We love our Wild Women conversations so much that we have decided to make a space here for all those wonderful ideas, passions, inspirations and insights to be shared. Together, we want to create a Wild Woman Web -- and we want to bring you into the circle!
Think of it 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 world wild web.
To start this off, we will be aiming to posting one blog a month from a member of Wild Women or a Wild Guest. There isn't a set theme.
If there is someone you would love to see invited to join us as a Spinner in the Wild Woman Web, please give us a howl to tell us who and why. Contact form below.
Meanwhile, welcome to the Wild Woman Web -- we look forward to spinning magic with you...
Victoria (Founder, Wild Women)
By Tanya Shadrick
I am writing this in midwinter on Firle Beacon, one of the high points of the Sussex Downs. From here I can fit between my fingers the town I have lived in for a quarter century, since leaving a remote west country village for university. I do it sometimes – pinch it a little – but not from ill will; for perspective. There’s a poster in the print-maker’s window down there which says: Lewes – Centre of the Cosmos. Absurd, and yet also true-feeling for me – and I suppose for anyone, anywhere, who has lived in a small place long enough. Up here, in the family car I have made into a writing hut for the cold months when I can’t work in the open air, I’ve found a way to be free of these attachments that root but also bind.
Through my twenties and thirties, I worked gratefully at a secure office job on the campus (just over the horizon line) where I earned my degree. Scurrying between desk, the library and my little terrace house, I loved welcoming home each evening the husband I’d met at just nineteen.
In those years – after a solitary childhood spent exploring fields and beaches – I was almost always indoors and hardly ever alone. My freedom frightened me: gone from where my extended family lived warren-close, I went to earth. Burrowed in too deep, too young.
That life of willed conformity ended in minutes, just over a decade ago. An arterial haemorrhage – sudden, painless – after the birth of my first child. I saw the light, believed my life was ending. I survived just, mended almost. What I did not recover from was an urgent wish to be alone, live more wildly. At first, I felt I must leave my husband and new child, having been brought up – as so many of us are – on versions of the hero’s journey: where real freedom is reached by abandoning all that came before. But having been left by my father when I was a small, I held fast for my family’s sake, knowing too well the pain of losing a parent.
From that pressure and constraint my art came.
I began to study other traditions, other stories, and arrived in the east of five hundred years ago, a thousand. Kenko, Bashō, Po Chü-i — Fishing in the Wei River; Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel; Essays in Idleness. Gentle works about place and people: small observations from occasional wanderings, instead of epic quests.
At first, I wrote privately at park benches and café tables, losing myself in overheard conversation. Then, for an extraordinary few seasons, I declared my gaze, kneeling at the town’s historic lido to write a mile on scrolls of paper as long as the pool, and asking those who came close when they felt most wild and free.
And so I arrived at my life’s work, my vocation: to go where invited – a cliffside National Trust cabin on a coast path, Virginia Woolf’s garden, nature reserves, festivals, hospices – to gather stories and share them.
Yet even in this second, outsider life of vivid connections, the call of the wild was still unsettling me. Having me yearn for time truly apart.
* * *
In 1212, the Buddhist monk Kamo no Chōmei wrote an essay known as Hōjōki – translated often as An Account of My Hut. He built his small dwelling on a distant mountain overlooking the town in which he had lived his former life; apart, alone, but just in reach of old friends wanting to make a seasonal visit.
I wanted this. To be alone in nature long hours, but as a quiet invitation, not a turned back. This car on the top of Firle Beacon is that: retreat and way station, both.
Once the children are at school, I dress in many strange layers – old sweater arms for leg warmers, blankets pinned as capes to leave my writing arm free – then fill a coffee flask and hotwater bottle. Each of these everyday preparations delights me.
As does driving up the high, winding Beacon, where my spirits rise with the gulls, rooks and ravens that play on the currents. I know each nest, every bent hawthorn; how the cattle gather in anticipation of the farmer, while starlings hop into the empty hoof steps to beak for food of their own. My rations are apples, cheese, oatcakes – which I share with the corvids that come close, just as people do to my writing table in summer. Like Kamo no Chōmei, I keep a spare mug for visitors from the human world, while being glad of every uninterrupted hour in my part-time, improvised hermitage.
The wild calls me, and I am here to answer.
Tanya Shadrick is founder of The Selkie Press and editor of Wild Woman Swimming by the late Lynne Roper – a journal of west country waters longlisted for the 2019 Wainwright Prize. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Tanya is also a sought-after artist in residence who encourages connection and creativity in those who encounter her. In 2016 she embarked on her Wild Patience Scrolls – a mile of writing composed, pen on paper, beside the country’s oldest lido. She has since worked with the public in other extraordinary locations, including Virginia Woolf’s garden on the Sussex Downs, a listed National Trust cabin on a cliffside by the wild west country sea, and the Jan Michalski Foundation for Writing and Literature in Switzerland. Her first book The Cure for Sleep – a fable-like story of a life transformed slowly after sudden near death – will be published in the spring of 2022 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
(Image credit: Tanya Shadrick in residence at the National Trust Artists’ Cabin at Bucks Mills by Bob Walters)
By Jackie Morris
(All images reproduced with kind permission by Jackie Morris)
As a child I was domesticated, always with a nose in a book, usually a sketch book, looking to escape. When I left home I began to grow more feral. On leaving college ( Bath Academy of Art) lived for the shortest time in London. Behind the house there was a small common frequented by foxes and all manner of wild thing, but it wasn’t enough. I shifted away from the city streets of noise and fumes so fast, to find myself in a small, cold cottage on the edge of Bath.
