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

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Journaling Power - guest blog by Juliet Platt

I love Roselle’s glorious list of distinct things she keeps in her journal. It is a fabulous analysis of how as writers we use our journals to capture snippets and interpretations of the external world around us, as well as accounts of what we find in our inner world too. All serve as sources of inspiration or springboards for our work.

Yet a certainty I have arrived at after years of reflective writing practice is that we do not need to be inspired to write. Reflective writing itself gives us inspiration. Or at least allows us to get below the surface, into the boundless resourcefulness of our being.

When writers look within we get to work past our writerly persona and remind ourselves who we really are on the inside. Once we know this we learn anew how to meet and re-present the worlds we notice with the greatest amount of authenticity and insight.

To deepen our reflections here are three of my favourite journaling habits that regularly free me and bring me a sense of expansion, clarity and intuition.


One often hears about keeping a gratitude journal and if you’re anything like me you might recoil at its apparent worthiness. But also if you’re anything like me you’ll want to run at it anyway, because there is something attractive and wholesome about expressing gratitude.

The challenge here is to complete the daily prompt ‘I am grateful for…’ three times, each time naming a different thing for which you feel grateful. Many businessmen I’ve shared this exercise with have burst into laughter at the idea of being grateful for something completely different in every single response. But that’s the expansive discipline of this exercise.

In my journal I’ve expressed gratitude for sunshine, birdsong, my early morning cuppa, my comfy bed, my deep sleep, the promise of the day ahead.

When things have got really tricky and I feel I’ve run out of things to be grateful for I’ve turned my gratitude on unlikely things – like anger, disappointment, and sadness.

I can’t imagine the businessmen would approve, but reflecting gratefully on the things we would naturally resist and reject is powerfully transformative. It always reveals many new perspectives that were previously hidden from view.


One of the earliest journals ever kept is Japanese courtier’s Sei Shonogan’s Pillow Book. In it she makes lists of things that make her happy, irritated and proud. Reading it you get a sense of each separate item being considered and savoured – a worthy exercise in acknowledgement, appreciation and understanding. Having read Roselle’s comprehensive list of journal contents a similar feeling settled within me.

Using our journal to make lists helps to reignite our sense of purpose. For a further shot of energy, try making distinct lists of your positive attributes it’s normally tempting to collapse together, like talents, skills, gifts, interests and commitments. Not only will you experience something akin to all your vertebrae clicking into alignment as you disentangle things, you may also discover how much (or how little) you value your abilities.


For me this is the most thrilling and revealing aspect of our inner landscape that journaling helps us to mine.

I love that we have a body that allows us to experience the world and each other sensually. So often writing can feel like an exercise of the brain, and more specifically of the left hemisphere. Nevertheless I have a strong conviction, based entirely on my own subjective experience, that journaling integrates both hemispheres of the brain. It connects our imagination with the fine motor skills needed to push the pen across the page and form meaning out of inky marks.

This is a phenomenon of infinite wonder to me – and that having learned to write we each have this facility – to commune with our innermost self, our intuition and what Marion Milner calls the sagacity of our bodies.

To tune into the wisdom of your body and receive its message, check in for a moment and feel where you might have any physical tension. Then give it a name, engage it in dialogue and take down its words as if you were its stenographer.  This is a stunningly effective exercise which exposes us to raw truths that have the power to transform not just our writing but our entire lives.

May these exercises bring a new dimension to your journal, your writing and your life!

Juliet Platt

Juliet is an author and facilitator who loves introducing non-writers to the astounding benefits of journaling. In the past year she has been flexing her muscles as a ghost-writer, and growing her team of commercial writers who provide copy, content and case studies for businesses and organisations. You can read more of her work here:

Saturday, 21 May 2016

two haibun

The moor shaking out her green finery, setting yellow fire to gorse

at the back door
this cleft rock –
home to moss and horse shit

The way earth holds death and life together in her belly, makes no judgement. We feel all the time we need to choose, to decide, to 'move forward', to achieve. How would it be if we could simply dwell in the cycles of it all?

constant chatter of drops
this leaky gutter
my mind

Outside, blackbird song. Spring doing her thing without our help; each year clothing this cherry with flakes of sunlight.


