from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

fire in the head course programme

Today I'm cheating and posting details of my forthcoming events, in the hopes that any of you near enough might need a shot of inspiration; or any of you at a distance might decide you want to dedicate a half-year to strengthening your poetry or starting to knock that novel into shape via a correspondence course.

Or you might want to take me up on my book offer – Christmas presents?? And of course I'd love it if you mentioned any of this to writing friends, or friends interested in the human potential movement (this is as close as I can get to labelling the workshops that are not specifically just writing, but more to do with psychospirituality and consciousness)...

I’ve listed the workshops under weekly sessions, day courses, residentials and correspondence courses. I’ve postponed the two scheduled for late November and early December this year (see bottom) because of a family bereavement; they’ll be rescheduled for some time next year. Please keep an eye on the website – address below – as I’ll be updating it frequently as new events are scheduled. All details should be there soon (use the drop-down menus).

You’ll see too my radio slot; and at the bottom a book offer.


Weekly sessions
  • Poetry School I’ve been working with a wonderful and dynamic group of poets in Exeter, Devon on a Monday night this term. You can sign up for the new 10-week term in January (beg. 9th, 7-9pm) at, or tel: 0207 582 1679. The group is a mix of new and experienced poets, and we base our sessions on the Staying Alive anthology. Do join us!

Day courses
  • Ground of Being on Dartmoor at Merrivale, solstices and equinoxes: these happen (assuming I’m not iced-in!) 4 times a year all day on a Sunday. We walk and write slowly and in silence under my guidance, share some of this writing, and go out no matter what the weather. Next two: December 18; March 18. Bookings needed asap! See website
  • Thresholds the 19th year of this course! Writing as a tool to explore what your creative heart and your soul need for the coming year: how have you been treating this wild and precious life? Nr Totnes; Saturday 21 January (again, ice permitting). Details on website soon
  • Poetry Walk come and walk round Hope Cove and Bolt Tail with me for the local AONB, and then write bright moments from it... Sunday March 25, 1pm-4.30pm – only £4 (£2 children). Book with me but see more on

  • Islands of the Heart Isle of Iona, April: this retreat is now full with a waiting list. I’m considering an eco-writing retreat later in the year on Iona or Mull; we might be ‘roughing it’ a little more than we do at the wonderful Argyll Hotel; if so, it will also be cheaper. Please let me know if you’re interested
  • Zen & Poetry I’m intending to offer this again as a weekend residential at the lovely Barefoot Barn in Chagford on Dartmoor in May. Details soon
  • I am considering some creative writing courses aboard a yacht in Cornwall. More soon

Correspondence courses
  • Elements of Poetry 6 I’m inviting applications now for January-July 2012. This 6-month intensive course has been widely acclaimed.
  • Storymaking (writing a novel) this too is a six-month course, and you can sign up at any time.

Book offer
  • Between now and the solstice, 21 December: Buy any two of Creative Novel Writing, Writing the Bright Moment, Imago (my novel) and Bardo (poems and prose poems), from me direct for £12 plus £3 p&p (UK); or 25% off a single book plus £2 p&p... 
  • And look out for my new poetry collection, All the Missing Names of Love, from IDP next year.
Twitter: @qualiabird
Facebook: Roselle Angwin

IMAGO (novel,
BARDO (prose poems,

In a dark time the eye begins to see’: the healing power of writing, Sunday 20 November, nr Totnes POSTPONED

‘If no one speaks of remarkable things’: writing about being alive, Sunday 11 December, nr Totnes POSTPONED

Monday, 28 November 2011

Towards Daybreak

Two owls
speaking across the dark
day glides towards us
like this mist across the water meadows

glances on
that lone sheep
insubstantial as a thought

nudges the new
witch hazel
towards its heart-of-winter

I think
how it is that we might
pass a whole life
seeking a light we once thought
outside us

when all the time
it is within

Sunday, 27 November 2011

'The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death'

Not long after 9/11, I was due to lead a workshop with primary school children in rural Devon. As in many rural areas, multiculturalism as a lived concern is an irrelevancy, as other ethnic groupings are almost non-existent. Also, as in many rural areas in England, especially impoverished ones, the prevailing political current is right-wing, and not terribly well-informed. (Obviously, I'm making a gross generalisation here; but having been brought up in rural Devon myself I'm allowed to pronounce!)

Going about the place after 9/11 it was common to hear children spout deeply anti-Muslim stuff, presumably having heard it from parents.

The workshop was to take place in a museum which also houses a collection of fine Barum ware: pottery thrown from the local earthenware clay.

Like so many of us, I feel deeply troubled by divisiveness and its implications, and by how swiftly hatred is inflamed. Driving up to the venue I was musing on the tragic events of the past weeks, politically, while a bit of my mind was occupied also by the day ahead, and how, as workshop leader, I can encourage children to think inclusively in relation to the world we live in. Suddenly inspiration struck: I know by heart a little poem by the Muslim mystic and weaver Kabir, the C15th poet reputedly connected with Sufism (which the exquisite mystic poet Rumi is credited with starting).

The poem was to prove a good starting point for a discussion of what Islam has brought the West (it's easy to forget the elegance, wisdom and breadth of Islamic art and culture, brought by the troubadours through Spain to Provence whence it spread; and not least the Courts of Love, so embraced by Eleanor of Aquitaine, which changed forever not only our relationship to – believe it or not – the Divine Feminine but also to romantic love, which simply didn't exist in northern Europe before the C12th. See also my novel Imago.).

