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  • World Wetlands Day

    boardwalk in the Avalon marshes, grass and willows surrounnd it

    Today is World Wetlands Day. I have form with wetlands, since my poem about blanket bogs was used in an installation by the Royal Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh, and even featured on the side of a bus to advertise it. This is a later poem, however, from The Well of the Moon, which deals with the Avalon Marshes in real life, but also the landscapes of our hearts and heritage, and the myths we create to try to express them.

    Lost Roads
    I am haunted by wet places, the lure
    of rivers, reedbeds and green lands of ash
    and willow. The drift of water, pooling
    between the autumn stems and wind-frayed flags
    of common sedge and reed, is like the course
    of blood, of thought, deep in the mulch of me.
    There is talk of lost roads, boardwalks
    of planks and narrow handrails
    hid deep beneath the quaking ground
    with its stealth of buntings, stepping heron,
    its shattered tops of bulrush, spilling
    cottony seed for birds like new coins
    at a wedding scramble. The hidden past,
    with its myths of Romans and lost queens
    of the Iron Age, threads its careful way
    through thickets of imagined story, and I,
    not immune to this casual appropriation,
    imprint my own lost ancestors, finding
    or inventing the feel of home here, roots
    where there may be none, whole trees
    growing into the open wind and sky.

    I’ve been thinking about the celebrations that have happened this week, whether you call it the Feast of St Bride, Brigid’s Day or Imbolc. I am delighted that in Ireland it is being kept as a public holiday – goodness knows we could do with one at this time of year, and I’m not sure that Robert Burns Day quite has the impact. These spring celebrations are all about returning to the light, or bringing into the light things that have been nurtured in the dark, and so I thought I might write a little about my four poetry books, that don’t seem to have seen the light of day much lately.

    Wherever We Live Now came out in 2011, published by Red Squirrel Press. It has a lot of seasonal poems in it, a few about exploring my Irish heritage, and a sequence about the Orpheus myth, which was the closest I ever came to an artists’ practice statement. It has a cover image by the film-maker Alastair Cook, a Berneray landscape showing the land merging with sea and sky.

    The Territory of Rain came out during a very scary time in 2015 when my husband was hospitalised with myasthenia gravis, which probably explains the rather high proprtion of death poems in it. The hospital was wonderful and they discharged him just in time to come to the launch. This is the most explicitly geopoetical of my books, and has a very special cover image by Gerry Cambridge on the front. How special it was I didn’t realise until 2019, when his book The Light Acknowledgers (Happenstance Press) and I found it was a picture he had written a poem about.

    Haggards came out in 2018. It was centred around herbs and dealt with social and environmental collapse and regeneration. I think it is the most popular of my books, having been reprinted twice. Gerry Cambridge excelled himself with the design, providing not only the beautiful cover image, but a tiny wren hopping about on the title page of the sequence The Wren in the Ash Tree.

    The Well of the Moon came out during the pandemic. It has a lot of plant and herb and landscape poems as you might expect, but was inspired by mental health issues (my own and other people’s) which lead me to reflect on what ‘a person’ is, and what the sense of identity is made of. Gerry’s cover image this time features a crescent moon and a feverfew plant, which appears in the first poem in the book.

    The two most recent books are still available from the publisher, but the first two are out of print. I still have the last remaining copies, however, if anyone would like them. You can buy them from my shop, and I don’t charge for p+p in the UK. You don’t need Paypal either as I’ve enabled credit card payments.

    All of that was three years ago, and it’s probably time I was thinking of a new one. The news is, I am indeed. So far it is called The Midsummer Foxes, and is about land and belonging, magic and death, the self and the other – and music. It won’t happen for a couple of years yet, but yes, it is coming into the light!


