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Poetry for Personal Change: Discovery and Wholeness

19 Aug

poetry-river

Poetry for Personal Change: Discovery and Wholeness

by Miranda Barnes

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Part of my current research is exploring how the subjective, human experience creates this place within poetry that is “both.” Both a place of mystery, permeable and open, shifting like a ghost. A place where we receive. But also simultaneously a place that insists on precision, microscopic focus, finding the exact way to say a thing, so fiercely accurate that it is not repeatable. Clarity and accuracy meeting what cannot be pinned down, on the head of a pin.

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Something happens at the meeting point, a dialogue between the hemispheres of the brain. A dialogue between mind and spirit. A place where our connections increase, both within ourselves and to the world around us.

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I have heard it said that the creative impulse begins with the hunger for, or attraction to, what is beautiful. While passion for beauty is certainly a part of the truth for most creatives, I find that what is more powerful is the hunger for meaning. Meaning and significance. Meaning-making is the business of poetry, and when we connect to this meaning within ourselves, we find significance.

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Poetry, and more broadly literature, has always offered more than just the benefit of something to read. From encounters with good literature, good poems, we find ourselves altered and awake to the dilemmas of human existence. Through adjacency with the stories of others we view our own significance, within the expansiveness of life. And the way a poem condenses meaning into the boldest, most impossibly true little mouthful of language, this leads us to eureka. Through the discovery of something so true, so profound, we find out just how big and how small we are at once.

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I wouldn’t be the first to assert that exposure to the arts and humanities gives people a renewed sense of individual purpose and meaning. But in a current world climate where the importance of these studies seems to be declining, it’s even more urgent point out their powerful affects on people’s lives. One example comes out of Stanford University in California. Their Program in Ethics in Society offers humanities courses in the arts, philosophy, and history to residents of Hope House, an addiction treatment and recovery facility for women. The residents here learn the stories of historical female figures such as Emily Dickinson, Hildegard of Bingen, and Sojourner Truth.

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The impact of these courses on the participants goes much further than traditional addiction treatment alone. Through the study of humanities subject matter the Hope House students encounter ethical dilemmas and philosophical questions, encouraging deep thinking and interaction with their own humanity. Over the course of the studies, each of these women are able to see herself as more than just an addict or an alcoholic, a shamed or reduced self, but again as a whole person. Rob Reich, who is a Stanford professor and director of the program, says of the course’s impact: “Because ‘the  humanities revolve around questions every human being grapples with,’ study of humanities subjects creates ‘a sense of possibility and agency that many [of the Hope House students] haven’t experienced in a long time.’”

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Poetry specifically does accomplish something unique. The way poetry is composed, both in the context of its musicality (the meter and rhythm) and also its often surprising use of language, has an intriguing effect on the brain. It very literally spikes the brain’s electrical activity. In new research from Liverpool University, reported on by the Telegraph in January of this year, exciting brain imaging studies were done on readers who read passages of poetry and literary prose, versus more simplified prose with the same meaning.

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The scans revealed that areas of intense brain activity lit up in both sides of the brain: the left part concerned with language, as expected, but also areas of the right hemisphere that relate to autobiographical memory. What this activity in the brain suggests, in response to the poetic language, is that poetry triggers what are called “reappraisal mechanisms.” These cause the reader to reflect on his or her own personal experiences and think of them in a new way, in light of what they are reading. The leaders of this research, including scientists, psychologists and English academics, plan further brain imaging study using the work of additional poets. Hope is that there will be real evidence of a therapeutic benefit to poetry that could be applied in future treatment. Philip Davis, Professor of English at Liverpool University and one of the university’s academics who has worked on the study, says of the study’s implications: “This is an argument for serious language in serious literature for serious human situations, instead of self-help books or the easy reads that merely reinforce predictable opinions and conventional self-images.” Clearly many different methods of treatment and therapy are needed across the board for the large spectrum of individuals who require it, but this research sheds light on poetry’s potential role in the future.

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Poet and neuroscientist Sean Haldane (more officially a clinical neuropsychologist for the NHS) has been practicing in the fields of psychology and neuropsychology for many decades. However, he has been a poet for even longer, and amidst an interesting time for official poetry posts in the UK, he was interviewed for The Guardian’s Observer column . Therein he discussed the power of poetry to change an individual.

