I woke up this morning with what I thought was a quotation from T.S.Eliot in my head.

‘April is the cruellest season

Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown’

though taking down rather yellowed and dusty books showed me that I had mixed up the beginning of The Waste Land and the last of The Four Quartets – Little Gidding.

How the brain uses what it knows or half remembers to provide solace, disturbance or resolution when needed! This is indeed what April has been like – everlasting – seemingly sinking as the darkness gathers and it feels cold enough to need a fire.

I love the word sempiternal and came across it again as a result of my French homework: We are studying French literature – reading poems and stories, looking at biographies and I am trying to write short biographical summaries and to translate into English some poems.

‘….et le vieux tremble sa plainte sempiternelle’ this week.

This came from Verlaine’s poem ‘Apres trois ans’ and sent me back to dictionaries English and French to get the real meaning of sempiternal. Then I had problems with what went with vieux – the old I thought were trembling only to find that tremble is also a shaking aspen – or poplar in my dictionary. It was lovely to find sempiternal again – and it has obviously stayed in my head – and the hours I spent with dictionaries French and English, Larousse Synonyms and the internet was a positive and happy lockdown afternoon!

So the time passes. I sense the freedom of English family and friends as they begin to pick up the threads of life again. We may be doing this next week, fingers crossed. These ‘markings’ of time passing though have had a profound effect on me – I seem to have slowed down a lot and as a result, one of the good ones, not the failure to note the time when things are burning on the stove, or missing zooms, has been a new attention to detail and to processes that I have taken for granted before. Some of the days seem endless – indeed sempiternal – others go fast so quickly that it seems we put the rubbish out for Tuesday collection every other day!

Truly what we have, and value, seems more acute and we are more thankful for than before. Phil is planting seeds, growing onions and potatoes, creating lovely flowers to provide for the summer so that we can live healthily and frugally through the whole year. The beauty of our garden and surrounding hills and trees has been a solace.

Slowing down has meant for me a lot of re-arranging, finding the best way to do things, appreciating all that I have. I’ve renewed my love of books and studying and have re-discovered important things in my life. My loving family and friends keep me alert and positive and although the global situation and politics are worrying and make me heavy- hearted I have found a renewed belief in life and the possibilities of change.

So small focus in the middle of lost choices and narrowed perspectives. I am thankful to all the people who have contributed to this – both those who have left their mark in writing, painting and philosophies – and the people I know and love and those I hope to meet with again soon.

I hope that I can write more regularly on my blog now.  Watch this space X

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This is why we stay with poetry

‘This is why we stay with poetry.  And despite our consenting to all the indisputable technologies; despite seeing the political leap that must be managed, the horror of hunger and ignorance, torture and massacre to be conquered, the full load of knowledge to be tamed, the weight of every piece of machinery that we shall finally control and the exhausting flashes as we pass from one era to another – from forest to city, from story to computer – at the bow there is still something we now share: this murmur, cloud or rain or peaceful smoke. We know ourselves as part and as crowd, in an unknown that does not terrify. We cry our cry of poetry. Our boats are open and we sail them for everyone.’

Edouard Glissant: Poetics of Relation. 1990

I’m reading Glissant. It’s a book that has been on my shelves for several years – I was seduced by the title The Poetics of Relation at the time that I was working on my long collection of poems and prose about Robert Knox’s book An Historical Relation of the Island of Ceylon. I started to read it but it was never finished or really understood although I loved the idea of relationship being wide and rhizomic rather than rooted and constrained and the ambiguity of the word relation. Then suddenly life around me changes. We have le confinement, we see no one, we go nowhere, life grows still and fine focused, the world goes quiet. Then suddenly we are thrust again into the ‘real’ world, the horror of hunger, of refugees in ‘open boats’, with corruption and false values. Edouard Glissant falls out of the bookshelf into my open hand. He is writing about all these things. He starts with slavery and the boats of the people in which they are enclosed and the need to find a relationship that is wide and allows everyone in.

‘We cry our cry of poetry. Our boats are open and we sail them for everyone.’

I have spent so long casting around for a way to make sense of my life as it slowly winds its way to its end. I shuffle it, as I do my unpublished, unrevised poems, from place to place, category to category, wondering how to ‘do’ something with all the stories and thoughts, gladness and sadnesses. All the cries of poetry. Should I put them in a box, tidy them away? I start to do this and find that there are words there that still have a meaning for me. I want to relate what I have seen and experienced.

My life has ‘taken place’ in so many different contexts. Suburban upbringing, opening up in college and work in schools and colleges. Living a creative life in Heligan, the Isle of Lewis – unskeined days of painting, writing, making. The happiness of my wonderful children – born quite late in my life, that I never expected to have, who made everything make sense at that time. Now I have eight grandchildren and seven great grandchildren and that part of my life has never failed to bring me joy.