The cottage belonged to a farm, and we had permission to wander, no money above that of subsistence. We learned to forage. Hazelnuts and berries in the autumn, and beautiful puffball mushrooms- these are what I remember most. And taking the time to walk the fields, up to the high hill that looked out across the land so far you could almost see the sea.
The sea. How I loved the space and the light of it. Ten years in Bath and I was growing restless for more space. By now I lived near the canal, always good for walking and finding birds. There are kingfishers in Bath, otters too, always foxes. I went to St Davids for the weekend. 28 years later I still live there.
What does this have to do with art? Everything. All the work I do is informed by my environment, more now than ever. It’s hard to explain, but I wrote The Ice Bear, which many think is a retelling of a traditional tale, while watching ravens fly. I love listening to them, their talk, but also the sound the air makes on still, calm days as it holds the birds aloft, running its fingers through their feathers.
Here, in St Davids, beside the sea, this is where I live. With the birds and the seals, the fish in the sea, and they thread through my head and heart and now my work. The shapes of the trees in my paintings are mere echoes of the trees sculpted by the sea winds.
A friend, translator and poet, Mererid Hopwood said, ‘if you listen, Jackie, really listen, the stones will tell you stories’. This is what I feel here in this place where the wild meets the tame and the land meets the sea. But not just the stones, rocks, so softened with lichens that look like maps. The birds and the animals also. There’s a family of black foxes nearby. There’s a huge fox with a dark pelt, in dusk so like a small wolf.
I need space around me in order to work. And silence. Not absolute silence, but not the endless chatter of humans, and radio, tv, noise. Writing, painting, illustrating, all of these come out of that space of quiet. The sound of the wind, waves, tide rushing roar, birds, fox bark, seal song, these are all different.
I write on the hillside above my house, where a strip of land carves its place through the sea. Sea on three sides and the stars above. It is a place of peace where you can watch the weather, light on land and water, flocks, and hear the wind move over the land. Home.
The Unwinding is a pillow book, in the ancient tradition of Sei Shonagan, a book to tuck up the sleeve, in a pocket, under a pillow, containing fragments of dreams. Designed to be a portal, a talisman, it invites readers to enter its world, through word and image.
Created over time, drawn first into the pages of sketchbooks, then emerging as large paintings in colour, each image carries many stories, and some of these are told in words to be read aloud or whispered in the head. Fragments of stories, part prose, part poem, catalysts for dreaming.
Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, authors of the phenomenally successful 'spellbook' for all ages, The Lost Words, have embarked on an even more ambitious project to be published spring 2022 published by Hamish Hamilton, entitled The Book of Birds: A Field Guide to Wonder and Loss.
The Book of Birds will be a new kind of field guide, combining images and words to celebrate the nearly 70 species of birds currently in severe decline in the UK, as defined by the ‘Red List’ put out by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology.
Jackie's latest book is a collaboration with a ghost, Barbara Newhall Follett. The House Without Windows was published in 1927 when Barbara was just 12 years old.
It’s a story about a child who felt utterly trapped in a house, so one day just walks away, taking a small box with some crackers. She wants to live a wild life and does, first in the meadow, then by the sea and finally in the mountains.
The House Without Windows is richly lyrical in its language. Out of print for years it has been brought back with illustrations and an introduction by Morris.
Jackie Morris is a writer, illustrator and artist. She has written and illustrated books published in many languages. In 2017 she and Robert Macfarlane published The Lost Words, a book of spells. The book won the Greenaway prize for illustration in the UK, and went on to be hailed a ‘cultural phenomenon’ by The Guardian.
Other titles include The Ice Bear and The Snow Leopard, and Tell Me a Dragon and Can You See a Little Bear ( written by James Mayhew) for younger children.
She trained as an artist at Bath Academy of Art. On leaving college Morris mostly worked in editorial, illustrating for New Statesman, New Internationalist, Radio Times, Country Living, The Independent. She began working in children’s books in 1992 when her first child, Tom was born.
She lives in a small cottage by the sea where her two children (Hannah and Tom) grew up and over time has shared this space with a curious pack of dogs and a strange pride of cats.
By Rebecca Smith
I have not walked up a mountain for quite some time. My life is made up of compartments, pieces of time that are sectioned off for certain things: work, school, football practise, football matches, food shopping, seeing family; the list, inevitably, goes on. With two young children, a freelance career and a degree to study for, I have not yet created a solid slice of time for exploring the higher wilder places. This, I must do.
