Friday, March 31, 2017

The power of a tweet - my thoughts on Jon Ronson's Ted talk about Justine Sacco

Just a few thoughts after watching the talk below in which Jon Ronson discusses the fallout from the Justine Sacco twitter row

The internet is a little like a brain made up of billions of connections, ideas, opinions and voices. This brain has vast amounts of stored knowledge but I am afraid that it's losing it's emotional intelligence, its compassion. The you tube comments section can often be akin to traversing the seventh circle of hell, am I right? So many cruel, destructive comments, thrown out into the ether so easily, so anonymously; no consequences. 

The opinions which divide us as people seem to have become more important than shared human experiences that unite us; experiences of joy and grief, hope and fear. Human beings are nuanced, flawed and full of contradictions. The internet seems all too ready to reduce these grey areas of common ground to black and white zones where we wear our labels and live comfortably, sheltered in our own filter bubbles. 

The internet has so much potential to empower. It has so much potential to enable us to make connections with different people from different cultural, racial, political and economic backgrounds. The internet can be a beautiful, free, democratic, tolerant and compassionate space where we can learn, grow and enlarge our perspectives or it can become a suffocating bullying ground where we become afraid to speak for fear of being taken out of context, mocked or threatened. Silence is less than golden under these terms. 

I hope that the collective consciousness of the internet will continue to evolve toward openness, tolerance, compassion and kindness rather than exclusivity, cliquishness, mindless cruelty and scapegoating.

An excerpt from my new Poetry book "We ran until the Grass Grew Ragged"

Here are some poems from my new book "We ran until the grass grew ragged." Available here.

{This volume of poetry is inspired by the stark unsentimental beauty of nature, folklore, motherhood, memories, dreams and society. There are explorations into how mythology influences the collective consciousness and merges with real life in the liminal, transitional spaces between realms. The paradoxes, nuances and shades of grey in life are explored throughout, inspired by the marginalised voices that speak and sing at the periphery and frayed edges of life.}



Every act of beauty is life giving.
A counter to all that is dark.

It pulls back the curtain saying 
This is not the only room.

There is a garden too.
Clothed in green shoots and tender leaves.

Water it.

In Birdsong Bright 

When God said in that birdsong bright
dawn light voice of His,
that He wanted all of me,
just and only me,
not airbrushed, fragments, of diamond without coal
or seed without soil.
Not me in daubs of white or veiled
or clothed in sober attire
and reverence.
But I in funny, yellow daffodil
clumsy and anxious,
afraid of friendship
and impatient with dirty floors.
Silly, strange and desperate
to be loved and known.
Practically disastrous, burdensome
lazy, wine drinking, preferring to dream,
than work.
Who find my soul in poems,
my prayers in streams
and many Gods in prayer flags
and leaves and trees,
who prays to saints like friends,
who believes the world turns on a turtle
as much as in the Resurrection.
Who weeps with dancing bears
and the glazed eye of the trembling deer
before the steady gun.
I, who feels a stranger in the world,
who trawls words like shipwreck, stranded and exile
through the silt of her soul.
I, who can't seem to keep straight or narrow, or true,
making promises and breaking vows,
whose foundation is a shifting sand.
I who still feels His hand
rush over my head with gentle benediction
when alone
and hopeless
and wrong.

Your Hands

Between your hands there are deserts and well springs
And the one who dreams such places into being.

All water flows from these cupped palms and
When faced with their reflections within it, the stars tremble.

All beings are washed down to their truth there.
Naked elements passing through bare fingers,

The first wing beating breath to the last strum,
Splintering surface tension into a thousand different melodies,

But here is the real secret,
Without your hands none of this would exist.

From the Mountaintop to the Favela

Hope hollers, yellow from a Favela matchbox
dispossessed with the raw tinder, of desiccated
dreams, here the smallest spark can ignite the dampest surface
But no flame can take hold without oxygen,
so mute darkness returns with solemnity of ritual.

Strands of trees stand like accusations
emaciated ruins of forest and the Yanomami chant
peddled by tour operators that sear clean
the surfaces of ever narrowing streets
where every road only ever leads to a dead end.

Winding round corrugated panels,
Wriggling like a nonchalant girl
out of the arms of a pushy boy,
tapering like thread veins around genuflecting buildings
that have long fallen prostrate in sackcloth and ashes.

