Sunday, December 31, 2017

2018 Challenges

Tomorrow a new year begins.  Like everyone else, my life has ups and downs and uncertainties and from my current perspective 2018 looks more than usually uncertain and complicated, with several personal challenges on the horizon.  However, I’m going to start two new creative challenges this January.  

I’m giving Photo A Day another go.  Last year I managed until some time in April.  I was happy to find I’d given up and felt I benefited from the space I gained.  However, as the year wore on I found I was taking fewer and fewer photos and that my life was feeling the poorer for it.  I understand why/how this happened; much was to do with getting the balance of the year wrong and needing to work full time to restore my pottery stocks to something approaching normal and I was pleased to achieve this eventually.  But where are the photos? 

The other challenge is the 64million artists January challenge.  This will apparently provide a short task every day during January, designed to kick-start one’s creativity.  I’m not promising to do the task every day if it’s impractical but it struck me that 10 minutes or so each day should be achievable.  This year started quite well with textiles work but my pottery work has been a matter of keeping stock levels and with nothing new.  I also had lots of vague ideas about mixed media work but no time to explore them, though I am hoarding materials that come my way.  This challenge is about creativity generally: drawing, writing, music, I don’t know what because I haven’t done it before, but it starts tomorrow.

Results of both challenges will be posted on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, December 29, 2017

One Word Where Ten Will Do

What follows is essentially an article which was recently published in a national magazine.  If you follow this blog, you'll have read the poems before but the text was written specially. 

One word where ten will do
A personal exploration of the value of poetry in grieving

“I wasn’t sure if you would want this”
tentative gift of a book
of poems ‘of grief and healing’.

“I seem to remember you like poetry.”
I do, and I like poems about hard things
so eventually I read the book

and start to write my own poems again.

This was the first poem I wrote after the death of my second husband and marked the start of a burst of poetry writing.  I like to write, both poetry and prose, but don’t do it often.  I’m a bit of a talker as well so perhaps I only write when saying something is not enough and I want more permanence. 

My most notable piece of prose was an article entitled “It’s Your Funeral” after the death of my first husband in 1991.  Back then many people were completely unaware that you can have whatever kind of funeral you like and I wanted to spread the word.  It was satisfying writing it (and even more satisfying having it published!) but still, even with rigorous editing, prose can just take too long and sometimes the things you really want to say get lost.

My first husband was a writer (and teacher) who wrote wonderful poetry and during the eighteen months he was ill with leukaemia we both wrote poems about our experience.  After he died I tried getting the collection published but was unsuccessful, so I printed some out and had them spiral bound.  I sent a copy to each of the hospital departments who had treated him and without exception they were pleased to receive them.  The haematology consultant said she was going to encourage all new staff on the ward to read them before they started working there.  I felt I had done something worthwhile.

Then just over twenty years since that first major bereavement I suffered three in a row: two of my closest friends and finally my second husband.  I learned that all bereavements are both different and the same and after a period of not writing very much, I began to write poems again.  This time there were plenty of opportunities to publish on social media and the immediacy meant that I received instant feedback too.  One friend in particular, whose husband had died a few years earlier, commented that she wished she had felt able to speak out as I did and that she was very grateful for the chance to read my work.  I’m not trying to force people into reading, but it’s my experience that they’re often glad of the opportunity being put in front of them rather than somewhere they can avoid.  You can do that quite easily with a poem.

Poetry doesn’t take long to read.  It either moves you or it doesn’t but if it’s any good, it contains everything it needs to, condensed into a few words.  How many of you would pick up a book on bereavement?  You’re reading this article, though, and the poems it contains, although some people may find the poems painful. 

Poetry is also good for the writer, certainly in the case of bereavement.  It helps to clarify things and because it’s short, you need to get to the point.  A number of times I thought “I can’t write that, it’s too awful” but I carried on because bereavement is awful.  If you’re going to write about it, you may as well say so.   

Poetry doesn’t take grief away, nor would it be valuable if it did.  Its contribution to the grieving process is more by way of a focus.  I often start writing when I have a bunch of feelings I don’t understand and through the writing the meaning soon becomes apparent.  If it’s a good poem someone else may read it and think “That’s what I feel!”

I write for me but I also write for others to read and choosing the poems to include here was difficult.  The selection that follows briefly charts three years’ progress.  In spite of the last poem, I know the process isn’t complete because I’m not sure it ever is.  If you have got something out of reading these poems and would like to read more, or if you would like to comment, I would be pleased to hear from you.

nothing is enough

nothing is enough
any more
with no more

I sit here
and carry on, though,
doing things
that are enough
in themselves
for themselves
just not enough
for me

one day
there will be things
that are enough
I know that

the knowing means
I can survive
this time when
nothing is enough


So often I’ve talked of my specialism
in husbands:

Mikes, born late summer 1942.
Red beards, ex-teachers because of stress
Divorced, two children:
an older daughter with red hair,
a dark-haired son born in ‘77.

