Like many singers, I’m starting to look forward to stepping back into some version, at least, of the regular rhythm of rehearsing and performing which has been part of the structure of my life for—jings—4 decades now. At an informal sing in someone’s garden the other week (I can’t really dignify it by the title of rehearsal!) it was chastening to realise how much our voices have suffered from separation and silence. But it was still delicious to come together to make music, croaky and awkward as it was. I love the way Lisel Mueller honours and articulates the particular joy of live music (in the poem’s case, of listening to it). Read ‘Brendel Playing Schubert‘ or have it read to you (press the little arrow at the top. Poem starts c. 3.10.)Read More
For wild swimming, that is (or, as a friend of mine commented acidly the other day, “what we used to call going for a swim in the river“). Whatever we call it, it’s one of the pleasures of summer for me. So I was delighted to find this poem online and thus be able to share with you ‘Skinny-Dipping in Vathy‘ by Barbara Quick.Read More
Someone brought ‘Child waking’ by Edith Scovell to the 42 group last week. The poet’s name was vaguely familiar but I had no sense of her work. I loved ‘Child waking’, though, so since then I’ve been scuttling about the interweb looking for Scovell’s work. And I give you: ‘Deaths of Flowers‘.Read More
I’m sure I’d read more Emily Dickinson if my Complete wasn’t roughly the size and shape of a large housebrick; tricky to read in the bath, y’know… Anyway, someone brought some ED to an online poetry share the other day, and it inspired me to strap on the wrist supports and spend some time with the housebrick. So many poems I could have brought, but today I choose number 360, which you can read here. (There’s an interesting article about Dickinson here at the Poetry Foundation, too.)Read More
Or rather, remember, that poems can be instruction manuals for us in times of crisis (see Libby Purves, above). As one who usually needs a walk in the morning if I’m to greet the world with anything other than a scowl, snarl or sob, I really relate to ‘How to Regain Your Soul‘ by William Stafford. It feels like a useful entry in the How to: Life guide at the moment. See what you think.
I love the specificity here. ‘[T]hat one place where the valley floor opens out’, as well as inviting us into the poem and, in its intimacy, suggesting that we’re fellow-travellers welcomed by the poet, this tells us how well-known this place is to the speaker. This first stanza is full of precise detail: the poet is steeped in the place, grounded in it, and can evoke it with a vividness possible only when you’ve really allowed yourself to be in a place—have a relationship with it (and it with you). It’s a place to ‘[p]ut down your pack’; a place, then, you might’ve made some effort to get to, but which is worth the trek. A place and time to be savoured.
And time expands in the second stanza, back into the distant and then the unimaginably distant past. There is freedom here—’Above, air sighs’; the dazzle of the ‘white butterflies danc[ing]/ by the thousands in the still sunshine’—and a sense of access into eternity and the “sudden” knowledge that ‘anything/ could happen to you’. A moment of grace, or ephipany: your soul taking its right place in the soul of the world, as part of the world, and then ‘shin[ing] back through the white wings to be you again’. This is a drink of cool well-water on a hot day. This is refreshment. We all need this at the moment.
I can’t say I get my third eye opened every time I shuffle, stride or sometimes scamper (a solo thing, that!) through the woods and up onto the scar behind my house. But there is always something about attention to the place and its small wonders which lifts and frees me, and partly because of my familiarity with it. Yesterday, walking in all that spring-shaggy greenness, I rejoiced in the multilayered birdsong echoing through the damp air. I spotted a jay, a woodpecker, a tree creeper, many squirrels and the rat which lives near that big limestone outcrop (you know, the one by the steps up onto the dancing green where the bench is?). The grass was made beautiful by rain and the orchids poked their magenta up through the silvered green. It was magic. And I regained enough of my soul to function as a reasonably civilised human being again.
Until the following morning, at least.