Tag Archives: mental health

Lockdown Latitudes – poems

I am delighted to introduce this month’s guest poet Steven Waling. I first met Steven over 30 years ago after I’d moved to Manchester and joined the local poet’s group. Manchester Poets is the successor to South Manchester Poetry Group, started in 1978 by Dave Tarrant and still going strong!


His brief biography says ‘Steven Waling lives in Manchester and is apparently a stalwart of the Manchester poetry scene. His latest books are Disparate Measures 1: Spuds in History, and Lockdown Latitudes.’


From his most recent book Lockdown Latitudes I have chosen three different poems. Steven ‘writes overlooked life into vibrant presence’ says Scott Thurston. It is this quality I particularly admire and love in Steven’s writing.

Photo Credit: Steven Waling



Jesus Strolls Down Market Street

All he wants is new underwear and a coffee in Starbucks, time to himself to phone his dad and see he’s looking after himself during the lockdown. He sees they’re back again on the corner of Piccadilly Gardens and Market Street, shouting his name like a weapon at random strangers. He sneaks past, hand in front of his face. He’d like to shout in their faces, ask them what the hell they thought they were doing. Not that they’d recognise who he was, and anyway, these days he just gets embarrassed, avoiding the hassle of conflict that won’t get anywhere. Everyone ignores these men in old-fashioned suits sweating in the heat, lifting holy books like clubs to beat the sinful air away. So he goes to buy his pants, dashes into Primark before they clock him. People don’t, he thinks, realise how shy he is. He’d much prefer they found him by accident, when they needed him. Like later in the coffee shop: some old lady confused because they don’t take cash for drinks any more. Someone pays with his own card and when she looks up, they’re gone

Back to his bench to sleep with the pigeons

Snow Moon

Night stands at the tram stop
over head the moon a

soluble aspirin slowly dissolves
into the big black night goes

nowhere the spider in my right
eye is flashing again I walk

past the street they’re planting
non-aggressive trees spindly roots

spring flowers berries in autumn
that won’t disrupt the neighbourhood

kids kick the moon down the road i
wait for light rapid transit late

due to police incident keep my
distance from the moon its snow

face bending over the quick brown
cat crossing the tracks quick quick

Links to Steven’s books below:

Some Roast Poet – Manchester Poetry Magazine and Pamphlets (wordpress.com)

Steven Waling – Lockdown Latitudes (leafepresspoetry.com)

Tulips from Amsterdam

Credit: Kang-min Liu,  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license


Today is dovetailed between yesterday’s National Tulip Day and Blue Monday. Nationale Tulpen Dag is an initiative started by Dutch tulip growers 10 years ago. On the third Saturday of January, about 200, 000 tulips are placed on the Dam Square in Amsterdam. These free flowers start the tulip season. This year people will be handed two bunches and are asked to give one to someone else – share the happiness.

Credit: WCoda on Pixabay


Research seems to have pinpointed the third Monday in January as the worst day of the year. There was some easing of the lockdown here in The Netherlands. However, the hospitality and cultural sector are still closed. I’m leaning more towards being blue …
Here is my poem about tulips.

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

They’ve not yet reached one of the tulips,
the central one of this display.
You can imagine a window, if you like.
Five parrot tulips lean towards the light.
Degrees of purpling. The ants appear
half-way up the bulb-shaped vase.
I’ve left the thin pencil lines
indicating a flat surface.
Look closely and you’ll see this vase
should tumble, fall or slip.
Three fingers’ width, water level
in the glass. Greying water extracted.
The tulips were a present.
You can count the ants, if you like.

Note: This is the title of a watercolour painting, donated by the (anonymous) artist to Manchester Art Gallery. The poem was published in my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2019).

Gratitude and Forgiveness …

Happy New Year to you all.

Twice a year, early July, on or close to my birthday, and on New Year’s Eve, I sit down and write a gratitude list. Being alive and kicking: always the first item. It’s a practice I got from the classic Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain. I have the 1982 Bantam edition, with that special yellowing-pages smell.

The Dutch couple below made the paper. Most days they put a gratitude note in a glass jar. On NYE with a glass of wine and music in the background, they take items out and read them to each other. Of course, it’s often the small things: the colleague who did your work when you were ill, a kind note from someone when you needed it, a hug, waking up with a body that’s just doing its job, a walk in the forest. Ah yes, that was a special moment they say to each other.

Two more things I am grateful for are the acceptance by Broken Sleep Books of the manuscript Remembering / Disease. Here are the names of other poets and writers with a book out with BSB this year.