Then the privilege of travelling to so many different countries to work with so many devoted and amazing people trying to ‘open the boat’ to make lives better – I want to share that and celebrate their efforts. It has been a huge experience – the Himalayas, Vietnam and Ceylon/Sri Lanka I have written about at length but there are heaps of poems and prose about other places and people. I have lived in Sri Lanka and now in Normandy – in places where I was deprived of language in a local sense but where language has always been my way of trying to make sense of things. In France it has brought me, through reading French poetry and translations and trying it out for myself, to people like Glissant and Jaccottet who have opened different doors and ways of thinking and understanding. I can go on learning and hope to make some sense and order of the poetry I have written along the way. Back to the table, re-sort the heaps. Glissant has helped me to understand what poetry is for in a different way.

Also I now realise that I had a real relationship with languages of many kinds, most of which I have not fully understood. I have also lived in countries where the mother tongue has been refused legitimacy and a ‘universal’ language taught. So in Lewis older people could neither write Gaelic nor speak fully English – having been schooled in a situation where they were beaten for speaking their mother tongue in school. The flowering of the Gaelic language and its encouragement in education now influences Scottish television and documentaries about the Gaelic areas. The same is true of the other Celtic languages Welsh and Erse.

In Pakistan I worked with a Punjabi writer and poet who was part of a strong movement to allow children to do their early learning in their mother tongue of Punjabi. In India we worked to introduce Telugu language and culture into the primary language textbooks in Andhra Pradesh. In Bangladesh the war with Pakistan started with the issue of language and in Sri Lanka people remember a time when speaking Tamil was forbidden and the language teaching was all in Sinhala.

So – I will go on working at it all. Maybe think about my writing country by country? Start to send it off in bundles rather than singly? At the moment it is time to re-read with a new perspective. Robert Knox in his later life, the prisoner and dispossessed, was a slave trader – it is something I need to internalise in a new context where the global concept is taking a huge ‘opening’. I need to revise my manuscript! And of course…


I think of all those women

who have held my hands
their seamed thumbs pressed into my palm,
the peaches, apricots and nuts
offered on tin plates,
and watching an old woman with bent legs
carrying fodder on her shoulders
in the faint dawn light
up the mountain side.

No sign of the house where she will stop
and sit, maybe light a small cigar,
or take a sip of warm milk
from a neighbour’s buffalo.
Where the teats of goat, sheep, cow
spill noisily into a battered pail.

I’m no longer afraid of frailty or age
women in the mountains stretch
out a hand, they say, nothing to fear,
just taking time will bring you here
to that distant peak.

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mappa mundi

I have recently been watching old TV programs that have been stored on  the Humax recorder as I have been mostly confined to the chair  after an accidental step backwards ended up with being eight weeks in a corset to support a pressure  fracture. One of these was a program related to an exhibition, called ‘The Beauty of Maps’.  It started with a visit to the Mappa Mundi in Hereford – one of the earliest maps of the world.  It was an absorbing and erudite ‘mapping’ of the history of maps.  It started with an explanation of the meaning of mappa mundi – literally ‘cloth of the world’.  Early maps were drawn onto large cloths, napkins in a literal translation.

I am seduced by this idea of the ‘cloth of the world’ – cloth that has texture, depth, colour, that is tough and not easily torn.  Then when it is put with ‘the very picture (of a virtue, vice, character etc.)’ it suddenly becomes something that I could work with.  In the program Grayson Perry is shown with his own version of his mappa mundi and I immediately wanted to do the same.  I’m not started yet but ideas are accumulating.  It resonates with another project.  My fascination with journal writing is starting to resolve into more reading of my own and other people’s journals.  Jeremy Hooker’s different interesting and inspiring  Journals, Philippe Jacottet’s  La Seconde Semaison – translated into the Second Seedtime by Tess Lewis,  Charles Wright’s Zone Journals  in particular just now.

Today, as I was reading Second Seedtime I came across a reference to a letter Philippe Jaccottet sent to an elderly friend who was facing death:

‘Thought of Henri Thomas, of the postcard I sent him of a lekythos showing a young girl with a lyre….Could the image of the young girl or the image of the lyre in her hands, or her presence, or her body so like a lyre succour the old man where he is?’

 Yesterday I read a lovely poem  by Jaccottet  – here is a bit of it

Un lécythe

Il n’y a sur ce vase qu’une image a peine posée,
a peine une figure a déchiffrer:
Jeune fille a la lyre.

Comme si une ombre avait marche sur de la neige….

On this vase there is nothing but an image barely traced,
barely a figure to decipher:
Girl with a lyre.

As if a shadow had walked on snow…..