As well as providing a counterpoint to knee-jerk anti-Islam fundamentalism, the poem was also literally relevant to the pottery collection  on which the first part of the workshop was to be based, as well as opening a discussion about who we are and about inclusiveness (yes I did indeed feel very smug!).

The reason I mention all this is because I have been listening to the wonderful album 'The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death' by the late Scottish Romany musician Jackie Leven, who died a few weeks ago. The poem here is recited on the album by the deep-voiced Robert Bly, he of Iron John fame.

'Inside this clay jug
there are canyons and pine mountains
and the maker of canyons and pine mountains.
All seven oceans are inside
and hundreds of millions of stars.'

Saturday, 26 November 2011

everywhere is Walden Pond

I've been thinking the last few days, as I do often, how it is that poetry offers something, something that speaks to the soul, in a way that little else except perhaps (for me) being out in wild nature does.

I've been trying, and failing, to locate in my copy of Walden Thoreau's quote about having gone out into nature, at Walden Pond, to live deliberately – did he say 'to front life deliberately'?* (I know I could google it but I wanted too the context. I'll post it when I find it.).

As always with Thoreau, every page yields a score of quotes, so I took a diversion or three. Here's one: 'The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation... But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.' (Had you forgotten that it was Thoreau, not Pink Floyd, who said the first bit?)

Anyway, it seems to me that poetry, too, is that: an attempt to live life deliberately, to not have it pass by unseen and unheeded, to not live at such full tilt that we leave our souls behind in the dusty foothills as we scramble for faster and more of everything.

I think about Lucien Stryk's words that I quoted the other day about our lolloping around the universe not paying attention, scarcely knowing who we are; and I think poetry is an attempt to counter that, too.

Poetry is many many things. I've written on this at length, elsewhere. And one thing it is is a way of making sense, both for ourselves and others who may read it, of this life, of the experience of being, of our need for meaning. It's a distillation, a crystallisation, and in its way a holograph: in the microcosmic we may see the macro-: in other words, the personal can, in the hands of a good poet, open us not only to the universal but also to the universe.


* Found it: 'I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.'

I confess I succumbed to google; and found it on a blog for the wonderful Buddhist magazine 'Parabola'.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

from 'Requiem'


The start of her long migration

back into and lifting off from


I walk in this first frost

dawn, slow red burn slicking the east
Jupiter and the stellar night fading

From the old oak above me

buzzard sweeps a wide circle
and heads west

gives itself to air

to everywhere, nowhere.

~ Roselle Angwin, 23rd November 2011

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

lolloping around the universe scarcely knowing who we are

I've spoken here before of finding ways to maintain a balance of attention, so that one may feel the winds of the world passing through one without being blown away; being aware of, for instance, our natural and alerting emotional reactivity to circumstances without identifying our whole being with our emotions.

This blog is one way for me of holding this thread of mindfulness in very painful times; remembering that I am not, or not just, my grief. This is partly possible because of you, those of you who read my blog. A big thank you to you all, and especially to those of you who have emailed me with such generosity. The sharing of all our journeys is so sustaining; knowing there are people out there who receive my words open-heartedly and meet them with themselves makes such a difference.


'Mostly we lollop around the universe, scarcely knowing who we are. Moments, hours, centuries, we slither between savagery and love, calamity and calm, indifference and pity, unsure of the Way, trapped in our own making of ourselves,' says the Zen poetry scholar Lucien Stryk in his Foreword to Zen, a beautiful book of texts and images selected by Miriam Levering (dpb, London, 200). 'Fraught with anxiety, frustration, not liking what we see, we wonder how to find contentment and peace in such a complex world.' The book, he continues, 'is a graceful introduction to awareness' through those who have 'dedicated a lifetime to the search for answers, seek[ing] through the litter of ages, turn[ing] from the mess we make and remake of things...'

I find this book with its particular poems, texts and images very soothing. It embodies the Zen take on simplicity which cuts through the messy veneers overlaying our search for something true, something sustainable beyond our clinging on to thoughts, things, people and the demands we make of life.

Zen offers a way to recognise and be comfortable with paradox and impermanence. As I've said before here, it is my grasping on to what 'I' think 'I' need/desire/can't live without that causes the trouble; in fact the whole notion of a separate and distinct 'I' as the focus or locus of the universe. And of course 'I' fall for that notion – that the universe is here to serve me – 24 hours a day, even though I know intellectually that that's not the case!

Zen Buddhists, says Levering in her Introduction, 'believe that one's own experience shows that all objects of perception and thought are not permanent but come into being when other necessary conditions for their existence are fulfilled. In this sense, all objects of thought and perception have no independent existence [or] definite boundaries... but are caused, not just by a few other things at any given time, but ultimately by all other things at once... The central paradox of everything we experience in life is that it is [both] empty [of enduring permanent substance] and at the same time possessed of a marvelous, subtle, mysterious existence. Everything is empty, yet spring comes, flowers bloom and trees show new growth... [and] even the most ordinary thing is marvelous in itself. Zen masters teach that to realize the emptiness and interconnectedness of all things, not just with the mind but with one's whole being, is to achieve enlightenment.'


You'll forgive me at this time, I'm sure, for allowing myself to rest in the arms of my Zen practice, even if it doesn't resonate with you. Soon – I promise – I'll talk again of other things, like for instance poetry – the other great comforter (besides friends and family and the natural world) for me in times of trouble.