Above them Christ the redeemer stands
platinum and aloof as a diamond
against the noonday
heat that wilts the strength of men
into sinews of flailing grass.

Immutable as the steely
lattice work of banks
and hotels that rise
to meet him like good, clean parishioners
with fat envelopes for the offertory basket.

He gazes serene, arms unburdened
by the weight of gravity upon flesh and bone.
His embrace is held aloft by the scaffolding of stone
that can only unmoving, embrace all without bias
and will find offense neither in excess or poverty.

Great slab of mottled land, pockmarked with
open pores that absorb a thousand
unnamed footsteps a minute,
spreading out like the solidified
lava of a sleeping volcano .

Is he really that distant and detached from your grieving?
Mast of the bay, flag of the conquistador?
Patient and sympathetic as charity peddlers
who employ Favela girls to wash their clothes
so they can do the important work.

This thin skinned shin
of earth shimmers like a pulsing beat.
Heat breaks the wings
of young birds and disturbs
the child’s sleep.

Shards of light
cauterize septic
open sewer hemmed streets.
Transfiguring a grimy crust that chrysalises
a thousand waiting dreams,

I find Jesus in Favela
washing the feet of the mountain.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ode to a Fallen Elm (A poet's lament on the privatisation of the natural world)

A poem painted on a defaced ‘no trespassing’ sign at Freeman's Wood. Photograph: Bradley L Garrett

The Enclosures were a series of United Kingdom Acts of Parliament which enclosed open fields and common land in the country, creating legal property rights to land that was previously considered common. Between 1604 and 1914, over 5,200 individual Enclosure Acts were put into place, enclosing 6.8 million acres.

 Prior to the enclosures in England, a portion of the land was categorized as "common" or "waste". "Common" land was under some kind of collective control. Called the open field system, a single plot of land was divided among groups, often a lord and employed or participating peasants. This facilitated common grazing and crop rotation."Waste" was the only land not officially claimed by any group, often cultivated by landless peasants.


In her book about the wonder of childhood "Kith,Jay Griffiths writes about the effects the Enclosures had on ordinary people.

"It is hard today to imagine what children's lives were like before the Enclosures and it is impossible to overstate the terrible, lasting alteration which those Acts made to childhood in Britain.
Although it is not, in the great scheme of things, so very long ago, we today are effectively fenced off from even its memory."...

" The commons was home for boy or bird but the Enclosures stole the nests of both, bereaved children of the site of their childhood, robbed them of animal- tutors and river- mentors and stole their deep dream - shelter. The great outdoors was fenced off and marked "TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED."...

" Over the generations, as the outdoors shrank, the indoor world enlarged in importance."...


Before the Enclosures commons and heaths were essentially a shared resource where the poor could keep a cow, gather fallen branches for firewood, plant crops and hunt.
These were also the places of ancient carnival, traditional festival and children's free play. The enclosures transformed this cultural heritage and had a deep, haunting effect on the psyche of the pastoral poet John Clare.


 " The Enclosures threw the peasantry into that acute poverty which would scar Clare's own life and mind so deeply. His grief stricken madness, alcoholism and exile as a result of this land - loss encapsulates in one indigenous life the experience of so many indigenous cultures."...

" By 1816, poachers, including children of nine or ten, were given punishments of imprisonment or transportation of offences against the Games Laws, enacted to protect the hunting rights of the wealthy."..." "The games of the gentry - hunting for fun - were fiercely protect, while hunting for sheer starving necessity, engaged in by children and adults was outlawed."

..." The 1794 Report on Enclosures in Shropshire states with nasty approval that a result of the Enclosures would be that " the labourers will work every day in the year, their children will be put out to labour early." Children's hard labour would become necessary for survival as families lost one right after another, including gleaners rights to leaze after the harvest."

Griffiths continues.... " I  have been with Amazonian people when they have seen the searing brutality of their lands being ripped apart for gold in today's act of corporate enclosure, and I  have watched men weep while they say aghast, " We are the land," a truth which John Clare would have effortlessly understood."


Governments often legislate in favour of  corporations and private enterprises giving them mandates to compromise the well being of the natural environment and the local communities that work and live in them to make a profit. From local battle grounds such as Freeman's Wood to the contravening of treaty laws which allow the continuation of the Dakota pipeline, from fracking to the wholesale expulsion of tribal communities from the Amazon, there are many contemporary examples of this. 
More and more of the natural world is being patented, privatized and fenced off from children and adults alike. As a result birthrights such as clean water, air and the freedom to roam are slowly becoming commodities sold for profit.

