is in common now and back then is the idea that the demands are completely unreasonable, that the unions are being stubborn and selfish. Read that again from Mick Lynch and decide for yourself if you think that’s the case today.
A thought occurred to me just now: after the success of the miners in the 70’s the government really gunned for the NUM in the 80’s, and then brought down everyone else. The RMT, until recent years have been very successful at maintaining decent pay and conditions and always put safely issues on the agenda. No wonder they are such a target for scorn and misrepresentation.
Guess I’ve been a bit slow on the uptake, how important their action is, it’s not just another group of justifiably pissed off workers, it’s not just another strike; if they lose, what do you think will happen next?
I figure that it game over for all public sector workers and the private sector will follow suit in pay freezes which are effectively pay cuts. So if the RMT (and Asleff and TSSA) lose we all lose.
Lambeth and Southwark Unite are urging people to join picket lines at
Thursday 18th – RMT mainline, London Bridge Tooley St near Shipwright’s Arms, from 7am
Friday 19th – RMT London Underground – Bakerloo line station, Elephant, from 5am but we aim to get there by 7am
Saturday 20th – RMT mainline, London Bridge Tooley St near Shipwright’s Arms, from 7am
The summer of discontent made real?
According to a recent tweet from Rotherham TUC twenty other groups of workers are set to take action in the near future over the cost of living. And looks at what’s trending… The important thing is, as the RMT do, to link the issues of pay and conditions to safety and wellbeing and the threat we face with the climate emergency.
This situation gives us the opportunity to envision and work toward a new world in which our basics needs, whether it be housing, food and fuel, are not provided by companies further lining the bloated and bulging pockets of CE0s and the profits of multinationals.
Surely now we can all see this neoliberalism, introduced across the world in the 1970’s, the idea that the market will solve all ills, that the state’s role is only to introduce the conditions for the market to flourish, can be seen for what is is. Not a trickle down of wealth but a flooding upwards of wealth.
It is fitting that Rotherham TUC draw on the words of another poet, Percy Shelley who died 200 years ago, in their appeal for solidarity, as true today as then. And while Shelly in The Mask of Anarchy railed against the poverty, inequality and lack of representation at that time we too must organise against all of that and the condition of how such power and wealth in so few hands has brought the earth itself to the brink of destruction. We have now so much more to lose than our chains.
August for me is when I like to get a little down time; time to lay fallow or, as my mentor – the poet and tutor Bethany Rivers, puts it, refill the well; recharge basically. So that is precisely what I’m doing for the rest of this month. It will involve, among other things; pottering around the flat, getting a jump on the filing, decluttering and keeping this short and sweet.
I plan to see a few friends out and about perhaps get to Kew or the coast, who knows and possibly go to see the recently renamed, (long over due) Parthenon Sculptures coz though they are on my banned list; looted in the 19th Century by the 7th Earl of Elgin; I hoping this renaming is the first step to the long overdue repatriation.
I MUST do something about the bedroom which has got all officey, gotta be a feng shui crime. “Your bedroom should be an oasis.” Hmm. I’m not entirely sold on something that tells me, “Don’t put your bed facing the door…” Let’s face it for many of us that’s the only place to put it! That said I’m gonna get all those lists, Post-its, plans and schedules OFF THE WALLS and relocate them in the actual office. That’s the plan.
Beyond my little world an official drought has been announced in eight regions in the U.K. It’s reported Birmingham was hotter than Lisbon in recent days (but let’s face it not half as cute!) Hose pipe bans have been announced in some regions with some bizarre exemptions such as on the laying of new lawns, hot tubs and golf clubs.
Thames Water are dragging their feet on declaring a hose pipe ban which suggests to me memories are soooo short, I mean was London on fire a few weeks ago or not?
Strikes me these decisions are all a bit class and ideology ridden with someone somewhere in Whitehall or Westminster sending a memo saying, “Light touch, let’s keep a light touch, let’s not go all big government on this. What ho, stiff upper lip chaps, no need to make a drama out of a crisis… “ thinking, “Oh good god my golf course!”
A debate about water privatisation has opened up, covered in some depth in yesterday’s Any Questions on Radio 4, and leading to articles such as this What We Can Learn From Europe.
Here’s an interesting global perspective published July 20, 2022, demonstrating it’s not the hottest summer ever
and here’s why
“One of the primary drivers of the within-apocalypse variation is the weather pattern known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). At the moment, the oscillation is in the midst of a La Niña period, which is associated with a cooler ocean surface in the central and eastern Pacific and cooler global temperatures — likely an important factor in 2022′s place outside the top five.” (Italics my emphasis.)
A historical perspective here.
This oughta be a humbling moment for humanity…
Manland by Peter Reynard
“Peter Raynard’s Manland is a bold, brilliant and outspoken new collection of poems that scrutinise men and manhood, mental health, working class lives and disability. Aloud and alive with music, wit, anger and rebellion, this is an accomplished, politically-aware and vital book.” Order and more info here
Violet Existence by Katy Wareham Morris
“Moods, reveries, erasures; In Katy Wareham Morris’ Violet Existence surprising reflections on gender and sexuality are wrapped in the chaos of real life. The poems of Violet Existence are wild and dynamic, the lyric I fragments and splits like a river. Wareham Morris explores the world through other eyes, always bold in her use of form, creating high voltage, daring poetry.” Order and more info here
#amwriting very little for a while at least, well, it might happen…
#amreading the seminal cyberpunk classic Neuromancer by William Gibson and A Hundred and One Days: A Baghdad Journal by Asne Seierstad, a description of her time as a journalist based in Baghdad in the run up to and during the start of the 2003 war.
Ok, it feels like we are in dark times what with; the climate emergency, cost of living crisis, fuel prices soaring, a worldwide recession looming, covid persisting and mutating, war in Ukraine and lets nor forget also in Ethiopia, Syria and Yemen at least while as I write Israel are shelling Gaza, again, in a preemptive strike they are, sickeningly, calling Operation Sunrise.
I believe beneath these dark clouds a subtle silk stream of light flows in the possibility these circumstances give us to see the world as it truly is and to see our own true nature as we transform to meet these challenges, in meeting these challenges we can’t help but transform ourselves. It’s also an opportunity to build a new world, a better world with peace, justice, equality and sustainability.
With that in mind I created these memes, with a little nod to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, using some of my images and the Memetic app, and posted them in my insta. A kind of experiment; not sure about the white font on these backgrounds. I’m still getting used to the limits and possibilities of the app. I hope we are can all learn our own limits and possibilities; we will need to in order to guarantee our wellbeing as we create a new world.
The app is £29.99 annually and has the functionality of at least three other free apps combined. It’s very easy to use, has a range of fonts, filters and layouts and has in app editing though I prefer to use iOS software for that.
The third meme was inspired by the teacher at a yoga retreat in Italy in 2020 she used a version of Metta Prayer in a session I’d not heard before, adding the line, “May I know the joy of living”. I thought oh wow, I felt for the first time in my life I was being given permission to feel this emotion. Not just a luxury once we’ve healed the world.
I figure hope, love and joy need to be central to our movements moving forward. I’ve found those qualities in XR, the Glasgow Cop 26 Coalition and the indigenous struggles I’m aware of along with respect, empathy, centreing self care.
A reference to the trans mountain pipeline in British Columbia popped up in my Facebook feed recently and it peeked my interest as I’ve been traveling virtually to this area in recent months to research for a poem about the logging protests in British Columbia. I wanted a bit more context. So followed to the site
The post reported on a protest which took place two days before in Vancouver. Part of a long struggle involving, “thousands of people from every walk of life… First Nations, municipalities, unions, businesses, faith groups, student associations, environmental organizations, local politicians, famous artists and even the Premier of British Columbia have stood united to oppose the heightened risk of an oil spill, violations of Indigenous rights and expansion of the polluting tar sands that accompany this pipeline.”
The Trans Mountain Pipeline development is a story of; lack of consultation, a failure to listen to those who oppose it, rising project costs, dodgy work by contractors, risk of harm to the environment, claims the company will respect wildlife and benefit the lives of people and do you know what that sounds like?
It sounds just like the justification for what is happening here on Cressingham Gardens and the other five council estates facing demolition in the London Borough of Lambeth and all across the country.
This is what the proponents of this project have to say, TMX will, “create thousands of good, middle-class jobs, unlock new global markets to get a fair price for Canadian oil, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year to help fund clean energy solutions, help advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, including through economic opportunity.”
This is what the indigenous people are arguing, “the Tsleil-Waututh Nation [pronounced sail-wha-tooth], whose territory centres around the Burrard Inlet where the pipeline terminates, found a 79% to 87% chance of a spill in their waters over the next 50 years if the project is built. They also put the chances of a worst-case scenario spill of over 100,000 barrels at 29%.
This level of risk is why their community, and over two-thirds of the First Nations impacted by the project, have not given their consent to allow it through their territories as required by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Finally, building a pipeline that could last over 50 years as the global climate crisis spirals out of control is unacceptable. We know the tar sands need to close down by 2040, but this pipeline would help double the size of one of the world’s most polluting projects. Canada cannot meet its climate targets and global commitments to cut carbon pollution if it builds this pipeline – in fact, we would be betting on the world to fail to combat climate change.”
This gives some idea of the extent of the are of land at risk.
What I take from this is all around the world there are people actively defending the planet and our communities. I believe in, “Think Global Act Local.” I first heard this expression from a mysterious character called Shantum who suddenly appeared in Norwich life in the mid 1980’s.
Shantum was both down to earth and a deeply spiritual individual. He took part in our struggles at the university of EastAnglia and in the City; a clear and calm speaker, an enthusiastic and imaginative activist. Famously this included erecting three tepees at the centre of the campus during a rent strike by students who lived in university accommodation.
I honestly can’t remember the outcome of the rent strike, it was a hectic time coinciding with the ‘84/85 miners strike and trips to Greenham Common. Shantum offered me and my partner his squat when he returned to India while my partner was undergoing a bout of psychosis which contributed in no small part to our homelessness.
He remains one of the most influential figures in my life. Though this period was not easy; not long after being rehoused and mental stability restored a dear friend died tragically in a fire in our house. The cause of the fire was never established and the whole period was deeply traumatising.
I figure we fight where we stand but know we are all connected and not alone, we build solidarity so if you are in a position to, you can donate to this struggle here
Subsequently there was a protest by London XR rebels at Lloyd’s of London in April. Lloyds are one of the backers of the TMX pipeline. That is solidarity of the highest form. The result was disinvestment by Lloyds by May. Though the struggle in Vancouver continues.
As I write this the UK is looking forward to never-seen-before heat predicted to rise early next week to 40 deg C. A red alert has been declared by the government and TFL are advising against non essential travel on Monday and Tuesday. The NHS is at risk we are told. Lives are at risk.
At least the cause of this extreme heat is not being entirely glossed over. This has to be a wake up call. Is still not too late to make significant changes that would prevent this becoming the norm.
I for one am out of here, that is out of the southeast on a prearranged trip to Scotland. Expecting gentler temps of 22-26 deg C. Dumfries here I come.
Last week got along to the Carcanet book launch with Caroline Bird of her selected works Rookie Wednesday 13th July on zoom. I was impressed not only by her work but her honesty and straight talking delivery of the poems chosen.
Looking forward to
Wig! Out @ The Wandle curated by Sue Johns takes place Sunday, 24 July 2022 from 19:15 to 21:45 at the Colour House Theatre Watermill Way London SW19 2RD
And Cath Drake’s The Climate of Change Thursday 28th July with Karen McCarthy Woolf
Candlestick Press asked Pascale Petite to edit a mini anthology, Ten Poems about Wildlife and it’s out now. It includes 9 poems she chose and a new one by her.
@candlestickpress Candlestick Press Donation to @wildlifetrusts
“With hedgehogs and hares, dragonflies and deer this mini anthology is a celebration of the wild creatures that flutter, slither, swim or stride through the British countryside. This anthology is a reminder to pay attention to the natural world and its creatures…”
Poems by Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné, John Clare, Emily Dickinson, Jen Hadfield, Norman MacCaig, Robert Macfarlane, David Morley, Les Murray, Pascale Petit and Robert Williams Parry.
I enjoyed watching Ghostwriter recently – what’s not to like – writing, politicos, subterfuge with Euan Macgregor as the ghostwriter a somewhat wooden Pierce Brosnan as the PM Lang and Olivia Williams as his wife. Directed by Roman Polanski 2010
“A ghostwriter is hired to work on the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang. While Lang gets embroiled in a huge scandal, the writer uncovers secrets that put his own life in jeopardy.”
A road side mugging of the ghost by black clad motorcyclists opens as simultaneously revelations that Lang has been complicit in extraordinary rendition and water boarding emerges and the stage is set for drama, a quarter of a million dollar are at stake and reputations.
With an unrepentant prime minster central to the story comparisons have been made with Tony Blair; even going so far as to describe describing Brosnan as a dead-ringer for Blair. Umm, no. He just doesn’t have that maniacal grin and the arched eyebrows of evil that Blair had in the end. So I didn’t really feel that.
Though it does tear into the British establishment and the cosy relationship between the US and the U.K. at the time which had such devastating consequences for the people of Iraq.
Apparently Bliar, Bliar, pants on fire took umbrage to the book the film is based on demonstrating, I like to think, the value of art though I felt that despite well crafted cinematography Polanski is losing his edge slightly though he pulls off an intriguing ending. I’ll say no more. I’m no spoiler.
#amwriting about possible near future dystopias in verse
#amreading Ubik by Phillip K Dick, 52 Ways to Read a Poem by and continuing with the Gingko Prize 2021
It’s rare I read a poem that literally takes my breath away. Under Their Sweaty Wings by Fred Voss is one of those. Only at the last line I realised I’d stopped breathing.
I was immediately engaged with the mention of a vice. It evoked a memory of my maternal grandfather whom I used to watch in his shed. My grandmother urged me, ”Don’t bother yer grandad when ’ee’s in his shed.” Yet he permitted me if I stood still, kept quiet and didn’t touch anything. “And never put your fingers in there,” he said as I swung the handle back and forth looking out the window onto the garden.
Image, Dusty Window in Woodworking Workshop by @diydave
This poem which illustrates the reality of machine shop work with its dangers, value and skill in a way that is both tender and mesmerising.
Under Their Sweaty Wings
by Fred Voss
I have had many fathers between tin walls one who told me to lay a crescent wrench across the jaws of a vice if I left the vice untightened at the end of the workday so I wouldn’t forget it was loose the next morning and drop a block of steel between its jaws and send the teeth of a cutter flying through the steel and have the steel explode in my face another taught me how to tell what RPM to set a cutter at by putting his palm flat against the side of a milling machine head and feeling its vibrations like a gypsy fortune-teller reading a palm another told me of how when he was young he wrestled Gorgeous George to the mat in the Olympic Auditorium in downtown L.A. lonely as a street urchin wandering a concrete machine shop floor trying to learn a skill to make a living with a long-necked can of cutting oil and whatever grit I could pull out of my guts leaving Shakespeare a million miles behind in a graduate school I’d dropped out of these were my fathers from Lebanon or El Salvador or East L.A. gang or WW2 submarine or prison cell or circus trapeze who’d landed in this machine shop too fathers with toolboxes they’d worn shiny and smooth with decades of their fingers opening and shutting their drawers men who’d been shell-shocked divorced shot at who’d cut a finger off or gone mad howling at the moon working too many years on graveyard shift fathers when I hadn’t seen my father in 2 years when my mother had disowned me and bikers with metal plates in their legs or heads were my only friends and I hadn’t yet written one poem to show me the way fathers who made cutting oil and shiny chips of brass seem holy giving me old tape measures and sine bars that had crossed the raging Atlantic or a Mexican desert full of cactus like I was the son they never had their toolboxes Bibles the invention of fire the rolling of the first wheel the hammering of the first nail in their twinkling eyes taking me under their sweaty wing giving me a home where forklifts rolled and Krakatoa 2-ton drop hammers boomed and I laced up my steel-toed boots and squared a hardhat on my head home at last where the ticking of a timeclock was the mother of us all.
See Culture Matters for a version that hasn’t mangled the line breaks…
What was that I was saying in the last diary entry about “trying to resist the urge to take on too much as I know from experience that would be counter productive.” And what did I do? Just that!
Agreed to a trip to Italy at the last minute. Lost the presence that was telling me there were unknown quantities, barely enough time to make the necessary bookings ahead and I already had a lot on.
It was meant to be a break, a gentle time with a little bit of work, a little bit of sightseeing and relaxing. I reasoned I was due a break. I figured I could work away, I’ve done it before. It turned out to be far from gentle with temperatures up to 37 degrees in the humid sub tropical climate of Liguria.
It all sounded so good! A radical film festival in Genoa and a few days in Cinque Terre, a place I’ve yearned after visiting for some time. The whole experience was costly in terms of time, energy, money and potentially my mental health. The latter is intact but was put under serious strain.
Despite that there were some good moments:-
Screening of a spectacular film from Marseille of the struggle of a community against gentrification- La bataille de la Plaine by Sandra Ach, Nicolas Burlaud, Thomas Hakenholz, Francia, 2020
A visit to the site of the oldest bookshop in Europe, the original location seemed to be closed with an alter new venue round the corner. According to wiki the Libreria Bozzi bookshop was founded by a French Jewish refugee from Briançon, Antone Beuf (Antonio Beuf), in 1810.
A visit to Lerici where the Shelley’s made their base at Villa Magni in 1822. The site has now fallen into disrepair. It was meant to be their dream home. Ultimately Percy Shelly would meet a watery death in the bay he so admired. Note only Percy appears on the plaque. Ironically, like the trip, it was not the happy and curative time the Shelley’s had hoped for, according to Louise A. DeSalvo (1942-2018)
“Moving to Casa Magni, even for the spring and summer, made no sense. But Shelley’s [Percy’s] desire to inhabit his presumed dream house distorted his capacity to assess what his family needed.
The house was in that wild and out-of-the-way place inhabited by a handful of fisherfolk Shelley yearned for. And there was the “divine bay” just beyond the house where Shelley could sail.
But Mary despised the place from the first. Although she did not insist they leave, she was pregnant, ill, and unhappy. She called it “a dungeon,” feared what might happen there and warned a friend to stay away.”
#amwriting poetry about the darkness and danger of a collapsed society
#amreading Fiona Bensons Bright Travellers and the 2021 Gingko Prize winning poems
The results of this prestigious prize were announced on 24th June. A video of the ceremony and link to the 2021 anthology can be found at
On being asked by an interviewer what one quality every poem should have Elizabeth Bishop replied, “Surprise. The subject and the language which conveys it should surprise you. You should be surprised at seeing something new and strangely alive.”
Quoted by @JohnMcCullough_ on Twitter
A good poem, in my opinion, is “strangely alive.” It gains that quality by a mixture of inspiration, craft, form and a myriad of decisions large and small.
The American poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) is widely quoted and commended for the “painterly quality” of her work and her tendency to, “revise and revise.” She remains hugely influential.
I guess this is about identity. In truth I’m still trying to work it out, the poem and myself. Everything changes. Nothing is constant except change. I’m not even sure this piece is finished…as a self portrait.
Anne Enith Cooper, My Flag is Spectrum, (self portrait) cement cast and metal.
“I think in some very real sense part of the world’s population is already posthuman. Consider the health options available to a millionaire in Beverly Hills as opposed to a man starving in the streets in Bangladesh.
The man in Beverly Hills can, in effect, buy himself a new set of organs. I mean, when you look at that sort of gap, the man in Bangladesh is still human. He’s a human being from an agricultural planet. The man in Beverly Hills is something else. He may still be human, but he, in some way, I think he is also posthuman. The future has already happened.”
What Gibson has hit upon here, in my opinion, using a visceral and vivid image, is a metaphor for global inequality. The uneven distribution of everything; from basic needs for shelter, food, water, electricity to access to education, training and employment and of course health care.
The future is here. Smart loos, smart houses. For some. Meanwhile in places like Madagascar people subsist on leaves and insects against a backdrop of drought and famine.
I can’t help thinking that while I see prototypes for flying cars bouncing into my Google news — the emblem, or trope if you like, of the cyberpunk or dystopian near future genre, rising above dark neon lit streets — I can’t help reflecting on the absurdity and thinking what is really rising is the wealth of the powerful, sea levels and temperatures; with record breaking levels recorded in the USA, the Arctic, across Europe in Siberia and Australia last year.
The great thing about this genre is it warns what can come if people don’t act against those in power. And there is always a resistance. The good news is movements across the world for equality, justice and a just transition out of this mess we’ve made, more accurately the pursuit of profit and growth have made, are rising too and have gone global.
Late again posting… I finally emerged from late lingering mid winter blues early/mid May. Now charting a steady course and trying to resist the urge to play catch up or take on too much as I know from experience that would be countered productive.
Back in March I put myself on the waiting list for a course at Arvon and was delighted when a place came free at the end of April, it was a bit of a scramble but I got there. Entitled Magical Thinking the week was to explore poem as
“spells and incantations” to look at “words that change us and thread magic through our existence” led by Fiona Benson and Liz Berry.
This was such a pleasure, the tutors were amazing, the other participants lovely and the fresh air of Devon a blessed relief.
Prior to this confirmation I’d also enrolled on a six week course in Death in Mythology as my writing tends to draw on these things from time to time. It’s all on zoom and though I’m having a degree of zoom fatigue, or rather zoom hesitancy, I think it will be worth it.
Coming up (this has all pretty much happened now at time of posting)
There’s a benefit for Save Cressingham Saturday 14th May with experimental music , puppets and spoken word. This coincides with my birthday celebrates so all good.
Thursday 19th May 7.30pm sees Sundra Joanne Lawrence, Malika’s Poetry Kitchen sister, launch her Aryamati Prize winning pamphlet Warriors. With special guests Malika Booker, Be Manzini and Saradha Soobrayen and Anjan Saha to compere.
Here’s a wonderful endorsement from Rishi Dastidar
“In Warriors, Sundra Lawrence takes us into Tamil culture, the Sri Lankan civil war, and her life, in language that is tangible, evocative and visceral. There are moments here that will have you holding your breath; moments that will make you smile too. We are indeed ‘lucky monarchs’ to have these superb poems.”
Available from Foyles, Blackwells and WH Smith’s
Thursday 26th May 7.30pm
Sees the double book launch from Nine Arches press of You have no normal country to return to by Tom Sastry and The Telling by Julia Webb.with guest poet Daniel Sluman.
You can find out more about the books and purchase copies of:
Jut sharing this piece of concrete poetry i chanced upon because it’s a form I love and so epic!
#amreading 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem by Ruth Padel. I’ve recently returned to this, it’s highly instructive if a little technical. About to embark on the 2021 Live Canon Anthology and dipping in out of The Gingko Prize Anthology 2020
#amwriting about bones and roots. Briefly in April the sun shone on my process and poems arose clear and almost full formed but other times it’s as if I’m reaching into a swamp. I know there’s treasure in there but between me and the words is the murky depth, the tangle of weeds, the brush of an unseen creature. Yep, just like that
I was rudely awoken the other day by the grass cutters. The previous night had been seized by what I can only assume was menopausal insomnia. I thought that was so over! Maybe not. ANYWAY, my first thought was -oh my god the daisies!
Needless to say I was in no fit state after about five hours sleep to go outside, arms flapping and plead mercy on their behalf. Fortunately they’ve done something uncharacteristically intelligent and only cut the edges of the grass verges and paths. Phew!
I’ve been desiring to record the daisies with the camera as I’ve never seen Cressingham Gardens so replete, so copious with daisies. Never. Such swathes across many of our green spaces. Is it the late spring? Is it some function of the climate?
It’s as if nature itself is saying -wake up guys you’ve a planet to save.
So mid morning, too frayed to write, I stagger out with the camera which I’ve managed to get off the annoying post focus mode. (This was an education in itself ie: if one takes the attitude, “okaaay, let’s see what’s going on here,” fiddle fiddle rather than, “On my god what’s going on,” panic fiddle, fiddle panic! Then one gets results.)
I was using the Panasonic Lumix rather than the Canon, which is not new but since a repair seems to have a new operating system and as manuals are gobbledygook to me its trial and error…
So here is result of playing with large aperture/ fast shutter trying to represent the detail and sheer scale of all this life. Which is tricky. On my hands and knees, arse in the air. Bits of me creaking. Ignoring passsers by…
And this is one of the estates Lambeth Council Regen Team want to demolish…
Since the Arvon Retreat my mind has been thrown back to the past. Childhood memories of encounters with nature mostly. This, I believe, was influenced by reading Stevan Alcock’s Blood Relatives.
Alcock depicts scenes, in Leeds circa 1978, where punks and skinheads hung out together. Scenes I read with incredulity until I remembered those in the grimy town centre and Bowles Lyon Youth Club in Stevenage New Town at that time.
I had a Saturday job in Littlewoods cafe in the town centre and would cringe with embarrassment when anyone I knew came in on account of the hideous uniform, the worst of it the cap that flattened my spiked hair.
The ‘Stevenage Skins’ would frequent this establishment on Saturdays, I suspect they used it to hold their “business meetings.” Pubs were off limit, as we were all under age! Their cat calls of, “Oi Punk!” Were met from me with the eloquent, “Fuck off!” It was on the way home from this Saturday job I first spoke to Neil.
Here’s a glimpse of my misspent youth. The poem may not be finished but its as good as it will get for now.
There’s a knock at the door, Mum shoots this sour look
– you get it, probably for you.- Swing the door open.
Neil stands in the porch, Ben Sherman shirt and red braces, mouth
chewing hard; emphatically gurning. Thank god I came to the door!
– Wot you eating? Morning Glory init. Me and Baggy thieved
‘em from the garden centre, they followed us out. – Try to picture
the Crombies and DM’s, moon stomping round the greenhouses,
shorn heads bobbing above the displays of potted plants.
We’ll try anything to spirit away the real – banana skins roasted
under a grill and scrapped and smoked, glue, cough mixture.
