November’s writing

Death in the tarot is a 3 card, meaning he’s related to the Empress. If the Empress is the garden, a wealth of fecundity and creation, Death is what didn’t work out. And in that sense, it’s not a state, it is a process. You clear out what is dead or dying, you add it to the compost heap.  You allow it to break down. And hopefully, next season, you can use that fertilize the new round of crops or flowers or ornamental trees.
– Jessa Crispin

Autumn seems to be a time of memories.  A time of looking back to childhoods of newly sharpened pencils and fresh books of lined paper.  New starts and great hopes.  This year I promise I’ll keep my homework neat and tidy and do it all as soon as I get it.

Autumn is a time of reflection.  We look back on what we have harvested, we look back on the success of the year.  We go even further with Halloween, Sahmain or whatever you chose to call it.  We go further back than our own lives, we go back to the memories of ancestors, long gone, never known.

“Wild is the music
of autumnal winds
Amongst the faded woods.”
― William Wordsworth

There is something evocative of autumn which summons safety and warmth even though we are headed into the darkest time of the year.  The cosy aura of autumn defies the approaching winter.  The golden leaves and russet fruits, the amber sparks of fire.  Are we summoning the darkness with our lights or are we warding it off?

Every leaf speaks bliss to me 

Fluttering from the autumn tree. 

– Emily Dickinson

A tree in autumn

Branches slowly appear
Like the antlers of a stag,
Strewn with rich nutty velvet
And moss.

The scarred, dry bark
Feels the warmth of the dying sun.
Winter is almost upon us.
Another year has nearly passed.

Wearily, the tree performs
Her autumn duties;
Turning lush summer greens –
Shades of freshly cut grass and tart cooking apple –
Into copper and russet displays.

Feathers of fading sunlight
Now reach the forest floor
Casting gold lustre on all that lays there;
The midas touch.

She sighs and releases
Another scatter of leaves
To the decay below.
Turning fire to death.

Turning death to life.

***

There is a lot you can write about this time of year.  The fading vegetation, the migrating birds.  The abrupt weight of darkness as the clocks fall back an hour.  This is a time when the turning of the year feels much more noticeable.  We have halloween and bonfire night, christmas is coming along with other winter festivals.  You can write reflectively on the year that has passed, about hibernation and the joy of the harvest.  Or death and rebirth, or the return to school.

Find a warm and cosy spot, nestle up, pull a blanket around you and let that freshly sharpened pencil jot notes over the new book of lined paper.  Mistakes are allowed.  Rewrites are allowed.  For now, breathe in the crisp air and let your mind drift.

 

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October – my writing

Just in case you were going to comment unconstructively, I’m not in the mood… I shared a poem in an online context recently, with the note it was unfinished, to illustrate an idea I was discussing.  Instead of engaging with the idea or adding something constructive I got a fairly unhelpful comment about my assonance… Had this person given examples of what was meant and where in my work this was I would have found it very helpful but as they didn’t, it just felt rubbish…

Virtually nothing I post on here is a final version and if I tried to do that you’d not get October inspired poems in October.  Given the current structure of this project, I feel like it is more helpful for me to share unedited work that is relevant to the month’s topic as they will share ideas about approaches and exercises.

I also, inevitably, have some words about autumn but I’m going to look at that in a different post.

Prompted by the structure of Larkin’s ‘The little lives of earth and form’, I wrote a sextilla:

Granite strong and chalky soft
To this land, my hat I doff.
Jagged peaks and silky sands;
                A contradiction
                This composition.
A feat unmatched by human hands.

Whilst line two has issues, I like the contradiction in the poem and in nature and it fits with the idea of nature not being less than us.

One night this month, I lay awake.  Well actually, many nights this month I’ve lain awake.  But this particular night was raining and surprisingly my neighbours were quiet so I listened to it from my bed at 3am, thinking of rain words.

The crackle of rain
On the window pane

Tip tip tap
Tip tip tap

Each drip drop crashes
Into sleeplessness
Pittering
Pattering

Tip tip tap
Tip tip tap

Clock ticking, tocking
Droplets plip, plopping

Tip tip tap
Tip tip tap

Trashing in the night
Insomniac’s fight
Tossing and turning
Running from morning

Tip tip tap
Tip tip tap

Tip tip tap…

And we have to have one poem about humans and animals, after all, it is the theme of the month!!  Whilst I declared at the start these are all drafts, this one very very much is a draft.  I like the idea and I know it needs work so constructive criticism welcomed!

Roll up!  Roll up!
For The Greatest Zoo On Earth!©
Roll up!  Roll up!
For your last chance to see…

Our antelopes and badgers,
Crustaceans and dancing deer!
Elephants and flying fish
You may even see a reindeer*!

