Poetry about paintings

On Saturday I attended a course about writing poetry based on paintings. It’s not something I’ve ever tried before but my poetry group was going and it looked interesting.

Most of my writing wasn’t great but then I was writing about very different subjects to normal. Throughout the day we wrote about being part of a painting, about moving into or out of a painting, about meeting the artist and being the person who was posing. It produced some fun experiments and got me outside of my normal thinking which is always beneficial.

For a couple of my exercises, I chose to think about a cave painting of a bison.

If I could paint like the cave woman…

…you would see animals dancing across the rock
…you would feel the beat of your heart
crash with each thrash of hoof

I would show you the creativity of nature
so you want to reach into the stone
and pull out your own magic
– personal, powerful, empowering

and then you, you
could create your own universe
with your own mystical imaginings

I want to be like the cave woman

I want to be like the cave woman
feeling the rock and knowing
that’s where the spirit of horse
or bear or bison lay
& knowing how to release them
from their prison of stone.

I want to be like the cave woman
who knows earth, and air,
and stone as kin
& the plants that crowd the forest floor
as well as she knows her child.

But I reach out in the dark
of my bedroom, not cave,
to the untamed sculpture
that is my bed
with its heap of books
and phone chargers
searching for the lamp switch.

I could never be without my sacred
night space, it’s coccoon of safety
edged with fleece and teddy bears
and the convienece of electricity
that the cave woman could never have dreamt of

I want to be like the cave woman.
I want to know my home and land
with the intimacy that comes from survival,
but with the comforts that turn survival
into certainty and in doing so,
render the relationship
between the land and me
nul and void.

A year in books

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll likely know I’ve been photographing the books I’ve read since Boxing Day 2018. This has been alongside #ayearinbooks and has been a fun way of thinking about what I read and how much I read.

The following images cover most of the 130 odd books I’ve read.

A recent tweet made me wonder, of this vast array, what was my favourite, what would I recommend and what would I really not suggest people read… of course these are incredibly difficult decisions to make and I’d like to add the disclaimer that I retain the right to change my mind at any time…!

I would highly recommend both of Shane Burcaw’s books – Laughing at my Nightmare and Strangers Assume My Girlfriend Is My Nurse. They are funny biographies which talk about his life with a disability.

“On the surface, these essays are about day-to-day life as a wheelchair user with a degenerative disease, but they are actually about family, love, and coming of age. “
– Amazon

The books are well written, easy to read and offer a great insight into life with a disability and being in an interabled relationship. Don’t expect self pity or inspiration porn, expect wit and sarcasm and to very literally, laugh out loud!

Another book that has to be on my recommendation list is The Prison Doctor which I read in a day. This book provides an eye opening insight into the prison system, through the eyes of a doctor – did the title give this away?! At times your heart will be warmed, at other times you’ll want to scream with frustration at the limitations of the prison system and you will definitely feel Dr Brown’s compassion coming through the pages.

Also vaguely health related were It’s All in Your Head: Stories from the Frontline of Psychosomatic Illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan which talks in depth about psychosomatic illnesses in a respectful way. These are genuine illnesses despite them ‘being all in the head’, because the brain is an incredibly powerful organ. This is echoed in the intriguing The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the Meaning of the World’s Strangest Syndromes* by Frank Bures.

*Full title essential to include!

All of the offerings from Reaktion Books have been incredible. They have a fantastic series about animals and as well as telling you about the species, they look at how humans and animals have interacted over the years. These books are key for my animal blog posts and this year they’ve had two 50% off sales which has been fantastic! If you find that sort of stuff interesting, I really suggest getting your paws on one of their books.

This year I got a library card for the university library so this year’s reading has happily included a number of academic texts. Perhaps the best, although it’s a tough choice, was possibly Animals and Society by Margo de Mello.

Poetry wise, Hannnah Hodgson’s Dear Body was very inspiring and I’ve loved unpicking The Amputee’s Guide to Sex by Jillian Weise. On a non disability note, Significant Other by Isabel Galleymore has provided well crafted, thought filled poems. Other poets I’ve loved this year include Hollie McNish, Nikita Gill and Amanda Lovelace.

It turned out I can’t label any book as not to be recommended. Partly because I don’t bother finishing books I’m not enjoying – I know several people who will persevere but for me at least, life is too short and I can’t be bothered. I read because I enjoy reading and because I enjoy learning. A bad book gives me neither of those joys.

Over to you! What have been some of your reading highlights over the past year?

The making of a witch

The making of a witch

There was a storm once
– long forgotten –
when Night threw flames
and set the galaxy spinning.
Here you’ll find Her eyes.

Scratch at constellations
until stars fall
to sand; this petrified
lightning is Her wrath.

Look for old stone stacks,
moss covered, lining paths
that are not passed.
Fight the brackish tentacles and thorns.
Release her Scold’s Bridle
and unsilence Her tongue.

Find the place where the tide
rips over scorched limestone
and quartz.
Buried below is Her heart
pressed to coal
over lifetimes.

Listen for the
shrieks of foxes fighting
and the night splitting scream
as an owl releases its prophecy.
This is Her song.

Hold a hurricane
in the cup of your hands.
This is Her.

To love Her
is to offer your heart
to smouldering ashes,
knowingly.

To resurrect Her
is to summon
the souls of the women
who were wronged.

For witches cannot be made,
just reignited.

The Night Stage

The Night Stage

In tired eyes
specks glow
and grow
like the constellations
behind closed lids

A liquorice sky; the stage is set.

Overhead, Venus shines golden
and the Moon casts a spotlight.

From velvet draped wings,
the supporting cast
step out.

