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

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

a sense of wonder




It seems to me that a sense of wonder is a critical faculty in humans. I suspect it's especially crucial to keep that alive as we age: wonder is connected with vitality, imagination, creativity, meaning, and I believe wellbeing, too. And, of course, youthfulness.

It's harder to keep that flame alive in an age and a society that is immersed in scientific materialism with its bias towards the reductive and analytical; not to say cynical.

As it happens, I find much scientific discovery extremely inspiring – of my imagination and of wonder both – but we live in an age where reason and analytical understanding are valued above all else, and a sense of wonder is too often trashed as naïve superstition.

For me, a sense of wonder is sufficiently important to my inner life and its outward expression (often in my writing) to carry a separate small notebook around with me for catching those 'bright moments' that inspire wonder; whether that is the exact observation of the flickering of light on water, the fledgling swallows above the valley, a phrase I hear, an unexpected smile, an artefact like the ceramic camel from the Tang dynasty (1st millenium AD) which was the object on which I had to create a workshop for my interview for the Greenway residency, or, yesterday, a day lily appearing from the mass of greenery which I thought had smothered them all.

There's much to say about this, but since I have a chapter (and more) in my book WRITING THE BRIGHT MOMENT – inspiration & guidance for writers * on this subject, I'll leave that there.


What reminded me of the importance of a sense of wonder is how many of us went out, I see from my Twitter and Facebook feeds, to watch the Perseid shower the other night (in August we pass through the Perseid belt, which means many shooting stars enter our atmosphere). New information: I'm told that the Perseid showers happen when Earth hits a belt of debris left behind by a comet, the so-called Swift-Tuttle, on its 133-year elongated orbit around the sun.

I remember a night when my dad and I walked on my child hood beach one August; we counted 21 meteors in less than an hour.

I remember another night when my daughter and I were on the Land's End peninsula, and stopped the car to get out and lie on the roof falling upwards into the vastness of sky as stars streamed towards and around us. 

Magical moments, as was last Sunday evening as we, having eaten a late supper outside and caught by surprise as we'd forgotten the meteor showers, craned our heads back to watch the cosmic firework show – such vastness we're all part of.


-->
Perseids


The Lion stretches paws to the edges of the land, roars towards Orion. I so want to be drenched in starlight; imagine finding the timeless in the realm of time. 


Must have been August, full moon, one night in Penwith we took the road that joins shore to moorland and drove through that downpour of falling stars – their lucence against the midnight blue a kind of covenant, a promise. Stop the car, you said, and we climbed and lay on its roof, toes towards the ocean, in a shower of light, shivered into brightness.



Those were the days before the dying started. There are benisons of pain as well as joy.  
I think how easily we forget to look up, remember where we come from, where home lies.


© Roselle Angwin
(This poem appeared in DARK MOUNTAIN 4)


* I have a request here. Over and over people have told me how very much they've valued my Writing the Bright Moment book. It's been selling by word of mouth. And yet there are only two reviews on Amazon. Whatever we feel about Amazon, reviews really help writers. If you've read the book, and feel you have something to say about it – even if it's only one sentence – I'd be delighted if you'd consider a review.


Saturday, 12 August 2017

garden recipes and a hint of wild boar (not to eat)


I mostly like cooking. Then there are times, especially when those times are intense, when there's not only some relief in cooking, but it can be a lifesaver – something so essential, so creative, so earthy, so non-mental, handling the creations of the soil, the rain, the compost, the sun, the magic of seeds.

When you have to create recipes too, for instance when the harvest glut is coming in – as ours is now, finally, after a long slow start – it's an interesting challenge to find a new way to cook courgettes, or green beans.


So here are some recipes for you. They're all vegan, but non-vegans will enjoy them as well; and although they mostly include beans, these are in reasonably digestible forms. Because they're vegan, I take care to include protein. (For more on supplying the nutritional essentials on a vegan diet, see here.)



Sorry there are no photos of the meals – I realise what a difference they make, but never think of it until we're halfway through eating! Here instead are some photos of our veg over the years. (I know that's not the same, but they're pretty.)


