May their dear souls rest in peace

Yom Kippur is traditionally a time when the dead are remembered, and that inevitably leads us to think of our own mortality. When I was a child that part of the service terrified me, living as I did in constant fear of death. Those who had died were part of a never-ending procession that one day (I hoped not for a long time) would include me. I too would be snuffed out into eternal darkness. At that time the loss of people dear to me played a far smaller part than my fears for myself. My beloved grandmother, called Grandmop because she had a mop of white hair, had died when I was just three, and my uncle Ruby, whom I wasn’t aware of loving, when I was eight, but both their deaths were wrapped in a secrecy that created terror.

It wasn’t till I was older that grief became real to me, although I had cried at the deaths of pets and sobbed my heart out when one of our budgies died. Only when I lost people who had mattered to me did I begin to understand the sadness of losing the human connection. It made my fears for myself seem less important, though they didn’t completely go away. I realised that the deaths of people I loved had taught me something about the preciousness of life and the wisdom of accepting its end, though I might not have put it in quite those words then. At around that time I discovered the work of Stephen Levine, a Buddhist teacher who has worked extensively with death and dying, and began to see there was something to learn about letting go.


In Griefwalker, a film by Tim Wilson which I found deeply moving, Canadian shaman Stephen Jenkinson shows not only that healing comes when we have the courage to meet grief and our own death, but that we can’t live fully unless we do. Jenkinson, a European, has been deeply influenced by the teachings of the Algonquin tribe. Their life, at least in the place where he has visited them, has retained its closeness to the natural world and its sense of harmony with other lives. Seeing themselves as part of nature, in which all beings die and are succeeded by other beings, means they don’t take their own death so personally and can offer it as a gift to those who come next. The other day I came across an account of the tsunami in Thailand by a psychologist who helped people find their dead or missing loved ones. Grief-stricken as they were, the psychologist noticed that they were less inclined to blame anyone for their loss. Their response, ‘It’s nature,’ came from the Buddhist understanding that all things are impermanent and loss is inevitable: ultimately we’re not in control, and we’re not separate from everything else.

Recently I heard that a much-loved local Buddhist teacher, someone considerably younger than myself, has had a major operation for cancer. The prognosis is uncertain and he is facing the possibility of death with clear-sighted equanimity: not wanting to die yet but accepting whatever may come with an open heart. People sometimes see the Buddhist teachings as nihilistic – nothing is permanent, everything is suffering, there’s no self – but if you interpret them in that way you miss the joy and freedom that come from even tiny glimpses of what lies beyond. It isn’t that everything is suffering, but that suffering comes when we try to cling to what’s impermanent, whether it’s our own fixed sense of self or someone or something ‘out there’. Grief hurts, but suffering in this sense comes when we don’t accept the pain and try to push it away – or sometimes when we hang on to it because we can’t face the reality of loss. Ceasing to suffer, or suffering less, brings a sense of freedom, though it may not make the pain go away.

In the last year or so my heart has felt more open to love – for another person or many other people, and for the world around me. And, inescapably, love heightens the awareness of death. In the garden flowers die, I tread on snails and insects, I find the corpse of a bird. All these beings have had a life which has been precious in its own terms. I know that if I love someone, I may go through the pain of losing them or, if I die first, that they will go through the pain of losing me. There are people whose loss I would grieve deeply and – if it doesn’t sound too arrogant to say so – people who would grieve my loss. Grief is built into our life, and however fully I grieve for all the people I’ve lost I don’t know that it will ever go away. I do know that if and when I can embrace it and let it live through me, there is a relief and an opening again to the wider world.

‘May their dear souls rest in peace’ is something that’s often written on Jewish gravestones. May they indeed rest in peace. May I rest in peace as I continue to grieve for them, and as I continue to open to love and new life.





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Season of mists…

Today it isn’t misty. The hills beyond my back garden are clearly visible through the trees and the apples still left on the branches are a rich red against the green, with crescents of shadow where the sun catches the leaves. Birds are cheeping and chirring (don’t ask me which ones) and the sky is an almost clear blue, only faintly veiled lower down. There’s plenty of mellow fruitfulness. Apart from the apples there are raspberries – aptly named Autumn Bliss – and in what’s become the vegetable jungle I’ve got courgettes, squashes, runner beans, salsify and even a few embryonic cucumbers. I didn’t realise ridge cucumbers were so spiny in their natural state (prickled before they’re pickled); you have to shave them before you can eat them. And I’ve had lovely mottled borlotti beans, like eggs in a pod, and a few wild strawberries too.