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Haldane works primarily now assessing diseases of memory and dementia, but was trained in Reichian psychoanalytic therapy and has written a psychological crisis handbook called Emotional First Aid. In spite of his many years of professional practice, he seems to know that poetry has a strength that does even deeper: “In fact, I now think poetry has more capacity to change people than psychotherapy. If you read a poem and it gets to you, it can shift your perspective in quite a big way, and writing a poem, even more so.”

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A further point of interest that Haldane mentions in this interview regarding the neuroscience of poetry is that a poem may activate the same portions of the brain that react when a child experiences separation from its mother, “A deep sense of separation and longing.” Perhaps there might even be some poems that activate a sense of recognition, or of reunion, of closure. Hopefully future studies will continue to examine the ways that our brains respond to poetry, and maybe even what occurs in the writing of a poem.

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While Haldane wouldn’t recommend poetry at a therapeutic practice (“Never.”), nor would many folk (both participants as well as practitioner) suggest that poetry is any sort of replacement for therapy, there is something to its power. I am just beginning to dig into the many ways that poetry finds its way to the heart behind the mind, or through. But both writers and readers of poetry have always known the impact of a powerful poem to change their lives.

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For some, the act of writing poetry has been a significant part of therapy, and possibly the most successful component. A reporter for the BBC’s  coverage in Iraq, journalist Patrick Howse found poetry a primary part of his pathway to healing through episodes of acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which he developed while in the war zones of Iraq. He was recently featured on PoetryZoo.com discussing how the act of writing his poems, by articulating his experiences and giving them representation, allowed him to process the trauma that he was constantly reliving.

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For Patrick Howse, the process of writing poetry was pivotal to him making sense of what happened to him, the events and images that lead to his constant state of sleeplessness and fear. By combining images of his own making with the feelings experienced in the traumatic events, and by aligning these images to the images from reality that he took in, he was able to come to terms with something that penetrated his world so vitally. Because of the intimacy that poetry can offer us with ourselves, this pathway to understanding can be incredibly healing.

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Howse refers to a quote by UK poet Cecil Day-Lewis which is personally significant to him: “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.” He says he wrote his poems for himself, in order to understand, first and foremost.

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I personally object to Day-Lewis when it comes to the notion that we do not write in order to be understood, but only to understand. The creative act is a combination of both. In fact, a great deal of what comes with the human need for connection is that very thing: to be understood. The pathway to healing for many necessitates increased connection to find wholeness.

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Sherwin Nuland, American surgeon, author, and professor of bioethics at Yale, has written a number of books examining the mysteries of the human body and the processes endured at death, among many other celebrated texts. In How We Die, Nuland shares personal stories of his life, including that of his grandmother. He received many letters from readers thanking him for this inclusion, as they saw someone of their own in her description. From this experience, he found that “The more personal you are and the more intimate you are willing to be about the details of your own life, the more universal you are.” And while Nuland is not a poet, what he says rings true for what makes poetry so powerful: personal experience.

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In an interview with the renowned Krista Tippett, published in the lovely collection of her interviews titled Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit, Sherwin Nuland speaks candidly about what he has found to be pivotal to every human soul. He says that once a person can recognize that the experience of pain, and the human response to pain, is universal, there’s a shift. A recognition. Understanding. And with this, we change how we treat each other, and move toward healing. As Nuland puts it, “You know what everybody needs? You want to put it into a single word? Everybody needs to be understood.”

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Indeed. And couldn’t poetry bring us closer to recognizing each other?

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To be understood is to be recognized. To be recognized, by yourself and by others, pulls you from a one-dimensional, reduced existence to a three-dimensional creature bestowed with possibility. And how important it is to find pathways to this wholeness. In both the acts of reading and writing of poetry, there is certainly much to be gained by the participant.

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One cannot say that all poetry can produce a certain effect, or accomplish a specific thing or set of things. Some poetry is certainly more successful than others at creating that moment that I call “the punch in the gut,” the moment of visceral recognition that, for me, so often precipitates the instant of being changed. But a truly good poem at the right time can certainly be a powerful catalyst for transformation.