HIs reflection of the imminent death of a friend and fellow poet in his journal results in a beautiful poem.

All of this meandering thinking is a result of months of ‘being in’ and the shock that when we were unlocked I then ‘locked up’ myself!  What has been interesting though is the space to think and read, to follow up small trails of words, ideas, images. Like many people I have found it hard to be creative during these strange times – too many news programs that make me angry and sad, too much time to sit and reflect on one’s own mortality and  too many rubbish TV programs that block out reality for a time. Reflections on society, where it is all going, how the world can recover, the urgency of climate change and the world’s dislocation with nature trail off into impotent fury and the understanding of age, its frailties and its inability to do much.

So I am grateful now for the chance to be a small bit creative – to think about my own ‘cloth’ and to consider making a visual image of my mappa mundi.  Above all I am grateful for my friends who I can open out my heart to in my blogs and who give me the ‘socially distant’ responses I need.  Keep safe and well.  This comes to you with my love.


Oxford English Dictionary                            Mappa mundi Hereford with modern colouring 

A lekythos was a tall jar that  held oil. From the middle until the end of the fifth century BC, they were usually decorated with a white ground on which  figures were drawn in outline and then painted in rich colours, many of which have since faded.

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The Journal as Witness

Oh the lovely serendipity of reading. My morning’s ‘quiet’ read at the moment is Philippe Jacottet’s The Second Seedtime – La Semaison. It’s a selection of journal writings translated into English by Tess Lewis. Today’s read led me to Gerard Manley Hopkins with a quotation from his ‘Moonrise

‘The moon dwindled and turned to the fringe
of a finger-nail held to a candle’

I am trying to read some of Jacottet in French each morning in a collection of seven modern French poets ‘Into the Deep Streets’ translated by Jennie Feldman and Stephen Romer. Anvil Press.2009

Today I read in Jacottet’s Over All This:

‘…we would know the sun
is climbing still on the far side
that it will briefly, if the snow slacken – slip back
into view, like a candle behind its yellowed screen.’


Sur Tout Cela

‘Et nous saurions le soleil encore,
cependant, passe au-delà,
que, si elle se lasse, il reviendra même un moment
visible, comme la bougie derrière son écran jauni.’

So – there you go. Or there we all are going or have been in these weird times. I have become more and more focused on what is around me and have been reading, on line and in real books, and following up references and wandering among unknown musical and literary fields. I have found enormous pleasure from the birds on the bird table, the pied wagtails nesting in the barn. Phil has turned the rather wild and neglected vegetable garden, which nevertheless has served us well in these days of lockdown, into a model of seedlings, small plants, trees and bushes.

All this activity and focus on where we live; the silence, the views for so far from the top of our hill, the passing winds and the slants of sun across the lawns has re-focused us on where we live and how important being at least partly self-sufficient is. We have decided to stay where we are, to increase the size of the vegetable garden and plan to have a few chickens. It has been hard to get eggs in these recent times. It has been a relief to take the house off the market and stop worrying about things that seem to need improving when you look through the eyes of a buyer!

So weird times bring new perspectives although it in no way reduces the anxiety about the climate and the environment. Changes brought about by less business and movement – the cleaner air, the peacefulness, the increase in roadside wild flowers and birds give us a feel of what a more aware world might be like. It certainly shows up mendacity and false promises. So we make our small adjustments – although they seem big to us – and treasure what we have in new ways.
Yesterday I read a very relevant article in Quaker Renewal – an on-line Facebook group by Harvey Gillman about grieving:

‘Yes, I grieve, not out of duty, or because I feel I ought, but because I am part of the cycle of things, their pain, their birth, their death.’

He goes on with a long list that I found really helpful. If you want to read the whole list I will send you a copy of the article. Maybe learning to grieve is one of the things we need to hold on to out of this global grief.

I have been attending some virtual happenings – poetry launches, readings films, zooming a friend, skyping my family and spending a long time thinning down and re-organising my writing – sparser, cleaner, honest – that is the way I want to go.

So the title of this post is not really irrelevant. Much of my thinking comes from writing a journal. I have two at the moment. One is called ‘My day by day book’. This one is very disjointed and full of plans to get thin, be more organised, not burning things, lists of to-dos and not-dones. It also contains shopping lists, weekly menus, when I’ll do the cleaning and laments that this is not happening! The other is my serious thoughts, ideas, reflections on happenings. I have many such journals – nearly sixty of them – and they are a kind of quarry for my writing, for my thinking and for the effort to create some kind of sense of relevance to my life. Growing old, looking back, beset by strange dreams, finding poems coming again in a way they haven’t come for a long time.