The Jewish New Year has come and gone, and so has Yom Kippur. I don’t celebrate the festivals formally but I’m usually aware of them. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is among other things a time for reviewing the past year, making amends and beginning the new year with a clean slate. An autumn New Year coincides with the equinox, more or less, and of course with the start of the academic year, a time that for many of us still carries the hope (or dread) of new beginnings. For me there’s a wonderful freshness about the sharp autumn sunshine, the chill in the air that starts and ends the day, the shades of green that are not quite on the turn into softer yellows and browns. A freshness and a sense of transience: the days are getting shorter, plants in the garden are coming to the end of their flowering (though some of my poppies are having a late resurgence) the moon hangs low and heavy in the sky.


I’ve always found autumn particularly poignant, poised as it is between new hope and mourning for what has gone. Here is an autumn poem I wrote a long time ago, that perhaps expresses that moment on the cusp between the two. It’s one of those ones that I’m not sure would be publishable, so I’m happy to share it here.


Sharp autumn light exposes
the clear shapes of trees. Last rags of leaves
soften the edges of an epiphany.

In this light I am stripped bare.
Sharper than spring, it awakens
longing for newness in a time of death.

At winter’s approach I am made new
old ambitions ready to shoot again
before they blow away like leaves.

Autumn returning, I find myself
once more within the heart. The clarity
of the late glow calls me home

reveals the shape inside the bones
The season gone, now winter leaves me
lost in my new woollen gloves.

This year I’m particularly conscious of autumn as a time of change. A lot in my life seems to have shifted over the last year, some things subtly, some less so. I haven’t been writing so much lately but am still editing and sending out: it feels as though I need a time of consolidation before the next step forward. I’ll shortly be going on a two-week retreat – not very long, but long enough to mark a break between what has gone before and whatever comes next in my life. Time to reflect and let go and be with the exquisiteness of autumn with a mind that’s cleared of some of the debris, embracing the beauty and impermanence of everything with a heart that’s more open than it was, more aware of the bedrock of love and the inevitability of grief. Big words, sounding bigger perhaps because I’d rather not be too specific. Some spaces need to be protected, like the nuns’ graveyard in the grounds of the retreat centre which is accessible only to their families, but is still enfolded in the love that permeates the place.

And what of writing? While I’m on retreat I’ll write a little in my journal and see if the odd poem comes. After that there’s the novel I still want to finish and the poetry manuscript to start putting together. And who knows what else? I’ve yet to see what fruit this autumn will bring.


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Revisions, Revisions

I seem to be in editing mode at the moment. I’ve just finished yet another draft of the novel I haven’t managed to find an agent for – though there’s still more that needs doing – and am awaiting feedback from my writing group. I’ve also started going through my poems  – just a tweak for some of them, more radical changes for others. All of this is with a view to sending work out. Despite what all the rejections seem to have been telling me, I am going to have another try at getting an agent, and I want to submit a lot more poems to magazines as well as start working on a possible collection.

It all sounds very positive and efficient, and in a way it is. At last I seem to be finding ways to address the novel’s glaring flaws – unlikeable main character, too much irrelevant material – those detailed, carefully written descriptions of things that don’t need to be described – and consequent lack of narrative drive. But perhaps I’m only able to do it because I’ve realised how much less good a novelist I am than I thought I was – which in itself isn’t a negative thing. It means I can begin from the premise that the novel needs a lot of improving, rather than that it’s basically OK as it is. Over the past few months I’ve been able to see not only how much better the novels of other people in my writing group are – one of them is a bestseller and two are with prestigious publishers – but in what ways they are better. Those who are published have of course had input from agents and editors, but even without that other people in the group have put an enormous amount of time and effort into honing and rewriting. And it shows. That doesn’t mean I’ll end up writing novels that are like theirs – to paraphrase Walter de la Mare, ‘whatever Ms X writes turns into Ms X’ – but I do have a yardstick to measure my work against. So it’s back to the drawing-board again. And again.