*Seasonal attraction only, no guaranteed sightings, no refunds available.

Goats and hippopotamuses
Iguanas and jaguars!
Kackling Kookaburras™
And lots of leaping leopards!

Meerkats standing guard, new newts,
Orangutans and peacocks.
And don’t forget to see all
The happy, smiling quokkas!

Roll up!  Roll up!
For rats, raccoons and Rudolph™
See the seals, snails, snakes and skunks
Turtles and terrapins too!

Umbrella birds, vampire bats
Weasels and X-Scape Monkeys™.
You can see it all right here
At The Greatest Zoo On Earth©

Closing soon.

September Poems: My poetry

To get me started again, I’ve used a few tools and exercises to warm up the poetry part of my mind and soul.

Playing with form

Mslexia has a regular column for specific poetry forms and the back issues I was catching up on looked at triolets and palidromes.

Triolet

A triolet is made up of 8 lines, each 8 syllables, with the rhyming pattern ABAAABAB. The first line reoccurs as the fourth and seventh, the second line as the eighth.  It’s been a long time since I wrote poetry and much longer since I used any sort of structure so this was quite the challenge!  I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it was though.

Seasons rolled over as I slept;
Autumn golds, heavy skies roll on
From lazy days; I mourned, I wept.
Seasons rolled over as I slept.
I grieved for dreams that went undreamt
Under hazy skies now long gone.
Seasons rolled over as I slept
Autumn golds, heavy skies, roll on…

Palindrome

A palindrome is a a poem which has a pivot point and then reverses itself, both words and lines are reversed.  And wow is that tough.  I think just the lines reversed would be hard but reversing the words as well!  Eek!

The Turn of The Year

Autumn and
Leaves falling
Reaching
Outstretched arms
Twirling, twisting
Like turning year

Rising and falling
Falling and rising

Year turning like
Twisting, twirling
Arms outstretched
Reaching
Falling leaves
And autumn

Jam jar poetry

There may be an actual name for this but basically, I have written a collection of words, mostly but not all about nature, and put them in a jar. Every so often I sit and pull out one or two, or a handful, and see what poems arise.

In the event of my death,
Take a pilgrimage to the secluded
Decaying bench;

Weathered, overgrown and black as pitch.
Hunt out the fallen stones with
Pounding breath.

I am here.

I am not fluttering candle light.
I am not silken eggshell.
I am not the wishes from shooting stars.

I am heart broken bones.
I am gnarled, discarded antlers.
I am the echo from a forest of dead wood.

In the event of my death,
Take a pilgrimage to the secluded
Decaying bench;

I am here.

It has also produced fragments which I hope to develop at some stage:

The winter magic twists sunbeams to night

The image of roadkill scratches and scritches like a grain of sand in a wound.

Twisted dead wood rusts away to powder

William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place (Week 2)

See also Week One of  Future Learn: William Wordsworth, Poetry, People and Place

Week two

This week is looking at the Prelude.  It is a long, autobiographical poem which Wordsworth worked on for a lot of his life, revising, editing and changing as he changed.  Because it spanned a significant part of his life, it can show us how Wordsworth evolved and how his writing developed over time.  As part of the course, in addition to looking at the poems, we’ve been able to look at the manuscripts which provide interesting insight into Wordsworth’s writing process.

In particular we’ve been looking at three extracts; Was It For This, Spots of Time and Boat Stealing.

Spots of time

This extract is Wordsworth telling us his theory about life, that there are “spots of time” which may seem insignificant but which will turn out to be important. These might be intense emotional experiences which can be recalled and bring strength and relief and restoration to the mind.  They bring together our past and our present. The moments themselves will turn out to bear fruit and have value later down the line.

My spots of time

Sitting on roughly poured concrete,
now set. Soil leaks from the strawberry patch
and baby hands reach out.

…ten years on, same spot,
no strawberries, concrete replaced by paving slabs.
A butterfly flutters and lands and rests
on a teenage hand.

Connection for the unconnected.

***

Dead fox. Oldest sister.
Duty calls a soldier.

Stand guard.

Youngest sister released.
Fetch back up. (Please hurry).

Eerie. Uncomfortable.
There is no protocol.

No training has prepared
or taught how best to act.

Stand guard.

Watch over russet corpse.

Stand guard.

Watch over the dead fox.

Stand guard.

(Please hurry).

And when it blinks, do not scream.
There is no instruction guide.
And no one told this small child
that death moves within the dead.

