I am always astounded by the strength of life force in nature if unhindered by human activity, the pollution of drugs and chemicals. A few weeks ago I cut a couple of branches from my Woolly Willow tree (yes, it’s really called that or Salix Lanata if you want to be formal). They were covered in gorgeous catkins and made a stunning statement in a vase in my hallway. When I decided to throw them out I was surprised to see they had grown roots so now they are destined for a new life in the garden next to their mother tree. Happy trees! I have many different willow trees; scarlet, golden, black, purple, Swiss, a ground cover variety, one that has spectacular black catkins in the spring. It is a wild, windy and wet location and yet they thrive. Branches may break off in a storm but they go on undaunted. If only we humans could do the same.
I woke up crimson
autumn to gypsy
clouds a home
not my own.
Bonfires warm the cockles
said my neighbour as flames
split the dark.
I stirred wrathful
winter to trees
stripped of branches
only trunks remained.
I tried my best
said the Gardener spitting
dust and wielding a chain saw.
I roused one dizzy
spring to my lover
in the fishpond.
Where were you this morning?
the police officer asked
but the carp refused to comment.
I woke one summer
night to blue flaring
beyond Ben’s farm
stressed over deadlines.
What the fuck’s going on?
asked the cat
tucking into her fish supper.
This poem is an example of my new work in progress, a poetry collection called Conversations With My Cat. More details here later.
“Time spent with cats is never wasted” – Sigmund Freud
My day begins pixelated.
Needle sharp shards of light
refract like monsoon rain
in tropical forest, bending
breaking leaves out of shape
with the violence of descent.
Little red icons beckon.
Visions of perfection
macerate the eye
beyond screens of polish.
Hey, look at me! Me!
Picnics, reunions of red
lipstick with star spangled
skirts, blossom trees, blooming
babies, birthday balloons, home
-baking, sunsets and fragile
creatures perched on the edge
of a black canyon. So smiley.
So breakable. So sad your dog,
granny or dahlias passed away.
So happy you are happy or not.
Who loves ya, baby? Not enough
likes today? Do you exist today?
Click refresh or exit.
Shadows rooted in the sour
grooves that framed
her mouth. Invisible at first,
they bloomed in the living
map of her face, festered
in the lines on her brow,
in the web of crow’s feet
perched on cheekbones
and in every pore
of once perfect skin.
Within the purple moons
beneath shuttered eyes
spread along the wrinkles
of her neck, the valley
between breasts, the soft
folds of belly and genitals,
filling hollows and dimples
right down to the pink tips
of her toes. Eventually
shadows enveloped her
like a miasmic cloak.
In the mirror she saw
memories of memories
and not the shudder
of dust she had become.
In the street, folk saw
a swirl of fog and not
a woman named Margot.
They walked straight
through her and shivered.
Her words became a wild
keening of wind, creatures
of night her only friends.
Bats, moths, owls gathered
safe in her twilight wake.
I probably inherited the creative gene from my maternal grandfather. He was a writer, photographer and political dissident in the former Soviet Union. He wrote for an underground newspaper and spent time in prison because of his views. Every birthday and Christmas he would send me a card with a specially written poem. He encouraged me to read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn at an early age. After his death in 1974 my grandmother gave me his camera which contained a roll of exposed black and white film. Years later I developed the film in my home darkroom and found images of myself as a young adolescent. It was a spine-tingling moment, alone in the dark watching the images slowly materialise and seeing myself the way my grandfather saw me. The images were faded and decomposed because of the length of time they’d spent inside his camera. They had aged, they had scars – like myself.
In the beginning was the word, according to the Gospel of John in the Bible. We experience and interpret the world through language. We write the words and the words write us. I’ve always associated writing with the desire to make the world a better place. It’s a way of getting inside someone else’s head, a chance to see life from another point of view. Writing has a therapeutic value but it’s much more than that…it leads to greater understanding and tolerance between people. It is a powerful tool for personal and social change. Writing can break down barriers, build bridges.
As a disabled woman I have been marginalised by a society that treats people as disposable commodities within the Capitalist machine. Throughout history disabled people have been ignored, silenced, treated as if we are stupid, useless. Alas, the ‘does she take sugar?’ attitude persists even in the 21st century. Disability is the last great taboo which feeds on society’s fear of death, illness and impairment. This is an issue which affects everyone, disabled and non-disabled, because we all age, sooner or later our bodies start to let us down and no-one is ever perfect. We live in a society obsessed with superficial appearances, it’s a kind of body fascism and it creates a lot of misery.
