Small talk…

These strange times, full of enforced separation, have split us into smaller units. We connect only at distance, or digitally. It goes against something profoundly human.

Having said that, I am an introvert. For me, lockdown has often seemed like permission to retreat into a place of comfort. I have been blessed by garden and hillside and someone I love to share my head and my bed with. My grown up kids have been with me through most of lockdown. So many others, including friends and family, have had more difficulty.

Still, the capacity I have for retreating into my own small space has led my family to tease me as being one step away from becoming a grumpy hermit at times, who would never see anyone from week to week if left to my own devices. They will tease me about my hatred of the telephone and how I can become very awkward when having to indulge in small talk. I often feel guilty about this, and worry about neglecting my friends…

But I think my friends will also know that what I love more than almost anything is to talk.

This poem is about my kind of small talk.

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Small talk

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Sit with me and speak of the drowning

Not in sorrow, but in those stories

Through which we swim like otters

Let our words be a current

To carry us to places

Not yet spoken

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Sit with me and speak of the dying

Not our own, but of last year’s light

Dimmed like an untrimmed gas mantle

But not-quite extinguished

Even sepia’d by distance, it

Still splits the dark skies

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Sit with me and speak of god

Or whatever we may call her

Let us feed sacred cows

Until the new sun rising in the east

Calls us to take the knee, then

Let our breath be prayer

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Sit with me and share that dream

You cherish whilst awake

Clenched like an incomplete pregnancy

For I would be your midwife

I would see the life in you (and me)

Set free

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Sit with me make a new belonging

In a space that lies wide open

A place where hearts beat on sleeves

A place where laughter ebbs and flows, and

We know that love is profane

As well as sacred

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Speak to me and

I will listen

Solstice…

The morning light penetrates my skin

Like benign bleach, or some

Essential vitamin, only missed in absence

It glances from the surface of the sea

Like skimmed stone, then it

Hit home

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It is a weapon of mass invention

The very place of our creation

No wonder then, that our mother’s mother shaped her very

Grounds around those rays that suns make at solstice;

That she took the warmth within her, like tea

And it made me

Girl, amended

This sculpture is going with us to ‘Potfest’ (yes, it is really called that. There may well be some customers who are dissappointed!) It began with a firing failure, but there was something about her that I could not throw away…

Hopefully this poem makes the same point;

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How is she made?

And for whom?

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Could that through which she is constructed

Be the very cause of her constraints?

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By whom was she broken?

Might she ever mend?

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By me

By you

,

By us.

Leaving

Before the first blush of red kisses the top leaves of

My maple tree I sense the approach of autumn

from a certain essence in the still-warm air

It reminds me not quite of dying, but

The way tea is when it’s gone cold in the cup

Or an apple is after it sat too long

Uneaten

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Long before the weight of old leaves became too much

For the oaks to bear, the soil was already weary

From pushing so much green

While we sat under a yellowing sun

Conversing while we could. Refusing to heed

The birds on the telephone lines, making ready

For their leaving

The great Becoming…

The great Becoming

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How small we made you.

How constrained by our constraints;

We wore you like a lapel badge,

Pocketed you like a personal passport, then

Raised you at our border like a flag.

We locked you in the pages of

Our Book, then threw away the key.

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But how we worshipped you.

How we pointed at you with steeples.

You asked us to follow you, to

Give away our second shirts, but instead

We made a million icons, each one framed in gold.

We swayed and raised our egos, singing love songs-

Not to you, but to idealised versions of ourselves.

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How is it that still, you love things by becoming them?

How was it that this brown-skinned man with the heart of a woman

Took upon herself another name for everything, so we could

Encounter her in all these beautiful things and bleed with her when she

Lies broken? And just when all seems lost, she whispers still;

See, I am making all things new.

Even you.

Faith-based secular religion…

I am trying to write a poem a day at the moment- a return to an old discipline that I have found useful. I may post some of them on here… inevitably the quality will be somewhat variable- although I have long tried to stop measuring poetry in terms of whether it is ‘good’ ir not – even my own. Rather I try to decide whether it is meaningful.

I have been thinking about the stories that hold our society together. A few of us watched a video clip and discussed it via Zoom on Sunday, and it occurred to me (not for the first time) that in order for things to get better, we have to find better stories, and we have to come to see the old ones as flawed.

The title of this piece, by the way, comes from here.

The process begun by the Enlightenment was, by and large, a positive development at least for Europe.  But this process has been interrupted not so much by religion – the antithesis of the Enlightenment – but by a faith-based secular ideology that says the pursuit by individuals of their own private material gain is good for all.

To dissent against this faith-based secular religion is to be consigned to Purgatory and Hell by the Upholders of the Faith.  When the upholders of such a system see a dissenting opposition that is so threatening it must be condemned, it is probably worth asking, “So what’s the threat?”  This is what makes a study of the writings of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and other dissenters from the secular faith so fascinating.  Before “Marxism” was codified into a tool of repression by state capitalists, (Soviet Union, China – regimes that used Marxist rhetoric to repress their own people), it was and still can be a useful critique of the secular religion of capitalism and very revealing in its analysis.  Some have helped bring this nineteenth-century dissent up to date on the basis of a critical scientific analysis of the evolution of the capitalist system, (Paul Sweezy, Howard Parsons, David Harvey, John Bellamy Foster, et al.).