I explore the lower wilderness, the woods and the lochs nearby, the beaches and the iron-stained rivers. It is easier. To paddle in the sea, watching the toddler taste sand for the first time, or to take the bike to the woods where the tracks are worn and wide enough for a buggy. It is much more difficult to carry a wriggly baby up a Munro, or persuade the older child that, ‘it takes more energy to sit down and get back up again, than it does to keep going,’ – my Dad's astute words and ones I now use often.
But I miss the height of a mountain. I miss the shock of the wind as you round the edge of a rock formation and the view takes your breath away. Gaining height and sitting for a moment helps my thoughts slot into place. It helps me see things clearly.
As a child I explored my back garden. I was lucky enough to have a garden that stretched for hundreds of acres through thick forests of pine, with old stone ruins and a lake shore. We lived on a Country Estate - my father was the forester, part of a small community that helped run the estate. This working-class rural lifestyle is disappearing. Now, there is no need for a joiner, a forester, a plumber, a blacksmith to live on the Estate. Instead, there are playparks, visitor centres and holiday homes. I have only recently become aware how privileged I was growing up in the heart of this wild land. Childhood was steeped in nature and adventure, in exploring places that are hard to reach. And the benefits of going ‘up’ is one of the most important lessons I leant.
When I was thirteen, I started to explore the hillside above my house. There was a vertical slab of stone you could see from the other side of Lake Windermere somewhere amongst the trees. It stuck out like a sore thumb, like a marker - a sharp contrast from the tips of pines trees that looked like paintbrushes dipped in varying shades of green. I pushed my way underneath the prickly boughs of Sitka Spruce, jagging my arms as I went. I joined deer paths which led me to clearings where long grass flourished and white moths floated in the disturbed grass. I came across deep gorges in the rocks, ruins of old stone walls and startled deer. I never saw any other people.
I felt euphoric when I finally found the rock (christened, predictably, ‘The Big Rock’). I sat on the tip of the wedge of slate, legs dangling over a twenty-foot drop and breathed in the view. I could see the range of mountains I saw every day from my bedroom window but now, from up high, I could see the water of Windermere. The Lake was normally hidden from view of our house but we often heard the bass of the music from the tourist party boats on a Saturday night. I could see the town of Bowness and the mansion houses on the road to Newby Bridge, with their moorings by the water. I watched clouds roll over the rounded mountains. I could breathe here.
The necessity to ‘get a bit higher’ has never left me. As a young student, if I ever felt far from home, lost, or simply agitated about something, I would climb up the nearest hill and sit on small plateau looked down at the rest of the world. It wasn’t very high, it didn’t take long but, all of a sudden, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders.
I have a collection of places I take my children that fill that need for altitude, cajoling the toddler with promises of chocolate at the top. If it only takes an hour out of the minutia of the day then it seems feasible. I want them to learn the trick of gaining perspective, of being able to slot your shattered thoughts back into place. Maybe when they are older, they will explore the highest places on their own. For now, a short walk to gain some height, to remind myself how to breathe again, that will have to do.
Rebecca Smith is a writer and audio producer from Cumbria. She is currently studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at Glasgow University.
Her work has been published in Northwords Now, Glasgow Review of Books and Dear Damsels.
She is currently working on a non-fiction novel about growing up on a Country Estate in a rural working-class environment.
She has two children and works freelance, mainly interviewing authors, which is a dream job.
You can find her on twitter as @beckorio
By Wendy Pratt
My name is Wendy Pratt. I’m a poet living on the North Yorkshire coast. I’ve spent my whole life in rural North Yorkshire, I’ve never lived for than twenty miles away from where I was born. Before my dad chose to be a bus driver, for generations my family were farmers. Sometimes I feel like my ancestors are alive in me. I have always felt a deep connection to nature, I have always felt at home with animals, much more than I ever have with people. A great deal of my writing has a nature themed edge to it. I’ve just finished writing my third full collection, When I Think of My Body as a Horse.
The other big ‘theme’ in my writing to date has been the death of my daughter. In fact, if I think about my poetry writing career, I think about it as being completely entwined with the death of my daughter, and the grief that came with it. It is as if the two, for a very long time, couldn’t be differentiated. Matilda died in 2010 during an emergency delivery. She was an IVF baby. An investigation into her death later showed that it was at least partly due to clinical negligence. She was the miracle in our lives, something that was never repeated, despite thirteen years of trying and five rounds of IVF. We decided a year or two ago, when I reached forty, that we, my husband and I, would let go of the dream to have a family and embrace childlessness as our future.
Self Portrait with Maritime Museum Mermaid, Hull
The plaque reads Early 18th century mermaid.
Probably Fake. She is blackened with age.
There is an X-ray of her body, which shows
wires for a skeleton, whale ivory for teeth,
glass eyes. Her skin is monkey skin,
her tail is a fish tail. Chimera mermaid.
Her little breasts are flat, drooped. Old-lady
mermaid. She has no hair and her mouth
is open to its fullest extent, a constant,
soundless scream to the people whose eyes
she looks straight into.