Under the gaze
of the Goddess of Love,
Act One unfolds;

A vain queen holds court.

The Great She Bear
and her timid cub
watch an arrogant
huntsman petition
for the banishment
of the scorpion
who threatens his ego.

Night’s shadows conceal
stage hands
as they flip the scene

& then

without a curtain call

the cast

the stars

the stage

all fade
away.

The play is lost to sleep.

Slipper Limpet, Crepidula Fornicata

This post is inspired by a poem from Isabel Galleymore which I looked at in a poetry class and fell in love with.  It’s part of her collection Significant Other which I’d highly recommend.  Whilst the poem is enjoyable by itself, knowing more about the slipper limpet heightens the pleasure and appreciation of Galleymore’s skill.

Whilst slipper limpets are found in the UK, they are a non native species that arrived from America in the 19th century.  The first live slipper limpets were found in Liverpool Bay and are likely to have hitched a ride on the back of oysters.  During the 19th century, eating oysters became fashionable in London and native stocks rapidly became depleted.  To meet demand, oysters were imported from America, along with the now invasive stowaway.

Slipper Limpets live under rocks in the intertidal zone and feed by filtering plankton from the water.  They have thin, flattened shells which has a little shelf and when flipped upside down, apparently look like a slipper hence the name.  The first half of the scientific name actually means slipper in Latin and whilst we’re thinking about the name, it’s also important to note they aren’t actually a limpet… They are instead a type of sea snail.

They live in groups of up to 12 with one stacked upon another, largest at the bottom and getting smaller as you go up the tower (or Galleymore’s “high-rise orgy“).  The base slipper limpet attaches herself to things like rocks, scallops, crabs and mussels and thus the slipper limpets live a sedentary life.  And it is always either a female or an empty shell, with the rest of the stack being male.  It is advantageous for females to be bigger than males so they can carry more eggs.  And they can lay between 10,000 and 200,000 eggs so they need plenty of space!

The male has a penis that can be as long as his body, and it needs to be; it has to extend round and under the female’s shell in order to reach her genital opening.  It is because they need to be so close that they attach to one another – imagine being stuck with your ex literally on your back until you die…

Slipper limpets are born male and will later change sex, something known as sequential hermaphrodism.  Recent research has shown that the change occurs as a result of physical contact with another male.  However, it’s not instant and doesn’t happen as a result of every contact.  The change itself takes about 60 days – or about two moon cycles – to change sex and during this time the penis shrinks and disappears and the female organs develop.

The more you learn about the slipper limpet, the more appropriate you think the scientific name is.  But whilst it would be fun to imagine an animal named for it’s sexual habits, fornicate unfortunately comes from the Latin word for arch – fornix – and refers to their arched shape.

Peak breeding occurs during May and June and most females spawn twice a year, after neap tides.  Egg capsules are brooded under the foot of the female, attached to the inside of her shell or her foot.  The young hatch as larvae after 3 to 4 weeks and will stay in larval form for about 4 to 5 weeks.  After this they will leave home.  In their early life they are able to move, slowly crawling to find a suitable site to set up home, but generally after about two years they are stuck wherever they are.  Hopefully having chosen the perfect spot, given they live up to 10 years.  If they settle alone, they will turn female and become the base slipper limpet.  Alternatively, they will join an existing chain and wait their turn.

Scientists have been looking at the Slipper Limpet to see if it has any medical benefits for us and hemocyanin – the same chemical that makes the blood of horseshoe crabs and octopuses blue – has been found in their blood and is effective in treating breast and bladder cancer.  Their tough fleshy food may also have uses for human medicine.  Collagen from it can be used in regenerative medicine, such as advanced wound care and bone and nerve repair.  Whilst collagen is found in virtually every living organism, the collagen from the slipper limpets is stable in the same range as human collagen and thus provides an alternative source – at present collagen from cows and pigs is used.

Returning to the poem, I am in awe of Galleymore’s ability to make us stop and think twice about this seemingly dull, drab, slightly gnarled looking creature.  Without her poem, I wouldn’t know about the slipper limpet and I certainly wouldn’t have had so many conversations about it.

Links

The making of bats

The making of bats
is an act
that must take place
in the darkest of spaces;
no full moon,
no starlit skies.

Instead shadows and coal,
Silhouettes and pitch.

Hand to heartwood,
whisper wishes to the owls,
pray they take them, swift winged,
to the goddess of the night.

If you are blessed,
hear the sky fill with wingbeats.

The making of bats is a gift,
goddess given,
not a right.


If you haven’t already, take a look at my post on spontaneous generation and read about some of the ‘recipes’ that were believed to create animals prior to the 17th and 18th centuries.  You’ll realise that my own recipe isn’t that unbelievable!

The making of a witch

Summon the queen of death.

Split open the sky.

Scratch at constellations

‘til stars fall

to sand; petrified

lightning – her wrath.

 

There was a storm once

– long forgotten –

the night threw flames

and set the galaxy alight.

Here lie her eyes;

Deep, mysterious, dancing.

 

Look for old stone stacks,

Moss covered, lined up on paths that are not passed

– her unmoveable will.

An ancient mountain.

 

Find the place where the tide

rips over scorched limestone

and quartz.

Buried below is her heart.

 

Listen to the trees,

the whistle of the leaves.

Hear her.

 

In fog, shapes slowly transform.

In the making of witches,

earth turns to flesh,

stones turn to bones,

and fossils to blood,

under the pressure

of oppression.

 

To know her is to hold a storm

in the cup of your hands.

 

To love her is to offer your heart

to smouldering ashes,

knowingly.

 

Do you give it?