In the bleak mid-winter Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone; "A Christmas Carol" by Christina Rossetti
This was one of my favourite carols to sing at the service we attended at Durham Cathedral each Christmas Eve when I was a child. I was always disappointed if it came up in the programme as "choir only".
It took me twenty years to discover that the words had been written by one of the few pre-1950s British female poets who ever make it into "best loved" or "classic" anthologies.
It feels, more than ever, that we are in a bleak mid-winter. Debt, economic crisis, massive wealth inequalities, climate change, animal and resource over-exploitation, species loss, human suffering, the list falls like the snow in Rossetti's poem. And the only answers offered are: consumerism, a "me first" attitude to rights and war. It seems the last part of the carol is missed:
"What can I give Him. Poor as I am? .... Yet what I can I give Him. Give my heart."
As a child I would fill with tears singing those lines. As an adult who does not believe in a "Him", I replace Rossetti's word with "the world" and I still feel like weeping.
A word which is appearing more and more often in our sore times is "efficiency". We will get through this bleak "blip in our prosperity" by being more efficient. What is disregarded is that as humans we are not made to be efficient, and, indeed, the moments when we are least efficient are when we are the most human. The health professional who sits with the elderly woman for five minutes, perhaps holding her frail hand, and listening, to a long drawn out story which is confused and has nothing to do with the "presenting problem", is not being efficient. Yet would we want to be without these moments of connection?
Being efficient also squeezes out creativity. Our creativity relies on having the time to day dream, to play, to explore without direction and to make mistakes. These are not activities which sit easily along-side "efficiency".
I would propose less efficiency. Yes, perhaps we will have to do without as many things, wait longer for responses, put up with more glitches in the system. On the other hand, would we not feel compensated by the nurturing of relationships and the gifts of creativity?
When I was about thirteen my art teacher told me I was rubbish at his subject. And I believed him for a very long time, still do in some ways. However, over the last few years, I have been exploring collage, using torn up paper, found items, oil pastels, felt tip pens and watercolour. More recently I've been combining this with my poems.
I enjoy the process of writing and then seeing it visually before creating the poetry-collage. I've had some good feedback now that I've tentatively started to show the reseults to a trusted few. But is it art?
I've had no training since those torturous classes at school. I can't draw anything which looks like anything in reality. Yet I have a sense of form and colour and produce pieces which do have impact. Is that art?
There's a BBC2 series on at the moment, School of Saatchi - reality TV for the pretentious as a student of mine put it - which follows a number of unknown contemporary artists through different set tasks, the prize being the patronage of Charles Saatchi. One of the questions artist Tracey Emin, and some of the other judges keep asking is: "but is this art?"
And sometimes that query whispers in my brain as I sit down to work on another collage. Then I think, does it matter? Maybe not, I comfort myself. Yet, I do think the discussion, is this poetry? a valid and an important one, so perhaps I am letting myself off the hook too easily.
Keats wrote that hope is a healing balm, a shining star, yet some become paralysed when trying to write about it. For others, Keats's words remind them how little hope there is, or has been, in their lives and this leads to sadness, anger, depression. When I offer writing about hope to my therapeutic group, I am reminded of this once again.
Hope is a sparkling cloud in the clear blue. Patiently it takes on the shape of a flower, or a bird, or a loved one, whatever we need to see.
But is it no match to stormy weather pulling the shutter across.
Pathways Through Writing Blocks in the Academic Environment
A new book by Kate Evans exploring creative ways for overcoming blocks to writing especially for those working in the academic environment. Aimed at students with essays, theses and reports to write, academics with articles or books they want to get out there and supervisors supporting anyone who is having a hard time putting words on the paper. See http://www.sensepublishers.com/ & www.amazon.co.uk
Healing Words: six linked one day workshops exploring creative writing
Aimed at writers working in therapeutic environments or with vulnerable groups or health professionals who want to bring writing into their practice. Themes covered: storytelling; poetry; metaphor; embodied writing. Dates: Saturdays in 2013, 9th March, 1st June, 27th July, 21st September, 23rd November and 18th January 2014. Participants can do all six or choose to attend specific ones. Workshops will be held in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. Continuing Professional Development hours will be awarded. Tutor: Kate Evans, writer, UKCP registered counsellor and Lapidus member. For more information, please contact Kate on firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the poetry & writing in this blog, copyright Kate Evans, unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved. For comments, questions or permissions please use email from my website: http://www.writingourselveswell.co.uk/.
Photos by Mark Vesey
Many of the names used in this blog have been changed and the dates & places of events have been disguised in order to preserve confidentiality.
I am a writer and a UKCP registered psychotherapeutic counsellor. I facilitate writing workshops. I am personally and professionally interested in the link between creativity and good mental health.
Visit my website: www.writingourselveswell.co.uk
Poetry The Peasholm Magic Lantern, Coastival 2009
Haiku & photo exhibition, Nutmeg Cafe, 2010
Words in My Head, Woodend, Coastival 2011
Books Contribution to Writing Works, a resource hadnbook for therapeutic writing workshops and activities eds Gillie Bolton, Victoria Field & Kate Thompson. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2006.
Articles The Poetry of Therapy, Therapy Today, December 2009 (reprinted Counselling Today NZ)
Outside Life: Edith Sitwell, Poetry News, Winter 2010
Writer's Block: a reflective literature review, The European Journal of Qualitative Research, Summer 2011
The chrysalis and the butterfly: a phenomenological study of one person's writing journey, Journal of Applied Arts & Health 2011
'Finding the unexpected': an account of a writing group for women with chronic pelvic pain (co-authored with Dr Lesley Glover), Journal of Poetry Therapy May 2012