Three essential ingredients for the vegan larder/fridge:
  • Nutritional yeast flakes (Engevita); buy the one with added B12 (blue pot). I was a lacto-vegetarian for 40 years, and knew that one day I'd need to take the logical step of removing the products of animal suffering entirely from my diet, but in the four or five years I've been vegan (though I do at the moment still eat eggs from our neighbours' free range hens) I still miss cheese a lot. Yeast flakes help add that – well, yeasty nutty tang. Occasionally I will buy myself some Violife pizza 'cheese' – it's not a bad substitute; made from coconut milk, it's both processed and a bit high in food miles, though, but, you know, one can only be virtuous a certain percentage of the time without pissing oneself off with self-righteousness, as well as one's table-mates.
  • Coyo; the vegan yogurt, made from coconut milk. It's completely delicious, and the sweeter flavour can be compensated for with a shot of lemon juice (my daughter calls lemon 'the third condiment', and it really is). I'm not going to beat myself up a 2nd time for coconut-miles.

    I used to miss yogurt, too (I mean dairy yogurt) – not any more (and if you've never tasted Booja Booja non-dairy ice cream, you've a treat waiting).
  • Cashew nuts are very high in nutrients, and there is no nut (or anything non-dairy else) like them for whizzing up for sweet or savoury sauces with one or other or both of the above; plus they make a fabulous base for a very tasty vegan 'cheesecake' (yes, really). But there's the food-miles issue again; plus unless you buy Fairtrade, the trade is dirty (as of course is eg the cotton trade, unless it's organic cotton) in terms of poor pay and working conditions and some toxicity for the pickers.

    For savoury dishes, sweet chestnuts are a great alternative, and I collect them regularly, even in England, in the autumn, and collect masses to bring back if I'm in France. Not so good for sweet dishes, in my opinion, though – although they are used widely in France, Italy and Switzerland for desserts. (In fact, remembering this, I think I might have talked myself back into them.)

  • In addition, beans – canned beans – of all sorts, including the highly nutritious chickpeas, and all lentils. Of course, in season, green beans; and we grow various beans to freeze so that we don't have to buy canned: pea bean, borlotti, soissons.
  • Seeds: pumpkin seeds add an extraordinary amount of protein to any dish; try dry-toasting these, sunflower seeds and, if you're feeling rich, pine nuts too, and when they're popping throw in a dash of soy sauce and the juice of half a lemon.


1 This first one is not mine, but the invention of Meera Sodha, Guardian food columnist at The New Vegan.

It's a warm salad of samphire, potato and chickpea, with chaat spices. My version below uses green beans instead.

While I had masses of samphire in my fridge – fresh from a stone wall at Cape Cornwall after leading my Land's Wild Magic course down there in June, I had none this week, so I substituted French green beans (Cobra) from the garden. I also had no mango powder (strangely enough) but had some coconut flour (I suppose that's equally strange; it was a gift), so I mixed that with a little lemon juice. We did have our own Charlotte potatoes (tick), which didn't stay in neat tidy small cubes like Meera's in her photo, but it didn't matter as the whole dish is divine.

Because TM doesn't like hot food, I substituted half a teaspoon each of mild tagine spices and smoked paprika for the chilli.

I topped it with Coyo, and we had slow-cooked garlic courgettes on the side.




2
I was at Greenway, where I'll be leading several workshops this autumn (several more to be uploaded yet) as well as creating my own new writing, with the co-ordinator the other day. I was treated to lunch in the café, but she'd brought her own delicious-looking 'allotment soup'. Hmmm. Good idea for the glut.


Our garden can come up with the goods now. (I love the Keravel Pink onions from Brittany.) So here's my herby cream-of-garden soup (for 2):

2-3 tbsps olive oil
I onion and 3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 courgettes
double handful green beans, chopped
1 large potato cubed or diced
stock or Marigold bouillon (up to 1 litre; make it strong)
1 tsp yeast extract or 2 tsps soy sauce

1 double handful fresh sorrel leaves if you can get them – sorrel is easy to grow (wild sheep sorrel will do, but beware it might be tough by now)
1 handful fresh parsley
1/2 handful fresh marjoram
1/2 a dozen sage leaves (all chopped finely)

1/2 tsp each:
cumin
turmeric
ginger
nutmeg

1/2 tub Coyo
juice of 1/2 lemon 

SOFTEN the onion in the oil. Add sliced courgettes and garlic, and when they're soft add the potatoes. Turn up the heat a little and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently so the potatoes don't stick, then add the beans.

