Monday, 6 June 2022

Hiraeth and Home

After more than two years and three cancelled courses, I finally made it back to Ty Newydd at the end of May. The Welsh writer's centre near Criccieth is very special to me - as it is to many others who have visited, worked and learned there, made good friends there, fallen in love with the area. This time we were looking at "Hiraeth and Home" on a weekend brilliantly led by Pam Petro (the director of the Dylan Thomas Summer School) and Kumari Tilakawardane. My thanks to all members of the group - a decidedly international one - who made it such an interesting, stimulating couple of days. And in brilliant sunshine too - now that's a real change for Ty Newydd! 

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Home and Away

 What an idyllic venue for a poetry group AwayDay! Dumbleton Hall near Evesham has Downton glamour, fantastic food, stunning grounds, bright and airy rooms and very pleasant staff. It was my second visit there with Cheltenham Poetry Society, who kindly let me still tag along although I haven't lived in the area for some time now. Last Wednesday's topic for the day was the Four Elements and seventeen of us had a very productive day, with hugely varied takes on the subject making for a wide spectrum of poems. Many thanks to Sharon Larkin Jones and Roger Turner for organising and running such a great event.

And talking about a broad spectrum - about ten years ago I worked for some time with Somewhere Else Writers in Cirencester. To celebrate their tenth anniversary they've published an anthology of poems and short stories by present and former members in both written and spoken word format. Many congratulations to them on their anniversary; they've spawned some excellent writers who have been prize winners in several fields. The anthology is available on Amazon - search for Somewhere Else Writers and it will get you to the listing for "Off The Wall". Definitely worth a look at!

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Writing to boost mental health

Mental Health Awareness week was started 21 years ago by the Mental Health Foundation and you've probably heard and seen a lot about this year's week (centering on Loneliness) in the media in the last few days. One excellent resource I'd like to shout about is the WriteWell Community, an on line provision that aims to "boost mental well-being, resilience and happiness". There's plenty of research that shows the benefit writing can bring for people's mental health and also the value of belonging. For a small monthly fee WriteWell offers a variety of writing classes (ranging from individual exercises to four week courses), a book group, forums for sharing work and excellent workshops with guest speakers (all well established writers and trainers) each month. It's very well run, the content is available 24 /7 and there are community guides who are mental health first aiders. 

A few years ago I saw enormous benefits in several groups of older people living in nursing and residential care when I ran creative writing sessions with them each week - I learned a lot too! And the life story work I did with a number of older people was a revelation. Do have a look at the WriteWell website and check out their provision if you haven't come across the organisation before - and do spread the word to anyone you feel might be interested.

Saturday, 23 April 2022

Festivals and Folk Tales

 A bit of a gap since that last post - life getting the better of me yet again! With the Abergavenny Writing Festival at the beginning of the month, a unscheduled hospital visit and a week in West Wales, life has been more than a little hectic. Now - hopefully - some degree of normality is restored and I can get on with some concerted writing again.

But I wouldn't have missed our visit to Ceredigion last week. The woods were full of bluebells, the hedgerows alive with primroses and violets, the fields overflowing with lambs and the skies with red kites! We were visiting some of the places associated with the Welsh folk tales I've been working on (I'm including a sneak preview of one below) and we were fortunate to be blessed with lovely weather in which to do so. And plenty of opportunity for me to practice my Welsh!

Daughters of the Sea

Cardigan Bay, where the Irish Sea eats into the coast of Wales, extending from Bardsey Island off the Lleyn to Strumble Head by St. Davids - it’s beloved of holiday makers and hikers, marine biologists and music makers. Seals and dolphins revel in the fish rich waters, puffins breed on the craggy cliffs, history surrounds you. But sunning yourself on the beach at Aberdovey, admiring the pastel coloured houses around Aberaeron Harbour, enjoying your 99 as you stroll along the front at Aberystwyth, don’t be fooled by the light dancing on the water. Cardigan Bay has a darker side, a capricious streak, her curve a lee shore for the unwary. Catch the sea in a turbulent mood beneath scudding storm clouds and you’ll understand how its inconstancy has led to many disasters, shipwrecks and drownings in the past. And local folk tales handed down the generations will tell you why.

All along the coast you’ll find sea caves, some submerged, some partly so. Living beneath the waves, inhabiting those caves is Dylan, the sea god. He is powerful, strong, benevolent at times but vengeful at others; his mood can change in the blink of a shark’s eye, the flick of a whale’s tail. He can lure the incautious sailor way out beyond the horizon, lulling them with gentle waves on sparkling seas, then, for his own sport, call up wind and rain, squall and tempest to toss and terrify, to rage and wreck. He can rant and rave for hours or in minutes revert to his calmer self, leaving his victims trembling with fear, quaking in awe of the force that all but did for them.

For centuries though Dylan’s problem was not only his unpredictability – he was lonely roaming that huge Bay alone. Then one summer morning he spotted an old man who lived on the coast walking with his three daughters on a beach; he began to look for them each day. Over the years he saw the great joy that the girls brought to their father. They played with him on the sands as children, fished with him in the rockpools; as they grew older they swam with him in the shallows, picnicked with him on the cliffs. Dylan became envious of the man, longed to have the company of the three beautiful young women he had watched growing up. One day as the man and his daughters walked at the water’s edge Dylan called up a mighty storm and sent a huge wave to swallow them up. It drew the struggling girls down into a sea cave, threw their distraught father back on to dry land.

