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

Monday, 24 March 2014

a poetry sauna and interconnectedness

Travelling the east bank of the Teign for the first Teignmouth Poetry Festival, which turns out to be a wonderful event in many ways, a storm out at sea rags the clouds so that they drip blueblack into the green translucence of the sea, slant-lit by the setting sun behind us. A stray chunk of rainbow hovers in the clear strip between sea and stormcloud. Teignmouth from here, the other side of the Shaldon bridge, looks very romantic. I remember that Keats, as well Isambard Kingdom Brunel, hung out here.

I have the Famous Poet in the car beside me, and he's entertained me well on the journey. We pass now a whited-out billboard, whose graffiti reads I'M ALL WHITE NOW I'VE HAD ART THERAPY, which makes us both chuckle.

Famous Poet's gig was utterly brilliant (and sold out weeks before). Very funny, with ridiculous tiny nonsense poems that no-one else could possibly pull off, followed by serious sad poems delivered simply and plainly, and therefore all the more moving. What a star. And as usual, modest, engaged, kind and small of ego.

On the way home, we're talking about redundancy in poems. He says something interesting: some poems have a last line that sends a shiver up the spine of the poem. That sends a shiver up my spine, so spot-on an observation it is, and I realise how much I look for that effect in poetry, and how rare it is to find it. How difficult it is to pull off, too – how it can turn a basically-descriptive poem into something much more profound; but how the weight of that last line has to be so subtly, so delicately, gauged: a gram too heavy and it becomes a punchline, self-conscious and self-aggrandising.

I mention two poems that I think do this very well: James Wright's 'Lying in a Hammock in William Duffy's Farm in... Minnesota' (I've found the poem with different versions of the title); and Seamus Heaney's 'Postscript' (the poem at this link has a couple of typos, by the way).


Saturday brings a very good selection of poems in translation, read in their original Spanish, Greek, French, Latin, Welsh and Finnish too.

Andy Brown holds the audience rapt in his evening presentation, that includes an eclectic range of visuals to accompany his poetry on the body and medicine, the theme of an anthology he's editing for Bloomsbury. Andy's work is great spoken or read aloud, but also repays further reading on the page. His voice is very much his own, and it's an inspiration to include a visual dimension; this always seems to deepen our experience of and relationship to the poem by more than simply the sum of word and image.

At the end of the evening, I felt as if I'd been immersed in a poetry sauna for 24 hours. I hadn't realised how starved I'd been feeling of this experience; I could feel something a little cramped inside me expanding, like those paper Japanese flowers that blossom from small tight dry coils when you drop them in water.

My own afternoon session was – sigh of relief! – well attended, with a thoughtful and engaged audience. Not only were the cakes excellent, but we also had a discussion about whether and how poetry could help us make connections, which was the theme of my title. (If poetry can't, than maybe home-made cakes can...)

I've written here before, perhaps, of my recent recognition of the fact that everything I do is, in one way or another, concerned with our connectedness – or otherwise. I gave a talk on that to a group at Schumacher College a week or two ago, and something along those lines will be what I'll be speaking on at the June 'Consciousness Café' here in Totnes.

If we know that everything, everything we can know, is interconnected with everything else – a major insight of many spiritual and mystical traditions, and backed up recently in science, whether holistic, evolutionary (ecosystems) or quantum physics – then how might we live in ways that reflect and honour that state of being?

It has seemed to me for a long time that our behaviour, based on perception of/assumptions about the separative ego (as if we were separate lumps of matter pushing other separate lumps of matter around the universe basically according to our needs and desire nature), is what's responsible for the inner and outer fractures in our lives, most especially in relation to the environment and its destruction.

Like my life, all my work is aimed, albeitly subtly, at addressing and exploring this.

I believe poetry has a unique part to play in changing our perception. As novelist and poet Lindsay Clarke once said in an interview with me for a journal: 'Without imagination we cannot have compassion'; a statement so obvious that I had never really seen it. It stopped my flow of questions for long enough to realise that this is a simple and very profound insight.