So I think my next enterprise is to go backwards – from today to all the yesterdays and to find what is significant, what witnesses my life as it has happened in its crazy, unplanned way. Witness: Le Témoignage in my beloved French. OED has its first historic definition in 1482 as ‘knowledge, understanding, wisdom.’  Mm!  Well why not?

I have been following a Quaker Course about the early history of the Quakers – and witness was something that was seen to be an important issue – the refusal to allow an intermediary between truth and words. I always liked the Quaker affirmation when I used it in court appearances as a witness in my days as a teacher. For me, now, I suppose it is a kind of affirmation – what has my life been about and what have I learned in the course of its many years. What amazes me is how much has gone in those years – how many people, places, happenings – how many mistakes and sadnesses, how many gratitudes and joys. Then I stop and wonder if this is all very self-indulgent and egotistic. On the other hand it keeps me occupied and a bit productive – and if I can manage to be better in my ‘day to day’ maybe it won’t mean too many burned soups and uncleaned corners!

I want to also say thanks to all my friends and family who have been so supportive and communicative in these difficult times – please all keep safe and positive.


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‘…I’ve sat long enough
     to tell myself there might yet be some other
     explanation for later winter co-habiting
     with early spring, some other-seeing beyond
      the binaries, a thirdness to the world.’

      Maitreyabhandu: from Einstein’s Watch in After Cezanne.


I have spent a difficult few weeks trying to understand where my life has landed, stuttering on the edge of things. The photo is of a place called World’s End in Sri Lanka. It is what I think of as the lip of the world. I feel as if my life has come to this sort of place. The boring details include a lot of hospitals and frights, driving to Urgence on a rainy Saturday night and driving home at 1a.m through the forest, having taken a wrong turn. I feel as if I am emerging now, Phil is getting better, everything seems to be under control. Taking account, thinking back, the positive things are that I have been driving again, every day, into the town and carparks. I have to make phone calls and talk in French, I have had to face the reality of hospitals although not for myself, again.

So where have I landed? After a long time a poem came again, late in the night, having to grab a pen. I have started to live my life again.

At the lip of our lives, if we’re lucky,
and up a mountain
we get the long view.
Something trails in fierce air,
its vapour merges to rock face
and the ambling rear
of a wandering yak.
Everything unspools
from an open hand.
In our exhaustion,
in the shortened breath
and the unexpected offer
of a cup of warm buffalo milk
we start spinning a new life
out of wayward threads
distant views.

What I have been able to do, between the angsts and the busyness, is to read a lot. ‘After Cézanne’ has been a wonderful source of paintings and poems. Then I find the phrase I quoted above, it sums up what I feel and want to keep feeling, ‘a thirdness to the world.’ I am spending a lot of thinking time, and hopefully now of working time, trying to understand the meaning of my life. I am very aware of how lucky I have been with the variety of places and ‘lives’ that I have been able to live. I have a huge gratitude for all the countries, people, skies and seas from the Outer Hebrides, Heligan before it was found, the Himalayas, my dearest friends in Pakistan, India, China, Bangladesh.

There is a French verb that I like very much – to ranger – which my Larousse Dictionaire des Synonymes also calls to placer, classer, ordre. This is what time is for now! Sometimes it refers to cupboards, possessions, boxes of photos, remembered conversations and people. Arranging one to make room for the other I guess. For a long time I have had that feeling of being at the lip of things. Poems come sporadically and I am grateful for them and the breath they bring with them but also there are the 56 journals, the piles of unsorted poems, the stories and the remembering.

Now my gratitude is for the time and space to look for the ‘thirdness’ – what did it all mean and what is there  in it all that can be pinned down with words. I saw a telly program where they looked at brain stimulation and memory. Creative activity was one of most important of the stimuli. I’m getting out the paints, looking at making little books, reading again my journals, working on my poems. I am at the lip of my life. I want to look far and wide to see the meaning of it all.


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Ancestral Lines

‘…I call the ‘lyric of being’. By this I mean the quick of experience, whether felt or glimpsed: the living moment which, in an image, may intimate the whole life it is part of’.

Jeremy Hooker, ‘Ancestral Lines’ Shearsman Books, 2016

Strange how some mornings, as I enter my work room, the light blurry at the window, the house silent, I can hear other voices and a book falls into my hands. So it was today. ‘Ancestral Lines’ was lying on the table and came into my hands, opening at the end essay that I had forgotten ever reading. It was the books of poems that I needed to read at this moment.

For years I have been working at a book about Robert Knox, a seventeenth century prisoner in Ceilon, and developing a conversation with him over nearly 500 years. We whispered in each other’s ears, I grew to know him, the interior voice behind the descriptions of ‘perticulars’ of his life in Ceilon as a captive of the King of Kandy. As Robert emerged as a person – first as a young boy, then as a prisoner and, finally, in old age, as a rather grumpy reflector on his long life at sea and on land so I began to look closely at my own ‘perticulars’ – the way I had too had been ‘captivated’ by Sri Lanka, its people who became my family, its landscape that entered my unconscious in a way I had not realised. For me it was a painful journey, entering an interior self in the same way as I had learned the interior of the island, knowing it properly only after I had lost it and was living somewhere else entirely.