Monday, 21 November 2011

'the wind can have my caution'

Walking, this soft grey autumn morning, in a flurry of russet leaves; primrose in the track still doing its thing as it has all year; new little wild strawberry; extraordinary starry fungus whose only (Latin) name in no way does it poetic justice; fresh silver-white pates of shaggy inkcap mushrooms just pushing through leaf litter (delicious slow-baked with butter milk and nutmeg, for you non-vegans). 

Catching up briefly with neighbours in this little valley with its cargo of micro-smallholdings all, as it happens, given over to the organic/permaculture ethos: Steph is awaiting the planners for her small and secluded yurt camp by the stream; Richard is just finishing installing 10kw of field-mounted solar panels at a cost of £25K for the soon-to-run-out feed-in-tariff from the national grid (he will recoup the outlay in 3 years); Simon has been coppicing and hedge-steeping (or hedgelaying); last night a small outdoor fire when I walked the dog through fields in the dark flagged up Matthew and Benita's presence in their fruit-and-nut orchard.

And I pulled up the pea and bean haulms – some of them – and some dried sweetcorn stalks, and decaying courgette plants, and planted anemone and iris and lily of the valley against the dark times; and TM planted our onion sets to overwinter.


The river has no beginning and no end. The cycles continue. A stream feeds in to the great river, and is swept towards the seven oceans, to be born again, perhaps, as rain, or dew.


I am thinking today about the areas in my life where I say 'no' to a process that needs my 'yes'. How is it we vote to keep ourselves small, to allow fear to lead us? Reading David Whyte on this – how refusing to participate in a process that your soul calls you to 'is actually corrosive on the personality and character'. So many of our great writers emphasise this need to submit to greater purposes than our little ego wishes to, in its search for safety and certainty. Blake speaks of this; Goethe addresses it; Rilke too – 'No more things will happen, No more days will open / and even the things that do happen will cheat him.' We turn away from the possibility of change, from the necessity of transformation to enlarge us and our lives. We stay nose to tail in the line on which we've been put, like chickens placed on a chalk line who freeze, fearful of falling off. 

We need to fall in love again with life, with all its demands; to submit to the inner processes. How many times today might I say 'yes' when it would be easier to say 'no'?


On Iona in April I bought a little book of details, poems and prayers about the trees in the Celtic alphabet/calendar, by poet Alison Swinfen.

Here's part of one that spoke to me last night: (from 'Delight').

Even in the 
bare purple of
a wych elm
in midwinter
I can
hear the sap 
rising again
to meet me
with my name.

The wind can have my caution.

from Through Wood


Speaking of Iona, next April I'm leading my annual Islands of the Heart retreat there. Though we focus on writing as a tool for recording our experience, this is so much more than simply a writing retreat, here in this most ancient and sacred place. The course is full with a waiting list, but if there are others who would like it I'm considering offering a second, possibly more eco-poetry focused and also cheaper course later in 2012... Let me know if this appeals to you.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

from the rainblack ash

that one last thrush
unspooling song
from the rainblack ash

~ Roselle Angwin 2007

Friday, 18 November 2011

the waters of the world

Death is the elephant in the room, isn't it – that Great Pretender. In our culture we don't easily talk about it. And now, the Friday after the Sunday before, I have what I've craved for a fortnight – an hour alone simply to sit with my loss, my feelings about it all, about my mum.

What's been hardest about the last few days is my father's enormous desolation. He's devoted the last four years to my mum's care, and now of course feels there's no purpose to his life. But what has been dreadful for us is his needing to ask every few minutes since last Sunday where my mum is (her lack of memory due to Alzheimer's has been mirrored in his own memory loss, but in his case due to a stroke. Oddly, there have been upsides to this strange symmetry.)

So I think again about suffering and the fact that life necessarily involves it, and what matters is how we relate to it. And here I am this morning thinking that maybe all those years of meditation have, so far anyway, at last paid off a little – I haven't gone to pieces, we haven't lost patience with my father despite the acute pain for us all of telling him over and over of my mother's death, I can still appreciate the skylarks and the cirrus clouds and the great spotted woodpecker visiting the feeder; appreciate having celebrated my mother-out-of-law's 90th birthday briefly with her yesterday, despite knowing that my mum can't now ever make 90; can still appreciate my and my sister's ability both to comfort and gently to tease my dad now and again, and seeing him manage a laugh.

I notice that the two local wells in the lanes near us, possibly holy wells once upon a time, have reappeared now the thick summer foliage has withered. I find this comforting and uplifting; I love these wells, and I love the symbolism of 'the waters before and the waters after / now and forever flowing' (the Zenrin).

I've been seeking out more of Roethke's poems. These (scattered) lines from 'The Far Field' touched me:

My mind moves in more than one place,
In a country half-land, half-water.

The dry scent of a dying garden in September,
The wind fanning the ash of a low fire.
What I love is near at hand,
Always, in earth and air.

The lost self changes,
Turning toward the sea,

A man faced with his own immensity
Wakes all the waves, all their loose wandering fire.

The mountain with its singular bright shade
Like the blue shine on freshly frozen snow,
The after-light upon ice-burdened pines;
A ripple widening from a single stone
Winding around the waters of the world.

The luxury this morning of ten minutes to myself to eat toast and read a book. I picked up a gift from a dear friend, a book by David Whyte – seems like years ago that I started reading it. I opened it on a page in which Whyte wisely speaks of an 'essential human experience... anxiety'. Worry is our common relationship to perceived difficulty, and this of course exemplifies what the Buddha meant by the first of his Four Noble Truths: 'life involves suffering'. 