  • Down the Rabbithole

    I have been down several rabbit holes since I last posted. Many of them are to do with the updated translation of the Charm of Nine Herbs I’ve been working on in a random fashion for a while. I have been pondering words like ‘poison’, ‘venom’, ‘plague’, ‘in-flying infection’. I’ve been thinking about ‘elf-shot’ and the notion that tooth-ache is caused by worms gnawing at decayed teeth. I’ve been wondering what it was like to try to heal people when you didn’t know much beyond the basics of anatomy, and didn’t have access to microscopes.

    I discovered historical records of a ‘yellow plague’ that ravaged this area in the 5th and 6th century, killing at least one local king, which led me to wonder about the other colourful diseases mentioned in the text. Epidemics, food poisoning and diseases caused by polluted water must have been common – are the words ‘plague’, ‘poison’ and ‘venom’ just the best guess for the causes of illness too small to see without the naked eye?

    I’m also querying my identification of atterlothe – I went for ‘burdock’ for what seemed to be good reasons – it is an alterative, native and well-known, exists in more than one species (because the only other use of the word refers to the ‘smaller’ atterlothe being used with betony for coughs) and generally fits the bill. But on the other hand, there is another Old English name for burdock – ‘clate‘, and down the rabbit hole I went. I looked at speedwell, which was indeed used with betony for coughs, self-heal (no mention in Old English texts), bistort, cockspur grass, Viper’s bugloss, which Culpeper says was used as a substitute for speedwell, and now I’m eyeing up cinquefoil and vervain (I would love it to be vervain!). The trouble is that Old English scholars tend to be poor at botany, and botanists tend to blank Old English. And both are a bit rubbish about monasteries. But that is another rabbit hole, and yes, I did go down it!

    I’m following up Kapka Kassabova’s excellent book Elixir, and some poetry following my venture into Irish last year. Obviously you’ll know Seamus Heaney and Eavan Boland, but can I recommend Doireann Ní Ghríofa? Brilliant!

    I have now deleted my Mailchimp account, following their decision to scrape all newsletters for AI content, and I’m in the process of building a new letter at Buttondown, which seems to be free of all such shenanigans. I kept a list of all my contacts, and when the first issue is ready I will email everyone ONCE to invite you to sign up. I won’t harass anyone after that, and I will delete the address of anyone who doesn’t, so there will be no spam.

    Ceasing Never has taken a back seat as we try to sort out some accommodation problems for a family member, and I’m knee deep in judging the William Bonar Competition. Also Celtic Connections is coming up, and I have a significant birthday fairly soon. But in February I hope to add some new essays and reflections – please feel free to comment or add to the discussions.


  • 2023 on the Hill of Stones

    chamomile plants in full flower

    I don’t know about you, but this year seems to have been a lot. We’ve had one major health issue, resulting in my husband spending six weeks in hospital, with the consequent falloutfor those dealing with that level of stress and uncertainty. We’ve had one grandchild starting school, and another doing crucial exams. We have been involved in finding care support for one family member, and arranging a move to a new flat which is closer to us, and less inaccessible by public transport. I’ve dealt with a few health issues myself, and I finish the year in a very much happier and more confident frame of mind than I started, but my goodness, it’s been a rollercoaster!

    The national and international news hasn’t been great either. War in Ukraine and Gaza, famine and destructive weather, no clear action proposed to tackle climate change and some very shoddy political behaviour at home have all combined to create a very gloomy outlook. But against that, so many people are resisting the drift to disaster – protesting against the wars, taking their own climate initiatives, helping at foodbanks and raising money for refugees, making it clear to the powerful that we are not for sale to energy companies or devious media moguls. There is more to us than the news!

    It hasn’t all been storm and stress, however. The garden has bedded in beautifully, and roses and lavender, sweet peas, marshmallow and elecampane have bloomed generously, and filled me with delight. I haven’t managed to do much with them, but I have more concrete plans for potpourris and balms for next year.

    bright yellow elecampane flowers

    Now that the greenhouse is established, I’ll be making more adventurous use of it, although it is the smallest one you’ve ever seen. I can still grow tomatoes and peppers, and take all the cuttings I want, so the herb garden is coming together.