It’s a different matter with poetry. I’ve known for a long time that writing a poem is about drafting and redrafting, refining and paring down, and being prepared to listen to other people’s suggestions. And also being able to stick to my own gut feeling about what seems right – which applies to the novel too. I can respect what people tell me but I can’t always take everything on board, especially when the things that are said are contradictory. I’d be lying if I said I never responded to feedback defensively, but I hope I’m learning to do that less. Again it’s easier with poems because I didn’t start out believing in myself as a poet the way that I believed in myself as a novelist. Some of my poems seem to come right quite quickly, while others need reworking a number of times – and then when I go back to them I usually want to tweak them again. The difference is that a poem – a short poem, at any rate – is small enough to be taken in as a whole: the rhythm and balance and structure are all immediately apparent. Whereas once you’re inside the world of a novel it’s much harder to maintain the overview and not simply be carried along by what’s already there.

I’d like to think that the training I’m getting in honing poems down to the essentials will have a knock-on effect on my approach to novel-writing. Whether it will, or already is, remains to be seen. An obstinate part of me does still believe this novel has some sort of potential, and at the same time I also know that however good I can make it there is no guarantee whatsoever of publication or even acceptance by an agent. For that reason I’m becoming a little more prepared to consider self-publishing. I’d hate the marketing side of it, but if I want to get the book out into the world then realistically that may be the best option. It’s interesting that to me self-publishing a novel still carries the stigma of failure (though I don’t like to use that word), whereas self-publishing a poetry collection is just something a poet may do en route to getting published in other ways. But then the poetry world is smaller and far less commercially-minded than the tough world of fiction.

So it’s back again to the painstaking task of keeping myself out of the way and trying to do what’s best for the piece of work in hand. There’s a clarity and even an exhilaration about it that I’m enjoying, and it’s all – though I may say it with gritted teeth – an exercise in humility: seeing things as they are rather than as I’d like them to be. And, in spite of everything I’ve said, I still think that some bits of my novel are really not too bad.


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On Being a Poet

Some while ago I wrote two posts, the first called On Not Being a Poet and the second On Not Not Being a Poet. Logically the follow-on would be On Being A Poet, and it says something about where I am now that I am at last prepared to write it. The first two were very much about whether or not I felt like a poet and whether I was entitled to call myself one. This is about being a poet ‘out there’: somebody who ‘does’ poetry and can be seen to be doing it.

Since I joined the wonderful 52 in May last year I’ve had more than 20 poems published in magazines and anthologies and have been shortlisted in a pamphlet competition and longlisted in a single poem competition. Not bad going for someone who prior to that had only had two or three poems published ever. Once I’d got six published poems I was able to make a submission to a poetry publisher, and I’ve been invited to submit a manuscript of 50 poems for consideration in March next year. No guarantee of publication, but the publisher is a reputable one and I’m delighted to have got that far. I’ve now amassed enough of a body of work to make publishing a pamphlet or even a full collection possible. All those things are poetry credentials, the sort that real poets have, even if I haven’t yet got that many of them.

But it’s not only about the work itself. Since this time last year I’ve been going round being a poet. I go to workshops with other local poets, I read at magazine launches and open mics, I turn up at festivals and poetry discussions, I spend time hanging out with poets. Down here in South Devon there’s a very active poetry scene and a tribe of poets who all seem to know one another. Some are more published and better-known than others, but none of them seem to have any trouble accepting me as one of them. When I said to someone that until recently I’d been scared of talking to poets because they seemed to me such special beings, his immediate reaction was, ‘But you’re a poet.’ Just like that. Somehow or other – and I’m still not sure how – I’ve got the equivalent of the old Equity card and in the eyes of the world have been admitted into the ranks.

So what’s it like, this being a poet? Rather nice, I have to say. As I remarked to a friend the other day, since I became a poet my social life has expanded dramatically. Poets are forever getting together for readings of their own and other people’s work, for many poets workshops are a sine qua non, and there’s nothing poets like better than sitting round with other poets and talking about poetry. By contrast, the novelist seems a much more solitary animal. After spending hours at the computer or with the written page, a novelist won’t necessarily rush off to a reading of other people’s fiction or get together with a whole lot of other novelists to talk shop.

I’m very fortunate to be part of a regular group of novelists and prose writers (I still harbour dreams of writing fiction as well) who meet regularly to share work and support each other in their writing lives – but that doesn’t seem to be the norm. For company, and perhaps by choice, novelists may have to make do with the characters they have created. And perhaps that’s a difference: however intense and arduous the experience of writing a poem may be, it doesn’t go on for weeks, months, years in the way that a novel does. You write a poem, you finish it or put it aside for later, and then you move on to another one. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a bigger and more continuous process involved in writing a series of poems or putting together a collection –  but it isn’t a continuous piece of fabrication in quite the same way.