'Worry is the daily faint echo of our transience and mortality', says Whyte. 'Whatever we hold in our hands will eventually slip away.' This reminds me of some lines in my poem 'Wild Garlic': 

Everyone we love will leave us eventually, or 
we'll leave them. That's what the wise vicar said 
at that wedding blessing all those years ago.

Whyte continues: 'We may [for instance] pursue or waylay a mate, but then... having created a longed-for relationship, we carry worries... to a high art and build elaborate constructs around fidelity: constructs that can be gone over at great length while we are alone, constructs that are further reasons to stay up at night... to plot revenge or to run away, hurt and saddened.'  He speaks of the fact that anxiety, or worry, might have served our ancestors well as a survival strategy, but 'it also gave us the ability to sit beneath a magnificent sky and not see a single star, to sit by ourselves and not have an inkling of who that self is, to spend most of a life providing for a family while neglecting to spend the time with them that is an expression of the love that all the providing is supposed to represent... Perhaps', says Whyte, 'our development of a sustained ability for mental and emotional worry was the very apple into which we bit... expelling ourselves from the garden where we unconsciously felt at home.'

Siddhartha, whom we know as the Buddha, 'would get to the answer [to the problem of suffering] through watching his thoughts and being utterly present. He would watch those thoughts disappear as a primary means of identifying himself and see something more immediate and quite extraordinary take their place. 

'You could say that meditation or silent prayer is the practice of dwelling in this underlying un-anxious all-seeing all-appreciating un-defensive self that does not care whether it lives or dies, while not taking our eyes off the world...' [Siddhartha] stayed with 'a fierce kind of attention in which he refused to ascribe names to what he saw until he came to realize that, in effect, he wasn't this self or this otherness he was witnessing, but a living constantly changing conversation between the two.'

And this is the way of freedom, perhaps: reclaiming our commonality, our non-separation, our ability to stay with pain, with paradox and not-knowing without needing to grasp on to this 'me' and push away the suffering that is also this me – our ongoing participation in a dialogue with all-that-is.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

the edge is what I have

I wrote once: 'Because we have refused the dark / we cannot bear the light', and there's a strong psychological truth underpinning this concept. If we refuse to let ourselves be touched, moved, devastated, even torn apart by this world and its suffering we do not, perhaps, have the capacity to experience also deep joy, love, even ecstasy (Kahlil Gibran says similarly). Our lives may be riffs then on the theme of half-shade and numbness.

And beyond this duality, there is a way of being that sees both suffering and joy as transient, a way that points to acceptance of both states without identifying our essential nature with either state. There is a way of being that is able to feel both, and still sit at the hub of this axis wisely, noticing the swings of our emotional nature and finding a way to keep a balance of attention, mindfulness. Something here about 'passionate equanimity' – not detaching, but non-attached.

If, as the Buddha suggests, all suffering stems from our attachment to that which is of its nature impermanent, a way to freedom is to genuinely accept transience and not attach ourselves so ferociously to forms that come into being and wither away.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves tells us that our pain comes from wanting the life side of the life/death/life cycle, and pushing away experience of the rest. This too, she concludes, results in a numbing, a dissociation from the cycles of things.

And yes of course a full life richly lived has to embrace all this – pain and joy, suffering and love. Well, experiencing the death of a loved one is extraordinarily hard. Watching, as in this case, my ailing father utterly devastated by grief, truly 'beside himself', is harder even. Because he needs so much support, I can't start to touch my own natural grief. What I notice I'm doing though is seeking out in the few precious solo moments liminal poetry.

One of the gifts of poetry is filling, or stilling,  the heart at times when little else can heal it. And while it's not surprising, given the time of year in the northern hemisphere, that a few months ago I choose the title of what would have been this Sunday's forthcoming writing workshop from Roethke's poem, below, I see in it too some personal resonance, prescience.

In a Dark Time

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood –
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks – is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is –
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Theodore Roethke 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

shed skin

'Poetry can save your life,' said Adrienne Rich. And last night working with the group of poets whom I tutor in Exeter for The Poetry School gave me much nourishment in hard times.

And my friend Simon, he of the beautiful words the other day, sent me this passage from John Burnside (a big favourite poet of mine):

Though each thing dies
into its own becoming,
the shed skin falling away,
still beautiful;

an empty form
but governed by the moon,
like bone,
or thaw.

Monday, 14 November 2011

diamond sutra: lightning in a summer cloud

high moor 2/Roselle Angwin 2007

So we have come to the end of one journey and the next one begins.

That ancient Buddhist text, the Diamond Sutra, offers the following words on impermanence (and if I've posted these words before, my apologies!). The little piece below has been adapted to make a chant. I love singing this to myself and the dog (no one else will listen).

Oh have you see this world –
a drop of dew
a bubble in a stream
lightning in a summer cloud –
a phantom, and a dream...

And my riff on a poem by Ch'ing Kung, C14th:

Things of the past are already long gone
and things to come still beyond our imagining's horizon.

The Tao is just this moment, these words, the silence behind them –
and the fallen leaves, this flock of redwing.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

where I go out

Drizzle thickens and softens the distance
between me and the willow tree
two clouds like grey apostrophes
hang on the horizon, and between them
all the unspoken questions dangle
in the family of things.

What I want to say is this:
the world has no word for ‘real’.

On the hill the ash tree is on the cusp
of being and becoming, as we all are,
as too above it and invisible and
in their own sidereal time are the stars
and constellations.