When I take the photo of her, I don’t realise
that I am in it too. Overlaid, my hounds-tooth
coat and red hat, my mobile phone, my face,
have shadowed her. My face is laid over hers,
so perfectly, that I can’t see my own eyes.
We are a little freak show, all wire and fakery,
empty of biology and withering in a box. Only,
someone put this thing together with skill,
if not love, and someone painted those glass eyes
with care and filled the little head with tiny teeth
and fooled the world. And people still pour past
the little box and look, see? The plaque
cannot be sure that she is fake at all.
I move away, untethered. I leave the freak show
and swim up to the rafters to be with the skulls
of Right whales and Narwhales. We don’t
even think of the IVF clinic today. I am thirty-nine.
My husband cries, finally, over our lost babies.
We hold hands. I am swimming away.
Though it has been difficult I am happy to say that my life is good, although it is still difficult to carry around with me the knowledge that my daughter could have lived, that she will never do any of the things she might have, that her death could have been prevented, my life is still good. There are small things about being childless not by choice which have blind-sided me: the sudden realisation that we shall have no one to pass our memories onto, no one to pass our precious belongings to, that I am making photo albums and keepsake boxes for…who? Still make me sad. I worry about what will happen to my husband and I in the future, who will advocate for us when we are elderly, who will stop us being separated and moved into other care homes. There are other things – I have PTSD from the circumstances of my loss, and it occasionally interferes with me living my life, but my life is still more than good. My life is interesting, fascinating, I approach it without expectations, there is no plan or map for us. It’s exhausting but exciting
My husband and my writing are the two most important things in my life. I am compelled to write as if I have a disease or an unstoppable compulsion, I can’t not. Sometimes it feels like there must be some unbalanced aspect to the grey matter in my brain, that the liquid which holds my brain in place must have shifted somehow when my daughter died, because after that I was on fire, and couldn’t stop. My first pamphlet: Nan Hardwick Turns into a Hare came out in 2011, the year after her birth, her death. The title is also the title of a poem which came to me while I was still incapacitated by grief. I would wake up and feel her moving inside me, like a phantom baby, the ghost of a pregnancy and then the terrible truth would pour in and I’d be unable to get up or go anywhere. The poem came, then: the witch, the transformation, the old, old story of transmogrification; not unlike pregnancy, not unlike birth, not unlike taking cells and veins and muscle and making a person, and she was born to me again in the shape of a hare.
Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare
In memory of M
I will tell you how it was. I slipped
into the hare like a nude foot
into a glorious slipper, pushing her bones
to one side to make room for my shape
so I could settle myself like a child within her.
In the dark I groped for her freedom, gently teasing
it apart across my fingers to web across my palm.
Here is where our separation ends:
I tensed her legs with my arms, pushed my rhythm
down the stepping-stones of spine. An odd feeling this,
to hold another’s soul in the mouth like an egg;
the aching jaw around her delicate self. Her mind
was simple, full of open space and weather.
I warmed myself on her frantic pulse and felt the draw
of gorse and grass, the distant slate line
at the edge of the moor. The air span diamonds
out of sea fret to catch across my tawny coat
as I began to fold the earth beneath my feet
and fly across the heath, the heather.
The hare has been an emblem for my daughter; for some rooted, transformed instinct, ever since. I’d be walking my grief out in the village lanes around my home, walking the Dales, the Moors and I’d see a hare in a field staring straight at me. I’d feel, suddenly, like she wasn’t dead and in the ground rotting, but like her atoms had been suffused with the sea breeze and leaf mulch and she had been absorbed into tree and bird and yes, the hare, she was here now in the shape of the hare. Nan Hardwick Turns into a Hare was followed by Museum Pieces in 2012, my first full collection, then Lapstrake and then Gifts the Mole Gave Me, all of which to greater and lesser extents are about moving through grief. And then this one.
The new book is a purge of grief. I’ve worked on it for about five years. It has been re written and torn apart and put back together, never quite saying what it needed to, and then, like something instinctive, it was suddenly the right time; like everything I needed to say, the goodbye that I needed to say was poured into it with all its bones showing, it was almost ritualistic, almost witch craft. The book is totemic, it uses my experience of the wild, as a person who feels close to nature, close to animals and the animal instinct to explore the experience of not being a mother, but also being a mother, the experience of being a woman with a body that couldn’t do the thing it was made for. And yes, the hare is there, my hare daughter, she comes back and back in this book. I like to think, now that my grief is over, that I mourned her. I feel like the Victorians might well have had it right with their Whitby jet and black silk dresses.
You would still be small enough
to pull onto my knee; a kindling
of hot, slim limbs, your shape
not quite removed from babyhood.
I would brush sand from the soles
of your feet, rub the salt
from your shins with a towel, try
to hold on to this seaside-smiles girl.