This journey into the meaning of a part of my life – and I pause here to change my original ‘part of one’s life’ to the personal and owned, has been a learning in so many ways. The discipline of shaping words and memories into something that might be shared with other people, learning to articulate grief and loss, coming to see the interior meaning of an experience, this has been a steep learning curve. Because it is finished, and I have sent it – like Ezra Pound’s ‘new born baby’ out into the cold world I am suddenly freed to step back into my life in other ways. Perhaps I have learned my script of the conversation and am seeing clearer, learning to engage with past emotions. starting to see the scaffold of my life and how it has brought me to the place where I am now.

Actually where I am now feels increasingly unsafe and dangerous. Not in the way in which working in the Himalayas: earthquakes, frightening roads and intense heat and cold made me feel – but a sense that where I had thought I had come to, a resting place, is now fraught with anxiety – mostly other peoples but sometimes my own- as France begins what may be a lengthy and painful detachment from what I think of as my own ancestral home.

Maybe though it is this that has set me free to explore those lines. I made a book some years ago with photographs of my family, where I tried to see the ‘lines’ which shaped us as a family. My mother holding a great grandchild, my father beside me paddling in the sea on holiday, myself, a friend leaning together under a cedar tree. I want go back to that now. Many of my historical artefacts and photographs disappeared after the death of my mother. They were kept in a wooden box which she always told me was to be mine after she died. It has gone and with it letters, cards from the front in France before my grandfather’s death, my mother’s birth and marriage certificates, and other pieces of paper, photographs and things loved. What I realise now is that I don’t need these actual ‘facts’ in order to enter my ancestry, I can do it by following the etchings on the bone of my own life en famille.  What follows are some patriarchal ancestry photos – none of my mother at this time can be found.

Ancestral LInes 1 (2)

My father in 1935 playing his accordion in the Dallas Works band (right in the top row)

Dad in the centre aged 18months in 1913

My father second from left in the second row on his father’s cabbies works outing


So I am thankful to Jeremy Hooker for a lovely morning read that has set me free in some way to follow my own lines. Like the lines on my hand that were once read for me, telling me my life ahead, I am going to try and follow the lines that have threaded my life together.


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The 80’s were cool – for me anyway – and now I am pleased to find my birthday book – the wonderful The Second Seedtime by Philippe Jaccottet translated by Tess Lewis having a quotation for March 1982 from ‘Octogenarian Michaux, in Corner Posts

Keep your weakness intact.
If you follow a route, be careful, you’ll have trouble
returning to the openness.
There is still limpidity in you.

And echoing Blake’s’ tiger:
Lord tiger, it’s a trumpet blast through his
whole being when he spots his prey; it’s a
sport, a chase, an adventure, a climb, a des-
tiny, a liberation, a fire, a light.
Whipped by hunger, he leaps
Who dares compare his seconds to those?
Who has had even ten tiger seconds in his entire life?’

I don’t know why but being an Octogenarian Poet sounds so much better than seventy-nine! So I enter my new decade with a burst of positive enthusiasm and a long list of intentions to do better. Mostly the need to accept the limitations that now dog me, following me around, whispering over the shoulder ‘shouldn’t’, ‘can’t’, ooops! Also a list of gratitudes for all the good things that support and sustain – mostly, maybe, that sense of still searching, adventuring, searching for the tiger moment in my head.

And being still has its advantages, as I have celebrated before; having time and space to look properly, learn to listen, start other forms of creative activity. So it seems a good time to order and sort out things and to approach living in a way that celebrates weakness and remains limpid which I am taking to mean flexible, bendable, full of light – or as my OED has it – ‘Free from turbidity, pellucid, clear’ .

The quotation is of course a translation so I take a bit of time out to pursue limpide in my Larouse Dictionary des Synomynes and find clair, compréhensible, pur, leading to accessible et lumineux. This is very satisfying and a good example of the way in which I might spend a large part of a day pursuing and idea or a word. I am fascinated by the process of translation and how it takes you deep into the heart of meaning as you make the effort to find what the writer is really trying to say. My favourite poem at the moment is by Rimbaud – very famously written when he was just sixteen and likely to have been still wandering around the edge of the Franco-Prussian war. Le Dormeur du Val is a translation in progress. I have a new book by Georges Gernot ‘Poetes-Soldats dans la Grande Guerre which is translation of war poets of WW1 into French. He is a painter and a writer and the poems are illustrated with vibrant water colours. It is very interesting to see a reverse procedure of translation of poems that I am very familiar with. I am working on my own water colour for Le Dormeur as well as looking at other translations of the poem. I read an interesting one by an American poet and translator Liath Gleeson who has translated the poem using the strict metre and format of the original and who has substituted ‘foxglove’ for the French glaïeuls usually translated as gladioli and we have had an interesting email communication about these flowers. These are the kind of things that fill my day and give me a great deal of pleasure.