The sky’s underbelly has the lustre
of a pearl earring, and dusk, coming in
like a wave, takes on a blue
as thick as breath

where I go out, decide to slip
my skin, begin to dissolve

~ Roselle Angwin

Friday, 11 November 2011

the news from here in just over 200 words

Sun in Scorpio, full moon in Taurus: god of the underworld meets goddess of fecundity. 11th of 11th. Remembrance Day; Day of World Peace. And we live in a world that still manufactures cluster bombs to shred small children.

Rain. Here some comfort in walking in the damp Devon lanes: redwings and fieldfares overhead, come in from migration; a flock of thrushes turning over wet leaves. From the woods an unbearably sweet burst of birdsong, fleeting and ethereal.

And my sister, bird of passage down this afternoon from Scotland. I shall drive us across the moor with its bursts of golden beech leaves over the Dart bridge, then through its clean-washed ochres and rusts and soots to see my mum, whose earthly light is dimming but who manages a beatific smile still at kind words.

And there is another light sliding in. My friend Simon said something beautiful: 'During my time [working] at the hospice, I saw that the journey towards death can be a time of real grace (and of living so close to the soul that it is almost impossible to know whether the emotion is joy or despair).'

And this is also an act of grace:
to see another over this threshold. 

(from 'Rosa Canina', Roselle Angwin, in All the Missing Names of Love, forthcoming IDP 2012

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

the music of the spheres

Warning: this one may be flaky and is certainly incomplete.

Geometry in the resonance of strings
Music in the spacing of the spheres

There was once a time when the arts and the sciences were bedfellows. More, maths, music and astronomy/astrology were seen as integrally connected ('the music of the spheres'), and these three/four disciplines have many connections. Everything, after all, is about relationship, and, in terms of each of these disciplines, it was easy to speak of harmonious and disharmonious relationship (thank you, Pythagoras).

A lot has to do with the proportions and the angles or intervals between digits, units, or notes; and planets in their orbits. Think about harmonious proportion in architecture, and how pleasing Georgian proportions are to the eye – because they partake of the golden ratio (also known as the golden mean, Fibonacci sequence, or phi), which is approximately a relationship of thirds. And the same ratios that are pleasing to the eye are also to the ear. Similarly, in astrology, there are comfortable degrees of relationship, and challenging ones.

Hmmm how to start to talk about this, in just a few words, when what I want to say requires at least a book's worth of explanation? I'll start obliquely.

In my first book (sorry to bang on about this) I spoke of the journey to consciousness. I depicted this as a circular journey, and one that we all make, from the relatively unconscious self-immersion of the young person through to the (ideal) understanding of the elder that our time here needs to include service – an awareness that what we bring adds to the collective sum of human love, endeavour and growth – or not.

In my view, archetypally speaking (I draw from myth and the thinking of such luminaries as Dr Jung, Joseph Campbell, Marie-Louise von Franz, Jung's colleague; and later my own teacher Joan Swallow, and the late Ian Gordon-Brown), the journey begins on a cusp and continues initially deeper into the unconscious. There are, of course, thresholds to cross, dragons/obstacles to face, people, things and attitudes to be lost or found, treasures to be gained.

There comes a point, the myths in which the archetypes are carried tell us, where one crosses the threshold back into the 'upper' world, where one becomes more conscious of the needs of others, of ethical behaviour, of taking responsibility, of contributing to the collective, of taking stock and turning to live a more fruitful, deeper and more authentic life. This is always a time of change, and within it the potential for transformation. In  our culture, we call it mid-life. Often it is accompanied by huge pressure, internal and external.

At the same time, roughly, as I began my training in Transpersonal Psychology (actually it was a bit before, around the age of 28 – as it happens, at my Saturn return, a time of upheaval, astrology tells us) I also did a training in Astrological Psychology. This uses the archetypal energies of the planets as carried in ancient mythology to explore constellations of energy in the psyche, and also draws heavily on Jungian thought. (The school I studied with is the Huber school, based in Zurich, though I did the course here in the UK.)

In this reading of the planets as psychological archetypes, the journey one makes through one's own birthchart, so to speak, is also circular. The theory is that the birthchart, or natal horoscope, plotting as it does the planets at one's moment and place of birth, can operate as a kind of map or blueprint, illustrating, by reflecting the relationships in the heavens, particular emphases in the individual born under those qualities of energy. In the Huber system, one's life is also seen as a movement around the wheel of the birthchart, so that one could be said to be meeting head-on particular qualities as one progresses round the wheel of one's birthmap by age.

In the Huber system, one traverses a 'house' (there are 12 houses in the zodiac, each ruled by a sign and with its own particular qualities and emphases) in approximately 7 years. This means that, in the wheel of the horoscope, the horizontal axis, starting as it were in the east at the moment of birth and extending to the west, is crossed downwards into the 'underworld' of the unconscious at birth, and one's crossing the threshold into the 'conscious' realm happens at approximately 42 (6 houses x 7 years). (You will have noticed that many changes tend to happen at around this time for many people: career change, housemove, marriage, divorce, children, lifestyle: a 'mid-life crisis' might call some or all of these things into question. Astrologically speaking, at 42 one is at the midpoint of two big planetary cycles: halfway through the first Uranus cycle, so in a relationship of opposition; and Uranus governs that energy associated with sudden, transpersonal, unpredictable and electric events; plus halfway through – in opposition to – second time around – the natal placement of Saturn, who represents in energetic terms almost the opposite of Uranus: preserving the status quo at all costs, making concrete, setting structures firmly in place, delineating and defending boundaries. No surprise that often an individual at around 42 feels torn in half by conflicting needs and impulses.)