I’ve no idea whether what I’ve said about poets and novelists does anything to explain the difference between them, but it does say something about my experience of being a novelist (to the extent that I am one) and being a poet. I love writing poems and I also love writing fiction: having the chance to immerse myself in the world of a novel and live with the people and places in it over time. And I love both my poet friends and my prose writer friends, and feel extraordinarily grateful that I can be part of two such creative and welcoming communities.


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Transport of Delight

1959 Routemaster - from the London Bus Museum

1959 Routemaster – from the London Bus Museum

Back in the 1950s, comedy duo Flanders and Swann wrote a song called Transport of Delight, a cynical but affectionate tribute to the London bus. In those days people took public transport for granted. A lot of people didn’t have cars – my family didn’t, though we weren’t too badly off – and if you wanted to go anywhere you thought about taking the train or the bus. Before Dr Beeching came along in the 1960s there were trains practically everywhere, and even small villages had some sort of bus service. The railways were nationalised, and in the 1960s buses were too. Public  was a public service: fares weren’t so exorbitant that you had to think seriously about them and buses were frequent. The lack of a car didn’t restrict people’s lives to the extent it may do now.

In London and big cities, of course, there isn’t a shortage of public transport. Passengers (I refuse to say customers) are plentiful enough to make the service economic (or economical, as we used to say when economic meant something else). In London at least there are enough people around late at night and early in the morning to make all-night buses a common sight. But what if you live in a small town or village, in an area that’s predominantly rural? Well, the answer is probably hard luck.

On Sunday I wanted to get from Ashburton, where I live, to Dartington Hall – a distance of some seven miles which would have taken about twenty minutes by car, had I been able to use the car. I was going to the Ways with Words literary festival and planned on staying till the evening. I knew I’d have to ask someone for a lift home, as even on a weekday there are no buses after about 6pm, but I thought that at least I’d be able to get there independently. I did, but because there are no buses on a Sunday from Ashburton to Totnes (the nearest town to Dartington) and no local buses from Totnes up to the Hall, I had to catch one of the few buses going in the opposite direction to Newton Abbot, then a train from Newton Abbot to Totnes, and then walk up from Totnes to Dartington Hall. The bus journey took about a quarter of an hour. There was then a ten-minute walk from the bus station to the railway station, where fortunately I caught a train almost straight away, followed by a ten-minute train ride. The walk up to Dartington was very pleasant and not that long, but by the time I got there I felt I’d been on a bit of a journey. When I lived in London all that changing about would have been nothing out of the ordinary, but at least I would been able to rely on there being a service  – all things being equal, which of course they often aren’t.

The point I’m making is not that journeys on public transport tend to be more complicated than journeys by car, but that because of the scarcity of public transport getting from A to B can be enormously difficult. There are plenty of villages round here where there is no bus service at all, or the buses are so few and far between that to get to your destination, do what you need to do and be ready to catch the last bus back is well-nigh impossible. I know quite a few people who don’t have cars, and they are dependent on the willingness of friends to take them where they need to go. In these hard times not everyone can afford to run a car – and, let’s face it, by no means everyone can afford bus fares – so once again people who are poor or elderly or disabled are the ones who are penalised. Running buses on rural routes may not be ‘commercial,’ but unless you believe that profit is the sole good in life surely you must take people’s needs into account.

I notice that a lot of the people round here who use the buses are, like me, entitled to a free bus pass. The fact that fares are expensive, plus the relative inconvenience, means that by and large people prefer to travel by car if they can: covering long distances in ones and twos, burning fossil fuel and polluting the countryside. I know I do. However, if buses were more frequent and fares were cheaper, more people would travel by bus and the service could well become more ‘economic’. But that, of course, would take government support, which we certainly aren’t going to get from this government. So it goes on, with the divide between those who can participate fully in society and the disenfranchised becoming ever wider.

Which brings us back to the dear old London bus. How I used to hate waiting for them when I lived in London, how I loathed the noise and the dirt and the overcrowding, and how I long for them now, and sometimes even crave the convenience of the Tube. At least London has a transport system. Rural areas can count their blessings if they have transport at all.

LT1 - the latest London bus - from the London Bus Museum

LT1 – the latest London bus – from the London Bus Museum

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Here Be Dragons

I don’t know if anyone has ever told you, but in case you didn’t know – dragons are real. As in: they exist. OK, you may not be able to see them in quite the same way that you’ve seen a fox or a rabbit, but they’re there all right, living in what psychoanalyst D W Winnicott called transitional space – that space between the inner and outer worlds where art and magic and imagination live. And that of course is their function. They are intermediaries between worlds, creatures of birth and death, and they appear to us at significant times in our lives. Dragons inhabit each of the four elements – earth, air, fire and water – and they inhabit us, if we let them.

