Love poems you wish you had written 2015 #2 – W.H. Auden

220px-AudenVanVechten1939For the second of my posts, specially written as we approach St Valentine’s Day, I focus on a poem by W.H. Auden. Anyone who has seen Four Weddings and a Funeral will know the poem which starts ‘Stop all the clocks…’, so movingly read by John Hannah at the funeral of his dead partner, played by Simon Callow. It is chokingly good, and bitterly sad.

However, for this week, as requested by historian Jessica Meyer on Twitter, I am reproducing another great love lyric by Auden – Lullaby. Sometimes referred to by the first line ‘Lay your sleeping head my love…’ it is about time passing, the inevitable fading of beauty and the enduring nature of love. Auden was born in 1907 and is now regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.  He was a great poetic technician, but also wrote remarkable prose on profound topics. He is a poet I love to read, although I have never studied his work in depth. So I simply respond, and in this poem I like the way a classic meditation on love is subverted – most particularly by the lover’s ‘faithless’ arm. Is this a reference to atheistic beliefs? Is this about a night spent making love to someone other than the poet’s regular partner (with a further reference to fidelity in the third stanza)? Or is it simply a recognition that we are all frail, imperfect human beings when it comes to love and that in that moment there is no-one more entirely beautiful and adored than the sleeping lover? What do you think?

Lullaby
W. H. Auden, (1907 – 1973)

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit’s carnal ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

Again, I have found a reading  – sometimes it helps to hear a poem read aloud (although I always like to read it to myself, under my breath or out loud and proud if I am alone in the house!) and this version is accompanied by some sweet music. I would love to know what you think, and as always do let me know your own favourite poems.

Posted in Books, Literature, love the universe and everything, Poetry, Random musings on family life, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Love poems you wish you had written 2015 – #1 John Donne

JohnDonneLast year I followed the example of the fabulous David J Bauman over at The Dad Poet and posted some of my favourite love poetry. I had a great time rediscovering some old favourites and finding new work that moved me; poetry that really had the power to distil emotions and make me cry out (internally anyway!) ‘Yes!!’

So this year, I thought I would do something similar, but with poems nominated by friends on social media. I have always maintained that those who say ‘I don’t like/get poetry’ just haven’t found the right poet for them, so I do hope something on this blog inspires you to take a closer look, for Valentine’s Day on the 14th, and onwards.

The first poem of the week was nominated by Lorna Fergusson, over at Fictionfire, and seconded by Emma Darwin. It was published nearly 400 years ago, but it still has the power to send (pleasurable) shivers down the spine…..

The Good-Morrow
By John Donne

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

This is a wonderful evocation of the sensual and spiritual aspects of the love between two people, and as the film Fifty Shades of Grey hits the screen, I posit the idea that Donne is sexier by far than anything E L James came up with. The lines For love, all love of other sights controls/And makes one little room an everywhere is so quietly passionate that the intensity of the emotion expressed can escape you. Makes me go all warm inside and conjures up an illicit weekend away – 48 hours and never leaving the room…….

I thought I would also offer a reading of the poems I post on here, if possible, and on YouTube I found my favourite actor, the lovely Kenneth Branagh, reading it. Do let me know what you think, and if you have favourite love poems of your own.

Enjoy :-)

Posted in Art, Literature, love the universe and everything, Poetry, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

‘let’s talk! about mental health – #Take5 on the 5th February to discuss mental health

keatsbabe:

As today is the (deep breath!) Time to Change ‘Time to Talk’ #Take5 minutes to start a conversation about mental health day I am on the ‘let’s talk!’ blog for The Terrace Psychotherapy & Complementary Therapy Clinic in Taunton, talking about my life affected by depression and anxiety, and about Dandelions and Bad Hair Days, the book filled with the wonderful contributions from guest posters to No wriggling out of writing. Do follow the links and buy the book if you haven’t yet got a copy and are interested – all money goes to SANE and OCD Action. And remember keep TALKING :-)

Originally posted on let's talk!:

logoToday is Time to Talk Day, when the charity Time to Change asks us to all to spend five minutes discussing mental health issues. The aim is to raise awareness, reduce stigma and encourage people to open up about a subject which is still taboo for many.

So here on let’s talk! we thought we should do just that, and have asked our regular contributor, Suzie Grogan, to start a conversation about how mental health issues affect her, and what raising awareness means to her.

My name is Suzie and I have experienced mental illness. There I have said it.

This is actually how I began my first ever post about mental health, four years ago, on my blog over at No wriggling out of writing and the response to it was overwhelming. It led to my offering a monthly guest post slot to someone else who wanted to say something…

View original 597 more words

| Leave a comment

Number of British Soldiers experiencing mental ill health rising significantly: 100 years on, why can’t we get this right?