As one travels this notional birthchart, so by 'age point' one arrives at places of harmonious or disharmonious connections. Add to this the orbits and transits of the planets of 'now', actually cycling in the heavens, and there is a complexity of energies meeting, dancing, fighting, breaking up, reforming.

There is a great deal to say on this, but to get to the point on a personal level, by 'age point', ie my journey around the wheel which in the Huber system is estimated as taking an average of 84 years, has brought me now into close conjunction with a very difficult angle or relationship with my birth placements of Mars and Pluto. This is an explosive and transformative time, after which nothing will look the same. Mars, the masculine principle personified, is the god of war and confrontation, amongst other things, and Pluto the god of the Underworld, transformation, depth and the realm of the dead. I have registered in passing for a very long time that this particular time in my life would be challenging (not hard of course to divine that, given that I'm at the age where children leave or have left home, one lifts one's head and looks around for how one wants to live for the rest of one's life, and parents die).

My mistake was in assuming that the relevant challenge would be, possibly, my dad dying – he who is so Martian, so Plutonic, in many ways (keynote qualities for Scorpio). Instead, it seems that my mum is on her final journey, and this is of course one of the hardest times in my life.

Sanity lies in being able to retain a balance of attention; to walk the Middle Way. Perhaps I spoke before of the Zen (and I think also Sufi) teaching story of the man who had fallen over the cliff? Above, a white lion is waiting to pounce if he manages to ascend the cliff. Below, a black tiger crouches with jaws open, in case he falls. The tree to which he is clinging is beginning to pull away from the cliff-face. But just in front of him, just in reach, is a wild strawberry. In this moment, the only moment he has/we have, he stretches to pluck it, to taste it with all of himself... aaaaahhhhh how sweet.

My wild strawberry: this casserole tonight, with exception of the barley, stock and smoked paprika, was grown in our garden: garlic, leek, potato, beans, sweetcorn, red cabbage, marjoram. Mmmm. Delicious, this moment, sandwiched as it is.

And delicious, too, this journey through the spheres with all its joys and despairs.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

snipe: that 13-line sonnet

Today I have no words, no fresh words. Here instead is that 13-line sonnet I mentioned way back when, that BBC R4 used; brought to mind because at dusk yesterday I saw a snipe.


Never before but in snow, lately, from between
the woodland margins at the crux of day and night
a snipe has startled from the peat and russet leaves
now rimed and crackling; in its swift-winged flight

ghosting the snow-lit dusk I’m reminded
of a shade I can’t quite catch from the hinterlands
of my mind. Something magical in its silence,
its speed, that long bill piercing the wind;

something hidden; so that today when I read
Heaney speaking of the soul as weighing ‘roughly
the same as a snipe’ the words snatch my breath;
its name ­– snipe snipe snipe – all day as I go about
nagging my throat, taken up residence in my chest.

~ Roselle Angwin

Monday, 7 November 2011


I'm not sure I've ever seen a sunset quite as spectacular as last night's (even in a November, the sunset month par excellence here, when there are clear skies) driving across Dartmoor. The sky to the north was that limpid lemon-blue, but the west was an amazing fireshow: deep deep orange-red throwing the clean dark lines of Dartmoor's unique tors into relief, and beyond them the last hills of Devon and then the Cornish tors of Bodmin Moor folded in crimson, poppy, carmine, purple, and pewter-blue. Above all that a light effect that I want to call 'red shift', but I think isn't: a prismatic floating extra colour, superimposed on the red; some optic effect of lightwaves thrown back up from the descended sun, I imagine.

There was a poignancy to the sunset, so close on the time of the ancestors, and my own it seems prescient poem of last Monday (the mirror poem) that I posted a day or two ago, thinking of my own ancestors in the west who have seemed somehow to be gathering in memory lately. We were travelling to see my mum, who is suddenly critically ill. We are facing some of the hardest decisions in my and my sisters' lives about quality of life and quality of care of another for whom one is nominally responsible.

Can we do this possibly-ultimate – it's hard to know – threshold journey with grace, with love, with compassion, with faith in the life/death/life processes, and not be rattled by fear? Can we hold calm, as she is, with her face on the pillow peaceful despite the difficult physical processes, can we remember all the things we hold true and dear, in the face of uncertainty? Can we help her make this journey with as much of our hearts as we can, without being immobilised by our own needs, attachments, terrors? We all have to do this at some stage. That it happens may not matter as much as we think it does, from our fearful little loss-focused orbits. How it happens – I mean at a subtle level, not the physical alone – matters a great deal; and much of that may depend on how we, those who love her and are loved by her, deal with it all...

Think of us.

'... And life slips by like a field mouse / Not shaking the grass.' (Ezra Pound)

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Mario Petrucci's 'Letters to Ukraine'

with my friend Mario's permission:

from The Day Digest  [Ukraine]  Publication date: 3rd November 2011

Letters to Ukraine – 9

What use is art?  This most plural question has no singular reply. Pleasure, celebration, insight… each must answer for herself.  For me, contemporary art needs some hand in bridge-building.  So many of our problems (economic-ecological-social) arise from excessive specialisation.  Among our narrow-sighted experts, who sees the landscape entire?  Who beckons us away from the simplistic riverbank where we slumber, to the precipices where one must be receptive, awake?  Radical, connective art helps society to stay alert to itself; but much modern/postmodern art says either “Ah, let’s just sleep together” or “Find my impossible treasure – but with no map from me”. Of course, the greatest art needs no map, isn’t bound by social utility; it has its own reasons for being; but it can prompt us to see (perhaps even to cross) certain barriers we might otherwise miss or ignore.  The State may attempt to control or isolate, but bridge-makers persuade and liberate – or is all persuasion reserved for speech-writers and advertisers?  Artistic bridge-making demands courage.  Refusal is a kind of bridge too.  The King, ordering his prospective Queen to love him, heard her reply: Always.  Fearing for her head, she sacrificed her heart.  Genuine art is the gutsy Queen who can say No.