– You coming out? – No, I’ve got homework.- I’m anxious
to get rid of him, how does he even know where I live? And mother
already seething. I’ve dyed my hair black, she hasn’t spoken to me
for a week. Last time I saw Neil in the town centre we’d argued again
– you shouldn’t beat up black people, we’re all the same. –
-Read Anne Frank.- Mum had said, – Never again! – I’m doing my bit.
Following the first time I let those words fly, hands on hips, chin out
Neil said, – We’re NF, that’s what we do and I’m the main man – adding
-We like you, you’ve got bottle, your mates they just run. – Figure
he saw something in me no one saw, not me, not even mum. Never
knew how much of all that fight talk was a boast. Talk of blood
on baseball bats Never actually saw them as much as hit anyone. Though
there were the rumours; like Ferret got nicked at the weekend
he was tooled up. Probably go down. Carrying a screwdriver.
A post script to this: I ran into Neil about four years later, after he’d been inside and I’d started University. We had a chat in the town centre, he looked exactly the same, told me they’d expanded “the business,” now dealing at festivals.
Eventually I asked, “And what about the NF?” He replied, “Nah, it was like you felt that you had no future, coming from nowhere, going nowhere, so you pull your boots and a crombie and join the NF. It was just part of the uniform.”
I still don’t know if it was “just part of the uniform,” perhaps I’ll never know, but that attitude, so eloquently expressed as, “coming from nowhere and going nowhere” was prevalent at that time. I knew it well.
It was at attitude reflected in the film Boston Kickout, written and directed by a Stevenage resident. A character says, paraphrasing, “there’s only four ways out of this place; marriage, college, prison or the psyche ward.” Something like that. I must watch it again!
It pulled from me a memory of Future Legend by David Bowie, lyric below, the intro to the album Diamond Dogs.
This is how I remember it. Listening to the whole of that album over and over with a friend as teenagers. Trying to work out what it was all about, what it meant. Was it a prediction? It would seem it was!
I remember I sat there on the bottom bunk of the bed bunks sniffing chloroform stolen from the chemistry lab while she sat near the window trying to piece her ear with a needle and a cork. Where the cork came from I have no idea, no one drank wine, unless it was the stuff dad made from bananas and broccoli and anything else he thought could be fermented.
The trick with chloroform was to stop inhaling just before you totally blacked out but had enough to enter an altered state. It left a sweet taste in the back of the throat. When one side of the record ended my friend said, “Can you turn it over?” I replied, “Can’t you?” Wondering if I could walk across the room and she said, “I’m only half way through.”
Future Legendby David Bowie
“And in the death
As the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy
The shutters lifted in inches in Temperance Building
High on Poacher’s Hill
And red, mutant eyes gaze down on Hunger City
No more big wheels
Fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats
And ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes
Coverting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers
Like packs of dogs assaulting the glass fronts of Love-Me Avenue
Ripping and rewrapping mink and shiny silver fox, now legwarmers
Family badge of sapphire and cracked emerald
Any day now
The Year of the Diamond Dogs
This ain’t Rock’n’Roll
This is Genocide”
This could have been circa 1974 but more likely to be a few years after. At some point later a band emerged from neighbouring Hitchin called the Bleach Boys. The had a signature track called Chloroform. They played it at an Anti Nazi League benefit in Hitchin, at one point with my friend on stage with the singer.
I don’t know how that happened. I remember feeling immensely, possibly irrationally, proud. It’s hard to put a date to all this and we’ve come along way from rats the size of cats though, if I remember correctly this band did a cover of “going down the garden to eat worms” perhaps it was the B side to Chloroform.
I wonder what happened to them. I google. OMG they have a store in Amazon, tracks on YouTube, an album released in 2012 and still gigging! Chloroform, YouTube reliably tells me came out in 1978 so that gives sometime scale.
The singer, if it is the same singer, still has hair and is slim and presumably fit as he pogoes up and down while he blasts out the howling lyrics. I can’t say there’s been much evolution in the musical style; chopping guitars, wanging bass, thundering drumming and (surely by design) crescendos of feedback. I never did become a writer for the NME, mother put the kibosh on that. Another story.
It’s funny though as I approach 60 I think the recent style I’ve adopted is saying, “still a punk” though I never held with the spitting, the destructive urges, the fuck you attitude. It was at first a place of liberation but eventually as tribes fractured into sub tribes one was as likely to be met with scorn as much as acceptance. And I figure I took Ian Dury’s “Sex and drugs and rock n roll” a way bit too literally.
I stepped out recently to a friends 40th, my first post shingles outing, in ridiculously heavy patent leather-look boots, silver chains swing from my neck and ear, a black, dayglo pink and grey dress that reached my ankles, under the long black Boohoo coat adorned with a safety pin.
Going thru this phase that says what the hell happened to the last 20 years? When incidentally I started running creative writing workshops. Or the last 30? When I started writing. The last 40? When I started Uni. Time, it seems, has slipped by while for much of it I’ve been thinking, am I ready? Am I doing good enough?
And all this preceded even that.
I’m wondering now what this post is about. The years seem to have passed so swiftly yet some memories are as vivid as yesterday. I figure one remembers what mattered. Perhaps it’s about time itself, the scars it’s left as well as the sweetness.
This is the place for a bit of my news, my adventures in creativity and poetry community news…
So I am late posting this, very late and part of the reason was a very unhelpful encounter with my GP surgery. Can’t help thinking of Pixie Madison, now a writer and performer for Cardboard Citizens, who famously regaled us, more than once with, “I’ve only got one joke… What’s the definition of care in the community?” Big pause. “Here’s a ticket to Brixton.”
Well, he had a point if my experience is anything to go by…. The details of my recent encounter with community care I’ll leave ‘til the end for anyone who experiences mental health issues or knows anyone that does, see after the fun stuff…
The month began with an inspiring reading from Stav Poleg for the launch of her book The City which took place on Zoom 6th April.
The start of the month also saw my first Brixton night out in so long hosted by Jack Blackburn and the Conformists with special guest Michael Groce.
Really good to see so many familiar faces though tidy reminder that what looks like not-a-lot-of-wine is in fact exactly that – this fashion for mad sized glasses!
Held at the Brixton Art Club it was great but a bit of a stimulation overload experience with art, sound and familiar faces all at once. I reckon this is a post lockdown or post – but not really post – covid effect or something… Here’s some grainy pics.
I’ve been following a series of events by Dear Politicians including Ecopoetry and the movement on 13th April which you can catch up here
and How to write Ecopoetry on the 20th April here
While Writers Rebel presented a star studded showcase outside Tate Britain on the 15th April with contributions from Lemn Sissay, Zena Edwards, Inua Ellams, Patience Agbabi, Sarah Winman, Greg Norminton, Joe Dunthorne, Maggie Gee, Nikita Gill and Courttia Newland as well as Monique Roffey and Alex Lockwood. Catch it all here
On a personal note had a trip to British museum with a friend’s kids. Got to see some of the plundered treasures from around the world. It’s a bit unnerving to think probably most of this stuff is stolen…
Headed to the Egyptian section to find the mummies. That was the objective since the Natural History Musuem that had promised dinosaur bones, the first choice, was all booked up. I was a bit perturbed that my friend’s son spent a quite a lot of time saying, Re: big tombs, “I’m bored.” Re: hieroglyphics, “Boring!” Re: ancient bones, “That’s not scary!” Re: ancient skeletons with skin on them, “Not scary at all.”
I was wondering where this desire or expectation “to be scared” came from and later remembered a convo before getting the lift. Boy, “I’m not scared.” Me, “Well you might be if we leave you here overnight and everything comes to life.” (Ooooh, What was I thinking ?! Boy, “I could live here.” Me, “Yes, you’re quite small, you probably could.”
On the way out I asked, “Was there anything you liked?” Emphatic reply, “The mummies!!” Phew! Later his mum commended me on making abandonment seem exciting when I told her about the convo at the lift!
But honestly do they need to keep ALL that stuff? Much of it was duplicates, particularly the urns (in the Greek section we passed through.) I mean how many urns do you need to make the point?
After we sat in Bloomsbury Square while I pondered the Bloomsbury Group; their antiwar activity pre 1914, their artist legacy and nurturing of young artists in the 1920’s… wondering if my feel now touched the same grass, the same ground.
Also had a brief sojourn in Hastings over the bank holiday then when I got back began the unholy STRESS of getting a repeat prescription, for my mood meds, before they ran out – this is the mental health bit – but first a picture of a beach…
This s t r e s s happens every two months to varying degrees and in varying forms. It’s not like this is a new condition; I was diagnosed bipolar around 1995 but of course the condition varies and my ability to manage it varies. Chuck in a double bank holiday and their lack of flexibility with the two day in advance rule for repeat prescriptions, despite written policy to do just that in the case of mental health, and oh no! (If I put it in too early it’s binned and no one tells me until I reach the pharmacy.)
Plus am absolutely sick of being treated as lazy or stupid (spoken to as if I was five years old) if I miss their deadline and despite being calm and courteous and for all they know possibly not coping as well as I might.
You’d THINK when I ask to talk to a doctor their wouldn’t be an inquisition. You’d THINK I wouldn’t have to ask every time for them to let me know when a prescription has been made up. You’d THINK I wouldn’t have to remind them every time to send the prescription to the pharmacy though its in the notes. You’d THINK they would understand that as a vulnerable patient their actions or inactions deeply effect my wellbeing.
I’m not going to go into all the gritty details of this particular rigmarole, it would take too long. Suffice it to say at the last call; the third or fourth, (average wait each time 45 mins) abandoning any attempt at calm or courtesy I said, “That is not acceptable!” And promptly hung up. Then voila get a call back ten minutes later, “Your prescription is ready. The doctor has sent it to the pharmacy.” Just as I was penning another complaint to the practice manager.
I say all this because I doubt I am alone in experiencing these kind of difficulties. What can I say? This experience would suggest get your strop on. Get mad. Yet thats not the answer. All I can suggest is the following for any encounters with GP surgeries or mental health professionals:-
Write down what you need before you call (or attend an appointment.) Make notes of how you feel if necessary or appropriate. If you are patronised, as I have been in the past, remind them the call is being recorded and the requirement of courtesy applies to them too. Difficult in the moment… Remind them you are a vulnerable patient. If you are feeling particularly fragile ask someone else to call (or accompany you.) Know their policies and know you are entitled to decent treatment. If you don’t get it keep a record of what happened, where and when. If your up to it make a complaint.
Yes, the NHS is over stretched. It doesn’t mean putting up with BS. I’ll leave it there.
#amreading Blood Relatives by Steven Alcock, The Sagas of Ragnar Lothbrok and Gail McConnell’s The Sun is Open
#amwriting about the remarkable beings that are fungi and ficaria verna, also known as pilewort or the lesser celandine.
Have discovered a new photo app. One can do cute things with it, guess that’s what it’s designed for, or more disturbing things. It seems pretty limited one can only add one effect and one filter at a time, and some of the effects are really just filters.
Created the original image, the one l’ve messed with, on NYE. Yeah. Read: me pouting into my iphone. Wanted to try out my new lipstick. The first I’ve bought in about 15 years if truth told. If I’m blatantly honest at the back of my mind was the thought can I still pull it off before I get old lady lips, thin and puckered. I am not proud of this train of thought. I’ve reached that stage of life where whilst I’m all for positive images of older people a little part of me screams ageing? Ok for you, but not me! Yes, really.
Am playing around with this app while sitting in a great heap of exhaustion. I could do to get to Brixton Wholefoods but somehow I don’t think that’s gonna happen today. Everyday last week woke with gritty eyes, foggy mind, somewhat bloated feeling and a kind of overwhelming weakness. I’ve got some stuff done, essentials and some writing and submissions.
Earlier I finished my book; The Parable of the Talents, the sequel to The Parable of the Sower. It was harrowing; I think I’m gonna have to take a break from near future dystopian fiction for a while coz instead of giving me the things-aren’t-that-bad-yet feeling. It’s tending to make me feel actually-things-aren’t-far-off-from-that-already. Both books are by Octavia E Butler, a black woman from California who has received the Hugo and Nebula awards for her work, both are an edge of your seat compelling read.
That said, these texts were also tending to make my think, as did Olamina, the narrator in the first book, that I need to repack my apocalypse bag. This resembles, and has been used as, camping equipment. They also made me too acutely aware of my lack of knowledge about the essentials of survival. I mean how to you make soap or grow wheat? What plants can you eat? I know you can eat dandelion but that’s hardly going to keep us going when faced with marauding hoards of people who don’t want to share or work collectively. And furthermore, tends to make me feel I need to enrol at a firing range and get in some shooting practice.
Yes, really, in my darker moments this crosses my mind. I was only joking about this last summer. About how come the apocalypse only the bad guys are gonna have the guns. And how I ought to know having watched every dystopian movie out there, naively wondering why they just cant form a citizens assembly or something, then the penny dropped…Dark yes I know. It was funny at the time.
Of course, well on one level, I don’t really believe things here will get that bad here in my lifetime. In other parts of the world, as Margaret Atwood work also suggests, elements of these stories certainly exist already. In an early edition of the Handmaids Tale Atwood notes, paraphrasing, ”All the practices cited in this book exist now somewhere in the world.” That was the bit that really sent chills through me when I read this as a young adult.
The scenarios described by Butler might well be experienced by our children and children’s children if we don’t act now. That is why I think it’s so hard to read about. These books, though fiction, give a very realistic picture of what the future might hold if we are unable to deal sufficiently with the climate emergency, with poverty and inequality. If we don’t have a just transition and system change we face at best a bleak future.
In these stories, published in the 1990’s, we see, against a backdrop of climate change, the rise of a fundamentalist quasi fascist Christian force who take power. The president, Jarret, aims ”to make America great again.” Thugs, associated with the regime, but unacknowledged, round up and enslave the dispossessed; unemployed, homeless, squatters and groups with a different world view including Olamina’s Earthseed community. We see what a deregulated and regressively legislated society and economy could look like with the return of debt bondage, with legalised torture and sex trafficking, with slavery reappearing. We see the violence that ensues when people are barely surviving, traumatised, desperate and distrusting.
Anyway. I say all this at the risk of bringing you down on this fine winters day. At least it was fine earlier. That’s not my intention. It occurs to me these Filto images could stand as a metaphor for possible destinies. We can make them nice, or nasty. Every day I feel it more and more its in our hands. It really is. Quite literally. I just think we should all think very carefully about the future and what it holds, how we can shape it, what we are going to bequeath. How our action now, in activism or other ways; big and small, can make a difference between a hell or a heaven on earth or at least tend towards paradise, nostra primavera, Shangri-La, a new Eden with some almighty damage limitation and system change.
Just a last word on the app. There’s a three day free trial. After that its £34.99 for a year. It might be worth it for social, to glam up and play with party images but as an artists tool I’d say its pretty limited. There doesnt seem to be a function to make videos for more than 5 seconds. One can trim, cut and alter the speed but thats about it. Can’t seem to loop them either. Verdict: fun but an expensive toy.
This poem is from the collection Slattern, published in 2001, which won Winner of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Saltire Prize for the Scottish First Book of the Year. I came across it when searching for poems about hats! Sharing as an image as it contains some nice yet subtle formatting.
The text reads
Get a hat, a homberg, keep
it on bars, tipped
so just your profile shows.
Imply a smile, one-sided. Perhaps
a scar to hold it.
Seek out the half light, stand
oblique, a silhouette. Smoke
a blue edged trail
in icy air, by a lamppost, let
your few sharp words intensify [text of this line reduced in height as if squashed]
to clouds. Be lean.
Be leaning on the bar I plan
to enter. Irony’s the ice I keep
my dreams in. Drop
some in your whisky. Hold it there.
It says so much in so few words. The collection is described as, “poems about men and boys: married men, self-sufficient men, wounded men, and men ‘who own/the earth and love it’; poems about memory and time.”
If you are a women you know this scene. We all do if we’ve seen enough movies. Here imaged with the emphatic line breaks, the repetition of the long i sound that runs throughout, the short lines and short sentences building tension to the bitter, “Irony’s the ice I keep/ my dreams in.” As the absent narrator becomes present sharply in focus out of all that smoke (and mirrors.)
I am aware that more recently Kate Clancy’s work has drawn controversy. I can’t comment on that specifically as I’ve not read the offending text: Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me. Nor as a white writer do I feel it is appropriate to comment on a debate about the representation of race.
However I can’t help think it’s quite right that writers take issue with discuss and debate not just what has been represented but how. Though in my opinion if that then leads to hounding and “cancelling” it noone, except perhaps the right wing who in the US are currently carrying out a fury of “cancelling,” benefits. I absolutely respect that was never the intentions of the critics of Clancy’s work.
Hence I share this not as a political statement or ”taking” sides but because it is a brilliant poem. My position, if I have one, on discussions of oppressions is we are all learning and growing. We all make mistakes. We all hold unconscious bias. We all have different lived experiences which inform those bias. A very different thing from conscious prejudice, I think. Though perhaps the experience of such can seem very similar to the oppressed. This is a set of thoughts in progress.
Kate Clanchy was born and grew up in Scotland. She is a writer in several genres, and has won the BBC National Short Story Award for her fiction, a Forward Prize and the Saltire Prize for her poetry, and the Writers’ Guild Award for her much acclaimed memoir Antigona and Me. She was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for We Are Writing a Poem About Home, a radio poem by the students of Oxford Spires Academy where she has been Writer in Residence since 2009.
For the first half of February I felt like I had my head in a box in a padded cell with no windows, longing for the sap rising energy of March. Then Storm Eunice arrived and swept all that away and thoughts flew again, movement. Unwary I joined the world once more with varying results. Now back to watching Vikings again, (this is how I self soothe, I’m serious) back to living like the hermit on the hill and hardly noticed February swing into March.
In the poetry world what’s up? Well, I haven’t exactly been in the world much but I can tell you am looking to seeing Salena Godden, reading from Mrs Death Meets Death at Piccadilly Waterstones on Wednesday 16th March plus zooming in with the Red Poets Sunday 20th.
Coming up World Poetry Day on Monday 21st March, imagine theyll be all sorts happening and Poets for Ukraine hold ”a hybrid sponsored poetry event on 27th March taking place at JW3, 341-351 Finchley Rd, London NW3 Provisional timings are 11-5pm poem-a-thon in a space that seats about 40 people with a evening gala event 7-9pm in a larger auditorium. This is to be a combination of virtual and live performances and audiences will be able to come in person or watch remotely.”
Besides this, caught sight of a meme, which i cant upload
I know not
what weapons world war III
will be fought, but world war IV
will be fought
with sticks and stones
These words have been winging around my mind every time I hear commentators on TV and radio blithely remark on the prospect without adding, “but of course that would be unthinkable, that would be THE END OF EVERYTHING.”
I want to be informed without being overwhelmed and collapsing into stasis, uselessness, hopelessness. The only constancy in my life has been the struggle; for peace, justice, equality in various ways. Poetry came later. What was it all for as we stand at the abyss of all abyss’s, knowing we swim in insanity, absurdity, obscenity gives no succour.
A part of me says only if you can look the darkness in the face can you still hope. Better than to be consumed by it. Yesterday at the end of a poem an acorn dropped at my feet. Hope however small is still hope.
Then I thought of Joelle Taylor’s poem about the spark. Which I share here
II wonder how on earth did I cope with these similar fears as a teen? Action I guess, we took action. We (CND) were told more than once to “go back to Russia”, leafleting on the streets, which only emboldened us.
But before that? When alone, thinking the whole world was mad! And if not them, me? Perhaps I was stronger than I thought despite shaking before walking into a youth club. Hiding in the library at school.
Strength I call for now for me. Calm and clear sight for the world. Thinking, really, “what’s so funny about peace, love and understanding” as we stand at the brink.
In the Poetic Edda, which appears to be a fusion of history and myth which chronicles pretty much all we know of Viking life, belief and ethos, the Edda predicted their end, they called it Ragnarok. The end not just of their way of life but of their gods. One might say that came to pass. Only the Edda remains and these modern interpretations… (There is also the Prose Edda, which was written some centuries later and as such is an interpretation.)
Our “end of days” has been predicted in numerous forms. I’ve come to think of it as it as a metaphor for transformation. The ascension a metaphor for becoming fully human. Not an end but the possibility of a new beginning. At times like this that feels like hopeless idealism.
I still hold with “if we can break it we can (re) make it”, “we” here is humanity, but only if there is something left beyond dust and irradiation. Or we leave the world to the cockroaches but they won’t recite and interrogate or interpret our hymns, songs and ecopoetry.
On a personal note a friend invites me to a birthday “do” closing the text with – Dress Code: Sexy. And I think how do you even do that? After spending most evenings in sweats and jumpers and (quite frankly ridiculous) knitted socks since I turned the heating down, this feels like rather a challenge. (I won’t say “jerseys” because that makes it sound even more sad, language is wonderful isn’t.)
Oh, and did I mention under a furry throw? Because that way, even though it’s made of polyester, when watching Vikings I can imagine I’m one of them, Lagertha perhaps. Sorry, of course I want to be Lagertha; shieldmaidan, warrior, wife of Ragnar Lothbrok. (While simultaneously musing I’m pretty sure there’s a pizza in the fridge but can I be bovvered.)
As regards the party, I hear “fall back on the feminine classic, get out the little black dress” I reflect there’s about four of them in sixes 8 to 12. Only one I can pull over my hips (and that was five years ago) and it rides up so far it’s comical read: a bit embarrassing. I saw the photos. And it was a book launch. My book launch to be precise… 306: Living Under the Shadow of Regeneration
I hear the words of my mother to a neighbour when I were but a child, berating some poor victim of her scorn (Mum was great but she could be harsh) “Mutton dressed up as lamb I reckon”. I hear many voices dictating what women over 50 should, could, must wear and “don’t have you’re hair beneath your shoulders” and finally conclude it’s all bollocks…but how deep goes the conditioning of what a women can/must/mustn’t/might dare wear.
Still the outfit search goes on… And the war goes on and I’m still hearing the word “nuclear” too often for my liking
#amreading The Hidden life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake and Panic Response by John McCollough
#amwriting about trees and fungi and the war of course, and my latest contribution to the Listen Up On our Radar hub is here
Play with this; use the image as a prompt. What stories she could tell! Set a timer for ten, fifteen or twenty minutes and freewrite and see where it takes you. Then consider what you have just made. Is it for just for fun, or does it feel it needs development? Does it welcome a form?
Rules of the freewrite, after Natalie Goldberg, from Writing Down the Bones; keep your hand moving, don’t stop or cross out, don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Don’t think, just write, follow the words, just see what comes.
Image by Matt Jackisch who says,
“On a tiny island West of Vancouver Island exists this giant cedar tree. I had heard the myths and legends and followed a trail of broken hints in a kayak to find it. I’ve visited several times now and really loved the low hanging light in the forest this day.”
This tree is located on an island in the archipelago Barkley Sound, The islands are part of a national park in British Columbia in Canada.
Have fun with the process of writing. Be curious about what you have made. Not all writing is for submission sometimes it’s enough to exercise that writing muscle. Once you have done your freewrite if you wish to take your writing in a different direction you may want to consider this additional information.
Close to Barkley Sound on Vancouver Island a courageous struggle has been taking place on indigenous land to stop logging of similar old growth trees.
Image by Jesse Winter/ The Guardian
Contractors and police have been vicious in their treatment of people that want to save trees such as this. The largest protest has been at Fairy Creek. Last year a protester commented,
“We’re now at the point where River Camp, which has been occupied for the better part of seven months … has now been aggressively cleared out and there is machinery waiting at the bottom of the hill to cut down thousand-year-old trees,” said Luke Wallace
The action is organised by the Fairy Creek Blockade, “a volunteer driven, grassroots, non-violent direct action movement,” committed to protecting the last stands of globally significant ancient temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island.
Last September it was reported, “With 882 arrests so far, the old-growth logging protest at Fairy Creek has now surpassed Clayoquot Sound as the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history, according to B.C. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau.” As of February this year more than 1100 people had been arrested and charged.
The struggle against Teal Cedar Ltd continues, on the land and in the courts. This video contains some inaccurate information about the protest, which has been nonviolent throughout, but gives some idea of the scope of the issue.
“If writing is what allows us to dream, to engage with the world, to say everything that it feels like we cannot say … then we need to write on our own terms, don’t we?”
MATTILDA BERNSTEIN SYCAMORE is the author, most recently, of The Freezer Door, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, one of Oprah Magazine’s Best LGBTQ Books of 2020, and a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award for “a book-length work of any genre for its originality, merit, and impact, which has broken new ground by reshaping the boundaries of its form and signaling strong potential for lasting influence.” Sycamore is the author of two nonfiction titles and three novels, and the editor of six nonfiction anthologies.
This is the place for a bit of my news, my adventures in creativity and poetry community news…
Oh what a slow time it has been. It really feels like this month and I have been dragging our feet through the days. On rare days there is light. On one of these I took myself to the Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses which are presently being renovated. They describe themselves thus:
“a community garden in the centre of Lambeth’s Brockwell Park. Our beautiful, large site includes an orchard, a series of demonstration gardens, a walled herb garden and two large greenhouses. We help people grow through learning, and learn through growing.”
“We run a garden volunteering scheme, school visits, family events, courses and workshops. At BPCG, people learn about conserving the environment and wildlife, to appreciate nature and to understand organic gardening and food growing – and all in a very friendly community spirit.”
I was excited to find an area dedicated to bugs -something I’ve been reading about and occasionally writing about – interesting! This unlikely structure is a home for bugs.
At the end of January stumbled upon an exhibition called SPACETIME. It’s curated by Katya Kan, featuring her work and that of eight other artists. My fave in the show was M.O.O.N. Series by Sandrine Elberg Band white inkjet on 42 x 30 cm paper. The private view took place at a rather funky little bar at 20 Hanway Street. The show is on, I understand, for three months by appointment.
The whole thing was such a refreshing change to home time, to lockdown life with dj’s, singers, spoken word, a welcoming atmosphere and even a bit of hula hoping from poet Jade Evans. With her encouragement I performed my poem Quantum Chance which kinda fit with the theme. It felt good to be up on a mic again.