Maybe ice cream; a hot fudge sundae
at the Harbour Bar.Your heart shaped face,
and mine, reflected in the mirrors there,
your dad, distracted by the football
on his phone. He kisses you to grins,
we pack our ordinary life into
our ordinary car, drive home
to arguments about bedtime,
a hot bath, light sleeping,
a Beatrix Potter bedroom,
drawers full of clothes
that you still might wear.
I wish I’d been more defiant about it, I wish I’d been more steadfast and told people without shame, that I was mourning my daughter and yes, it would take nine years to say goodbye, but I needed nine years. I was saying goodbye to her, and the two miscarriages and my life that hadn’t happened and the future that wouldn’t happen and I was finding a peace with a knowledge that felt like carrying the weight of a nine year old child all the time. The purge of writing, the expulsion of grief, the gentle patting away of the past, it was freeing, but also painful. The book is by far the one that I am proudest of, it is a testament to my love for my daughter and for the power of instinct, the connection to the wild-self. I walk the same paths now, I see the hares still, and greet them with ‘hello darling, I miss you’. I will always walk the same wild paths, climbing over stiles and fences, feeling the burn of nettles, the sting of sun burn, but I’m not searching any more, that part is done.
Wendy Pratt is an award winning poet living on the beautiful Yorkshire coast. She is the author of four collections of poetry and her fifth, When I Think of My Body as a Horse will be published by Valley Press in 2020. She has been highly commended in the Forward prize and has won both the Yorkmix and Prole laureate prizes, among others, and her work has appeared widely in print and online in journals and magazines. Wendy is the coastal columnist for Yorkshire Life magazine, editor of literary arts magazine Dream Catcher. She spends her time mentoring, facilitating workshops and running courses for aspiring and established writers. Her Twitter handle is @wondykitten
Sixth Birthday first appeared in Gifts the Mole Gave Me, published by Valley Press and also in the anthology Writing Motherhood, edited by Carolyn Jess Cooke
Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare first appeared in the pamphlet of the same name published by Prolebooks
The God of Small Things won third place in the Manchester Cathedral prize
Self Portrait with Maritime Museum, Hull was commended in the YorkMix poetry competition 2019
By Ruth Snowden
Woodruff suddenly appears in my life as a healing herb, chosen by another Wild Woman, who said it was most insistent. But why? I have never paid a huge amount of attention to it before - it grows rampantly on the banking in my garden, and I spend quite a lot of time in the spring pulling exploratory tendrils of it out, in order to prevent it overwhelming other inhabitants. It’s died back a lot now, in early autumn, and it’s not speaking to me.
The first time I recall noticing woodruff was around the millennium, when a friend gave me a cutting. It was growing on her patio and I felt strangely drawn to it as being somehow mysterious and linked to Elizabethan times, when it was widly used as a strewing herb on floors, to repel insects and also to stuff mattresses. It was commonly used in churches, to deter malign presences - and apparently it made a powerful love spell, to arouse male interest.
Not being particularly in need of any of those (undoubtedly useful) forms of input in my life, I am slightly baffled. So I dig up a small clump and plant it in a special pot, so that I can keep an eye on it and an open ear. Meanwhile I write some notes and draw a picture in my journal.
And I keep cogitating...maybe its other common names might hold a clue? Woodrove, Sweet Woodfuff, Master of the Woods? That last name is interesting - I am curious as to why such an unassuming little plant would be called that. A search on the internet and a perusal of various books yields very little more concrete information. Apparently its essential oil is used in the perfume industry as a base note to hold all the upper scents - common little woodruff, who knew!
Disappointingly it doesn’t smell of much to me - maybe my nose is getting old? Oh well, it’s supposed to have more scent when it’s dried. I pick a few sprigs and put them carefully in a tiny bag on the bedroom windowsill, to dry in the warm sunshine...
...and at bedtime....the secret is revealed. Wow! A powerful, compelling, mysterious, almondy, almost hallucinogenic scent has arisen, apparently from nowhere. I can’t believe it! Now I know why this subtle, unassuming little herb shows us the secrets of the woods, and the gateway to dreams and spirit communication.
The secrets of the woods
are woven in silence and song;
the tiny white stars of woodruff,
cursing of wren, the Druid bird,
hidden in dense ivy thicket.
Footfall of deer,
the snap of a twig,
Patterns of sunlight through leaves;
maps of lichen.
Sudden harsh screech of jay,
green cadence of willow warbler;
at night, soft feathered owls,
riding the swirling stars.
Measure of time by seasons,
moon cycles, turning of tides;
death and rebirth, lingering leaf fall
and silent unfurling.
Faint rustle of leaves,
stirring of breeze among rowan and birch;
ancient eyes, strange presences,
watchful and wise.
©️Ruth Snowden, August 2019
Ruth Snowden was was born in Cumbria, UK, at the edge of the Lake District, and has lived there most of her 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.
By Aim Me Smiley and Renee Ananda (The Troubadours of Divine Bliss)
What happens when a dream becomes fervent vision rooted in heart-centered service and fanned by communal purpose? Introducing "Way of the Heart Woods Nature Preserve & Retreat Sanctuary"...