Well – comme ça le eighties I have just burnt my porridge which has been on the stove since I thought I would check my quotation at the start of this blog! So – maybe time to come to a close. I have nearly finished the draft of Knox and one of my intentions is to be more resolute and ordered about sending out. The lack of limpidity concerning my domestic endeavours my impede this a little.

My love to all my friends and correspondents. Thankful to be here and so well loved.


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It has been a good afternoon.  I’m sitting in my room looking out at the pine trees that surround our small house on three sides, like wall paper or green fencing.  The wind has been churning through the pines for days blowing the birds off the window ledge when they venture across – small green birds with a gold stripe on the wing, purple-topped blue tits and a territorial rouge gorge – robin.

It has been some time since I sat down to write but today I have been inspired by a number of things, threads that started with Maitreyabhandu’s new pamphlet that arrived in the post yesterday. ‘A Cezanne Haibun’ (Smith Doorstep Books). Its a beautiful object – square, pale green cover, lovely font and numbers.  It is a reflection on the work of Cezanne, undertaken on a month’s retreat in a  primitive, isolated hut with a walk to a ruined cottage.  A Haibun is a text of alternative prose and haiku or ‘haiku-like poems’.  Maitreyabhandu writes about Basho – whose Narrow Road  to the Deep North was a route that I started to follow in Japan.  I didn’t get very far but some of the poems I wrote I rediscovered as a result of reading this today. 

Looking on the net for more information about Basho I came across a beautiful blog –  ‘Waterblogged: Dry thoughts on Damp Books’.  As well as  different writing on Basho I found in the side bar an earlier blog about The Little Prince by Sainte Exupery which is a gentle reflection on the story while relating it to the terror attacks in Paris.  I have been reading Le Petit Prince in French and in an English translation on my Kindle.  My French is still not as good as it should be after seven years living here but my reading is better than speaking or listening.  I loved the story and the blog about it too.

I am still working on the long sequence of poems about Robert Knox  and have also re-read Katherine Frank’s book about Daniel Defoe and Knox.  I have a lot of time because I am not very mobile. and haven’t been for some time but I am not yet utilising this ‘leisure’ in a very productive way.

As a very boring aside, and for the information of people who know the situation,  I have finished investigations of my knees and trying to find a solution to the problems I have been having.  Basically they don’t work!  I have replacement knee joints in both knees but after three years I have a lot of pain and  increasingly very little mobility.  I was  sent  for investigation in Caen –  something called a scintigraphy  – I had an injection of nuclear something that shows up areas of problem.  It showed plenty of places where I had arthritis but nothing showed on the knees leaving us all with no idea really what should happen next.  The situation is that we will re-investigate in 6 months time but to my relief there is no immediate revision operation – this is long, painful and not guaranteed to be successful.  In view of my age and how many prosthetics I have acquired the surgeon is hesitant in view of the lack of definite evidence of failure of the joints.

I am left with the need to ‘manage’ my condition. Phil is starting a course of acupuncture which is helping to move the energy round my legs and tomorrow we are going to look at a second hand automatic chair which is a help to rising and standing.  I am trying to pace myself and to change from walking, sitting and standing activities regularly.  There are a range of ‘aids’ on line that also will help. I need to lose a substantial amount of weight and to eat sensibly! Ha!

Sorry for this very boring ‘let me tell you about my operation’ but now seems a good time to update people and also to celebrate in writing the fact that I am feeling optimistic and much less stressed than I have been for quite a long time.

I have been so happy to read the new ‘A Cezanne Haibun’.  In lots of ways it is very relevant.  Maitreyabhandu is one of my favourite poets and critics and I also have an on-going reading of his Bhuddist book ‘The Journey and the Guide’.  One of those books that is down-to -earth and yet uplifting – in  the sense of Kei Miller’s upfullness. It is a guide to Buddhism but it uses poems, anecdote and metaphor to lay out the journey.  I am very into journey at the moment –  as some lines from my recent pamphlet length poems indicate;

I need to find the heart of things; wood
through mud walls, structures holding up the house.
The road is short now, corners more extreme.