Letters to Ukraine – 9     3 Nov. 2011

Mario Petrucci
is an award-winning poet, ecologist, physicist and avant-garde essayist.
copyright:  Mario Petrucci 2011

Saturday, 5 November 2011

mirror poems

One of the big joys of my life is working with groups. This week I've been involved in three poetry groups, and I find this work so enlivening and enriching.

Today was my regular monthly Two Rivers group of poets. We've been meeting for nearly twenty years now, though the line-up of course does change. Today we were looking at Ezra Pound's wonderful little 2-line poem 'In a Station of the Metro', and how part of its success depends on juxtaposing two images that are sufficiently different as to be surprising in conjunction, but not so dissimilar as to seem contrived or clever-clever self-conscious.

On Thursday I was part of an invited group of poets exploring the whole field of poetry in some depth and breadth. These are all very able poets, mostly unconventional in their approach, and the debate is very lively and very illuminating. (It helped that it took place in an C17th manor house – a former owner of which was supposed to have been the inspiration for The Villain in Hound of the Baskervilles – at the end of a very long woodland track on Dartmoor, with excellent food and wine; and that the hosts were very welcoming to the recently-ill-and-still-not-quite-right She Who Wears Her Grey Matter on the Outside, whose houndly bearing was exactly right for a baronial hall and its huge fireplace.) I came away remembering how easy it is to fall into conventional syntactically-correct modes of expression in poetry, and how a little experiment and disruption of this, a little holding-back, can help the imaginative process in both reader and writer.

Both these approaches are to do with how little we need in a poem (or a life), rather than how much, for it to be successful; and a reminder that a lot of what happens for a reader happens in the gaps between words:

It's not the words that count
it's what flickers in the quickening ground
between them.

Mondays are my regular Poetry School sessions in Exeter. This last Monday I used Julia Copus' mirror poem in the Staying Alive anthology (p202): 'The Back Seat of My Mother's Car' as a model. (I believe she invented this form, which she called 'specular'.)

The poem unfolds one way, and then  folds itself back in a mirror image the other way. (In effect you are reading the poem a second time, from the bottom line up to the top, but in the usual left-to-right of the English language.) Because of syntax, it's harder than you would think to get this right; her poem is particularly successful because it's long (and therefore harder), and because, by altering the punctuation just a little, she changes the emphasis in the second version.

Below is an example, written in the session (Samhain), of my own; not as successful as JC's by a long way, and I have not managed her trick. This is just a first draft, as an example; it will no doubt change.

I have an interesting dilemma with this one: maybe it would work better turned inside out? That is, with the current middle line/s going to the beginning and the end?

On the Day of the Dead

What we want is not too big:
to love and to be loved, to belong;
to not be the crisis behind that passing siren.

This evening as I left –
thin red bleed of sunset
rimming the moors to the west –

I thought of ancestors,
of the day of the dead,
of all things lost or missing or gone.

I thought of my friend and his sorrow,
the decay in the falling leaves,
the shortening days.

The old year fading away.

The shortening days,
the decay in the falling leaves.
I thought of my friend and his sorrow,

of all things lost or missing or gone;
of the day of the dead.
I thought of ancestors

rimming the moors to the west.
A thin red bleed of sunset
this evening as I left.

To not be the crisis behind that passing siren;
to love and be loved, to belong –
what we want is not too big.

Friday, 4 November 2011


This is sootfall, and a freefall too down from inky space, a wash of prussian and ochre, the swift hours’ handprints visible and then gone.

You are a flush of light. You are night and the days piling up behind, a wake of ashes and stars.

You are a slow flow and tumble; you are the raven’s call, and the deep bassoon thrum of the dark’s waterfall, the staircase between worlds.

A flurry of embers. A smudge on the cool air. Fingerprint in space. The human race speeding up. Slipstream. Your own heart thrust into blossom.

~ Roselle Angwin, from Bardo

Thursday, 3 November 2011

scientific truth, symbolic truth, venus and mercury

'All truths in the end are symbolic. // I am a metaphor for transience / just as a bird is a metaphor for flight'    

Roselle Angwin, 'What-are-the-birds-doing-with-the-December-sky rap', in Bardo (Shearsman, May 2011)

'Ancient art has a specific inner content. At one time, art possessed the same purpose that books do in our day, namely: to preserve and transmit knowledge. In olden days people did not write books, they incorporated their knowledge into works of art. We would find a great many ideas in the works of ancient art passed down to us, if only we knew how to read them.'  

G. Gurdjieff


There is scientific truth, and there is symbolic truth. One deals in what is literal, the other in the metaphorical. Each is 'true' within in its own frame of reference.

Scientific truth deals with that which is in effect tangible or measurable, 'out there', empirically. A scientific materialist will deal only, in terms of 'truth', with 'facts'. The world stops beyond that.