    I feel that I haven’t done much writing this year, but I did bring out Charms for the Healing of Grief, a lovely project with Hugh Bryden of Roncadora Press, which is selling well ( as it should, with those beautiful illustrations, which you can see here). I’ve also had a poem in the anthology compiled by Gerry Loose, The Earth is Our Home, and reviewed by Alan Riach in The National in July, and an essay in Paperboats magazine about the foxes which have inspired the next poetry collection (but it’s a long time ahead). Lately, though, the poems have come back to me, and I’m thinking about the moon, alkaline soil, bees and foxes, which will build on work in The Well of the Moon, about the self and the other, learning and communication, music and ghosts – a lot of ghosts of one sort or another.

    I’ve edited six books of poetry for Red Squirrel Press, two pamphlets and four full collections. The on-line discussion website Ceasing Never started, but this busy year stalled it again, what with babies, (2) book launches, new jobs or houses, wrestling with medical diagnoses and bereavements. I told you 2023 was a lot! but I hope to be able to post a bit more often. I have done a lot of reading though, and I can recommend Nicola Chester’s Gallows Down and Kapka Kassabova’s Elixir. In new poetry, Jim Carruth’s long-awaited Far Field, Marjorie Lotfi’s Not the Person to Ask and Judith Taylor’s Across Your Careful Garden were highlights, but I also immersed myself in Irish poetry – Seamus Heaney of course, but also Eavan Boland and Doireann Ni Griofa, Anne Connolly and Jane Clarke. I started learning Irish but I couldn’t keep it up – and no wonder!

    There will be one more post this year (I hope), but I’m away to clean my house, help the grandchildren put up the tree, cook, wrap presents and play. I hope you all have the space and time to do the same. Have a very peaceful holiday everyone!


  • Hope for Cop 28

    There isn’t much of it. But if ever we could get the powerful ones together and make them listen to us, it’s now. So here is a canto from my long eco-protest poem The Wren in the Ash Tree which was published in Haggards in 2018. The Outcry isn’t mine – it’s the ‘outcry of the earth, the outcry of the poor’ which The Papal Encyclical Laudato Si’ talks about. And, just to add to the timely references, the line ‘enough of blood and tears’ was said at the signing of the Norway accords between Israel and Palestine in 1993.

    Canto 1: The Outcry

    The hanging man says,
    ‘Outcry of grief
    goes up and down the world-tree,
    grumble of ravens and chattering classes
    in tweets and rumours on smartphones.
    Her leaves are nibbled by squirrels,
    in curtained bedrooms and behind
    the facades of abandoned shops,
    browsed to the bark by greedy stags,
    in city suits and plate-glassed offices
    her roots undermined by serpents
    wasting the soil. The hedges are down,
    the fenlands drained and the red dust
    is washed off suburban car fronts.’

    The wren is singing in the bramble bush.

    The woman at the ford says,
    ‘On one bank of the river,
    there is a lament for the fallen,
    on the other, the outcry
    of those who have lost everything,
    and there is never enough
    of blood or tears.’

    El duende says,
    ‘This is the place of pain.
    To sing here you will need
    to open the heart,
    the lungs and voice,
    and meet it square.
    You can’t sing from hiding,
    nor drunk or afraid.
    You can’t sing this softly
    like chocolate in the sun.
    You must give yourself
    to the fight with all your strength.
    It will take all you’ve got.
    It will feel like death.’

    The wren slips between the branches
    of the birch tree without a sound.

    And the field says,
    ‘You can’t write my music.
    There ain’t no sixteen bars,
    no twelve bar phrases here –
    field music comes bursting
    straight from the heart.’

    The city is silent.
    All the roundabouts
    are wearing flowers
    dressed in cellophane
    and there are soft toys
    on every doorstep.

    The song from the city is sung
    behind a proscenium arch,
    in other voices, not ours,
    And we are shamed by silence.