Creative writing and art have given me an equal voice. They have empowered me, helped to counter the negative stereotypes of disability that underpin mainstream culture. Visual arts and writing are two sides of the same coin for me. I often incorporate text in my artwork through collage and photography. I enjoy unexpected juxtapositions. I tend to use abstract and surreal imagery and a lot of colour in both poetry and art. They are just different ways of communicating my unique experience of the world. In recent years I’ve focused more on poetry as it feels purer, more precise. It satisfies my obsessive compulsive streak! Poetry works through the construction of images, as well as metaphor, rhythm and rhyme. And there is the important visual element of words typed on paper, black on white, the shape of the poem on the page. Concrete poems, ekphrastic poems, black-out poems, cut-up poems, acrostic poems all rely on our visual sense.
I am often asked about my working methods. Like many writers I keep a journal. I try to write every day even if it’s just a few words. Ideas and phrases frequently come to me at night and I record them on my phone otherwise they are lost. Sometimes the first line of a poem will take root in my mind and I can’t rest until I’ve put it down on paper. Once it gets a hold on me I can’t let go until it’s finished. Stephen King said that when he’s writing it’s as if he’s just a channel, a conduit for a story that already exists in a mysterious parallel universe. I agree. Like King I believe in what the psychologist Carl Jung named the collective unconscious. Creative people and mystics are able to tap into universal images and stories that we need in order to navigate our path through a complex and difficult life.
There have been many tines when creativity has literally saved my life. I survived several long hospital stays trapped in a bed alone in a small room because I had paper and pencils. I was able to make my mark on a world that seemed to have forgotten me. I have a vivid memory of drawing a vase of anemones on my bedside locker when I was in intensive care at the age of nine after spinal surgery that left me paralysed. Looking at those delicate flowers, the pastel colours, the shapes and recording them on paper reminded me of the beauty of the world beyond the horror and pain of the hospital.
We all need art, we all need stories, we all need to survive.
Self portrait after ten months of shielding and UK Covid daily death toll exceeds 1,300.
My therapist’s room has lofty ceilings
and a view across rooftops to the sea.
A row of potted geraniums line the sill
and a tribal mask hangs over his desk.
My therapist says I must remember.
My therapist likes to shop. He’s a snappy
dresser. Today he wears orange trousers
with a button down shirt in lemon. He sips
tea from a turquoise mug. My therapist
says I remind him of his dead grandfather.
My therapist composes poetry in his head
as he walks along the seafront. He recites
a poem about a man sleeping rough
outside Habitat. My therapist suggests
a poem about planting a seed of anger.
My therapist has green fingers growing
houseplants with pink flowers. He displays
a cactus with fuschia spikes that remind
me of my dead mother. My therapist
says I am a rose without thorns.
My therapist has cold sores and doesn’t feel
like talking. He missed his train, feels stressed.
I suggest homeopathy. He asks how I feel
about him. I say he is amazing. We are both
wearing yellow jumpers. My therapist says
we are synchronised and sends photos of tulips.
My therapist suggests letting go, forgiveness
and voluntary work. He says my perception
is flawed like rippled glass in a old window pane.
My therapist asks, are they out to get you?
Our last session he complains of food poisoning
and a dodgy meal in Chinatown. I suggest ginger.
My therapist says I have too much empty space
in my head, sniggers at my leopard print hoodie.
Perhaps you’ve shot yourself in the foot?
Her glitzy swindle came face
to face with the fashionable
control of fault lines. Trans-
balanced time before time.
She chased a stranger’s
footsteps to the healing tree
of Madagascar, slamming
the door on her way out.
Go and close the door.
Maybe inside you’ll find another
woman in a secret room,
the one who once loved you
naked with hair as long as winter.
Go and close the door.
Maybe you’ll find gold
dust behind the revolving book case,
gilding the spider who weaves
your future from the uneaten
crusts you leave on your plate.
Go and close the door.
Keep out the fandango wind
or it may dance
your dreams to smithereens.
Go and close the door.
Maybe something high-rise
will grow in the sour air.
Your house will become a castle
with log fires dazzling
in caramel halls.