Poems From The Library

Today is World Poetry Day and I had the pleasure and privilege of accompanying a group of students to our local care home, where they performed poetry they had written for the residents. It was a wonderful and moving experience to see these young people engage with such care, kindness, and interest with the older generation in our community. It was also a true testament to the power of poetry to move and inspire.

The students involved revelled in the opportunity to create poetry, several of them never having attempted anything like it before. The whole experience reinforced my own love of the poetic word and prompted me to reflect on my own experience of writing poetry. Unlike with other forms of writing, I often find that poems materialise inside me in a very natural way. Writing stories, articles, and blog posts usually takes a conscious effort of considered construction, but poetry often seems gifted to me.

I heard a wonderful TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert in which she shares Ruth Stone’s poetic process:

“…when she felt it coming – because it would, like, shake the earth under her feet – she knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to – in her words – run like hell. And she would, like, run like hell to the house. And she’d be getting chased by this poem. And the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times, she wouldn’t be fast enough. So she’d be, like, running and running and running and the – she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would, like, barrel through her. And she would miss it. And she said it would continue on across the landscape looking, as she put it, for another poet.”

My own experience of being discovered (or chased!) by an emerging poem is not quite so dramatic but I can completely relate to the idea of a poem coming to the poet! Don’t get me wrong, my poems don’t just blink into life fully formed before me. I usually find that they sneak up on me and then just part of it will just appear to my consciousness very suddenly. It is like seeing something glinting in the grass and when I pick it up it becomes a thread for me to follow. I follow the thread and hope I can figure out where it was supposed to lead. I weave it into something new and hopefully capture that moment in time.

Lat summer, I was lucky enough to stay at Gladstone’s Library – something which I HIGHLY recommend to any writer or bookworm – and my time there really rekindled my love of writing poetry. One poem found me whilst I was writing in the library late one night and I thought I would share it with you today:

Night birds sing their sunset tune,

As the eloquence of trees is cloaked in shadow.

The final note rings out the day

And silence envelopes the warm, red brick.

But lights still glow through the leased windows,

And gentle figures sit in quiet reverence,

Breathing deep the ink and parchment dust

Of ages past.

Walked in by layers of words and prayers and panelled oak,

Held close by the carved pillars and balustrades

That guard the ancient knowledge of the library;

They sit

And seek

A knowledge of their own.

Outside the darkness creeps

And chases off the warmth of day

But inside the write by their own cones of light,

Cocooned in the low steady burn of ideas.

And even as the lights dim and blink out,

One

By one

By one,

And heavy heads hit feather pillows, to

Dream

And dream

And dream,

The seemingly slow and silent life of the library,

Carries on it’s endless forays into

History and Destiny and Fantasy,

Because imagination never sleeps.

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The Joy of A Moment

Yesterday, I walked in the spring sunshine with snow swirling round me on a wintry wind. I watched my spaniel companion try to catch snowflakes in her mouth and leap amongst the tussocks with sheer joy and abandon. I had taken my kindle with me because I was so engrossed in my current read (A Thousand Perfect Notes by C G Drews), and so I walked through two worlds, alternately losing myself in the music woven into the words of the story and revelling in the beauty of the snowy, sunny, spring world around me. I had the works of some of my favourite composers playing in my ears, the twining melodies and harmonies lifting me from the inside and somehow heightening the many and varied beauties around me. All these little, everyday things, in which I found such delight, came together, as I reached a small rise at the edge of the field, and I felt a profound moment of joy and peace.

In the chaos of everyday life, and particularly through the struggles of coping with mental illness, it is so easy to forget what an exquisitely beautiful place the world is, and just how miraculous it is that we exist at all. As the height of that poignant moment passed, and settled into a quiet contentment, I found myself wishing I had a way to catch that peace and carry it with me, a way to hold it inside me somehow and bring it out when I needed it.

I have a lot of joy in my life. I am exceptionally lucky in my friends and family, my love and livelihood. And yet I sometimes lose myself. I become mired in worry and fear and an unfounded conviction that life is just too difficult and I can’t do it, despite evidence to the contrary. I have come to realise that this is one of the reasons I write – one of the reasons I want to write more: so I can capture those moments of joy and peace, and so hold on to them. So I can capture those moments of panic and fear, and so let them go. Writing has the magical property of allowing me to do both.

