Poetry for the sociably distanced…

We are doing some new things, because in these uncertain times, the only way we know how to respond is to do so creatively. Our small business has fallen off the same coronavirus cliff edge as many many others. All workshops have been cancelled and most, if not all, of the galleries we work in partnership with have closed or are about to close. No point getting bogged down in the worry though- so many of us are in the same position and we will get through somehow.

We have done some things already- I have totally revampled our online shop, so if you are needing any special gifts for people, then please check us out. We’ll be adding more products soon, and probably doing a COVID-19 sale!

Both Michaela and I wanted to think of ways of linking to people on-line too. She is going to offer some on-line pottery lessons, but clearly these will still have to be fairly local, to get clay to people and back to put in the kiln. But poetry knows no such geographical restrictions.

Below are some details of some new on-line workshops we are planning. If you are interested, please get in touch.

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Poetry for the sociably distanced

The human animal is above all a social creature. How do we make sense of a world in which every-day social activities are suddenly forbidden? How do we continue to recognise our shared humanity?

We would argue that for such times as this, we have poetry.

Poetry connects us in at least two ways; firstly, it connects us internally with a deeper version of ourselves. Secondly, it connects us with the vulnerable humanity of others. Like many human activities, poetry is often consumed alone, but is at its best when shared with others.

We have often bemoaned the way flesh has been replaced by silicone, but now through the wonders of the internet, we can be together, even at distance. To that end, we have been thinking about ways to share poetry…

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Introduction to poetry; a short on-line workshop for the sociably distanced

Poetry does not belong to the elite few.

Poetry uses YOUR language, not someone else’s.

You have been reading/writing/listening to poetry all your life, even if you did not know it.

If you don’t like poetry, you’ve been reading the wrong poems for you.

Poetry is the way we say things that matter.

In this workshop, we will talk poetry and read poetry. We will decide together exactly which direction to take but expect to talk about tricks and techniques as we immerse ourselves in lovely words.

The workshop works in two ways;

  1. Individual, family or household group, connecting with Chris on skype or facebook
  2. Multiple venues/individuals connecting on skype of facebook (as a group chat.)

Chris will e-mail a selection of poems in advance that will give a decent spectrum of poems- although these are poems that he likes, so you might want to share some of your favourites too.

COST

£20 each

£40 For family/friendship group (either one venue or multiple)

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Writing poetry; a creative workshop for the sociably distanced

There are no experts here, just people who love words who want to encourage one another. This workshop will be split into two parts and conducted over skype or facebook (whichever is more convenient.)

In the first part, we will discuss what it means to write- our personal experiences, successes and failures and what we have learned along the way. We will then agree some challenges and go away to do some writing of our own.

In the second part, we will share our experiences and the words that have emerged.

COST

£20 per person

£40 per friendship group/family

Art and poetry for the socially (but sociably) distanced…

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These are worrying times. Faced with the known unknowns of Coronavirus, we are all having to take a step back from one another. We worry for our families and our friends. We worry for ourselves.

We also worry for our livelihoods. Our small business depends on gallery footfall and attendence at workshops, so it is likely that there will be some lean times ahead. But after a couple of days of anxiety about all of this, we decided that enough was enough. It was time to do something. It was time to reach out.

The internet, hitherto a mixed blessing, may save us all. It will allow continued connection, be a source of encouragment, and allow our fragile economy to return again to the beauty of simple trading, one on one.

To this end, we have been busy.

Firstly, we are updating our on-line shop, using a new platform. It has been a steep learning curve (for Chris – Michaela has no clue!) but we think it is working, and already looks mutch better. You can check it out for yourself here. We will be adding more pieces daily.

Next we have started to think about how we can connect with others who have found themselves cut off, in their own spaces. How we who are socially distanced become at very least sociably distanced?

you are wrapped up in me

What we are thinking is something along these lines:

Pottery for the sociably distanced

Online workshops, based around clay being delivered to you and then skype/facebook tuition. This might suit families/household groups, or groups of friends – who would not need to be in the same place, thanks to the joys of t’internet. We could deliver the clay locally, and get it back from you to fire it in the kiln.

Poetry for the sociably distanced

Again, online workshops, led by Chris. One will be an intruduction and celebration of all things poetry, the other will be an encouragement to actually write something. Again this might suit families/household groups, or groups of friends – who would not need to be in the same place.

Sociably distanced artists collaboration

Alongside the above, we are toying with setting up some online meet-ups for like minded creatives who might like to thing about a way to collaborate in response to these strange times. A poet and painter perhaps, or a potter and a fabric artist?

Watch this space for more news…

Might something good come from all of this?