Add half the stock etc; add more as needed (keep the soup thick). Throw in the spices, and leave to simmer for an hour (stir now and then).

Then add the Coyo and finely chopped herbs, stirring well, and turn off the heat.  Leave to sit for 5 to 10 minutes, and serve with crusty bread with maybe a splash of olive oil. You can sprinkle yeast flakes on top.


3 Pasta e fagioli with mushroom sauce (for 2)
When I was a romantic young student, I met an Italian in a remote part of the Catalonian Pyrenees, and eloped with him right up onto the border with Spain, where we spent a winter in a commune with no electricity, an open fire for cooking, and water collected from a spring half a kilometre away.

Once that autumn I got chased up an apple tree in an ancient abandoned orchard by a trio of wild boar who clearly considered scrumping apples to be their prerogative; but that's a different story.

Drawing by Michael Fairfax, from The Polden Pig

Later, I married him (the Italian, not a boar), and he's the father of my daughter. He died suddenly in late 2015, and in his memory I offer this recipe. He was a good cook, and pasta e fagioli (beans) was one of his staples, though the sauce here is mine. He also used to make all our bread by hand, and, as he was taught by his rural grandmother, he'd use no yeast except what he could gather by leaving a tea-towel out in a clover-field overnight to collect the dewy clover-yeast (yes, really). He was also the best gnocchi maker I've ever known.


The mushroom part
2-3 tbsps olive oil
1 big onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 dozen mushrooms, sliced
a handful of fresh herbs: oregano, parsley, a sprig of rosemary, some thyme – mix and match

Soften the onion in warm oil; add garlic, mushrooms and herbs. Sauté gently. 

Put a big pan of water on to boil.

The sauce
Blend together on a low heat:
200 gms natural Coyo
200 gms ground almonds, finely chopped cashews, or hazelnuts
3 tbsps yeast flakes
1 tsp bouillon powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp nutmeg
juice of 1/2 a lemon or to taste
salt and pepper 
(I added some leftover mashed potato)

When the water comes to the boil, throw in some pasta (I use red lentil pasta as I love it and it's full of protein), and a double handful of green beans (or to be more traditional other podded beans) chopped into roughly 2cm lengths. They're ready after 8–10 minutes. Drain and put back in pan with a dash of olive oil.

Mix the mushrooms and the sauce and stir into the pasta e fagioli.


Finally, 4: butterbean and cashew (or other nut) paté or spread 
This works well with broad beans early in the season and later podded beans like soissons or borlotti too.


Put into a whizzer (I use a handheld Braun stick thing):


1 good handful cashew
1 tin butterbeans or kidney beans (or any other bean really, but the butterbeans' mild flavour allows the nuttiness to emerge), drained and rinsed
big slosh of olive oil
handful each fresh parsley and basil
1/2 handful fresh oregano or marjoram
1 tbsp capers
few drops Tabasco (to taste)
nutritional yeast flakes 
shake of Tamari
salt and pepper
(a little chopped onion if liked).

Whizz and enjoy!

I think it might also be good with cucumber and dill weed instead of the other herbs; also sorrel.




 

 







Tuesday, 1 August 2017

poem for Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh poem

Even in rain the flames burn bright.
On the hill, the barley is dancing.
Heart, make your first harvest:
extend your arms like rays of the sun
to gather in all whom you love
and all too who feel themselves unloved:
the broken, the lost, the abused –
shadow-dancers all. Gather them in –
give them all bread. Give them
cause for laughter, for love.
 