    The wren is hidden
    among the leaves of the ash
    and sings without ceasing.

    And the púca sings
    in the depths of the sea,
    ‘The water is poisoned with oil
    and the krill are scarce. We are hungry
    and choking on plastic.
    There are small boats, sinking
    beneath the weight of sorrow
    and the men with guns who turn
    the lost ones away from their coasts.’

    And the völva is casting the runes.
    The leather bag is thick,
    tough and unbending,
    and gives away no secrets,
    but the stones mutter
    and grind against each other.
    The black angular lines –
    tree, hammer, wealth,
    ocean, ice – will come together,
    fall in the right configuration,
    give their bleak verdict soon enough.

    The rune for harvest is the same
    as the rune for the day of reckoning.

    And the wren sings on the bare branches,
    sings without ceasing.


  • William Bonar Poetry Prize 2023

    Once again I will be taking part in the judging for this competition in memory of the dearly loved and much missed Glasgow poet, William Bonar. The prize is really special, so please polish up the poems and let us have them!

    The William Bonar Poetry Prize 2023
    (supported by St Mungo’s Mirrorball and Red Squirrel Press)

    Submissions are now open for the third, 2023, annual poetry prize for Scottish-based poets in memory of William Bonar. This gifted and well-loved poet was the co-founder of St Mungo’s Mirrorball. He published three titles; his second pamphlet and full collection were published by Red Squirrel Press.

    Eligibility

    Entrants should be over 18 years old and currently based in Scotland. They should not previously have had a pamphlet or collection published by a publisher. Entry is free but restricted to one entry each year.

    Process

    Entries should be of 10-12 poems, must be the original work of the poet and can be in English, Scots and Gaelic. The poems should not be more than five years old and entries should be accompanied by a short biography in a single document. Email entries marked ‘The William Bonar Poetry Prize’ to jimcarruth63@gmail.com

    Judges

    The judges are Sheila Wakefield, Founder and Editor of Red Squirrel Press, Elizabeth Rimmer, (Red Squirrel press poet, reviewer, editor), Eleanor Livingstone (Former Director of StAnza), Padraig MacAoidh (Gaelic judge) and Lynnda Wardle, writer and William Bonar’s partner.

    Prize

    The winner will receive the following:

    • Publication of a pamphlet by Red Squirrel Press
    • 30 free copies and 50% discount on unlimited further copies
    • Editorial support in developing their pamphlet from poet, ‘The Dark Horse’ founder, editor, essayist, typesetter and designer Gerry Cambridge who is Red Squirrel Press in-house typesetter and designer.

    Closing Date
    The Closing date is 31 December 2023 and the winner is expected to be announced in February 2024. Last year’s winner of the William Bonar Poetry Prize (2022) was Jane Picton Smith and she read from her winning pamphlet at St Mungo’s Mirrorball on Friday 6 October 2023.


  • Hocus Pocus

    This isn’t really a post about magic, it’s about the power of poetry, as an art form that depends almost exclusively on a hyper-aware use of language, for good or ill. Hocus pocus sounds like a magic formula these days – like abracadabra. According to wikipedia, abracadabra does indeed appear to have been used as a magical incantation to ward off diseases, and was used seriously during the Great Plague by people who wrote it on their houses to ward off the illness. Hocus pocus, however, was no such thing. It was a deliberate and demeaning distortion of the words of consecration in the old Latin Mass – hoc est enim corpus in order to trivialise Catholic culture. These things happen – Gary Snyder says somewhere that if you really want a fight, you mock the other person’s diet preferences or religion, and I’m sure there are places where the mockery was reciprocated in full.

