Tag Archives: mental health

27 June, the day after her birthday

Today would have been my mother’s birthday. The photo was taken at my 60th birthday party which I celebrated in the garden of my friend’s caravan – the one I was to inherit just three years later.

The poem describes a time when my mother was still living independently. As I lived in England, the opportunities to help were limited. I happened to be over in the Netherlands.

27 June, the day after her birthday

I’d left a note on her bedside table
Don’t eat, don’t drink when you wake up.
We walk arm in arm, it’s warm already.
The doctor lives two houses down.
A blue Scandinavian cotton dress,
chunky necklace and earrings to match.
My mother does not look eighty-one.

That blood test done, we sit and face him.
Slightly raised, but no need to worry.
How are you keeping he asks my mother
who smiles, puts on her usual pose, I’m fine,
while I shake my head silently.

She’s leafing through her diary.
It says, Doctor, 8 o’clock.
We’ve been, now it’s time for coffee.
I want to go upstairs to pack.
Before you go, just one question
The matt-green door frame cuts the scene.
I wave, but she frowns at her diary.

Games – poem

On a rainy Bank Holiday Sunday it’s good to be reminded of old poems and successes. Poems that are accepted for publication disappear into the folder ‘Published’ and into books and magazines that sit together on a shelf. Out of sight, out of mind…


For many years through the 90’s I kept this green A4 certificate with the impressive signatures in a clip frame at the bottom of the staircase. It was a daily reminder that I could write through what was a dark period in my life.

Credit: Public Domain via Pixabay

Games

I watched the old men in the park today
playing bowls, much the same as yesterday.
Smiles all around and gentle teasing by the winners.

I wondered whether at their age
you would have needed stick or hearing aid.
If your hair would turn to yellow-white or grey.

You never tried your hands at bowls, did you?
An old man’s game you called it.
Surely, much more fun than kicking up the daisies?

Revelation – poem


It is an enormous pleasure to introduce this month’s guest poet Hilary Robinson. We met many years ago on writing workshops in Manchester.

Hilary Robinson


Hilary Robinson has lived in Saddleworth for over 40 years. Publications include The Interpreter’s House, Obsessed with Pipework, Strix, The Morning Star, Riggwelter, Atrium and Poetry Birmingham and several anthologies including Please Hear What I’m Not Saying (Fly on the Wall Poetry 2018), A New Manchester Alphabet (Manchester Writing School 2015), Noble Dissent (Beautiful Dragons Press 2017), Bloody Amazing! (Yaffle/Beautiful Dragons Press 2020) and The Cotton Grass Appreciation Society. In 2018 twelve of her poems were published in the first joint DragonSpawn book, Some Mothers Do . . . alongside Dr Rachel Davies and the late Tonia Bevins. Her poem, ‘Second Childhood’ was shortlisted in the 2016 Yorkmix Poetry Competition.


Hilary has collaborated with composition students from the Royal Northern College of Music as part of the Rosamond Prize and was involved in the 2016 Leeds Lieder Festival. She is currently collaborating with composer, Joseph Shaw, on an opera to be performed at the Royal Northern College of Music.

In June 2021, Hilary’s debut pamphlet, Revelation, was published by 4Word Press. Hilary has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University. The central section of Revelation is a series of poems which explore the aftermath of betrayal in a marriage. From this section I have selected four poems. Nikolai Duffy says that these poems ‘sing with a lyrical precision that is as authentic as it is unflinching.’

Revelation

And I beheld the last seven years open up before me
and they gave up their secrets.

And I beheld my beloved’s face concealed by a fine beard
and his feet that were turned to sand.

And I beheld seven office chairs, unoccupied except
for two, on which sat my beloved and his shame.

And surrounding my beloved and his shame were all the places
they had been while I had slept on in our bed.

And all the places they had been were also all the places
he had taken me. And I wept that this was true.

And I beheld his eyes turn to streams as his remorse descended
from him. And lo — his arms reached out for mine.

