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WILD WOMAn WEB

A space connecting wild women from around the world, sharing thoughts, ideas, and insights about the things that matter most to them...creating a better world, together

Wild Woman Web- spinning our stories, together

Victoria Bennett

We love our Wild Women conversations so much that we have decided to make a space here for all those wonderful ideas, passions, inpirations and insights to be shared. Together, we want to create a Wild Woman Web and we want to bring you into the circle!

To start this off, we will be posting one blog a month, from a member of Wild Women or Wild Guest. There isn't a set theme -- think of it rather as a conversation around the cauldron, a gathering space for women to share stories, songs, howls, and hopes -- with each blog being another thread in the web.

If you would like to be part of the Wild Woman Web,  please give us a howl in the contact form below with a brief message about yourself and what you would like to share. If we are able to thread it into the web, we will get back in touch with more information.

Meanwhile, welcome to the Wild Woman Web -- we look forward to spinning magic with you...


(image - Victoria Bennett 2016)

Thread Eight - Eating Myself Back to Health

By Rosie Doyle 
Edinburgh
March 2019

People say food is medicine, but for me, food has always been my ‘drug of choice’. And when I say food, I mean sugar. It took a major health crisis and the discovery of a way of eating that restored my health and normalised my appetite to give me the strength to walk away from 40 years of addiction. 

But what is this dietary magic you may ask? Obscure herbs from China? Rigid calorie restriction? Mindful eating? Veganism? No. I am a disciple of the late lamented (and vilified) Dr Atkins. I eat a ‘Low Carb’ diet. Mainly protein and fat: meat, cheese, eggs, leafy vegetables and butter. Lots of butter. I have lost nearly 4 stones in weight and put an ‘incurable’ autoimmune disease effectively into remission. And did I say, I get to eat butter?

In December 2015, at the age of 52, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. This followed two years of increasing pain and diminishing physical capacity, thanks to an original misdiagnosis of Fibromyalgia. At the point of the RA diagnosis, I had been taking maximum doses of painkillers every day in order to cope. Despite this, small everyday tasks were painful and difficult. I could no longer spoon the dog’s food out of the tin, because my wrist was so sore. Getting out of a chair (or off the loo!) was teeth-clenching agony. When I travelled abroad, I would book assistance and be transported around airports in a wheelchair.


The RA treatment regime of immune-suppressant drugs, despite its potentially damaging long-term, side effects, made a hugely positive difference to my condition. However, after 8 months, I was still suffering some pain, stiffness and fatigue. I wasn’t fully well. I lobbied my consultant for the new ‘wonder drugs’ (called biologics). These are not the first line of treatment in the NHS because of the cost. You can only get them if the standard treatments don’t provide relief. When I pointed to my persistently raised inflammatory blood markers as evidence that I needed the ‘wonder drugs’, the consultant told me this was probably because of my weight, and nothing to do with the RA. This was the challenge I needed. I vowed that I would lose weight before my next appointment with my consultant in 6 months time. I would prove to him that the problem was not my weight, and he would have to give me the ‘good drugs’.

For 3 months, I tried to eat less and failed miserably. I was still helplessly in thrall to the comfort of sugar. After a Christmas dominated by appalling levels of chocolate consumption, the consultant appointment loomed ever closer. I knew exactly what I needed to do, even though I really didn’t want to do it. The Atkins ‘Low Carb’ diet was the only way I had ever lost weight in the past. I decided I had no choice but to try it again, just as a short-term measure, to lose some weight. So I went back to the old familiar regime: bacon and eggs for breakfast, cream in my coffee, a big tuna mayo salad for lunch, and meat with vegetables in the evening. The weight started to fall off, as I knew it would. 


Me in 2013 - pre-diagnosis - still able to get around but carrying a lot of extra weight

Then something even more remarkable than weight loss happened. For the previous four months I’d been struggling with acute back pain. I couldn’t sit for more than twenty minutes without severe pain. Two weeks into my Low Carb diet I realised, I’d been sitting at my desk for a couple of hours. I stood up - no back pain. No. Back. Pain. A few days later, I was walking the dog last thing at night and I had a sudden desire to run. To run! I lumbered a few steps - hardly a sprint, but I managed a bit of a trot for twenty yards or so. What on earth was going on? As the next few weeks passed, this improvement accelerated. Did I suddenly rise Lazarus like from immobility to athleticism? No. I had never been athletic even before RA – my idea of fun was lying on a sofa reading a novel (and eating a bag of Revels). But I had less pain. I had more energy. It is important to note that at this stage, the most weight I had lost was about half a stone. Not inconsequential, but I was still seriously overweight. It. Wasn’t. The. Weight.

Within 3 months of starting my Low Carb diet, I had weaned myself off my two main RA drugs – the ones with the scary side effects. I was no longer lobbying my consultant for the new drugs, but for no drugs. He agreed. His recommendation: review my inflammatory markers every 3 months or so. If they rise above a certain level, get in touch. Otherwise, just get on with your life. 