    Occasionally, though, you have to look behind the mockery to see what’s really there. When I came to Scotland, the Scottish cringe was in full effect, and there was a lot of contempt for the ‘tartan and shortbread heedrum hodrum‘ packaged for tourists nonsense that passed for Scottish culture. The real Scotland wasn’t like that, oh no, it was up to date and industrial, urban and intellectual, and let’s not have any of that kitsch peasant nostalgia here thank you very much. At that time,I thought heedrum hodrum was a bit like the ‘wack-foll-the-diddle’ of English folk music, and didn’t pay it much attention. I was very much into folk music and dancing, though I didn’t have much time for the archaism and affectations of the Country Dance societies, and it didn’t worry me. But lately I’ve been looking into canntaireachd and It was illuminating.

    Canntaireachd is a verbalisation of pipe tunes, to be used when teaching a student new music. You sang it until you’d learned it, then got the fingering right on the chanter, and then you learned to play it on the pipes. Far from being random vocalisation, it is an elaborately coded highly technical language. Pipers would say it is more effective than staff notation, as it is written to convey not only pitch and rhythm, but dynamics and intensity, and I’m glad to say it’s still being taught. You can hear an example of it in Martin Bennett’s Chanter, given a surprising twist on his Grit album. Using heedrum hodrum as a way to describe Highland culture reveals an anti-minority prejudice that isn’t dying out as fast as I would wish.

    Another example of this is in the translation of the Old English herb attorlaðe, which comes up in the Charm of Nine Herbs. It’s commonly translated with a phrase like ‘poison-hater’ – I used the phrase ‘venom defier’. Cute, no? Couthy and rustic and old fashioned, and appropriate for all that superstitious magic stuff they had in the Dark Ages. Suppose I used the technical term ‘febrifuge’ – that sounds a bit more serious and knolwedgeable, wouldn’t you think? It’s certainly the term used in textbooks, and it means it deals with fever. Febrifuge is literally the Latin for attorlaðe, which, when you use the high status language for university trained doctors with degrees suddenly sounds as reliable as paracetamol.

    People are becoming more literate in the ways visual imagery can be used to manipulate a culture, but for real magic and misdirection, there’s nothing like the wizardry of language.


  • The Tipping Point

    bramble bush with pale, red and blak berries. Dappled sunlight.

    It is peak bramble time, jam-making, pickling, apple cake and plum crumble time. The first geese are here, and the last housemartins are lining up to leave. The bird population in the garden has changed – the sparrows are mostly in the fields just now, so the blue tits have a chance at the feeders. The magpies are mostly bothering something else in the woods, there are starlings along all the roof tops, and the robin is noisily staking out his winter territory in the hawthorns over the burn. The temperature has dropped ten degrees over the last week, and I’m about to pick the last tomatoes and move the lemon verbenas and the scented leaf geraniums into the greenhouse before the frost. I’ll be stripping out the spent annuals, and sowing the seeds I’ve saved to jump start next summer’s flowers, and I’ll be making pot pourri and some dried flower arrangements to give us scent and colour through the dark days.

    Because next week is the equinox, one of the tipping points of the year, and we’re heading for winter. I’m having a tipping point of some other kinds too. I seem to have shifted from ‘learning about’ this new territory, to ‘getting to know’ it. I am aware, not only of new facts as they come to my attention, but how they impact things I already know. I understand more about why some plants are thriving and some aren’t, how taking out all the stones from the front garden changes not only the drainage, but the feel of the soil, and I can hear when there’s a new bird in the garden. It feels like a more mutual phase, as the garden responds to what I’ve done – and not always in the way I expect. I had no idea the marshmallows would grow so tall, or how much shade the lilac tree casts.