And I tightened my golden belt around my waist, knelt down
by his side and said that I forgave him.

That September

Every time he went to the window
he saw them. Gangs hired to find us,
gangs armed with torches burning
even though it was early September
and still light. Gangs getting closer.

He’d let everyone down, his partners,
clients, staff, his family. Most of all
he’d let me down in ways I’d never imagined.
Now they were at the end of our drive. Now
he’d found a way to stop the fire he’d caused.

It took four of us to prize his fingers
from the Swiss Army Knife’s twin
blades. I never knew what happened
to that knife. I wiped blood from his hand,
found the doctor’s home number.

The rest is a history of ashes, scorched
earth of a marriage that somehow
bore new life after hospital, after
ECT, after many hours of therapy.
This house still stands.

Brittle

In the kingdom of glass everything is transparent, and there is no place to hide a dark heart.
Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

To become glass, learn to make yourself
fluid as egg-timer sand.

Hone yourself to brittleness with just a little
give to accommodate rough winds.

Research your ancestry — try to enter
the mindset of silica.

Practise the occasional sharp look,
the cutting remark — hide in the shadows.

To become glass, give in — become transparent;
melt into the view from this bedroom.

Trying to Take my Husband to the Antica Carbonera

There is no chance I’ll find the Calle Bembo
with its kinks, its turns, its lamps
hanging above shops of antique Murano beads,
its shiny cobbles and those buskers
trotting out Vivaldi through the season.
No chance I’ll find what translates

where Cath and I ate wild mushrooms
cooked four ways and spent so much
they brought us Limoncello on the house.

Yet here we are. This is the first Venetian street
our feet touch on the way to the Al Codega.
The food is perfectly seasoned. Tonight
we’re on the roof. I have another angle on this street.

Lockdown Sonnets

It is a huge pleasure to introduce this month’s guest poet: Hamish Wilson whom I met four years ago when I attended a workshop at Garsdale.

Having taught in schools for 31 years, Hamish moved to Cumbria in 2016 to set up and run The Garsdale Retreat, http://www.thegarsdaleretreat.co.uk, a residential creative writing centre. This has allowed him the time and space to develop his own writing career.

The Garsdale Retreat

He has had poetry published in two anthologies: This Place I Know – A New Anthology of Cumbrian Poetry (Ed. Darbishire, Moore, Nuttall/Handstand Press, 2018) and Play (Ed. Taylor, Williams/PaperDart Press, 2018) and was shortlisted for the following competitions: WoLF poetry competition in 2017 and 2018 and Write Out Loud’s Beyond the Storm (Poems From the Covid Era) in 2020. He has also had poems in Culture Matters and The Morning Star.

In 2019 he performed Parallel Lives, (a sonnet sequence with live music, film and photography, exploring the creative lives of John Lennon and Dylan Thomas) at The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal.

Written in 2020, Lockdown Journal is a sonnet sequence which explores his experience of the pandemic between 28 March and 21 April, reflecting on daily life in Garsdale as well as the wider world.

I asked Hamish to select three sonnets from Lockdown Journal as a way of marking the second anniversary of the pandemic.

Saturday, 28 March, 2020

The road is quiet. The weekend bikers
who came back with the curlews, have not returned.
This first weekend of Covid lockdown’s like a
languid bank holiday without the burn

of off-comers. Spring greens on regardless,
daffs trumpet; lambs skip, suckle; horned Highland
cattle shadow on the fell; lapwings test
their stuntman wings, plummet to earth (as planned).

At home, virtual visitors ease the time
with supportive texts, puzzles, You Tube vids;
parodies of songs, coronavirus rhymes,
zoom-conferencing and Happy Hour bids.

The News At Six brings contact nationwide,
a thousand UK people now have died.