I have recently been practising (albeit sporadically) mindful writing, a concept I discovered through the book ‘The Joy of Mindful Writing’ by Joy Kenward. I have found it invaluable in helping me focus on those small moments and recalling past joys. I have found that the exercises help me feel centred – in a way that other mindful practices have not – and have the dual benefit of getting me to write and getting me to engage in some meditative practice. If you’re looking for a way to combine creativity, particularly writing, with mindfulness, I would highly recommend giving this book a read.

I really just wanted to write this today as a reminder, both to myself and to anyone who happens to be reading, that there is joy to be found in the everyday, even when life is hard or the world seems dark or you just feel lost. When you notice it, do what you can to catch it and carry it with you.

Wishing you all a peaceful week.

It’s #TimeToTalk About The Borderlands

This is a piece of writing I did when I was struggling, torn back and forth between being overwhelmed by negative thoughts and striving to remember the good and hold onto hope. It’s about being in the borderlands between dark and light and finding a way out. I have shared it on here before but thought it was worth sharing again.

***

You think it will never end.

You cower in shadow, fear and doubt, huddled in the corners of your own mind.

Some days you are screaming inside “LET ME OUT” “MAKE IT STOP” “SOMEONE HELP”…

Some days you are numb. Empty. The void itself.

Alternately wracked with pain and removed from all feeling.

You know it’s there. The good. Some happiness. The light. But it is removed from you. Unreachable. Shuttered behind a transparent wall. Taunting you. The happy sounds muffled to your ears.

The creeping cold down your spine.
The boiling fear in your gut.
The loathing and anger and confusion and pain and…emptiness.

You cry.

You sit, dry eyed, and wish you could cry.

You rage.

You wish you could summon the will to rage.

You wish for the feelings to go away.

You wish for the feelings to return.

It all feels so out of control.

You wonder in the darkness “Will it ever end?”…

You wait.

You give up.

You decide to try again.

And repeat…

And repeat…

And repeat…

Until…

A flicker of something in the abyss.

A waif of light.

So insubstantial, like a child’s bubble blown on the wind; you absently wonder if it’s real and how it got there.

It beckons.

Some warmth returns, just to the very tips of your fingers.

It’s enough.

Hope.

It casts enough light for you to see the good again.

“I remember this place.”

A soft smile.

A tug towards the light, and the shadows recede a little further.

Warmth spreading as feeling returns.

Raw, a little fearful, you step into the light and turn your face to it. Eyes closed, basking in the gentle caress of warmth. There’s still a chill in the background, still shadows behind you, but that’s ok. For now you face the sun.

Walk in it. Remember the flowers, the soft breeze, the ground underfoot, the sky overhead. Life flows back and the numbness, the rage, the pain shrinks further. A mere speck.

You fear it will return.

Don’t.

Be present in the warmth and light. Relish being able to see and hear and feel again.

The shadows may try to pull you back. Sometimes they may manage to wrap their ebony tendrils around you again. But that light will never be extinguished.

Look how it found you in the depths of the night.

So even though you’re afraid, even though it still hurts, even though there is still a numbness threatening the edges of your existence, look to the light of your own being and emerge from the shadows.

***

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

Please do not struggle alone.

It’s #TimeToTalk Coping

Image found here.

This is a post I shared three years ago that I thought was worth re-sharing, with a few tweaks.

I’ve mentioned some little things that can be helpful in coping with bad days. There’s one thing in particular that I have found helps me cope with anxiety and ward off depression. The arts. Any and all.

I love to dance, and beating the hell out of a dance floor can be a real release for pent up negative energy. I always leave dance classes feeling better than when I arrived.

I love to sing. Belting out tunes from my favourite musical or album of the moment is a very cathartic experience. Especially when driving. I’m not sure why. Somehow being in my car I find I can make a lot more of a racket than I would anywhere else.

I love to listen to soothing music. Enya is and always has been my go-to relaxation artist. Not only is her music beautiful, ethereal and calming, but it also has a strong personal connection to my mum. Hearing that music takes me back to being a child when she would help sooth away my nightmares. It helps.

I also love to write and draw and doodle. I journal. I write poetry and stories. I draw patterns and dream-scapes. Focusing on the pen and the page helps me to let everything flow out of me. I recently developed some rules about my journal. I don’t put negative things in there. I still put them down on paper but I get rid of it. I don’t keep it. I don’t want to hold onto that negativity. I used to find that my journals ended up being very negative and I hated that because I never recorded all the tiny good things in my day to day life. This way my mind is redirected towards the positive in my journal and I know I am collecting happiness rather than negativity. I still allow myself to put the negative down on paper but I then have to let it go. Tear it up, screw it up, bin it, burn it. But let it go. This is a very personal choice but I find it works well for me.