    And in writing, too. I’ll be in the house more than the garden, in my head more than the world. I’m out of the note-making, researching, puzzling, planning stage and into the real words on the page. Unwilding is still very short – less than five per cent of the total, but there are actual words! And more importantly, as it turns out, the next poetry collection has begun to happen. It is tentatively called The Midsummer Foxes but it is also going to have bees, weather, music, herbs and the moon. I have always wanted to do a ‘four elements’ collection, and this may well be it. I am embarrassingly excited about it!

    left, a ceramic eggshell with gilded edges, middle, and arrangement of dried grasses, right a porcelain egg-shaped trinket box


  • Blossom Time

    red, copper and yellow wallflowers

    There are many blossoming trees in this glen – it started with blackthorn and plum, and is just about to hit its peak with gean and bird cherry, pear and apple. The celandines are coming to an end, but the yellow on the gorse is thickening up, there are wild violets on the Cairn footpath, and I am watching a clump of wild arum which is just about to open. It isn’t a rare plant, but I’ve never seen in elsewhere in Scotland, and judging by my instagram feed, it seems to be having a moment just now. The trees are in the first flush of bright green opening leaves, and the birds are louder each day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many goldfinches in my life! The rain has brought on the garden enormously in the last three days, and I’ve been planting and sowing tomatoes, courgettes, chillis, dill and coriander. The new greenhouse has its first tenants

    young tomato plants on the greenhouse floor

    and the front garden, which was scraggy lawn and corporate evergreen when we came, is now flowery and interesting – though much too enthusiastic about weeds

    lilac pansies

    These pansies grew from seeds saved when I bought a few bedding plants last year. There will be earthwalker sunflowers behind them, and a rogue seedling wild rose which hitched a ride in one of the pots we brought with us, so they are good for birds and pollinators as well as colour. There will be native annuals later – cornflower, nigella and poppies, which will provide seed for birds as well as to save for next year

    A big part of my poetry practice is connecting with the territory, and though I mostly concentrate on the plants wildlife and weather, I have become very interested in the history and the engagement of the community here, which seems much livelier than in the Forth Valley. Every spare bit of ground that lies unnoccupied for more than a few months seems to have trees planted, and as I get to know the area, I am becoming aware of a lot of organisations dedicated to keeping the urban sprawl much greener than you might expect, such as the Friends of Holmhills Wood Community Park, or the Friends of the Calder. There is an active ramblers’s group, and plenty of walking routes, from the Clyde Walkway to the Rotten Calder path, which I mentioned in a recent post, and a lot of interest in the landscape and archaeology of the area. I’m rounding up Twitter resources because the bird site seems more dysfunctional by the day, and I really want to pay tribute to these accounts which help me enormously

    I am writing more thoughts about poetry than actual poetry just now, as there seems to be some activity around Ceasing Never, which I hope to share over the next week or so, and a revised edition of my translation of The Charm of Nine Herbs is going to happen at some point, but after a much longer lull than I was expecting, new poetry is finally happening – look out for moon and fire poems, and some weird mythology.


  • Far Field by Jim Carruth

    Polygon books £10.99 95pp.


    Far Field is the final part of a trilogy Jim Carruth has been working on for the last twenty-five years, and forms a magnificent culmination to what feels, for more than one reason, like a life’s work. Like its predecessors, Black Cart and Bale Fire and the standalone poetic novel Killochries, it deals with farming life in rural Renfrewshire, but this volume is more personal than the others. It focuses on his own family life, the family farm, the handing on of skills, property, and tradition.


    The first section, Landscape with Cattle deals with representations of rural life and features many poems about pictures by the Glasgow Boys, Crawhall, Guthrie, George Henry and EA Walton, who were famous for depicting rural life in less romantic perspectives than had been common. Yet Carruth finds even these pictures of ‘hinds’ and manual labourers self-indulgent, patronising and ignorant of the lived realities of the lives they depict, which are dark and harsh certainly, but also rich in family bonds, empathy with the beasts the farmers care for, and the beauty of accurate observation – cows standing in a river, in Crawhall’s Landscape with Cattle defy the artist’s attempt to recreate their calm presence, and the contrast with the fidgety birds that flit round them.


    As Carruth’s hind’s daughter says: This painting that does not show me true.


