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, 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.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

the writing life, the land's wild magic & the lost well

My relationship to the writing process at the moment is rather like peering into this dark well for an occasional but very seductive glimpse of the phosphorescence (how do you spell that??) at the back – just there, just behind the tiny eye of the night light. 

So I either have far too much to say – like today, when I'm on a roll and trying to complete my Forest book while also finishing the penultimate essay on place for an older project, and also wanting to write up the most extraordinary time I and 8 other writers experienced last week in the far West of Cornwall – or I have nothing to say.

It's been a rather dry time for me lately. This has not been helped by a discovery a little while back that someone has poisoned my well, shall we say – a long story and I won't go into it. I'm cheered by the fact that this kind of thing usually rebounds on the perpetrator. I'm sitting with the idea of 'right action'. You can't choose what happens to you, but you can choose how to relate to it.

Nonetheless, I've been sitting by the well for quite some time waiting for it to fill with clear clean water again, and mercifully it's beginning to.

In fact, the tide – to mix my metaphors – has come in in a bit of a rush recently. Yes, good things come in threes too.

One of my old collaborators and occasional publisher gave me a poetry challenge, and had the sense to gently insist on it. I wrote a poem. It was terrible. I binned it. I emailed to say I couldn't participate. He wouldn't take no for an answer. After a further email exchange I sat down and wrote the best poem I've written in a little while, and in just five minutes.

Utterly fantastic news, for me, is that a publisher who asked to see my Isle of Iona poems has taken the manuscript on, for next year. Look out for A Trick of the Light!

And finally, for any of you who are close enough to come, Book Stop in Tavistock, Devon (UK) is organising a talk and reading with me. Here are the details: 'LIVING A WRITER'S LIFE: an evening with Roselle Angwin', where I'll be talking about the very twisty and unconventional route I've taken to here – broke, overstretched and utterly in love with the work I do. (Questions and discussion on any writing-related subject welcome on the evening.) I'll also be offering short readings from various of my ten books, most of which draw on the power of the imagination, and the significance of place and our relationship to the land. Bedford Hotel, Tavistock, Friday 7th July, 7.30pm. Tickets on the door or from Book Stop: 01822 617244. I'd love to see you!


Each morning when I step out into the courtyard the birds and their families gradually gather. I love this. I'm especially fond of one individual bird of two families of robins; this one comes very close, and has twice taken food from my hand. Often, his or her wings brush my head or my shoulder.

I was alarmed for a minute this morning when I sat outside in a patch of sun with a cup of coffee, and he (or she) appeared as usual but then collapsed onto a slate stone a foot away from me, beak agape, wings and tail fanned out and chest feathers puffed out. Then I remembered that my bantams used to sunbathe in exactly that way. 

What grace, that the robin has come close and relaxed like that within touching distance three times today. 

And our garden is producing, after a slow start. We're eating globe artichokes, new potatoes and broad beans, accompanied at the moment by a succulent harvest of rock samphire collected from a sea wall down at Cape Cornwall last week, at the end of my The Land's Wild Magic retreat.


And now that it comes to writing up last week's outdoor retreat, I find I don't have the words for it. I think I'm still processing what was (also) for me a deepening of my lifelong relationship to this my ancestral homeland. The whole week felt both grounded, very earthy and watery, and transcendent too (was it Wendell Berry who coined the phrase 'inscendent' for the former? That's it, anyway.)

It was a hugely rich, sensory and spiritual experience, profound and (two people told me) transformative to be out walking the cliffs, to the megalithic monuments, and exploring sacred sites such as stone circles and holy wells in silence, writing as we went. This part of West Cornwall has more megalithic sites per square mile than almost anywhere in Europe (with the possible exception of parts of Brittany), and on foot you start to see what the ancient landscape would have looked like, and how the sites all interconnect.

The day before we arrived, it was sunny and clear. The day we left, it was sunny and clear. In between were gale force winds and rain – and yet we barely got wet. Times, weather conditions and sites seemed to coincide in a conspiracy of protection. The winds accompanied us – and added to the inspiration (one might say quite literally). My campervan felt as if we were out at sea all night, to borrow an image from Ted Hughes.