The larch tree is full of herself again, has emerged with Persephone to give us another summer of her greenness

in the rocky bank
fumbles at the wrong hole

and all the while a soft rain seduces earth's skin to open

the imperative 
is growth
it will break you apart

until, stumbling, you find yourself at the foot of the right mountain at exactly the right moment, ready to begin again.


© Roselle Angwin 2016


Sunday, 15 May 2016

the journal

Like most writers, I imagine, I have, and carry with me, what I used to think of as my notebook. 

Now I realise it's my journal, in which I track – well, everything. In it goes my life:
  • details of my immediate inner and outer life: family, animals, friends, significant events, the garden and the rest of the natural world here in our Devon valley, the seasons' turning, weather and natural events, story and myth, travel journalling when I'm visiting the Hebrides or Brittany or the Cévennes mountains, and my work;
  • notes about place;
  • ideas;
  • nature notes;
  • the big picture: outer collective stuff – political events, foreign affairs, the environment, issues of social justice; 
  • poems and ideas for poems; 
  • stream-of-consciousness writing; 
  • quotes; 
  • philosophical notes; 
  • photos, postcards, pictures and sketches (sometimes I'll collage or at least customise the cover);
  • my dreams; 
  • snippets of conversation; 
  • phrases; 
  • things I've cut out and pasted in, or copied in by hand, from publications; 
  • records of my life; 
  • titles of books I'd like to read, music to listen to, films to see, or that I want to recommend, or that have been recommended to me by others; 
  • what I'm reading;
  • ideas for workshops, courses or books of my own; 
  • first drafts;
  • secrets;
  • things that I don't want to forget; 
  • things that have disturbed my balance (useful to track these over time and see what's changed in my reactions and responses; if nothing, then notes to self to pay attention to these issues);
  • things I want consciously to work on; 
  • imagined dialogues with or unsent letters to people where there's unfinished business, and/or people I care about or have cared about, living or dead; 
  • joyful events (lest you should think it's all navel-gazing misery); 
  • records of my spiritual/psychological/literary growth;
  • record of acceptances of literary stuff sent out; 
  • the occasional rant;
  • a kind of checking-in at the year's turning points;
  • workings-out of soul-stuff;
  • and all the rest, including a kind of encyclopaedia of my own esoteric interests.
Some days, the only writing I do is this blog or in my journal. And some days that has to be enough. Even 10 minutes a day is better than not writing.

Through revisiting these journals from time to time, and perhaps especially the freewriting sessions and the dream notes, I track long distance themes in my life, and their resolution (or otherwise). (I can't over-estimate the value of this latter in a life trying to be lived consciously.) So the journal is also a therapist.

It's very liberating. A journal is private. It's not for public consumption; it's a place to become intimate with oneself. And it's a way of not forgetting.

I mention all this because it was good to be back in an environment the other day, at the Cornwall workshop, where we were talking about the usefulness of a journal, and of the conjoining of the creative and reflective processes, and how therapeutic paying attention to these things through writing can be. And how often we forget its value. 

Or permit ourselves even just 10 minutes a day to visit our journal. 

'The hardest thing to do is doing what you want to do. As soon as you think of it, there are innumerable reasons why you should not do it. Writing this book, for instance. I spent a whole day on the beach arguing with myself. And all that time, the waves splashed miraculous towers onto the beach, birds ran through water tunnels and up to my feet, the white winter sun made mirrors in my face. I could have given in to this beauty and become one with my walk. But I didn't because I kept on talking in my head.

'What did I talk about then? What was this voice in my head arguing, louder than the waves of the ocean? It was telling me what this journal had to be! How it had to be. What could be in it and what not. Mostly it was telling me that this project was not a good idea... See, you can't do it! Stop right now. You began it the wrong way, this project. This is not the right way.

'I looked at the sky through the white light and the water mist, and my chest was so constricted from all these arguments that I was amazed how birds could keep themselves in the air. Then I realized, perhaps they have no little voices in their head, telling them they can't do things. Imagine every time a bird wanted to fly, it stopped breathing long enough to think why it probably shouldn't fly. You would have a lot of lame-winged contorted creatures hopping around on the beach.'  
(From A Walk Between Heaven and Earth, Burghild Nina Holzer.)

Buy a pen you like to write with. Find a notebook you want to write in; or make your own. There are many examples on the web, and many books on creative journalling.