© Roselle Angwin, 1 August 2012

Monday, 31 July 2017

storymakers


One of the lovely things about my work as a course facilitator is the variety. My 'default' writing focus and also that of my courses has been largely, the last few years, the connections between wild and the soul, through place and story, myth and poetry; the foundation of my writing and life, as well.


From time to time, though, for various reasons things conspire for me to focus on a specific aspect of writing, and lately it's been fiction and its requirements.

I mentor a few people who are progressing their novels; it's always a joy to see the way these books grow and develop almost into living beings in their creation. It's an honour to be part of the midwifing process.

I've written for quite a long time for the excellent MsLexia women's writing magazine; initially as a regular columnist but continuingly as an occasional contributor. One of their new initiatives is online groups under the guidance of an established writer. I've been mentoring two groups of women short story writers and novelists, and have been excited to be part of this: the writing is good, and the peer feedback on the other participants' work has been generous, incisive and helpful.

Another new initiative is to offer to writing groups a workshop led by a tutor chosen by MsLexia. 


I was delighted to present such a workshop as an intensive morning on aspects of the novel and the general requirements of fiction last Friday, in the lovely market town of Bridport in Dorset. The drive was pretty – I used to do it a lot, especially in the days when I was poet-in-residence at Sherborne Boys' School (an illuminating and very positive experience, somewhat to my surprise). This time, though, it was rather marred by the fact that my car, only back last week from the repairing of a broken rear axle (no, I don't know how I did it!), developed a serious engine problem which meant that instead of having a quiet walk on the coast I waited in a car park for four hours to be towed back to South Devon.

No matter. I loved working with 23 other women wrestling plot ideas into a good narrative trajectory, as they say, and I remembered how much I like working with very specific structuring given that much of my work is a lot more fluid and 'right brain'. 

I dug out notes from my very first 'Write a Novel in Nine Months' course, offered in Plymouth in 1998 (and featured in The Guardian on World Book Day of that year). The course became a book, Creative Novel Writing, and morphed into 6-month and weekend courses. (Currently, it exists as an online course, Storymaking.)

We looked at the core theme of each person's story, and how this translates into the central 'problem' of the book. It's useful to ask 'What is the key question of my story?'

We looked at the difference between story and plot: E M Forster says that story is simply the chronological unfolding of events: this happened, then that happened, and then that. 'The king died; then the queen died.' Plot, he says, is the consequences of the events; the psychological impact of cause and effect. 'The king died, then the queen died of grief.' Plot is the humanness of the story; the portrayal of our interrelationships, our hopes and losses, tragedies and joys.

I find this a helpful definition: if theme is the why, story is the what, and plot is the how.


We also managed to fit in some writing of an action scene, to compare the dynamics of, firstly, the straight narration of the unfolding of events; then the same scene conveyed entirely in dialogue; the final stage is of course to interweave the best of both.

It was good for me to think so concentratedly about the requirements and demands of fiction and its structures and dynamics, and it's been good also to work in the online forums (fora) with younger novelists and to see the trends in current fiction (rather a lot more darkness, gore and horrors, I notice, in some novels than I'd choose to read, but I guess indicative of the insecurities, terrors and troubles of our times. Some of the work coming through is also very thought-provoking, in the best ways.)


After a very intensive month it was also good, last night, to start to read through the pile of papers on my desk. A few metres down (I exaggerate, but not by much) I came across the Saturday Review from the Guardian of 8 April this year, unread.


I was interested to find Justine Jordan's interview with Jon McGregor, whose first novel (at age 26, and Booker longlisted) If Nobody Speak of Remarkable Things was a remarkable book, and one that I found moving.

If you're a novelist, you might be reassured, as I was in relation to my own back-and-forth and in-and-out process of writing a book, by what he said of the apparent chaos and unstructured first-draft writing of his latest book, Reservoir 13: 'He wrote the book out of sequence, getting down all the scenes about individual families, and then all the lines about blackbirds, foxes, reservoirs and so on, storing the sections in a ring binder. "Then I went back and cut it all up and rearranged it. There was a point when it was purely collage."'

This is what I've been doing with my own book written in and about a Brittany forest; and I really have got to the point where – sorry – I can't see the wood for the trees. Or do I mean the trees for the wood?