Boat Stealing

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Boats on Derwent Water

In Boat Stealing, Wordsworth is describing one of his own spots of time.  At this point in the course, having already engaged in discussion and creative exercises, we are asked to write a short piece, 250-500 words about this extract.  These will be marked by our peers and in turn we will provide feedback to others.  Here is mine:

Boat stealing is written in blank verse and this reflects the sense of Wordsworth telling us about the incident. The form echoes a stream of consciousness, like that of a dream or a recalled memory. It is conversational and story like, even starting with “one evening I went…”. This helps the reader to feel like they are there and makes it come alive. This line also suggests that the speaker is the adult Wordsworth retelling the incident.

The first part of the extract uses a lot of images about light eg “the moon was up, the lake was shining clear… small circles glittering…”. Despite it being night time, these bring to mind a sense of safety – it is dark but the boy can see and that light helps him to feel safe. He uses similes to describe the boat, “like a man who walks with stately step…” which help the reader to get a sense of the boy’s mindset and emotional landscape. He seems fairly confident, proud even despite knowing what he is doing is wrong. This “troubled pleasure” is one familiar to most people, that of pushing the boundaries in youth and feeling sure that even though what you’re doing is wrong, you’ll be ok. As this is a relatable feeling, the reader is drawn in and feels connected to the incident. The language all suggests a knowledge of the nature that surrounds him and this adds to the sense of surety.

About half way through the extract, emotions turn from confidence to something more lustful and potentially sexual:

She was an elfin pinnace; twenty tomes
I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my Boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan.

Then suddenly, everything changes. What he thought was the horizon no longer is. “A huge Cliff, As if with voluntary power instinct, Upreared its head.” The descriptive, suggestive language is now replaced with more simple language showing a boy rendered almost speechless with shock. The contrast between the language of the first and second part make the image of the cliff as a dangerous being more powerful. Wordsworth personifies the cliff, suggesting it is alive and the boy no longer proudly rows but instead he paddles in a hurried way, with trembling hands. The urgency of the situation is reflected in the long sentence structure and repetition of “struck and struck again”. These images help the reader understand his fear. What the boy thought was the horizon, suddenly wasn’t. What he thought was a landscape and nature that he knew and felt safe in was suddenly unfamiliar and terrifying.

The extract ends with Wordsworth explaining how he was haunted by guilt and an uneasiness for many days. At this stage, I think we are hearing Wordsworth as a boy, but we know that since he is writing as a man the incident has stayed with him for many years.

William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place

I’m doing an online course, Future Learn: William Wordsworth, Poetry, People and Place, which has been helping me look at poetry alongside my research into nature writing.  I’ve really been enjoying it and have raced ahead.  One of the things I’ve found very interesting is how I react differently to unseen poetry when I read it and when it is read to me.  As an avid reader of fiction, I tend to skim read and my eyes are darting ahead and providing clues as to where the words are headed.  When poetry, or anything, is read aloud to you, you can’t do this.  This has allowed me to focus more on the words being said and also led to some surprise twists in where the poem is going.

Week 1

This week has been an introduction to Wordsworth and looking at two of his poems; The Tables Turned and Old Man Travelling, neither of which I’d read before.

To help me slow down and ingest the poem, as opposed to my usual fast reading, I’ve been making notes and have written down some of my thoughts and reactions to the poem.  This has also created space for me to play with the ideas that Wordsworth touches on.

The Tables Turned was my favourite of the two.  It is helpful to know that this poem was published alongside a second poem, Expostulation and Reply. In this, Wordsworth depicts a scene where his friend Matthew was imploring him to read and be purposeful instead of sitting on an old grey stone dreaming his time away. Whilst that poem does contain a response, as the title suggests, it is in The Tables Turned that Wordsworth truly expresses himself.

The Tables Turned begins with lighthearted rhyme and a friendly rhythm. It is a jolly start to a poem and suggests that he is not preaching to his friend, indeed within the first three lines he says “my friend” twice. He gentle teases his friend whilst still encouraging him to rise from his books and step out into nature.

This poem has a very clear message, written explicitly in stanza four:

Come forth into the light of things
Let nature be your teacher

But like most poems, there is more to it than that. Throughout the poem, Wordsworth uses metaphor and imagery to weave three ideas of education; that of scholarly learning, that of religions preaching and that of nature as teacher. In the 18th century, when this poem was written, the idea of acquiring knowledge through reading was considered a superior way of learning. It was also an exclusionary one and, as we know from Wordsworth’s prelude, he wanted to write in such a way that his work was open to everyone. In the same way, learning from nature was much more accessible for most people that more formal methods of education. With this in mind, we can see Matthew as old fashioned, as having more traditional views and Wordsworth being on the cusp of new thinking. The use of form and language in The Tables Turned also reflects this idea of seeking to be understood by all.