Like many of us, I take in the news and feel it dragging me into a pit of doom. The hits have come one after another; unforgiving extremist politics, me-first economics, mass extinctions; Trump; Johnson; melting ice sheets; refugee crises; austerity… and now, Coronavirus. It all feels like a vortex dragging us downwards and leaving behind a pervasive sense of fear and confusion. This in itself is dangerous as fear can be corosive. Where will this all end?

What if, along with all the bad, this might yet be a passage towards positive transformation?

The grand correction

This song came to mind, with its dark humour and selfishness (derailed in the last verse by something more outward looking)

But perhaps we are seeing the start of a correction in western civilisation?

We have said it before- the song was written in response to the stock market crash, which seems to have resulted in business as usual for those who continued to get richer and austerity for those with very little.

Likewise, the looming fears around climate change have seemed to paralyse governments, rather than vitalise them. We all know instinctively that we need to live more simply, consume less, change our additction to long haul flights and dirty energy use, but instead we find ourselves making tokenistic gestures – expensive eco-friendly cleaning products and a few less plastic bags – whilst changing nothing that really matters, because what difference does it really make if we change but no-one else does, right?

But then came coronavirus.

We still wait to see what the deadly implications of COVID-19 will turn out to be, but it has already done something remarkable; it has led to mass behaviour change. Our airports are empty. Our national football obsession has been set aside. People are allowing themselves to work towards a goal that is bigger than the individual- even if that goal is ultimately driven by individual self preservation.

One short term result is that our air is cleaner. (Look at the impact in China of the lockdown.)

Perhaps such changes will be short-lived, but then again, we know that we can do it now. Corrections to mass behaviour at economic and ecological levels are possible.

Shock doctrine

In 2007, Canadian author wrote this book, in which she laid out the impact of economic shocks had become the means by which power was meditated, often in an opportunistic and manipulative way by governments and power brokers.

Here is the author talking about this stuff in more detail;

What Klein has highlighted is the way that ‘shocks’ create fear, and that fear then creates opportunities for venture capitalists- using crisis to create policies that take power away from populations and put it increasingly into corporate hands.

However- and this is where the hope comes from – coronavirus feels like a different kind of shock. It’s effect is being felt by rich and poor alike. In fact, rich whitemen in the fifties and sixties, at the height of their earning capacity and personal power, might be the most vulnerable of all. It feels more like the kind of shock of total war.

It is for us all to be aware of Klein’s warnings about shock doctrines, but remember that out of great crisis emerged the unity of the Blitz and the emergence of the NHS in the UK and the development of a welfare state.

To reframe the words of Milton Freidman; “Only a crisis, real or percieved, allows the possibility of real change’.

Truth

Coronavirus has arrived a time when public trust in both politicians and the media is perhaps at an all time low. Both in the UK we have elected known and proven liars. It no longer matters that they lie because we expect them to. The manipulation of truth for political/financial gain has been normalised.

But look at what is happening to Trump at the moment in the US. He has tried to lie and bluster his way through the crisis, but the virus may yet show him to be the self-serving bafoon that he has always been.

In the face of a global pandemic, truth matters again. Not truth of the nuanced, compare-and-contrast kind. Neither of the ‘Oooo this is interesting’ clickbait conspiracy theory kind.

We have to look again towards scientific, objective truth, because what else will give us the tools we need to manage our responses to a virus that cares nothing for political creed, religion or skin colour?

Health systems

We have become used to negative reporting about our NHS but it is possible that this might yet prove to be it’s finest hour. Contrast the patchy and sometimes entirely absent health care available in the richest country in the world, the US, where access to medical help is entirely dependent on your level of wealth.

More than individual medical treatment, perhaps Coronavirus also highlights the fact that the health of a nation is often about prevention and public health initiatives. It is about good housing, nutrution and sanitary systems. It is about benfits and social care supports. Perhaps rich Americans (and others) will become infected becuase poor Americans (and others) had access to such inadequate health and social care. How might this shift the debate on the ‘morality’ of ‘something for nothing’ public health care? Can they really continue to rely on health care systems driven primarily by private profit?

Here in the UK we face different questions about the investment we make in our own systems after ten years of austerity. This is not just about Boris’s fabled 40 new hospitals, but also about social care and how we support general health and wellbeing. The magic money tree has been found after all, and perhaps it might have fruit yet for the picking.

(There is a much wider discussion to be had here about the nature of economic systems and how we borrow to invest in order to promote the common good, but here is not the place for it. If you are interested in reading more about this, go to the New Economics Foundation pages, here.)

Politics of unity, not polarity

We have locked ourselves into echo chambers where we often only hear one side of a nuanced story. Good/bad black/white polarities never work in the long run. All human activity has to be subject to compromise and political democracy does not work without it. This is perhaps the single most important thing to learn from the Brexit mess.