This month see the launch of Listen Up “A lived experience-led project, kickstarting major change towards better healthcare access and life expectancy for people facing homelessness.”
A bit of a mouth full however the project aims to challenge “the inhumanity that people experiencing homelessness face barriers to healthcare and are more likely to die young.”
It operates via a hub which “collates raw reports on experiences, concerns and feedback – a network of trained community reporters experiencing homelessness, living all around the UK.”
The hub has been created by Groundswell and On Our Radar, funded by Comic Relief. My role in all this is as one of those reporters, my latest contribution here on the theme of connectivity.
February also saw the publication of A Fish Rots From The Head by Culture Matters. Described as a “quickfire anthology” edited by Rip Buckley. My rapidly created concrete poem didn’t make the grade but the anthology is available here
Looking forward to the online Emma Press book launch of poetry pamphlet: “Overlap” by Valerie Bence. Taking place 7pm Thursday 24th February The event features a reading from Valerie plus Q&A with founding editor Emma Dai’an Wright. You can order a copy of the pamphlet here: https://theemmapress.com/shop/poetry/pamphlets/overlap/
The book’s blurb: Valerie Bence’s debut poetry pamphlet is a testament to ordinary lives, and a meditation on grandmothers. Part memoir, part family history, Overlap is a series of vivid vignettes from the poet’s childhood, courtship, motherhood and grandmotherhood, spanning the 20th and 21st centuries.
Coming up Your Time To Shine taking place on a barge at 2 Canal Way London W10 5AA on March 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th from midday to 7pm I’m hoping to be reading on one of these days tbc. and depending on energy levels which are a little submarine at the mo.
And it’ll be a Brixton family day out Saturday 26th February out to see the fab Ruby Sparklepants in RAPPUNZEL at London Walthamstow Trades Hall, 61-63 Tower Hamlets Rd, Walthamstow, yep getting out of the borough!
#amwriting about locusts and fungi, about the whole jaw jaw towards war war which is desperately disturbing quite frankly,
#amreading O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker, The Kids by Hannah Lowe and working my way through back issues of the Gingko Prize Anthologies currently 2020
Much of the world seems to me absurd and obscene, with these objects I attempt to create art as narrative surprise, breaking down distinctions between the plastic, the digital and the written word. Caged is a meditation on modernity, I think…
“We must discover the power of love the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that we will be able to make of this old world a new world. We will be able to make men better. Love is the only way.”
Loving Your Enemies (November 1957)
It’s kinda funny coz I’ve been hastaging “love is the way” for a while unknowing of the footsteps I walked in. I also found this and I’m not sure if a continuation of the MLK quote or from another but I think it’s makes more concrete what love means.
“When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more. When love is the way, there is plenty of room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children.”
There’s a irony; “love” is one of the most used words, others are “sex”and “chocolate”, yet we love so little. Who can even honestly say they love themselves unconditionally? Let alone others. Few of us have really learned to love. We are children of trauma. We will wash ourselves clean of it down by the riverside only when we have created and built that new world.
This is the place for a bit of my news, my adventures in creativity and poetry community news…
Happy new year to you all! The light seeping into my flat on New Years Day had a different quality – lighter, brighter. I was fairly intent on ignoring the whole NYE thing but in the end I did put on a bit of lippy and have a wee drinky, popped out at midnight and met up with few of the neighbours and together we raised a glass and watched fireworks in a 360 display that went on for a good 15-20 minutes. In true block style one of the neighbours came out in his dressing gown.
If I’m honest I’m glad to put last year to bed even if this notion of counting time is fairly arbitrary. It was such a tough year. The third lockdown hit me hard. The whole shingles thing was a real challenge and the year was bookended by virtual funerals, not the best way to see people off. RIP Paul, Leroy, Shashi, Offshore, Gwen, Dale. What can I say. It’s almost been too much.
There’s been some highlights I guess, little trip to Botany Bay Margate, the live launch of Too Young, Too Loud, Too Different, starting mentoring with author and poet Bethany Rivers and hence writing in a more focused and productive way plus the birthday picnic in the park with great company (and Cava and Kahlua, that went down well.)
Think I’ve had a bit of a relapse health wise and as a result if I’m honest been feeling fed up, frustrated and somewhat forlorn. I seem to be experiencing fatiguey post viral symptoms. After a mere short exertion, 4500 steps, to put money of the gas card led to two days in bed!
But at least not in the depths of the underworld picking up pomegranate seeds, at least not at the mo, it could be mild depression, that does tend to happen at this time of year, and not immune to the feeling life-is-passing-me-by-and-I’m-just-in-a-big-heap-oh-woe-is-me! (Dramatic sigh!)
Hades, Persephone and Cerberus at the dog park eating Pomegranate and swimming in lava By Zelda Devon. (Cropped and with added contrast)
The T.S. Eliot’s was a massive tonic and the result even more so. For me as neither a butch women nor a lesbian, but as a women with fluid sexuality, diagnosed bipolar, decades of chronic fatigue and brain fog and a lifetime of feeling other, Joelle Taylor’s work makes me feel all kinds of different are acceptable. I find in that sense C+nto and other work by Joelle on women, young people and the precarious is poetry of and as liberation. But less from me on this in her own words here
There’s been some other inspiring moments for working class writers in the last month including this from Culture Matters featuring poems; What is History, Discuss? by Anna Robinson, where are the working class now by Martin Hayes and Struggle by Jim Aitke
and two moving poems which focus on the male psyche and body from Peter Reynard in Black Nore Review
Meanwhile Poets for the Planet has had a bit of exposure in Poetry News
As regards January, this slow time, I don’t really do news years resolutions, but have resolved TO GET OUT MORE, to submit work for publishing more, (not diffic since the base line is almost zero) and let people who are important to me know they are important to me. More order, less chaos, in brief get another Billy Bookcase and some bedroom cupboards.
Oh and get my BMI back down to 22. It’s presently hovering at around 24.5 which is not good. When I went to Malta 3 1/2 years ago my body was slim, lean and tanned. Now it resembles a crumpled dough ball. It’s not so much what it looks like but it don’t feel good. I’ve been going thru an – accept the menopause belly – phase but now I’m thinking no, no, no let’s shift it.
Life is still dominated somewhat be screens though at least one was outside-the-in-the-world. I went to see Dune recently and oh, yes, oh so epic on so many levels. Even if you are not a fan of sci-fi I urge you to see this movie and on a big screen. Dreams, giant worms and prophesy might seem a bit far fetched but It works, in my opinion, as a critique of imperialism, capitalism and colonialism, and possibly Climate Change and is so vividly and visually engaging I wanted to freeze frames to witness the sheer complexity of scenes and it’s raw beauty. Take my word for it. Dont take my word for it, here’s a trailer.
On the small screen besides Don’t Look Up, which I liked and let’s face it is the talk of town, very much liked The Tourist and The Power of the Dog. I felt both resisted the good guy/ bad guy dichotomy and explored the grey areas that exist in human mind and behavoir while being utterly compelling.
We’ve got our fill of real life drama and it seems Partygate isn’t going away anytime soon. My only concern is that two deeply regressive bills presently going through Parliament the Police and Crime Bill and the Nationality and Borders Bill are getting little attention. There was a protest against both of these. We mustn’t lose sight of the attacks on civil liberties and citizens rights taking place right now. Or let the absurd and obscene manoeuvres in Downing Street and Parliament or the pandemic be a smoke screen.
#amreading a whole bunch of stuff including the Ginkgo 2020 Anthology and The Falafel King is Dead by Sara Shilo which explores grief from the point of view of each member of an immigrant family in a small Israeli town and paints a picture of life for a marginalised community of Jewish Arabs.
#amwriting or trying to write about the earth that is earth, soil, it’s fragility and fitness, about what lives there, those complex webs within it that make the difference between it being healthy or not, I think that’s what I’m trying to do…
A prose version of this poem was published in the Loose Muse Anthology of New Writing by Women Spring 2013. Sharing this today thinking about the women’s marches of 2017 after the election of the 45th.
Reflecting that women, in small ways and large have always been a part of the struggle; sometimes on the front line, other times carrying out unseen acts of solidarity and resistance.
Its based on a childhood memory from my maternal grandmothers and to some degree reimagined. My mothers family were from Blackburn Lancashire. My grandmother was a former mill worker. The family moved south to Stevenage Old Town before my mother was born. As I understood it because my grandfather was told by a doctor that with his lungs he wouldn’t live long if he stayed in the north.
It occurred to me writing this I was unknowingly brought up with three languages; the Standard English of school, the Lancashire dialect of my mothers family and the Yorkshire dialect of my fathers family. These last two over lap to a large degree, with a subtle difference of accent.
I spent a lot of my childhood in a blur of confusion. Frequently not understanding what was being said to me as even my mother rarely “translated” sayings and expressions; you don’t know you were born…were you born in a barn… I didn’t dare or even know how to ask for explanation.
I’ve screen shotted the poem as WordPress has this annoying tendency of garbling all the line breaks. Hope its readable. I appreciate for anyone with limited vision the font is very small. Don’t hesitate to contact me for a large print version.
Note to the poem
During the miners strike in the winter of 1972 an event known as the Battle of Saltley Gate took place. It was turning point in the strike and a legend in trade union history.
On the morning of the 10th February, following a call from (the then little known) Arthur Scargill, 30 000 engineering and building workers from Birmingham walked out. 10 000 of them marched to the outskirts of the town to join a mass picket at the West Midlands coking depot. They succeeded in closing it down, stopping deliveries undermining the strike.
Among them were engineers from SU Carburettors, ”crowds of women” who marched at the front under a red AUEW banner. They made their way to the inner ring of the pickets and stood opposite the police lines. “It was solidarity action on an unprecedented scale, one of the largest mass pickets the country had even seen.” http://www.freedompress.org.U.K./news/2012/04/10/the-battle-of-saltley-gate/
The strike lasted seven weeks ending when the NUM agreed to a pay offer on 19th February. Two years later a work to rule (overtime ban) by the miners in response to rising inflation, at over 7%, led to the three day week. When prime minister Edward Health took it to the nation in the “Who Governs Britain” election of February 1974 he lost and Labour leader Harold Wilson was returned to power at the head of a minority government.
Alot is not a word, neither is notalot but it has a nice ring to it even if written not-a-lot. So hmm when might you defy the rules? Perhaps when making a point. For instance: There‘s always, I guess the potential to write, ”alotalotalotalotalot.” Arguably it would be emphatic…in a letter perhaps or maybe even a poem.
I have to confess to being a bit dyslexic and hence I edit like a maniac and even then I sometimes slip up. Its something I’ve mainly learn to spot and correct and spell checks help up to a point though i still have trouble seeing the problem with their and there or hear and hear. I still sometimes write ”a” when I’m after “I”, a teacher pointed this out to me when I was about 10. As a young teen a neighbour’s child pointed out I mistook “b’s” and ”d’s”. I didn’t know whether to trust her.
Return after a week away to Plan B Omicron Britain which mainly seems to consist of pretty-much-what-most-people-were-doing-anyway; working from home, wearing masks in enclosed public spaces, social distancing at a distance, that arguably, if any less would be considered, (in British terms) a bit creepy at best and at worse possibly verging on sexual harassment or threatening behaviour.
I’ve just got back from a retreat of sorts in the rather glorious Lanzarote. I had/have certain reservations about flying during a climate emergency but it’s hard when you hear of the number of private jets swooping into COP 26; one report states 118 (Forbes) another suggests it was as high as 670 (The Metro), hard not to develop a fuck it mentality.
I will be donating a sizeable proportion over and above my total spend to reforestation. Is this just to placate my nagging conscience? Maybe. I’m only human.
The trip was designed as a let’s-finally-kick-into-touch-the-whole-shingles-encounter break with yoga, tai chi, a spa, a gym and pool. I swerved the gym obvs! Though I walked every day bathed in the sea air, if not the sea itself and the sunlight. By rights should be feeling renewed and refreshed.
However the day after I arrived a received a message saying, “Did you know Dale is very ill?”Dale and I had spoken recently…frequently of late. He commented recently about “a gastric flu” and what sounded like a fairly alarming symptom, “limping with abdominal pain” but kind of playing it down. For someone as self deprecating as Dale hindsight tells me that should have rung alarm bells.
I refrained from my usual barrage of unsolicited health advice, thinking he’s an adult, he can look after himself, instead suggested lightheartedly he’d better see or at least speak to a doc in case his insides felt out or words to that effect. I’d had a flu like thing myself and went into details of my treatment regime in the hope he’d take the hint. I didn’t pick up the phone.
Yet it occurs to me post world wide web we’ve slipped into this culture of can I call? Calls are scheduled. When I say “we” here I mean people I know on the whole. Sending a Facebook comment when a text would be just as easy. Sending a text when a call would be good. Picking up the phone when when meeting up would be better.
None of this prepared me to hear – induced coma – ICU – sepsis – leukaemia – DNR – turning off life support – And so as his life slipped away just three days later. I sat watching the sun set writing a poem to him after a day praying for a miracle. An hour and a half later I heard that Dale had passed.
Our last messenger convo was about a writing swop. I was made up by this turn of events as Dale was, still hard to use the past tense, a brilliant writer, in fact, I was a little in awe of his writing depth and output. He had a voice that was witty, incisive, irreverent, sagacious and yet empathetic. Dale had more empathy than most people have in their big toe. And so it was agreed to start this week.
I spent the proceeding days away in a kind of numbed blur. Going through the motions. After three days of meditating and sending light, then hearing he had succumbed to this sudden and unexpected early passing I felt bereft of meaning and purpose.
And if I’m honest I still can’t accept it. I scroll through pics, I reread his articles, listen to his poems hearing a gentleness in his voice I’d not heard before. At the airport on the way home I read 148 messages full of condolences and wry memories from his friends in response to the inevitable Facebook post.
The day before I left it all threw me into – into what? Perhaps a form of benign nihilism, I’d had a complimentary glass of wine with my last dinner and an amiable chat with a couple at the next table and found myself experiencing something close to cheerfulness. Consequently I wrote,
“I’m just struck with the absolute transitory nature of everything; a mood, a sensation, an experience. A state I’m told can be achieved by years of meditation. I’ve heard this described as entering a state where one experiences the true nature of reality. Yet instead of conveying to me the deep sense of some other universal eternal with profound meaning and comfort it’s borderline terrifying and just led me back to what’s the point? A place i really don’t want to be.
If each moment comes and goes; bliss, sorrow, pain, anger, agony, ecstasy then so what? Perhaps the higher beings are not evolved beings who have transcended the human experience but those who never knew it. The stones, the plants, the trees, the burrowing insects.
Perhaps it is we humans that are un-evolved in comparison, primitive. Let’s face it we are on the whole primitive. I have no grief for the end of humanity if I’m honest. And feel on some level nature will survive us. Look at what we’ve made; an indoor artificial waterfall, smart loos, chemical weapons….
I often wonder that Agent Smith was right the world would be better without us or at least we should stop trying to better nature, being the big Hu-Man, knowing so fucking much and understanding so little. And what is the point even if we are part of a big whole, a hive mind, a universal consciousness, some days I see consciousness as a giant multi faced glitter ball, shining on one side, darkened on the other…”
After that it appears I stopped writing and presumably fell asleep. Since I’ve considered the point is not so much what we create, learn or experience but how we are with each other, what we share including thoughts, feelings and of course experiences, acts of creation, learning and dance! And yes these too are transitory.
And though I don’t see death as an ending, rather a portal, the beginning of another journey – otherwise really what would be the point? If all the accumulated lessons and wisdom of a lifetime was just snuffed out. I guess the sheer existence of death gives life its meaning. And in particular those shared moments with other human bodied souls.
(Though some days I think I’d rather come back as a tree, preferably a gnarled old oak tree or if I was really privileged a giant cedar, the kind they have in Fairy Creek, British Columbia or a Japanese platform cedar.)
Of course the pandemic has taken away so much sociability over the past two years. And now people are opening talking about how covid could go on another two years. Well it will unless we fucking get on with vaccinating the world! I wonder does all this isolation and distancing make us less human? Being human is being social. Does screen gazing and clicking and scrolling make us less or more evolved?
I guess it depends what finds the eye. Ironically Dale and I became closer over the past two years than we had been for decades. And I will miss him terribly. While I got not much further than the park next door with more frequency he seemed to have taken advantage of the pandemic to indulge in slack lining which appears to be balencing precariously on a loose line strung across quarries and other wild spaces. A kind of apt metaphor for these times.
At least he leaves us with an extensive body of word full of his wit and wisdom. Some of which can be accessed here
#amreading the Live Canon 2021 Anthology, Tongues of Fire by Sean Hewit and Why I Write edited by Ian Humphreys
#amwriting about the ephemeral, impermanence if you like, bunch of poem about climate change including one about scorpion invasion, with the intervention of the Goddess Selqet, during a recent deluge in Aswan; the latter a poem I’d promised to send Dale
Signing out til 2022. Apologies if this post is a bit sweary, am grieving. Love yourselves, love each other. Let the light shine. Life, tenacious as the vines that cling to the black volcanic slopes of Lanzarote, fed only by the the dew that condenses of the basalt gravel, brought by humid trade winds, and soil protected by that peculiar lava form. Life, desperately transient, desolately temporal, snatched away so suddenly it leaves you breathless. Breathe, be present, we only have the moment. And yet a future to bequeath, and it really is up to us what that future holds and if the earth will contus. It’s i.
So this month felt forced, with some reluctant, by dragging health to sit out COP 26 in Glasgow, which commenced 31st October and ran on until 13th November, a day later than planned. The day, when bleary eyed, the final draft of the Conference of The Parties 26 Decision -/CMA.3 Glasgow Climate Pact was famously tweaked and phase out became phase down (of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.) Everyone blamed Modi in a shoot the messenger disgrace. Don’t get me wrong Modi is no friend of our movements and certainly not his own farmers who recently won a spectacular victory.
I participated, as far as possible, virtually. The COP 26 Coalition hosted a series of events on and offline. While Poets for the Planet presented Earth Song which can be seen here
An event which came about after poets and spoken word artists from around the world were matched with researchers from Imperial College London to create science inspired poetry against climate change in a range of languages. “The result will be a cross-cultural feast of poetry and science, investigating the danger our natural and human landscapes are facing across the globe and what we can do about it.” Broadcast with live Q&A.
The event involved Santiago Acosta, Adnan Al-Sayegh and Jenny Lewis, Luca Bernardini, Annsh Chawla, Moya De Feyter, Harry Josephine Giles, Tammy Lai-Ming Ho, Robin Lamboll, Yang Lian, Ian McLachlan, Jérôme Pinel, Pieta Poeta, Jacqueline Saphra, Marvin Thompson, Anton Trubaïchuk, Debra Watson, Tamar Yoseloff, Sindiswa Zulu.
Elsewhere 12-15th November sees the annual Aldeburgh Poetry festival details here
I’ll be honest I find this time of year tricky at the best of times as the days shorten and the light fades so early. I left all my clocks on BST until the end of the month in an attempt to hang onto the light. It was partially successful. Am planning an escape from all this that will involve at least yoga, tai chi and sunlight and hopefully much more.
Nevertheless here on Cressingham we have organised a post COP event Let’s All Go On A Tree Hunt for Sunday 21st November to be led by the engaging and informed Steve de St Croix of the Brockwell Greenhouses.
#amreading New & Selected Essays by Denise Levertov and by Mama Amazonia by Pascale Petite and Poor by Caleb Femi
#amwriting about bugs, some of the absurdities of modernity and the contradictions of COP and a bit of autobio
It’s the end of October already! The year has slid past and yet at the same time stretches out. My birthday picnic in the park in early June seems a lifetime ago while it’s already two months, almost to the day, since the onset of the shingles encounter. Though some symptoms remain that seems like ancient history too.
Let myself sleep in til 11.00am. Still somewhat in recovery mode. Feeling a bit split; yesterday as excited as a child who has caught a butterfly to discover the essays of Denise Levertov on poetics. Today find myself asking why poetry? Is is my soul yearning or just a box I’ve carved myself into where I’m holding myself prisoner?
I started reading Ben Okri’s The Famished Road recently I can’t believe it’s sat on my bookshelves untouched for so long. I find it’s so rich in imagery I can only manage a few chapters at a time. Sometimes only one. I find I have to put it down and digest it slowly.
Why do writers write? Why do I write? Recently I wrote on a neon pink post it, “because it makes my soul sing.” It joins others that read things like, “may I know the joy of living,” “it’s about the journey,” “it takes as long as it takes” and a counter perfectionism note to self “80% is good enough.”
My writing process, closely aligned to the state of my mental health, has changed as I find myself more stable. I used to only really scribble in a state of manic frenzy then subsequently tried, and more often failed, to craft the scribbles into, into what, into something.
These days have a modicum of discipline. Generally words still tumble out fairly swiftly and I feel merely the witness. This is an example. Though for your sakes I correct the spelling, typos and confusing syntax. There’s always a shadow of a fear this might all just stop. And then what? When I’ve pinned my identity to this? In general I prefer as description; human, or female bodied soul ( after Dom Bury) or child of god (after Marianne Williamson.)
Some days I’m not even sure about human. As a child I felt so other. I remember when everyone was out ransacking the bureau at home. (A piece of furniture the size and shape of an upright piano with a writing desk which opened out.) It was where mum and dad kept stationary and documents. I was looking for my birth certificate. I figured I may have been adopted. When I found nothing I concluded I must therefore be an alien.
A bit of a leap on reflection. It may well have been influenced by my fascination with The Unexplained – a magazine I subscribed to – the 1970’s equivalent of the X Files and an enchantment with Star Trek and The Sky at Night; the latter hosted by the monocled Sir Patrick Moore. That said, the feeling of otherness is rarely far away.
I wonder if this is what makes an artist? Being somewhat outside holding a tension between wanting to fit in and stand out? I always felt at home with Poets Know it and by extension my Brixton family —perhaps as we all in individual ways were or are a bit other. One night many moons ago a group of us round a table in the Prince Albert shared how we were all the last to be (reluctantly) chosen for the team on the school sports fields.
Possibly this otherness feeling is a symptom an inner non-acceptance of self or aspects of the self. In meditation the other day a strong image came to me. In my lap lay my perfect baby self. Meanwhile I extended my arms outward and embraced other parts of myself; present were at least the harsh critic, the driver, the fearful saboteur. And the alien?
So it occurs to me The Way/ the road less traveled/ the spirtual path, whatever you want to call it, is as much a journey to God/ the source/ a higher power, as a journey back to the self.
Nothing less than an acceptance of the muddled, flawed, damaged selves that we all are. How can we not be when we live in and emerge from a traumatised world shaped by wars, inequality, injustice, poverty and untold human suffering, (ironically in this state move into the climate emergency.)
I still have to confess to not feeling unlike Okri’s narrator who feels he is here on earth as a kind of penance or mistake, reluctantly. Though part of me feels – what a time to be alive! We have the very real opportunity in the heat of the climate emergency to forge this world anew. I believe it will not change in a just and permanent way unless we all act together.
Even the smallest change to behaviour is a radical repositioning towards the planet. Logically, in our individual and collective action, as we take action not only does it necessitate and demonstrate a change in consciousness it invites the possibility of transforming our relationship to each other, to non human species and to the earthy and watery aspects of this planet. This is my hope.
So there’s a whole bunch of stuff coming up in the poetry world
Find Poets for the Planet at COP 26 at
Also worth checking out
Human Impact on Nature, Landscape and Climate kicks off via Zoom on Sunday 7th Nov from 12-1pm and of course takes place during #cop26
This event brings together four poets all exploring in their own way our human relationship with nature, landscape and climate, conscious of our footprint, and the impact of our lives on our environment. With Sarah Westcott, Steph Morris, Anna Saunders & Dom Bury
Special mention Malika’s Poetry Kitchen Friends and Family are at the Southbank Centre for the London Literature Festival in on Saturday 30th October at 1pm Presenting poems and in conversation with Malika Booker and Nick Makoha, Katie Griffiths and Kostya Tsolakis, Yomi Sode and Kareem Parkins-Brown, hosted by Jill Abram.
In my last post, a self portrait as fragments of ear, eye, mouth presented in a triptych i mentioned some bizarre and very painful sensations in my ear, eye, head that i was experiencing the entire weekend with only my breath and a few aspirins to manage https://seedsandfuses.wordpress.com/2021/08/21/photography-self-portrait/ After a trip to Kings a&e, the following Monday (which incidentally has been rebranded Emergency Department,) this transpired to be the onset of shingles! As a result have been pretty much out of action creatively or in any meaningful way beyond managing the pain.
It’s now day 28 of this painful affliction. The name, shingles, doesn’t do it justice, suggesting to me a pleasant isolated nudist beach, perhaps a little uneven underfoot but nevertheless one where one can fling off clothing and be entirely care free. A far flung vision from this encounter which has left life has been soooooo limited, so discomforted. This post took daaazzze to write as for some reason screen time has been super pain inducing. Please forgive any typos, dodgy syntax or poor formatting.
It is deduced the excruciating pain associated with this condition, (particularly with the ocular version; surrounding the eye, which i have) is the result of the varicella-zoster virus, the same that causes chickenpox but without such dire consequences. Apparently the virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Years later, the virus may be reactivates as shingles.
The name of the virus brings to my mind in its addled state both a varieties of pasta and Nietzsche‘s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, of this I remember little, though there’s a copy sitting around someplace. Wordplay is all i have trying to find a word or series of words that adequately describe these sensations im subject to. I cannot. The words tingling, shooting, stabbing, burning and bruising oft mentioned in descriptions don’t do it. Don’t come close. No way.
On the subject of words i can report my poem Singing in the New, based on observations on Cressingham Gardens estate, (my home,) during lockdown one, appears in The Other Side. A copy of this dropped through my door last week. It’s a new publication from the No Planet B environmental film show. More info about that here https://mycommunitycinema.org.uk/cinemas/no-planet-b-film-club/ 🌎
Getting back to the shingles encounter I think it has helped that right from the beginning, forced to cancel the wellbeing retreat I’d booked, I decided to take an attitude of curiosity and acceptance towards the experience this sounded like, “Okay im not going to make that journey but this is just another journey, not one i choose but lets see what can I learn here, lets see what is the gift in this. I think this has helped to develop a kind of sense of detachment or separation from what is going on.