Friday, 10 April, 2020

Days which bleed to other days still make their mark,
Good Friday’s on regardless and they fear
we’ll enjoy it with dangerous outdoor larks.
We’re shown deserted beaches, seaside piers

which forecast what they hope the weekend brings;
‘Your front door’s safer than a protective mask…..’
cut to bench taped like a crime scene, chained up swings:
stay-at-home’s fine-enforced now not an ask.

Up here, where social distancing’s the norm,
our walk on Blea Moor fell is not policed –
the only drone, a distant train, informs
we’re not alone and breaks the blanket peace.

A sky lark ascends, arpeggios on high,
coal-black speck of dust in the empty sky.

Tuesday, 21 April, 2020

Larks, invisibly high, white noise the sky,
we climb the tussocked sea towards the cairn,
the railway shrinks to Hornby, lapwings cry
like broken squeaky toys. Spring warmth returns.

In shirt-sleeves, we zig-zag slow to summit,
pause to watch a matchbox car surprise
the Coal Road, before we reach the sunlit
limestone and meet a ram skull’s hollow eyes.

The news is billed as good as we’re prepared
with twenty thousand beds to match the needs
of future patients in intensive care.
The experts tell us now we can succeed

to break the rise in deaths, to turn the tide.
Up here, we see our house, our tiny, tiny lives.

Sirens

Credit: AdAdriaans via Pixabay


Tomorrow is the first Monday of the month when the 4,000+ alarms through the Netherlands are tested. This alarm-and-warning system was set up after the Second World War. The monthly test stopped after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and for a period the sirens were only tested once a year. The government wanted to introduce a warning system by mobile telephone, but this did not prove effective. So, from September 2003 the monthly sounds can be heard for exactly 1 minute and 26 seconds.

The alarms aren’t rung if the first Monday falls on a religious or national public holiday, or on the national Remembrance Day of 4 May. This month, the Dutch people will be reminded beforehand that the sound is just a test.


On Monday I am sending the final manuscript of my collection Remembering / Disease to Aaron Kent at Broken Sleep Books. I have chosen a poem from the new book that includes a siren and want to thank Isabelle Kenyon of Fly on the Wall Press for first selecting it.

Credit: TBIT via Pixabay

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 Porthmadog

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

Blossoming and Abundance – poetry

Credit: Watercolour by Prawny on PIxabay

The 10th edition of Poëzieweek (Poetry Week) has just ended. Over 120 activities happened in The Netherlands and Vlaanderen (the Northern, Dutch-speaking part of Belgium). Some of these will continue during the year.


The theme this time was Nature. During any year there are a several ‘book’ weeks in The Netherlands and readers can claim a free book when they purchase up to a given amount. As poetry books are expensive here, the sum of Euro 12,50 was easily reached!

The Dutch-Palestinian author and actor Ramsey Nasr was commissioned to write the poetry gift this year. He is well-known, as he was the Dichter des Vaderlands (the unofficial title for poet laureate) during 2009 – 2012.


The pamphlet with 10 poems is well produced on quality paper. It’s based on the hundreds of letters Van Gogh wrote from his youth until his death in 1890. Under the motto Blossoming and Abundance, the poet has selected and re-arranged Van Gogh’s words. The two blue horizontal lines on the cover indicate caesuras. These return in the text as thin blue vertical lines, showing where Nasr has deleted a word or several phrases from the original text.


I love how Ramsey Nasr has distilled the essence of Van Gogh. It is a very interesting way of using found material. Here are my translations of a few parts of some of his poems.


(3)
let us | find a task
that forces us to quietly | sit
busy with work that is simpler
than | tasks that | are useful

(4)

i am no better than another |
am not like a street pump | from stone | or iron |

(6)

i send you | the night |
the moon | cypresses |

(5)

it cannot | remain like it is now |
burn rather than choke |
a door must be open or closed
something in-between i do not understand

(10)

the mediterranean has a colour like | mackerel |
you don’t know | if it is green or purple
you don’t know | if it is blue for a second later
the constantly changing reflection has
taken on a pink or grey tinge |

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.