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

Saturday, 28 July 2012

doing nothing; creativity; the aleph and the ox

My friends, I have been occupied – preoccupied – with three things this week. 

I've liked noticing how different it feels when it's sunny, and noticing my extreme reluctance to be indoors. 

I've enjoyed, in a rather obsessive slightly stressed way, working very intensively at my assessments of the final assignments of participants on the January to July Elements of Poetry distance learning course. 

And I've fallen in love with discovering what it feels like to try out 'il bel far niente' – this beautiful doing-nothing. I've only got up to about 15 minutes so far – but hey I really really like it. Watch this space (where if I get good at this practice il bel niente might indeed be the case). 

My favourite places for far-niente-ing: the birdsongy courtyard in the early morning with a first cup of tea; the little secluded round space, once to have become a sacred garden but now simply a lovely contained space with a fire pit and a bench, at the head of the ex-silage-pit horseshoe-shaped area where we grow our veg, the only flat bit excavated from a north-facing slope, after lunch, in the sun (FAR too many subclauses – Ed.); and the secret quarry pool, like a green eye in the woods.


So this is one of those ragbag blogs. I want to add two things here, briefly: one is the opening paragraphs of John Daido Loori's excellent book The Zen of Creativity, into which I'm dipping again.

'Creativity is our human birthright. It is an integral part of being human, as basic as walking, talking and thinking. Throughout our evolution as a species, it has sparked innovations in science, beauty in the arts, and revelation in religion. Every human life contains its seeds and is constantly manifesting it, whether we're building a sand castle, preparing Sunday dinner, painting a canvas, walking through the woods, or programming a computer.

'The creative process, like a spiritual journey, is intuitive, non-linear, and experiential. It points us toward our essential nature, which is a reflection of the boundless creativity of the universe.'


A very creative time for me in my past was the several years when I attended, as a tutor, the Poetry OtherWise summer school at Emerson College, Forest Row. Emerson was the headquarters of the Steiner movement in Britain, training teachers in this system in which the arts and spiritual practice are central.

The man whose vision created the poetry summer school is the inspiring and much-loved Paul Matthews. One of the hallmarks of an excellent teacher, in addition to their ability to inspire, is playfulness, and Paul brings this to all his work – in combination with a depth of vision and wisdom. I've had the good fortune to be in touch with him again, and he's given me permission to reproduce this excerpt – it made me smile, and it's accompanied by a beautiful and typical poem of Paul's – from a piece of his in his book Slippery Creatures, and on his website (This section comes from 'Poetry and Poetics'.)

Finding Out a Joy

As I walked out this May morning
I heard the Blackbird
calling from the wood

and there without a word
the Bluebells spread and I said
look at me you pure inquisitors

and this they did -
their mute gaze finding out a joy
I’d too long shaded from the view

and as the Blackbird
carolled in the sunlit glade
I wept for being seen through.

The Aleph

What better place to start than with the letter A. The beginning of learning and the door of heaven, is what that madman Christopher Smart called it. Its shape comes from the head of an Ox, they say, and ‘Ox’, according to my dictionary, is, 1: Any bovine animal. 2: Castrated male of the domestic species. It was Smart’s strong conviction that there is life in language, a generative power. The current view of the matter, however, would go along with the gelded version, holding that language is a domestic arrangement, an information technology which in itself is devoid of life and mystery. I suppose that ever since people began to think about language, instead of simply living inside the spell of it, a tension has existed between these two views - the magical and the rational. Perhaps the very act of thinking about words is what severs the Ox from its magic potency. That; or in encountering some untamed element of the Aleph we do indeed stand in jeopardy of  being tossed into a madness.

Weak-minded people, wrote Arthur Rimbaud, beginning by thinking about the first letter of the alphabet, would soon rush into madness. In the overweening confidence of his youth when, by his own confession, he considered himself Magus or Angel, exempt from all morality, he made that famous sonnet in which he claims that each vowel has a colour, and that the sounding of them conjures up images in the mind: A, black velvety jacket of brilliant flies which buzz around cruel smells, gulfs of shadow. Following a deliberate path of poetic initiation, he battered at the conventions imposed on language by the one-eyed intellect until its vowels became for him five Halleluiahs heralding a change of consciousness. One must be deader than a fossil, he wrote, to finish a dictionary in any language...


Poem and excerpt © Paul Matthews


  1. I didn't know about Christopher Smart (must look him up)but I think Wittgenstein would have agreed with him that there is a generative power in language: "Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination"...

    I'm glad you're enjoying the beautiful doing-nothing. Like the sound of the birdsongy courtyard :-)

  2. Thank you, Hilaire! I love the Wittgenstein quote - didn't know it (synchronously I've just started rereading him - I say 'rereading' but actually have only ever dipped in).


    1. Me too - only dipped in - catching snatches of a tune in the midst of a symphony...


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