In a recent meditation class our teacher, Tim Dyson, talked about dropping into a state of equanimity when suffering, i think that what it was about i wasn’t able to be entirely present at that time.
I’m not sure if this is the same thing I was doing or attempting to achieve and defo can’t say I’ve sustained it throughout. There have been times I lost the calm acceptance resulting in anxiety bordering on catastrophizing, particularly regarding the eye pain, which on one occassion took me back to an eight hour wait in a&e, feared the eye was reinfected, which can cause sight loss, an outcome which can be quite unnerving. (No pun intended.)
A less dramatic form of non acceptance took the form – I’m determined not to get this again – so I look up causes, I look up remedies, I look up vaccines, rather than be in the moment with the experience.
Mind you I have to say rather like these folklorist remedies which for me reflect somehow the ghastly nature of this condition and provided some much needed light relief. So here we have from the Encyclopedia of Folk Medicine, compiled by Gabrielle Hatfield, 2003
“This painful affliction has attracted diverse remedies in British Folklore Medicine… In the Isle of Wight an ointment was made from the verdigris scrapped off church bells…. Blood taken from the tale of a black cat was a cure in Ireland….In Lewis in the Scottish Highlands the blood of a black cock was recommended, or the blood of a person named Munro…. “
Hmm. Look out Munro!
The science is not exactly reassuring, according to studies. “About one in three adults will get shingles. A shingles outbreak can take weeks to heal, and the illness tends to follow a similar pattern, moving through several phases before becoming dormant again.”
My emphasis. Dormant again. So never defeated as such. Never complete free. You can contract shingles and still not be immune. You can get a vaccine and still not be immune. Since so much is unclear about this condition, i reckon best to take this attitude of equanimity.
Equanimity, i discover, is a concept in many spiritual traditions; defined in Buddhism as “a gentle way of life, a state of conscious wisdom and freedom—the great protector of love and compassion.” A bit wow, this definition goes on to add, ”Buddha describes a mind filled with equanimity as abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility, and without ill-will..” see https://www.yogitimes.com/article/what-is-the-meaning-equanimity-define-how-buddhism
Here’s a version of an ancient story, Equanimity in Adversity: A Zen Story about Wild Horses, ive always rather liked, which kind of illustrates the attitude.
So its been four weeks into this journey on this rocky road, with fear at many turns, much pain and discomfort; i still have a feeling of numbness, not unlike when one has been given an injection at the dentist, around my mouth and decimated eyebrow, still have to wear dark glasses to get through a movie of an evening, it wasnt long ago i was only out of bed a few hours a day so celebrate the progress!
Most of the alarming swelling to both sides of face has subsided ( reaction to antiboitic!) Blinking feels less like scrapping sand paper over my eye. Sometimes there seems to be a hiatus between thought and speech. When the pain killers kick in im still back in substantial but no longer excruciating pain, but theres always the breath. Had i been really hardcore i guess would have managed the pain entirely by breath and by now perhaps entirely escaped the wheel of samsara who knows!
it has all nevertheless brought me here. I actually feel a sense of contentment and gratitude. Kinda exalted. I felt this keenly at the wake for our beloved dj and all round special human being Offshore which took place today. It was the first time ive been out in a month besides trips to Kings A&E and eye clinic, defo felt i had sea legs! (Well past the infectious stage.) Will this sense of peace last? Perhaps is just relief at at absence of constant pain though i feel I am growing a calm acceptance about myself and my life i dont think ive known before. And what is next?
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all my spirtual teachers over the years which i belief has got me through this with something i believe comes close to equanimity. And of course those who messaged me with words of comfort and kindness, those friends and neighbours who kept me supplied with food, numerous prescriptions, love and understanding.
Nothing for the diary as such going forward. ive not exactly had the radar up and screen time still really limited which i find hugely frustrating, not very zen i know! love and light to all.
I call this triptych, a self portrait. Read: me messing around with my first Camera Phone in bed many moons ago. The original images have been desaturated et al, then edited with Facetune, quite a versatile little app, and finally added a vivid warm iPhone filter.
The moon is full tonight, a blue moon I’m told. It’s brought me nothing but suffering. Since yesterday have been plagued by shooting pains on the right side of my head, eye, ear and teeth. The severity and frequency of these “attacks”is increasing. Not unlike the extreme weather events across the globe.
In the early stages of this I went to the hairdresse for a cut/ colour and also got eyebrows tinted. Now I seem to have had some kind of raised blistering rash on my forehead (a reaction?) and a rough pinpley rash on the right side of my face while my right eye is swollen and weeping.
The practice of art I’m told is about being able to reproduced an effect or technique. I doubt I could ever reproduce this series of images. Holding the phone up to my head and clicking blindly. Besides my face has sagged, lips thinned, eyes not so wide or clear. How much we take our bodies, the earth for granted until they cause us pain.
This month saw the ✨live✨launch of the Malika’s Poetry Kitchen anthology Too Young, Too Loud, Too Different at the Publication Day Party. We celebrated our 20th anniversary anthology entering the world! With readings from many MPK members and a headline set from our co-founder Malika Booker. In all took place at the rather glam and eccentric Temple of Art and Music near Elephant and Castle.
Finalised and circulated a call to attend Holding the Earth: Writing from an Open Heart. This is a series of writing workshops aimed to enable participants to write with an attitude of playfulness and curiosity about experiences in the climate emergency and related activism. This is initially to be offered to members of Lambeth XR but may be extended further so watch this space.
Summer, such as it is, is not complete for me without a trip to the Southbank. So Pablo (friends child) and me had a day out. I learnt some valuable adult skills on the way.1) Whatever the child says you will end up carrying the scooter. 2). Walking away when a child lies on the ground in I-want-candy-floss-defiance actually works. 3) Saying no occasionally is not gonna be held against you forever.
We had such fun though, a glance at the beach which was closed much to Pablos consternation, checked out the book stalls and the skatepark, the giant bubbles, ate ice cream, Pablo insisted I take pics of him with ice cream on his nose, had a whirl on the carousel and ate chips. Yeah, just love the Southbank.
Booked a holiday/ retreat. Going to be away for two weeks including a week of tai chi/ yin yoga /chi gung in Fuertaventura. I note from some research “nudism is permitted through out Fuertaventura except on city beaches.” Yay! How very civilised! I so need a break.
Of course this means flying and I don’t exactly feel good about that. Had it been the mainland I could have taken the train. The only way I can think to resolve this is to make a donation to a reforestation project, but even then I ask myself to salve my conscience or save the planet?
#amwriting it’s hard to say what I’m writing, the words come and I’m often surprised what comes, writing I guess about this time…
#amreading The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, Rite of Passage by Dom Bury and the sea refuses no river by Bethany Rivers
“I’m not bald. I shave my head like this for the environment. It reduces the amount of shampoo that winds up in our lakes. And it makes me more aerodynamic. So that when I’m walking around, I’m burning fewer calories. Which means I don’t have to eat as much. Which saves the Earth’s precious resources. My head’s not like this because I’m going bald But I r something. I choose to be bald and alone for the planet.” Anon
Actually I figure raising awareness is a fine thing, perhaps it’s all you can do. “We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” Howard Zinn
As for me, looking at Europe, on fire I’m thinking I might watch again Mad Max (and the like) see if I can pick up some survival skills. Just kidding.
Found this poem when I was investigating line breaks. I find them one of the trickiest aspects of poetry to get my head around. Get to a point where I’m happy with the imagery, syntax and pace of the poem then run into this issue. My investigation led me to Siken’s astounding poem via a brilliant article by Rebecca Hazelton in Poetry Foundation. This poem, on so many levels, totally blew me away. When I tried to post here WordPress threw out the formatting which is is truly unfortunate and it would be a tradegy to share it all scrambled. Here is an except as a screen shot and do read on via the link below. Do read and enjoy.
Richard Siken is a poet, painter, filmmaker, and an editor at Spork Press. In her profile of Siken, Nell Casey wrote, “he effectively juxtaposes holy wishes with mundane images—making them both seem beautiful by some strange lyrical alchemy.” His poems unwind on the page effortlessly, barely pausing for breath; the speaker’s voice wracked with sexual obsession.
His book Crush won the 2004 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, selected by Louise Glück. It was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Thom Gunn Award. His most recent book is War of the Foxes (Copper Canyon Press, 2015).
Siken is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, two Arizona Commission on the Arts grants, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is also a full time social worker, and he lives in Tucson, Arizona.
Still reeling somewhat from the death of a dear friend. And at times still feels life, thought, action somewhat on hold. That said have enrolled on Writing From The Soul of the Earth, a workshop created by Dom Bury and started some mentoring with Bethany Rivers, I find her gentle, playful approach to creativity suitable for me, a safe place to explore and create.
Have planned an Escape to Margate with a good friend. The aim is to visit Botany Bay, which I thought was in Australia, but no, 20 minutes on a bus from the aforementioned so we might even check out Dreamland which I read inspired Banksy’s Dismaland but is not The Thing itself as I thought it might be, no, that is in Weston-Super-Mare, Geography is not my strong point it would seem.
In downtime have been watching a bunch of foreign movies. Netflix seems to think because I like Spanish cinema I might like Polish, Ukrainian, Italian, German titles. Their algorithms need sharpening up methinks. The most memorable was the biopic Roma from Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón.
Also become enthralled with Adam Curtis’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head, BBC iplayer. I read this as a multidisciplinary essay presented in a poetic collage with a multi layered narrative. At its heart a thesis about or perhaps just an exploration of individualism versus collectivism with segues from obscure and sometimes bizarre examples of popular culture and an eclectic soundtrack. As such it is compelling. So much to say about that, another time!
Looking forward to the launch of Anna Robinson’s Whatsname Street on Sunday 1st August, live and direct from Lower Marsh, Waterloo, yeah! Not sure if the launch is public, if so details will appear here http://www.annarobinsonpoetry.co.uk/
#amwriting what is slowly dawning on me is ecopoetry
#amreading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, a novel exploring issues of migration and the threat posed by Mexican drug cartels, plus Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors: Overcoming Internal Self-Alienation by Janina Fisher.
Play with this one; use the image as a prompt, or the name, what a name! Write from the point of view of the orchid. Set a timer for ten, fifteen or twenty minutes; whichever you feel comfortable with and freewrite in poetry or prose, whatever comes, see where it takes you. Have fun.
Rules of the freewrite after Natalie Goldberg, from Writing Down the Bones. Keep your hand moving, don’t stop or cross out, don’t self censor, go for the jugular, don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Don’t think, just write, follow the words, just see what comes.
Once you have a rough draft consider what you have just made. Is it just for fun or does it feel it desires development? Does it welcome a form? You may wish to refer to the notes below or research the subject further. Maybe take the writing in a different direction or choose a different point of view.
The Paphiopedilum fairrieanum, also known as the Crown Wand Orchid, is an epiphyte (a plant that grows on another plant (non parasitically. It is from the Indian Himalayas and Bhutan at elevations of 1300 to 2200 metres. It is also found on limestone cliffs in the oak forest near water and on grassy slopes.
It is an area subject to seasonal monsoons. The wet season is very wet with heavy rains. When the dry monsoon comes the region still receives light rains and heavy dews as the temperatures drop every night.
In 2015 this orchid was recorded on The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of threatened species. The IUCN is the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.
In the previous post I quoted Lan Samantha Chang who wrote, “Hold onto that part of you that first compelled you to start writing.” It promoted me to think about how I started writing,how I came to recognise the healing power of words as both a writer and workshop facilitator.
Chang goes on to add, “A writing life and a writing career are two separate things, and it’s crucial to keep the first. The single essential survival skill for anybody interested in creating art is to learn to defend this inner life from the world.” I also consider how I used writing as a survival skill and the value and causes of wordlessness, sometimes referred to as writers block, and pauses in our writing process. Resources follow at the end of this post.
In my early 30’s, I left my job as a welfare rights adviser because I felt I could no longer work and bare the crippling and unexplained fatigue that had persisted for over five years. The aim was to “get well” and “do something creative.” I had a plan of sorts, the idea was to study video production but the course fell through.
The result of this abrupt change with no destination or support was a sudden plunge into what I now understand would be diagnosed as anxiety and depression. I simply had no words for the agony I felt, though aspects were describable; insomnia, night sweats, panic attacks, indecision, inexplicable fear, an incredible physical weakness beyond even the fatigue I’d been accustomed to.
I saw a doctor and asked for blood tests he told me to drink more water. Another suggested antidepressants but I was fearful of psychiatric drugs so declined. I spent a whole lot of time in bed. When I could, I read. It’s kind of ironic, as it’s hardly uplifting, but I found myself with Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, identifying with the mental anguish of the central character Rodion Raskolnikov. This baffled me ass I hardly identified with the character himself yet I recognised the physicality of his symptoms so vividly described by the author.
It was possible it was this that led me to attempt to find words for what I was experiencing, to make sense of it or make it more manageable. I was writing for my life. At the beginning of this descent, as my world collapsed, I’d wake with a cold sweat, devoid of feeling and meaning and repeat my name and age out loud in a bid to hang on to some sense of self. It was a kind of hell. Folklore urges us not to name the devil lest he appear yet I’d heard somewhere if you say the name of a demon it is forced to relinquish its power over you. This was what I aimed to do; name every one of the demons that afflicted me.
The words dripped out slowly, slipping past defences. Sometimes it felt like getting blood out of the proverbial stone. Occasionally I’d write something else and say, that is for the world. Prior to this I’d written a couple of short stories and a smattering of poetry addressing issues of inequality and injustice wrapping them in love, beauty and dreams of a better world. Mostly at this time I wrote for myself. When I finally got my own computer I created a folder called My Dark Gods and other Demons and stored all this dark material there.
Words eventually began to flow more freely and I’ve pretty much written ever since. Sporadically at times. Sometimes only in my journal. Though I’ve been hugely inconsistent in submitting work for publication, hounded by my inner critic who says, “it’s not enough…it’s no good…it will never be enough,” occasionally dodging this monster with encouragement from others.
Hence I was surprised to find these words from Louise Glück, particularly as she has been so prolific and recently won, what can only be described as, the most prestigious writers prize; the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature.
“I go through two, three years writing nothing. Zero. Not a sentence. Not bad poems I discard, not notes toward poems. Nothing. And you don’t know in those periods that the silence will end, that you will ever recover speech. It’s pretty much hell, and the fact that it’s always ended before doesn’t mean that any current silence isn’t the terminal silence beyond which you will not move.”
It would seem this is not an isolated experience. John McCullough, winner of the 2020 Hawthornden prize for Reckless Paper Birds, responded, “I recently had yalmost whole year of writing no poems too. No one can be constantly at their creative peak. Don’t follow the capitalist logic of productivity equalling self-worth. Sometimes you just have to look after yourself.”
Indeed! Look after yourself! Something that is so hard in modern capitalist societies a whole industry of wellbeing and self care has arisen. It is an agony to be without voice. In my experience it was not so much a writers block but a malaise that went much deeper. We call it the black dog, the dark night, despondency. The Romantics called it melancholy. There are few words that really describe the ravaging pain of depression and anxiety wherein thought, feeling and words are blocked, a sense of self lost, all the while held hostage and tormented by a raging inner critic. A kind of uber stuckness, a numbness, now recognised as a symptom of personal trauma.
John Mc Cullough goes on to add, “In addition the pressure on professional artists, musicians and writers, especially if self employed, to produce works to the timetable of galleries, record labels and agents only serves to inhibit this space to use writing to play, heal, learn and grow.” It would seem to me if we focus too much on a writing career we risk abandoning our writing life and the wellbeing it can promote.
When students ask me what to do about writers block I say; “Don’t think, just write, write anything, it doesn’t even have to make sense, just follow the words and enjoy it. Write just for yourself.” If someone feels blocked the suggestion “just write!” might seem counterintuitive or even perverse and yet it works. This is well documented here and here.
Writing, or arguably any creative act, can lead to a release of the stored unfelt feelings; ego fears, rational fears, anger, sorrow, shame and guilt. Our heart needs to heal and our soul needs to breathe. It doesn’t even have to be good art or good writing. The expression becomes part of the self care we need in a world of historical, collective trauma.
Writing alone is rarely enough if the “stuckness”is great, the body heavy. Besides writing I pulled myself out of those dark depths in my early 30’s by practicing Chi Gung at an NHS clinic in Clapham run by Jon Tindall, the first of its kind in the U.K. It was pretty hard core, standing meditation in an class that lasted a hour and a half. Yet there was a committed and supportive community around it which helped. I dragged myself there three times a week for six months in my numbness before I felt anything.
One day towards the end of one of the strenuous sessions I dropped to the floor weeping. All I remember is, as the session ended, I felt an acute sense of embarrassment and shame until half a dozen people came over, helping me to my feet saying, “Well done…this is a breakthrough…now you are on your way… you’re on the path.” Of course at the time I thought that was it. Job done. You have to laugh at that. Little was I to know I’d inadvertently stumbled onto the endless road less travelled.
I wonder if creatives go through these “barren patches” because we have an acute sensitivity. Arguably without sensitivity there would be no works of art. Perhaps the lived experience of being in the world just becomes too painful. The world can seem too much and hence we close down. Or are closed down by others who are behave with insensitivity towards us with anything on a continuum from tactlessness or spite to abuse and cruelty.
Therefore breaks could be seen as akin to a field laying fallow, a kind of gentle healing, which is fine for a while. If, however, the body feels heavy it is likely the paralysis is as a result of deep wounds, buried difficult feelings that need to be released.
Ten years ago I was co-facillitating a ten week creative writing workshop called Freeingh The Writer Within. It was part of The Word is Out Project in Lambeth, a coproduction between mental health service workers and service users. We held workshops in the community, at SHARP, the Social Hope and Recovery Project and on psychiatric wards at the Lambeth Hospital.
This workshop took place at a ward for people under 35 who had experienced early onset of symptoms. The participants were in recovery from acute mental distress. It was a very diverse group; at different stages of their recovery, with different backgrounds and educational experience.
It wasn’t clear at first if it would gel. Yet the participants became enthusiastic and engaged, though intermittently, supportive of each other, despite sometimes being restless or clouded by medication. As the weeks went on they were keen attend and to write and share their work. It was proof to me, if it were needed, of the healing power of words.
I would suggest if you find yourself “stuck” in the process of producing some writing choose a random phrase from a book, any book and use that as your first line and just write what comes. The Way of Words workshops, which I founded in 2000, had a strong emphasis on free writing, using images, sound, objects and phrases as prompts and participants produced strong work. Bear in mind free writing of any kind can release painful feelings. If you want to go deeper I strongly suggest you find a course.
Writing as healing enables blocked energy to flow again. It can be a key to unlock your heart and find a way back to your soul. Be prepared to cry, with joy or sorrow, write yourself free. This is best done in a group setting or with formal support from a therapist or counsellor. In addition to writing to truly heal, we have to move too. The body is built to move. It doesn’t have to be Chi gung. Yoga, walking, swimming, dancing or running any of these will serve you well.
“Hold onto that part of you that first compelled you to start writing. Hold onto that self through the vicissitudes of “career.” A writing life and a writing career are two separate things, and it’s crucial to keep the first. The single essential survival skill for anybody interested in creating art is to learn to defend this inner life from the world. Cherish yourself and wall off an interior room where you’re allowed to forget your published life as a writer. Breathe deeply. Inside this walled-off room, time is different—it is flexible, malleable. We’re allowed bend it, to speed it up, slow it down, to jump forwards and backwards, as our minds do. We can to circle back to our thoughts and memories picking and choosing the most meaningful to us. There’s a hushed, glowing sound, like the sound coming from the inside of a shell.”
From Writers Protect Your Inner Life
This is a quote that really speaks to me. I reflect on the fact that both my writing life and career have been interrupted, more times than I’d like to think, by health problems, in particular sometimes severe episodes with my mental health, though I’m inclined to think the physical, mental and emotional are inextricably linked. Indeed that is how I experience what I recognise as a sensitivity. Also I reflect that so often when considering these gaps I lamented the interruption to my “career” yet didn’t give much thought or value to my writing life or indeed see the two as separate.
In truth even in my retreats from the world rarely have I not written. In the “walled off room” I found such richness, profundity in the pain. In fact often it has been my way back to health, sociability and the world. And more and more I’m recognising if I think less of “problems,” gaps, loss of productivity, thoughts about not getting anywhere as more of challenges and take the attitude when challenged I’m just readjusting a temporary imbalance. I somehow consequently realise these are all part of a my life journey. An opportunity to learn and grow and literally a place I can do the healing I need to do. Balance is the key.
“Lan Samantha Chang is the author of a collection of short fiction, Hunger, and two novels, Inheritance, and All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost. Her work has been translated into nine languages and has been chosen twice for The Best American Short Stories. She has received creative writing fellowships from Stanford University, Princeton University, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.”
There are times when it’s hard to put into words, even in poetry with its condensed form, the passing events that rage on. What can I say? Finally the clouds broke, the rains eased and the sun blessed us while I hear one of my oldest closest friends has died and a dear neighbour.
In between all this the farce of the G7, a not funny farce, in its grandiose setting and quaint barbecue on the beach. Blame farming, blame the cows for carbon emissions not the jets they arrived in nor the abysmal and quite unnecessary patriotic display by the Red Arrows. Not to mention the postering and posing commitment to 1bn Covid vaccines when the WHO says the rest of the world needs 11bn. Never has inequality been so starkly clear.
When words fail me I feel bereft. In my journal recently when trying to express my grief I found myself writing, “Years slip by as easy as weeks. Yet this last year stretches out. What a cruel time this has been.” I hadn’t seen my dear dear Shashi since Christmas 2019 as he was shielding during the pandemic. I’d not seen Leroy for too long. I’ve hardly seen anyone if the truth is told.
Recalling the names of those I know that passed this last 18 months I found myself writing, “it feels like a massacre,” and inwardly felt shame to be so hyperbolic and yet am I deliberately exaggerating? And is it any wonder I feel like this when daily Covid death figures make the headlines?
All I can say is Bilal, Len, Ted, Shelia, Paul, Michael, Phil, Shashi, Leroy; rest in peace brothers and sister. I feel I must say their names at least. To honour them. (Little of this was directly Covid related. Loss is loss. I’m not about to get clinical here it feels uncouth.)
I’ve been asking myself why, despite daily meditation, almost daily yoga, bipolar meds and a decent diet and routine to be honest I’ve been struggling with my physical and mental health. Asking why my back feels like it’s given way. Erm why d’you think Anne? I could move more, I realise that, swim maybe, walk more at least.
I swing between a calm acceptance of it all and I guess denial, between a sense of quiet existential hope and numbness, and, to be honest, some days there are notes of gloom and despair. I watch Fargo and The Hand Maids Tale and find comfort there. Which says it all.
I’ve also found solace working with images and composed a new visual poem. It’s a contemplation of Spring, renewal and transformation, using found and original images, based on the philosophy of the Tao where seasons have attributes, associated with one of the five elements.
The element for Spring is wood and some of the correspondences are the direction east, sour taste, the colour green and wind. In this philosophy the virtue that corresponds to Spring is gentleness and the emotion anger. In Chinese medicine, based on these ideas, the organs that correspond to the wood element are the liver and gallbladder.
For some reason gave it the the immoderate and perhaps excessive title, In This Almost Time, This A Time of All Seasons A Fusillade of Buds and New Bloom Refresh the Senses as We Reawaken. I think now the title would better conclude –as we continue to awaken. After all awakening is a process. You can find this in my insta whether you are on or off this platform at https://www.instagram.com/anne_enith/
Besides that tInkering/ tweaking ideas for and structuring my new workshop series Into the Light: writing with an Open Heart (working title). Mulling over whether to take part in the Brixton Urban Art show, if I’m not too late with that already, keeping one foot in the door with the On Our Radar project.
There was refreshing relief from it all and fun with a beautiful though belated birthday picnic in the park with lovely friends, some of whom dared try the Cava and Kahlua concoction, just over a week ago. A rare outing. It was strange that it felt not strange to be with people again. A time out of time. Life in the midst of so much death. Mostly life is still on zoom.
This weekend just gone got to the mind stretching, thought provoking Lipstick Intellectuals; a conversation between poetry family members Jacqueline Saphra and Sophie Herxheimer a virtual offering as part of this yearsWinchester Poetry Festival.
Coming up this Saturday 19th June is our Poets from the Planet Fresh Summer Thunder while the following weekend is Saturday 26th June is a movie night combined with a poetry open mike from The Word is Write.
Much of the world seems to me absurd and obscene, yet there is wonder and fascination within and beyond. Sometimes words only do not convey this complexity. With these objects I attempt to create objects as narrative surprise, breaking down distinctions between the plastic, the digital and the written word. Caged is a meditation on modernity.
“People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.
You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.
Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.
You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.”
Life recently has consisted of not much more than yoga and mediation, acquiring or repurposing pots for herbs and vegetables seedlings, some home improvements which, in the context of the continuing threat of estate demolition, I find empowering and an act of rebellion on my part.
Beside that little more than lamenting the inclement weather (not very zen) and watching Line of Duty. I came late to the party on that one, in the end my curiosity peeked by the numerous references from friends in social media. I’m not so sure it’s compatible with achieving an uplifted state of mind but I was hooked five minutes into the first episode of series one.
Got along to a Lambeth XR planning picnic, Poetry from the Grassroots on the 9th May and the Poets for the Planet meeting on the 16th. Have been fiddling around with images for my Spring insta visual poem about based on the philosophy of the Tao. The last instalment for Winter entitled, Under a Wan Sun we Draw in, proved popular, here’s a screen shot. Come over to https://www.instagram.com/anne_enith/ to see it clearer or comment.