How do you cope with negativity in your life?

***

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

Please do not struggle alone.

x

Searching

Are we all

Caught

In an endless search?

For love

For faith

For fulfilment

For purpose

For understanding

For peace

For comfort

For home

For away

For that certain

Unnameable

Something

That we crave

Without knowing

What it is.

Is the whole of

Humanity

Caught

In an endless seeking?

A seeking in which

Every time we find

What we thought

We were looking for

There appears

On the horizon

Something

Else

That catches the light

And with it

Our

Fleeting

Eye

And the thing we previously

Sought

With all our

Heart

And

Mind

And

Energy

Hangs forgotten

From our hands.

A discarded toy.

Maybe we leave behind us

A debris trail

Of Found Things.

The list of what

We need want

Goes on

And on

And on

And on

But maybe

What we really want need

Is not the

Thing

We are searching for

So unceasingly

But the searching itself.

Because without looking,

Without flipping the stone

Following the unmarked path

Peering round the next bend

Turning the page

Asking

The Question,

How would we ever

See

And

Know

And

Love

The world?

Maybe when they said

“Seek and you shall find”

They were right.

Winter

Just when it seems

That the world has

Withdrawn

Into itself

And skeletal trees stand testament to a

Lifeless

Season,

We hang stars on every branch and bough

And light candles in every window,

Bringing warm hope

To the cold night.

 

When it seems the whole world should be

Hibernating,

Hidden away and

Waiting

In quiet solitude

For the Sun’s return,

We gather.

Stories and laughter and gifts

Of Time

Or Trinkets

Are shared

Over vats of mulled goodness

Under a man-made Milky-Way.

 

And when the sharing is done

A sleepy

Silence

Settles itself,

Like a thick, woollen throw, around our weary shoulders.

We sigh and allow our stuffed selves to

Drift

Into a contented sleep

With a wish of snow upon our lips

And,

If we’re lucky,

We wake to find the world muted and muffled

By a new kind of

Magnificence.

And we are reminded of the

Beauty

That can be found in a

Blank

Page.

Borrowed With Thanks

When she woke, it was gone. Everything else was in its rightful place: watch laid out on the bedside table, its gentle tick having lulled her to sleep hours before; earrings placed carefully side by side, hooks aligned so as not to become entangled with the copper filigree leaves that hung below; bracelet creating an uneven circle of shadow, light glinting off the worn, engraved bar bearing a simple motto of encouragement: inspire. But of her necklace there was no sign.

Searching with increasing puzzlement for the gleam of the fine, rose-gold chain, she tried to recall any ‘safe place’ she may have left it, mentally rolling her eyes at her own uncanny ability to sabotage even the simplest of her daily routines.

She lifted each book from the stack by her bed. She rifled through the pages and lifted the dust-covers. She checked inside the pillow cases; unmade and remade the bed; peered under the bed frame; checked in the bathroom and even looked through the wardrobe. Nothing. Not a link or clasp to be found.

With a great air of frustration and disappointment, she gave up the search and got on with her day, feeling distinctly unfinished without the light touch of the chain round her neck. It was a day filled with quiet busyness. She worked in silence whilst grey clouds scudded past the window and a late summer drizzle darkened the panes with silvered rivulets. As the day wore on, she forgot her missing necklace, distracted by imagines worlds and daydreams. It was only after she had eaten supper and headed up the creaking stairs to bed that she recalled it’s absence.

She fell frowning into a fitful sleep.

The next morning, she woke to a dull, misty light filtering through the small bay window. Stretching, she swung her sleep heavy legs out of bed. As she rose, a tiny, unexpected glint if light caught her eye. There, at the foot of the bed, just visible under the fold of her rumpled duvet, was her necklace.

With warm surprise she tugged the duvet back further. Surely she must still be dreaming! She knew how carefully and thoroughly she had checked the bed. But maybe she had not been thorough enough, for there, as she perched back on the edge of the mattress and peered a little closer, without doubt was her necklace.

