Tag Archives: mental health

On the bright side, there’s always – writing prompt

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.

Prompt: 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


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.

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 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 – poem

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 – charity anthology

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 – poem and writing prompt

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.

Prompt: What item do you still need to write about, even if a part of you doesn’t want to? To whom are you writing?

Poetry – prompt

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.

Blackbird – poem

I am grateful to Josephine Corcoran for posting this poem on her And Other Poems site today. You can read the full poem and many other wonderful poems here Josephine had a brief submission window from which she selected those poems that would connect with many people, poems that would lift our spirit in these difficult times.

Blackbird

There’s a blackbird on the wooden fence.
It looks left, then right,
stretches up and its yellow beak plucks
an orange berry from the pyracantha.

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

 

flowerpot-climb-1873479_1920

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.