Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Sudden Endings

Sudden Endings

The flattest is not pancake thin.
That is nothing.
It is when the whole sky is anvil
And living under it renders onion-cell small
Your thickness, your strength
Or your head held tall.

Indeed, the stars twinkle out
The snuff movie that is
Each effortfull breath.
"I hurt", I notice. "I hurt", 
And my flapping landfish heart 
As pathetic, as lost, as
One sea in space.

But I am not dust, or molecule yet.
The anvil falls again on coyote.
Maybe with unerring ability
I will rubber balloon sound suck
My squashed dear spirit
Back into place. 

Friday, 13 December 2013



I was parking the car in the garage
When you tapped at the window,
Making me skin-jump-heart-pop fast
At the handbrake. Surprise coming
Before that washing of hands, gum
And deodorant had hid my dog-end frame
To made me feel your good girl again.

With measures of love in your eyes,
And disappointment and truth 
You said: "Give it up now Hannage,
Before it really gets too hard to stop,
While you have a choice."
You walked away, your truth entrusted
To the student daughter:
She had been busted.
Guilt and shame before that shrug
Denial: "But I am no addict,
So what harm Dad, in one more packet?"

Brief years on, I didn't even bother
Climbing out of the window at midnight
For my moonlit puff. 
Didn't bother hiding the packets
Or the lighters from you. Gradually,
Even your purchase from Jersey trips
Was tobacco tips from Duty Free.
My "Things" joined your pipe -
Sanctioned tools for us thinking types.

I have stopped now. Several attempts first and misery,
Always reminding me of you by the car,
Cautioning me of the difficulty and the pain.
I wished many times I had heeded,
Took on trust this truth: that seeded addiction
Grows fast and steely in our breasts
And that we can't act easy after early arrest.

And I wonder. Was there a time, father
A glass, or a bottle you poured,
Where I could have skin jumped you,
Stopped you in your tracks,
And said: "Give up now Dad, before it controls you"?
Did I foresee this future: the blackouts, the nerve damage,
The sweet bully guarding all life to ensure the next 
Sauvignon delivery to your bloated liver?
And do I have to watch this? 
Really, tell me. Do I have to watch?
I let my mind go back through time,
And grief makes a scream, a claw for a window,
That magic handbrake
That might time travel
To a different outcome.
You are busted. 
Too late busted.
And you don't care.

Monday, 6 May 2013

May Day Poetry

May Day Project - A poem a day throughout the month of May.

For those of you who do follow this blog, I thought I would let you know that I have been writing another blog - which is really an extension of this one. Every day this month, I am going to be writing and uploading a poem. I am also making audio recordings of these poems wherever possible, although some days I imagine I might have to do this a little later on.

You can find the poems here:


and you can find my Soundcloud page here:


I am attempting this for quite a few reasons, the main one being to keep AWM (Wes Martin) company as he completes a project this month to produce a painting a day. His paintings are available for auction and his blog can be found here:


His confidence in my poetry and his desire to see me write more have tipped the edge for me. Rather than just write when I can't hold a poem in, I am getting used to the discipline of finding a subject and writing, even when I don't feel like it. It is HARD work, I am finding! But immensely rewarding. Hopefully, I will also start to get better at it as the month passes. Certainly, I will have 31 poems to remember this month by.

Any comments or gentle observations would be appreciated. Thank you.


Sunday, 7 April 2013

The School Trip

The School Trip

The tears that loomed
All day, have finally spilled.

And over a lost page -
A checklist of what she will need
As she goes away.
Who is more anxious at separation? 
I am the one sitting up after midnight
Checking labels on luggage
And praying over folded clothes
That she will be OK.
Slipping notes into the washbag,
Pondering which shoes
To squeeze into the bag.

The trigger for the spill
Something quite different though:
The fear of another looming separation
Possibly to be made in defence of the vulnerable.
That part in me, that part in her.
The realisation that this life
Just gets more and more complicated.
And the tangle of relationship
Can pull you up mountains
And rip you from trees.
That loving another
Can bring you back down to your knees
To that bleakest place -
Of feeling 8 years old
And just wanting to find home again.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Self-Appointed Aloneness

I am in a state of familiar agitation. It is a place I have visited frequently, I suspect since adolescence. I can hear how Dad used to say to me accusingly and with a sigh: “Hannah, you have got it on you.” 
I am not sure what “IT” was for him, but here it is again this evening, and it is on – and all over me.
My daughter gets back from a holiday in France tomorrow. She has been away with her Dad for 8 days and by all accounts has had a lovely time. But we both knew we would miss each other terribly. At the moment, we are both wearing a stone heart around our necks. Before she went, we sat together on the sofa and folded our hands around each other’s necklace and pushed as much love into these hearts as we could – enough to last the wearer 8 days of missing. We talked about how we would hold the hearts to get some “Mummy Love” or “Daughter Love” out of them if we needed a top up.