Two years on, my health has improved more than I could ever have hoped for. It’s not just that I feel like I did before the RA developed. I feel better than I have done for 15 or 20 years. I have better energy. My mood is better. My gums are better. My skin is better. My blood pressure is down from borderline high to low normal. I’ve kept the weight off. Most remarkable of all, for someone with RA, my inflammatory markers are back to normal.


Autumn 2018 - feeling fantastic!

But the real miracle isn’t the health improvements, isn’t the weight loss or energy – although this does feel miraculous. It’s the impact on my relationship with food. The magic of this way of eating is that it allows me to have a positive, healthy relationship with food and eating. I am no longer helpless in the face of sugar or starchy carbohydrates. I can look at the shelves of confectionary or biscuits in the supermarket and shrug. It doesn’t even look like food to me any more. Don’t get me wrong – I still seek comfort sometimes from eating, even if I eat Low Carb foods. My indifference to sugar rests upon total abstinence and if I slip, it immediately gets its claws into me again. But for 90% of the time, this way of eating makes it possible for me to eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full and to resist the drug-like foodstuffs that obsessed me for 40 years. 


Low Carb isn’t a diet just for weight loss – although it’s great for that. Low Carb eating is a means of regaining and maintaining health, and normalising our appetites. The dominance of sugar and refined carbohydrates in our modern diet can be linked to all manner of chronic health conditions: obesity, T2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, some autoimmune diseases and maybe even some forms of cancer. Eating Low Carb has been scientifically proven to have positive effects in all these cases. And I am living proof of its powerful effect on Rheumatoid Arthritis.


Just about to head off on a 3 month European inter-railing trip - November 2018 - free from pain and mobile again!

Introducing Rosie Doyle
Wild Woman Web Spinner 8

I have been working in various forms of personal development, one-to one and with groups, for more than 20 years. I feel very strongly that the lives we build should be, as far as possible, meaningful and uniquely suited to our personal passions and values. But it took me a long time and many false starts to create that for myself. Now I want to help as many people as possible create lives they love that allow them to express their unique gifts and selves, at work and in their personal lives.

I work as a personal life coach with individuals and as a personal development trainer for businesses and organisations. I am also a textile artist – something which represents my own achievement of a long held and deeply buried goal (Flibbertygibbet Felt Design). As well as general life coaching, I have a particular interest in coaching creatives and artists and in coaching people using a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) eating style to lose weight and improve health. You can see more about this journey on https://www.facebook.com/lowcarbhedonist/

Thread Seven - Meandering

By Jessica Sneddon 
Lake District
February 2019

The frost is out and has been all day. Crystals of ice beading in the lobes of lichen. The bark of this hazel is written with the fruits of the Script Lichen that read like a hieroglyphic; black lines and scores on white crusts. 

The frost is a temporary magnifying glass that brings to our attention all of the small, overlooked species that grow on a single tree. I am a research student, rambler and an emerging poet, I write poetry that illuminates unseen and overlooked worlds within the natural environment. My current project is a collection of poems set in a local woodland, unearthing the interconnections between microscopic and larger species. Lichens are just one of the species that my experimental poetry explores. I am interested in investigating habitats in their entirety, depicting the links between species to show the fragility of their habitat.

image copyright - Moira Sneddon, reproduced with kind permission

If to meander is ‘to wander without definite aim or direction’ then this has been my approach to experiencing the landscape. I have been gradually filling my notebook with the sights and sounds of the woodland; these notes are a collage of my walking experiences. The direction of each of my walks has been deliberately off-path, led only by the sights and sounds which inspire me on that particular day. Walking with a route limits our experience of landscape to the pursuit of a goal, most commonly a summit. I prefer to challenge this conquest approach to the environment, focusing instead on the intricate ecosystem of this Atlantic woodland; walking through landscape rather than over it. This slow pace is gradually revealing more and more of the diverse wildlife and providing me with a glimpse into the entwined ecosystem flourishing on the woodland floor. Time in this landscape is not linear; the woodland accumulates species which exist alongside traces of its history. My walks therefore are not linear, they are meanderings: gathering observations as a tree collects its skins. I have been surprised by the scale of the changes in the environment on each of my return visits. One of the main challenges in my writing process has been capturing as much detail as possible in my observations. On returning to the same place the subject of my writing has already moved on: the glut of mushrooms and toadstools that emerged after heavy rains in early October had already begun to recede the following week. 