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Jane Hirshfield, one of my favorite poets writing today, is author to a magnificent book of essays titled Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, which deftly investigates the art and craft of poetry and the depths of our interaction with it. In the first essay, “Poetry and the Mind of Concentration,” Hirshfield strikes at the heart of some of poetry’s power:

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“Every good poem begins in language awake to its own connections…It begins, that is, in the body and mind of concentration.” She clarifies: “By concentration, I mean a particular state of awareness: penetrating, unified, and focused, yet also permeable and open.”

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The concentration that poetry requires is a wakefulness of mind and spirit, an alert consciousness, an attentiveness to the connection to everything in the self and outside the self. A willingness to receive, a lack of rigidity. This sort of duality is part of the secret of poetry, these seemingly opposing states of being intently focused, precise, but also an openness. And isn’t this mindset the perfect place to allow oneself to be changed?

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Hirchfield also says this of poetic concentration: “In the whole-heartedness of concentration, the world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.” Possibility and agency are a natural part of the mind of concentration.

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Our participation in poetry offers the promising possibility of finding a place where we cohere the parts of ourselves and simultaneously, a place of enlarging of our own possibilities. But maybe what makes poetry so powerful is that the thread of it comes in through the mind with language, words that make meaning out of our perceptions, but the whispers to us gently to engage us in a way that can be deeply unexplainable. Like knowing. Like being. Poetry, good poetry, can change us. Sometimes right when and where we need to be changed.

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You can follow Miranda on Twitter here:

https://twitter.com/petalsandflames

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How To Be Perfect by Branden Barnett

15 Jul

perfectionism

How to be perfect

When I sat down to write this blog post for Artipeeps, I had a hard time coming up with something to write about. My mind started churning on how important it was to write amazing, informative, valuable posts when you’re introducing yourself to someone else’s audience. I wanted to give the perfect introduction that would sum up who I am and what I do. I wanted to help as many people as possible with this one post.

As I sat there, my shoulders started to feel tight and my heart rate sped up. In my mind, ideas turned to thoughts about how I had nothing to say. I felt anxiety jump and my self worth plummet.

Hello Perfectionism!

As an artist (and a human being), perfectionism is something you have to learn to disarm again and again if you want to be happy. Read on if you want to know how I keep perfectionism out of my and my art’s way.

Perfectionism

When it first creeps into your mind, perfectionism seems to make sense. It seems to be rational. You find yourself thinking things like:

  • This album has to be amazing. It has to be better than the last one we made

  • If this book isn’t as good as (insert the title of the book you love here) then why bother putting it out.

  • If this isn’t flawless then people will think I suck…that I’m mediocre as an artist

It makes sense because we want our art to be good. Perfectionism seems like a force that keeps us on track, reminding us that this must be our best work.

But here’s the thing…

IT’S A TRICK!!!!

Perfectionism is born when you over-identify your worth as a person with the art you make. Your mind starts perceiving the impending judgment and appraisal that your art receives when it’s released for judgements and appraisals of who you are.

When you believe these thoughts, the whole process of creativity grinds to a halt. It feels impossible to start and impossible to finish. Nothing seems right. It’s feels terrible. You start avoiding making your art.

So what can you do to put perfectionism in it’s place?

Mindful Awareness

Now that you know to be on the lookout for perfectionistic thinking, you can use mindful awareness to allow the thoughts to rise, hang out in your mind and then pass without believing them.

When you feel those “this must be my best work ever” feelings and thoughts start churning, mentally label them as simply “perfectionism” and then just watch. When you momentarily become a dispassionate observer of these feelings, they lose their bite and then they quickly fade from your mind.

The moment when you’re watching your own perfectionistic thoughts come and go in your mind, try to generate some compassion for yourself.

Just think…you’re an artist, trying to make the world a more beautiful place, and your brain is trying to sabotage you every step of the way. What you’re doing is brave and authentic. It is an act of true vulnerability. So when your thoughts start telling you why you suck and you have to be perfect, give yourself some well deserved compassion.

The fight against perfectionism is a daily battle. These thoughts will come up over and over again. Just bring mindful awareness to them, let them pass, extend some compassion to yourself and get to work.