Trump is trying to apply the blame game to the fight against Coronavirus. It is a ‘foreign’ virus. Close the borders. Build a wall. It is not working as the ‘numbers’ make a mockery of him. Meanwhile the adults in the room have to start talking to one another.

In the UK, we have largely avoided any show of political division of the response to the virus. Perhaps this will yet come- perhaps it might NEED to come, but it feels as if people are coming together, not being forced apart.

North/South

It is hard to escape the fact that in large parts of the world, even the worst case scenario for Coronavirus (3 per cent death rate of those infected) would be dwarfed by much greater health and social care problems. Remember that people are still dying of starvation and diseases caused directly by malnutrition and poverty. Then there are the other outbreaks in Africa; Ebola, Measles, Lassa fever.

Are these deaths less important? Given that the COVID-19 is being imported into Africa from the West (eg new cases spread from Italy) rather than the old traditional fears of the dark heart of Africa giving us AIDS and Ebola?

Perhaps the blatant inequality might give us pause for thought…

Death

You might wonder at my attitude to death, given the above. Perhaps you might think I am downplaying the seriousness of Coronavirus.

But I have elderly relatives, and a sister whose immune system puts her in a high risk group. I am a man in my mid fifties so perhaps I too might be a victim. It is confronting, concerning and worrying on many levels. I don’t mean to pretend otherwise.

But I do feel that our attitude to death, in the cold light of post-virus panic, might have to change. We live as if death is another country that we are never likely to visit. We regard our health systems as insurance policies against death, as if it is our individual right to live for ever. But we all die. This may seem a shocking statement, which in itself tells a story.

Let not the fear of death rob us of the opportunity to live a good life.

Civilisation…

Through a number of circumstances, choices and happenchances, both my kids have ended up living on boats. It sounds a romantic thing- they love being close to open sea and all the possibilities of adventure.

The realities of this life are made very real when the winter storms roll in. The power and viciousness of gales hitting a small fiberglass box can be scary indeed.

Aside from all the usual parental worries for the safety of our children, there lingers with me a feeling that their choice of shelter, positive though they may be, are also pushed by expediency. Their generation has been effectively priced out of the housing market by the soaring costs of home ownership and high rents.

It is the civilisation we made.

.

When it’s wild outside, I love

The feeling you get, when

You sit in warmth, watching the

Windows blink back rain, flung

Like black pebbles

.

When it’s cold outside, I find

A fold in the sofa, and

Insulate against the wild north winds

Under the soft folds

Of a good book

.

When it is cruel outside, I sometimes

Take fire for granted, as if

Civilisation belongs to me by right

As if these walls, now strong, will

 Stand up tall forever

Poetry giveaway…

books

Over at Seatree, we have had some more copies of Chris’s books printed for direct sales. This meant another print run, and as ever, we got a couple of proofs printed to check before the larger run… all of which means that we have proof copies of ‘Listing’ and ‘Where the streams come from’ up for grabs. FOR FREE! We will even pay postage.

(One book has a couple of typos, but if you are anything like Chris, you will never notice them!)

To enter our little free draw, all you have to do is to visit our facebook page and post a comment in the giveaway post. Perhaps tell us your favourite poem (even if it is not one of Chris’s!) or even post a few lines of your own?

(If you are not on FB, drop us a line and we will enter you anyway!)

We’ll feed your name into our magic randomiser, then contact the winners directly.

Meanwhile, here is a newish poem, as yet unpublished, to whet your poetic whistles;

Bookshop

Written in ‘Bookpoint, for ‘National poetry day’ 2018

.

So many books

Every spine like undrunk wine

Every page contagious

For words weigh nothing here

They are floating free

while I sup tea.

.

Perhaps two or three might land on me-  

Like birds – or spores – or seeds,

For I am the soil in winter.

.

High on a shelf

sits poor Gandalf.

Atticus Finch is caught in a clinch

with Molly Bloom.

Tom Sawyer hides poor Jim

In the bottom drawer.

Moriarty invites Jack Kerouac

to party out back.

Catherine Earnshaw

roams the moor no more

She drinks tea with me

In  Bookpoint

Forest gardening…

We live in a very beautiful place. Familiarity breeds a certain level of complacency, but I only have to leave our little corner for a few days and I find myself missing it. Specifically, I miss the quiet shelter of the oak trees, through we glimpse the water in summer but whose branches become frames for silver light as soon as autumn fades.

Little moments hit me like blessings. The red squirrels that dance along the finest tracery. The mixed blessing of deer munching in the bushes. The stars who have no competition. These blessings seem totally undeserved. Even allowing for the fact that reality is always so much more nuanced than a view from distance, we seem to be living out a kind of middle-class fantasy that is simply unavailable and unatainable to most. How did we end up here?