I know she will be in my arms tomorrow and I am really looking forward to that. It is funny though, whilst I have the strong feeling of homesickness I first knew as a young child, it isn’t an Eleanor missing that I have this evening. First and foremost, I am missing the things I haven’t done this week. I am missing the unspent opportunity to have tried painting again. I am missing the time I could have spent sorting out all Eleanor’s toys. I haven’t touched my wilderness of a garden and I am also feeling bad about the tax return spreadsheet I should have done (but who could actually miss that opportunity?). I am certainly frustrated because I just don’t know if the song I have been working on is finished or not.

Laying all this aside, I know this agitation goes deeper than that. This week was known in advance to be a lengthy stretch on my own. I knew that I could arrange lots of social events to go to: meetings with friends, even perhaps an “on the town” evening in Bristol. I knew my parent’s would have welcomed me at the homestead, my sister in her home 20 minutes away. I could have worked. But I was aware that a gauntlet had been thrown down for me to learn something very important this week. Something I have been afraid of.

I wrote a poem in 2010 that described what it is I am perhaps most afraid of. It was written on a long weekend spent alone in the house, after several weeks following a DIY obsession that had seemed to take hold of me. When something is shifting for me on a deeper psychological level, I seem to move furniture around and need obsessively to make my home more cosy, to display books, oddments and instruments in the most favourable light. I become fixated on bringing these objects into some sort of artistic “relief” to salve this sense in me. For some reason (which even my therapeutic training hasn’t helped me figure out yet) I tend to dream of wounded hedgehogs that get literally under my skin somehow. Perhaps the less interpretation of that I offer, the better!  Anyway, this was the poem I wrote that describes this feeling:

I have cleaned all the rooms of my house.
I have painted the grimy sills, moved books,
Moved furniture, planned my House of Belonging.

Each elimination of grime, each bleach-led act of purification
A misguided attempt at rubbing-out insecurity,
A defence against my self-appointed Aloneness.

My mind is trapped in a deep net of future purchases.
Projections of how things will look, how much better I will feel
When the floor is of wood panels, nailed forever, laying side-by-side.

My shrinking self knows the sabotage it is creating. It knows,
Painfully and with a palliative dose of fear,
It is most scared of the lost “US”.

That US the best effective defence against the world.
An US finally shrugged off as unneeded protection. The coat it felt too hot to wear.

I am scared of the space, but defiant in the face of it. Surely I can master this?
Surely I can find my anchor in the garden somewhere? Or in a new fireplace?

But I jump at a thought at the skirting boards, my paintbrush in Hand:

“Hannah THIS IS IT. This is how it will be.”

I could be gagged or tell my stories to a pristine room.
I could grow old alone and not have my “sigh” interpreted as an acceptance of another cup of tea.

I could live in an immaculate, hard-won House of Belonging of one occupant.
She a lost woman, rattling round, duster in hand,
Quoting poetry than no-one will chance to hear.

So...in my pacing agitated state this evening, I re-read the poem to see what might be different in it 2 years on. It was an interesting experience. What I realise at the end of this week’s term of self-appointed aloneness is both hopeful and weighed with grief. I AM still scared in the space, still defiant in it. I still miss the lost “US”, the protection of a full-time and good relationship that has grown over many years: that feeling of being at home with another person, who shares all the parts of your life. I am still deeply worried that I will grow old and not have someone to make tea for, with, or to accept from on a full-time basis.

But I haven’t looked in the garden to find my anchor. I haven’t painted my windowsills or scoured the skirting boards. There have been no bleach led acts of purification (unless you count cleaning the sink, which just needed it for sanitary purposes more than anything). I haven’t moved furniture around. This strikes me as deeply hopeful and a sign of growth.