As she reached out to pick it up, she paused in a moment of surprised curiosity. The necklace was not, as one might expect, lying in a knotted clump but rather in a perfectly cooked pile. When she picked it up, it uncoiled to reveal not one knot, not one tangled link.

How strange, she thought, before fastening the clasp behind her neck and continuing with the business of preparing to face the world.

Her mind already wandering to the tasks that lay ahead, as she remade the bed she missed the tiny folded note that became lost in the folded sheets, like a fallen bonsai leaf in a snow drift. She missed the words hidden within, written in a tiny perfect hand:

Borrowed with thanks. It saved our lives.

Come Home To Rest

The Earth smoulders

With the turning of the season

And the clouds drift down

To kiss the burning land.

A veil of tears

Lands softly on flaming leaves

But even heaven’s weeping

Cannot dull the

Rioting palette

Of autumn’s inferno.

And when the most parts,

Making way for the pale light

Of winter’s promise,

And the chill of year’s end

Arrives on the breath of the hills,

The leaves curl and crisp underfoot,

Rustling their accompaniment to fading birdsong.

Polished conkers gleam amongst summer’s debris.

Woodsmoke hangs in the air,

The crackle of logs echoing in the quiet.

The world exhales

A long sigh of letting go.

As though, after a long day,

She has come home to rest.

Sharing a Snippet

I seem to keep promising myself two things: that I will write more, and that I will share some of what I write. I am never very good at keeping either of these promises. During my wonderful stay at Gladstone’s Library I had intended to write some short stories and maybe a bit of poetry. What actually happened was that I wrote quite a lot of poetry and only two little segments of a short story. Turns out I am not very good at actually getting to any sort of narrative. (Note to self: work on that.)

Regardless, I’ve decided to share one of the little bits I wrote. I’m sharing it raw and unedited because if I get into all that I will never share it. This particular snippet was inspired by a writing prompt I found on Pinterest: “write about a new season and it’s impact on the world”. I had in my mind the effects of climate change, and how sometimes our seasons appear all out of whack, and I decided to set it in the far future, but beyond that initial thought I basically free wrote. What came out was a sort of message in a bottle…

No one knew what to call it. The first time it happened it was a ‘freak occurrence’; a ‘meteorological abnormality’; ‘nothing to worry about’. We were captivated by its beauty, and we believed them.

The light was entrancing: ethereal. Streaming from the sky in undulating ribbons, almost pearlescent and tinged with dawn colours. Like a day-lit aurora, it seemed as if each heavenly light fall should deposit a seraph in our midst. We soon discovered they were more of hell than heaven.

After years of this beautiful torture, the equatorial line is now a deep, permanent scorch, circling the Earth’s belly, growing wider with each passing orbit.

The Sun giveth, and the Sun taketh away.

We never know when the burning season will arrive. Unlike the old transitions, there is no gradual change; no slow curling and crisping of leaves as the hues shift to flame; no slow emerging of buds and shoots as greenery pushes its way to the surface once more. It comes in a sudden, terrible blaze. Without warning, the clouds part and the sun spears down, searing everything it touches from the face of the planet. It has proven impossible to predict when it will come and where it will fall. The Northern and Southern Hemispheres are now cut off from one another completely. No one dares cross the scorch band and the light falls have slowly created a no-mans land, not only on the surface but in the upper atmosphere as well. It was a shock when the first satellite fell.

Understandably, people fled from the Earth’s belt, humanity tearing like a seam around the middle. People surged North and South, seeking refuge; the upper and lower reaches of the planet have become unbearably crowded and we are running out of room. The scorch band expands inexorably towards us. All the old boundaries are gone and we are on the brink of war.

As if fighting the sun was not enough.

We did not heed the warnings and now nature takes its revenge for our ignorance and arrogance. The universe sends a mere sliver of its power, through a crack of our own making, and our downfall is sealed.

There is nowhere left for us to run. All our technology and bold proclamations are useless in the face of such relentless, uncompromising destruction.

This is our final hope. These words. Sent out in a direction we can’t control, into the vacuum of space, where we don’t know if anyone is listening. Where anyone who might be listening could be forgiven for ignoring our plea. Our trespasses, after all, are great and many.

But we plead with you anyway.

Because if you are reading this, you are our only hope.

If you are reading this, please send help.

If In Doubt, Go To The Library

I am just coming to the end of four glorious days staying at Gladstone’s Libary in North Wales. It is housed in a beautiful red brick building and is one of the finest residential libraries going. Staying here has been an introverted bookworm’s dream, and was the ideal place to nurture the aspiring writer in me. I got to stay here with my reading-writing-partner-in-crime – my mum! To some a trip like this would seem the height of boredom but it’s has been truly wonderful for us. We have been able to read and write to our hearts content in the beautiful surroundings of the library, stopping only to sample the delicious coffee, cake and regular meals in the restaurant, and the occasional conversational interlude. It is quiet and peaceful here and the history of the place itself provides a comforting atmosphere – somehow it feels familiar and there is a sense of unspoken community with bibliophiles past and present.

Each day, we have proceeded to the library or the common room, armed with books, notebooks, pencils and iPads, and luxuriated in the opportunity to explore all the ideas and possibilities that live inside our brains, that every day life just never seems to leave room for. We played with concepts that have lurked on the edge of consciousness for time untold and discovered new writing inclinations we didn’t even know were there. It has been restful and productive, and although I am looking forward to getting home to my hubby and my own bed, I will miss it here and know I’ll be coming back.

One thing that this trip has really brought home for me is that I really DO want to write. If only for pleasure, I find there is a certain peace and clarity that comes from just putting something down on paper. I have long harboured a secret ambition to be a writer but it always feels like such an indulgence, and also such an effort, that I rarely allow myself the time. I fret that there’s no point in spending the time writing if it’s not going to go anywhere, and the likelihood is that it won’t. I worry that my writing isn’t really any good and I always want to produce something that appears polished and complete the first time around – editing scares me because I’m always convinced that when I come to edit my own writing I’ll just want to scratch the lot. But here’s the thing: I really do enjoy writing, even if it’s imperfect; even if it will never be seen by anyone; even if what comes out on the page is nothing like what I had in my head. So it’s time to find time. I have no doubt it will be hard at first to create writing time in my routine, that I will fail miserably on more than one occasion to put pen to paper instead of scrolling through instagram, or get up early rather than lying in bed. But my commitment to myself is to keep coming back, to keep trying, and to remember that I do want to write for writing’s sake, without agenda or expectation.

Not every aspiring writer has the luxury of taking time away to attend a retreat or stay somewhere quiet for a few days. It’s certainly not something I have done before and although Inhope to do it again I know it won’t be a regular occurrence. So I thought I would close by pulling together some of the elements of this week that I have found helpful that could feasibly be recreated on a smaller scale at home. 


How to create a DIY mini writing retreat:

  • Find a space that is conducive to your writing – this might be as simple as clearing a work surface at home or it might be a visit to a local coffee shop or library. Find a space with the right noise levels for you or put together an appropriate playlist if you like a bit of background noise.
  • Take a notebook and pencil. Even if you generally prefer to type, there is something very freeing about writing by hand with a pencil. 
  • Take something for inspiration – but not too much! I have endless books with writing exercises and an extensive Pinterest board filled with images and prompts. I love them but all together they are too much to be helpful. Before I started writing, I gave myself 15 minutes to scroll through my pin board and screenshot a handful of prompts that I was drawn to. Then I picked one that appealed to me as a warm up. It was nothing to do with anything I had planned to write but it ended up being a really fun piece of writing!
  • Take sustenance! Staring at a screen or a page for a long time always gives me a headache but having a bottle of water or juice to hand and a packets of mints or a couple of biscuits helps combat this and keeps me going a bit longer.
  • Take a book. Sometimes when you try to write the words just won’t come. And that’s ok. When this happens I like to turn to a book for a) distraction from the writer’s block and b) inspiration! Something I find often helps is to read until I come across a word or line that jumps out at me, and then to use that as a starting point for free writing or found poetry. Even if what you end up with is a load of nonsense, at least it got you writing!
  • Go easy on yourself. Whether you manage to find half an hour or a whole day, whether you write a couple of sentences or a whole manuscript, go easy on yourself. If you berate yourself for not writing enough or not writing welll you will taint the experience and be less and less likely to give yourself time and space to write in future. No one is expecting perfection, except you. And you’ll be a lot happier if you let that go.

So there you have it! My rambling, barely tried and tested advice. I’d love to know of any other tips and tricks that help you get writing so stop by in the comments and say hi.

Huge thanks to the staff at Gladstones Library for making our stay so wonderful, and , as always, to my mum for her company, friendship, support, and all the giggles.