Herne Hill resident, Jeremy, gives a free talk with Q&A. He says by way of introduction
“Two years ago I was shocked to discover the true environmental impact of my ordinary life in Herne Hill. Motivated to turn this around, I went on a journey of discovery. Analysing scientific data, I measured the environmental impact of every single aspect of my life, and what I found was astonishing.
I now have a new way of living, where consideration for the environment and future generations is built in to all that I do. This has had a profoundly positive impact on my happiness, finances and wellbeing.
Join me for this friendly evening talk where I’ll share my journey and some essential truths about living net-zero in Herne Hill, and you can ask me your questions.”
#amreading Waking The Tiger by Peter A Levine, Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Craft edited by Rishi Dastidar
#amwriting the odd poem sporadically and an outline and session plans for a series of workshops Into the Light: writing with an Open Heart (working title). What this space for updates about the latter.
Aunty Lucy comes into the kitchen, tight blue grey
curls and faded pinny. I’m chewing a match stick.
-Children shouldn’t play with matches, she scolds,
snatching it away -and you never
put them in your mouth!
Don’t you norr ‘bout the match girls?
Lickle girls they wor, no’ much bigga ‘en you,
marched all the way to Fleet Street they did
Y’norr, where they make the papers…
-To make tuppence into tuppence ‘apney,
in old money mind. See this?
She holds up a three pence coin
-Earnt less than this they did, that’s
when they weren’t dropping down dead,
so think yourself lucky.
They’re always saying that to me, I think,
I’ll be lucky if she gives me that
Aunty Lucy sees the plea in my eyes, says
-‘Ere you are then. I clasp it in my palm.
As she speaks I see the firefly in The Lady and
The Tramp. I see a pale girl in a black bonnet, another
with a with a burning jaw. I hear words I barely understand;
lockjaw, lockout, phosphorus,
-they did it for us.
In the garden the sky is a clear blue pool, I skip in circles
picking daises, reciting
– girls’ strike, strike a match, match girls, girls’ strike,
strike a match, match girls
Aunty Lucy pulls an apple from the tree, gives it to me,
tells me not to swallow the pips or a tree will grow inside.
-Eve ate the apple, she says frowning,
and now look!
I ask mum about that later. – Don’t fret,
your Aunt Luce can be a bit funny at times.
Mum stares towards the window. She’s trying to light
the fire, holding a newspaper up at the hearth,
– Get me that box of Swan Vesta and bring it ‘ere,
puts the red tipped match between her teeth, purses her lips
lifts the little yellow box with her free hand.
She shoots a looks that says
This better be good! Slowly I begin,
-Don’t you know about the match girls?
As I speak I see the firefly in The Lady and
The Tramp. I see a pale girl in a black bonnet, another
with a with a burning jaw, the words tumble out;
lockjaw, lockout, phosphorus,
-they did it for us, to make tuppence into tuppence ‘apney!
-Ai ‘appen they did, she replies, balling up
the newspaper and flinging it on the fire.
I’m going to af to ‘ave a word with our Luce
‘bout puttin’ fear of God into you.
-No not God. Just phosfrus. God is Love, she said.
Published on The Matchgirls Memorial website. This campaign aims to get a statue to commemorate the important role the Matchgirls played in working class, indeed British history.
In 1888 at the Bryant and May factory in East London 1400 girls and young women walked out on strike against appalling pay and conditions, their victory was swift and laid the foundations for the modern trade union movement.
I first heard the story of the Match Girls strike from an elderly aunt. I feel in hindsight that I was the depository for the stories and secrets, from the women in my family including my mother and grandmothers, a form of oral history. That said I often couldn’t make much sense of it at the time, I wrote this poem to reflect the way I heard the story.
Last month the Matchgirls Memorial Campaign held its #StartsWithASpark socially distanced action on Twitter and Instagram
Find more Matchgirls themed poetry and flash fiction, including Spark Catchers by Lemn Sissay, and more information on how to support the Matchgirls Memorial Campaign here https://www.matchgirls1888.org/
As we move towards coming out of lockdown, again, maybe, maybe not, whilst it can be a relief and reason for joy at the same time there can be many ways this time can also be a source of stress. There are so many uncertainties; will it last? Are we really safe? Are the vaccines safe for me? Will they work? Especially given the high profile reporting of virus variants.
These times are likely to be very anxiety inducing for many. If you haven’t experienced clinical anxiety before it can be a frightening experience. As the sympathetic nervous system kicks in your heart starts racing, you might start sweating or shaking, feel tense or a sensation like an electric shock in the case of a full blown panic attack.
This is the body’s fight, flight or freeze response taking over. This is an ancient response designed to help you if facing a sabre toothed tiger. Its not designed to respond to most modern stresses and won’t help with the threat of catching a virus therefore tends to be experienced as anxiety as the trapped energy if not dispersed by physical action. This is a powerful way to soothe and overcome anxiety.
The NHS recommend a technique called 7/11 breathing. I prefer this, a method that works for me: breathe out as fully as you can then breathe in through the nose and count to five. Breathe out through the mouth and count to ten. If you are very tense this might be difficult start with three in and six out and gradually lengthen the breaths and if you want introduce a pause at the end of each breath. You can do this standing up, sitting or laying down. I do it in the yoga position the Child’s pose for about 10 minutes every day.
This is a powerful way to soothe and overcome any anxieties at this time. It will stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and calm you down. If you are just a little anxious doing this for a few minutes will probably be enough. If you are experiencing severe anxiety set a timer and do the breathing exercise in a position that is comfortable for 20-30 minutes once or twice a day.
It also serves as a detoxing method which will boost your immune system giving your body a better chance to fight off he virus and other infections. Breathe your way to well being.
Am taking some time out for a period of reflection, contemplation and meditation. Recent events have compelled me to consider presence and purpose and more on a deeper level than previously.
I say this as if it were a decision when really it has been more of an unfolding process. I figure I am going inwards for a while ironically at the same time the U.K. at least is opening up partially.
Call it a retreat if you like. To return renewed, I hope, and reinvigorated. Despite this continue to play with images in an experiment to see if its possible to construct a visual poem. This is the most recent entitled
Under a Wan Sun We Draw in – made using found and original images posted in instagram. All 12 images make up the poem. A contemplation of winter wisdom and transformation based on the principles of the Tao.
In this philosophy seasons have attributes, associated with one of the #fiveelements. The element for winter is water and some of the other attributes are the direction north, salty taste, colours of blue and black and cold.
I’ll leave you with a recommendation, check out Katie Griffiths launch of The Attitudes with special guests Arji Manuelpillai, Mary Mulholland, Matthew Paul and Michelle Penn Thursday 22 April 2021, 7.30pm (BST)
“Katie Griffiths’ debut solo poetry collection The Attitudes is a search for trust and faith – in the body, in the mind, in all those things we seek to hold on to but cannot.
Here we encounter mortality and tread the balance between visceral wisdom and the intellect, between fragile, fallible bodies, and the mind’s hold over them, between the bright spaces and the haunted ones.
In poems that are bold, effervescent, frequently playful, Katie Griffiths approaches serious subjects – eating disorders, ageing, grieving – with a precise and inventive lyricism. An astute and accomplished book which transforms.”
I created this image Saturday 20th March this year, on the spring equinox. This is the fence at the end of our block on Cressingham Gardens housing estate over looking Brockwell Park.
It spoke to me of balance and also the way the natural world and the human environment in cities entwine and coexist, though both are threatened by so-called regeneration.
Ironic really, I guess, as balance and coexistence is arguably lacking on a world wide basis. It doesn’t have to be that way.
While recently we have been hearing many stories about the challenges to biodiversity and the ice sheets, communities threatened by fire and rising sea levels as a result of the climate emergency there is still time, I believe.
There are so many acting to bring the truth to light, so many knowledgeable making change, so many with new ideas and technologies, I remain hopeful.
Image taken with iPhone. Cropped. Contrast, light and black point adjusted, no filter.
The reading by Amanda Gordon, National Youth Poet Laureate, at the Biden inauguration signified for me hope and vision with realism.
At 22 years she old made history as the youngest poet to read at the presidential inauguration in the U.S. Predecessors include Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Richard Blanco and Elizabeth Alexander.
The brief was to write a poem about American unity, a difficult task for anyone in the circumstances of the past four years which were about to reach their zenith. Amanda Gorman finished the poem, The Hill We Climb, the night after pro-Trump rioters lay seize to the Capitol building on the sixth of January.
This suggests to me courage and and maturity as a writer, to respond to the moment weaving past, present and future, the personal and political in a beguiling lyricism and does so with grace.
She told the New York Times, “In my poem, I’m not going to in any way gloss over what we’ve seen over the past few weeks and, dare I say, the past few years. But what I really aspire to do in the poem is to be able to use my words to envision a way in which our country can still come together and can still heal,” she told the New York Times. “It’s doing that in a way that is not erasing or neglecting the harsh truths I think America needs to reconcile with.”
The poem has a circular form, with the lines towards the end, “When day comes we step out of the shade/ aflame and unafraid,/ the new dawn blooms as we free it./ For there is always light,” serving as an answer answer to the question posed at the beginning, “When day comes we ask ourselves,/where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” Ending with the last two profound and resounding lines, “if only we’re brave enough to see it./ If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
As I was scrolling through my Facebook memories recently I noticed posts from that day, over a the series of years, referring to; a protest at Lambeth town hall to defend children’s services, university’s taking strike action to secure their pensions, women resisting the DAPL pipeline at Standing Rock, a general strike in Barcelona where people simply want the right to a referendum over their future and one about a woman appealing to prospective buyers at an auction urging bidders not to buy up social housing.
It is fantastic to see memories of the courage, determination and collective action of people for children’s services, pensions, access to water, democracy and housing
BUT I ASK YOU THIS
Why do we have to fight for what are basic needs? Why do we have to fight for what are our rights?
I know recently I’ve been banging a drum about this, repeating various versions of let’s not return to “normal.” The truth is to do so would be a return to a ceaseless struggle for what should be our birthright, our basic needs met.
Let’s not return to “normal.” Ever. “Normal” was hell. Let’s remember what “normal” was likening the U.K.
4.2m children in poverty 2019
rising homelessness with rough sleeping up 21% and
55%of homeless people in work in 2018
rents noone under 30 in London could afford
people “lucky” if they got the paltry minimum wage, in 2020 amounts are
25 years and over £8.72, 21-24 £8.20, 18-20 6.45, under 18 £4.55,
apprentices ( working up to 30 hours a week and expected to study) £4.15 an hour
309 deaths in custody 2019/2020 8% black and brown people/ people of colour compared to a population of 3%
3m in the U.K. in the gig economy with no sick leave, paid holidays or contracts of unemployment 2019
an estimated 2.4 million aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year (1.6 million women and 786,000 men) year ending 2019
Only 3% of reported rape cases prosecuted in 2019
Sick and disabled people put through harrowing interviews to “prove” they were sick despite gp and hospital letters and
17 000 sick and disabled people dying while waiting for an appeal when benefits were withdrawn 2019
The U.K. pension for single person now in 2020/21 £134.25 is a week, £6,981 a year. For a married couple £268.50 a week forcing many to rely on the means tested housing benefit
Sorry to go on. Sorry to throw so much out.
We are talking about the U.K., the fifth biggest economy in the world. I haven’t even got started on the abuse faced by the Windrush generation and the loops European’s have to jump through post brexit to get healthcare or the global picture where many have such limited access to clean water, electricity and safe homes.
We could do so much better than this because we know what people need and what they can do. We the people. A new democracy based on “from each accordingly to their ability, to each accordingly to their needs,” Marx.
Surely our democracies and the extractive, neoliberal economy are just moment a in world history. Greek democracy had slaves. Women have only had the vote for a century. Democracy can change. But our limited democracy is only part of the problem. Can the system change? When the Eastern Bloc fell someone said, at the end of 1989, I forget who, a left intellectual, and I paraphrase “two things came together, the system couldn’t go on in the old way and the people didn’t want it to go on,”
It’s time for us to evolve a better version. It is that or fast forward to an unimaginable dystopia. The seeds of this, I believe, exist globally, rooted locally in our communities and workplaces in a myriad of campaigns.
What could a better world look like? What are our basic human needs?
Joking aside, this is a representation of what Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, called the hierarchy of human needs, however you look at it, much of humanity is really are still at the very bottom, if we have to struggle for food, water, shelter, rest, employment and security. At the top is self actualisation.
How can humanity sustain itself let alone self actualise under these conditions? The conditions of vast economic inequality and as yet unabated climate change?
How can we be the most we can be? We can begin for sure. Struggle, meditate, do yoga, study it will take you a long way on that path, if you have the time and privilege. It’s dialectical of course, as we we learn and grow, we change and in turn change the world.
Yet I can’t see, without system change, until all are free to follow their destiny, free to thrive not just survive, none are free as we are all part of each other. Yet I’m still not sure exactly how we get from here to there, to a new earth, where we can all self actualise,
“… The struggle will continue until all we have to contend with is the elements and our egos, the true meaning of jihad, And that my friends has already begun.
The way ahead is still not clear to me, or whether there will be more fire, trumpets of woe, more blood shed, already ochre bellied locusts swarm over Africa, there is an exodus from the holy lands where writing began but it is clear to me there will be no single point, nor second coming or single movement led by a vanguard.
Witness the armies of love that hang dignity and empathy from their banners in the Lebanon, Hong Kong, Belarus and Thailand where the age old struggle for democracy returns and now it seems we are more like the water, many rivers flowing down into the seas, into the oceans and the oceans are rising while wild fires circle the globe,
Perhaps it is Gaia calling to us be the fire, be the water, put down deep roots and like the forests reach up. As I sit before the mountain if I close my eyes I see the new world blooming in a millions of lotus flowers opening…”
from a poem in progress The Centre Cannot Hold”
A Theory of Human Motivation by Abraham Maslow, first published in the journal Psychological Review 1943
Toward a Psychology of Being by Abraham Maslow, first published 1954
As we take a step close to Spring, I feel, often at this time of year, time itself speeds up at an alarming rate. Its as if January limps, February shuffles while March is limbering up for a sprint, next thing I know I’ll be shaking by head seeing nauseating Christmas ads, which incidentally I’ve found one can avoid successfully with steaming services. Events are moving fast and as such it’s hard to post a coming up diary, as I have previously, as a this went down one.
A lot of cool stuff happened in one week. Started a five week mini course led by poet Bethany Rivers called Mindful Words in which we read, write and discuss poetry.
My experimental voyage into insta can be seen here https://www.instagram.com/anne_enith/ The Last Swallow has Flown is a visual poem exploring/ contemplating autumn, love and transformation, based on the philosophy of the Tao.
Annnnd The new anthology from Malika’s Poetry Kitchen has a cover now and can be preordered here https://t.co/vNXRgl8yYa More to follow on this
Saturday 13th, saw a tremendous outpouring of collective sorrow, grief, rage and solidarity across upwards of 30 cities and towns in the U.K. (the actual number unsure as it was rising by the hour) as people attended vigils of beauty, poetry, prayer and silence over the death of Sarah Everard, and so many others we never hear about.
Yet in Clapham police choose to attack a peaceful protest! As an organiser said on BBC news last night had the organised vigil been not been ruled against there would have been stewards to ensure Covid safety. Had the Met not obstructed the thing in the first place and not lost the plot on the night there would have been no need for arrests, actually scratch that there was no need in my opinion.
In a highly publicised case Patsy Stevenson, pictured above, was forcibly removed from the vigil. She subsequently told reporters that after being thrown to the ground she was dragged into a van, fined £200 only to be released back into the park where this interview took place! So we can all sleep sound in our beds now.
Beyond irony when two days later Parliament was set to debate the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 which offers no protection to women and includes broad powers for the police to curtail rights to peaceful protest and restrict assemblies, with tougher sentences for those charged, and even limitations on one-person acts of peaceful protest.
So let’s get this straight under this new legislation- If I attack a statue of Churchill I can get up to ten years inside. If someone attacks and rapes me they can get up to five years inside. If they are even prosecuted. In 2019/20 only 3% of reported rapes were prosecuted.
Sunday 14th joined Poetry from the Grassroots to deliver a poem The Truth About Hats, which skips over the centuries touching on women’s history and struggles here’s a link to the recording https://www.facebook.com/MarkMrTeeThompson/videos/10158618361077217/ Unsure if this link works outside Facebook but it it does see great poetry from fellow Poets for the Planet member Sue John’s at 10 mins in and my piece is at 35mins in, it was a great night, it’s all worth checking out.
#amreading The Occillations by Kate Fox, Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver and Healing the Tiger by Peter A Levine
#amwriting poems referencing Greek and Roman Gods and Goddesses and throwing around some ideas for a piece of dystopian fiction….
A caveat to the suggestions in this exercise. Writing can release painful feelings and energy in the process, if you can stay with those feeling the process becomes also one of healing.
We are in a triggering time where issues about women, the earth, our future can lead to discomfort so go easy with this exercise. Take a break anytime if necessary.
Engage your self care if necessary and/or the support of trusted others if the writing brings up feelings you find too difficult. Also allow yourself to experience joy of being and becoming
Get a pen and paper ready, glance at the image below then respond to the following questions. Write one or two words for each, a couple of sentences or more. There are no wrong answers. Take no more than five minutes for each question, set a timer.
Where did your journey begin?
Where is it taking you?
What is your ground of being?
Take a break, walk around. How do you feel? Perhaps make a note of that if you like. Then if you want go back to your notes. Look at what you’ve made.
Do you want to develop it? If so you can, add, delete, combine, cut and paste, revise, play with it. Give yourself another 15 minutes. Come back to it a few days later if you want and repeat this.
Matka stick sculpture by Olga Ziemska
“Cleveland-based sculptor Olga Ziemska works with natural materials like wood and bamboo to create mysteriously figurative installations for her series titled Stillness in motion: The Matka Series.
“Matka” means “mother” in Polish and essentially defines the figure that Ziemska recreates. Through this mold of a maternally inclined female, the artist symbolizes a place of origin, further hinting at “our first physical environment—the womb.”
“The artist says, “Through the repetition of the human form, the subtle characteristics of each environment will emerge naturally and visually. This body of work is ultimately a celebration of the diversity of place and also a homage to the similarities that underlie all things at their core.””
From Haunting Figure of a Woman Made with Wood and Bamboo by Pinar Noorata on April 13, 2013
If you want to take this further consider what is your relationship to the earth? When was the last time you walked in bare feet or touched the earth? Or what is your relationship to your mother? When did you last speak to her, touch her? And write about that.
Charles Baudelaire, the French poet, essayist and art critic, 9 April 1821 – 31 August 1867, is perhaps best known for his Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil). First published 1857, it dealt with themes such as sacred and profane love, melancholy, sickness and death, the corruption of the city, lost innocence and the oppressiveness of living, it was considered scandalous.
It was arguably a contemplation on modernity, he is credited with coining the term, a highly influential work, not just on other French poets but cited frequently in All That is Solid Melts into Air by Marshall Bergman, a book I return to time and again.
The title of this work, exploring modernity, is taken from Karl Marx who wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848 following the French Revolution in the same year.
Baudelaire took part in the revolution and wrote for a revolutionary newspaper. While Marx examined the social forces and developed the idea of historical materialism, Baudelaire gives us portraits of the decadent and debauchery of modern French capitalism, the first volume of Capital published in 1867.
As contemporaries, in my opinion, they both leave us with work that help us to understand the modern world. Capital predicting the rise of the transnational corporation, Le Fleurs du mal suggests the fleeting, impermanent nature of urban life.
A concern relevant, perhaps now more than ever, as an underclass of cleaners, Uber drivers and Amazon delivery workers move from Bangladesh to Birmingham, Colombia to London, Portugal to Paris, eking out a living, sleeping in cramp accommodation or on the streets.
“By modernity I mean the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent which make up one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immutable.”
Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life” in The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, edited and translated by Jonathan Mayne. London: Phaidon Press.
The pandemic has focused attention on our health in both mind and body. This is a good thing. Generally speaking in “advanced” capitalist society’s we tend to treat our mind/body as a resource to plunder rather than something to nourish and nurture. The result is seen in higher cancer rates and serious mental health conditions. The pandemic has further increased the latter.
We are in societies where profit is put before people therefore it should come as no surprise that during the pandemic we’ve seen political decisions that appear to put livelihoods before lives. While it is important to challenge political decisions with action there are things we can do personally to weather the storm of this uncertain time and the fears and anxieties it has produced. Gratitude practice is one of those things.
It might seem that in midwinter, at a time of Covid, with the NHS overstressed, loved ones ill or even dying there is little to have gratitude, it is easy to focus on what we lack. There is always something to be thankful for and acknowledging this rather is a healthier place to be as it encourages the soothe mechanism in the brain rather than the threat mechanism. It’s a better place to take action from when needed. It’s not about, for instance, denying anger or grief or sitting toxic positivity, for instance the apparent attitude of Boris Johnson with his blustering style optimism it’s about embracing your entire experience.
Why is it necessary?
We tend to have a negative bias when it comes to evaluating our experience of the world. We are hardwired this way. We are more alert to threat than things that comfort and soothe. This was what kept cave people alive. In the modern world it might sound more like,
“I just the interview today, it went down really bad,”
“Why do you say that?”
“I was terrible, I repeated myself. At one point one of the interviews yawned, I’ve had it.”
In reality the interviewers were smiling and nodding their heads but negative bias will remind the candidate of only this one moment.
Something similar to this happened to me recently. I attended a zoom poetry event on the open mike and they put me on first. I was nervous and anxious, my less than fully stable tripod, was leaning precariously, thinking it might keel over. I read two short poems with a humorous segway and spent the entire rest of the evening tense thinking, “I was so wooden!” It was a great night and I felt I’d let everyone down, that I’d let myself down. The next morning I looked at the recording and it was fine! Not brilliant but certainly not wooden.
What is gratitude practice?
One recognised method is keeping a gratitude journal, or just writing in a regular journal and making a note of at least three things, or just one to begin with, for which we are thankful about during the day that has just passed. You can do this before you go to bed or the following morning.
Alternatively write on scraps of paper and put them in a jar.
Write on post it’s and pin them to a wall.
Share your experiences with family or friends around the kitchen table.
Create a private facebook group for your nearest and dearest and share your gratitude between you.
Ants perspective posted by Our Earth on Facebook
How can it help?
Many spiritual practices cite the value of gratitude practice and studies have demonstrated that it reduces stress, anxiety and depression and boosts feelings of optimism, happiness and ability to cope.
“People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems.”
We tend to focus on the negative particularly if we are stressed or anxious. Perhaps it’s been a good day until a neighbour blows up at you about your ivy growing over their porch. Now there’s a black cloud over everything. Instead of letting all the good be blocked out by this, take a deep breath consider what else happened? Reflect on the taste of your morning coffee, a kind message on a card from an aunt, the woman on the bus that complimented your bag, a great song you heard for the first time on the radio, and write it down. Be specific as possible.
Basically the more we are grateful for the more we notice things around like the delicate white flowers springing from the hedgerow on the way to the shop or the scudding clouds in the deep red sunset you can see from the kitchen.
The sciencey bit
Practicing gratitude is a form of positive psychology. It doesn’t mean denying any difficult feelings experienced or ignoring any abuse. It just means reducing the tendency to focus on the negative and rebalancing your perceptions. It won’t, on its own, tackle poverty or injustice or inequality but it can equip you to take on all or any challenges even if it’s just the rude and annoying neighbour. It moves your brain from vacillating between the drive and threat functions into soothe. More about that in another post.
I’m late with this, so late! Wa Gwarn? As they say round here. What’s going on indeed. Been feeling decidedly ropey, trying to find an appropriate metaphor…Feels like; climbing a sand dune in a desert in a wet suit, crawling up a mountain backward, swimming against the tide in a storm. All of these imply struggle.
No doubt a struggle within. As I write this I think – rather than struggle why not just surrender? Something, honestly, I find hard. I veer between the two attitudes. The latter might sound like, if you can’t do, just be.
Poet and mindfulness tutor Cath Drake puts it like this, “Many of us spend most of our time in ‘doing’ mode: organising, thinking, ticking off tasks, often in autopilot. It’s important for our wellbeing to balance this with the ‘just being’ mode, just being alive to where you are and what is around us, accepting things as they are without trying to change them.”
Cath has been running writing workshops with this in mind. If you’re struggling too why not check it out. Cath says, “What if you write without a goal in mind? Experiment?
During the low energy time I’ve been playing with my images. This, I find, I can do in a meditative way, achieving what is known in the Tao as wu wei, or effortless activity. Ideally we would all do everything like this.
The result of this was what I call a visual poem called The Last Swallow Has Flown – created using 12 images, found and original. It’s a contemplation of autumn, love and transformation based on the philosophy of the Tao.
According to the Tao the universal energies yin Qi and yang Qi produce the Five Elements, which in turn, give birth to the “ten-thousand things,” ie: the manifestation of all things. The Five Elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Each of the five elements have attributes. The element associated with autumn is metal and some of the other attributes are the direction west, spicy taste, the colour white and dryness.
This was an experiment, it’s been fun and useful to find that contemplative space. Finally I posted the images in my insta, you can see it here https://www.instagram.com/anne_enith/ whether you have an Instagram account or not. It’s designed to be best viewed in the grid.
Accordingly to my insta analytics the posts have reached 21.5 K accounts in seven days. A bit wow, I have no clue what “reached” means but it makes me feel good anyway.
Elsewhere the zoom poetry community is blooming drawing poets from Australia, Europe to the United States. I recommend Poetry in the Brew, Speakeasy, Ooo Beehive, Say it Louder and Like a Blot from the Blue. I’m yet to dive in to appear, most have floor spots.
My fave so far was the St Valentines Mascara, a curated event held Sunday 14th February, which was particularly spectacular. A collaboration between Like a Blot from the Blue, Eye Publish Ewe and Poetry in the Brew, see it here for just over two hours of audacious wordplay and performance.