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Branden Barnett Ms. Ed., PC
Professional Counselor and Mental Health Blogger
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You can find out more about Branden and his work here:
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or follow Branden here:
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The Divine Mr M: Drawing Mark From Memory

17 Jun

The Divine Mr M: Drawing Mark from Memory

by Ray Bentley

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When Nicky asked me to write something for Artipeeps I was thrilled, even though I didn’t have a clue what I could possibly say that would hold anyone’s interest for 2,000 words. I had a look at the blog and there was any number of posts from people about their personal testimony or their artistic practice which I didn’t feel I could match, simply because my own biography and working methods seem utterly dreary by comparison. My first thought was that I should write something called “What is Art For?”, but this was quickly dismissed by partner as the kind of arid mumbling that had been done a million times before on art blogs.

“I know:”, he said. “Why not write about Mark?”.

“That’s not really relevant”, I said.

“No”, he said, “but he is interesting. Why not draw him as well? It’ll be a good exercise.”

The latter would be a challenge, given that Mark made it a rule never to have his photograph taken and that he’s been dead for ten years, but I thought I’d give it a go. I did draw him once before, a long time ago; he commissioned me to do a pen and ink drawing of him at his prime, but that’s long-lost now.

When I settled on Mark as a subject, I was presented with two new problems: firstly, how could I do justice to his extraordinary life, and, more worryingly, how could I do it in so few words?

I wasn’t sure, so I delegated that part of the task to my partner (who’s also called Mark), which means that everything you’ve read so far – and everything you’re about to read – has been written by him (seeing as it was his smart idea). All I did was talk into his voice recorder for an hour and a half, and do some drawings.

Mark was twenty five when we first met, and although he’d reached the pinnacle of his working life a few years previously, the long, elegant decline I saw him play out was as compelling as anything I’d missed. I was eighteen, fresh from the provinces, and he immediately offered me the first of the many stark bon mots which would become his trademark over the years.

“Raymond, darling” he said, with a swish of his dinner-plate hands “if ever you are ill, simply disappear, and come back when you’re well. Aaand – if you have any problems, don’t even think for a moment of sharing them with anyone, because they won’t want to know”.

For the rest of his life he continued to hide behind this ineffable mask, and while he steadfastly refused to advertise his frailties, he never gave himself the time to flaunt his successes either; I only found out from a friend years later, for example, that while peers, dignitaries and heads of state were forced to walk from the cordons to Westminster Abbey on Coronation Day, Mark had been limousined from palace to palace to spray the hair and fix the coronets of the world’s aristocracy. Not-yet twenty-one, and under the soubriquet of Mr M (or “Lil” to his closest customers), he’d become the best-placed commoner at the last hurrah of the greatest empire, without even breaking into a sweat.

If ambition had ever been a part of Mark’s make-up, he hid that well too. As far as I know he’d left his native Cardiff as a teenage hairdresser to move to Manchester after catching the eye of Helena Rubenstein, before quickly heading to London, Paris and then London again to find himself teasing the locks of Queen Mary and Princess Margaret before he was old enough to vote, and without that much in the way of effort.

So: in the absence of any palpable hunger, what was it that tossed a working class boy from South Wales to these heights so quickly? I’m not really sure, but I think it was the combination of his impeccable, unforced manners, his beguiling confidence and, more than anything, his looks that taxied him into polite society, blessed as he was with the pompadour, the quixotic flounce, the traffic-stopping nose, the ambiguous physique and the sheer height that would, by turns, disarm, mesmerise or reassure everyone who met him.

Looking back, now, however, I can see how the same un-neediness occasionally informed against him. Had he been more career-minded I feel sure that he would have found it in himself not to throw a chair at one of his more celebrated clients after her late arrival to an appointment. His inevitable dismissal as a result of this naturally curtailed his trajectory, but after retreating to Cardiff to let the dust settle he was quickly lured to London afresh by Oxxxxxx just before they moved to Knightsbridge.

So: less than two years after his expulsion he was preening the elite again, just as his sins were slipping from polite memory, and with the instinct and renewed energy to try something new.

Wigs had slipped out of fashion in the 1920’s, but with the advent of new technology, greater prosperity, and some fledgling interest on the continent, Mark decided that he would bring the revival to the London, and he successfully and somewhat doggedly re-introduced the capital to a passion for hairpieces that would last well into the sixties.