Here's a link that might be of interest to you:

You could also go on a bookmaking/binding course, such as those run by Rachel Hazell (can personally vouch for them):

Thursday, 12 May 2016

blackbirds, adrenalin and writing workshops

4.45 am. My current waking time. Much earlier than I want, or need. Consolation: the blackbird belting out its joyousness (or joyousness to my ear) from the nearby buddleia for the next two or three hours, by which time of course I'm long up, and encouraging the old dog to come up into our orchard. I open up the greenhouse with its Jack and the Beanstalk bumper crop of speedy seedlings of the tasty and prolific pea-bean which fills our winter freezer with its crop of protein. Last year, the big old Bramley apple tree over the hedge, the blackbird's habitual singing-post, was toppled by storms; I miss picturing the blackbird in such a fine tree, thread to Avalon (which comes from the Brythonic Celtic word for 'apple').

Each morning and evening a couple of wild geese, Canada geese, fly over; close enough for me to hear that their deep honks are actually three-tone notes at intervals – is this correct technically? – of fifths. That's even more pleasing.

And we're perched right on that cusp of near-springness, just before everything has unfolded into fullness. How can I not love this threshold moment, this breath-held time of year?

Every year two swallows check out the courtyard and the barn. TM converted the barn 16 or so years ago. For us, that's fortunate. For the swallows, perhaps not so: I can't help imagining that these are descendants of descendants of descendants who nested in its rafters every year for perhaps decades, and the race memory, encoded in their DNA, brings them fruitlessly back to where they can no longer nest. We've installed swallow and house martin clay cups specifically made for these hirundines tucked deep into the roof of the open-fronted woodstore, but so far all they've garnered is a good crop of spiders.

I'm rejoicing at the fact that the trackpad on my Mac is working again. For the last few weeks working on the laptop has been a very hit-and-miss affair, and at times neither the trackpad nor the mouse have allowed me any kind of access into all my work. Tie this in with an almost-non-existent internet access – it's half a megabyte on a good day, and the last few months a great deal less than that – and a downhill decline of both the day I got back, and much of the last week has been a blur of simply trying to open up documents or get online, often fruitlessly, while falling badly behind with work commitments such as mentoring, prepping imminent workshops (see below), and publicising the summer programme.

This is the price of living in the sticks. We're at the end of the line, as BT keep telling us. My daughter, who's been here with us for part of the winter running her weaving business out of her van, walked past a couple of BT engineers installing new fibre optics a few months ago about half a mile from us. 'We're giving you high-speed broadband,' one of them smiled to her. 'You mean broadband?' she responded, but the irony was lost. Oh and surprise: the superfast broadband didn't reach us.

My leaving for Iona, and the amazing experience of being in the islands for three weeks and working with a couple of dozen lovely creatives over two of them was subject to a last-minute high-stress situation. Not only was my ancient dog ill again, off her food and with severe diarrhoea (she barely ate in four weeks, though undoubtedly did better overall staying here with my partner and my daughter and her dog than she would have done with the trip north – not the best way for her to occupy an hotel room up there while I was working, either) but the head gasket had gone on my campervan, essential to part of the time away, and I woke up the day before I was due to drive north with a severe case of labyrinthitis, the third in four months. There was no way I could even lift my head from the pillow, let alone think of driving 600 miles. So I changed my plans and caught a train early the next day, and, usefully, didn't vomit nor lose my balance and fall backwards down the escalator with my heavy rucksack and kitbag. And felt better after 48 hours.

So Iona was sandwiched between two high-stress situations.

And now, back, three of the stress-inducing situations are behind me. I had three single-day workshops to lead in a period of five days. I love this work; find it enriching, stimulating and rewarding. But when I can't get onto my computer to access handouts and sort out the preparation, let alone collect emails in relation to the courses, it's a different matter.

The workshops themselves make me feel like I'm flying.

I remember the very first time I stood up before an 'audience' of workshop participants to offer my first-ever workshop, booked by a visionary Adult Education programmer. This was a course named 'Personal Mythology: myth as metaphor', in which we explored the power of the myths to which we were individually emotionally most drawn, and how they might have shaped our lives and beliefs. It was 1991 and I was fresh from my psychotherapeutic training and brought the passion and zeal of the newly-converted to my newly-created set of workshops (this formed the basis of my book Riding the Dragon – myth & the inner Journey, which was commissioned as a result of the editor seeing a flier for this workshop). 