Meanwhile Poets for the Planet had our AGM also on the14th and will be holding Spring Bloom: An eco-poetry open mike night on Saturday 6th March at 7.00pm which will be broadcast on YouTube. Poets will be responding to the themes #beginafresh #noplanetb #springbloom
Finally, it’s not been a great time recently for residents on the six regen estates facing demolition, Homes for Lambeth are on the offensive, during lockdown, yep. However there’s great news for Cressingham Gardens and for children’s fiction and black writers; my friend and neighbour, Sandra Moodie, launches her first book, Aminata and the Bag of Seeds on Saturday 20th February.
Sandra took her first dabble into creative writing with the Cressingham Voices project I ran on the Cressingham Gardens estate in 2017 in my role as writer-in-residence and contributed to the book we produced. More about Sandra, founder of Pass the Baton Raise the Next Generation, and the book here https://inspirationalenterprise.com/latest-news
A tribute to and attempt to illustrate my origins. I find it hard to identify with “English” though I love the language. I don’t even know what English means beyond empire and oppression. After all before they turned the map pink there was the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish to contend with and suppress. Culturally “English” and “British” seem to merge and elide, something I struggle with. I would like not to have this attitude if someone wants to have a go at convincing me.
Watching The Barrier recently on Netflix, a near future dystopian fiction situated in Spain, reminded me of my grandmothers tales of acts of disobedience and defiance, which I’m sure must have inspired and influenced me, though I didn’t recall the details of memories until practicing freewriting on the subjects.
Honoured they choose me to pass on their stories and proud to be by blood half Lancashire, half Yorkshire. That is an origin or identity I am happy to embrace. (Though according to DNA I am one third Greek, a bit Bosnian, a bit Finnish, by which I read Viking, and the rest English/Irish.) All our bloods are mixed let’s face it.
shuddered with the ugly vile-nasty-ism. We watched
in dismay, the ceremony of shame, as the old law breaker,
became the new law maker. A smokescreen of tweets bleated
and abused concealing policy, the links with Breitbart,
flooding our platforms and screens, turning our blood cold. Yet
still we utter, still we declaim, filling the streets of cities
and towns, with our bodies and breath. Our banners rock with mirth,
we are so not done yet. Hell no! A new generation joins us on the
sidewalks, the boulevards, the squares – across the world, their legs
strong, love on their lips. Swinging hips holding the Mexican,
the Muslim, the other, locked in an embrace, birthing new possibilities
in the republic born in genocide and slavery; reshaped and exulted
by the dream factory. Remember the Alamo! That was Mexican,
by the way, kinda in the name, isn’t it? The so-called manifest
destiny, pushing west, icons and tropes still haunt the movie theatre
today. La la la la land, we are awakening. John Wayne wasn’t always
the good guy. Good guys, let me tell you about them, they’re up at Standing
Rock, right now, facing guns and water cannon, ice on the ground,
with only smartphones, prayers and the spirits of the ancestors
to protect them. And while I’m at it, I’ll tell you another thing
for nothing; the forgotten were never forgotten by Alice Paul,
Kathleen Cleaver, Lucy Stone, Olive Morris and bell hooks.
We move together, memory in our arms, bones of dignity, courage
in our bellies, compassion on our shoulders, the future in our hands;
we rise, still we rise, and we will rise again and again and again.
Anne Enith Cooper 2017
I wrote this poem after the tremendous global women’s marches, open to all genders, which took place immediately after the inauguration of the 45th.
Looking back at this poem a few weeks before the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamilla Harris I’m asking myself if, with hindsight, it was hopelessly idealistic having seen the apparently inexorable rise and consolidation of the right in the USA culminating in the armed attack on the Washington Capitol building yesterday, January 6th 2021, by supporters of the 45th and far right extremists in which five people died.
We’ve endured four years of an administration headed by a premier who actively encouraged the “alt right/ libertarian right; replete with reactionary attitudes towards women’s rights and the alt right is really a euphemism for those who wave the Confederate flag alongside the swastika, don tee shirts celebrating the holocaust, brandish (Walmart) Tiki torches in a gesture that evokes Ku Klux Klan rallies and mob lynchings and drive vehicles into crowds of peaceful protestors.
Despite all this it seems to me there has been no cease in our struggles from Black Lives Matter, to Standing Rock and Extinction Rebellion, to mention but a few, even during the pandemic, across the world, with women playing a part front and centre. And it is not just a struggle of resistance but oney that envisions a new world free from all oppression, violence and inequality, living in harmony with our planet.
We are so not done yet!
Image taken at the London Women’s March 21st January 2017
Happy New Year everyone, wishing you all health and happiness, hope, strength and joy in the struggles we will undoubtedly face together, let’s continue to bring beauty, respect, dignity, peace, justice, equality and sustainability to this world. Hope this new year is rich and rewarding for all.
Last year was a tough one, I appreciate many are grieving, in recovering, or financially challenged, we are all in a sense precarious now. I prefer to think also about what it has given us; a renewed respect for the often invisible yet essential workers, a chance to reevaluate what really matters, a chance to upskill, learn and grow, the reveal of the incompetence, uncaringness and mendacity of power.
This time has also seen the emergence of mutual aid on an unprecedented scale demonstrated dramatically during the lorry-park-with-no-toilets debacle at the end of the year. While the government callously described the unfolding events as a “stress test” for a no deal Brexit it was the Kent community that fed the thousands of stranded drivers not the council or the government.
Hope you had a reasonable time last night I had a quiet one. At least the flat is emerging from a year of dust, clutter and cobwebs (ok i exaggerate a little though it is curiously how dust and cobwebs seem to create small balls over time…)
Reflecting on the year personality feel immense gratitude for when it was possible to connect. The year began for me on a challenging note plunged into the dark in January, almost it seemed, overnight. How much of this was personal and how much was existential I don’t know. I was writing a ring of fire: a lament for Australia as it began. Spend a good part of the year crawling out of that place. It would be easy to look on the year as the sum total of that but on reflection there was much more.
Some highlights; in March just before lockdown one hooked up with Poets for the Planet for a reading and conversation at Resonance fm link. In May and June joined the Black Lives Matter protests in Windrush Square while August saw a diminished but effective XR rebellion in London, my part in this was small but supported rebels camping in beautiful Brockwell Park, a stones throw from Cressingham.
Collectively the park became our playground, sanctuary, gym. Hard to put into words how valuable it has been for so many of us. I read in Brixton Buzz Lambeth Council want to hand over management to some company which aims to hold 50 commercial events annually, surely this must be opposed.
In September between lockdowns took a trip to Italy; discovered the wonder of Rome, attended a powerful yoga retreat at Casa Amrita in Teramo province and explored the delightful coastal town of Pineto before reluctantly returning.
The poetry world went all zoom and forced to face my reluctance to get in front of the camera head on joining Poetry from the Grassroots on a number of occasions. A supportive and increasingly international tribe of fellow wordsmiths. Joined the team at On Our Radar, who in collaboration with Groundswell, are collectively stories of homelessness in a peer led project.
Have been massively supported and assisted by group meditation on zoom with water and earth protector Urtema Dolphin. She has been holding a space almost every day since the start of lockdown one. A space to learn and grow, to be and let go.
Ended the year putting together a visual poem entitled The Last Swallow has Flown; a contemplation of autumn, love and transformation which is almost ready to share, watch this space
Feeling optimistic about the future; our struggles have gone truly global and becoming more inclusive. We are still in a fractured and polarised world, in my opinion the dark is not rising it was always there and the light is revealing it, so let the light shine!
Not much in the diary yet but starting a short course in Greek and Roman Mythology at Penn State Uni, I’ve found gods and goddess making an appearance in my poetry for a while now; the Indian goddess Kali came to me in Brockwell Park, Gaia on a beach in Pineto, while Venus, Zeus and Eros put in appearances from time to time and so I figured it was high time to learn a bit more about them.
Also will be joining Poetry from the Grassroots on the 10th January 2021
Choose a word from the dictionary at random then freewrite for five minutes. Take a break. Stretch or walk around then come back to what you have written. Underline the strongest words or expressions. Delete any unnecessary words – do you need for instance and, but, yet, so.
Extract the strongest words and expressions and create a new piece. How many lines do you have? If it’s three you have your poem, check again delete any unnecessary words. Consider if the words left behind sing together.
If not continue to extract again the strongest words and expressions until you have three lines that express one idea. Check again delete any unnecessary words. Consider if the words left behind sing together.
The three line poem is called a tercet, the term can also refer to poems with three line stanzas.
The classic three line poem is the haiku. It’s a traditional Japanese form with three lines with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count. Though modern examples introduce variations. This is hotly contested but that’s another post.
Often focusing on images from nature, and usually makes reference to a season. It emphasises simplicity, intensity, and directness of expression. In addition the haiku tends to focus on a brief moment in time, juxtaposing two images, and creating a sudden sense of enlightenment.
From Matsuo Bashō, the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan.
In this “unprecedented” time; living against the backdrop of a virus that may or may not kill us, a growing precarity in jobs and housing in the west while people in parts of the Global South are on the verge of starvation and devastation from the accelerating the climate emergency, I am aware that many people I know are going through big shifts or faced with big challenges, either making life altering decisions or facing circumstances that feel overwhelming.
Sometimes it can manifest as inner shifts and challenges catalyzed by the circumstances, sometimes the feelings themselves can seem overwhelming. I’ve recently been through a big shift which was at times really painful, it manifested at times as deep grief, at other times experiencing ecstatic joy and sometimes self doubt, which I’m not entirely convinced was all “old stuff” it’s been hard to get back a healthy routine but is now playing out in new productive ways.
If you are going through deep or strong fluctuations or this kind or feel affronted with emotional storms, perhaps feeling; anger, sorrow, shame, guilt, self doubt, or self loathing, know it’s ok it’s just growth. You are clearing the past to heal it, to make the present and the future more fruitful. Everything needs to be recognized and integrated to clear. Spirtual teachers I know report see this is happening to some people in fast forward. Bear in mind big change is almost always the result baby steps, lots of them.
Nevertheless despite growth we can still fuck up, I know I do. That’s ok as long as no one gets really hurt or even if they do, it’s rarely intentional so if someone can’t forgive you can at least forgive yourself. Think of it as your self development. We are all damaged in some way. We carry the grief and trauma of our parents and grandparents and what they lived through and couldn’t express. And we in turn at times can inherit their silences and can find it hard to express sometimes the most important things. I have found, over the years, the quicker I can accept the feelings that were coming up for me, by which I mean being with them, having curiosity about them, neither avoiding or attaching, the quicker they pass.
This is the essence of meditation and yoga. To watch what comes up and neither cling to it nor evade. It’s much easier in a group but with practice one can sit with the worst feeling alone. Covid brings up fear of death, fear of harm to loved ones in addition to anxieties about how to survive financially. In truth it would help us all to learn some of these techniques at this time as these are difficult things to accept and not to avoid with drink or drugs or any other form of dependency.
In morning meditation today it came to me we must hold on to hope, trust and faith. (I appreciate the notion of faith may be a bit woo woo to many of you.) If you have a faith I probably don’t need to say God has got your back. If you don’t hold with the idea of a higher power think of it as faith and trust in your higher self or your inner wisdom. To look at it another way, the part of you that knows deep down what you need and how to get it though you may not always be in touch with this. Few of us are; the spiritual path to connect with our higher self, in a lasting relationship, is life long.
At this time I look back to the darkest days of humanity see the horrors and defeats and see how we, as humanity, overcame and persevered. Though to consider horror passed with the Holocaust and Hiroshima and Nagasaki is perhaps a bit Eurocentric.
Figure we need to shift from surviving to thriving, individually and collectively. Feel the foundations for this are being laid at this time and simultaneously this time is accelerating our change of attitudes to and our understanding of our relationship to the planet. As we transform ourselves so we transform the world and the opposite is true. This is what is meant by dialectical.
After the mediation this morning our wonderful teacher, talked about how animals adapt to the winter and how we are part of nature and nature is part of us. Those who visit parks or walk in nature may have a greater appreciation of this. Feel it’s worth embracing this idea, I’m not suggesting we all fly south or hibernate but as the days get shorter we can draw in, gather our strength.
This “unprecedented” time I believe is asking us to adapt in our ways in a profound manner. Despite the fears in can induce it gives us opportunities. To become more flexible and agile in body and mind, more discerning, confronted with the blizzard of untruths emanating from power; the government and corporations. Fear is the mind killer and behind so much distrust, violence and atrocities in the world.
Perhaps the greatest gift of this time is the opportunity and indeed recognition of the need to transform fear into love. It sounds kind of abstract until you think; well, can I change, “I’m afraid of getting/my loved ones getting Covid,” into “I will look after myself/my loved ones as best as I can at this time.” In any interaction or situation where there is fear, that means you care or love about yourself or the other. Find a positive solution to situations that seem so fearful. Gently.
As we witness how society fails in the care of the most vulnerable we in turn understand what it is to become kinder, more empathetic. It’s time also to become more loving of ourselves, more forgiving. Learn to respond rather than react. Again baby steps, if you falter, fall down, that’s ok, get up carry on. Every now and then glance back you will see how far you have come. I fervently believe if practiced these things becomes second nature then it becomes revolutionary and evolutionary; literally there is evidence to show new synapses are created.
Despite the apparent polarization in the world at this time I do believe a new world is in the making. We have struggled so long, fought so hard for so long, for millennia. Every new movement goes global, struggles for democracy around the world bring millions to the streets. I see a new consciousness from XR to the COP 26 coalition to grassroots organizations in the USA and Global South. In these new movements self care is put front and centre and demands are made for respect and dignity, indeed appear on the banners. Love has enters the struggle. And as Maureen, from Poets Know it, used to say way back, “Nothing can defeat the power of our love.”
As what we used to call autumn approaches winter we come out of lockdown only to enter tiers. I get the impression few understand what it implies, I too am a little hazy though I understand we can still carry our tasks for On Our Radar who are collaborating with Groundswell, the homelessness team, gathering stories of those in precarious housing or with none at all. The vote in the Commons over tiers happens later today. Wouldn’t hold your breathe after all recently the government gave us the logic defying ruling over the Christmas Break
In other news Poets for the Planet have a new YouTube Channel and you have find the first offering here https://youtu.be/MB_8P3IyeUE a screening of FRESH: An EcoPoetry open mike.
“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
I discovered this video after a trip to New York and a brief brush with the poetry scene there. I was invited to perform as a special guest, nerve wracking right, and be one of the judges for inter-collegiate poetry slam at the Bowery organised by the amazing Christine Timm.
It was great to meet some of the students and the start of a long night that traversed bars and a club and a 4am visit to the Brooklyn Bridge with contestant Sito Alvarez, who by rights should have won, his performance was breathtaking. Later heard the wild weather that raged that night was dubbed “a one hundred year storm.”
At the time there was a thriving and dynamic scene around Bowery Poetry, between Bleecker Street and 2nd Avenue and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the East Village which continues virtually to this day.
In addition in smaller venues such as the adorable Carlitos Cafe y Galeria on Lexington, which my good friend and travel companion discovered quite by accident, presently shut for the pandemic, which reminded us both of the Bonnington Square Cafe in Vauxhall.
Not in a position to get back there, mostly due to poor mental health, the death of my father and the awful time that followed. I digitally explored that scene. The power of this performance by then named Marty Out Loud and it’s message has stuck with me. The storms we inhabit with no beginning and seemingly no end.
On her website Marty McConnell’s says, “I write and perform poems and lyric text around the U.S. and beyond, at schools and festivals and conferences and wherever people gather. I work with crowds of thousands and groups of 10 and one-on-one to dive deep and open wide in the brutal and glorious ways language allows… I believe that the purpose of poetry is to lead us deeper into ourselves, and from there, further out into the world with a keener understanding of our place in it.”
“Marty McConnell is the author of the book wine for a shotgun (EM Press) and many poems including “Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell.” These are widely published in journals, anthologies, and as citations in non-fiction as well. McConnell is a Chicago native who lived in New York for ten years, then returned to co-found Vox Ferus, an organization dedicated to empowering individuals and communities through poetry.
She is a graduate of the Sarah Lawrence M.F.A. program, a co-curator of louderARTS Project’s flagship reading series, and two-time performer on H.B.O.’s Def Poetry Jam. McConnell has performed across the country and Europe—at schools and festivals, independently, with her one-woman show “vicebox,” and with the Morrigan performance poetry troupe.”
I’m late with this as since the first day of lockdown I feel I’ve been thru a storm at sea. Great winds pulled at my sales, waves repeatedly washed over the deck threatening to wash all provisions overboard while I and the crew struggled to keep our footing. In this metaphor the crew are all my selves I guess. By which I mean every self at every age I’ve ever been.
During the storm I visited some of my younger selves to heal the hurt made then. As the storm subsides finally I drop anchor and with the sky blue and gentle waves washing against this battered vessel I see she has held true though some sails will need repair.
I find grief can be like this. At first devastating then after a while still ever there are the comforting ripples of remembrance yet at times even then a huge wave or even a tsunami that wipes away everything in its path, hits sometimes when you least expect it.
I should know by now that November brings these storms though this year something like a tsunami came early. I cried for 10 days straight in October. I was ok with that. I felt cleansed of so much pain. I thought the rocking of the ship had settled down. Best to look to the horizon at these times I might have seen the new storm approaching.
As a result half a month has slipped by already, I managed to get to the amazing Bridge of Fire/ Puente de Fuego, curated by Nathalie Teitler though missed the Siren Poets anthology book launch of What if we can’t save the Earth But if the Earth could save us? Edited by Liv Torc. I have the book and recommend.
On the poetry scene also Louise Gluck, won the Nobel Prize for Literature, she is the first American woman to win the prize since Toni Morrison and only the 16th woman to receive this honour. I am not over familiar with her work but what I’ve read resonates with me, her poems of family life in particular, from: A Fable, “Suppose / you saw your mother / torn between two daughters: / what could you do / to save her but be / willing to destroy / yourself?”
I like this review in which Fiona Sampson concludes quoting Gluck,
“‘“The fundamental experience of the writer is helplessness,’ she tells us in the essay Education of a Poet; their life ‘is dignified, I think, by yearning, not made serene by sensations of achievement. In the actual work, a discipline, a service.’ Gluck’s poetry, for all its huge distinction, its vibrant intelligence and its beauty, has never lost the ability to serve society, or the reader.”
This looks worth checking out, the Poetry in Aldeburgh online festival, “The festival events (readings, talks, performances) do not overlap and there is an hour-long gap between them. Each event is of 60-minute duration with some leeway to overrun in the evenings. There are two daily slots for workshops at 10:00am and 1:15pm with two 90-minute sessions running in parallel.
So it’s back into lockdown. Can’t help thinking beginning it on the 5th of November was a cruel cut. Given our traditions have turned away from burned the “Guy” to burning images of the latest oppressor perhaps there was more the one reason for the timing. Perhaps they fear marauding crowds with fire crackers and burning branches at the gates of power.
So what is to be done? Hang tight for now I guess. Gather our strength. Is anyone even listening to the government at the moment? Can’t help thinking we’ll know that when we see how many bonfiles burn on November 5th. Kind of ironic on so many levels. How are the police to know if folks breaking the law or is it like – oh I didn’t get the memo Gov. I wonder how things will go down in Lewes?
Ironic also because the fire we need, and here I am speaking in metaphor, is to burn the whole rotting Houses down. The House of Commons is literally rotting, held up by scaffording but the real rot is inside. Seeking only to placate and reward big capital. They do not care about you and me. About our elders and vulnerable. I read the new lockdown guidance there is not one single word about the homeless or those with mental health conditions. Not one word.
As lockdown looms seems the Tories are split on this. That said, who hasn’t thought – but will it be extended? I know I have. I’m inclined to say we are here because of an absolute failure of track, trace and isolate. For which so much tax payers money has gone into the pockets of private corporations. Absolute failure at such a cost financially and personally. I had my temperature tested at least four times in Italy. Why arent we doing that?
If I’m completely honest I’m split on this. Is it necessary? Is it too little too late or is there a better way. It is uncomfortable after a life time of “taking a position.” Sometimes I embrace uncertainly but over this feel I need to take a stand. I’m split because there is some evidence coming in of false positives and false negatives, in addition the Covid death rates as proportion of cases is declining.. I noticed this when tracking Covid figures in Spain for just over a month (when I was planning to go on retreat which fell thru) subsequent articles confirm this.
The government don’t care about people flooded or burnt in this country, notewell, Grenfell or the fact the whole planet is subject to flood and fire, the Ecological and Climate Emergency Bill has been booted into the long grass while they talk about Brexit. Yeah what a great move during a pandemic and a climate emergency.
It should all signify the death of the right, but they too are rising and we must have no illusions what that could mean. They have seized on the failures of governance and twisted it into a militant global populism. Close on 30 000 in Trafalgar Square in the summer, supported by the egoist David Icke who strutted like a rock star and in my opinion does not have a pure heart. I know for a fact not everyone attending there gatherings are on the right let alone “alt right” or fascist, but the British Union of Fascists rose from the dead and held there banner there.
In a way Brexit doesn’t matter so much as our links are global. I think it will be a Pyrrhic victory for the right. We the people are not taking back control of anything and that will become apparent. We must not dismiss those temporarily caught in the illusions cast by the the mendacious, the tricksters that appear as clowns and fools while standing up to those who deny the Holocaust and would take us back to the darkest days of humanity.
All the while we do not just wait for the fire next time, know it’s coming, though our movements have become more like the water, note the Gilet Jaunes, the Umbrella movement in Hong Kong, XR, countless groups across the USA see Reel News. We can prepare, network, build our bonds of solidarity, we have come so far already. And should it be fire, the Phoenix that arises can be our new democracy based in communities with no centre, no single point, no vanguard.
XR are calling for a peoples assembly. We need people’s assemblies plural. They exist in Catalonia. Don’t feel yet we have the bones. Or do we? We are on our way. There is the potential for that in mutual aid, community groups, campaigns, the voluntary sector and grass roots trade unionism. Akin perhaps to the European Social Forum, the World Social Forum. What happened to those?
And while we prepare our self care must become revolutionary and be part of our evolution. We walk, run, yoga stretch, meditate, dance, whatever does it for you. And do all we can to build ourselves and others as we simultaneously build our communities and our future.
Published in Touched, Survivors’ Press, London (2006) ISBN-10: 1874595100 ISBN-13: 978-1874595106
You can also. find this poem on the newly designed website from Malika’s Poetry Kitchen. Many thanks to Jill Abhams for that and much more .Watch for news of the new anthology next year, to mark 20 years of this incredible collective, featuring many members of the MPK family. It’s hard for me to put into words what a honour it is to be part of all this. The camaraderie of the Kitchen sessions alone has been uplifting, inspirational and so great for my craft.
The founder members Malika Booker, Jacob Sam La Rose and Roger Robinson express such warmth and good humour while absolutely committed to their own work and sharing their skills and have reached heights I had no idea existed in our poetry world and as such move me to be better and do better as a person and a writer. Check out the site and I’ll share news of the launch and other news when it comes. We each have a poem on the site so do check it out for some great work.
During lockdown one and since our togetherness, our being together was re- wired and perhaps created a new reverence for what we took for granted. I found it hard to meet friends without sharing a hug. And while it’s useful and often necessary zoom is a poor substitute for the real.
I wrote this poem many moons ago. And now have queries about the line breaks and feel communion works a much deeper level, that our souls join in an infinite labyrinthine manner so complex it is hard to comprehend but am leaving it as it stands.
It was inspired by the work of Octavio Paz to whom I also dedicated it. Now I dedicate it to you all in this strange time. In El larerinto de la soledad (The Labyrinth of Solitude) Paz argued that communion was the complimentary opposite to solitude, “glimpsed in love and found in God.”
On my last day in Rome this year, after a trip that took me to a yoga retreat and the beach and back again, I was wandering around with half a plan. Heading for the Piazza Barbarina via Repubblica, past the church Santa Maria of the Angels and Martyrs, which seemed to be closed, somewhere I think I took a wrong turn and ended up in an area with monuments on all sides. Totally mind blowing. I think it was Traiano.
Just as I reached there I was accosted by a young guy who introduced himself, said he was from Senegal. There seem to be so many Africans eking out a precarious living, the Kenyan in the market at Teramo who said he wanted to get to London, the Nigerian outside the supermarket who too said he just wanted to get to London. I didn’t want to say that’s gonna be tricky. I didn’t want to say anything about the hostile environment or the disgraceful treatment of asylum seekers so I would just smile, wish them luck as we parted.
This guy was really cheerful, I think he just wanted to talk. In truth I just wanted to sit down and be alone. When he said, “Where are you from?” I replied, “Londra/ London,” he broke into English and burst out with, “That’s great, you’re not racist!” And fist bumped. (I guess social distancing was not exactly being entirely observed.) I wondered whether to correct the assumption that everyone in London was not racist, but let it go.
We chatted for a while, at some point he said, “I want to meet you you are so happy,” in truth I was trying to process a difficult cocktail of emotion and thought, can’t you see? I explained I was leaving later. He pressed a little bracelet with an elephant motive into my hand. I love elephants, let’s just say they are significant to me. I have nine statues of elephants in my flat at home, thinking someone is watching over me…Yet I say, “I can’t take this.” I have little to no cash.
Then, like a magician, he pulled out a whole bunch of shining things and again tried to press them into my hand. At this point momentarily I wondered – is this going to be like the incident with the young black guy dealing crack in Railton road who did something similar to a (white male) friend of mine? It was late, gone midnight, we were on our way home from Mingles.
I remember my friend saying, “No mate, I don’t do crack,” trying to hand it back, but the dealer wouldn’t have it, kept saying, “You touched it, you touched it, it’s in your skin now, you gotta pay for it.” At that point an elder turned up, dreadlocks swinging saying, “Wa guarn?” He clocked the situation, admonished the young guy and told us to, “Get up de road.” Or something like that. Excuse if my rendition of the dialect is off.
Oblivious to my thoughts the Senegalese guy, whose name I forget, said, “I want to give them to you because your not racist.” I said, “Please, really I can’t, “ and could feel the tears that needed to be shed welling up. He took them back and gave me a tiny red turtle. I was transfixed. I just love the story about the people who believed that the world was on the back of a turtle and when someone asked what is beneath the turtle they said, “Its turtles all the way down.”