Instead I have read a few books, watched some films, seen three friends, done a moderate amount of housework, slept in late, written two songs and recorded a bit, written my diary once.. and I have just taken it easy. Blimey. More impressively, I have allowed myself time to sit with my fear and the accumulated grief of the past few years. I have accepted that grief is part of life and even allowed myself to sob a few times. More than ever, I have made better friends with the solicitous “Other Hannah” whose shadow I can sometimes find leaning against the wall, looking at me quizzically when everything else is silent for once. She is the wise one who has walked next to me every day and has never felt abandoned. Core Hannah.

This week, I have practiced finding that rather than “this is it”...”this” might just “be fine for now”...or “this is how it is, and that is ok Hannah, because this is YOURS”. Victory comes in the strangest of forms, but I am proud of myself. Agitated still, but proud. I also know that one day, I will relish every minute of time to myself.

I have still dreamed of hedgehogs and their prickles under my skin though, but you can’t have everything.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Others - A Memoir of My Grandmother

My last grandparent died recently, drawing a close to a very precious era in my life. 36 years of feeling loved and cherished and watched over by those precious 4 people who brought my parents into the world. The older generation are all now laid together in their double graves, one coffin on top of the other, with gravestones set to mark where the bodies of such formative people in my life will gradually turn to dust. “Muzzy”, my maternal grandmother, was the last to go, reaching 91, glad to be leaving this world and “joining her maker” at last. A woman of devout and unflinching faith, she used to joke “My dear, I never meant to live this long! I would have been quite happy to go before!” She had utterly no fear of death and was almost keen to join her god. Her main goal had been to make sure her husband (who we called Papa) went before her, and never had to live without her constant care of him.

He died two years ago and she had a last “honeymoon” in her final years, living in comfort with people around her who cared for her, her brain still sharp and her heart overflowing with pride and love for her family. She wrote letters to us all until only a few weeks before she died. She was constantly interested in our lives, what we were doing and who we were. Of me, she wanted to know what my work as a therapist meant, who I helped, how it helped, how my daughter was getting on. She wanted to be updated about my relationships and loves. She lived and breathed her family.  She avidly watched the nature around her, still making her pressed flower cards and giving the proceeds to raise money for the RNIB. Muz’ life was about “Others” (the motto of her schooldays) – something I found myself thinking about as I reluctantly tried to do some housework, cook my daughter dinner and get the washing on the line.

When things happened in the family, especially funny things that the children said, or events that shaped things, she would say: “O, I must put that in my Memoirs!” or if she was telling a story from the past, there would often me an aside:  “It is written out in my Memoirs, one day you will read it”.
When she died, I knew that it would be too much for my ill father to go and help his sister to clean out her room. The memoirs, the letters, the pressed flowers, the old books and objects – they were all in there and they would distress him. I offered to go and help, knowing also that in a strange way it would help me to feel close to her still. Also, I have become something of the family historian: it seems that it is my pattern, indeed - my obsession, to not lose information about the past – about who these people were who lived before me, who have me their genes. I have long wanted to garner all the knowledge of them that I can, before all this information is lost forever. It goes back generations: my “museum” of family history is probably getting larger than the space I have for it. Right back to the 1800’s.

It may seem strange, but I get immeasurable comfort from contact with the everyday objects they will have used in their own lives. Just using the old paring knife my grandfather used to peel his apples can make me feel close to him again. I use my other grandmother’s battered colander, Muz’ hideous (and slightly rusty cheese grater) in preference for anything new. My house is now FULL of old fashioned, outdated objects from their lives. Objects as well as stories that tell me something about who I am, through who they have been: I crave them with a passion that perhaps borders on obsession. In their last years, I recorded both Muzzy, and my maternal grandfather “Pampy” talking about their lives – stories from the war, how they met and fell in love and odd stories about their parents, my great grandparents. Muz relished the opportunity to talk about all these things. I knew her “Memoirs” would be different though: written throughout her life, they span the oral history of her parent’s life before she was born (starting in 1910) through to a year before she died in 2011. One hundred and one years of intimate family and social history. I was nervous, but also excited about reading them. My father wanted me to read them, and for the time being, I have them here with me. I have been dipping in and out, my head buzzing with the wealth of interesting information about all of our lives and the wider context of the world in which they lived. The scale of it is fantastic. Next week I am off work and plan on trying to put them in proper order and begin to copy them electronically so that they are available to all the grandchildren in my family, to be passed on to Muzzy’s 12 great-grandchildren as they get older.