Way of the Heart Woods is a Forest Preserve, hosting retreats on Mystical Ecology, Spiritual Rejuvenation, Community Building, Education, Creativity and all that deepens the Heart. It came into being in 2018 through the mystic wishes of Troubadours of Divine Bliss - a folk duo that sings of the joy of sublime Love.
We are those Troubadours, Aim Me Smiley and Renee Ananda, and we have traveled internationally for 23 years as musicians, ministers, inspirational speakers, retreat leaders and soul guides, ready to serve countless people across the globe in multi-faceted ways. We are here to encourage soul fulfillment and the development of each person's sacred way.
As Troubadours of Divine Bliss, we have practiced the philosophy of following your bliss -- starting on the corner of Royal & Toulouse in New Orleans -- when we first willingly fell off the cliff of knowing and into the trustworthy arms of our soul’s calling. With one strum of the strings and squeeze of the bellows, we sang our first songs of Spiritual revolution and courage of the heart. We have found that as we continued to take steps in faith to follow our bliss and pursue our purpose, the way was opened up to us and we were given the direction to continue traveling and making music for a living. Over and over again, our willingness to keep walking in the dream as servants of Love has been rewarded with opportunities, provision and fulfillment.
One of the things that we have been feeling strongly for years, and absolutely know is a part of our purpose is to develop a healing retreat center... a gathering place for Eco, Spiritual, Creative, Personal & Family communion with a heart for those with special needs in a safe, nurturing and natural environment for spiritual growth and communal fellowship. We have been envisioning this for many years while walking our land at As You Wish in the Hoosier National Forest. Nestled in the woods for 17 years, we whispered over this land to be offered a chance to aid in humanity and the Earth’s healing.
That land became available in January 2018 and we again stepped out in faith, took out loans to purchase the 34 acres and we are stepping into the vision now knowing the way will be shown. We believe that as we live in our destiny and can keep in step with the path of our hearts - a way will be made where there seems no way. Shortly after we acquired the land we introduced the retreat center as 'Way of the Heart Woods'.
We shared our vision for the land and asked our friends and fans to envision with us for things like: a main retreat building, environmentally friendly shower houses and composting toilets, yurts for personal retreat space and healing work, Prayer grottos for meditation and contemplation, a sacred temple for ceremony and weddings, labyrinth, Sacred Fire Circle, large organic garden, an amphitheater stage and more. We believe in this vision and we see where 'Way of the Heart' can be a place for collective, creative healing and an arena for all of the ways of the heart to unfold.
Just one year into the dream and we have been allowed to reclaim a pasture that had overgrown for many years, create paths and assist the forest, put in a gravel parking lot and road, create a Sacred Fire Circle, space for the Labyrinth, construct 2 composting toilet houses of locally-sourced, live-edge cedar and welcome the foundation and creation of the Love Lodge - an Amish built cabin that can host 20 person retreats and 6 overnight guests! We have borrowed and spent this money because we see it as an investment, as service and because we believe in this vision. Fed by Human’s and the Earth’s longing to be seen, heard and felt, several large donations have been made as well as dozens of monetary and time donations. We started a gofundme page and hosted work parties as well as a Benefit Ball. We have stepped out in faith knowing that every heart longs to "walk this way"...to be in more meaningful connection with themselves, community and the sacred. We have the space and have the heart to create this place for community.
We are all familiar with the saying, “If you follow your Bliss, the Universe will open doors where there were only walls.” Joseph Campbell. We are living testaments to this universal truth and blissfully encourage you to test it out for your yourselves…make something beautiful of your extraordinary life in the service of Love.
Way of the Heart Woods is a retreat and reunion center for personal retreats, group retreats, weddings, and family gatherings, located in the Hoosier National Forest on 34 acres protected and preserved in a land trust. Way of the Heart Woods hosts and facilitates retreats on all that deepens the way of the heart. It is a Community Sacred Space for heart healing, opening, and renewal. It is a gathering place for Eco, Spiritual, Creative, Personal & Family communion.
Note from Wild Women: We first met the Troubadours back in 2005 when they travelled across to the UK and joined us for one of our Wild Women Salons. Since then, we have watched them continue to inspire, delight, and motivate people around the world. We are thrilled by the realisation of their dream. You can support the dream by donating through their fundraising page below, and by offering support in practical and other ways.
Renee Ananda and Aim Me Smiley, Troubadours of Divine Bliss, have been best friends since their early teens. They remained friends and 12 years later - on a different spiritual journey - they fell in love. They shared a mutual vision of being traveling musicians who inspire revolution of the spirit and courage of the heart. Following their bliss and freeing their dream, they picked up a guitar and an accordion and moved to New Orleans to become Troubadours of Divine Bliss . For 23 years they have been spiritual, environmental, and social justice activists. They are the founders of Mariposa HeartWork - healing retreats for survivors of abuse and Mighty Kindness Hoots - community unity festivals that celebrate all that is kind for the Earth, body, soul & mind in order to effect change locally and coalesce the visions of a greener, happier and more just society. The Troubadours of Divine Bliss are musicians, inspirational speakers, writers, celebrants, healing guides, retreat and workshop facilitators. When they are not touring, they are nestled in As You Wish Woods in their southern Indiana hOMestead creating, devoting & giving thanks.