Delighted with his acquisition, Dylan took the three young women as his companions, alone no more. In the months that followed though, whenever Dylan saw the old man walking the beach alone, heartbroken at his loss, a huge pang of sadness welled up in his chest as he remembered his own loneliness. But he could not relinquish the company he had craved for so many years. How could he share it? For days he puzzled over the conundrum, then one night, looking at the girls as they slept in a moonlit cave, the idea came to him. He turned his three companions into gulls, which belong to both the sea and the land.

The next morning as the old man made his daily pilgrimage to the site of his daughter’s loss, he mournfully called their names; he was amazed when three white gulls flew instantly from the sea and would not leave his side. Tears poured down his cheeks as he recognized them as his beloved girls. Thereafter the gulls would return to the sea each night but would spend each day with the old man until his death.

Now when you walk by Cardigan Bay you will see thousands of gulls swooping and diving, squawking and squabbling over remnants of fish and discarded food. But watch out for three perfectly white birds who always fly together, who frequent the same sandy beach for hours on end, who gaze deep into rockpools, who splash in the shallows as do excited children. And watch them as evening draws on, skimming the waves and disappearing beyond the horizon. You will know who they are, you will know their story.

(Copyright Gill Garrett 2022)

Wednesday, 16 March 2022

Standing with Ukraine

Last week I sat in on a Victoria Field workshop entitled Life's Alive!, looking at the dichotomy of the coming of spring at a time of such international turmoil. She spoke of the Seamus Heaney quote - "No lyric has ever stopped a tank" - but reminded us of the tremendous power poetry has to make us more fully ourselves, to prompt us to think, to question, to learn.

After the workshop I started to read some of the writings of Ilya Kaminsky, the deaf Ukrainian poet who now lives and writes in the States. He was a co-founder of Poets for Peace and his work has been a revelation to me. If you haven't read his poems - Gunshot, In a Time of Peace, so many more - do look them up now. They have so much to say to us.

And if you're free and in the area on Saturday, poets and musicians in Ledbury will be holding an all day event in The Barrett Browning Institute to raise money for the Disasters Emergency Committee Fund. I'm already committed to our own event here in Monmouth, but the Ledbury one features a Drop In Art Workshop, a Poetry Clinic, an open mic and a live performance evening. Here's to raising awareness and as much as we all can for such desperately needed assistance for millions of refugees.

Thursday, 3 March 2022

A loss and a launch



Looking through a cupboard this morning I came across some of my children's books from thirty odd years ago - and amongst them was "Out And About" by the great Shirley Hughes, who died yesterday. She must have proved the introduction to reading for thousands and thousands of children. Her beautiful illustrations and wonderful stories captivated my two; she had tremendous talent and such an understanding of the young mind. Today is World Book Day and all over the world, in schools, libraries, bookshops and supermarkets, on YouTube and so many other platforms the aim is to involve today's youngsters, to "change lives through a love of books and shared reading". Shirley Hughes made a huge contribution to doing just that for so many in her time. 

When I lived in Cheltenham for many years, I often had the pleasure of hearing the local poet Alison Brackenbury read. But the reading I heard her give last night at the launch of her new collection "Thorpeness" (Carcanet) was stunning. Her poems ranged over time and place; they encompassed her grandmother's recipe book ("custard seas in which all puddings swam"), finding the shattered remains of willow pattern pottery ("smudged lovers soar unbroken"), the location she'd always wanted to visit but never reached (where "three swallows snatch a gust, a breath"). Fellow Cheltenham poet David Clarke interviewed her after the reading and it was fascinating to hear her speak about her method of working, about how important rhyme and meter are to her, about her admiration for young poets. Of all the sessions on Zoom I've attended in the last two years, yesterday evening's was head and shoulders above the rest.

And still on poetry - I've just booked a place on the Laureate's Library Tour, running over the week at the end of the month that includes World Poetry Day (March 21st), It's part of Simon Armitage's ten year project to read in UK libraries - he's approaching it alphabetically, so this time it's C - D towns and cities! There are sessions in England, Scotland and Wales (the Welsh one in Carmarthen, with the National Poet of Wales, Ifor ap Glyn, which I'm really looking forward to). The sessions are all free on line, and in person in some places. If you aren't aware of them, do look them up, they promise to be well worth attending. As the Director General of UNESCO wrote for World Poetry Day a year ago, poetry has "the power to shake us from everyday life and the power to remind us of the beauty that surrounds us and the resilience of the human spirit" - certainly words for our troubled world just now.

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus!

Given that Wordsworth was visiting Whitestone in July 1798, he may well not have seen these daffodils trembling in a very chilly breeze as we did this morning! But we were on the Wordsworth Walk near Llandogo where he penned his famous "Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey", that great celebration of nature and its ability to calm the soul (and don't we all need some of that at the moment?). The walk up to the Cleddon Falls has been a favourite of mine for decades now and each year I look out for the three clumps of daffodils just below the viewpoint at the top of the track. And today, for St. David's Day, they seemed especially appropriate.