I was sad to find that two wells, one of which I know intimately from the past, were in a terrible state. One of them, the one I've known for decades but not visited in several years, is Madron's Well. (That's the path to it on the left.)

Some consider this well to be the Great Mother Well of the Westcountry ('Madron' is probably cognate with 'Modron', a name for the Mother Goddess of our ancestors). I can't tell you how shocked I was to experience the atmosphere of neglect and disrepair in the baptistry. This is, of course, not only symbolic of the general wasteland, inner and outer, of our times, but also requires some redress. I sense a working party coming on – outwardly but also psychically. (Look out, Wellkeepers!)

I had a good group who, if necessary, suspended their disbelief. They helped me sing to the spirit of the wells; interesting how obvious it was which wells needed which kind of song, or sounding.

I'm glad I took the group to Caer Bran, a 'masculine' site to counterbalance the many more 'feminine' sites such as the stone circles and the holy wells (I personally visited seven this time, including one I didn't know existed).

I'm glad I found Men Scryfa, the stone with an inscription that's only visible in certain lights, that I swear included the name 'BRAN', the raven god of the Celts, whose singing head is supposed to be buried at the Tower of London, where of course the ravens are a significant presence.

I'm glad to have found three wells in very good health; to have rediscovered one on the cliffs I thought I'd seen; and to have found both a new one, and one which had been lost to me for years:

The Lost Well

It's always closer than you imagine,
and simpler. All these years. So here
a step into unbelief is all it takes –
the hidden is only the secluded to the seeker.

Part the thicket of yellow irises, step
through foxgloves, and there – a drift
of shingle, tumble of ancient stones, and
her water of course the purer for being lost.

© Roselle Angwin

Which says it all.

Monday, 12 June 2017

100 words from Thea Bailey

I'm just back from a rich, profound and warming experience of a week in the company of 8 other (diverse) writers and many holy wells, cliffs, stone circles, standing stones, thorn trees, holed stones and wild weather in West Cornwall.* More of that anon; right now, I'm too close to it all to be able to speak of it.

So meantime, courtesy of Thea Bailey, is a little 100-word prose poem written in response to my request last month. Thank you, Thea.

'Drenched in sunlight, they lined our route northwards, past fields and lush, rolling hills.  Huge majestic beech tree after magnificent beech, adorned in blankets laid upon their dark and rich elegant branches, a fresh multitude of vivid greens.  And as if dipped in rosé wine, new copper colours shone, a shimmering aura of diamond light, dazzling the thick creamy white May blossoms below.  Above, stillness, as a hot blue sky melted into a golden miasma, and the ghost of a full silvery moon emerged, while a kite, her forked tail tilting, hovered at the cusp of another moment in time.'

© Thea Bailey

* 'The Land's Wild Magic' will happen again next June, 4th–10th


Friday, 2 June 2017

100-word prose poems from Chris Vermeijden

I'd forgotten where I'd posted the invitation to write, as practice, little 100-word prose poems. Turns out it was at the end of my last newsletter.

I'm delighted to post two here from Chris Vermeijden, whose many little prose poems written on my online poetry course knocked me out.


Yesterday I came back to The Island, leaving at dawn with only a small case, my two dogs and a thermos. Full throttle, I came rushing back through Tyndrum's open snow gates, barrelling my way through Glencoe in an habitual rite of passage, the sun highlighting windscreen and streams. I bridged the Kyle breaking chains as I let go of the mainland. I came back over the high moor towards home to see the sea surging to greet me, heaving across the loch in welcoming waves. This is where I become insignificant. This is where I come back to myself.

Today time moves at a different speed, the ancient earth and rock that surround me are steeped with the stories of the years, stories that are revealed slowly, piece by piece, as I become part of their ritual, learning to understand the language of their song. I sit in contemplation until dusk approaches and distant pier lights appear. The loch dons a nightgown of silk that ripples as she turns. Darkness rolls towards me from over the ridge, buffeting against the cliffs that sheer down to the sea, absorbing another day. I am so near the edge I may fall.


© Chris Vermeijden

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