I have mentioned a few times the plan for this year was to take some poetry from ‘After the apocalypse‘ on the road. We made a number of steps in this direction – identifying some hosts and venues (thankyou!) and imagining how I hoped this would work – but I have struggled to bring the final ideas together.
Partly this is because the last year has been one of the hardest of my life. I have been struggling with a number of things, probably related to the recent loss of both my sister and my mother. This left me grappling with the boy I was and still am within, bruised and broken by my upbringing, struggling to hide the shame that all survivors of abuse carry with them. Alongside some other family things, I was struggling to find the energy needed to invest in such a creative and collaborative endevour as I had imagined. In turn, this made me feel worse, as though I had nothing to give, nothing to offer. As if I was over.
In some senses, such is the creative life. We mostly create out of our vulnerabilities and brokenness. Or perhaps not all do, but the works that moved me most came from these places. Because of this, creativity always comes with a shadow of self doubt and even (in my case) self loathing. The nature of creativity can be so self-centred too, so endlessly self-referential, which can form a loop in which the urge to make reflects backwards in a harsh light. (Some of you will know exactly what I mean.)
With that as confessional context, you will appreciate all the more what I am about to describe. It is the rack that you too are stretched upon. No amount of ‘sucess’ seems to change the realities of this kind of being.
Images by Si Smith, from ‘After the apocalypse’
Yesterday (because Michaela had not given up on me when I more or less had) I took a few more steps.I did it almost unaware, just knowing that I had to keep moving. (But Michaela had been making connections, doing things that seemed to me to be almost futile.)She had already been doing the drudge-work, without which no good thing can ever happen. The form filling, the diary making. The frustration suppressing. The loving. She thought I did not see it, but I did, I just mostly thought she was wasting her time.
Then, yesterday, things took an entirely unexpected (by me at least) turn.
Before I tell you what happened, perhaps I should describe my longings for these poetry events. I have come to realise, that the things I do that bring me the greatest joy have to start with a certain kind of ‘uuughh’.
It is that feeling you get when your chest feels pregnant with… how can I describe it?… goodness? Hope? Love? Grace? Excitement? None of these words quite contain what I mean, so let’s stick with ‘uuughh’.
I know too that for me, uuughh is a spiritual thing as much as a physical one. It may seem totally fanciful to you to suggest that uughh is about connection to the great spirit that made the world and holds it all together, but there it is, this is what I feel, somewhere deep inside myself.
I have tried to learn to look out (above all things) for the uuughh and to trust it when I feel it. To follow it when I can. I think of this as a spiritual practice, informed by thinking around theopoetics that I have spoken a lot about on this blog.
In my experience, uuuhgg is most likely to be encountered around some of these things;
Kindness (always always kindness, that most underated for virtues.)
Community, when we do good things together
Friendship, which is precious and rare, particularly for introspective men like me
Hope, even in the shadow of despair
Beauty (particularly arising from brokenness)
Stories of hope and redemption
Stories of liberation
Justice bringing and peace-making
It is perhaps most readily accessed when art (particularly for me, poetry and music) becomes a channel for the above.
Things like this;
You will understand then that despite the pressures we all feel to make a living, the plan for taking these poems ‘on the road’ was not about making money. It was about making moments of uuughh for others. Small moments of kindness and transformation. This or nothing.
But I knew I needed help. I needed to make community. I am fortunate enough to live in a family of musicians, but despite the best intentions, it can be hard to do things with your family. There is too much baggage and boundaries are too weak, even if love remains strong. Besides, what young musician wants to do something with dad? What we needed above all was a gifted catalyst from outside. But who would be kind enough to put themselves in the middle of such a project?
Our friend Yvonne certainly has the giftedness. She has even done poetry collaborations before;
Yesterday we got together to see how it would feel. My lad Will joined us on guitar and vocals. I read poetry whilst they wove sounds and then slid into song.
I can only describe what happened by saying one word.