"Dragon" by Angelus (talk) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Dragon” by Angelus (talk) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

I’ve been acquainted with dragons for a long time and written several dragon stories. Here are some of the things you should know about them:

  • Dragons will only reveal themselves when the time is right. You may search and search but you will never find your dragons until they, not you, are ready.
  • Dragons are to be respected for the power that resides within them. It is a power of healing and destruction, death and life.
  • You must approach a dragon with awe but not fear. If you are afraid of it, you will not find it even if it consumes you with its flame.
  • Dragons are inconceivably ancient and carry secrets as old as time. And in each moment they make themselves new, beyond your imagining.
  • The treasure that dragons guard is so precious that you are afraid to find it. They will not give it up to you unless you can prove you are its rightful owner.
  • Some dragons have lain hidden deep in the earth for thousands of ages. You can only discover their power by entering the dark cave where you are not.
  • Some dragons live in the depths of the ocean.You must plunge deep to find them and not fear drowning. When they rise to the surface, you will know that their fire has not been quenched.
  • There are some dragons whose element is the air.They fly high above the world, seeing everything. If you meet one, you must soar with it wherever it takes you or lose the vision that you have.
  • Above all the element of dragons is fire. When you meet it, you must be prepared to die from its light and heat. Otherwise you will never know what it is to be fully alive.
  • The language of dragons speaks their ancient power. Dragon speech spurts out in tongues of flame, scorching and purifying all it finds
  • You cannot expect to escape the dragons and you cannot expect to meet them.   When you meet one, you will always have known it and will never have seen anything like it.

chinese-dragon-clip-art-19These days, of course, it’s hard to think of dragons without thinking of Harry Potter. There are some rather splendid – and frightening – dragons in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but they’re not really given a chance to be everything that dragons can be. The most important thing about a dragon is that when you meet it, either it destroys you or else you become it and take on something of its power. If you do, you will find your secret wings and claws and learn to breathe out flame. Becoming a dragon is not necessarily an easy process, though. This is what it may be like:

Its talons clutch at my guts, folded wing-points pinion my diaphragm, arrow-head tail flails my entrails, razor-toothed jaw jams into my throat. Its hunger leaves me no room for food. Its breath scorches into my lungs, its heat broils and roils in all my body’s passages. Already I hardly know air from fire. My insides melt, are smelted into scales; my skin is sucked within their emerging armour; my joints are turned inside-out in clawed limbs. Wings unfurling thrust through my shoulder blades, shudder open with a thunder-rush that frightens the sky. My lengthening neck twists and gyrates in its armour plates until my head blazes free. Opening my mouth to its embered depths I fling out my first roar of flame.

I wrote the piece above for the prose poem prompt from the online poetry group 52. I’m not sure whether it’s poetry of any sort, but it’s certainly dragon – a dragon you wouldn’t mess with. And there’s no question that it’s fire and heat.

In the late 1990s I put together a collection of writings (not published or publishable) called Meeting the Dragon. It started as a project for a personal development course and though it contained many other strands of writing, pieces about finding, meeting and becoming the dragon were the thread that held it together. After that I stopped writing about dragons, though they never quite went away. Just recently they’ve been around again. When I told my writing group about the dragon book, they suggested I write another dragon story – mainly as a way of getting back my confidence in writing fiction. I immediately said yes. I have a sense that dragons are moving again in my life, I’m not sure how or when. I haven’t flown or scorched anyone yet, but you’d better be careful…






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Without a shell

Not long ago I had an accident in my car. I’d had a few minor collisions before, my fault or someone else’s, but this was worse. I was driving faster than usual down a narrow lane, and didn’t see the other car coming round a blind corner towards me until it was too late. I braked, but still slammed into the by now stationary bumper of a very nice new-looking Mini. The other driver – who turned out to be a lorry-driving instructor – was understandably furious and told me in no uncertain terms what I’d been doing wrong. Fortunately neither of us was hurt, though the fronts of both cars were damaged by the impact. (When I lived in London, there was a local driving school that called itself the Impact School of Motoring and presumably ran crash courses.)