McGregor's new novel has been given in its final shape a very tight structure: written in sections of a month at a time, each consisting only of two or three pages. This has meant that 'the "very rhythmical, fixed structure" he'd imposed on himself meant he "couldn't do what your instinct as a writer would normally be to do, to dwell on the dramatic focus and skip over the less dramatic times".'

Setting oneself a structure, or tight framework, in a novel can of course be restrictive; but as in writing poetry in form rather than free verse, such a constraint can force you to think and write in new ways. I find myself as inspired by the many different ways to structure a novel (one of my students is writing a book that consists of just letters, and only from one person) as I am by the variety of my tutoring work.

Speaking of which, I'm finally allowed to announce that I've been awarded one of two National Trust/Literature Works writing residencies this autumn: one is Hardy's Cottage, in Dorset; the other, mine, is the former home of Agatha Christie on the banks of the Dart. Bliss – to work with visitors in such an inspiring place; and to be able to concentrate on my own new writing for three months.

Am I likely to start writing crime fiction? Seems unlikely. But who knows; watch this space.
 

Certainly I do feel the need to step sideways, creatively, from my habitual modes of expression. Perhaps I'll follow the lead of B S Johnson's novel The Unfortunates, written way back in antediluvian times (1969), and present a series of vignettes in a box:

'“The Unfortunates” comes in a box of 27 unbound chapters (plus the novelist Jonathan Coe’s invaluable introduction). The “First” and “Last” chapters are designated as such. The intervening 25, ranging from 12 pages to a single paragraph, are to be read in any order we choose. Far from some modernist stunt, the form of the book dovetails beautifully with Johnson’s subject — the accidental yet persistent nature of memory.' (New York Times)
Actually, come to think of it, I might not be joking...

If you're tempted by a weekend 'Novelists' Bootcamp', I hope to be offering one again this autumn. Keep an eye on this programme page.





Monday, 24 July 2017

something small but perfectly formed...

... on writing, for you today:



'The activity of writing has been a vital one for me; it helps me make sense of things and to continue. Writing, however, is an offshoot of something deeper and more general... We read and reread the words of the original text in order to penetrate through them, to reach, to touch the vision or experience which prompted them.' (John Berger, Confabulations)


'Poetry can save your life.' (Adrienne Rich)


     'Although a poem arises when there's nothing else to be done , although a poem is a last attempt at order when one can't stand disorder any longer,
      although poets are most needed when freedom, vitamin C, communications, laws and hypertension therapy are also most needed,
      although to be an artist is to fail and art is fidelity to failure, as Samuel Beckett says,
      a poem is not one of the last but one of the first things of man (sic).

...   It is against emptiness. A poem is being as against emptiness.' (Miroslav Holub, Poems – Before & After)


















Monday, 17 July 2017

hundreds




Such a full-on time: forgotten how to do this. So little space – masses of mentoring, two books to complete (in addition to Iona collection), veg garden tending, news of writing residency. Phew, given my freelance author's income. Gave a talk and reading last week; many in my audience were also writers, so talked about realities of earning a living full-time in writing-related activities: the Society of Authors says average annual incomes for full-time writers (2015) £12,500 (UK minimum wage is supposedly £17,1000). However, the great majority earn less than £10K. Good job we love our work.

*

Much agonizing (again) over She Who Wears Her Grey Matter on the Outside – a merry dance through many flaming hoops. A week ago I spent Saturday night awake thinking it would be her final night; and she rallied, as she has over and over for the last few years of our (extra) time together after all her health problems. (She rallied better yet once I'd cancelled the ferry to France for TM and I.) After all, she's 13+, and their normal life expectancy is in single figures. How they break our hearts, these animals who come to share our lives.



*

Two robins are part of my morning-time joy, appearing as soon as I do. One of them is tame enough as to continually be underfoot – a bit too tame – and has taken food from my hand. They both follow me back into the kitchen once I've opened the door to the courtyard. Dog feeding time is of particular interest, and when she's sleeping they'll hop between her paws.