image copyright - Moira Sneddon, reproduced with kind permission

A liminal space between two lakes, this is a transient location – part wetland, part woodland, ancient mixed with plantation. The past, present and future exist in parallel: an ancient oak with rare lichens and fungal architectures is within a short walk of a plantation of juvenile oaks. In these young trees, the future’s ancient woodland is beginning. The river moves through the centre of the common, at once wide, smooth and rolling. Further north, it spits white spray outwards from narrow torrents; a splicing, violet river at the bottom of the stone cliffs. This extract is from one of my first poems in this body of work, it brings to life the rich soundscape of this vibrant ecosystem:


autumnal percussion 

amplifies the gurgle and drain,

rattling leaves ricochet


trees v water 

bore into soil 

             river overwhelms 

slate glassels


resist 

the pull   



of gravity 

             or water?


image copyright -  Moira Sneddon, reproduced with kind permission

I am walking with an awareness that this landscape is well-trodden in both past and present. The writing of the Romantic Lake Poets is synonymous with this slice of Cumbria. As a contemporary writer I am constantly challenged by the task of embracing this heritage whilst creating a current narrative of this complex habitat.

Topical debates about climate change present a natural world irreversibly damaged. The human impact on landscape underpins many of my poems; it has been included when walking has led me into its path. I have seen the resilience of the natural world, which in a very literal sense re-shapes and re-forms itself continually in the presence of human activity. The animals, plants, fungi and lichen I have been observing are continuing to reproduce and germinate. The lifecycle – germination, growth, decay, regeneration – continues. The lifespan of these species extends well beyond our own. In fact, the lichen will only begin to arrive on the new oak trees when generations have passed. If the ancient woodlands of the future are to grow, then we have to remember to wonder at these small, intricate species and do what we can to protect them.   


Introducing Jessica Sneddon Wild Woman Web Spinner 7

Jessica Sneddon is a poet and research student based in Cumbria. She experiments with form and the use of space to create movement within poetry. She is a keen fell walker and has loved combining this with her ongoing creative project which explores the symbiotic relationships between microscopic and macro species. Her poetry is an expression of the layered landscape she works within; a landscape whose past breathes alongside its present. She has previously been published in international literary magazine Tears in the Fence. 



(image copyright Victoria Bennett)


Thread Six - Reclaiming The Breath

By Jhilmil Breckenridge
UK/India
January 2019
(adapted from "Writing Matters: In conversation with Jhilmil Breckenridge" - original interview by Barnali Ray Shulka and published by Kitaab)

Picasso said it best when he said, “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” To be a poet needs childlike wonder. You need to be captivated with the sunlight glinting on a spider web, to pay close attention to the sound of water on a skylight. Adults somehow, especially in these days of constant connection to smartphones and more, have lost this connection, have to have mindfulness apps to pay attention, etc. For me, it took years and a sustained practice to arrive at this way of living, and I am so grateful to the practices of yoga, meditation and all the time I spent arriving here. A long time ago, in Delhi, my yoga teacher, Shivachittam Mani, taught me a concept in meditation – in every breath we die, in every breath we are born again. This tenet has stayed with me through my darkest days, through all the heartbreak, the ups and downs, that if I have my breath, it’s going to be ok. In fact, the name of my recent collection, Reclamation Song, originally was Just One Breath.

Image copyright Jhilmil Breckenridge

I think those of us, who can and do write confessional poetry, have been through a fair amount of pain and have dealt with vulnerability, shame and frankly don’t care about society and her rules any more. In my case, I had no plan when I started writing that I would write confessional or autobiographical poetry, I truly thought I should aim to write sonnets or something like Wordsworth, etc. (no offence to the Masters!). Writing this way makes you more resilient because you can write your pain away and so, it makes you stronger even though you bare all. I believe poetry has to come from witnessing, from living, from feeling, and so what else if not confessional poetry? Melancholia and pain are demanding and excellent teachers for poets and artists. I believe it is a form of being honed or perhaps walk through fire to let the precious metals (your soul?) shine. For certain, I have lived a difficult life. How many people do you know whose children have been kidnapped, who has faced the possibility of being locked up in a mental institution forever? I agree, everyone’s lives have sorrows and hardships, but some do seem more extreme. And perhaps some wounds never heal, the scar tissue always a little itchy, the loss of a limb always felt. I think that is what you can sense behind my sensual words. 

Image copyright Jhilmil Breckenridge

Can we really reclaim? We can’t get time back, wasted years, or anything really - but we can reclaim spirit, happiness, joy. When we are fearless about death, we can truly live and find joy in the moment. Most people live in fear, oh what will happen when I get old, will I be alone when I die, etc. I know because I used to live like that. I believe when you are able to make peace with the fact that death is just a change from one state to another, and that today could be the last day you are alive, you truly reclaim this life and live every word as if it were your last. And that has been my journey to living in bliss and in constant joy.

Image copyright Jhilmil Breckenridge

I hope that what prevails is the wholeness of the spirit. It was important for me to tell this story, and for sure, it is an important part of the politics of my activism and my work; I head an Indian mental health charity, Bhor Foundation. What I want to show is this way of being and healing, different shades of being, and questioning the whole recovery paradigm. I also keep wondering why there is an emphasis and public adulation for ‘achievements’; why not the same celebration of the pursuit of joy and happiness?


