Tag Archives: mental health

November – a poem

photo credit: redmupfe via Pixabay

Earlier this week I read for Todmorden Wednesday Writers. The Zoom event was well attended, with the open mic attracting poets from UK and abroad. I still want to abolish January – blogged about that before. The Todmorden poets liked this November poem. The pumpkin picture perfectly represents how I’m feeling right now – lockdown in November!

November

The month that offers only Halloween and All Souls’ Day.
That Danish hygge nonsense – an IKEA trick to sell
more scented candles, cocoa, woollen blankets
with a Nordic pattern. All those Scandinavian series –
Killing, The Bridge, different actors playing Wallander,
every instalment set in November.
Groundhog month. Lit-up pumpkins will never
warm the knuckles of your heart.
Every November day is an odyssey.
To be away twenty years and be recognised
only by a mangy old dog.
Check your bonfire for hedgehogs, remember
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in your will.
Do away with Christmas.

Abseiling – a poem

 

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Photo credit: Elias Sch via Pixabay

 

This coming week would have been the birthday of Bill Huddleston. My second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous (Indigo Dreams) is dedicated to him. In one of the poems I wrote:

Bill’s last words were always Have fun, so I will.
He was a very good father, Bill, though he wasn’t my father.

Bill and I first met in 1986 when we worked on an Outplacement project in Scotland. In his 60s Bill retrained as a hypnotherapist, and for many years he and I had a peer-supervision agreement – meeting monthly to discuss our clients.

From a poetry workshop on Working the Body I had the marvellous poem Climbing my Grandfather. It’s a first-hand story by a child, starting at the brogues (shoes) and ending on top of the head, the summit, with the slow pulse of (the grandfather’s) good heart. Here you can read the original poem by Andrew Waterhouse, a poet and musician, who was passionate about the environment. He suffered from depression and, aged 42, died by suicide in 2001.

 
Abseiling Bill

 
The grey hairs combed back are too few to attach the equipment,
so I slide down slowly to his glasses, see close-up the grey hairs
sprouting from his ear. I think of rabbit holes, hear scuttling
sounds as his amazing brain is shifting, growing, learning.
I move carefully down his cheek where I can hear humming
from his sinus. Suddenly I’m dangling as he turns his head
to hear the other person better. His chin is smooth and
soon I reach the safety of his dark green cardigan,
all bobbly terrain and the round boulders
of its leather buttons. I can slide across his chest
where his large warm heart is housed, my feet
feel the rise of his breath lower down as he is
slowing to pace the other person.
It’s an easy journey now onto his chinos.
I walk across his upper leg, sun lights
my path. I rest in the folds of his knees.
From here I can see his steady feet
in the solid grey trainers and I land
without a hitch, safely.

Knitting – a poem

 

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Photo credit: cocoparisienne via Pixabay

In this region, schools will start tomorrow. Everywhere, there are large white banners up reminding drivers that children are about, on foot or on their bike. For various reasons, I don’t have good memories of my time at primary school. When I think about knitting, or see someone knitting, my stomach contracts. But, don’t you love the bike?

 

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Photo credit: Foundry Co via Pixabay

Did you knit this yourself?

It would have been a morning.
Glasses, graying hair in a bun,
typical spinster teacher.

Why ask a question to which you
already know the answer?

Because you had never been able
or willing to show me left-handed knitting.

The few centimetres my mother
had added during the week stood out:

too smooth and regular, too clean,
easily done in her click-clack rhythm.

I watched you unpick it, leaving
me sitting with a pile of curly wool.

Winning an Award

 

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I am delighted to share with you the wonderful news: I am one of five poets who have received a Northern Writers Award 2020 from New Writing North. The poetry entries were judged by Vahni Capildeo. They were said to be ‘highly impressed’.

New Writing North is a development agency that supports reading and writing in the North of England. It was established in 1996 to commission new work, create development opportunities, nurture talent, and make connections. Since 2000 NWN has also run the annual Northern Writers Awards. Funding for these awards comes from different sources, such as the Arts Council, TV’s Channel 4.