Later, summer dusk ‘dripping slow’ in the garden, the tiny LED pinprick among the hellebores: a single glow-worm adding its minute contribution to the sum of light in the world.
*

Evening primrose's blowsy yellow tea-dress. Rosebay willowherb. Spur valerian. Bedstraw, woodruff, meadowsweet. Such abundance. Most of these of nutritional, dyestuff or medicinal merit. Slew – kilos of barley grains across the road where the tractor must have swerved. Fat pigeons gleaning. I pull out some scattered stems of the invasive Himalayan balsam. From the high lane, I can see the twin rockpiles of Haytor on Dartmoor, the wrong side of A38 for my heart. All night, all day, cows over the hill bellowing for stolen calves: so young, so inhumane; do we need meat, need cow-juice that much?

*


Keats called this world ‘the vale of soul-making’. Soul and matter, the perennial dance. Interweaving with the outer physical landscape perceived by five senses is the imaginal landscape: a kind of connective tissue between the material world and what the Celts called the Otherworld. The imagery of myth, folklore, story, depth psychology, art, music and the poetic vision combined with a felt relationship with the natural world, part of it rather than apart, all help nourish this connection. ‘To a Man (sic) of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself.’ What a privilege to live it. How easy to forget to.

 *

In my dream a man has altered the face of my watch. I quite like it but the numbers are half-obscured. What does this mean? Later in the same dream, I notice it’s a two-tier watch: very beautiful, two different styles of watch-face keeping the same time, but cleverly each is planted with a real miniature herb-garden. I’m so pleased, but worry that I won’t be able to tend them. We’re waiting at the jetty for a steam-train-boat. In his dream, TM kicks me. He has a big kick. The dog barks, too early.

*



It’s that time of year: Bliss of a simple mug of tea, respite from backpacks. A robin takes crumbs from my hand. Perspex canteen window: photo of a barley crop circle, intricate and impenetrable. Is that a new one? I ask the girl. Yes, she says, I’ll show you the article. Like a proud father her bloke hands me the paper. I found it, he says. Couple weeks ago. Coming and going all night on the hill, me and the boys, and never saw a thing. Next morning there it was.

Perfect and complete pictorial representation of Pi, says astrophysicist.


*

Pictograms



This morning on the radio he spoke of crop circles,
how easy they are to make: a particular loping stride,

a rope, a wooden mallet, stakes and weights. And how,
even so, the equilateral triangle of lights in the summer sky

just after they’d scribed the three-point core (and before
the cider) still disturbed and shocked. But yes

of course the pictograms are hoax. He’s sure the lights
are easily explained.
It’s not that I need to believe;

just the scale of our objective certainty – the cost,

the way that all our knowledge still leaves us lost.**


 © Roselle Angwin



*
* Excerpted part of long prose poem sequence on walking the Ridgeway; in Bardo (Shearsman 2011)

** In All the Missing Names of Love  (and after Jem Poster) (IDP, 2012)


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

summer solstice & poem 2017



So it's the solstice; I wish I'd thought to take my camera out with me on my already-late-at-7.45am walk in the abundance of the Devon lanes here (this is an old photo). I could soliloquise at length on the flora and the many many young birds of so many different species (I did remember my binoculars), and the sheer joy of having all this to walk in, but there is always Work Undone.


Right now, the longest day, the sun appears to stand still in the sky for three days (as it does, too, on the shortest day). It's time to breathe, pause, reflect, before moving on (all downhill towards winter now, my dad would always say in his most deliberately gloomy voice. Must be time for my annual bath.) In the northern hemisphere, the earth is at its greatest inclination towards the sun at this time. The sun appears to rise at its most northeasterly position of the year, and sets at its most northwesterly.

All around the country, people will have gathered at dawn at one or other of our ancient and sacred megalithic (I guess that's tautology) monuments, many of which were constructed to predict solstices, among other things, to celebrate the sun's rising.

Each solstice, one of the earth's turning points, I like to look back at the last winter solstice, and the previous summer's. This time, I also look back two years, when I thought my life was about to change utterly and that I'd be living solo in France from then on. 