My alternate realities are always the pursuit of joy. And just this morning, my aunt called from India, telling me how well I seem to be doing — of course she was meaning the academic and professional achievements, perhaps this book. But I interrupted her and said, Dolly Masi, don’t you remember, even in my days of homelessness — because she was one of the few people who saw me through those days — I was happy and was able to find joy in the little things, and isn’t that what is more important? She had to agree!

Image copyright Jhilmil Breckenridge

Introducing Jhilmil Breckenridge
Wild Woman Web Spinner 6

Poet, Writer, Yogini. Mental Health and Domestic Violence Advocate. Currently a PhD Researcher at the University of Central Lancashire, Jhilmil is the Founder of the Bhor Foundation (bhorfoundation.wordpress.com) and Managing Editor at Mad in Asia  (madinasia.org). Her most recent poetry collection, Reclamation Song, was released through Red River in 2018. 


Twitter: @jhilmilspirit

Thread Five -
My Mother Wore A Wide Brimmed Hat

In Memory of Maureen Bennett
By Victoria Bennett
Cumbria
December 2018

On December 1st 2015, and 15 minutes past midnight, my mother died. She was eighty-three years old and was killed by tiny fibres that she had inhaled when she was a girl. She was the last in her family to die, and the third to die from mesothelioma - a devastating and at present, incurable cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. She lived eleven months after diagnosis, and during that time, I cared for her and held her hand as she left us.


So, three years after her death, I find myself writing this thread. I want to tell you about my mum, Maureen — who at seventeen, carried a wide-brimmed hat on a bicycle across Europe so she could wear it walking in Paris with her fiancé and sewed extra calico into her skirts because the bigger the skirt the bigger the twirl when she danced the jitterbug on a Saturday night. I want to tell you about the woman who started off in Essex during the war, but ended up travelling the world as a mother of six so that her children would know that there were many different ways of living, and many different people on this earth. 

Maureen Marie Bennett (image by Walter Bennett 1949)

She wasn’t perfect. She struggled with self-confidence, and found it hard to express her affection in hugs or sentiment. When we were ill, she gave short time to complaint and was never one to offer sympathy, but there was never a sense that she didn’t love us and she cared deeply about the welfare of others. When I close my eyes, I see the beautiful, untamed, open-hearted woman who stayed my friend throughout all the days. I want to celebrate her wild beauty that never faded, even when it was just the light shining in her eyes. I want to celebrate her never failing humour, dark enough to shock but like bitter chocolate, wonderful once you got used to it — even though she never accepted that she was funny. I want to tell you about the studio she painted in, the smell of linseed and turpentine, the scattered sketches of wild, wind-blown islands. 

Photographic reproduction of oil painting by Maureen Bennett

I want to celebrate her courage - the way she kept loving and kept living despite the losses and heart break of grief and then the final pain of her illness. She taught me to be strong, without even knowing she was doing it. She taught me to never give up on life, to keep some little bit of hope burning, and when it won’t burn because life is just too full of pain and sorrow, to have the strength to just get up and do what has to be done so that others can keep living. When my sister drowned in 2007, at the age of 47, my mum taught me that even the unimaginable can be faced. As she held my newborn son in her arms, only three months after burying her daughter, and found strength enough to support me in my new motherhood, she taught me that the heart of a mother is a fierce and deep thing. And seven years later, when she was told she had terminal mesothelioma, her courage, generosity, and tenacity taught me how to face dying. She showed me that life, and death, could be done with an open heart and a strong spirit. 

Maureen Bennett (image taken by Walter Bennett 2014)

She taught me to be myself in this world and I give thanks for the way her never wavering love and originality throughout my life gave to me the gift of being who I am. I am a bit worn around the edges, a bit lopsided with grief but full of love, but brave enough to keep dreaming, to keep creating and when times are bad, to keep getting up and living life, even when it feels too tough. A few days before she died, she told me not to be scared, that she knew I would miss her but that I was to go and live a good life with my own family. I told her that I would, that I could because she had given to me everything I needed to do that. Life holds many sorrows, and challenges, and some days it takes everything I have just to get up and carry on, but each day also holds her love, her kindness, and her courage. And I am grateful for this beautiful, imperfect, and precious life that she gave me, and the wildness her love sowed in it.

Maureen Bennett 1932 - 2015 (headstone by Fergus Wessel of Stoneletters)

Introducing Victoria Bennett
Wild Woman Web Spinner 5

Victoria Bennett is an award-winning poet, creative activist and full time home educating Wild Mama to her son, Django. Originating from the borderlands below Scotland, she is the Founder of Wild Women Press and has spent the last quarter of a century instigating creative experiences in her community. Her poetry and non-fiction has appeared in print, online and even in the popular video game, Minecraft. She has published 4 collections and performed live across the UK, from Glastonbury Festival to a Franciscan Convent. 

