Blue Music

Writing prompts – they occupy a slightly sado-masochistic place in my writing life. They can be agonising to engage with, but can be so very helpful too. Like a good stretch when you first wake up, they can function as a way of loosening up the imagination and writing muscles, and sometimes a wee gem emerges unexpectedly too.

I came across Vox Poetica a little while back and started to follow them on social media – who wouldn’t love their mission of bringing poetry into the everyday?! They run an occasional series of writing prompts and I recently responded along with several others. I called my own poem “Blue Music” but click on this link here and you will be able to check out the original prompt and the other very varied responses. The idea for my own response came from someone commenting about having synaesthesia, and going on a little research journey to consider what it may be like to have senses interacting in a way different to my own, and using a bit of poetic licence to play with those thoughts.

 

I see blue

you hear low, swaying melody

and together

we move

slow dancing

in cool night air

 

Stars light the way

but we close our eyes

against their silver

and our bodies 

they move so slow

together

 

Blue music

slow dancing

under starlight

 

© Vicky Allen 2018

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What Comes From Silence

 

peace

This is another piece produced in response to a writing prompt at a recent writers’ group. I loved this one in particular because the prompt was to choose a line from Wendell Berry’s wonderful poem “How to be a Poet (to remind myself)”, and in ten minutes draft a piece of work from that line. I chose the line “accept what comes from silence”, and lingered in those words. Silence has been an important discipline for me this year and so it was perhaps not surprising that it was that particular line which drew me in.

 

I sat long

the bleached and broken branch

sacred as any stiff-backed church pew

 

stillness was learned

as dusk became

a gauzy sky-robe of constellations

 

I expected silence

to be peace

some sort of hard-earned joy

 

but instead I wept

as silence offered me

my own star-shrouded heart

 

© Vicky Allen 2018

Breathe In

I am part of a fantastic writers’ group in Edinburgh, and it has been one of the quiet joys of my life to be connected to this group of gifted and encouraging people. We meet most months if we can, share what we are working on, and try a couple of writing exercises together. It can be so scary to stretch your writing muscles with others, but having a group that is committed to encouragement and mutual support makes it easier for us all to be brave. At a recent gathering we did a writing exercise from the prompt “a favourite place”, and spent ten minutes seeing what we could come up with. This came from that prompt:

 

breathe in

breathe out

slanted sun

warm dust motes

rising

 

paint tubes scrape, squeak

quiet clatter of lids

soft squelch

palette and brush

focus

 

breathe in

breathe out

bristles circle wetly

blues and greens and swirling greys

pause

 

brush sweep

wrist arc

chemical smell

colour flood

forming

 

breathe in

breathe out

 

© vicky allen 2018

Broken Things

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Nearly everyday when I’m out walking across the fields and hills and beaches here I find somewhere under my feet a bit of blue and white pottery – the photo shows some of my pocketed finds. I often wonder at the sheer proliferation of them; what was going on that so much blue and white pottery was getting smashed up in fields?!

Walk any path

in any direction

around the old field fringes

across the wide wild beaches

and there are traces,

for those who look

of ones who came before

I have collected traces

as I go, walking any path,

broken bits of cup and plates

blue and white fragments of forgotten meals

fractured from their whole

and turned over in the soil

sown for some later renewal

I turn over these broken things now

with curious fingers

wondering how they came to be lost

and found

was this once a plate, a cup

a common meal passed between friends?

The everyday mystery of the forgotten

Any path

in any direction

leads to broken things

blue and white memories

trodden down beneath careless feet

but beauty breaks the dirt

and brokenness becomes shared

© Vicky Allen 2018

Vernal Equinox

 

 

with sudden fanfare

spring’s sharply opened curtains

are a longed-for surprise

the light streams in

the dark scatters.

 

even-handed

day and night spread

celestial balance

the vernal welcome mat

an open door to coming days.

 

lion and lamb

are quiet today

a truce

their faces turning

to the March sun.

 

© Vicky Allen 2018

The Silence Challenge

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For Lent I decided to participate in The Silence Challenge, a commitment to seek silence for 5 minutes of each day. It’s been such an interesting and hopeful experience to practice a spiritual discipline in an accessible, attainable way. At first I began by setting the timer on my phone to ping after 5 minutes so I didn’t need to think about how much time had passed – I knew I would be alerted when 5 minutes was up. I have loved the sacredness of it – the setting-asideness of the time. Early on in the challenge I did some reading about silence in “The Spiritual Discipline Handbook” (Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Intervarsity Press 2015) and came across this phrase :

There is nothing you need to do here

….and breathe….This one phrase floored me. Choosing silence for just 5 minutes a day is choosing a space where there is nothing required of me, other than to stay within silence. More and more I have come to experience silence as that sense of space, a wide open place where I can simply be. In that space unexpected things can happen.

I have found thoughts flitting like anxious birds looking for somewhere to alight

I have found the quiet emergence of nature’s liturgy

I have found the dark hollow ache I have been trying to ignore

I have found companionship with a loving God who looks into the hollow with me

I have found tears coming unbidden as I cradle a cup of tea 

I have found stillness

I have found peace

As time has gone by I have stopped relying on my phone timer, discovering at first that when I decided to leave the period of silence the 5 minute space still held. My internal clock told me that that was enough for now. Then I gradually found my internal clock stretching the time out, until today I emerged from a period of silence after 10 minutes. I suppose it’s a sort of muscle-memory, and my “silence-muscles” are gradually being strengthened. Or perhaps it’s more like eating after a long period of illness and poor appetite – at first it’s hard to eat very much, but little by little you find your appetite improves and you are ready to be properly nourished again. And yes, I think practising silence is above all else proving to be a source of deep spiritual nourishment. I just didn’t know how hungry I was until I had that first small taste…

You are probably wondering why I am writing about it here, on a so-called poetry blog. I think I’m trying to find a way to gather together the emerging fruit of this season. Perhaps poetry will help me to understand it more deeply in time.