And then today I keep on looking back at the ones I can remember, mainly of course because they were significant.

Forty-something years ago, in my teens, I hitchhiked (unbeknown to my parents, who were probably told I was staying with friends, I can't remember) to Stonehenge for the summer solstice. I got a lift from Steve Hillage of Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth's 'Gong' fame; Gong, very much a voice for the counterculture and we hippies with our anti-Establishment, anti-capitalist, anti-consumer and peace-and-love values, must have been playing at the free festival that Stonehenge was then, though I didn't really know who Hillage was at the time.

In those days, before English Heretics got their hands on the site, fenced it, floodlit it and charged entry, we used to camp up in nearby beech trees around small fires, a loose tribe of people with guitars, poetry, and stars in their eyes, awaiting dawn at around 4am, before we trekked to the stones to watch the sun rise over the Heel Stone of the monument, in an act of celebration at least 5000 years old. This year, apparently 25,000 people attended – very glad I'm not there any more! – and because of the recent terror attacks, there was a strong armed-police presence.


A few years later, I was married on the summer solstice. We were both young adventurers, romantics, restless; he was Italian and exotic. We were both dropouts from university career-prospects (with my particular speciality, the Grail legends and the Mabinogi in their original languages, I couldn't imagine what I'd do other than work in, say, the archives of the British Library – I had no desire to teach). We made a living with our hands, and travelled abroad in the winters in our old campervan, including later with our young daughter, to follow the surf down the Atlantic seaboards of France, Vizcaya, Galicia.

We were young. The marriage couldn't last. Our daughter is well grown up, and he is now dead.


When, decades later, I first met TM, we walked the ancient trackway known as The Ridgeway from the Goring Gap in Oxfordshire to Avebury stone circle (to my mind a more significant site than Stonehenge) over 3 days, with a tent, too many heavy home-made loaves and litres and litres of water as we didn't know whether there'd be standpipes (there are), and far too many pairs of socks on TM's part (in my view).

Things got ditched as we went, and we filled up instead on the experience – the red kites, the various ancient sites we walked through, the burgeoning crop circles. The grasses, the copses of beech, the wide blue sky, the White Horse (or perhaps Dragon) of Uffington. (In my book Bardo I have a prose poem sequence that is about this walk.)


At the end, we found our car had been impounded, so a magical time was rather coloured by having to catch a bus to Swindon and pay a very hefty fee.

However, the walk remains as something very special in our memories.

And then more recently, seven years into my relationship with TM (they say that every cell in your body has been renewed in seven years – of course one might look to a different life! - one is a different person, a little, perhaps), came the upheaval that might have led to our separation and my living in France two solstices ago.

We've come through a lot, and come through strong. (The world, of course, is a different matter.)

So here's my solstice poem. With wishes to all you lovely people for an abundance of good things this summer, and a peaceful heart.

Summer Solstice 2017


After we’d come through the troubles and their repercussions –
small troubles, not like Syria, Grenfell Tower, London, Manchester,
deluded Heads of State, pesticides, genocides, fracking and the travails
of our over-burdened earth, but our troubles – after we’d come through
together we planted a rose in the summer courtyard with its freight
of birds and memories.

            Perhaps there’s always a distance between lovers;
sometimes charged with despair,
sometimes necessary. So then heaping
and tamping the good Devon earth, bedding it in with good water –
this brief gesture is a long moment of convergence, precious intimacy
against the dark.

            The sun’s standstill. This morning, red
globe spilling fire to reinstate what the dark had swallowed, we see
that she, the rose, has offered to day, bee and us alike 


one perfect rich bloom. Here in this fragrant dawn, birdsong 
the only interruption, yesterday's news of that Imam standing firm
to prevent his own from the natural urge to avenge, it’s easy
suddenly to believe in hope, in the earth continuing to turn,
in a triumph, a takeover, of love.



© Roselle Angwin 21.06.2017




Sunday, 18 June 2017

what am I meditating for?

I wrote this post in 2013, I see. Maybe it bears repeating?


I subscribe to daily quotes from 'Tricycle Daily Dharma'. This helps open up a small space in my day, especially since they arrive first thing, and I read one therefore before getting involved in my work emails.