Thread Four - Life On The Road
Music, Motherhood & Meaning

By Beth Porter
Wigtown
November 2018

As I write this the seasons are changing. There has been snow. We are on tour, my 18 month-old daughter Molly is teething, we’re about to visit my sister in hospital, and we have to write a new song for a gig today. My name is Beth. I’m a cellist, singer, songwriter/composer, mother, wife, nature-lover, worrier, warrior.

I’ve always battled with anxiety, sometimes with music and sometimes in other situations. I get nervous before a gig but it varies how that gets translated. I went through a stage of being so nervous that my bow would physically and noticeably shake and it was difficult to play the notes on the page. Now I feel more relaxed if I can talk to the audience, have a bit of fun - then there is less pressure on the notes because you are building a relationship, sharing/bearing your soul. I think part of the reason I was drawn to music outside the classical genre is that there is more freedom, more creativity, more room for ‘error’, to bend the rules. I’ve always been more of a natural than technical musician and have found that I have a gift for responding to other people’s music. I listen and feel where the cello or voice wants to go in amongst the existing melodies and textures. The cello lends itself well to blending in but can sing out when necessary. I think this is when I’m in my most natural and wild place, in ‘the zone’.  It’s when I feel like me - and it isn’t all sitting down! When I I play with Eliza Carthy in The Wayward Band, an innovative folk big band. I get to do shouty, witchy singing in a song called Devil in the Woman and dance about on stage - which is quite rare as a cellist! I have always loved dancing and actually studied dance at university. In this video I’m 6 months pregnant!
Eliza Carthy and The Wayward Band, featuring Beth Porter on cello (BBC)

While finishing my degree and starting my career, I played with many songwriters, folk musicians, DJs, as well as classical musicians and developed my musical tastes and style. I also started to give song-writing a go myself and discovered that I could not only ‘do it’ but that I really thrived off it. I found a new creativity and started to have more and more ideas for words and melodies. I would write in my notebooks on the train (I always travelled by train in those days - me and my cello!) and later sit with an instrument (usually cello or ukulele) and see what musical ideas would come out. Sometimes, the most inspired (and perhaps best) songs seem to expel themselves quickly. An idea to finished song in under an hour feels like the muse has really been at work. My songs are inspired by travelling, fear, confusion, money, the weather, nature and the odd cheesy love song! Some are pretty dark - you can get to the darkest places writing songs, and some are light observations with little attachment. It’s a way of venting, expressing, creating and getting in touch with the soul. I have my own band ‘Marshes’ which regularly consists of musicians from Bath and Bristol fronted by me and my songs. I get to work with some great musicians and although there’s something rewarding about going solo, I really love playing with a band. We’re releasing an album next Spring so will be touring around the UK then.

"Grey, Grey" by Beth Porter/Marshes 

I am also one half of The Bookshop Band, with my husband, Ben Please. We respond to books with songs and often have very tight deadlines for completing and performing them. It’s a brilliant way to be immersed in creativity and a fantastic way to be inspired. It also encourages me to read more books, something I probably wouldn’t make time for otherwise. Authors that we have worked with include Philip Pullman, Louis de Berniére, Rachael Joyce, and I have just finished reading Emma Hooper’s second novel ‘Our Homesick Songs’. I highly recommend it and she is an inspiring woman!

The Bookshop Band, featuring Emma Hooper

As a full-time musician, I do a lot of touring, either with The Bookshop Band, or with my other projects. Trying to be a working mother is always going to be a challenge. Being self-employed means you are choosing between creating and possibly making money or being a full time parent and earning very little (even less than we do!) We are trying to balance all those things by taking Molly with us on tour while she’s young. She enjoys being sociable and loves music - she has just started singing! She fights sleep and keeps us on our toes. Having Molly has added so much meaning to my life. She’s a beautiful little soul and watching her learn and play and be charming makes me beam every day. It  is hard at times, especially when we’re tired and I battle with the ‘mother to performer’ transition sometimes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. She rocks!

Molly in the woods... (photo by Beth Porter)

But life is not all on the road. When we are not touring, we can be found in Wigtown, Scotland’s book town. We moved here shortly before Molly was born. I love being at one with nature, where I can see the hills, sea, sky and marshes from my bedroom window. I do a lot of walking (mostly to get Molly to sleep) and feel like I’m getting to know my surroundings more. Next year I will be taking part in a project, writing music inspired by The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. Eight musicians, including Karine Polwart, Seckou Keita and Julie Fowlis, will be collaborating to create songs, sounds and spells to help bring back nature’s ‘lost words’ and performing them throughout 2019. 