And now another thing they share:
Dead, leaving me behind.

a different grief

and now unexpectedly
different grief
I didn’t know
I hadn’t done

two years
has been about the ending
bad memories
of your suffering
I couldn’t have done more
but always wondering

now suddenly
here you are
being Mike-ish
loving me
reminding me
of all the good times

two years
after your funeral
now I am suddenly
reconnected with the real you
able to miss you
at your best
and not the worst
of those final months

Coming out the other side

I notice
I feel different
and at first can’t say how

then I realise
the place I’ve been
sometimes indefinable
sometimes indistinguishable
from the outside world
yet when you’re in it
so clearly existing
behind a force field
through which you cannot break

not where I am

no anniversary
or event
no clue
nothing sudden

each of us makes our own journey
through where it is
not the past but not the future
accused once
(behind my back) of
doing it unnaturally fast
yet here I am again
a relatively short time on
coming out the other side
and knowing

this is right.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Celebrating forty years

Once there was a time when forty seemed old and then of course when I was forty it seemed quite young.  With increasing life expectancies, it's a long time since I heard the saying that life begins at forty; these days it probably starts at fifty or even sixty.  But forty years ago - well, that is something else if one can look back that far and still be an adult.

Two very important things happened to me forty years ago.  In July I went on my first pottery summer school.  In August I came to live in Stroud (having at last secured a teaching job).  I was truly rubbish at pottery and I hated Stroud.

Stroud has become the home I never want to leave and perseverence has turned me into a potter.  I've learned that rather than being good with my hands but not very bright, which I believed back then, I actually have quite poor hand-eye co-ordination, but am intelligent.  I now understand why it took so long to learn to throw a cereal bowl (many years) and I no longer brush aside my ability to do accounts and write websites as just things I'm interested in.

In forty years I've done a variety of work, none of which I regret and all of which I probably still draw on from time to time, both in my working life and in relating to others.  I've had therapy, two marriages, two widowhoods, two dogs, gained some wonderful friends and lost two of them - all of which experiences have contributed to my becoming the person I currently am.

An emotionally healthy person will be constantly changing, albeit often in small and subtle ways, so I'm pleased to recognise that I'm a work in progress.  I didn't get forty years of marriage to celebrate, nor children who turned forty (though I have some wonderful stepchildren doing that) but I'm really happy to be celebrating a forty-year relationship with clay and forty years living in the place which will always be home.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Why this election matters so much to me

OK, so here is my personal election post.  It is long.  I make no apologies for that.  You don’t have to read it, but it would be nice to think that some of you will.  It's also a Party Political post.

I want to explain why I feel so passionately about this election.  I haven’t done this sort of thing before but I will try what I can to make the point because I believe it is vital.

I've never felt so despairing about what a government is doing. So many public services undermined. How can that be right? 

Recent history also shows us the people working in our essential public services - like police officers, doctors, nurses, teachers - have been increasingly struggling to offer the services they are committed to providing but are not given the resources to do so and those individuals trying to serve our community in these services are near to breaking point.

Statistics say that one in four of us (last time I heard, might not be current) will suffer from mental illness in our lifetime. So if you haven't suffered yourself, you probably know someone who has, and you will know the role stress plays in that. And know that eventually people crumble and can't go to work. I fear that our doctors, nurses and police will soon reach that point. I know that many of our teachers have already done so and others are on the brink.  When people eventually crumble in larger numbers, we’ll see even more struggling services.  And again, treating people who work for our benefit like this just can’t be right.

The Labour Party has a manifesto which commits to reversing so many of the cuts to public services.  Unlike manifestos in some elections, which could be criticised for being not thought out, this one explains that more funding for public services will be provided by higher taxes from the top 5% of the population.

Now, if you’re one of those in the top 5% I can see you might have got used to how much you earn and can spend and might not want to do that much, not because you can’t but because you don’t want to help everyone else at your own expense.  But for the rest of us, the vast majority    And actually, I don’t believe that all high earners would be against paying more.

When I started work the basic rate for tax was 33%.  It seemed fair enough at the time.  I earned money, I paid a chunk of it to the government to pay for things I might or might not need but would certainly expect to be there if I ever did need them.  Taking the wider picture, I also wanted those things to be there for everyone else.  The rest of my money I spent directly on the other things I needed, such as shelter, food and clothing.  But they were all things I needed and understood I should pay for.  Now we pay much lower basic rate of tax and still none of the parties contesting this election is suggesting that the basic rate goes up.  Only the top 5% of earners are going to be asked to pay more tax.

I cannot understand how people can believe it’s ok to mistreat the poor, sick and underprivileged.  The top 5% is really not very many of the population.  Why aren’t the other 95% united in wanting to support our communities?

All the major religions believe in helping others and atheists are not exempt from being decent, caring people. 

In anyone’s eyes, how can austerity be a morally good way to run a country?
I don’t think that people who vote Tory are bad people themselves.  I know that some of my friends have often done so and are possibly planning to do so again. 
But this time. 
This time. 
This time is surely different.  The recent policy of austerity, which is set to continue under the Tory manifesto, surely is just not right.