It was a peak experience for me, and I have never forgotten the hit of conviction that this, this, was what I was born to do that flooded my whole being with a shot of blissed-out adrenalin-like endorphins.

And, 25 years on, I still have this feeling as I begin a workshop. I consider myself truly fortunate, blessed, to do work that fills me with joy and is in its way a small contribution, I hope, to good, focusing on freeing the imagination to bring the power it has to transform lives and enhance compassion.

This past week I've led three different workshops. One, here at home in my garden study by the greening courtyard, buzzards wheeling above, on the cusp of spring, was the monthly continuation of the work I've been doing with a number of poets in a closed group that goes back almost as far as that early myth workshop. Writing, here, is depth exploration, soulwork, creative mining and intimacy of the finest kind as we focus on pulling the 'best words in the best order' out of the darkness of our subconscious. In so many ways we each, in this group, know aspects of the others that almost no one else will, and the poetry seems to deepen with each session.

Two days later I drove up onto the moor, over the Dart and into the heartlands where blackthorn blossom, chrome-yellow gorse flowers and acid green beech leaves frame distances, coloured in with hazy drifts of pale lilac on some hillsides – the arrival of the moorland bluebells. 

This workshop I'd named 'Presence: haiku, haibun and englynion'. There's a different focus in a poetry workshop where you are using a particular form as a container for language, and given that haiku and haibun are, for me, inextricably linked with Zen ideas on present-moment dwelling, the paradox of transience and its beauty when backgrounded with notions of permanence or ceaselessness, and a continuous and intentional awareness of the interaction between inner and outer geographies. This invites a different kind of depth: a stillness, a waiting for some lines to arise from empty fullness.

I realised straight away that the englyn, the early Celtic bardic form, didn't really fit with the Zen spirit of the day, and besides needs a workshop to itself. Still, it too emerged in a small way from the echoes left hanging in the air from my lovely deep-throated Tibetan singing bowl (which – big mistake – I'd neglected to take to Iona, where it was sorely missed).

Would you like a haiku/haibun lesson on here? 

Then yesterday I had the pleasure of driving into Cornwall, my homeland. I facilitate on an occasional basis a group of writers who have mixed literary interests: some are writing novels; some enjoy short fiction and general creative writing; some like poetry, some don't; some are interested in the therapeutic aspects of journalling, something I've taught a lot in the past.

My heart rises as I drive parallel with the Tamar over towards Boscastle, then turn left towards Port Isaac and the sea. The group meets in each others' houses, and this time H, who makes the best cookies in the world unfortunately for my half-hearted weight-loss regime, is hosting us in her lovely glass-rich upstairs room at the farmhouse – which she assures me has wonderful sea views. Trouble is we are deep in fog, all day. Never mind. 

Working with this group, too, is a joy. I'd cooked up a concoction of exercises that might, I hoped, appeal to everyone, with the possibility of their taking aspects into their own personal creative direction.

I like this mix: freeflow writing, reflective practice, making fiction ('You find a half-written letter. Write it and its missing half') and therapeutic writing ('Write that letter you needed to write to a particular person and never did; you probably won't send it.') Some of the results – delivered with laughter and tears and met with knowing and sympathetic nods – will find their way into books now.

And as a bonus, I was able to write That Letter myself; and very freeing it was too.


Wednesday, 4 May 2016

making story: that bright moment

I've been thinking a great deal again about story: why it's important, what it can show us, the kind of stories we need as a species to forge a new way forward. I've written about it many times, here and elsewhere. I've been thinking, too, about how and when I might re-incorporate into my course programme, as I've mentioned, the previous workshops I used to lead back last century and in the early years of this, where myth, archetype, fairy and folk tales were key to understanding our lives, as well as inspiration for creating new stories.

Looking back over the blogs, here's one I posted five years ago now, in May 2011. It's an excerpt from my book Writing the Bright Moment – inspiration & guidance for writers (hence the references), which you can buy from me via this blog and Paypal. I suppose it's primarily for writers, about making story, but it's also about how stories make us.