Today's is: 'You may read that meditation enables you to tame your mind and bring it to a state of stability and peace. Despite meditating as a Buddhist for more than 40 years, I have not achieved even a glimpse of this, nor have I ever seen anyone else achieve it. Admittedly, I am not much of a practitioner, but there may also be a more general reason why this is so.' (Douglas Penick, 'What Are You Meditating For?')

This bold statement made me smile, for its honesty, its courage, its straightforwardness. And – oh yes – I recognised it. Hooray! Phew. And there was I thinking I was the only failed meditator in the world – or at least, I might do if I didn't recognise three things.

One is that 'failure' and 'success' are ultimately delusions of the ego (and/or the culture), and relatively meaningless evaluations on a spiritual path.

Two, that the only way I could 'fail', if I wanted to use that word to beat myself up and judge myself, is by not showing up to meditate, had I made it my committed practice to do so.

And three, there is nowhere to get to, nothing to achieve – the practice, the process, itself is what I'm showing up for.

To look again at Penick's statement gave me a sense of relief. And yes, I'd echo to a large extent what he says. And right now I've barely meditated for nearly six weeks – by the standards of my commitment to myself, I'm not doing too well.

I've been thinking about why we meditate again lately, as a dear friend is undergoing training in Zazen, that most difficult of meditation trainings, and she writes to me of four sitting sessions of thirty minutes each, broken by five minutes' walking meditation, with eyes (I imagine from my own training) only half-closed and a whitewashed wall in front of her. (I'm afraid that too is the point, B, the white wall – one's eyes resting on green leafery outside would be considered too distracting for the naturally-wandering mind – that is, all of our naturally wandering minds.)

Forty years on from my own Zazen training, I have some hesitations about its usefulness to the Western mind, and its harsh 'masculine' emphasis (though in my sangha they didn't actually hit us on the shoulders if we dozed, unlike the usual depiction of Zen meditation).

Nonetheless, as a method of training the mind to cut through distraction to the clear bell-like heart of everything, I think it's unsurpassed; and although a gentler way in to meditation is to focus on something else, like a candle or flower, an image or mantram, I can see the usefulness of not substituting another, albeit 'higher' and single-pointed, focus to distract monkey-mind from itself, but instead cutting through to beyond the point where thought arises altogether.

Does one ever manage that? Yes, in moments. What, stability and peace? – Well, the latter for a little while – by which I mean moments, but better than nothing, surely? – anyway. Does one manage to inhabit that place as a steady state? Of course not. The world always crowds in.

So why do I meditate?

For the discipline.

For the effort and concentration.

For keeping my crazy erratic mind – I think we all suffer from ADHD in the Western world, with its continual media/communication bombardment – and its over-fertile imagination in one place, single-mindedly, for a short while (or attempting to).

For watching and learning about the many ways I delude myself, distract myself, desire what I can't have, dislike what I do have, judge myself, want to be 'there' when actually I'm 'here'. In other words, noting the many ways in which I cause myself to suffer needlessly – and obviously noticing, too, the ways in which I cause suffering to others.

For opening up moments as broad, as infinite, as the sky, or the sea.

For allowing what's really important to rise to the surface.

For seeing into the still and flaming heart of it all.

For moving beyond the ridiculous inner monologue and its trivia, even if only for moments.

For slipping the grip of ego and its insistence on 'I', 'me' and 'mine'.

For the fact that I can at least drop more easily into 'that place' of calmness, even if only for a few moments, in my general daily life, when I'm in the habit of meditating.

For psychological health.

For noticing the insubstantial values and patterns our materialistic culture embeds in us, and for challenging those.

For the sake of noticing transience, and that one day I won't be here. How precious that makes it all, in every moment.

And, actually, because it makes me a slightly kinder person – one who can, at times, stop the unkind word at its arising; can look into the heart of anger rather than simply acting it out; resist hitting out blindly (not least because I'm hitting out at self when hitting out at other).

For finding a stillpoint from which to dance.

Because I can remember more readily that we really are all one.




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