I suppose part of the answer is that we decided that we wanted to live more simply, with less impact on the planet, and with more connection to the earth, which is why I find videos like this so inspiring;

Since we moved here three years ago, we have done very little to the inside of the house (although this might be about to change) but we have done lots to the outside;

New chicken run

Poly tunnels x2

dammed a stream to make a water cress pond.

We have also cleared massive amounts of buddlea and huge overgrown Leylandii hedges, and have planted about 20 fruit trees, 5 oak trees and 50 silver birch trees.

I have built some outdoor raised beds (the climate is so wet here that we need to improve drainage) but we need more of these, and they need a fence to keep the deer away from them.

What really interests me is how we can use a small (ish) parcel of land to produce significant amounts of food. Part of this is about recognising what is already there. Some of this is obvious, like the wild garlic.

We have also tapped birch trees for sap, used many flowers and plants in salads and picked berries and crab apples.

The next step is to start introducing more edible plants into our forest garden. I tried to plant Wild Mustard, but this does not seem to have survived, and the tea plants are looking rather ropey (more eperimenting to be done with different plants here.)

I have no confidence in my mushroom and funghi collecting skills, but have decided to sow my own spores so I can be sure what I am getting- so we have some oyster mushroom spores for next season.

We have a long way to go, but watching videos like the one above makes me think that what we are aiming for is entirely possible.

Two things occur to me as I write this.

1.We reap not only what we sow, but also much that has been given to us by grace.

2. We live the life we decide to live, even if by default.

A poetry reatreat in the wildnerness…

In the spring. In partnership with Wild at Art, I am leading a group of people on a poetry retreat. You can read more about it here.

This retreat will use a familliar format to ones that I have led before. To spend time in the wild beauty of an uninhabited deserted island in spring is a truly magnificent experience, but retreats are much more than tourism. They are about delberately going deeper, beyond the surface of things. If there is a language for this kind of journey, it is poetry.



They say that everything that ever was

Is with us still  and that we are all

Connected

Our DNA, or so they say,

Contains some manta ray

Along with pterodactyl

Every leaf and every tree

Grows in you and grows in me

Every fish and every bird

Listens close to our every word

For everything belongs to everything

And we are all

Connected



It is my intention to read poetry together and to encourage one another to write. We will have some activities ready that may help, but the island is our main tutor.

This retreat will of course follow a long tradition of pilgrimmage to these islands. It will remember some of our Celtic ancestors, and the journeys they made.

By the way, Ute Amann-Seidel (who set up and runs Wild at Art) was on radio Scotland last week, talking about her other project, Fire and Rain, which grew out of her loss and bereavement. You can find out more about this by following this link.

TFT Christmas card, 2019

Dear friends, close and far, may peace be with you. May the world we live in be shaped by kindness, despite all the voices and forces to the contrary. May you know the warmth of love.

Peace be with us

.

In the quiet space between snowflakes

We listen to sad songs, and

Feel the prickle of tears, pushed

By beautiful broken things

Less than half-perceived

But never forgotten

.

In the warm space you made for me

I hide, guilty for those we left outside

Wishing our table was bigger

That every mouth was filled

Every refugee was home

Like we are. Hoping that

.

In the dark space between all those twinkling lights

Peace is waiting

Like scented water

Fingered by frost and ready to fall –

Ready to anoint our dirty old ground

Like Emmanuel

Chasm

Chasm

Cliff offers

Scant comfort

A place for claws only

Ledge after ledge looking down.

Below, birds churn and turn in space

That will surely swallow me whole.

Should I climb?

Or should I

let go?

Trusting

The heave

Of saline water

Straining against rock

Will reach up for me

With deep green

kindness

Anniversary confessional…

Last Sunday was our anniversary. 29 years ago, I married a rather wonderful person. I did not know just how wonderful she was back then – my own woundedness made me myopic in that regard – but the time in between has left me in absoutely no doubt.

As evidence of this, she was quite happy to let me go and play cricket on our anniversary- choosing to travel up to Balmoral Castle (yes, THAT one, home of the queen, who was in residence. We saw her twice, but she was busy so did not linger, not even for cricket.)

In the light of all this, I think I must now confess. I forgot about our anniversary, resulting in the terrible message that cricket is more important than she.

Before you quite rightfully arrange for my incarceration, or worse, I would say that I had ordered her a present, but had just got confused over dates- a combination of dyslexia and being self employed, both of which can detatch me from the world… but not from Michaela.

We had an adventure together, driving back over the high hills in the gathering dark with less fuel in the tank than we were comfortable with. I could choose no better companion.