A Tree Full of Birds

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

In the chapter on creation stories I laid out, briefly, a number of different approaches to explaining how we came to be here. Each of these viewpoints is unique; and yet many have features in common. Some have a gender bias; some seem loaded towards violence; some have humour and generosity; some establish the pre-eminence and dominion of humans; others less so. An individual culture’s religious foundations – and, by implication, its creation narrative – has notoriously been fiercely defended as the only possible worldview, and arguably has been, and is still, at the heart of many situations of world conflict. What happens when one culture’s adherence to its view of our origins, and the faith built on those, comes up against a different one?
When the idea of a spherical, rather than flat, earth was once again raised as a serious proposition in Europe in the Middle Ages (the ancient Greeks had already propounded this thesis), this view was condemned by the Vatican as utter heresy, and some of its proponents were excommunicated or put to death.
Later, Cromwell’s troops destroyed the ‘idols’ and icons of the Roman Church in Britain. In the C19th, Christian missionaries destroyed the ‘idols’ of tribal peoples in the Commonwealth. At the turn of the new millennium, fundamentalist Muslims destroyed the sacred Buddhist images in Afghanistan.
Plus ça change... Some current fundamentalist Christian sects cannot accept any truth in other religions, nor in any Darwinian and post-Darwinian views on evolution. Some atheists cannot accept any notion of the existence of the sacred, in any form. Some people insist that creation narratives are literal representations of how things were and are; some say they are allegories; some maintain that, as metaphors, they constitute a vast and important body of ‘wisdom teachings’; some dismiss them as childishly superstitious rubbish which should be stamped out.

Many so-called ‘primitive’ tribal cultures, ridiculed by our Western ‘civilisation’, have a profound awareness of the interconnectedness of everything, and live by laws of respect and reverence for all life, as embedded in their creation narratives. We, who consider ourselves sophisticated, have coerced, bullied, seduced or ‘preached’ many of these peoples away from these beliefs and into our worldview which, ‘developed’ though it may be, is hardly a sustainable, let alone a respectful, one.

What we do know is that we need to find a wiser, more sustainable way to live; not just for ourselves, but for the planet as a whole.

In ‘Tongues of the Earth’ in this book Jeremy Thres raised these questions; and they are important enough as to raise again. What are the tales we tell ourselves? What underlying beliefs and truths do they portray? What stories support our values? How could we build on this? Do the stories in which we immerse ourselves enhance our view of ourselves, each other and life?

Here’s another question: what responsibility does the writer have for what he or she puts into the world? No one wants chocolate-box stories and perpetual epiphany; you can’t make stories about only contented characters in a perfect world. But when did you last see a film that portrayed people relating in a healthy, loving and mature way to each other? What is the attraction of watching TV shows and screenplays that centre on human dysfunction and people behaving badly?

What stories do we need? At the end of my first book in 1993 (Riding the Dragon – myth & the inner journey) I asked this question. Here I am again: nearly twelve years on, in this book, I am still asking this same question (and in this blog, another eleven years on). In one way and another this question has been posed throughout this book, too: tacitly, or overtly.
How would it be to read books that support us in being more fully and compassionately human? Ones that give us tools to grow and change; offer us models of functional, healthy patterns of relating – whether to ourselves, to each other, to the wider human sphere or to the planet as a whole, rather than narratives that merely underline how grim ‘reality’ is, and how untrustworthy and self-seeking people are, thus confirming our view of the world and the human condition as basically beyond hope?
Perhaps our diet has become too thin, and we are looking for a different kind of nourishment. We need now stories that offer us healing, offer us the potential of wholeness, of coming through in the end. Empowering stories. Stories that show us human being at its best: its most courageous, generous, kind, loving, compassionate, wise, funny. Stories that celebrate the earth, wilderness, the diversity of nations, the diversity of species. Stories that allow us to imagine a new world order based on empathy, co-operation, kindness, discussion, negotiation, fairness, equality. Stories that celebrate what is green, what is vulnerable, what is innocent, what is childlike, what is wise, what is feminine, what is masculine; stories about co-operation and harmony rather than competition and conflict; about people making wise choices. Stories that celebrate magic, mystery, miracle. Stories that help restore some sort of faith, whatever that may mean for each of us.
I am aware that these things on their own do not make story, or even poetry. But the way we deal with them, and the choices we make, do. And they do, also, make a life.