This week has been a hard one for me. I am self employed, and in order to pay for the two week’s forthcoming holiday, had to cram my diary full of appointments. Extra supervisions and client sessions. Covering facilitation of the “Relapse Prevention” group for a colleague who was away. Admin up to my ears. My time has been spent trying to keep the counselling agency I jointly manage ticking over smoothly. In this time, I have ignored my housework, allowed clothes and toys and washing to build up.  My fridge is empty, for want of making the time to get to the supermarket. Keeping house has not been something I have cared about. Today I had a day out of the workplace and I have found that the last thing I actually wanted to do is wipe down my worktops or polish any of the dust off my books and instruments.

Instead, I dipped again into some pages of Muz’ memoirs. I chose 1945, the year she married my grandfather and they set up home together. I sat and read in my messy kitchen.  I knew already that they had been poor. Muzzy fell pregnant quickly, though they didn’t know that she was expecting twins until her actual labour. Elizabeth died after 3 days and Muz never saw her or held her. My Aunty Heather survived. It took Muzzy a long time (according to the memoirs) to not be fearful that she would lose her second baby girl too. The practical description of their early life together in the Cotswolds really impacted on me this week and I have decided to share a part of it here. The contrast to my own life was so stark, so noticeable:

“Heather was 9 months old when we moved to Donnington Cottage.. I was much happier here – there were 3 rooms one on top of another, one window in each and a blank wall at the back. Open cottage gardens in front.. We had no sink, only a tap in a dark alcove at the back of the room where coal had been stored. We popped a bucket underneath and all washing and washing up was done on the table, which was in the middle of the room.
The toilet was an earth one, at the end of our long garden. We kept it clean – a hole in a large wooden seat. I used to get cross with my poor Herbert when he went there in dark evenings, because he always insisted he took our Tilly lamp with him and we had to light a candle! No gas, or electricity of course. We cooked on the old kitchen range which had to be black-leaded – it seemed to work quite well for our simple needs.
Even the flat iron had to be heated on this range and this was difficult. No sooner than it was hot, than Heather would cry or need attention, and time after time the iron would be cold. I well remember getting cross over this many times and also once finding some of her little cotton frocks (no nylon then!) quite mouldy in the drawer from being flung in desperation at some time or another. I heard, with shame that years ago a woman had brought up 7 children in that cottage!! She needed a halo at least.
The nice part was sitting on the door stop in the sunshine while peeling potatoes and chatting with my fellow neighbours doing the same. This was happiness. Heather outside as much as possible, on the cobble stones; she learnt to walk without fear on the stones and rough ground....
I busied myself with the usual countrywoman’s chores. We kept fowls, dug for vegetables. Herbert made me a sawing bench and WOODING became a serious business and one of the happiest. Sawing the wood occupied at least an hour some days and it was used to boil saucepans, kettles and to warm the oven, as also to heat the copper to boil the “whites”. We would go to the pile to obtain a handful of twigs to get the kettle, or copper to boil..The washing in bad weather was suspended over our heads and in the winter nappies had to be dodged all day long. Herbert used to get sick of this – so did I, of course.
There was always a pile of mending – it never ended. I used to repair and repair again. Herbert’s shirts had stiff collars and cuffs at that time and needed a lot of care in ironing and starching. There was always a bowl of starch “on the go” for the collars, cuffs and Heather’s little dresses to make them smart”.
Once my well-to-do Aunt visited us, and I was doing the weekly “turn out”. I imagine that is exactly what a “turn out” is. All the furniture, matting, bowls etc were outside on the cobbles and I had no where to put her! I shewed her to a chair on the path and there she sat ‘til I had scrubbed the floor, put the furniture back and she was able to come inside!”

When I read Muzzy’s memoirs, I can hear her voice reading them to me. She had a sing songy, quite sweet voice. She was like a tiny, quick voiced bird. She loved recollecting these things: how much life changed in her life time amazed her. I think she was proud she survived their early poverty, even enjoyed it. In time she came to have the washing machines, the electric irons, the microwaves. But her life as a mother did not start like that. It was ALL hard work, wooding, scrubbing, cleaning, washing - though with those blissful communal moments of talking to her neighbours as she peeled potatoes. As I read, I imagined her looking at the state of my house, my apathy at the idea of cleaning it. I imagined her looking into the drawers and seeing Eleanor’s unironed, unfolded clothes. I imagined her shock that I don’t actually know the names of the neighbours living opposite me. And I thought: Hannah, you CAN make some headway into this housework today. Because all you need to do to make tea, is click a switch on the kettle. All you need to clean your floor is to reach for the vacuum cleaner under the stairs and plug it in.