By Liv Torc
South West UK
Hi I’m Liv Torc and I’m a spoken word poet... and a mum of two full on amazing little people.
I wrote this poem, The Human Emergency? - the one on the film - because I was thinking about the climate change emotional need and how to support people with the grief, fear and despair... and that we need to keep talking, and talking and talking. That sharing those fears with other people really helps. Also if society really is to change and veer away from capitalism, we all need to start functioning on a more tribal community structure.
And although there is a good argument to get the arts to be better at reporting the science, there is an even better arguments to get the arts to help with the emotional conversation. How can we help people deal with this and stay emotionally healthy because there could also be a mental health crisis that comes from not dealing with what's happening.
That was my musing.
Also I am very scared about my kid’s future and I’m finding it hard not to cry into their hair. This is something most parents and grandparents can relate too right now. So I wrote this poem at 4am while up with a sick kid and posted the text on Facebook and people really liked it and someone offered to film me reading it, so we went to the woods the next morning and made this video. At the time of writing this it’s been seen by 8,000 people on Facebook and the response has been overwhelming. Totally incredible.
Please share it if you can and let’s all have each other’s backs and keep talking about how we feel.
Liv Torc has been a South West based spoken word poet for over 12 years; a Radio 4 Slam Winner; a former Bard of Exeter and current co-host of The Hip Yak Poetry Shack. She runs the mental health and poetry night, The Rainbow Fish Speak Easy in Yeovil and produces the hugely successful Hip Yak Poetry Stage at WOMAD festival. She is also the brains and brawn behind the Hip Yak Poetry School, an ACE funded project aimed at supporting South West poets to achieve sustainable careers.
Over her career in spoken word Liv has appeared all over the UK and a bit in Europe, performing at the Roundhouse in London, Cheltenham Literary Festival, Glastonbury Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe. She has delivered workshops and long running poetry projects in schools, colleges, libraries, art centres, doctor’s surgeries and theatres, culminated in performances at, among others, the House of Commons and the 2012 Paralympics.
Her first published book Show Me Life was released by Burning Eye in 2015
by Deborah Alma
As the Emergency Poet, I have been dispensing poetry for seven years from the back of my vintage ambulance at festivals, conferences, hospitals, care settings, libraries and schools, with an on-board poetry pharmacy of poems-in-pills under the attached awning. The whole impetus for that project was to be a vehicle (pun intended) for poetry to be delivered to people who don’t usually encounter it; to be inviting and not intimidating, to counter the widely held perception that poetry is “difficult, obscure and not for the likes of me”. It was this experience, and belief, that has inspired me to take on the biggest project so far -- developing a unique, and fully-functioning Poetry Pharmacy.
I have believed for a long time that poetry can do so much to match or alter a mood, to help in so many ways with good mental health. The theatre of the ambulance was the way in. The Poetry Pharmacy is a way for me to park up the ambulance and bring the therapeutic effects of poetry under one roof, with an emphasis on well-being and inclusivity. It will continue the same element of theatre, this light-hearted approach and there will be something in there for everyone; maybe Candlestick Press 'Poems Instead of a Card' and a cup of Tea (S Eliot) and a piece of Philip Parkin from the cafe? (Warning: there may be some terrible puns). At the heart of it, there has always been good quality, intelligent poetry.
So, a little bit about where the Poetry Pharmacy began. About two and a half years ago, my partner (the poet James Sheard) and I were peering through the dusty shop-door windows on the High Street in pretty Bishop’s Castle and I had a vision of the Poetry Pharmacy set against the beautiful Edwardian shop fittings, the original drawers and shelves and mahogany counter in a shop that had been closed for over 10 years. Our grand plan is for a venue laid out as though it were a traditional pharmacy; instead of sections for skincare, and plasters and bandages, it will be a walk-in pharmacy dispensing poetry.
Visitors will be able to move through the building according to their mood — from ‘Matters of the Heart’ to ‘For days when the world is too much with us’ and find books, stationery, gifts and local art work chosen to address a particular mood. They will also be able to speak to the Dispensing Pharmacist, who might prescribe some poetic medicine for a complicated mix of emotions...or if it's more serious, be asked to lie down on the consulting couch and have a full length consultation with poems hand-picked for a particular emotional ailment.
We will also be running writing and reading retreats, workshops, and reading and writing groups. All our work will encourage strong partnerships with the local community, the West Midlands, and the whole of the UK. In partnership with the Reader Agency, we will run monthly reading groups for people with mental health issues as well as a LGBT reading group. We will offer mini-conferences for groups around social prescribing, writing and good mental health and there may even be a poetry festival. More ambitiously, it will become a new centre for poetry and creative writing, with an emphasis on good mental health and well-being. In these troubled times, this seems even more relevant and urgent.