This was another of his unique qualities: he could learn his way into a position of unparalleled expertise on whatever appealed to him at any given time: wigs, clocks, antiques, quadrophonic sound, chimpanzees, his Borzois, exotic African gentlemen or Lord Byron (whose style he comprehensively appropriated) , and this always kept adversity at bay long enough for him to keep the Mark industry ticking over. Such was his authority on the aforesaid poet that he was consulted by Peter Hall – director of the West End première of “Camino Real” – to ensure that the young Robert Hardy played him with exactly the right hair colour.

His passions weren’t always so durable, however. He returned his chimp to Harrods just hours after its purchase when it became evident that the constant screeching and poo-throwing would play havoc with his hosting prowess.

He was also blessed with a selective practicality which, to all but Mark, appeared utterly extraordinary: for example, he thought it perfectly natural that everyone should have at least one overgrown fingernail for those times when there wasn’t a screwdriver to hand. He also thought it was the obvious career move, when, aged just twenty, he received a series of injections from a doctor boyfriend which successfully protected him from hereditary baldness, even if it meant that he’d be forced to live with a pair of perfectly formed but debilitatingly substantial breasts for the next thirty years.

I can’t say exactly what it was that made him leave hairdressing in the early 1960’s, but he made a well-timed exit just before the kid-next-door renaissance of that era turned Mark’s brand of exoticism into a quaint impediment.

Mark’s first attempt at reinvention shrewdly mirrored the entrepreneurial hipness of that age, and he utilised his contacts within the music industry to repackage himself as The Mystery Singer. His plan was to release a beat version of “Come Into The Garden, Maude” which would be sang from behind a screen, upon which a back light would silhouette Mark’s unmistakable profile and trademark cigarette holder. Although he couldn’t actually sing a note he considered this wholly unimportant, as he was well aware that they could “do marvellous things in the studio” to rectify this. Unsurprisingly this project never came to fruition in the way he’d hoped, although the concept remains strangely compelling.

It’s from this point onwards that I lose track with the chronology of Mark’s life, because when he didn’t visit he would limit contact to occasional, superficial telephone calls if things were going either extremely well, or extremely poorly. Given that I hardly ever saw him, this will give you some idea of what lay ahead.

His father – who’d diligently tithed Mark’s earnings for over a decade to ensure he didn’t fritter everything away – moved to London from Cardiff in the sixties, and together they relied on Mark’s knowledge of clocks and his father’s engineering prowess to make a comfortable living – for a while, at least.

It was about this time that he also embarked his longest, but most unsuccessful career, as an inventor. His single-mindedness remained as formidable ever, but for the first time, perhaps, the world resisted Mark in ways he couldn’t negotiate. The financial pressure of retaining patents on his ideas, coupled with his unerring taste for the good life meant that his capital was eaten away, and he could do nothing as his better innovations were picked off one by one as his rights expired.

To an inventor, determination is as combustible as oxygen, and the drive that allows you to knock unflinchingly on a multitude of doors eventually blinds you to the limitations of the products you believe in – and invest in – the most.

In Mark’s case he came unstuck because of his unwavering belief that disposable, self-adhesive glove-pads for caterers and car mechanics were the future, and he spend a king’s ransom on research and development until it became clear that it would cost him too much to get his glue to both work effectively and reliably whilst also meeting unsurprisingly stringent trading standards.

A substantial inheritance and the generous returns from the sub-letting of a sitting tenancy in the heart of the West End kept things ticking over financially, and he was able to mask his adversity from the mavens of London life for well over a decade, during which time he continued to make some very important friends despite any tangible success in his professional life.

Consequently, he was invited onto “Clive Anderson Talks Back” in the mid-80s to talk about his inventions, and he proved so popular that he was hurried back for a repeat performance on a following episode.

This flurry of interest in both his ebullient charm and his unlikely devices coincided with the removal of his breasts, but instead of freeing him to enjoy his eminence, it precipitated a deterioration which made it almost impossible for him to fully savour the rest of his life. His demeanour never changed, however, and he remained as dashing, imposing and as infectious as ever, even if he could no longer walk without assistance.