I was dreaming of turtles climbing my living room wall, in an afternoon siesta, when a latter day nazi set off a nail bomb outside Iceland in Brixton on a Saturday afternoon in April 1999 injuring 48 people.
Breaking out of my reverie, I said something like, “I’d love to keep this and I’ll give you something, but I really have to go.” And gave him all the cash I had, apologised for it being so little and the fact I had to leave. He held his dark wrist against mine, pointed to his skin then mine and said, “The same” and I replied, “Yes.” It was all I could manage, so overcome with a new cocktail of conflicting emotion.
I wondered as I walked away if I should have been more straight up about the reality of life in London, the reality for asylum seekers, the housing crisis. I almost said, at least here you have the sun, despite La Lega, the “populist” party of the right, who demonise refugees. Now I think perhaps its just don’t ever want to be the one to fail to, the words of WB Yeats come back to me, “tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
I’m not racist but I live in a world where someone feels they have to thank me for not being racist. That is just wrong. With a flight booked for just under four hours time keenly feeling what is just procedure for me, getting a boarding pass, is a distance dream to so many. Where my skin, my nationality, means I can go where the hell I like and there are people with a different skin and nationality that don’t have that right. That privilege. It should be a given. Someday.
I came across an argument sometime ago that suggested the forced movement of refugees, estimated elsewhere at 70 million each year into Europe, one half children, are the frontline in a war against the atrocity of the division and inequality conferred by imperialism and colonialism.
It suggested that with their bodies they are challenging the borders, carved out less than a century ago, the lines drawn on maps at the end of the Second World War by the leaders of the U.K., the U. S. and Russia, meeting in a hotel in Marrakesh. Borders that have resulted in such conflict.
I feel somehow this argument is ignoring the difficulty, putting the burden of necessary change on the shoulders of those most precarious while we sit comfortably in our privilege. Yet the Berlin Wall didn’t come down with a treaty. I wonder can fortress Europe hold against the tides of time. I hope not.
Found object. Siena 1993. The text reads, “Andrea I love you always.” The thousand lire note at that time was worth about 50p. Italy converted to the Euro in 2002. I wondered about the story behind this. There are multiple possibilities. At the time I assumed it was written by a man or a woman to a women have since found out it’s primarily used as mans name meaning “manly”, “masculine” and “brave” (from ancient Greek “andreios/ἀνδρεῖος.” The plot thickens. And since gender definitions and sexuality’s have become somewhat more complex. The gesture is timeless though. How to I love thee? How do I speak my truth? Do I cast my message to the winds of fortune? I hope it ended well.
A dear neighbour of ours at Cressingham an Italian called Andrea, his story did not end well. He was shy to the point of taciturn. Two years ago he committed suicide in his flat. Only after that I heard that he had mental health problems, that he had been sectioned on one occasion and at some point was working in the kitchen of the Maudsley Hospital that was treating him. I only started to see him when he broke a leg, not sure how. I’d see him on the way to or from the shop. We would always chat for a while and he seemed cheerful enough. I had no idea of the dark gods that rules him. Had I could have signposted him to services and told him I know the dark night too, call on me if your having a tough time.
When he died the council tried to contact his relatives, or so they say, it was months before the funeral. Thick snow lay on the ground, the sort of snow that silences. Only two of us made the funeral as there was a mix up of dates. With the administrator we put together a service. Some classical music, a prayer and Bella Ciao. I thought they might object to the latter but it was fine. I said a few words beginning with as god is my witness as I felt who is here to lament this life passing. There was no one to add their memories and celebrate the life of this quiet, sweet man. Dear Andrea rest in peace.
So it’s back to the U.K. which is in my opinion becoming increasingly dystopic. As if the “Rule of six” wasn’t sinister sounding enough. I don’t sense much disquiet, but then I haven’t been scrolling. Maybe being away is giving me a different perspective but it all sounds very dark. What’s this I hear about a curfew?
As I prepare to return; I’ve been in Rome and Pineto on the Adriatic coast either side of a yoga retreat at the idyllic Casa Amrita. I can’t help thinking wa guarn? I mean it really- what is going on? Yesterday read in Brixton Buzz about panic buying of toilet roll due to the threat of another lockdown. Have we learnt nothing?
Caught a pronouncement live from Bojo mid retreat but didn’t wanna engage with that at the time. Looked like he had got a memo to drop the clown act. Heard him wrap the words humanity and spiritual around the threat of £10 000 fines and if necessary the army on the streets like wrapping a semi automatic in cotton wool. And we’re still cracking jokes about it? Like this:
My concern is this: Whatever your stance on the virus we cannot let this situation act as a cover for a descent into a surveilled, militarised “new normal” with a government issuing draconian powers. Oops that’s already happened. Above all we must not descent into fear. It feeds the darkness. Hold onto Love.
The experience of the lockdowns and post lockdowns have given us the opportunity to come together in a new way, to build the foundations of a new world; in the recognition of the value of previously undervalued workers, a focus on health and wellbeing, on those we love, new skills, new habits, the extensive mutual aid. A reboot if you like or a refrag, I guess a reboot would be full system change.
Im wondering what has been the reaction to this? What have Liberty had to say? What about trade unions? What about the Labour Party? What about communities? Really don’t wanna see a return to the lockdown semi Stasi attitudes and behaviour, rare but there nevertheless.
I don’t know who said it, though it was repeated in Tahrir in the autumn of 2011, we either go backward or forward. We cannot stay here. Of course as “Nothing is constant except change.” So what will it be?
We are seeing how we will have to fight to see our way out of Covid to hold onto decent jobs, pay, dignity and justice. Nurses have been carved out of the public sector pay review. They have been on the streets. While culture workers are taking on the might of the Southbank and the Tate. Workers in out cultural institutions need our support. Art is essential. You can donate to the strike fund for the latter here. Poetry on the Picket line are all over this check their Facebook page for updateshttps://en-gb.facebook.com/PicketLinePoets/
And the beloved poetry library on the Southbank has been put on ice! National Poetry Library SOS #NPLSOS
“We, the International Poetry Community, have grave concerns about the future of the UK’s National Poetry Library in the wake of Southbank Centre’s ruthless redundancy programme. The imminent job cuts and operational plans will ensure the library’s physical collection remains inaccessible to the public until at least April 2021. There will be no remote enquiry service. This will seriously undermine its essential operations along with its mission to collect all poetry published in the UK…”
Today, Thursday 1st October is National Poetry Day. The theme is vision. They’ll be a whole lot going on. Write, read or #ShareAPoem more info
I’m in the quaint coastal town of Pineto heading off later to the beach. Pineto, and all the coastal towns near here, were rebuilt after the Nazis dropped their payload off bombs as they fled in defeat at the end of the Second World War.
Italian building of new towns beats that in the U.K. if my home town is anything to go by. Here shops and restaurants are open though quite I’m told this is because it’s the end of the season as much as Covid. Masks are required inside buildings, it’s the only sign really of this global calamity as I’ve ignored newspapers and the TV in my room.
I was due to return yesterday but unready to leave the sun, the ease, the feeling of well being behind. Here I can swim, walk and cycle with ease. I sleep well though the full moon has left me feeling a bit unsteady. Time stretches out. I am content in my solitude.
Stop press: Return from my travels late at night. The retreat exceeded my expectations, Pineto was refreshing and relaxing and Rome overwhelming in a good way. Return to a ghost town. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the High Street so empty except at four in the morning. Return in much better shape.
There is a chill in the air and a fine drizzle that clings to my clothes, the pavements gleam. A few people scurry past heads down. Buses pull in and pull away. Hardly anyone gets on and off. There are too many going nowhere, people I recognise as vulnerable and homeless. Feel I’ve nothing to give, no energy to listen, no cash, can’t even break a smile.
The Standard reported a week ago, “Free train, Tube and bus rides considered to incentivise Londoners to return to shops and offices.” Seriously what is this obsession with getting people back to work in offices? I’m not knocking free public transport just the reason for introducing it. Clearly the workers have voted with their feet. Quite lit-er-al-ly. And who can blame them. My experience of commuting in London was pure hell. Especially the tube. No one wants to stand nose to armpit for 30-45 minutes everyday. The constant danger of being groped, the bad breath, the scrum to get on, the struggle to get off.
Office culture – is that really something to crave? Ive worked in advice centres, which were offices of sorts but I hardly imagine large open plan offices with social life confined to the water dispenser are life enhancing. We keep hearing poor Pret – oh please! Is that what London is really about. If, when, it’s ever in ruins will the archeologists of the day whoop with glee – I think I’ve found the remains of a Costa Coffee, of a Starbucks or a Pret a Manger? No, I don’t think so.
One great thing about the lockdown was it gave us pause for thought. A kinda ccreboot or perhaps it was just a refrag. We focused on what really mattered; those you love, health and wellbeing, a responsibility for self and others, a growing respect for key workers. Not to mention a (somewhat enforced) reduction in the compensatory, ego boosting, often pointless and sometimes puerile consumerism that arguably feeds and conceals the neoliberal nightmare we’ve been living in now for some 40 years.
Let’s have more of that say the Tories, consume, consume, BUY YOUR MORNING COFFEE. Man are they panicking. They’re tried Eat to Help Out, (as a slogan that really sucks as a policy is questionable.) I’ve seen posters plugging the merits of office life, and now this. BUT why else the panic? Because they want us to be happy? Really? And who is gonna pay the transport workers? Don’t worry about them, Give them a pay cut! How about some redundancies!
There’s a climate emergency and a) the government haven’t the time to debate The Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill immediately introduced by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas but they make time to discuss this piece of unnecessary social engineering and b) simultaneously introduce more carbon burning measures. People have to travel to the offices don’t they?
The CEE Bill has been tabled for a second reading and a debate on the 12th March 2021. This is good though in my opinion no debate is needed. Let’s not forget how during lockdown we embraced the clean air, the silences, heard the birds sing again… THERES NO PRET ON A DEAD PLANET. Yeah that.
This is a great one to play with! Bounce off that image or the headline, or make “skitter off the sea bottom” your first line. If you like write from the point of view of an isopod, what a great word!
Set a timer for fifteen minutes and freewrite and see where it takes you. Once you have a draft, consider what you have just made. Is it for just for fun? Or does it feel it desires development, does it welcome a form?
Rules of the freewrite: Just write, don’t think. Keep your hand moving, don’t stop or cross out, don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Don’t think, just write, follow the words just see what comes.
Massive ‘Darth Vader’ sea bug pulled from waters near Indonesia
“Buglike marine creatures that skitter across the sea bottom can grow to be as big as puppies, and a newly described species is one of the largest ever seen.
These crustaceans are known as isopods; the order Isopoda includes around 10,000 species that live in diverse habitats on land and in the ocean, and they can range in size from just a few millimeters to nearly 20 inches (500 mm) long. Of the ocean-dwelling isopods, the genus Bathynomus contains the biggest species; the newfound isopod, which turned up in the Indian Ocean in 2018, is among the largest of the Bathynomus species ever seen in the wild.
Named Bathynomus raksasa (“rakasa” is the Indonesian word for “giant”), the sizable sea bug measures about 13 inches (330 mm) in length, on average. It is the first new giant isopod species to be described in more than a decade, and is the first of these isopod behemoths to be found in waters near Indonesia, scientists reported in a new study.”
Anterior view of Bathynomus raksasa, a new species of giant isopod.
As XR begin a new rebellion already I hear cries of let us just get on with it. If you feel XR are disruptive or even Covid has disrupted our lives, and sorry to lapse into cliche, you ain’t seen nothing yet! I don’t want be the harbinger of doom, gloom and disaster but we all really gotta get real. There’s gonna be no baking of banana bread to get us out of climate change gone unchecked. The disruption it can bring will make Covid disruption look like a walk in the park, which it kinda was for a lot of us, except of course the bereaved, the essential workers and many, so many in the global south.
Recently I’ve been wondering what the wild temperature swings could be doing to crops. Like one day it’s 35 degrees next day it’s 19. Not too mention our bodies. This article, Cereal yields set to hit 30-year low as weather takes toll explores the effect of the extreme weather variations across the year and the results. Think a few days of supermarket stockpiling at the beginning of lockdown was bad? What if there’s nothing to fill the empty shelves?
There is a solution and it’s simple. #ActNow. This is an emergency!
The effects of the climate emergency are being felt right now all over the world. The last ice sheet in Canada was lost a few weeks ago. California is on fire, floods in India are of an unprecedented size. In the Amazon, the lungs of the world, more and more land is being lost to loggers every day. I won’t be surprised if the plagues of locusts swarming over at least three countries in East Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia) is done to the mad global weather. And in the midst of a pandemic do you think war has stopped? Look at Palestine. Look at Yemen.
Man it almost feels biblical. What makes the end of days a new beginning? Us! Just us! Justice. Social justice, equality, dignity, empathy, peace and a just transition to a low carbon, fossil fuel free world. We are the 99.99%. Mother Earth is screaming for help. Or we can just take the attitude fuck it all, our children are the last generation, so what! Or we can act.
Some days I wonder if we deserve this planet, y’know that scene in the Matrix I when Smith is torturing Morpheus??? We have a choice. It’s as simple as that. We are, potentially, all Neo. I know deep down everyone feels love in their heart, everyone loves someone, love is what we need now. And love is an action. Love is an action. Love is an action. Love is the way #ActNow #Unity #DemandAJustTransition
I was hoping August would be down time, but in a world where everything was on pause, in a funny kind of way though we were stopped it felt nothing stopped. I was plotting to escape next week to a wonderful retreat in the mountains in Andalucia, but the tutor got sick. So that was that. Perhaps for the best as am still experiencing significant fatigue and a bucket full of self doubt.
Stop press: Am off to Italy! It’s all been last min but going to a yoga retreat at Casa Amrita in Abruzzo. It looks amazing and the trajectory of Covid figures suggest it’s safer than Spain in any case. It’s been a frantic scramble booking flights and hotels, as I plan to go via Rome on the outward journey and return via Pineto coming back. Plus investigating the bus services as Casa Amrita is somewhat off the beaten track. I considered the train to Rome but don’t fancy that under these conditions.
September greets us with an XR rebellion in London, Cardiff and Manchester. All month long. Central to this is a call to Parliament to back the The Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (CEE Bill), with actions in Parliament Square 1st September 12.00pm – 5th September 5.00pm. For a list of all events see https://extinctionrebellion.uk/act-now/events/
Dates for the diary
Sunday 6th September 4.00 – 5.30pm
Live from the Butchery presents Sophie Herxheimer, Rishi Dastidar with Kevin Reid
The 2020 Tell It Slant Poetry FestivalA new one on me but again with “slant” in the title gotta be worth check out.
Hosted by The Emily Dickinson Museum The schedule is out now and includes headliners Ada Limón, Jericho Brown, Kimaya Diggs, Franny Choi, Shayla Lawson, and as is tradition, the Emily Dickinson Marathon!
This is a simple exercise just to get the pen moving or to break through a block. I often use step one as a warm up but it can be taken further.
Without thinking too much pick a colour, a place, a game, a fruit, an animal and write a sentence or two that includes some or all of the five elements, take no more than five minutes.
Take a phrase from one of your sentences and bounce off that or take it in another direction and write for 10 minutes.
Read back what you have written and cross out any unnecessary words take no more than five minutes.
Consider what you have created, you have just pulled a rabbit out of a hat! It might be a draft of something, or the beginning of a draft. Or it can just be the workout you do before a run. Keep it either way, you may not know yet what it could become.
The pandemic has thrown a light on inequality in the U.K. and worldwide. In the U.K. the government seem determined to entrench rather than ameliorate inequality with breathtakingly callous actions regarding the NHS. Not content to reinstate parking charges for hospital staff they have carved them out of a public sector pay rise see this report from Reel News
“Anger over NHS workers being left out of a public sector pay rise is spreading throughothe country. The Brighton demo seen here was one of forty demonstrations all over the UK, the biggest one being in London (photos at end of video).
This campaign is completely rank and file and nurses led, but huge respect to GMB Southern Region for supporting the call for a 15% pay rise and a ballots across all unions for strike action. As they say in the video: if your union is not preparing to ballot you, contact them en masse to demand that they do.
The next actions are on Wednesday August 26, a day for nationwide workplace rallies at NHS hospitals and community services. Keep up to date with the campaign using the links at the end of the video.” See https://www.facebook.com/ReelNews/
“Beauty abounds in Jericho Brown’s Pulitzer Prize winning collection, despite the evil that pollutes the everyday. The Tradition questions why and how we’ve become “accustomed to terror: in the bedroom, the classroom, the workplace, and the movie theater. From mass shootings to rape to the murder of unarmed people by police, Brown interrupts complacency by locating each emergency in the garden of the body, where living things grow and wither—or survive. In the urgency born of real danger, Brown’s work is at its most innovative. His invention of the duplex—a combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues—is an all-out exhibition of formal skill, and his lyrics move through elegy and memory with a breathless cadence. Jericho Brown is a poet of eros: here he wields this power as never before, touching the very heart of our cultural crisis.”https://www.jerichobrown.com/
Today would have been my fathers 85 birthday. Almost 12 years ago Dad silently slipped away. Approx 1.00pm on the 6/9/2008. The death certificate says the ninth, we all knew that was wrong but does it matter? A bit of detective work on my part over the days immediately following his death revealed he had his hair cut that morning so was in his best togs and cheerful according to the hairdresser that popped in that day at 11.00. Later he cooked, ate and washed up; evidence: one pan, one plate to the side of the draining board, one knife, one folk, a potato peeler and a serving spoon stood like soldiers next to them on this stainless steel draining board in the fitted kitchen he designed and installed. DIY must have been named after him, he did the lot, including the central heating.
Dad’s life by this time had become one long repetitive routine; up at 6.00am, drink tea and doze in his chair. A banana for breakfast at 9.00 and more tea. Radio 4 all morning, blaring out as he found it hard to hear above the tinnitus and increasing deafness. At 11.30 he would start making dinner, a couple of slices of cooked meat, boiled potatoes and one veg; carrots, broccoli or peas. Then the TV would go on at midday and he would sit in front of that flickering screen and have a couple of beers, cheap Carlsberg, bought in bulk from Tesco’s, decanted into a pint mug and doze again. At 5.30 he’d make himself a sandwich and a cup of tea. Have another beer at 6.00, one at 8.00, one at 10.00pm. We found a crate of 48 cans of lager in the larder, half a dozen of pale ales and a couple of bottles of Theakston Old Peculier. That pretty much took care of the wake. His life had shrunk to this and it pained me to watch it. I’d notice how he’d glance at the clock, when the little hand reached the top at certain hours, heave himself out of the chair and go and pour himself a beer. When I visited lunch time was adjusted to 1.00pm. I could see the strain, he would be on edge. I took with me what must have seemed strange fare to share with him; hummus, kiwi fruits and mango, peppered mackerel, cherry yogurt and tiramisu, courgettes and cherry tomatoes, brie and blue veined smelly cheeses, black beans, spaghetti and wild rice and wild mushrooms. It took a lot of encouragement but he would try them to give him credit.
I would also take a couple of bottles of craft beer, which I knew he liked, the more obscurely named the better. Trouble is he didn’t drink for the joy of it anymore. This was methodical self medication. A few beers used to pull humour from him, he’d say, to us kids, “Ohhhh, the moon is full tonight, I goes mad when the moon is full, I gets hairs on the back of my hands. Ask yer mum, she’ll tell you. Have you got hairs on the back of your hands? We’d look down at our baby hands and at each other. He’d imitate a howl, prowl round the room until mum chuckling said, “Oh, Tom stop it, you’ll scare them!” But I could tell she loved it. Loved him being like that, not work worn from overtime, swearing under his breath on every step of the steep stairs, doing what she called his, “Alf Garnets,” which we could never work out if he was serious about or not he was a Labour man at heart.
Many times I’d say, “You really should drink water, you can’t just live on tea and beer, what about your kidneys….” His response was always the same, “This modern nonsense – they didn’t drink water in the middle ages, they all drank beer, even kids, the water killed them.” Why had I no response to this I don’t know. Why couldn’t I say, “ Yer and they dropped dead at 35, don’t be ridiculous. A joke was what was needed here. “Fresh air kills,” was another of his obscure comments that baffled me as he’d fling open the windows, summer or winter. I see that now, defying him was beyond me then. Unknown to me then, at the time of his death by heart failure, he was in stage 4 of what is known as Chronic Kidney Disease, diagnosed at some point earlier that year. His kidneys must have been like wrinkled raisins.
I figure he got the diagnosis about the time I was experiencing a bout of excruciating anxiety and depression. Torn and crushed by an intercontinental love thing gone awry in a labyrinth of misunderstanding, anger, fear and agony during the task of organising a book launch. I told Dad how wretched I felt. It was the first time I’d ever done that. Why then I don’t know; I was worried sick about him, perhaps I thought if I was open he would reciprocate.
At that time I went to bed pretty much every night those four years after Mum died imagining him stumbling on the stairs, laying in a crumpled heap at the bottom, perhaps still conscious, unable to move. I noticed a wobble in his gait as he shuffled across the living room making his way to go upstairs. The stairs would creak under his weight. I could see his suffering but couldn’t find a way in to ask how do you really feel?
Only now I recognise he too was ravaged by the two headed monster we merely call anxiety and depression. And that even then I still really needed his approval and acceptance. Needed him to understand why I was struggling, why it had taken me so long to get so not very far. One time when I mentioned my writing he said, gruffly “Stop playing at it,” I was devastated, I had been published for the first time, submitting regular film reviews to Creative Week., a monthly publication now defunct. This seemed to count for nothing because I was only paid expenses. Now I see I was learning my craft not failing. When the editor offered me a paid job I turned it down, took a teaching position instead. I was too ill to do both. Mum was dying and, and what? I guess I wanted to show her, before she left, I had a “proper job” and not prove her wrong, because although she supported my writing by then the message from my teenage years still had a hold on me – people like us don’t write…
When I surveyed that empty room after he’d gone, after swiftly packing a bag, racing for a train, it echoed of emptiness. I asked myself, “Where is his beer mug?” It puzzled me for years. Why the rush I don’t know, he was already dead, of course yes I do know; I had to get there before anyone removed the evidence, vital clues. I packed irrationally taking along with meds and toothbrush, my camera, Wellington boots for the garden, post it notes, the latter why? He had asked me at some point to label the filing cabinet in large print as his sight was going with the cataracts.
I realised yesterday his beer mug would have been on the round table next to him, the one he made for his mum and dad that now sits at my bedside. I guess my brother had moved it when he found my dad. It would have been the sort of thing he would have done; pour away the stale beer before the undertaker arrived. I meant to ask him the last time I saw him but it hardly seemed timely after seeing Romeo and Juliette top themselves. Or perhaps it was. For my part I disposed of the packs of paracetamol I found in the bedroom and bathroom, the empty packs in the waist paper basket upstairs and down. Evidence that his last weeks were spend in pain. The sciatica I assume. I felt that was just too much to bear or share with siblings that were already grieving.
How did I know the precise time? Besides the routine, there next to his chair lay the Radio Times. In his own peculiar bordering-on-obsessive way he’d circle the shows he wanted to listen to or see. It was open at the TV page for the afternoon of the 6th November. I have that somewhere with the trinkets, coins and some of the sweet little gifts he’d give us; never at birthdays or Christmas just as and when. A silvered bottle opener in the shape of a dolphin keeps company with the concave breadboard scoured with age in my kitchen.
In those last years so lonely and so alone. So unable to speak his grief he softened. One time we were watching the football, a women’s league or perhaps the final. One of the players; lanky with dreads that reached half way down her back, hammered the ball into the back of the net from way outside the 18 yard box. For a moment I froze. Expectant. Preparing to make a response to something like, “Bloody wogs, a wonder when she got off the banana boat?” I glanced at him and he said, “Good goal!” Nodding with genuine approval. That father had died a long time before.
He endured Lara Croft with me and joked about it. A good bad film. Sometimes I could get him to step into the garden with me. I knew it was pointless to ask him so I’d go out and pull at endless streams of ivy and bind wind that was smothering the evergreens. Eventually he would come out and watch, standing their silent, smoking. He’d smoke, incidentally, the day long. Any comment on this fell on deaf ears. Fell on excuses, the patches itch he’d say, I guess when you smoke and where a patch that’s quite likely!
He wasn’t entirely alone he would tell me about the visits from his sister, my sister, rarely with a good word for either of them. He’d tell me about visits from Emma and the twins from next door whom he adored, a feeling which was obviously mutual. They had bonded in a way I didn’t entirely understand, the girls would pop in regularly while he and Emma shared a frank openness. In the days after his death Emma told me, with a teary laugh, “I’m trying to lose weight, your Dad told me I was getting meaty.” “He said that! “ I replied, “Didn’t you mind?” “No, it’s true.”
I guess it may have been the first funeral for the twins at 10 years old; identical like his brothers, but blonde with apple skin. Emma had dressed them impeccably, I don’t know how she could afford it, and they each carried a red rose to place on the coffin. At the wake the girls wriggled together in his armchair giggling. One of them said to me, “I can see him, he’s there” and pointed to the ceiling, I had no idea what she really meant.
I imagine now, he must have been pulling faces, relishing in making them laugh. Someone put on Charlie Parker, maybe me. I can remember the times he’d said, “Have you heard of Charlie Parker? The Bird they called him. Now he was great.” (It is entirely possible he didn’t realise The Bird was black….) When he said this I would look at him blankly with no context for this comment. I might say, “Oh.” With the advent of the internet I googled it and bought a three CD set for him one Christmas. It was unopened until the wake.
Despite all the drivel from siblings; the family expect Christian funeral, (he was a committed atheist) he got the send off he wanted in the end. I looked around the room and saw so much laughter and colour; the funeral dress code was wear-what-you-like. Kinda New Orleans style, like the movie, what was the movie, one of the Bond movies. He’d say, “When I go, I wanna go like that,” At first I’d cring, not wanting to know about that, or say, “Da-ad, don’t!” Eventually I could manage a weak smile.