I am not suggesting that we pretend all is not how it is. I am not naïve enough as to assume that war will end in my lifetime; that violence will cease to exist; that poverty will be an extinct word; that pollution will be outlawed; that conservation will suddenly become more important to the corporate world than profit.
I am not at all suggesting that we pretend pain does not exist. On the contrary. Go to where the pain is. Write about it. Make a story of it. The pain will show you where the work is needed, and it will, in its unfolding onto paper, show you the path for healing. Human life will always be hard, in parts – that is the nature of the egoic life, which sees itself as separate and all-important, that judges and picks and chooses: ‘I like this, but not that. This is acceptable but that isn’t.’. But the stories that matter, the big stories, are always a triumph over these limitations.
It is important not to give up. Human actions matter; they make a difference. Even one person’s weight will make a difference. And who knows which of us will effect the final ‘critical mass’ moment at which a threatened downslide will wobble, pause, and start to right itself? And it is at that critical moment, when we are deepest in the darkness – maybe right now – that we need these stories of hope; when we need a lamp out of the cave. And we need to know we are not alone.
Find something you can really believe in; something that enhances your life; and a group of people who think like you, whether it’s a writing group, or a politically active group, or an evening class, or an online discussion group, or people who like walking out on the land, or are involved in life-enhancing projects in the city. Find a community that supports you in your vision. Maybe they’ll be flesh and blood people. Maybe it’ll be the books of poets or authors writing passionately about things you care about. It’s crucial. Make it the next thing you do. ‘Never doubt that a group of committed individuals can change the world; in fact it’s the only thing which can,’ said anthropologist Margaret Mead. And ‘Better to light a candle than curse the darkness,’ goes another saying.

Where do you start? Find a moment of glory. I’m thinking of Seamus Heaney’s ‘Postscript’ poem, of R S Thomas’ ‘Bright Field’, of Brendan Kennelly’s Glimpses. Early in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Annie Dillard mentions a tree, an Osage orange, which, ostensibly empty, suddenly flames with an eruption of blackbirds, previously unseen; then another, then another – hundreds of blackbirds from what looked like an empty tree. This was a moment of glory for her, to which she returns in the course of the book. Reading her passage, many years ago now, that tree became a moment of glory for me, too; one which I have not forgotten, to which I return, a metaphor against which I measure, or by which I name, other moments – including, of course, my own personal remembered gloriousnesses. The tree, in the book and in my imagination, is both itself and a metaphor for something else. It has become mythic in size, and that way contains magic.
It happens that many bright moments occur outside, when alone in nature; and many occur in the little ‘lost’ moments between people. These events, I realise as I get older, are not the huge dramatic moments of intense revelation or passion, as they seemed to be when I was younger. Instead, they’re often tiny and easily missed; clichéd in their everydayness: a smile, a hug from a loved one, a touch on the arm, shared words or silence, extraordinary light on the water, the glimpse of a kingfisher, an unexpected gift through the post, a card with kind words, pony’s breath or dog’s wet nose barely touching your hand, catching the dawn, an instant of total and spontaneous openheartedness. Sometimes you are prepared, maybe in a heightened state of some sort. Usually, though, these moments occur in mundane circumstances – and, let’s face it, much of our life is mundane; yet this, this quotidiennité, is the terrain of miracles. It’s the present moment that we inhabit – the now that is the only time we have. The writer’s job is to pay attention, pay attention, pay attention. Cultivate that kind of looking.
Slow down. Stay open, stay alive. Stay awake.
Writing is a process that never stops. There is no destination; there is only the journeying. Sometimes it works; sometimes you’re off track. You’re always searching for the next step. ‘…It can take a lifetime to convey what you mean, to find the opening,’ says Lopez. ‘You watch, you set it down. Then you try again.’

So you find something that inspires you and you let the pen catch fire. Find that moment of glory. Stay alert for it. Catch it out of the corner of your eye as it streams past, and slide it onto the page. Write what you’re passionate about. Really passionate about, deep inside. Let it have soul. Let your words matter. Make them count. Don’t waste them, and don’t underestimate them.

Don’t worry whether anyone else cares about your writing. That way, you can’t fail. ‘People are hungry,’ says poet David Whyte; ‘and one good word is bread for a thousand.’