The last time I saw him was about twelve years ago, and even though the money was all but gone, he was living in a grace and favour house in the sticks that was nothing less than palatial, and was able to call on the services of a housekeeper to tend the needs of Mark, his partner, his ever-decreasing circle of friends, and his two enormous Borzois. He talked about how he’d recently appeared on Esther Rantzen’s new daytime show, but was somewhat discomfited by the way in which he and his fellow inventors were now been presented as eccentrics worthy of nothing but ridicule.

Between this visit and his subsequent death, two years later, I spoke to Mark only sporadically. His telephone calls were short, breezy postcards which were as engaging and as occasionally infuriating as ever, but they were never long enough to betray the new realities of his life.

When I went to his sparsely attended funeral I found out that both the house and the housekeeper had been gone for some time, and that he, his partner and his pitifully out-sized dogs had been forced by penury into a council flat which was hardly big enough for one giant, let alone four. A handful of people – mostly local – paid their respects at his service, but there was only me there that knew the many truths about Mark that would otherwise have remained locked away, even from his partner.

The fifty-year-long sunset on his own private empire was finally over, and with it, another un-Google-able life had been lost to history. For all I’ve gone on, you still don’t even know the half of what he got up to.

From this point onwards Me – Ray – the narrator, and Mark (my partner) the writer, differ: given the colour and unthinking vitality of Mark’s life and my own experience of his outlandishness, I only see tragedy in his quiet end.

My partner, however, only sees triumph, given that almost every life, be it eventful or otherwise, usually ends with the same unseemly bathos. Mark, he claims, lived “to the max”, and he feels sure that were he presented with the circumstances of his late penury, death and quiet exit exit fifty years earlier, he would gladly have taken it in return for the richness of the life he was gifted.

I’ve attached three drawings I did of Mark: the first was a pencil sketch I did as a refresher; the second was a profile based on that and further recollections, and the third was a much more impressionistic rendering I did after this article had been written; none of them, it has to be said, do him justice. If, on your travels, you ever chance upon a pen/ink sketch of a tall, naked reclining man with pendulous breasts, spectacular cigarette holder and an even more spectacular male appendage then you’ll have completed the set, and you’ll have a much better visual analogue for what it was that made this man so unique.

So: in a roundabout way maybe I have addressed my initial conceit, and I’ve perhaps unintentionally demonstrated just what it is art is for and what it can aspire to. It can reach up to the condition of excellence that makes humans so special, even when they’re maddening, frustrating, inscrutable or just too plain big to be pinned down.

We will almost certainly fail to do that as artists, just as we invariably fail as humans to reach our full potential, but when it gets close to the truth, it’s always worthwhile.

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You can find more about Ray and his painting here:

>http://raymondbentley.com/

>https://twitter.com/bentleysaltburn>>

‘Women and Comics’ by Code Crimson

20 May

Code Crimson 1

Women and Comics

by Code Crimson

 writer, artist, and co-creator of The Code Crimson 

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When it comes to women and comics, I feel we rightly have a lot to complain about. It’s a boys club, and always has been. But I’ve never been the type to complain. I’d rather do something about it instead. And I’m not the only one.

 We’re out there, you know. But if we’re not welcome to play in the big leagues, does that mean we’re relegated to some walled garden? Some ghetto of female creators? With a few talented exceptions, women aren’t always welcome to play with the big boys in the comic book industry, so we’re making our own way in the field. There are plenty of female comic creators out there, a fair share of them making a living from their comics and illustrations. 

 Ayne Hart, co-creator of the manga-inspired scifi comic Claude and Monet, originally pitched the idea for the comic to Tokyopop, but was encouraged to go independent. Making Claude and Monet is her full-time job, and she never considered working for the big two publishers. 

 The comics industry is an ‘old boys’ club’ where it’s difficult for anyone—male or female—to enter,” she explained. “Many comics creators have ignored not just their female audience, but I would say even their audience in general. … Traditional comics readership is in a decline for various reasons, but rather than addressing that decline and broadening their audience, creators have simply become so insular that they’re really just creating comics for themselves. It’s difficult for anyone to break into comics in that sort of change-resistant environment.”

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Savannah Houston-McIntyre, co-creator of the Amya Graphic Novel, added, “The doors have been opened for us to delve into our own imaginations and tell the stories we wish to tell; unchallenged by an editor or marketing team. Marvel and DC may be limiting themselves—but that doesn’t mean they can limit us.”