Truth is he never really left I reckon til last year. Not being a believer guess he probably wondered what on earth was going on. Emma told me that night, the night of the 6th of November, when his body would have still be turning cold yet to be discovered, one of the pencils he gave to her girls, engraved with their names, flew across the room and landed at her feet. “Bloody hell, I thought,” she said, “we must have a ghost.”
A year ago in Andalusia, I decided to do something about this. One night I met him at the foot of the mountain I could see from bedroom window at the writing retreat. Slowly we made our way to the top. He grumbled all the way. It took a very long time believe me. At the summit I said, “Look can’t you see they are all waiting for you?” Mum and his parents stood together reaching out. I’m not sure how he got up there because, though he grew lighter as we ascended, I could hardly have lifted him, he had a build like John Wayne, and no angels came down shimmering. Somehow in the end he reached up and he was gone. Incidentally since that time the heavy fatigue I’ve experienced for 30 odd years has almost entirely left me.i guess I’d carried him all those years. Before mum died she said, “Look after your dad, keep an eye on Michael and be gentle with Sue.” Who was looking after me?
He comes here sometimes, I can smell him. We rarely talk. Well, there is some kind of soundless exchange that makes meaning and sometimes words. If we did talk would it still be one sided as it often was in life? He used to berate what he called “the talkers,” The experts, novelists, Nobel prize winners, appearing on Radio 4. “Never done a proper job like me what do they know! They just talk, They know nothing!” And I cant help wondering what he thinks when he sees me now; talking or performing, to audiences or on radio. Am I now just another “talker” to him. Something tells me not if he has continued to soften, to lighten.
To those who couldn’t or wouldn’t see him. Refused to cross the threshold of that smoky room. I forgive you. Sometimes I can’t, its a process. When it is particularly hard, I fall back on, as Tara Brach says, “though I cannot forgive you now it is my intention to forgive.”
I made my peace with Dad sometime ago, the moon was full as it is now. I heard myself say, “It’s ok, I understand now, there’s is nothing to forgive.” He looked down, a slight frown on his face. He floated maybe a few feet from the floor, I had to look up to see his face, the rest of his form was indistinct. “Dad,” I said, “You almost look like the Cheshire Cat!”
He smiled and said, “Well then, you must be Alice.”
“No Enith,” I replied.
“They’re all maaad you know, all maaaaad!” He said with a wicked grin. And with that he faded away. I knew he would be back.
I’m pretty sure he’s here right now.
Excerpt from Conversations with my Father, a work in progress.
And so it goes on we stare at an uncertain future. Life goes on but it’s not life as we have known it before. Following months of government intransigence, incompetence, we now see sudden and what I can only call back of the envelope decisions with little evidence base and absolutely no regard for the chaos it causes people regarding local lockdowns and travel corridors.
Meanwhile I take much joy in seeing the fruits of my labour in the garden, not that my labours have been that arduous. In fact I take little credit for what I see emerge. The growth I witness seems little short of miraculous to see the effect of water, fresh air, soil and sunshine. I’m responsible only for the watering, the rest is I guess is divine influence and science, yes of course. Gardening is the gift that just keeps on giving.
At a recent meeting for Poets for the Planet we discussed promoting diversity and our #BeginAfresh campaign. I have been slow to come to this as I’ve been having a Twitter break for the sake of my mental health which is still a bit shaky but much improved. We’re writing and sharing poems about how we change our lives to combat the climate crisis. You are welcome to join us. It’s also a place to share nature poems, eco poetry by yourself or others.
Well done you guys! Though it’s better in a bottle to be fair.
Reading this brought back memories of Zipoliti, Mejico, 1987. Sitting at Casa Teofila one night with two fishermen and Carlito, a mystic who made jewellery from found objects on the beach to sell to the travellers and a guy who told me he traveled back and forth from the US for a reason he is reluctant to disclose. “Import – export,” is all he would say.
We had been hanging out a while when a large rumbling vehicle drives by, it transpires it’s spraying the wilting crops. It’s been three years without significant rainfall, but they are spraying, I’m told, pesticides. No one mentions this instead everyone puts their thumb in the top of their bottle of Corona and gestures to me to do the same. I’m like, “Porque, que pasa?” Then the explanation comes.
I’m thinking what the hell are we breathing in then? Attempt to ask; I don’t know the conditional tense but it’s understood in any case. “Eh, no pasa nada Anita.” Roughly this translates as, “Nothing to worry about.” Shrugs all round. So Mexican. Hate to generalise.
Perhaps so Zipoliti, where the rubbish was not collected because of an oversight by the government according to some. Instead it’s just dumped in the bushes, the place where many would have a shit, where the travellers were directed to have a shit, where the few pigs ate the shit. One time I was startled, pants down, by an inquisitive pig.
Zipoliti where garlic is a cure all. Have a cut; wash with seawater and wipe with a clove. Have a fever, take garlic soup with a raw egg broken and stirred. Eat a clove of garlic each day, come what may.
Ziploliti where there was so much intrigue, love and magic. On the wall of Teofilas was a representation of the yin yang sign – two lizards each chasing the tail of the other. The mystery of the import – exporter was revealed when Teofila had to go to the bank in Puetro Angel, the next village, and lines of powder appeared on the table. I heard one of them say, “Que precioso, el rosa!”
Many of my questions to local people would be followed by a shrug. Followed by my childlike, “But why?” The answer was always the same, “Asi es,” it is what it is. I found this mildly frustrating the acceptance of so much poverty, unsanitary conditions and neglect. One afternoon Carlito took me to a meal on the beach. I appeared to be the guest of honour. A pretty grand affair. Fresh fish, fresh lobster and crab and salads and of course tequila.
Small children, hard to say their ages, ran around the table but didn’t join us. I couldn’t help noticing some of them had bald patches on the head. I asked our host why. “They don’t get enough vitamins… asi es.” Suddenly I didn’t feel very hungry. All this show for the gringita, I was the only woman at the table. Why? It was often hard to know who to trust, to know their motivation.
In general I found the locals hard to read. Teofila was sometimes gruff with me but as a single parent with four children and a restaurant to maintain that is not surprising. Our arrangement was washing up a few hours a day for a hammock. Travellers came and went. Some Europeans settled here including three Swiss guys who only seemed to have one interest which was to buy weed, smoke weed and sell weed.Their main man, Guru, the others told me lived on a rock for a month. They pointed it out to me. A long way down the beach with no shelter. This perplexed me how do you live on a rock? How?
Of those I met t was only Carlito I truly trusted, one day when the sun was high and sea calm he asked me had I heard of peyote? I said yes. He asked, would II like to try it? Of course I said yes. “Now?” I added. “No, not now, at a better time,” with a smile that seemed to find amusing and forgive my assumption. One night when the moon was full, the tides were high and a storm approaching as we sat on the beach he said, “Are you ready to meet the little man?” Hearing this I imagined it would look like a mandrake but inside he pulled from one of his many pockets something which looked like a dried button mushroom, broke off a small portion and handed it to me. Broke off a larger portion for himself, we washed it down with Corona.
In 1953 Aldous Huxley first tried mescaline under the supervision of the psychiatrist Humphry Osmond. He described the experience in The Doors of Perception published the following year. He documents it showed him “for a few timeless hours the outer and the inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large … an experience of inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual.”
I had yet to read this book, though I’d heard of it, and had no idea I was about to enter another reality, another realm I still have access to. It opened doors of perception that have never really closed. I understood “asi es” on a whole other level, but that is another story recorded in my poem Que Onda in the unfinished mini collection Violent Beauty. A work in progress.
Wrote this some time during lockdown when, like so many of us, I found the gift that is growing things. I’ve begun to appreciate the healing it brings especially in the circumstances of so much death and suffering. I planted wildflowers, jasmine, lavender and a sunflower. The sunflower was a gift from a neighbour, the lavender, a cutting from another neighbour, has not fared well but the rest is a riot and a daily sense of wonder. I’m blessed to live in a place with such generous neighbours.
A poem and blog post by Anne Enith Cooper contact me here
As lockdown eases I reflect on lockdown achievements which pretty much boil down to getting an even tan, growing a sunflower to the heady height of three foot (so far) and mastering the yoga headstand. Ok there has been a few poems, a couple of open mics, a couple of black lives matter protests. I must not forget I entered lockdown with a considerable amount of anxiety, depression, IBS, insomnia and fatigue, before I get all judgey on myself.
Much of this has abated due to a cocktail of daily meditation and yoga, bit of walking, smoothies and supplements. Going anywhere is still an achievement given my current energy levels, the fatigue is the last symptom of my recent malaise to shift entirely. Nevertheless this month sees me returning to Groundswellworking from home on their citizen journalism project with https://onourradar.org/
While pubs and restaurants are due to reopen we are urged by the clown thatmasquerades as our premiere to show restraint, his actual words being, “Let’s not blow it now,”So just when you thought government advise could not get anymore fuzzy than the lamentable, “Stay alert,” here you have it. And of course if it all goes horribly wrong it’s all our fault for getting carried away. That message is coming over loud and clear.
Though pubs comes only second only to hugs (and perhaps the hairdresser) as things I missed during lockdown can’t see myself in a pub anytime soon but am boosted by the announcement that international travel is due to open up and I allow myself the luxury of contemplating a return to Cortijo Romero Andalusia, Spain, due to reopen this month, for some spiritual sustenance. Perhaps in the autumn…..
Play with this one; use the headline or image as a prompt. Set a timer for ten, fifteen or twenty minutes and freewrite and see where it takes you. Then consider what you have just made. Is it for just for fun, or does it feel it needs development, does it welcome a form?
Rules of the freewrite. Keep your hand moving, don’t stop or cross out, don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Don’t think, just write, follow the words just see what comes.
Strikes me the kite is a metaphor for our existence; the sight of a kite fills one with a joyous buoyancy, a moment to pause, to escape. Yet it is an illusion of freedom, the kite like us earthbound during, as some would call it, this earth walk, this life.
This image was created with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 in 2015 with x20 zoom fully extended. Shot in Brockwell Park. This is a great little pocket camera, very light and versatile. It has since died and been replaced.
May slams into June in a blaze of protest originating in Minneapolis, Minnesotaas a black man called George Floyd dies after being held with a knee against his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.Black Lives Matter protests sweep across the USA, through Europe to Hong Kong and Australia. They are large, they are young and they are racially mixed. More than solidarity the protests respond to their national and local issues. We meet in Windrush Square Brixton to take a knee. Statues fall and a million conversations blossom.
Health still not great and as the sunshine that had been sustaining me gives way to bleak grey skies my mood drops. I hear the air ambulance less often of a night. I plant a herb garden and feel abnormally proud of it. I’m given a tomato plant and find myself on trend if the number of tomato memes are anything to go by. Watching the miracle of growth is an antidote in the presence of so much death. Only the USA and Brazil exceeds the U.K. in coronavirus deaths at the time of writing.
The lockdown appears to be easing but are we ready? Non essential shops open 14th June because the shopping experience is so vital, like air, like water, like what? Like non- essential items one assumes. We are all so easily seduced it would seem. I include myself in this. On the way home from a blood test I buy a day glow pink football in Poundland because it’s pretty along with knickers and hand sanitiser.
And of course it is the 36 month anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire on the 14th June. Still so many in temporary accommodation, still so many homes with unsafe cladding, still no arrests, no prosecutions.
The pandemic has focused attention on our health in both mind and body. This is a good thing. Generally speaking in “advanced” capitalist society’s we tend to treat our mind/body as a resource to plunder rather than something to nurture and maintain. The result is seen in higher and higher cancer ratesandmental health conditions, both serious and common. It is widely documented that the pandemic has furtherIncreased the latter.
We are in societies where profit is put before people therefore it should come as no surprise that during the pandemic we’ve seen political decisions that appear to put livelihoods before lives.While it is important to challenge political decisions with action there are things we can do personally to weather the storm of this uncertain time and the fears and anxieties it has produced.
What is gratitude practice?
One recognised method is keeping a gratitude journal, or just writing in a regular journal and making a note of at least three things, or just one to begin with, for which we are thankful about during the day that has just passed before you go to bed or the following morning.
Alternatively write on scraps of paper and put it in a jar.
Write on post it’s and pin them to a wall.
Share your experiences with family or friends around the kitchen table.
Create and share in a private facebook group for your nearest and dearest.
How can it help?
Many studies have demonstrated that a gratitude practice reduces stress, anxiety and depression and boosts feelings of optimism, happiness and ability to cope.
“People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems.”
We tend to focus on the negative particularly if we are stressed or anxious. Perhaps it’s been a good day until a neighbour blows up at you about your ivy growing over their porch. Instead of letting all the good be blocked out by this black cloud, take a deep breath consider what else happened? Reflect on the taste of your morning coffee, a kind message on a card from an aunt, the woman on the bus that complimented your bag, a great song you heard for the first time on the radio, and write it down. Be specific as possible.
Basically the more we are grateful for the more we notice things around like the delicate white flowers springing from the hedgerow on the way to the shop or the scudding clouds in the deep red sunset you can see from the kitchen.
The sciencey bit
Practicing gratitude is a form of positive psychology. It doesn’t mean denying any difficult feelings experienced or ignoring any abuse. It just means reducing the tendency to focus on the negative and rebalancing your perceptions. It won’t, on its own, tackle poverty or injustice or inequality but it can equip you to take on all or any challenges even if it’s just the rude and annoying neighbour. It moves your brain from vacillating between the drive and threat functions into soothe. More about that in another post.
We’ve all seen the movies where a virus sweeps the world and a geeky looking kid from a single parent family in a trailer park has the antidote in his blood and when he’s rescued from the bad guys, who plan to profiteer from it, by a band of eccentrics it’s all over in a couple of days, the kids parents get back together and everyone is saved.
Yet this is the real thing; the UK has been on lockdown a month and some of us face being at home for many more. How can we look after ourselves at this time? We are social beings, not used to anything like this. It’s not just our physical health at risk in this unprecedented situation. Fears for our health and isolation can impact very badly on mental health. Health professionals are predicting a mental health crisis if this goes on. The advice from the Lambeth Living Well Network Alliance for good mental health is called the Five Ways to Wellbeing: Connect, Take Notice, Give, Be Active, Keep Learning. Let’s have a look at how these can apply at this time.
This may be our biggest challenge for those at home. On the upside all you need is a mobile phone to video chat with friends and family using WhatsApp or Messenger free, download with one click from the App Store. Get creative, hold a pizza party, turn your living room into a night club or hold a quiz night. Meanwhile djs, poets and musicians are taking their shows online see social media for live shows and new multiplayer games are coming out all the time see BBC Click.
This means really being aware of things around you. It’s sometimes called mindfulness. Notice what you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste. Notice your thoughts, emotions and any sensations in your body and accept whatever you feel, don’t judge or avoid. This is the basis of meditation for free guided mediation check out Tara Brach https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditations/
This can be as simple as smiling at a stranger or helping out a friend (within a safe distance or on the phone.) You can join the Lambeth mutual aid group or the WhatsApp group in your area to give or receive. If you are generally fit and healthy volunteer to help out in the NHS. Giving gratitude or counting your blessings every day is proven to soothe the nervous system. We can come to our doors, balconies and windows every Thursday at 8pm to applaud and give thanks to all NHS workers.
There may be times when you feel like you are climbing the walls and this would be a good time to try something new. Learn a language using Babble, Duolingo or Mondly or learn to play an instrument or almost anything in YouTube. There are also many vocational online courses around and many are free at the moment. You could also exchange tips from anything from baking to bike maintenance over the phone or garden fence with a friend or neighbour.
There are tough times ahead but we can get through this together. Across the country people are have joined mutual aid and solidarity groups while literally hundreds of thousands have volunteered to help the NHS; 600 000 within the first 24 hours. We are seeing a surge of generosity, creativity and ingenuity. We can all do our bit and there will be a vaccine, but this is not a movie it will take time, in the meantime let’s look after ourselves and others as best we can. #stayathome as much as possible and stay safe with #socialdistancing
Lambeth Living Well Network Alliance Guidance 20th March 2020.
Lambeth Mental health services will only be operating a crisis and urgent only service until further notice.
If you or someone you know needs urgent support call 0800 731 2864 to speak to the mental health crisis line. Available 27/4 including weekends.
If you are with someone who has attempted suicide call 999 and stay with them until the ambulance arrives.
Solidarity in a Crisis – an out-of-hours peer support service, co-designed and co-delivered by people who use mental health services in Lambeth, providing crisis support over the phone. Freephone 0300 123 1922 text 07889 756 087 or 07889 756 083 Monday to Friday 6pm to midnight, Saturday and Sunday 12 noon to midnight.
If you can see the sepia in the sun
Shades of grey in fading streets
The radiating bloodshot in a child’s eye
The dark stains on her linen sheets
If you can see oil separate on water
The turquoise of leaves on trees
The reddened flush of your lover’s cheeks
The violet peace of calmed seas
If you can see the bluest eye
The purple in petals of the rose
The blue anger, the venom, of the volcano
The creeping orange of the lava flows
If you can see the red dust of the famished road
The white air tight strike of nike’s sign
the skin tone of a Lucien Freud
The colours of his frozen subjects in mime
If you can see the white mist of the oasis
The red, white and blue that you defended
If you can see it all through the blackest pupil
The colours stretching the rainbow suspended
If you can see the breached blue dusk
And the caramel curls in swirls of tea
Why do you say you are colour blind when you see me?
This time of forced isolation for many of us and a distancing for all of us can cause anxiety yet I believe it is prompting many of us to consider what really matters, to contemplate our role here on this earth, our purpose and direction, to consider not just why we are here but how we live our lives.
Regarding the latter there are things we can learn from Zen. I’ve have been attracted to these ideas since returningfrom the Camino de Santiago in 2000. I covered a third of the route, walking sometimes mindfully when alone, for fourteen days, to find a beautifully bound book entitled Zen among the pile of post that had accumulated in my absence. To this day I’m not sure where it came from.
I’ve had occasion to describe myself as a zen Marxist, an expression that made Alexei Sayle guffaw when I introduced myself, soz for the name drop it was just a book signing, though he never took me up on invite to speak at my workshop The Way of Words. I believe an agent was involved.
Zen is much misunderstood neither quite religion nor philosophy rather it is akin to a state of mind that has been described as “mind without mind” while The Urban Dictionary describes it as “a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind “ a state that is both peaceful and relaxed.
This is the best summary I’ve seen of how to attain that state, explained with simplicity and practicality. I interpret “sitting” as meditation practice. It strikes me as a good guide to achieving wellbeing generally and good mental health particularly at this uncertain and anxious prone time.
A month of bad hair enters another, health is on the mend finally after the lifting of excruciating abdominal pain which has plagued me since February though the mood lift I anticipated with this still eludes me. Time is no longer measured in minutes and hours but a daily death count, one that is disputed daily though to my knowledge no one has yet used the expression cover up.
The sentiment, “Isn’t it strange” long gave way to “isn’t is awful” as figures of the deaths of key workers emerge. Those that risked their lives and did not give the ultimate sacrifice, no, whose lives were taken cruelly by a combination of a deficit of PPE and bad planning. Easy to see how the figure of death as a ten foot black clad, bent backed, androgyne swinging a scythe emerged in popular culture.
Zoom seems a poor substitute for the emotional support and physical connection we all need at this time but it’s pretty much all we have. Looking forward, as XR put in in a recent newsletter, “if there is one thing that this crisis has made clear, it is that there is no going back. No going back to business as usual that pushes us further and further into the abyss of a climate and ecological loss.” And, as laid bare by this crisis, the huge inequalities and injustices. This outcome will be, imo, not automatic but something we must fight for.
Wednesday 6th May
Attending our first virtual poets from the planet meeting see Facebook for details.
Sunday 10th May
Joining Poetry from the Grassroots 7.30pm – 10.00pm for an evening of poetry that bites back.
BREAKING: Roger Robinson has won the RSLOndaatje Prize 2020 for his collection A Portable Paradise that picked up the TS Eliot prize earlier this year when we were all able to get out and about. Love Roger for his earthy wisdom and generosity. I have turned to his Think Like an Artist, a free series of tips and advice, many times.
The Royal society of Literature said in their facebook post, “Only the second time in the Prize’s history that a poetry collection has won! A big thank you to this year’s #RSLOndaatje Prize judges: Peter Frankopan, Pascale Petit and Evie Wyld and to the Prize’s sponsor Sir Christopher Ondaatje.bit.ly/RSLOndaatje”
After Warriors of the Rainbow attributed to Eyes of Fire, Cree Nation circa 19th century
And a time came when the devastated earth lay fallow
And a time came when the air and waters became clear
And a time came when streets and cities fell still
And a time came when birdsong burst from trees and hedgerows
And a time came when windows bore pictures of the rainbow
And a time came when respect was earned by action not words
And a time came when the Elders were revered
And a time came when the children led the way
And a time came when the old wisdom was remembered
And a time came when there was peace
And a time came when there was harmony
And a time came when there was love
And a time came when there was unity
And a time came when there was justice
I received the gift of this poem this morning during meditation with Earth Custodian and Standing Rock Water Protector Urtema Dolphin.
The prophesy of the Warriors of the Rainbow while usually attributed to Eyes of Fire, an old wise woman of the Cree Nation. The Cree are one of the largest American Indian groups or First Nations in North America. There are 200,000 Cree people today living in communities throughout Canada and in parts of the northern United States (North Dakota and Montana). There has been some dispute over whether the prophesy originated with the indigenous peoples or in a 1962 book of the same name by William Willoya and Vinson Brown.
This book appears to serve as an attempt to evangelise the Native American community. The book is claimed to have influenced the group Greenpeace, and there is evidence to that, and as such the argument goes undermines the claims as to the origin of the story and arguably those seeking environmental justice. This critique fails to explain why versions of the story exist among the Navajo, Cherokee and Dakota Nationsand versions can be found from Greek to Norse mythology as well as in the Bible.
In this vision of the future Eyes of Fire prophesied that one day, because of the white mans’ or Yo-ne-gis’ greed, there would come a time, when the earth becomes ravaged and polluted;the forests destroyed, birds would fall from the air, the waters become blackened, the fish poisoned in the streams, and the trees would no longer be, and humans would all but cease to exist. There would come a time when the “keepers of the legend, stories, culture rituals, and myths, and all the Ancient Tribal Customs” would be needed to restore us to health, making the earth green again. They would be the key to survival, they were the “Warriors of the Rainbow”. There would come a day of awakening when all the peoples of all the tribes would form a New World of Justice, Peace, Freedom and recognition of the Great Spirit.
Whether myth, legend or prophecy it would seem much of what is cited has come to pass. An era of inequality and violence has existed throughout the world since the advent of class society. In late capitalism corruption, poverty, consumerism, power to the few and injustice are characteristics of our so called civilisation while technological advancement has gone hand in hand with the production of weapons for mass destruction and the degradation of the planet and a climate crisis. While highly powerful information technologies can become tools for suppressing resistance. It is finally becoming apparent that this situation is not sustainable.
As a young adult in the 80’s I experienced a melting pot of ideas, cultures and lifestyles including those who dabbled with mystical and magical beliefs. Hopi Indian beliefs were popular, yet those of us on the left had a less than generous attitude towards those we rubbed shoulders with who embraced the rainbow. I remember a guy who went on to form the Norwich Direct Action Movement chuckling saying “Mel goes around putting up rainbows and when she’s not looking we take them down.” And we laughed. Nevertheless we lived together, slept together, protested together and influenced each other.
Back then you were either “fluffy” or “spiky.” It was a tough and brutal time. The miners strike 84-85 had been defeated by a combination of he brute force of the state, lies of the press and the use of prejudicial legislation. Riots ripped through the country. At Greenham Common there was what has been euphemistically referred to as “a fractious relationship” with the police. At Wapping weekly battles took place between pickets and police on Saturday nights from 86-87. In Wiltshire the battle of the beanfield took place and the memory of which entered folk history. In June 1985 police attacked The Peace Convoy on the way to Stonehenge clubbing women and children with truncheons, smashing up vehicles and arresting over 500 people in one afternoon showing us the police made no such distinctions.
At the height of the Miners Strike a friend of mine brought our attention to an article in the Guardian that claimed MI5 had a list of 10 000 radicals, militants and subversives. We found this highly entertaining, as Chris put it laughing, “Well we’re ok then they’ll never get round to us.” I would hazard a guess that today there must be anything between 10 000 and 100 000 campaigns across the country borne from the brutality of austerity, inequality and injustice. This is our army of love. This and legions of healers, coaches, spiritual teachers and light workers who recognise the struggle for the earth and for justice means confronting the very real inequalities in the world. I am grateful to have met many of these people and no longer mock the rainbow! I am convinced our time is now and another world is not only possible but on her way.
Now the largest of these First Nations is appealing for our help. The Coronavirus has hit the Navajo nation hard due to the lack of running water, overcrowding in homes and poor access to health care. There are only 12 health care facilities across 27,000 square miles. President Jonathan Nez, in a tearful appeal broadcast recently on Channel Four explained the difficulties accessing funding and health care facilities. Nez went on to explain no one could work and no money was coming in and he feared for the future of his people.
ABC news confirmed on the 21st March, ““A federal funding package in response to the virus included $40 million for tribes for epidemiology, public health preparedness, infection control, education and other things. But the money hasn’t reached tribes because there’s no mechanism for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get it to the Indian Health Service, the agency responsible for providing primary medical care to Native Americans. Tribes and tribal organizations run some hospitals and clinics under federal contract.”
Measures have been introduced to stop the spread of the virus but the scale of the challenge, described here, is immense, “The measures are part of a scramble to protect more than 150,000 people … As of Wednesday night, the virus had killed 20 people on the reservation, compared with 16 in the entire state of New Mexico, which has a population 13 times larger.” Reported in the New York Times on the 9th April.
Since the presidents emotional appeal for help a group of doctors has travelled from California and a crowd funded has been set up. It’s an opportunity for us to support the wisdom keepers who have survived genocide to bring their stories to us and kept hope alive see https://www.gofundme.com/f/NHFC19Relief