I expect most people reading this, and certainly reading it to the end, have already decided how to vote and I may anyway have been preaching to the converted.  If you think anything I’ve written might help a floating voter, though, please feel free to pass it on.

I don’t know whether to hope or not.  Hoping is more pleasant.  Disappointment can be awful.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Seeing Bob

I could write a small book about my relationship with the work of Bob Dylan but I'm not going to do that now.

Here are two poems.  The second one was written in 1991 by my first husband, who introduced me to the world of Bob and with whom I attended 7 performances, including the one he wrote about anticipating here.  I had the opening lines of the poem in my head all day yesterday leading up to seeing Bob that evening.

The first poem is written by me about that.  For twenty-five years I've had a friend who I met through our interest in Dylan but although separately we've seen him many times, I with various different people, we have never managed to attend a concert together until now.

expecting my last time
watching dylan
before I let him go
I am caught unawares
by the thrill
of the performance

here he is before us
bob the same bob
just being in the now
like we should all
be, telling us
things have changed

here is what he wants
to show us
this is what he feels
in these songs today
and highway 61 is joyful
and so am I

me and my dylan buddy
twenty-five years
waiting to see bob together
and it’s everything
it could be
and worth the wait

tangled up in blue
I weep for the bob-centric years
of my first lost marriage
feeling reconnected
at last to the start of

bob the same bob
nobody else quite right
to go with till now
restored in my heart
joyous plaintive rollicking
genius poet muso

just as it should be
leaving me wanting
the next time
knowing of course
I want to do it all again

Jane Vernon, May 2017 

last year bob
you just like a woman'd
and man in the long black coat'd
to the ceiling
of the Hammersmith Odeon
on the night the
specialists in institutionalised poison
unleashed the attack on
my invasive leukaemic cells

I listen to the tape of your
weighty cries at the foothills of thunder
              at the chords of doubt
              at the crossroads of the spirit
              in the whine of love
              in the heart of loss
as you knew them on that day
which I spent blanketed in drugs and exhaustion

a year later I tick away the days
until I see you once more
I will be there this year
to allow you to stand amid
the waves of the hugest unknowns
while east and west play armageddon
while my blood cells orgy
while beauty holds my hand

and you with you lone harmonica
sing it all for us free
as you have done
since the primal
blowin of the wind

Mike Vernon, January 1991   

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Wot? No ....

Fill in the blank to suit - no blog post, no photo a day, no fresh bread; this week I'm especially conscious of all the things I've let slip lately.

Most mornings recently I've thought today might be the day I get back to the Photo A Day challenge but still it's now more than three weeks since I posted anything. I think it's because of the shape the year is taking.  This part time work thing is not as easy to manage as it sounds.  I've done a lot of the part where I'm not working already this year so now find myself needing to do the work part most of the time.  The Photo A Day challenge often needs thinking about and thinking time is what I'm shortest of.

No fresh bread ....  well, I'm pleased to say that I've managed to continue the year with a home-made loaf on the go most of the time unless I made a deliberate decision to buy something different for a change.  This week, though, no fresh bread because I didn't make it when I intended to.  I'm hoping that will be put right soon because the bread has been better than ever.  I keep thinking about a post about that but as you'll have noticed ...

And no blog post.  Why is that?  I've also got an idea for a short article that I've been wanting to write for about a year.  I thought I might do that in the winter, but no.  Really, very little writing of any sort.  What's that about, then?

I've still taken photos, of course.  Functional ones of new work (ah yes, the gallery pages of my website also need updating but almost certainly won't be any time soon), documentary ones, in particular of the garden, watching how last year's new plants are coming into their own for a second season and relishing all the new tulips I bought in the autumn, and photos taken for the pleasure of photography, to capture things I've seen and maybe create one or two images I really like.

Wot? No ...  real explanation.  Not for the lack of blog posts, anyway.  Perhaps this will be a (nother) new start.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A fresh start

My weekend starts on Friday afternoon and this week it starts with fresh bread.  I topped it with butter (as it was a new loaf I wanted the maximum treat value) and tangy pink grapefruit marmalade, which I made last December.  (I made the butter dish too, but not the butter.)

It's also a fresh start for me in baking bread.  I used to bake most of our bread and then for some reason it started to be less successful and M didn't like it much so I gave up.  I was rigorous and although it went against the grain (mine), threw all my old bread flour into the compost and started with new.  Moved over to instant ready-mix yeast, as so many recipes call for it.  Used half white and half granary flour, a tad more yeast than the recipe for white bread called for and included 1 tsp vitamin C powder.  Result!  Oh, sorry, that should really say "Result, one lovely, light, tasty loaf."  Not too sticky, not yeasty in flavour, even and light texture and lovely crunch on the crust.  I'm hoping this will mean a return to making much of my own bread.

And finally ...  a fresh start with the blog.  Writing about what's on my mind, or in my life, even if not at length.

Happy New Year.  I've avoided flu so far so already it's been a much better start to 2017 than it was at this point in 2016.