Cleared for public release by MAJ Clarence Counts, 7th Special Forces Group, Public Affairs OfficerWriting Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s legacy for Britain’s mental health I quickly realised that although it was, on the face of it, a book about the aftermath of the First World War, it had a very modern significance. I have now given a lot of talks about the book, and the impact of the trauma on the soldiers and their families during and after the Great War. Invariably, an audience member will ask me a post-talk question about how far I think things have changed for service personnel over the past century. One hundred years ago there was little understanding of the mental health needs of civilians, let alone those facing the horrors of conflict, but today? No excuses surely?

So I was really interested to read in the press today that the number of servicemen and women suffering from mental illness has risen by almost a third since 2011, when significant cuts to the defence budget took hold.

The Daily Telegraph published official Ministry of Defence figures showing the number of Armed Forces personnel with “mental health disorders” has risen from 3,927 in 2011 to 5,076 in 2013, a rise of 28%. It is anticipated that the figures for 2014 will show a further steep rise.

How far this rise is related to a greater willingness to discuss mental health issues is unclear. Certainly the Ministry of Defence attributes the rise to a drive to raise awareness, including the ‘Don’t Bottle it Up’ campaign, but are challenged by veteran’s charities who believe that a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to the rise.

Col. Stuart Tootal

Col. Stuart Tootal

The Telegraph quotes Colonel Stuart Tootal, who led troops into Helmand Province in 2006:
“You cannot ignore the fact that the Army has just spent over 10 years on intensive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan…..You have soldiers who have been exposed to intense operations. There is pressure on their families and pressure on themselves, often during long tours.”

Researching Shell Shocked Britain I uncovered many stories of families destroyed by the mental scars men returned with. It was very difficult for many to slip back into civilian life and they might break down months or years after war ended, unable to relate to their families, find employment or forget the terrible things they had witnessed.

Col. Tootal continued: “We have come a long way. There is better recognition of mental health and more awareness, but more can be done. We have to remember that the mental scars of war are just like the physical scars.” He would like the government to commit to continuity of support as soldiers (and the problem is most acute in the Army) move into retirement.

After the First World War men who were physically wounded were given far better pension provision than those who were suffering long-term psychological problems, and although that is no longer the case, it is still often difficult for service personnel who break down after leaving the army to convince the MoD that it is related to their time serving their country.

The Telegraph piece comes in the week that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, claims there remains an “unspoken bias” in Britain that prioritises physical illness ahead of concerns about mental health. As someone who has worked in the field and written about mental health issues on a regular basis I can say this is most certainly the case.

These figures were published following a Freedom of Information request made by The Daily Telegraph to the MoD. They are certainly not figures that are widely published, but then the Ministry of Defence is no different from many other organisations who may be reluctant to admit that their staff are under increasing stress and experiencing mental ill-health. More than £7 million pounds has been allocated to support service personnel with conditions such as PTSD and depression, which is laudable but only effective is utilised in the right way. Co. Tootal is right – only by making sure a man or woman leaving the Forces has continued support can we reduce the higher levels of family breakdown, domestic violence, crime and homelessness that are often a consequence of psychological trauma and which affect the war veteran now, as they did 100 years ago.

So we must hope that the budget cuts affecting our Armed Forces do not extend to the psychological support available. I end my talks with the hope that the centenary of the Great War, if it has one long-term outcome, raises awareness of the impact of war trauma down the generations, something which has affected many over the century and which will continue to blight lives if robust action is not taken.

Posted in Book, First World War, History, News, War, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Loss of the Joy

keatsbabe:

Here is a heartfelt and melancholy post by the lovely Vivienne Tuffnell on her blog, Zen and the art of tightrope walking. She is clearly speaking for many authors as she writes about the role authors now have to take when their work is published. Marketing Shell Shocked Britain has left me drained and lacking the motivation to start the next books, knowing how hard it is to get one’s work noticed. And it is work – it is, as Viv says, what gets us up in the morning. …..

Originally posted on Zen and the art of tightrope walking:

The Loss of the Joy

I don’t know precisely when it really began, this loss. They say when you lose something you should go back to the last time you know you had it and work forward until you see when it stopped being there. It worked for the dog lead (it fell in the river) and it worked for my daughter’s purse left behind in a shop in Glastonbury (it was handed in, much to my surprise, money intact). I still had it when I began this blog in 2009, I know that. Looking back, though, I can see it started to disappear not long after that.

Did blogging drive away my joy in writing? No, I don’t think so. I still have a ghost of joy, sitting with me as I write this. After all, I still manage to blog once a week. How many folks can manage…

View original 1,546 more words

| Leave a comment

Sitting under Walter de la Mare’s ‘Mistletoe': Happy Christmas from an exhausted writer…

merry-christmas2014 has passed in a blur. As did 2013. Does writing a book shorten your life? Now there is a question. I have put on two stone and done little exercise, sitting as I have done in coffee shops, or at my PC scribbling or tapping away to get Shell Shocked Britain completed and ‘out there’. Certainly the Grogan bum is now spreading indelicately over the edges of the chair as I write this. New year resolutions include better planning and more exercise -new ways of working that I tried to stick to early in 2014. So we shall see…

So this is Christmas…. I did one of those Facebook ‘review’ things that use the photos you have posted to create an overview of the past 12 months. Mine was so boring in comparison to those my friends were posting that I didn’t bother. Now I have two more to write for Pen & Sword over the next two years and at present my batteries are drained to the dregs. Even rubbing them between my hands, blowing on them and putting them back can’t get the words flowing again. Fingers crossed for 2015.