I would have liked this blog to have been more lyrical and poetic but that is not how it has come out!  It has been good though to share with everyone what is happening after the anxiety of the last three months since I had my knee collapse on Christmas Eve.  I feel I am in a good space now  and that I can concentrate on my writing, enjoy ‘managing’ my condition and express the gratitude I feel for the richness of my life in spite of its physical limitations. 

Our super new red car is an automatic and I can drive it for limited distances and hope to increase my range over time.  I have a wonderful kinetherapist who is also my friend and counsellor – she is a gifted physiotherapist and also a musician and a very creative person.  I am blessed in my friends – my French teacher Eliane is a painter and teaches me with enthusiasm and creative approaches and our little Quaker group is a source of energy and blessing.  As always close friends who write are my source of both inspiration and support.

Phil is endlessly patient and supportive – I couldn’t manage without him and we have lots of good times together. His vegetables, and this year fruit, and the beginning of an orchard are brilliant and we have nodding – at the moment thrashing- daffodils, tulips and wallflowers in lots of pots all up the garden path. 

How lovely it is to live in silence and space, to be able to look out at the night sky and enjoy the birds and trees.  I feel a very blessed person.  My next blog will be rigorously reasoned, intellectual and poetic but I have really enjoyed this opportunity to express my gratitudes – as Jo Bell would put it.  I hope you will enjoy reading them.


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Winter at Les Ecasseries

Winter has finally arrived. I guess everyone is sitting down to write about the snow. That strange blueish light and, living on the top of a hill, the blanket of white that surrounds us. The birds are so hungry they have come to the window ledge of my workroom to eat the seeds that are there – I never knew before that the top of the head of the blue tit is a beautiful purple colour. I have to stop typing and keep very still and then they come again and again. The cat is confused, going from door to door to see if it is better there but not venturing out at all.

The snow has made a lot of space. I cannot go out from the front door with my wobbly legs because there is ice under the inches of snow. So three days of being able to just sit and read and type, think about drawing and painting. My room is very neat but rather full with a big oak table taking up half of the floor space but allowing me to have paintbrushes and pencils, books, paper, cardboard out on display so that I can move to that activity without having to dig in cupboards and trying to remember where things are. My desk has only Knox work and the computer and printer. What I want to read and latest poetry magazines on the small coffee table by the side of the armchair.

I am still reading lovely Christmas presents – Sam Miller’s A Strange Kind of Paradise – which is a funny, erudite and compelling read about India, its history, idiosyncrasies and delights. It makes me want to go back to re-writing my novel about India which has been lying in a drawer for two years now and should be sufficiently matured to be able to re-write from a fresh perspective. Also halfway through Modern: Scottish Women Poets. Dark Horse and PN Review and Poetry Review are part read. And it is impossible to leave the house on account of ice and my legs.

Maybe a short update on legs – it looks as if my replacement joints in my knees are in trouble. Still at the stage of investigation but the prognosis not very happy – it looks as if the prosthetic joints have not, in the surgeon’s words, ‘integrated properly’. Its put paid to increased exercise and my main activity at the moment is trying to reduce my weight so that there is less for them to carry around. I am not to go up or down stairs or slopes so, at the moment I am confined to the one floor of our house – so good that my work room is on the same level as the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and living room. The house is very warm – our Bulgarian stove running seven radiators off its wood. For the first time I have no regrets about moving to this little bungalow.

It is peculiar living in France, being a European, and yet watching with despair the Brexit shenanigans. It is difficult to know how much it will affect us. We already are suffering considerably financially because of the exchange rate. We were already in the poverty category of the French government. Our account is not taxed here but still my English pension is taxed and has to be put into an English bank. We should be applying for the Carte de Sejour which defines us as a French resident – but there is a long waiting list, the paper work is considerable including things like five years of quarterly electricity bills (to prove that we have lived consistently in France over five years). I wish we had been more organised and taken more care of old paper work when moving. Now they say it may only last for one year when further restrictions may apply. It is a constant misery at the back of one’s head. At the same time there is so much thankfulness that we are not refugees who have lost our homes and everything else, that we are not shivering in fuel poverty in UK or having to access a foodbank, that none of our children or grandchildren are homeless in the snow.

It is a strange world that we live in. So much passes us by – we are almost the only people we know without a smart phone and increasingly one is needed for all sorts of connections. We have a new car which is an automatic that I should be able to drive – but see previous leg paragraph for uncertainties! We live a circumscribed but peaceful life and increasingly I am finding interest and solace in ‘arty’ activities although it is frustrating not being able to do things. I would love to be able to pull up weeds in the garden and shift things around.

So what do you do when there is little to do, very little engagement outside the house and very limited interactions with other people? It’s interesting how interesting and engaging such a life can be.