The most valuable critique is the questioning of the “enlightened self-interest as public good” assumption.  This assumption is based on the false premise that humans are separate from their environment; that somehow, we are “above” the normal consequences of action in the field of the life-death continuum of Planet Earth.  A brief perusal of the consequences of this false premise should be sobering to any thinking person.  The pursuit of resources and markets to feed a system that MUST grow to survive has made the planet and all of its inhabitants commodities.  In capitalist mythology, EVERYTHING has a monetary value, including and perhaps especially, people.  The fact that humans are dependent on a healthy environment is not a central consideration – capitalists who acquire financial independence can BUY a healthy environment as one of their private acquisitions, it is assumed.  Everyone else must either enter into the field of competition and buy their own “healthy environment,” or be consigned to a life that Thomas Hobbes called “nasty, brutish, and short” – a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one.

Here is the poem;

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Lies we tell each other

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Money greased the wheels that turn

The world around, and

I am not lost, I’m found

The bigger men will harder fall, for they

Lack our humble cushion

Our enemy is Russian

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Fulfilment comes consuming this

Joy is made through data

I’m just a late starter

When we wish on falling stars

Trickle-down comes calling

All poetry is boring

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The common good embraces this;

My own accumulating

Stress is enervating

Christmas comes but once a year

We show great love through spending

Our world is never ending

Four dimensions…

Four dimensions

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The air bends her

But she is not hindered.

She curls and curves in the wind, but

The shapes she makes

Are not dictated.

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Sometimes the sea gives

Sometimes she has to take.

She spies a silver flash

Then pierces the waves

Like a flung spear.

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Her world has four dimensions;

Grey skies, smoked by approaching weather

Blue-green fathoms that fade to deepest black

Fledglings awaiting her return, unfillable

The song of the spirit that lives in

Everything

The tender things that carry us…

We have been watching this. It has thrilled me and it has made me weep.

About half way in, a band called ‘The Breath’ stole mine.

They were familiar songs to me- I love their albums. But watching them come together after lock down in order to sing again… sublime words, brilliant guitar playing and her voice…well, listen yourself.

My late sister would have loved it. We would have cried together, instead of me crying alone, wishing I could share it with her.

Which is kind of the point of this post. What is it that allows us to be human? The lock down has confronted us with this question in a way that we would be foolish to waste or ignore. What are we missing most? What (of the things we used to do) now seems so pointless?

What carries us?

I know myself better now. That is not to say that I am ‘sorted’, or that the brokenness is all mended. I am not sure I even aspire to those kind of solutions. Rather, let me remain tender, open to failure as much as hard success.

Today I was searching through some old poems, looking for one that might work as part of a commission, and I found this one. That will do, I thought. Not for the commission- but that will do, nevertheless.

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I choose goodness

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I caught a glimpse today

Of my capacity for goodness.

I thought it gone away

But there it lay

Like a laughing flapping fish

Wet mouth wide open, saying

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That (despite being the epicentre of my own unfolding event)

I still know what it means to love.

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That (despite all my callow grasping)

I know what it means to give.

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That (despite my tendency to measure myself and find you wanting)

There is joy to be found in your achievment

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I am a man full of holes

But it did not all leak away

I am broken

But I am not destroyed

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Today, I choose goodness.

I choose love.

Seatree gofundme project…

Regular readers of this blog will know that, along with my wife Michaela, I make a living through a small business called seatree. We call it our on-going experiement in trying to live creatively and sustainably. We make art from ceramics and other stuff, run workshops and poetry things, and somehow it has worked – the adventure continues. We feel so blessed to be able to make our lives from thee ingredients, in this beautiful place.

Then along came the pandemic.

At first, particularly for Michaela (who is the one who does the organising) we panicked. Our outgoings are small, but overnight, all the galleries we work with closed, and we had to cancel our workshops. Like many others we faced the real posibility that everything we had worked for was going to fall apart. I even started to think about going back into social work, which was a terrifying prospect from my ‘escaped’ perspective.

But then we started to get creative. We spent hours setting up our website shop. We developed things like our workshops in a tin. Like the rest of the world, we started doing things via zoom. We discovered that the new normal could still be creative, and the veg in the garden grows just as well in lockdown- better in fact as we have had more time to develop our growing spaces. It is quite possible that things will never go back to how they were, and for us, that is OK. We need change- both as individuals and as a wider society.

However, some changes need investment that is beyond our financial reach.

In order to continue to run workshops, we need to create more workspace. This means re-purposing our large shed, clearing out a lot of the things we have in there at the moment and making some socialy distanced work stations.

We need to sell more things direct, and this means creating a better display area for things we make here, as well as a way to manage stock better.

Put simply. we need a new shed! A beautiful. hand crafted seatree hut. Even doing all the work ourselves, we think this will cost in the region of £5K, which is a lot of money for us.

We have taken a plunge into the unknown, otherwise known as crowd funding.

“How does this work?” I hear you ask.

You follow this link to our Go Fund Me initiative.

You are not giving something for nothing though;

For every donation, we will create for you a limited edition decoration and an invitation to our grand opening!

For every donation over £50, we will also include a hand-drawn seatree poem.

And for or every donation over £100, we will offer you a poetry or pottery workshop, or a piece of ceramic art.

Every seed you sow, we will nurture.

So, there we are. Donate if you feel we are worth it. If not, then no worries, but perhaps you can help spread the word?