This year more than £45,000 was given to 26 winners from a record-breaking 1,800 entrants. I sent off my submission of 29 pages at the end of December. With everything that happened this year I had completely forgotten about it. I am going to spend the award money on getting a mentor as this current project is well outside my comfort zone.

The short poem below is the current title poem.

 

Remembering

Remembering is like hay-fever:
there before you know it.
Other people unaffected and smiling.

Remembering is a disease
with a double-barreled name
like Schadenfreude-Unheimlich,
and the GP whom you’ve waited

to see for at least a week
looks through you and says
she’s never heard of it.

It’s being back in a classroom,
you can’t read the blackboard sums
and the teacher is pointing at you.

Almost Solstice

 

solstice

 

As a Dutch national living in the UK I was unable to vote in the elections on Thursday. Never has Friday the 13th felt worse: those results and interminable rain, rain.

A couple of friends have just lost a parent, or friend, another friend is about to have the last Christmas with her father. Hospice care has already been arranged for him. I count my blessings and I count the days until Solstice on my fingers.

 
Waiting

The water meadows
are waiting
for the storks to return

 
always invisible
the other side
of her face

 
in this book
there is snow
on every page

 
even an old potato
can be turned
into a Christmas stamp

 
the naming of colours
is not a science.
I vote for bird’s nest grey

Cheerio and Goodbye: going bananas

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To date, over 13,000 people have booked to attend a party on the beach at Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands on the 31st of October. It all started as a joke on Facebook in August but quickly grew. People paid Euro 19.73 (the year the UK joined the EU) and they were going to wave goodbye to us here in the UK, listening to live music and being served Belgian beer, French wine and Dutch chips and cheese.

I know Wijk an Zee very well: it’s just two miles from the small town where I was born. I spent a lot of time there as a child and adolescent. From the beach you can see the chimneys of the steelworks by the port of Ijmuiden.

Brexit has been delayed and so has the party! The organiser, Ron Toekook, admits that it has not been possible to get the finance sorted for a party this size in such a short time. Money will be refunded, and they will try again early next year.

According to a recent survey, one third of the UK population reports mental health issues as a result of Brexit.  That’s close to 22 million people and I am only one of them.

This seems a good time to share with you my Brexit poem Going bananas. One of the lies told by politicians here in the UK was that the EU wouldn’t allow bananas to be bent! The poem is in the form of an abecedarian. This is an ancient form with each line starting with a letter of the alphabet. Apparently, the first examples were in Semitic and religious Hebrew poems.

Going bananas

Aliens’ Office: the first destination on my 1969 arrival, a somewhat
bewildering encounter with Blighty’s bureaucracy in London.
Colombey-les-Deux-Églises it ain’t and I’m in Manchester now, five
decades down the time-line, feeling like a sick parrot, a dead one
even. I was an economic migrant, attracted by English eccentricity.
Four candles? Fork handles? Wit and humour have been turned into the
Groundhog Day of Brexit negotiations. Jack took a fortnight’s leave –
halcyon days in September – and through marriage I acquired an
Irish surname while my husband held two passports, even then.
Je ne regrette rien screech those who voted non in the referendum.
Kafka would have been enchanted by a hard border in the Irish sea.
Languages were my passport, small flags sewn on the uniforms;
my Seaman’s Record Book rests in a box file with birthday cards.
NHS nurses and pediatricians are returning to Europe, even poets I know.
Oui, some of the three million are voting with their feet.
P&O gave the world the word posh: port out, starboard home. The
question of lorries queuing on the M20 still has no answer, as do the
refugee tales of children held in indefinite detention or stuck in Calais.
Schadenfreude is not what they feel in Europe, they’re just bewildered.
Tourist shoppers avail themselves of the sinking pound sterling and the
ugly UKIP man with Union Jack footwear, beery bonhomie, claimed
victory then scarpered sharply right. What kind of victory is it
when I now no longer want to become a British citizen? My neighbours are
xenophobes who, Macron says, will soon need visit visa to enter France.
Yes, the yahoos are among us yanking us closer and closer to the edge,
zealots who prefer the zilch-no-deal, while I cry and pluck my zither.