Matthew Stewart publishes an annual list of Best UK Poetry Blogs on his site Rogue Strands. I was chuffed that this blog is one of five ‘top notch newcomers’. You can read the full list here. Matthew lives between Extremadura, Spain and West Sussex. His collection, The Knives of Villalejo, is published with Eyewear and a recent Poetry News Book of the Year selection.

Here are two short prompts. In the current issue (27) of the online poetry magazine Allegro, editor Sally Long, the opening stanza of the poem by John Grey caught my eye. For Gratitude I’ve chosen the opening stanza of Joy Harjo’s poem Perhaps the World Ends Here.

Forgiveness

The woman with the forgiveness
is out there in the world somewhere.

Gratitude

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

On the bright side, there’s always:

Credit: Geralt via Pixabay

This week I’ve been going through my files and folders with poems, deleting old ones that aren’t going anywhere, finding forgotten ones, losing others because I changed the title but not the filename – you get my drift.

Here’s a sort-of-abecedarian list poem. What would be in your alphabet?

On the bright side, there’s always:

avocados and the alphabet, a
bridge over troubled water and
chocolate, Fairtrade or not,
days which travel at their own pace into
evening and other
favourite places like Venice, beaches, the
glorious counter tenor voice of Andreas Scholl,
hairdressers who waited for us,
ink to waste, as the poet has it,
jazz, all that jazz,
kilograms to worry about,
lessons that return until learned,
maria, martini, marina,
nautical miles and naughty but nice.
Oh, let’s stop, there is a
picnic bench with a view, think of
questions, the certainty of death, taxes,
rescuers in anoraks, accompanied by
sniffer dogs, so we’re fit again to
tango, show us a leg or two,
uniformed bouncers taking them off,
victory which will be ours and
whiskey or gin, double measures, that
xtra mile we will go.
Y, the fork in the road and Frost.
ZZZ, a comfy bed for a rest.

Lighting Out, poems to answer the dark

Beautiful Dragons Collaboration

A parcel arrived this week. Friends in Manchester sent on poetry magazines and books. Among them was my copy of Lighting Out, poems to answer the dark. In the words of the editor, Rebecca Bilkau:

‘We won’t speak about the dark times we’ve had, or the dark times that might come. This little anthology is about reclaiming the stage for the bright stuff … resilience, hope, spidery optimism, pardonable puns, rare and shameless clarity. Think of it as a route map, made by 80-odd poets, to Light Out of the blues, the shadows, the virus, the storm and binge TV. Shine along, oh do.’

Lighting Out is the tenth publication in the Beautiful Dragons Collaboration: ISBN: 978-68564-902-9. A year ago I started learning Swedish on Duolingo, just for the hell of it. I got to a 292-day streak with the encouragement of that little green owl …

Flying with the little green owl –
my 95-day streak with Duolingo (Svenska)

Vintern är den vita årstiden.
Winter is the white season.
Keep going! Practice makes perfect.
Författaren skriver på ett papper.
The author writes on a sheet of paper.
Good effort!
Barnen har många leksaker.
The children have many toys.
Don’t give up.
På lordagar tittar jag alltid på tv.
On Saturdays I always watch tv.
Great work! Let’s make this a bit harder.
Vi går ofta till museum.
We often go to the museum.
I believe in you.
Hur många personer är det på stranden?
How many people are there on the beach?
Awesome! You’re working hard and learning new words.
Jag lär mig långsamt.
I am learning slowly.
I’m so proud of you.

2pm Appointment – a poem

Today is World Mental Health Day. Below is my sonnet about EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing). EMDR is a a proven trauma treatment which has been NICE-recommended in the UK since 2005. In 2013 it was also listed as a recommended trauma treatment on the website of the World Health Organisation (WHO).


The Safe Place or Special Place exercise is an essential part of the preparation phase of EMDR, before the client or patient starts the processing of the traumatic memory.


The poem is included in my pamphlet A Stolen Hour, published by Grey Hen Press, 2020.

2 pm Appointment


Holding a fingertip to his right ear;
this is the worst part of the memory:
all bright, vivid. He is still forced to see
and feel the machete: cold steel, cold fear

Now he dreams, cannot sleep, was driven here
by his wife. Four or five men, he tells me,
balaclavas, jumped from a van. Now he
lies with a blanket of guilt, but it’s clear
to me that he wants to become the man
that he was. That he did the best he could.

As you’ve come through pain and grief in the past,
you can do that again. Sounds and sights can
go. We’ll create your Safe Place now. I’ll put
you in for next week. This stuff will go, fast.

A walk in summer in Holland

Heide by Steinchen via Pixabay

It’s only days since I returned to Manchester and I’m slowly getting back into the English language. It has been a great pleasure to feature poems here this year by my friend Kathleen Kummer. I hope you enjoy this one.