Our little Quaker group that meets every fortnight in different houses has grown a little and there are new places to visit and new people to get to know. My French teacher lives not far away and we have a weekly two hours of grammar, poetry and friendly enjoyment. At the moment we are reading The Little Prince in French and I am loving it. We read the Three Low Masses over Christmas and Dauderet’s wonderful joking humour and asides has kept re-occurring and making me smile.

I have a weekly kinestherapy session for my shoulder and its ruptured muscle and my kinestherapist is a lively, intelligent young woman who is about to study more to work with musicians with joint and muscle problems. She is creative and positive and her friendship has become increasingly important. She has helped me over post-hospital depression and I owe a lot to her. My doctor is a wonderful, clever and affectionate woman who is very supportive to both of us.

Our garden that Phil has worked on so hard over the last year still has calva nero, kale, leeks, parsnips and spinach to keep us green and healthy. He is planning for next summer when we hope to utilise the green space at the back of the house as a patio and flower garden. He just bought, second-hand, a seven foot high barrel once used for cider and then for storing grain. It is going to be cut up to make round, wooden flower beds. There is a lot of hard work in keeping the house warm with logs and he has more than his fair share of domestic chores as well – I am not allowed to go down stairs to where the laundry room, storage and freezers are!

So – this is the kind of blog that I’ve usually tried not to write – very much a round-up of life as it is at the moment but I want to keep people I care about in touch with what is going on. I am thinking a lot, writing a fair amount and reading a lot. Also probably watching too much telly.

I’ll end with some pictures just to give you a wintry feel and including Phil and our new great granddaughter Florence from the summer.  Jesse’ s English/Finnish baby Lily was born at almost the same time in June.   

May you be warm and happy in 2019.

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End Stops


End Stops

I had a short poetic excursion yesterday as a result of what seems an extraordinary co-incidence. I have just received my copy of Writing the Real: A bilingual Anthology of Contemporary French Poetry from Enitharmon Press. I was very excited by the book – living in a rural, fairly unknown cultural space with no easy access to bookshops or French literary journals, I have no knowledge of contemporary poetry in France comparable to pamphlets, small press books and readings in England.

I took the book to my French lesson and showed it to my French teacher who has been teaching me grammar through carefully chosen poems for a long time now. Her daughter happened to be at home with her and she read aloud the first poem to her and they both collapsed in giggles.

It wasn’t the poem or poet I would have chosen for them to assess the book! It is called ‘bref sur la method’ and is by Christian Prigent and translated by Jerome Game. ‘Christian Prigent has authored over forty works of poetry, fiction and criticism…he is a radical experimenter of form and his works attest to his battle with language’ say the end notes. Yes. Not the best of ones to start with! Not the easiest either – I didn’t understand the English translation let alone the French. Here is a taster:

Premièrement :                              and here is the English translation

D’entre tes dents                            From between your teeth

lâche du Petant,                             drop some fartsy,
du caréné carapate                       some skedaddled streamlined,
en maque mic-mac                        in carry-on pimped

cake chiose qui saque                  soyme fing that gives the slack
le mou,                                               the sack
la soumission a tout !                   the submission to all

It was the mic-mac which they repeated and laughed at the most.

I was reading Wallace Stevens ‘An Ordinary Evening in New Haven’ yesterday morning when I was startled to read this line:
‘Dangling and spangling, the mic-mac of mocking birds’.
I love inter-textuality and immediately thought of my French poem. It started me off on a morning of total joy as I started to fiddle with the meaning for myself. I ended up with this, after much dictionary searching.


Between your teeth
release a breath of wind – a fart
a cheap gift of Carapote
a squeezed out call of the mocking bird
mic mac
the fruit cakes that obscure the truth
the submission to everything conventional.

My translation leaves a lot to be desired but does make the point that I think Prigent was trying to make – the weight of defined and conventional poetry can become a blockage, we need to break through with the strange and the truthful. I love ‘An Ordinary Evening in New Haven’ it is late Stevens and for me it is a wonderful rumination on the meaning of poetry:

‘The poem is the cry of its occasion,
part of the res itself and not about it.
The poet speaks the poem as it is.’
‘….we seek
The poem of pure reality, untouched
By trope of deviation, straight to the word,
straight to the transfixing object

At the exactest point at which it is itself,
Transfixing by being purely which it is,
A view of New Haven, say, through the certain eye.’

Poetry needs to speak its truth to us whether we are readers or writers. The end stop seems to me to be a time when reflection, observation, recall all together are laid out so that the truth can be seen, so that
‘its adventure to create
Forms of farewell, furtive among green ferns’.

Apart from obscure researches I have had lovely times with family last month.  This photo shows four generations of the women in my family – my daughter Morag, granddaughter Hannah, me – le femme sage of course- and my new great granddaughter  Florence.  Beside this august group is the whole wild lot of children.

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