Today I held my heart in my hands

and walked into the wide open space before me

not looking for you

not exactly

but I found you anyway

and you took my little heart

you cupped it in your hands like it was an injured bird

whispering words of consolation 

then

you stretched out your arms

and my ragged heart flew free 

Thenew

I have loved discovering the ancient story of Thenew, the princess of the Gododdin tribe. You can find out more about her story in a beautiful recent publication, “East Lothian Folk Tales”. Thenew was sentenced to death by her father, King Loth, for defying him and refusing to marry the man he had chosen for her. The story has lots of twists and turns, but it is a tale of abandonment and miracles and hope in the darkest of places. After miraculously surviving her first death sentence Thenew is then cast adrift in the Firth of Forth in a small coracle, pregnant as the result of being raped by her rejected and angered suitor. This part of the story haunts me. How was she feeling? Was she so caught up in sheer survival and fear that she could give no thought to her father’s great rejection of her? What were her thoughts towards her unborn child? Thenew had become a Christian during this period – perhaps that was something else that her father was angered by? Thenew once again miraculously survives her second death sentence, when, after a dark night adrift and the tiny vessel taking on water with every wave she finally falls asleep…only to wake to a new day when the coracle reached the far shores of Fife. Thenew gave birth to her son that morning and they were cared for by the local community and the holy man St Serf. Thenew’s son was named Kentigern, or more intimately Mungo. Mungo grew to become a monk like St Serf, and went on to become the patron saint of Glasgow.

I have been thinking about Thenew as she faced what she must have thought was her last night. These three short drafts of poems are the beginnings of my explorations of her powerful story.

Thenew Speaks To Her Unborn Son

If this is our last night

then we shall be cradled

by the surging sea

the stars, the moon

sing silence over us

tonight

 

If this is our last night

then we shall let this wind

scour us

be known by it entirely

have no fear of its chill breath

tonight

 

If this is our last night

then we shall welcome

seal and bird and fish

they keep company with us

and this wild earth is not a friendless place

tonight

 

If this is our last night

we shall be held

in creation’s embrace

you shall be held

in my womb, your only home

tonight

 

If this is our last night

let wind and wave

the stars, the moon

write on our hearts

that love does not abandon us

tonight

 

The Moon Speaks To The Waves

Be calm tonight

let us conspire with our maker

to bring balm, peace

 

Be still tonight

let us bear our traveller

to a safer shore

 

Be quiet tonight

let us invite the wild ones of the sea

to tame her wounded soul

 

Be kind tonight

let us be a love-lullaby

to her dear unborn one

 

Be calm tonight

let us conspire with our maker

to carry her home

 

Mungo Speaks To His Mother

You held me first

my small fist clasping

your one outstretched finger.

You wrapped me

in your skirts,

wet and cold as they were,

but our only warmth.

You curled me close to your breast

and you sheltered

my fresh-born skin

my down-soft hair

from the cool morning breeze.

You did not know the night

would give way to a new dawn

but when it came you dawned anew with it.

So now

I hold you last.

Your first-born

has been kept warm

by your love

has been kept safe

within your wisdom

has thrived

through your courage.

You did not know

how many days

would follow your longest night

but as light fades

I hold you fast

and relinquish you to hope.

 

© Vicky Allen 2018

Home

My mum died just a few weeks ago after a short illness. We remembered her at a service of thanksgiving last Friday and I read this poem there. Writing the poem was a joy and a challenge – reading it to all our gathered family and friends even more so. However, I am glad to have it as a way of remembering Mum and I’m publishing it here as a way of holding on to that memory.

Home was once

a tumbling tribe of you

stacked and packed

into that wee house

so many brothers and sisters

all folded into one family

And then

home became

the two of you together

forever fixing up your not-quite-dream home

for a knock-down price

every new neighbourhood

a new possibility

Soon

home looked like

us four, family

finding our future

in every unpacked box

and planting our roots

in rich hopeful soil

Eventually

home was found

coming back to you for hasty visits and holidays

kettle on before the door closed

biscuits and board games and brilliant stories

you both stacked and packed us back

into your own wee house

We know now

home is what you made

every day

with secret skill and kindness

we know too

you have finally found your own way

Home.

Solstice – for Sally

It has been a source of joy to me this week to anticipate the approach of the winter solstice. I’m not sure why this year it feels so important, but nevertheless I know I have been speaking about, reading about, hearing more about the winter solstice than I’ve ever noticed before. I heard the solstices described on the radio this morning as “the hinges of the year”, and that’s so true – we travel from dark to light and back again over and over with the solstices marking the turning points from one to the other. I love long winter nights, and waking up to an ink-black room after a full night’s sleep. I love the way the skies here in Scotland darken so early on a winter’s afternoon, dusk and dawn holding hands with each other in a way summer does not allow. I also know many do not love it – but what would this world be without our many differing joys? Here’s a quick sketch of a poem to mark tonight, which a conversation with a lovely and inspiring friend prompted me to attempt.

I stretch out into

the generous space of the longest night

it is like

the heavy eiderdown

from my grandmother’s spare bed

or like

a soothing hand

upon my crumpled brow

the winter

balances delicately upon tonight

the length of it

measured by stars and moon and tides

I stretch out

every part of me glad for the heavy solace of night

Morning comes

the year turns

and I stretch into the light

 

© Vicky Allen 2017