Roselle Angwin

This book, which is over 350 pages long and contains a number of essays by me and other writers, and includes exercises, is available from me via the sidebar and Paypal. It's £14.99 plus postage to the UK only, and I've been grateful for the feedback and reviews, which have been consistently extremely positive. (Please contact me
for rates and postage if you are abroad.)

Sunday, 1 May 2016

keeping still on the move

How I – we – do the transition from small but significant island, and island time, and intimate depths with place, poetry, and the people with whom we share such things with such intensity, is important.

This year I did weep, just a little, on the early ferry waving goodbye to the island, and all it holds for so many of us of a depth of meaning hard to encounter in the 'outer world', sailing back through the veils to our habitual lives; waving too to the people from my second retreat group who'd got up early to wave off the four of us leaving at 7am.

For me, I had been there three weeks this time. For the others it was 'just' a week, but a week steeped in a brew that doesn't recognise the normal constrictions of time, where mutual trust and a willingness to be seen in all our shames and glories arrive early and stay late, and where our imaginations take all the routes less travelled.

And then there was all the laughing. And some tears. And some pretty fabulous and moving writing.

The taxi driver was a gentle unintrusive island man who allowed us to come back slowly to life beyond the thin veils of the Otherworld as we drove through the snow-blanketed hinterlands of Mull, with its herds of red deer come down from the hills, to Craignure ('a most wretched walk of 37 miles', I believe the poet John Keats called it) for the boat to Oban.

Because I had another severe attack of labyrinthitis that left me unable to lift my head without the threat of throwing up the day before I left for the islands early in April, and because my campervan had sprung a leak, I wobbled, hoping not to vomit (luckily I succeeded in that) via the trains booked last minute to Glasgow, where I met a good friend and participant in the first course.

I'm so glad to have taken the trains. Apart from the environmental aspects of train travel, there is a sense within the freewheeling relaxation of train travel that one's soul can keep up with the changing landscapes and pace that driving doesn't usually allow and flying not at all (not that I ever have flown within GB).

At Carlisle my two very dear friends from Northumberland came to meet me, and we travelled just south of Hadrian's Wall through the lushness of a cusping northern spring, all wild garlic flowers, bird cherry blossom, and birch and sycamore leaves, to where F had cooked us a curry and H had bought a bottle of fizz.

Now, plump bullfinches and delicate goldfinches are perched on a massive birdfeeder. Beyond us, hills and moors roll northwards. Soon, we'll walk; another way of bringing myself to here in the shifting light of exterior movement rooted in interior stillness.

And I'm too full of the experience of the weeks to write about them, and trying hard to be present, here now, rather than dreaming of my return. (To my delight, half the places on both 2017 Iona weeks are now filled so I have more than a fortnight guaranteed on the island.) After all, the place I'm returning to, and the other places I'll be working in this year, are each in their own way as beautiful.

F and H are people who really know how to do breakfast. So I do it with them in about 5 stages, and then the staying-with-stillness is aided by spending another two hours, to lute music, talking about poetry translation generally (a significant part of F's work), and the translations of Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies in particular, via two different translated versions. Between us, as a poet, a linguist, and an educationalist who each have some German to greater or lesser extents, we rewrite the very different versions so that they meet in the middle. (Sorry, Stephen Spender, Martyn Crucefix.)

I open the Saturday Guardian to, of course, the usual bombardment of bad news. I find it hard enough to cope with generally, but it would be easy to be so porous to it all after the Island Experience that the lightness I've brought back would easily succumb to emotional gravity.

I've been following Jenny Diski's writings about her experience of living with – dying with – terminal cancer. I'm sad to read her final column, prefaced with the fact of her death last week; funny, witty, spiky, insightful, erudite, uncompromising, she was adept at bringing her black humour to the dark stuff of life and death.

A student of mine years ago recommended Diski's novels. I hated them.

But on a week's writing retreat in a converted linhay in an old Dartmoor manor a few years ago the first title that caught my eye on the shelves was Diski's memoir On Trying to Keep Still. I devoured it instead of writing for the first day and evening. I fell in love with that book: her honesty, her sharpness, her ability to poke fun at herself and therefore humankind. I followed that book with her Skating to Antartica; equally engaging, equally caustic, essay-like in its focus on moments and incidents and encounters in the frozen south while holding it all together with the binding medium of her reluctance and resistance to what she was actually doing while, I believe, secretly loving every minute of it.

RIP Jenny Diski.

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