Walking in nature -- photo by Beth Porter

Introducing Beth Porter
Wild Woman Web Spinner 4

Beth is a well-known cellist on the UK folk and acoustic music scene and is a prolific songwriter. She is known for her versatility, sensitivity, reliability and ability to improvise/compose beautiful, intuitive and supportive cello lines for songwriters, folk, rock and pop music. She writes equally on the cello and baritone ukulele and finds new and interesting ways to create music. Her own songwriting and singing has an unmistakeable Britishness to it and her songs have been compared to The Beatles, The Kinks, The Incredible String Band, Radiohead and Kate Bush! She is now based in Dumfries and Galloway in South West Scotland.

Thread Three - Walking the Territory
The End of the Growing Season

By Elizabeth Rimmer
Stirlingshire
October 2018

To all intents and purposes, the growing season in the territory of rain is coming to an end. We have had two early morning frosts, and the leaves are beginning to fall in the equinoctial gales. There are still flowers in the garden – marigolds, nasturtiums, evening primroses and Japanese anemones, and the Michaelmas daisies are just picking up – but most of the colour is coming from the bright red leaves of blueberry and witch hazel, and it’s berry time now.

Sunny marigolds (image by Elizabeth Rimmer)

It has been a wonderful year for berries – brambles, rowans, rose hips and haws in abundance, and the elderberries that mark the end of summer. The last of the wheat and barley has been harvested and the fields are already being ploughed. On a telegraph pole along the edge of the field, there is a kestrel watching the small birds and mice scattering for cover, very pale in the morning light, and a cloud of black-headed gulls following the plough. The geese are back, and although there is still a house-martin’s nest with young in it under an eave across the river, almost all the summer birds have gone.


It has been a good summer for wildlife too. The birds have thrived, with almost all the species I notice raising their broods successfully. I’ve seen more bees and butterflies this year than for a long time, even some honey bees, which have been absent for the last few summers. Orange tips in the spring and painted ladies in early autumn were rarities when we moved here, but this year they have been frequent visitors, and peacock and red admirals have been everywhere.

Red Admiral (image by Elziabeth Rimmer)

Their patterns of behaviour have shifted now, though. Birds, apart from jackdaws and gulls, are leaving the fields and coming into the gardens. Tree sparrows, which disappear during the summer, have come back, and are getting bullied off the feeders by the new generation of house sparrows trying to claim squatters’ rights. I have smelled fox taint in the early morning, and cormorants and goosanders are back on the river. Hares, which were so shy for years that I thought they had gone, are coming closer to the houses, and the deer are leaving the hill to browse in the fields. They came into the village for the first time last winter, but I think they will concentrate on gardens backing onto the fields. Ours is too small, surrounded by buildings on all sides, and enclosed with high hedges.


It is the time for harvesting – the blackberries are in the freezer, and apples have been dried and pureed or made into chutney with the green tomatoes that won’t ripen now. I’m saving seeds – not only the marigold and poppy I do every year, but wych elm and hawthorn, and weld seed I took from a plant growing along the road-side. I’ve brought the tender pot plants into the greenhouse, and I’m turning my attention to roots.

Orris Roots (image by Elizabeth Rimmer)

These are orris roots. They will be peeled and dried, and then ground to powder. They have a scent of their own, similar to that of violets, but like violets, it is fleeting – our brains seem to turn it off after the first tantalising breath. But their chief use is as a fixative for other scents. You mix them with lavender or pot pourri, and it brings together all the varied floral and spicy notes, giving them depth and richness, and making them last longer. There is a poem in my latest collection, Haggards, called Instructions to the Laundrymaid, which begins:


If you boil your sheets in summer


with well-dried roots of orris,


in winter, they will be perfumed 


with the fleeting scent of violets.


There are others I’m saving for dyes – dandelion and woodruff, which promise shades of pink and red, yellow flag and meadowsweet for black. I’m not optimistic – reds and blacks are hard to create, and I am fairly sure they will give me only various shades of beige and yellow. But in the cold and damp of the winter yet to come, I will have tastes and scents and colours from the territory of rain.

Introducting Elizabeth Rimmer
Wild Woman Web Spinner 3

Elizabeth Rimmer has published three collections of poetry with Red Squirrel Press, Wherever We Live Now, (2011), The Territory of Rain, (2015), and Haggards in 2018.She has always taken an interest in herbs and how we use them as symbols for the values we cherish, and produced a modern translation of the Old English Charm of Nine Herbs in 2017. She has edited three poetry collections for Red Squirrel Press, and the 2017 anthology of the Federation of Writers (Scotland) Landfall. She is a member of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics.

Thread Two - When the She-Wolf Howls

By Dal Kular
Yorkshire
September 2018

There comes a moment when the secret life you have squished inside of your skin and bones refuses to be silenced any longer. The anger, the passion, the dissonant and the dissident must be expressed. It has to howl blood red and moonlight. It knows that a single howl awakens a pack. And that a howling pack ignites a movement.