So imagination, and cultivating it, is a major preoccupation of mine.

Poetry is, in my view, soulwork. Coming as it does from both head and heart, I believe that poetry can open and/or restore a sense of connectedness on an inner level. I also feel it can create a rare intimacy interpersonally. Combining image and sound, it reaches beyond the intellect alone. It can heal fractures between people and peoples; across borders and nations. It can bring or remind us of a transpersonal dimension to our experience.

And it seems to me that we can't separate it, either, from the possibility of increased self-knowledge; so that, for me, there's always a psychospiritual dimension to it (I know many people wouldn't agree with this, as poetry is a bit of a shapeshifter and can take many forms).

Crucially, I feel, when accompanying work outdoors it can open inner vision and outer relationship, joining inner and outer geographies. It can enable us to renew our deeper ties with other species, place and land (my ecosoul work, on the ecological imagination and ecopsychology, concentrates specifically on this).

In a world that seems so riven with separateness, any practice that opens the channels for intimacy with the lost, hidden, forgotten or split-off parts of ourselves, with a flow of creativity and imagination, with other humans, with the other-than-human and the more-than-human, is doing this world a huge favour, it seems to me. Poetry happens to be the skin I like to wear, the heart in whose beat I rest and breathe.

So driving back, leaving the sea behind me, on Saturday night I was aware that something had been restored in me. Something that was in danger of suffocation had opened its wings in my chest.

I hope, too, that the experience of poetry at this wonderful first Teignmouth Poetry Festival, and our lively discussion after my reading of it, had allowed a descent into some kind of depth in all of us.


  1. Absolutely awe-some and wonderful! "Poetry happens to be the skin I like to wear, the heart in whose beat I rest and breathe" - this sent shivers down my spine and made me weep! THANK you, dear Roselle!!!
    With love B xx

  2. Oh B how lovely - thank you! xx Come to think of it, I quite like that too! ;-). With love, Rxx

  3. What a wonderful thing to read. How I wish I had been at the sauna for such a rich steaming! Keats sometimes sits in my car too.. Next year I shall have to be there.

  4. HanJan thank you for such a lovely comment! Yes, it was one of the best poetry festivals I've been to, small though its is in comparison with many. I DID have Keats accompanying me in the car! - but I also had the living flesh-and-blood Brian Patten, who made the astute comment about last lines...

  5. I enjoyed this post very much, Roselle.

    I was interested in your remarks about shivery last lines which cut to the soul and illuminate the whole; your two examples demonstrate this admirably.

    Yet, of course, there are many ways to end poems, and it's just as difficult to end with a slight frisson, a dying fall, an anti-climax, something low-key, something apparently throwaway, some unresolved ambiguity or whatever. If that particular ending is right for the poem.

    It's always difficult to say why, but I've always like the last lines of Lawrence's 'Snake' and Elizabeth Jennings's' 'Song at the Beginning of Autumn'.

  6. Thank you, Robert - and lovely to see you here.

    Yes, the way a poem ends (or begins) is so important, isn't it? - Strangely, I've just today finished responding to the final assignment of a participant on my online poetry course, and she chose to write her final essay in relation to poetry using both Lawrence's 'Snake' (I love that poem); and the Jennings poem you mentioned too!

    What synchronicity, that you both mentioned those particular poems, and that I've met them (again) twice today.

  7. Astonishing synchronicity — though I've come to expect that in Blogland!

    Yes, 'Snake' is a fabulous poem. A few years ago I stood in the street behind the wall of the garden in Taormina where DHL had that experience...

    Have added your blog to my blog list, BTW.

    1. Yes! I expect that routinely, blogland or not - if it's not happening, I assume I'm not seeing it/properly aligned - do you know what I mean? – I thought so!

      And thank you! I thought you were already on mine, but you don't seem to be - it might have been Passionate Transitory. Will remedy that!


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