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...
By Jhilmil Breckenridge
(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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
In Memory of Maureen Bennett
By Victoria Bennett
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Beth Porter
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
By Elizabeth Rimmer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Dal Kular
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.
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.
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.
By Ruth Snowden -- writer, artist, Wild Woman and granny
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.
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.
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)