Yet, and this is perhaps my favourite aspect of the poem, the lines are filled with irony. Whilst claiming to want all to read his poetry and suggesting that nature is the universal teacher, accessible to everyone, it was within books that his own work could be found. This irony is most deliciously expressed in the penultimate stanza:

Sweet is the lore which nature brings:
Our meddling intellect
Mishapes the beauteous forms of things:
– We murder to dissect.

And in analysing this poem, as so many people have, we are dissecting it ourselves.  Other examples of irony in the poem include Wordsworth begging his friend to quit his books (penned by writers such as himself) and declaring enough of science and of art, of which nature is both.

We were asked to consider which lines were our favourite and whilst many people chose the lines arguing that nature should be your teacher, I loved the image of murder, which contrasts strongly with the rest of the images.  I also really like the final stanza:

Enough of science and of art;
Close up these barren leaves;
come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives

It is the image of the leaves which chimes so strongly with me. It feels like this stanza is the poem in miniature with the leaves pivoting the reader from books to nature. On the one hand we have dry, brittle leaves of books, dead and crumbling (could this also be the old approach to learning?) and on the other we have the fresh, verdant, life filled leaves of the woodland. It could also be saying to the reader that books, as bits of nature which have been written on, can only contain a fraction of the wisdom that nature itself can teach. It begs the reader to question why they are spending time, and toil and trouble, in their books, dead snatches of nature, when they could be outside experiencing the true wonder of the living nature.

I found the gendered language in this poem interesting. It is not unusual for nature to be spoken of using feminine pronouns (a topic for another day) and in Expostulation and Reply, nature is referred to as feminine, as mother earth. But in The Tables Turned we have masculine birds and a masculine sun until half way through when we see Nature as feminine. From a factual perspective, Wordsworth is correct in talking of male birds singing but this is not normally something poets trouble themselves with. And in today’s convention, in many cultures, the sun is masculine with the moon as feminine. However the change being half way through the poem makes it feel like it could be something more significant than that. It feels like an interesting mirroring of the traditionally masculine book learning and the feminine emotional/experiential learning, or the polarity of scholarly or religious learning and learning from nature, that is to say learning from men vs learning from mother nature.

World Enough and Time

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““The human mind is fed and nourished by every sight and smell and sound that we encounter, from the movement of the clouds to the shrill of the birds outside our morning window.” To enjoy that nourishment, we need to “refuse and choose,” resisting the siren call of technology whenever possible and allowing ourselves time to slow down and pay attention.”

Christian McEwan

World Enough and Time by Christian McEwan is book I have been reading, appropriately slowly, for the last couple of years.  In 2013 I went on a fantastic week long adventure to a little island off Scotland where Christian and Jan helped us to slow down, guided us to write and supported the creation of art.

“A 2008 survey in the Journal of Socio-Economics claimed that the psychologogical benefits of a friendship were equivalent to a pay-rise of eighty-five thousand pounds”

Christian McEwan, World Enough and Time

The book ‘examines the spiritual and literary underpinnings of slowness and offers inspiration, encouragement, and practical advice for anyone wishing to create time and space for the imagination to flourish’.  Full of beautiful writing and inspiring suggestions, I’ve really enjoyed taking my time reading it (yes, pain means I have to read books v v slow but I think this one in particular has benefited from that).

The book looks at ‘Hurry Sickness’, the healing power of real conversation, the value of walking, looking, learning to pause and storytelling etc.  I don’t really do book reviews so this isn’t really going to be that, more some musings inspired by the book.

image

I’ve touched on slowing down before on this blog and over on unlockingimages and whilst much of my slowing down has been forced on me by my health, there is still a lot of value in it.  I remember a sunny day, pottering around with my lovely friend who also has EDS.  We were talking about how we have to walk more slowly than we used to (I was a fast walker back in the day!) but how it means she notices flowers and sees things she’d miss otherwise.  It’s a moment that I come back to again and again.  How much more wonderful life would be if we literally stopped to smell the roses instead of rushing and pushing and stressing from place to place in an unnecessary hurry.

We live in a society which doesn’t place much value on doing things for the sake of them, rather we are all supposed to be being productive, all of the time.  Again, pain has meant this isn’t possible and has meant I can step back and question that approach.  Finding joy in little things and beauty in small moments makes for a happier life.  We can’t all have the latest <insert gadget> but we can almost all look out a window and see plants, birds, insects, stars, clouds etc (NB if you’re bed bound and can’t look out a window, could you move your bed?).