    The second part Earthstruck, builds on this sense of empathy with the animal life of the farm, the parallels between the life of the beasts and the life of the farmer, birth, death, illness, courtship, love, loss. The boundaries between animals and lovers, animals and family, blur with references to a review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a gamekeeping manual, a misread conversation where the roast lamb on the table is mistaken for a comment about the speaker’s lover, and the deaths of farm animals compared to the deaths of farmers. Some of the poems are humorous, nostalgic, sarcastic or affectionate, but most moving is Gone Out where a child’s tantrum because his father has slipped out to look at the animals without him is recalled at the father’s death.

    Somewhere beyond the cries of loved ones
    You’re walking your dogs in that far field
    Watching the herd, waiting for the next life.

    Gone Out


    In the final section, Stepping Stones, we move out to the wider community, to the landscape, to memory, and reflections of the future, and the book closes with Planting Aspen Saplings, father handing on the tradition and the responsibility to son. Aspen is an endangered species, but an important one to the Scottish landscape:

    You tell me of the tree’s offer
    To gall midges, birds, hare, deer

    The importance of relationships
    The interconnectedness of everything

    They do not thrive in shade, need light
    And space to grow.

    Planting aspen saplings,
    Son and father.

    Planting Aspen Saplings

    The echoes of Seamus Heaney I find in these poems do not feel derivative, but establish a connection between two poets aware of the influence of landscape and farming on their work, but each with their own different and unique perspective on it. An Irish/Scottish tradition which enriches us all.


  • Group Hug

    white hellebores in flower

    This is from our previous garden, but I noticed this morning that the hellebores I planted here are just coming into flower. There are iris reticulata out now too, and all the snowdrops and primroses. Daffodil shoots are more prolific than I remembered (did I really add so many?) and hyacinth, tulip and anemone have surprised me as much as they did last year. My seeds are beginning to germinate, even the immensely problematic dittany, which is very exciting, and the sarcococca, which seemed very unhappy in its pot, is thriving now it’s in open ground.

    We are just coming to the start of Lent, traditionally a season for conversions and makeovers, trying harder, cleaning up your act, but this year, I’m using mine for something slightly different. As poetry comes back, as we have started going to more events, it has become much more noticeable that the last three years have been A LOT. We’ve been so busy celebrating things getting going again, and making up for lost time that I think we are in denial about how burned out we all are. We had a long time of anxiety, bereavement, loss. We missed out on holidays, weddings, opportunities, the chance to say goodbye to people properly, the chance to meet new babies. Some jobs went and never came back. Some people died and we didn’t go to the funerals. People got sick and we couldn’t get the right help for them. We were alone and sad, and we couldn’t have hugs. And I haven’t even started on the political stuff – that is for another time.

    I think we need a collective group hug, metaphorical sometimes, literal too if we can manage it. We can acknowledge the grief. We can thank each other for the care we all showed, because that was so powerful. We stayed in with Netflix and banana bread. We observed social distances from kindness not fear. We created new ways of socialising, and developed some cracking gallows humour. Key workers from the NHS to the scaffies and delivery people kept things together, and neighbourhoods found diverse and creative ways to help each other out.

    Social media was my lifeline. I’ll never forget a distraught mother tweeting about her autistic child’s distress at not being able to get the only pasta he could eat, and then several neighbours left packets of it on her doorstep. I’ll never forget lots of anxious people taking to social media to express their concerns and politicians responding by asking for details and promising to deal with them. I won’t forget the zoom poetry and music that helped me keep going. I won’t forget all the pictures of the first reunions of grandparents and grandchildren when the lockdowns eased. And I won’t forget Janey Godley’s ‘Frank Get the Door!’ voiceovers that put everything into perspective. We were all lovely then, and if we’re less so now, it’s because we’re all exhausted, not because we changed.

    I think a puse for reflection and consolation might be indicated. I’ve been working on some ‘charms for the healing of grief’ for a project that’s in development, but I’m also going to use the next few blogposts during Lent to do some more extended creative things with it. But just for now, I’ll send you all a virtual group hug!

    snowdrops in dappled sunlight



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