A walk in summer in Holland

No ditch, no canal, no river here,
no heron to remind me, as always, of Gandhi,
hunched up, as it studies the text of the water.
This landscape, the heat at Blaricum,
its sandy paths moist from yesterday’s rain,
never seem to be still. It moves with a gentle,
rocking rhythm. The mass of heather,
shrubs and trees, the tipsy ladders
of vapour the jets leave behind like litter,
the cirrus snagged on the sky, the flock
of sheep, horned flecked with brown,
expertly nibbling between each dainty,
filigree sprig – all of these
frolic round us: moving pictures
on a frieze like those in a child’s bedroom.

An illusion? Call van Gogh as a witness.
His olive groves writhe, his crops are waves,
cypresses rock on an ocean of fields
or boil with the stars in a fiery furnace.
But here, there is no such fever. Under
the huge Dutch sky, we are cradled, rocked
on a warm bed of purple heather.

Bitterne Park, Southampton – a poem

Last year Amanda Steel of Printed Words produced her first charity anthology Words to Remember. It includes fiction, non-fiction and poetry, some of it related to cancer. I was glad to have these two poems accepted for the anthology.

Printed Words has its own Facebook page. Even with the lockdown last year, the anthology has done well, and Amanda was able to make donations to two cancer charities: Marie Curie and Cancer Research UK. Amanda Steel is on https://amandasteelwriter.wordpress.com

Bitterne Park, Southampton

The blackout curtains
don’t let the sun through.
I wake to the small sounds
that come with morning:
squirrels jump around the oak tree
at the heart of our cul-de-sac.
A bus strains up the hill.

At the Triangle, the bank opens
and the smiley greengrocer
limps his vegetable crates outside.
On the river Itchen
John strokes his beard, thinks
about brewing tea.

It is meant to be an ordinary day.
But this month is a long-distance runner,
this month is a marathon.

On the other side of the narrow bridge,
a woman is taking two large black bags
into a charity shop. Suits and shirts,
all washed, dry-cleaned, ironed.
She had forgotten the silk ties.
Now they’re rolled up, placed
in a see-through Biza bag
that once held duty-free cologne.

May

Living one day at a time
will be like walking
through a tunnel, away
from being held by memories.
The smell of petrol, choking.
Cars driving close and fast.
The red rear lights in pairs,
an illusion of safety and warmth.

Do not turn round now, back
towards that day when you viewed
daffodils through a thin black
veil from a car at walking speed.
Decide to live this day.
Summer will slowly creep in,
its light, colour, the company
of bold blue, orange, pink,
the grass that will keep growing.

Item – a poem

Photo credit Stux via Pixabay

This week I am featuring another one of Kathleen Kummer’s poem. It’s short and the neutral title belies the heart-breaking content. The poem is addressed to her adult son.

Item

You left behind: your silver spoon –
there are days when I stir my coffee with it;
the drawing of yourself with the Mona Lisa eyes;
I sometimes wonder how you got the chestnut avenue
from that angle, and I’m suddenly happy, as though
you’d just sauntered in from school and were upstairs
moving your table, shouting down you were hungry;
all the photographs of you – if I flicked the pages
fast enough, would those in the top right-hand corner,
at least, spring jerkily into life?

Item: a bank account – didn’t you need
the money? Your sisters; me. People hope
I don’t mind them asking about you. As if
in a language I’m learning, I say, no, I don’t mind.

Poetry

Edward Hirsch

Poetry rises out of one solitude to meet another in recognition and connection. It companions us. (Edward Hirsch)

A postcard arrived this week from the academy of american poets in New York. I make a small donation each year for the pleasure of their daily poem in my inbox. The quote was against a background of black tree trunks in snow. The machinery in the P.O. sorting office has scuffed the postcard, but I am glad to have it.

It made me think of other definitions of poetry and poetry about companions. Looking in my folders, I came across an old poem which was homework set by our tutor, the late Linda Chase. She asks us to personify an abstract concept and then write about two types of people who are opposites. The poem seems to me highly relevant to our times.

The twins

The older one by a few minutes, she’d come
to the door and be the first to greet you.
Her bright eyes shine, her cheeks are red,
but there is an edge to her fixed smile.
She sings nursery rhymes out of tune,
whistles through cracked teeth,
she gives and then takes back.
Many have been taken in by False Hope.

At dawn we’ll enter, climb the back stairs.

They lie in their bed, both still asleep.
The sun travels across the blanket
and lights up her face.
She makes soft puffing noises,
like secrets whispered in a dream.
I’ll touch her shoulder gently to wake her,
while you watch for movement
in the other bed: the grunting sounds,
the claw-like hand clutching the sheets.

Soon Hope will walk with us,
small steps on grass covered in dew.