“In ancient China, when someone studied calligraphy, he did not simply copy the original.  Instead, he spread out the scroll against the wall, and stared at it for a long time.  Only when he had, as it were, incorporated it completely, did he finally pick up his brush and begin to work”

Christian McEwan, World Enough and Time

How many people reading that, are thinking what a waste of time, just get the job done?  But the beauty in the approach and the deeper connection to the work, makes it much more meaningful.  And I feel that it would teach the student so much more.

Pay attention, look closely and even the most mundane seeming thing will be transformed.  And that is your power, to take the ordinary and see it as extraordinary.  That is what artists and writers and musicians do.  And it’s something that is completely accessible to you, whatever your circumstances.  You can start now and develop a deeper awareness of your surroundings and in doing so, you can find poetry all around you.

And even better, this time you spend mulling and dreaming and pondering, is time that your mind will use to ruminate over problems and build insights and connections that are completely unrelated.  And all of it is free!

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The book is full of wonderful insights and magical quotes and I hope I have been able to do justice with my own ponderings.  Christian herself is a very thoughful, inspiring woman and it was an honor to have her guidance for a week.


By the way, if you’re interested in spending a week slowing down on Tanera Mor with Jan and another artist, you can book onto the wonderful sounding See Sound, See Shore.  If health allowed, I’d be booking on!

“But I’m not creative…”

Firstly, if I can do it, so can you.

Secondly, art journaling is amazing!

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Look at all those intriguing pages!

Art journaling really helps my mental health but I’ve had to really adapt my art journaling techniques and expectations as my hands are in a lot of pain and i struggle with fine motor skills. It’s been, and continues to be, a journey of trial and error, discovery and adaptations. Because of those limitations, my journaling has become more precious, more thoughtful and a slower process (in a good way). I have ended up adding a lot of depth to my pages because I can only do a little bit of a page at a time and this also provides space for reflection between layers. I definitely feel that some of my better pages have arisen because of my limitations.  In fact my latest journal charts my journey from “argh I can’t hold a pen” to “oh wait, if I do this very slowly, with lots of breaks, using layers and the right techniques I can still do this”. It’s been, and continues to be, a lot of trial and error. What I can do one day is not the same as another day.

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Pre 2015

I think learning to work with my limitations, not against them, has made art journaling a worthwhile experience for me in itself although it is so much more than that. I do feel if I can do it then so can almost everyone, no excuses!

image
2015

Technique wise, I do a bit of collaging, use photos I’ve taken, splash paint around, use found objects, stencils, inks etc. I can’t hold most pens anymore so words come from print outs, magazines, stickers etc. Again, working within that limitation makes it easier in some ways – having the world as your oyster, or the alphabet as your seahorse (or whatever is appropriate there) can be overwhelming to the point of freezing you. I try to journal something that comes out of the day which means I’m more tuned in to what’s going on round me. For example when I am out I might be looking for found objects such as feathers or if a particular quote resonates, I’ll pay more attention and make a note of it. It’s paying attention in a deeper way – if I wasn’t journaling, I’d miss the feather, I’d hear the quote and think yeah that sounds great but then it’d slip away from me.

What I can do varies from day to day.  Some days I just place cues; feathers, petals, a word ripped of a leaflet. These hold the place for me so i can return at another time when I am able to take the cue and roll with it. It might be a few days, it might be a few weeks but those cues fester in the back of my mind until I have time, have spoons or have a feeling about what the first or next step is.  I say feeling, I don’t generally have an image of what I’m wanting, it is much more something I feel my way through. I will look through my stash and see what speaks to me. I will move things around on the page. Or just get stuck in adding colour and seeing what happens.

Tools I have found I can use
  • Ink and ink pads (but not stamps, I can’t seem to use them without lots of pain so I use ink pads with stencils instead)
  • Stencils
  • Acrylics
  • Chalk or soft pastels – these are so gentle and a great way of getting a bit of colour for not much effort
  • Chunky handled brushes
  • Glue tape – I find this easier than a glue stick because it requires less pressure and it sticks much better. I find it better than pva because that involves holding a paint brush.
  • Paper – a variety of colours, craft paper, wall paper, wrapping paper, junk mail, any kind of paper will do! If you like paper, check out flow magazine
  • Photos
  • Other bits and pieces – tiny bits of ribbon, buttons, fabric, words ripped out of things…

Anyway, I’ll stop there because I could talk, or write, for hours about it.  If anyone has any questions or comments, please add them.  I’d love to know what other people are up to, especially other people who have difficulties with their hands as well.