The poem below is by John Clare. 
To me it is a wild cry of the land for its children and the children for their birthright, the land. It rings with the call of the warbler for its secret nest among the pines and the fox’s silent plea to the hunter's horn. It resonates with that deep longing we carry for re-connection with  our natural human and humane state, honest as the trees, animals and dark skinned earth; our home. It is the yearning to live free of laws made to enlarge the estates of an elite few as the many lose their access to the land.
The Elm tree of the poem was felled during the Enclosures. From it a carpenter friend of Clare's, fashioned a wooden ruler as a keepsake and symbol of the value of measured gain over incalculable loss.

To a Fallen Elm

Old Elm that murmured in our chimney top
The sweetest anthem autumn ever made
And into mellow whispering calms would drop
When showers fell on thy many coloured shade
And when dark tempests mimic thunder made
While darkness came as it would strangle light
With the black tempest of a winter night
That rocked thee like a cradle to thy root
How did I love to hear the winds upbraid
Thy strength without while all within was mute
It seasoned comfort to our hearts desire
We felt thy kind protection like a friend
And pitched our chairs up closer to the fire
Enjoying comforts that was was never penned
Old favourite tree thoust seen times changes lower
But change till now did never come to thee
For time beheld thee as his sacred dower
And nature claimed thee her domestic tree
Storms came and shook thee with aliving power
Yet steadfast to thy home thy roots hath been
Summers of thirst parched round thy homely bower
Till earth grew iron - still thy leaves was green
The children sought thee in thy summer shade
And made their play house rings of sticks and stone
The mavis sang and felt himself alone
While in they leaves his early nest was made
And I did feel his happiness mine own
Nought heeding that our friendship was betrayed
Friend not inanimate- tho stocks and stones
There are and many cloathed in flesh and bones
Thou ownd a language by which hearts are stirred
Deeper than by the attribute of words
Thine spoke a feeling known in every tongue
Language of pity and the force of wrong
What cant assumes what hypocrites may dare
Speaks home to truth and shows it what they are
I see a picture that thy fate displays
And learn a lesson from thy destiny
Self interest saw thee stand in freedoms ways
So thy old shadow must a tyrant be
Thoust heard the knave abusing those in power
Bawl freedom loud and then oppress the free
Thoust sheltered hypocrites in many an hour
That when in power would never shelter thee
Thoust heard the knave supply his canting powers
With wrongs illusions when he wanted friends
That bawled for shelter when he lived in showers
And when clouds vanished made thy shade amends
With axe at root he felled thee to the ground
And barked of freedom - O I hate that sound
It grows the cant terms of enslaving tools
To wrong another by the name of right
It grows a licence with oer bearing fools
To cheat plain honesty by force of might
Thus came enclosure- ruin was her guide
But freedoms clapping hands enjoyed the sight
Tho comforts cottage soon was thrust aside
And workhouse prisons raised upon the site
Een natures dwelling far away from men
The common heath became the spoilers prey
The rabbit had not where to make his den
And labours only cow was drove away
No matter- wrong was right and right was wrong
And freedoms brawl was sanction to the song
Such was thy ruin music making Elm
The rights of freedom was to injure thine
As thou wert served so would they overwhelm
In freedoms name the little so would they over whelm
And these are knaves that brawl for better laws
And cant of tyranny in stronger powers
Who glut their vile unsatiated maws
And freedoms birthright from the weak devours.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Performance Poetry

I am writing a post about spoken word poetry today. Something very powerful happens when poetry is spoken aloud and performed.

Poetry in all its forms captures and expresses thoughts, feelings and experiences in a raw and visceral way. It is like a bird alighting on your hand something that wakes you to the sacred in the ordinary. Some poetry has flow and cadence, its lines undulate like a beautiful, untouched landscape. Some poetry has great clarity, it freeze frames a thought or feeling and describes it in photographic detail as if shot from many different angles at once. The greatest poems do both.

Performance poetry adds another dimension to this though. When a poem is spoken aloud it reveals its inner music. It becomes more than a poem. It becomes an incantation carrying the energy  of the poets voice. The poem suddenly becomes vulnerable and mistakes can be made that can be deleted or edited on a clean white page. Performance poetry is sometimes  edgy often unpolished but always true and always real.

Here are some of my favorite Performance poets and poems performed.