Once we were off the main track and trying to sort things out with our respective insurance companies, I felt myself wanting to collapse into a wobbly, tearful state compounded of shock, relief that things weren’t worse, recognising how much worse they could have been, and a large dose of shame. The other driver soon got over his anger and was as helpful as he could be, but his kindness made it all the harder not to dissolve in a puddle of unhelpful tears – which I didn’t do. In fact I kept pretty calm, all things considered, and didn’t collapse until I’d got the poor injured car home (fortunately not far away) and finished dealing with the insurers. Questions like ‘Was there CCTV?’ (concealed in the hedgerow, I assume) and ‘Which side was the other driver on?’ (in a lane just wide enough for one car) left me teetering on the edge of hysteria. At least I could phone a good friend afterwards and get, in lieu of an in-person hug, a comforting virtual one. (I got some real ones later too.)

Since then I’ve been both surprised and not surprised at how vulnerable and shaken up I’ve felt. Various other mishaps – which I won’t go into here – haven’t made things easier, but I still find myself buying into the assumption that if the accident has been fairly minor and I haven’t been hurt, I should be able to get over it pretty quickly. At the same time I know perfectly well that any sort of traumatic incident in the present, even a relatively minor one, leaves a residue and also taps into the reservoir of previous trauma that most of us have inside us. By trauma I don’t necessarily mean anything as horrific as violence or abuse or even a serious accident, but circumstances that, whether we consciously remember them or not, have in some way left an imprint of unresolved shock. (For more on this and the way trauma remains in the body see, among other good sources, In An Unspoken Voice by Peter Levine.)

But feeling more vulnerable isn’t all negative. I’ve been more open to the beauty of the landscape, the wild flowers that grow in the hedgerows and beside the little river that runs through the town, the plants in my garden; more touched by friends’ care and kindness; more aware of what’s been going on inside me. The other day I pictured the car as a hard shell that had been covering me but had now cracked and fallen off, leaving me rather like a hermit crab without its borrowed casing. It felt like a relief, as though I was allowed to be myself more directly and openly, even if that self seemed in some ways less grown-up and was less carefully held together. Perhaps many of us secretly long to return to the spontaneity we knew as small children, when pain and delight were equally immediate and there was no barrier between us and the world, so that in each moment we were not separate from the colour of a poppy or the taste of an ice cream.

The Buddha teaches that the sense of a separate (and essentially self-protective) self that most of us carry around with us is illusory. He didn’t say there is no self, since clearly for everyday purposes it exists and gets us through, but if we begin to deconstruct our experiences what we find is that none of them is actually ‘myself”: it isn’t owned by me,  it’s simply lived experience. Discovering this, even for tiny moments while on retreat or in contact with the natural world, is extraordinarily freeing. We realise again that the shell isn’t necessary and in fact holds us back from connection with all things and all beings. And that connection has the quality of love, so that in those moments something as mundane as the moss growing in the cracks of a stone wall can seem infinitely beautiful and precious. But dropping the sense of self in those moments, even partially, can also be frightening. The familiar sense of who I am, what I’m like, how I respond to things, is no longer there as a set of railings to hold on to, and the fear is that without it I might die – though without its restriction I become more fully alive.

It seems to me that the best writing, whether poetry or prose, comes from this experience of immediate and unselfconscious contact with the world. The writing may not be a spontaneous outpouring: it may be worked and crafted and may contain reflection after the event, but if it doesn’t spring from that essential truth then it is in some sense lacking. The truth of the moment may be an ‘inner’ truth – a depth and clarity of emotion – as well as an ‘outer’ truth, and in fact may probably be both, since the dichotomy between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ is ultimately a false one. If my feelings and emotions aren’t essentially ‘mine’, then they are simply part of the totality that makes up this given moment and can be perceived with the same clear-sightedness and compassion as everything else. If only I were able to write in that way…

My car is still sitting outside my house, waiting to be taken away for repair. That was going to be done today but has now been postponed until Tuesday, three weeks after the accident. I’ve had time to get over some of the shock and re-assess what happened: how over-confidence and thinking about ‘me’ lessened my concentration on the road in front of me and led to misjudgement. I’ve also had time to enjoy walking and taking the bus, noticing what’s around me in a way that I can’t when I’m driving. And I’ve had to forgo things that I might otherwise have attended, like a choir rehearsal and a poetry performance, because down here in rural Devon public transport is less than adequate and I can’t always rely on lifts from other people. So sooner or later I will start driving again, hoping the accident has been a salutary experience.

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