A symbolic truth, on the other hand, does not rely on statistics or primarily on material evidence but on greater and more mysterious plays of energy that are either not measurable by our rational mind or are beyond our current capacities for doing so. To try and reduce it to that kind of hard factual evidence is both to miss the point and do it a great disservice.

This kind of truth speaks to the heart, the psyche, the intuition. Art offers symbolic truth. Music does, too. And poetry. And literature generally, story, myth, drama.

The world of dream, as any Jungian knows, offers symbolic truth. So the fact that, last night, I dreamed that I was attending a wedding and a funeral simultaneously, and the fact that I was also simultaneously (in my dream) watching a young couple (who couldn't look more different from myself and anyone else in my world) having a furiously out-of-order raging fight while on a motorbike with a sidecar carrying twin babies, and then having a crash, is a symbol worth looking at, for me. It is unlikely to be simply 'coincidence' at this time; it will undoubtedly have something to show me of inner processes at work in my own life, and the characters within it will all be aspects of myself. (I smile at the fact that the buxom young woman on the motorbike with a voice like a foghorn was wearing fluffy pink polyester and had pigtails – that is so different from my preferences that I don't even recognise her in my psyche, so she must be an aspect of me that is very well hidden; and therefore really bears close examination!)

The world of myth has something to teach us, as long as our 'logos' doesn't try and interpret our 'mythos' in scientific terms. Since a few of you have asked, my last blog, the poem, is really about what Campbell, that great interpreter of myth, called 'the Hero's Journey', which is a journey each of us makes, and maybe several times in our lives: the journey to psychological maturity. Yes, I've been there, more than once. Various of my friends are there at the moment. Many of my workshop participants and students have voiced this kind of crisis. This poor fractured world is full of the dislocations and mismatches between our heart and duty, our need and our bliss, what we have chosen and what we would like, perhaps especially at this time, that leave us collectively in a dark forest with no map.

All these symbolic systems of charting truth have enormous healing potential, and that is something I'll write more of another time.

I've spent the greatest part of my adult life working with the archetypes and symbols in myth and poetry, and in what they may offer us of psychological or spiritual insight.

I began this study in my teens, continued it at university where I spent my time with the great bardic and shamanic stories of the Celtic culture (and to some extent the Norse and Anglo-Saxon too), immersed myself in the Grail myths and troubadour stories which all carry enormous and significant wisdom for our psychological, emotional and spiritual evolution if read in the 'right' way, followed it with a training in transpersonal psychology which deals specifically with the realms of the psychospiritual and the archetypal, and followed that with my first workshops, 'Myth as Metaphor', 20 years ago. Out of these first workshops came my book Riding the Dragon – myth & the inner journey.

This is the opening of a much much bigger conversation that I haven't really touched on much in the blog but which underpins my whole life, all the time. As usual, I don't have the time to follow this through right now, but what I've said above is really a brief preliminary here today to my wanting to speak a little of the symbolic 'truths' carried in astrology (I also did a training in astrological psychology, connecting the archetypes in the human psyche with the greater macrocosmic cycles, in my early 30s and that is another thing that underpins my thinking).

Astrology, for me, has nothing at all to do with the 'predictive' stuff that the newspaper horoscopes would have us believe will be true for a whole twelfth of the population today. It has everything to do with attempting to map and understand bigger cosmic cycles, of which our small lives are part. The basic tenet is one of interconnectedness: 'as above, so below'.

In the worldview of scientific materialism, the world consists of basically disconnected units. This view, of course, is seriously challenged by quantum physics, and by recent discoveries in the field of the behaviour of neutrinos. We also know that ecosystems, by definition, are informed by interconnectedness, and most scientists working at the cutting edge are having to acknowledge that our old scientific explanations simply don't go far enough.

So in a worldview of interconnectedness, what astrology may have to offer is an ability to take a 'reading' from the visible movements of the planets in our solar system and, using archetypes ascribed to those planets for 1000s of years, extrapolate as to a quality of energy prevalent in any given moment; a quality that will affect everything here on earth too. In other words, we're reading the macrocosm to have insight into the microcosm. The planets don't make anything happen, they are simply a symbolic system which can be read in a specific way. Nonetheless we know that physically the planets affect each others' gravitational fields. What we are assuming is that this does not only happen on a physical level, but in terms of more subtle energy too.

So there is a 'quality of energy' of a moment, the argument goes, mirrored or mappable in the movements of the planets, that affects us all.

Right now, Venus, archetypal planet of love and harmony, and Mercury, archetypal symbol of mind and communication, have both just moved from Scorpio, where they have been perhaps reflecting in us over the past few weeks deep areas of conflict and intense issues in relation to relationship and communication – dark, intense, deep-seated turbulent stuff – into Sagittarius, where new and lighter and more uplifting experiences of harmonious communication may become possible. (If this not true of your life, you have either been one of the few, or you have simply not noticed! OK, or perhaps you have already done the inner work on these issues we are called upon to do in such times.)

And I'm interested too to see that the stand-off outside St Paul's in London looks like it may have new possibilities for resolution...

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

the dark of the year

One day the hole
in your life comes calling
it's a black bear woken
it's hungry
it wants your clothes
your flesh. It wants your
bones. It eats your work
home marriage.
It wants marrow.
It trashes your dreams
all you've believed in
lived for. It blows
the doors of your
heart wide open
and there's nowhere
to hide. You are naked
nameless dumped
in a dark forest
no map out.

It's around then
you realise
that you're
no longer lost.

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