I’m Dal Kular, curatrix of the She Howls Women Writing Circles, She Howls Women’s Online Open mic and She Howls 1-1 sessions. These projects were born out of the long howling winter of 2017/18.  


2017 was a year of NO’s and knocks. A year of attempted silencing. Too northern, too working class, too Indian, too westernised, too female, too old, too skint – my stereotyped identities often walked in the room long before I did. How hard is it to be YOU in a world that constantly others you? 


My post-graduate funding for the second year of my MSc Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes fell through 10 days before I was due to re-commence. I couldn’t afford to continue as I was unable to secure quick alternative funding. Undeterred, I secured a bursary to attend a residential writing retreat with a nationally recognised writing charity to work on my novel-in-progress only to be emotionally brutalised by the male Booker Prize short-listed author (I was not the only one). I left that week feeling bewildered and broken. 


I set up a local women’s therapeutic writing group which then then got ‘mobbed’ and I was not so subtly pushed out to the fringes. 


I arrived for my first day in a new job that I had successfully interviewed for and felt passionate about to find out it had been given to a young white male instead who had NO relevant work experience, compared to my 20 years of very relevant experience! I’d been allocated a different ‘desk job’ instead (I’m not even exaggerating). I said NO.  


Familial patriarchy was playing out like a dysfunctional Bollywood movie and a diagnosis of a disabling gynaecological disorder was made. That should have kept me silenced and shamed, because we must never ever talk about our furry cunts after all. And finally, I thoroughly burnt-out of my 23 year career in Social Work one and for all.  


I could feel the anger and passion rising within me. I refused to be silent. That may have been comfortable for those around me. But I’m not here to make the silencers comfortable anymore. I refused to be convenient. I spoke out. And I howled. A passionate, angry howl. A howl in to the unknown-out-there to connect with a defiant pack. To my surprise, some She Wolves howled back.


What 2017 taught me was that there were many incredible women who felt like me. Who despite the guise of ‘equality’ were still being silenced and being shoved in to tight, pointy shoes. And like me, these women were no longer prepared to put up with that. Our furry feet needed to be free and dance. Our claws needed to scratch poems in to the earth leaving tracks of our experiences. And to send our poetic words out in to the ethers through our howls and find each other.  


My She Howls projects are creative activism, the response to 2017 and the angry howl that my bones could no longer contain. I began to think and create outside of ‘mainstream’ opportunities so that I didn’t have to limit myself or attempt to fit in. I was tired of trying to fit in, be obedient and comply. So I stopped waiting and decided to do my own thing. That’s what my Dad did when he arrived in England in 1954, an uneducated immigrant from rural India. His options were a life on the factory floor or flipping his own chapattis like coins tossed in the air. He side stepped the mainstream and created from his own fire. And I had his blood in my bones.


Creating from my own fire and inner activist means that the only person who can exclude me or hold me back is ME. And I was a hungry She Wolf on the prowl.


Howling and writing together allows the opportunity to be deeply heard...



She Howls is where (extra)ordinary women like you and me who love words and writing gather online. We are women who dare to write dangerously and raw. We are women who write with the dirt on, from where we are glued together, from where we lust and laugh and dream. We write for ourselves and for each other, to uplift, empower and ignite. We make each other stronger. The glue sings remarkable stories through the nibs of our pens. We write in menstrual blood and tears and kisses. Our howls contain secret language.  


Writing from our howls, our wilder-ness heals us, transforms us, allowing us to transcend multiple oppressions in that brief moment. We don’t care about where the full stops go or whether it will win a national poetry competition. We write to win our own hearts. And sometime we don’t win that but we write it anyway. But we do touch each other’s hearts. 


Though it sounds contradictory, to allow wild words to flow requires a safe and carefully curated space. A space where you have permission to be yourself and be respected. In She Howls Writing Circles and Online Open Mics I offer clear boundaries to enable creativity to flourish. We are inclusive and welcome all women (and women-identified) regardless of ethnicity, age, religion, class, sexuality, education, ability – the main criteria is we respect and acknowledge each other’s unique experience and identity. By joining the pack we acknowledge that our experiences and the oppression(s) and privilege(s) that we have experienced are diverse and we are always learning from each other every session. Howling and writing together allows the opportunity to be deeply heard and to hear others. It builds trust, community and solidarity. 


Does this all sounds idealistic? It is. This work is real and it’s empowering lives. Women coming together to create unapologetically through the nib of their pen, letting the glue soften just a little bit and allowing fragments of lightening and possibility in. I don’t always get it right, there are often technical hitches but I am always open to learning and it comes from a good heart. 


These feral She Wolves from around the world are now my pack and every month we howl TOGETHER. These women uplift and empower me and inspire me to keep going and keep creating for none of this would happen without any one of these She Wolves. 