White-faced capuchin

Penny

It is a pleasure to introduce this month’s poet Penny Sharman. We met many years ago on writing workshops organised and run by the late Linda Chase.

Penny is a Poet, Photographer , Artist and Therapist. She is inspired by wild open spaces and coastal paths. Penny uses metaphor to create deep emotional landscapes for personal and universal themes. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Edge Hill University and has been published in many magazines and anthologies such as The Interpreters House, Strix, Finished Creatures and Obsessed with Pipework. Penny’s pamphlet Fair Ground was published by Yaffle Press in 2019 and her first collection Swim With Me In Deep Water was published by Cerasus in 2019. Both books are available from her website: pennysharman.co.uk

I have chosen three poems from Fair Ground to show the range and the deep humanity of Penny’s poems.

 

White-faced capuchin

In my dream state I keep my monkey in a violin case.
Every daybreak I unclip the clasp and let the inquisitor out.
She greets me with a pale face, jumps onto my hand
with a chitter-chatter and pisses over my skin.

I feed one morsel at a time into her small mouth: fruits, nuts,
ants, tree-rat tails, squirrel tongues, or any titbit from a bird.
She stares into my eyes in a trance, hand-sniffs and licks
my fingers for comfort.

I ask her about dreams and fears, about past arboreal fields,
how she learnt to use sticks to beat away tree boas. How she
rubbed plants and ants into her fur as a medicine, how she played
with her tribe and trembled when jaguars stalked her path.

I calm her when she sobs with thoughts of humans hunting
her for food. In another life she is an automaton holding out
her hand with a beggar’s cup for the organ grinder when
vagabonds cranked away from dawn to dusk.

She tells me how her face resembles a Capuchin friar’s cowl,
how it resembles a cappuccino in the hands of barista boy.
In my dream state I keep my monkey safe in a violin case.
Every daybreak I unclip the clasp and let the inquisitor out.

Fair ground
Bella

All night incoming waves roll pebbles on the storm beach
as the girl struggles with her fear, sweat, lack of breath,
the drums in her heart and screaming mind.

All night the incoming waves pummel the oyster shells
on Llandona sands where emptiness echoes in the girl’s ears,
not one giving an answer to her plea for peace.

All night she searches for just one pearl to hold in her hand,
to calm her in the driving seat, to be the passenger,
to leave control under a gravestone at St. Dona’s Church.

All night the witches rumble spells through the glazed glass
And washed floor boards inside Gorphwysfa, a place of rest
where each window sees Red Wharf Bay.

All night she walks down the hill in dreams: it’s easy to paddle
in the shallow ocean, it’s easy to place worries in a paper boat,
to sail them to somewhere out of her white room.

 
Cutting rice

Let me hold your hand, heal the howl of blue-eyes.
Look at you, down on your knees, how you cut
the smallest white grain, your hunger in the meadows.

Let me stroke your hair, calm your thin-moon of stone,
your rock strangers that run through a corridor of minds.
Here’s a lemon balm to smooth out your wrinkles.

Let me hear your earthquakes, leopard-spotted appetites
for belonging. Bury them in my palm. Let me bring blossoms,
the white-white of petals in your earthly hours.

Please Hear What I’m Not Saying

cover MIND

 

With 200 poems, this is a substantial anthology of mental health issues. It was compiled and edited by Isabelle Kenyon of Fly on the Wall Press. Profits from the publication go to MIND, the UK mental health charity and a small charity based in Scotland. So far almost £600 has been raised.

Isabelle organised a micro-competition to celebrate the first anniversary of the anthology’s publication. I just received my copy of the anthology, as she declared Voice the winner.

 
Voice

I’m scared of the voice that tells me to let go of the wheel.
It’s an old man’s, harsh, gritty, cold, pushing me.
That time: Monday, sunny, A487, heading for Portmadog …

throat, sweaty fingers, heat

 

Black figures carry bags home. Whatever home might mean.
Silence, only sirens calling. The dog-end of the year.

 

Falling is kind of doing something.
You can fall sideways, head first, backwards.
I have worked all these years to stay upright.
Running like a rabbit on a metal track.