(All images supplied and used with kind permission by Deborah Alma)
Editor's Note: It is a huge, exciting project, that begins as all good adventures do — with a leap of faith. We hope that Deborah's vision will inspire others to support the project and get involved, starting with a Kickstarter campaign to help transform this wonderful building into the Poetry Pharmacy. Ambitious? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely. Watch this space...(and see below for link to Kickstarter)
Deborah Alma is a UK poet, editor, lectures at Keele University and is the Emergency Poet prescribing poetry from her vintage ambulance. She has edited poetry anthologies Emergency Poet-an anti-stress poetry anthology, The Everyday Poet, #Me Too – rallying against sexual harassment (Fair Acre Press) and 10 Happy Poems from Candlestick Press coming this Summer. Her True Tales of the Countryside was published by The Emma Press and her first full collection Dirty Laundry was published by Nine Arches Press in 2018. She is soon to be the proprietor of the Poetry Pharmacy in Bishop’s Castle, with her partner the poet James Sheard.
(Website under construction: www.poetrypharmacy.co.uk)
by Victoria Bennett & Gill Hands
At the end of March 2019, the Wild Women gathered for our annual Wild Weekend. A tradition that started back in 2000 to celebrate the end of our first year of Wild Women workshops together, it has become a treasured time of union, where we give witness to each other's journeys, and celebrate the gift of friendship that has developed over time. It is a time to rest, laugh, support, love, wander, wonder, and of course, nourish our bodies (Wild Woman style) as well as our souls! These few days give us space and time to walk, rest, natter, read and create together -- to honour and give space to the Wild Within.
This year was particularly special, marking twenty years of gathering. Twenty years! That’s two decades of meeting, sharing, creating, supporting, howling, and living life from the wild centre. That is pretty damn AMAZING! And you know what, I think we are damn AMAZING too! Whether we are booty-shimmying or barely-limping, we celebrate who we are, and honour our Wild Journey so far.
As we reflected on those last twenty years and what it had meant for each of us, we gave thanks for the friendships, the opportunity to be creative, the support, wisdom, and guidance that we have each received and shared, the laughter and unconditional love, and the adventure of it all.
Over the years, we have often been asked what makes us "wild" (and accused at times as not being so). This then, is the answer: through Wild Women, we have been able to find hte acceptance, encouragement, and challenge do the most radical act possible in this world: to walk in the world without pretence. We are living our lives at the wild centre, as the women we are -- and that is enough. That is mighty.
So, this Wild Woman Thread is in celebration and gratitude for the treasure of that Wild Family and walking the world barefaced together. It is also in thanks for these wonderful women who managed to make me cry this year by surprising me with an actual treasure chest filled with gifts and poems and love, to thank me for calling the wild together back in 1999. It was incredibly moving to read and share these gifts, and it made me realise that even if I do nothing else in this world, this act is enough. I give thanks every day for their friendships and love - without which, I would not be the woman I am now -- and I am proud to be a Wild Woman.
The following poem is by Gill Hands...accompanied by some pictures from the weekend -- offered here to share something of our weekend, and what makes our Wild Family so special.
Wild Wishes, Vik xxx
We are dancing under rainbows,
we are seeking shooting stars,
we’re kaleidoscopic colours,
wood, clay, pebbles, pencil marks.
Bright hands blossom, earthen goddess,
merging inks are dripping down.
Needles clicking by the fireside,
bright striped colours passed around.
Beauty treatments for our faces,
beauty treatments for our toes.
The old ghost is amused by us,
modern language, modern clothes,
but when he joins us in the fire glow
he sees we are the same.
An ancient line of ancestors,
we are links upon a chain.
We are drumming through the darkness,
we are chanting back through time.
Sharing secrets, sharing stories, sharing spells.
Ancient cards of many symbols,
future patterns are divined, the mystery
that only we can tell.
We’re dissolving through a portal,
add our whispers to the walls,
like the ghost cat slinking slowly
through the door.
We are bobbing in warm water,
we are rolling in the dew,
we are writing by the river in a rage.
We are giving birth to anger,
we are vomiting our pain.
We are screaming FUCK THIS SHIT!
Again, again, again.
We are listening to each other,
bearing witness to our souls.
We are holding, we are hugging,
we are gentling the whole.
This is our temple, this our sacred womb.
We are the Wild Women,
howling at the moon.
Gill Hands is a poet, artist, mother, grower of magical gardens, wise woman, tea-leaf reader, and original Wild Women member. She wrote the poem in Thread Nine in celebration of the Wild Women Weekend.
Victoria Bennett is a poet, writer, wild garden grower, home-educating mama, and founder of Wild Women.
Together, they are part of the Wild Women clan.
The poem shown is a wonderful gift given to Victoria, written by Wild Women poet and spirit-guide, Ruth Snowden.
By Rosie Doyle
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.
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.
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.
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/
By Jessica Sneddon
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.
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.
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:
amplifies the gurgle and drain,
rattling leaves ricochet
trees v water
bore into soil
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.
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)
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)