She Howls is here to stay to empower us women to keep writing wildly for the transformational potential it holds. Future mischief-making includes a book and an online course. She Howls, was a project I initially created out of anger and injustice. Now it’s a mission that is creating me, day by day. 


And every day my howl gets louder.  


Introducing Dal Kular
Wild Woman Web Spinner 2

Dal Kular is a Yorkshire-based poem-maker, word lover, and curatrix of the She Howls Online Open Mic & Writing Circles. She is (still) studying for Msc Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes. Her mission is ‘telling it like it is’, bringing women together online and in person so ‘we feel less alone and can rabble rouse together through words’. Dal is a volunteer mentor for Arts Emergency and co-editor of the forthcoming fundraising anthology of essays, ‘I Wrote it Anyway’. 


For further details on She Howls events and for Dal’s blog visit www.dalkular.com.

Thread One -The Field

By Ruth Snowden -- writer, artist, Wild Woman and granny
Cumbria
August 2018

This is The Wood. A narrow strip of trees, nothing very big or remarkable...

This is The Wood. A narrow strip of trees, nothing very big or remarkable. But it’s full of red squirrels and deer and jays and bullfinches and sometimes a tawny owl, oh and bats and...I could go on and on. But what I want to tell you about right now is The Field. The Field above the wood, that you can just glimpse in the photograph below. Just a soggy, boggy field with clumps of marsh grass, on a bleak hillside in northern England. But...


...purple orchids grow there. And in the summer millions of brilliant yellow buttercups, gleaming gold, bright as suns. Fat orb spiders build their webs there, and on a damp morning these webs all magically appear, festooned with a myriad rainbow dewdrops, misty, mysterious and perfect. Tiny blue butterflies dance among the clover and unassuming velvet meadow browns and fierce speckled woods, fighting furiously in and out the edges of the trees. Once I found a woodcock there, frozen dead in snow, the feathers on its back a rich pattern of bracken and leaves. 


When I first lived here, skylarks nested, their endless dreaming, drifting, reeling song the rich sound of summer, high high up in the air. It was always a game, to see if you could spot one, a tiny black dot, sailing joyously in the ether. But they are gone. Gone too are the lapwings - and the barn owls that drifted white, moth like, ghost like, along the hedgerows late on still evenings. My children have gone too. All grown, flown the nest. But they used to play up there for hours, hidden excitedly among the tall grasses. They never came home til tea-time, when I rang the old brass hand bell and they would appear, hot and grubby with earth and secrets, with grass and dock seeds twisted in their hair. Once they said they discovered some of the tumbled stones from the ancient stone circle, rooted deep in grass and moss. They played among them for a while, shouting, imagining, dreaming, until a strange silence fell and they realised that Something was watching. They never saw what it was, but it chased them, stumbling and breathless, down the field. They tumbled in at the back door shrieking - only half with laughter.

The Field - image copyright Ruth Snowden

I have never found the stones. They vanished centuries ago, no doubt made into stout walls and lintels for Standings Farm, now gone in its turn, faded into days past on time’s great turning wheel, not even an outhouse remaining. I have found pottery though - rough earthenware from the sixteenth century - and once a small thin square of pale green, faded glass, that I kind of hope might be Roman and treasure just in case. But the field has always been there. I have looked out across it often, as I washed up at the kitchen sink, or pegged out the washing, or weeded the vegetable patch. I have lain on my back up there, stretched out on the earth as it turned vast and slow beneath me, staring up at limitless blue summer sky, wracked with grief, letting my agony soak away into the ground. The field has been my friend. Horses graze there, people walk their dogs, and the lad who works up the back runs down it and back up again every day for his dinner. And now..


...Now they want to build houses on it. My soul is torn open. People are forgetting that they need wild spaces. Places where nothing much is going on until you really listen, sit there a while alone. When I was four years old I had a terrifying recurring dream that tormented me night after night. The whole world had become one huge, gigantic factory apart from one field. In that field was one remaining flower. And I picked that flower and utter doom fell about me. A strange dream for a long ago north country child in a huge rambling house in the country with no television - where nobody ever mentioned green field sites vanishing under urban sprawl or oceans drowning in plastic or anything like that. A strange dream.

Introducing Ruth Snowden
Wild Woman Web Spinner 1

Ruth Snowden was was born in Cumbria, UK, at the edge of the Lake District, and has lived there most of my life. The long-inhabited, rural landscape has given her an interest in the folklore and culture of her British ancestors, which is reflected in her writing and art. She loves nature and walks often by the sea, in woods and by the shores of the lakes - which inspires both her art and writing.

She has kept a journal and dream diary for many years and finds that this is one of the most important keys to personal growth and spiritual development, as well as a great source of creativity. She is an original member of Wild Women and creator of Granny's House, sharing wise and wild knowledge. (image by Ruth Snowden)

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