Anyway, I am whining. I have had a great year, challenging myself in ways I never imagined (talks on Shell Shocked Britain have gone really well despite my nerves), so I wanted to write this as a THANK YOU to everyone who has read this blog and taken an interest in my work. If you have bought a book, that is great but a re-tweet or Facebook share is also greatly appreciated.

images (4)As always, poetry is something I read avidly at Christmas. A poem can distil the essence of the season and strike an emotional chord worthy of a ding dong merrily on high. This year I have chosen Mistletoe by Walter de la Mare. It reminds me of the late evening Christmas Day, when I relax in the sitting room, with just the Christmas tree lights to cast shadows around the room. It is a moment of sadness in a way, but I try to ignore the fact that all that mad spending and celebration is drawing to a close for another year and just enjoy that moment of peace, looking forward to the new year.

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.

Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there.

Have a lovely Christmas everyone, take care of yourselves and each other and let us hope the new year is a happy and healthy one for us all.

Posted in Book, Christmas, New Year, Poetry, Reading, Walter de la Mare, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Post-book blues? On losing the will to write…

don_t-be-a-slave-to-writer_s-blockWriter’s block is a condition that affects amateurs and people who aren’t serious about writing. So is the opposite, namely inspiration, which amateurs are also very fond of. Putting it another way: a professional writer is someone who writes just as well when they’re not inspired as when they are.” — Philip Pullman

That is us told then…those of us who think ourselves writers.  I found another contemporary writer willing to pass on their advice, Barbara Kingsolver, a woman whose work I admire as a rule:

It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.

Oh dear – she isn’t willing to collude with me either. Help……

At the risk of worrying my publishers, I can’t write at the moment. Well, to be more accurate I can’t write books at the moment. Clearly I am writing this blog post, and I have written another post for wonderful The Wordsworth Trust Romanticism blog on new ways of interpreting John Keats’s poetry. But nothing else seems to make sense as it leaves my brain and reaches the screen. Even my love of writing with a pencil in my favourite notebook seems to produce nothing of any meaning. It is a tough time, and worrying about it seems to make it worse.

Shell Shocked Britain, a book that took two years of research and writing, was published by Pen & Sword Books in October. Since then I have done lots of talks and have been marketing it madly on blogs, in magazines and via twitter and Facebook. It has gone well, but I feel as if it has been sucking inspiration and motivation out of me. I am not sure if other writers feel this way, although I suspect it is more than likely, but for me I know this feeling is a route into a more general depression. Scary.

I was of course anxious about the success of Shell Shocked Britain– all writers want to be read. It is a book about mental health  – looking at the shell shocked men and families who lived through the Great War 100 years ago and examining how the trauma still resonates with us today. It has sold well (I was well aware it was a niche subject, albeit an important one) so why are my anxiety levels so high that it is hard to work? Why am I railing at myself for my seeming inability to engage with the world in a healthy way?

Telling myself to ‘just write’ is not really working, unless a post like this is in some way building up to a wonderful bill-paying opportunity. I write because I enjoy it; I also write because there are bills to be paid and I have found sharing my thoughts and knowledge in articles, on blogs and in talks offers an opportunity to make an albeit meagre monthly income. Asked recently whether I would, as it were, ‘sell out’ and write commercially rather than for love then the answer had to be ‘yes’. Just because I don’t adore it doesn’t mean others won’t, and there is always the chance that an idea that really grabs my imagination will materialise from the most unexpected of places.

X2GFS_H1T1My mood is low, my anxiety high and my inspiration flown. I have two more books to write over the next two years and must start making sense of my notes. It feels terrifying. As always, my ability to procrastinate remains stubbornly expert. Perhaps I should take Neil Gaiman’s advice:

Start at the beginning. Scribble on the manuscript as you go if you see anything you want to change. And often, when you get to the end you’ll be both enthusiastic about it and know what the next few words are. And you do it all one word at a time.”

Certainly, thinking ‘Oh my goodness I have to write 200,000 words before the end of 2016′ is giving me palpitations and preventing me from writing even 200.

As is always the case, in life as on this blog, I turn to John Keats to put me right. In Endymion, a patchily brilliant poem he wrote before his most stunning work was penned, he says:

But this is human life: the war, the deeds,
The disappointment, the anxiety,
Imagination’s struggles, far and nigh,
All human; bearing in themselves this good,
That they are still the air, the subtle food,
To make us feel existence, and to shew
How quiet death is.
from Endymion, Book II, l.153-159.

Maybe this period of post book blues is all part of the plan then, and I am simply ‘feeling’ my existence as a newly published writer.

Whatever. I just want it to stop.

Posted in Book, Books, History, Keats, love the universe and everything, Mental health, Poetry, Reading, Shell Shocked Britain, Work, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments