This is a page for (almost) daily thoughts, ideas, quotes or meditations. It may be my own words, a link to a pleasing or inspiring website, a line from a poem or book, a found object or song. No analysis, no questioning; just a small ‘minding’ that I’d like to share.
Review: Like Other Animals by Lois Williams
I have just read the beautiful, often breath-taking, Like Other Animals by Lois Williams, published by the wonderful Happenstance Press. You may remember that I quoted one of her poems, “Immaterial” (re-titled “Traffic” in this collection) in a previous post.
This generous collection of poems perfectly encapsulates that most amazing quality of the human condition: the ability to withstand a painful journey of loss and yet to still see beauty in the world, especially in nature. Poems containing exquisite and often forensic descriptions of struggles with fertility issues are interspersed with those that describe moments of transcendence and joy. For me Williams is quite literally attempting – and managing – to make sense of life in all its complexity of grief, mundanity and joy – and randomness.
In “February, My Father Contemplating Spring” Williams allows us to experience the tenderness and affection of a daughter watching her father prepare the garden for spring. It’s a tender and moving poem that brings us face-to-face with the ‘familiarity of familiarity’ yet manages to convey those often surprising elements found in a moment of supposed everyday-ness. On the facing page, in “When They Were Gone” we are brought up close to a woman’s experience of loss and grief after undergoing a hysterectomy and bilateral oopherectomy. “On The Occasion Of Not Having Gone To The Same Physician As Angelina Jolie”, describes perfectly, and painfully, the sense of helplessness and unspoken outrage at the clumsy and unthinking ‘bedside manner’ of a medic about to perform a life-changing procedure. Through her skillful use of contained humour, Williams writes through the anger and not of it, thereby making the reading of it a doubly powerful and cathartic experience.
All the poems in this collection are beautiful, skilfully sparse, but always powerful studies on the complex nature of living with the sense of loss invoked by childlessness and they reflect the fact that we often move, moment-to-moment, between joy and grief. As with all good poetry writing, Williams’ humour and her surprising, tender, but never sentimental observations make each poem a universal experience. As I read the collection I often found myself saying, ‘Yes, that is how it feels!’
Copies of Lois Williams’ collection can be bought from Happenstance Press
Lois Williams’ website is here.
13 February 2018
Sometimes it’s the storm that makes you feel alive.
11 February 2018 – Poetry Collection Review
Take This One to Bed by Antony Dunn (Valley Press, October 2016)
I discovered Antony Dunn’s beautiful and haunting collection of poetry when, quite by chance, I found his poem, “In Vitro” whilst searching online for another poem. The poem truly touched me and I became curious about his work. I wasn’t disappointed. Even the title, Take This One to Bed, sends us first one way with our thoughts then another, winding around our perceptions of the world and our visions of ‘truth’. The title poem, ‘Take This One to Bed’ riffs on the concept of never going to bed on an argument and describes that push/pull of relationships – the push to say, ‘Sorry, forgive me” and the pull of pride that keeps us looking the other way, keeping that margin of conflict between us.
I loved the way “Honey” perfectly describes one of those ‘lost moments’ in life – the street-side trader, selling honey that we see from the side window of our car and then in our rear-view mirror. It was so accurate in its description that I instantly remembered some of my own ‘lost moments’, connections lost, things not tasted. The language of the poem leaves us with that last taste of potential sweetness.
I have read very few poems that encapsulate the complexity of emotion and the physical and psychological ‘inside-outness’ of fertility treatment. Like ‘Take This One To Bed’, we are led astray at the beginning of this poem – imagining some amorous and illicit tryst at a wedding as a couple ‘…bolt into the dark and dusty mop-cupboard we’d clocked’. As the poem unfolds, Dunn expertly takes us through the loneliness and isolation of finding a safe place to perform the hormone injections required for IVF treatment. Skilfully, he presents that disrupted act of conception that is IVF. He links the champagne glass with the notion of the in vitro conception, ‘Its little bubbles making themselves out of nothing…’ This is a brave and moving description of fertility treatment told through one moment and in describing that one moment he manages to capture the sense the whole journey.
From ‘Animal Rescue’ which left me imagining the loneliness of being the only creature left alive in my house to ‘Suburban’ that sums up those small moments in which grief or huge emotion hits you – ‘You’ll find it finds you/at the kitchen sink’ – the whole collection seems to flow with a light, almost fantastical, touch. And like any good collection of poems, the contents convey a sense of the world we might otherwise not have glimpsed.
Find out more about Antony Dunn’s poetry here
“…love pursued with fervour is one of the roads to knowledge.” Nan Shepherd
I’ve just finished reading Nan Shepherd’s book The Living Mountain. It is a small, endearing and meditative description of her lifetime relationship with the Cairngorms and mountain walking. It’s full of beautiful lines that I wanted to savour and her gentle descriptions took me to the mountain, as though I was standing with her as she gazed from precipice to loch, from sky to path. What struck me about this book was not only its beauty but that it almost didn’t get published. She wrote it towards the end of the Second World War and a friend convinced her that due to the ‘circumstances of the time’ getting it published would be impossible. She sent it to one publisher who turned it down so she put it in a drawer for over thirty years. Perhaps when she rescued it from obscurity and took the courage to send it back out, the world was better ready for it!
“…often the mountain gives itself most completely when I have no destination, when I reach nowhere in particular, but have gone out merely to be with the mountain as one visits a friend with no intention but to be with him.” Nan Shepherd
25 August 2017
A Different Outcome
Healthy Biscuits or Ninja Weapons
Baking has always been one of the ways in which I escape, relax. I have baked while crying and I’ve baked when full of the joys of spring. As pursuits go, you can’t get a neater package of positivity – it is sensual, creative and nurturing…and the end results can be yummy. I say ‘can be’ because these little dudes began life in my mind as The Healthy Alternative – sugar-free, dementia-avoidance oaty, environmentally-friendly little darlings. I placed them in the oven and waited like a child awaiting Christmas morning. What emerged were saliva-stripping flowers of cardboard that could potentially be used as marshal art weapons. Not the result I was expecting. But…
…I have laughed:
…at my husband’s look of concentration as he tried to find encouraging words – actually as he tried to even speak!
…at a friend’s instinctive reaction as he picked one up and threw it Bruce Lee-like across the kitchen.
…at my own reluctance to throw them out and determination to keep dunking them in my morning tea.
17 August 2017
Because we all need time just to drift…
No letter. No permission. No voice
telling you it’s okay to stand here,
still, un-tasked by the sunlight.
30 March 2017
A fish surfaces
The wind subsides
Then picks up
A page is turned by the air
And nothing more
Beyond the fence
Past the woods
The school day starts
Parents drive free
Give way at the end of the lane
Rain falls on my page
Smudges the ‘s’ on ‘falls’
A sip of tea
17 February 2017
Couplets at Dawn! Reading poetry on Hollingbury Ring, looking down on Brighton – a beautiful poem by Alice Oswald from Falling Awake, Cape 2016
10 September 2016
Sister-in-law’s garden full of jewels.
The hammock swing under a blue sky.
Pigeons passing messages above me:
We’ll be here watching. We’ll be here watching. Sleep.
25 August 2016
A bird heading home.
Van Morrison in my head.
9 August 2016
A teeny, tiny poem I often re-read is William Carlos Williams’ The Red Wheelbarrow. (Read it here at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/core-poems/detail/45502)
This morning my mind was drawn to the poem as I thought about the day ahead and I realised how full my head was about thoughts, plans and analysis of…well, everything!
Many people try to find the ‘answer’ to the Williams’ poem as though it is a riddle. I like it because it both is and describes a moment in time… and I absolutely refuse to analyse it.
My thoughts were drawn back in time to a moment that went beyond analysis when, before a flight home from a working trip to New York, I woke to the scene pictured here (excuse the pic quality!) I was heading home to face our final cycle of IVF treatment but for that moment all that mattered was the sun emerging through New York’s sky scrapers. There in my hotel room, I suddenly felt as though the buildings had been night-sentinels, protecting me as I slept and were now witnessing my feelings of trepidation. It was hard to pull myself away from the window to get ready for the day and my flight home. The picture now hangs in my home and is a daily reminder of an experience that transcended both thought and analysis. Everything and nothing depended on that one moment.
Stop! Pretend no names exist for these. Feel the uppermost red on your skin, the silent blues an undercurrent of thoughts. And where the white touches green, a stream of seconds in which you have forgotten even your own name. Deborah Sloan