I wish the end of this blog was that I could report I did just that: that I cleaned my house in a great haze of Mr Muscle and old fashioned elbow grease. I hate to admit it, but I didn’t. Instead, my daughter and I lazed around and had a quiet day reading. We rested ourselves. I read more of her memoirs. And then I stopped and thought of her life of service and care of “Others”. And I thought of my life of work running the agency in Bristol. I realised I work just as hard in my care and service to “Others” in this context. I work incredibly hard in my care of Eleanor: though I don’t worry that her dresses rarely get ironed. I am deeply lucky. It no longer matters if my fire is not blacked well, or if my “whites” gradually become grey. Society has changed. But hard work hasn’t. Mine just looks different from hers. I do wish though, that I could sit on my doorstep and peel potatoes, chatting with my neighbour. That does sound like happiness and something I worry that we may have lost..

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Father's Day - My First Blog

This is my first blog. I don't really know what I am doing, but I am finding myself doing it nonetheless.

Today I wrote a poem. I wanted to write a song, but the words of the poem were fist-fighting their way into my head and the notes instead were quiet. It came out like a healthy vomit. It exhausted me. But I feel very alive as a consequence.

I have spent a lot of time looking at my relationship with my bi-polar father in therapy over the years. He was such an alive, vibrant part of my childhood. You name it, he knew about it, could quote it, had thought about it before. He and I read Hamlet together when I was 17. We had already read Edward Thomas, T.S.Eliot, Blake. He got his Private Pilot's license and took me up in a plane. He taught me how to skid the car in the field, so I could drive safely in the rain. He bought me my first penknife. We rode our motorbikes together across Wales many times. We talked about books. He wrote me the most beautiful, deep and open letters when I was at University, all of which I still have. I always loved him intensely - even when I was afraid of him, or when he made inappropriate comments. Even though I stepped in to protect him more than a daughter should.

Now his life and self are very different. As the years go by, he has shrunk more and more inside himself, locked down, catatonic. He is quiet and his finger's twitch all the time. He stares and the hill and he drinks from 9am in the morning. He doesn't listen to music, read and finds even driving difficult. This has been a great sadness for me. He was so real, so wise, so alive. Now I protect his broken heart by not commenting on the 9am beer. I try not to over excite him. I wish I could talk to him about poetry still. Today this arrived after therapy, when I heard myself saying, with that sudden surety and truth that comes from the deep soul speaking: "I am frightened that I will explode with beauty". For so I have been. There is so much to be totally knocked down by: even glancing at the sky makes my head spin these days. The clouds are warm glaciers. I am frightened of experiencing art - of going to an exhibition, because I know that I will be taken off to another place of wonder that is, as yet, quite new to me. The written word has stirred for many years. Music has become more and more important. What if I fall in love with the paintings I see? As it is, the clouds can change my mood in a moment, as even a lowly Blackbird in my garden can inspire a song.

Anyway.. this is the poem that I wrote for my Dad. I realised he once experienced the world as I do...but he didn't survive that experience intact. I have to find a different way to survive the part of me that is so alive, so thirsty, so excited that it makes me high. I don't want to ever put that Hannah in a cage because she is eccentric and can be too much for some people. That Hannah is the most real, most alive part of me.

Father’s Day

I know
You have stood
On the bough
Of this tree;
Felt your heart burnt
By the turning of the earth.

You stood
Before me.
Shared the doorway to this world
Held my hand
As I walked through to it.
Watched as I read the poets greedily.

I now know
Felt the terror
Of your own
Intense Experience
of Beauty.

You gave
Your daughter
The key.
Before your own whirlwind
Had fully come to consume you.

Now grown,
I had come to fear I might
With Beauty.
Ashamed of my wild, loving
Crazy, eccentric heart:
That sees a sea in the barley
A mast in the oak
Hears pirates calling from the hedge.

I see
You have shut your wild love down.
Padlocked it up with Substance –
For fear of the rope hanging from the bough.

Safer to stand on the trap door
And hear your wild dog howling
Than set it loose:
To risk the noose
Tight around your neck.

And this is how it is:
I shall learn another way.
You know where I am -
You have been here:
The clouds call cathedrals,
The Spring beauty so pure
It burns.
The new thought, idea, discovery,
Like a sensual whipping.

I cannot fear that Beauty
Will explode me.
This great gift,
This inheritance
Is Who I Am.

In this tree
I see you breathing, full, buzzing with life
In that time now past
Before me.

19th June 2012