 So few of us seem welcome in the big two, but I honestly believe that in many ways we are living on the verge of a creative golden age. In publishing, as in so many other fields, the gatekeepers are vanishing. “It would be nice for the Big Two to give more women artists and writers a chance, but then again I don’t think we should rely on them to provide that,” admitted Adriana Blake, creator of Fall On Me. “If they won’t do it, women should find other ways to get their stories out and their voice heard. Thanks to the internet and social media, we’re going through a great surge of independent art and comics being shared with a larger audience without the need of a big publisher. Anything’s possible in this day and age, and that’s very exciting. The publishers no longer get to choose what’s good or bad; the audience does.”

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According to Houston-McIntyre, “There is definitely a lot of sexism in the comic industry. It is something that was engraved into minds long ago, and it will be a challenge to break. I have encountered it online as well as at shows. I have had men tell me my characters are not revealing enough, that I shouldn’t be making comics because I am a mother, and so on. However, for every negative encounter there are a thousand good ones. And that gives me a lot of hope. Every time I go to a con and glance around, there are so many creators, both female and male, writing the tales of strong and independent female characters. If the mainstream media would take notice, I think the push towards equality would come in leaps and bounds. If they don’t, we will continue to fight and push forward regardless. Because just like the characters we write; we need to find the strength to challenge and change the societies around us.”

 We’re at a stage where scores of women have grown up reading comics and manga, and those experiences have served as the inspiration for many working as full-time illustrators, artists, and writers. Yumi Sakugawas work  has been featured in the literary journal Folio, she’s published several best-selling comic zines, and she will have a comic released by an independent comic book publisher later this year. “There is still this misguided notion out there that only boys read comic books,” she said. “That being said, there are so many amazing female comic book artists, comic book writers, webcomic creators, self-publishers, and all-around artists getting their work out into the world right now, and as wildly optimistic as this may sound, I do believe that things can only get better.” 

Crowdsourcing has more than proven the real viability of independent creators. In 2012, Publisher’s Weekly  announced that Kickstarter was one of the top five comic book publishers by gross revenue. Whether the major publishers ever wake up to us or not, we’ll just keep pushing, keep putting our work out there, and keep building an audience. 

 For me, the gender disparity in comics makes my motivation to share my comic stories with the world more urgent,” Sakugawa said. “I find inspiration in the fact that there still aren’t nearly enough comic books out there that are created by women, or have strong female lead characters, or aren’t afraid to speak exclusively about the female experience. It is an opportunity to create something that isn’t there yet, to give female and male readers something that I wish I would have had when I was a kid.” 

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‘Poetry, Verse and Other Writing from a Late Starter’

15 Apr

carol_2

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I’m Carol Robson and I live in Rotherham in South Yorkshire. I accepted place at the University of Sheffield when I was 53 and after I graduated in 2004 with a BMedSci (Hons) in Health and Human Sciences, after which my life changed for the better.

 I have previously been involved with Equality and Diversity work to help the LGBT community and I also enjoy working on issues for older people especially the older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community through my involvement with Age UK.

 I really hadn’t done much writing, apart from my time at University and especially poetry before 2009, hence writings from a late starter. I had penned a couple of poems several years earlier and a performance poet friend encouraged me to write some new stuff which might have relevance to my life and try out at an open mic event which went very well and I’ve since appeared at many more. It is great to hear that people love my poetry and my life has been enhanced by the many friends I have made through the performance poet side of my life.

 I published my first collection of poems Words of Darkness and Light towards the end of 2012; Amazon http://tinyurl.com/93j4khd I’ve also been published in several anthologies and literary journals, which include Route57 University of Sheffield Literary Journal and the Australian LGBT literary journal Polari Online.

My poetry is very eclectic and it covers a wide range of subjects which includes poems about Mental Health, Domestic Violence, Gender, Yorkshire, LGBT, Social Comment, Humour and Demons. Apart from my involvement with the Transformations project, I’m also involved with Hidden Perspectives (Bringing the Bible Out of the Closet) project: http://hiddenperspectivesfest.wordpress.com/about/

 I’m looking at the biblical narratives on homosexuality and homophobia and writing contemporary poetry for a set ‘Gay Biblical Whispers’ which I’ll be performing at the Hidden Perspectives event at the Showroom Workstation in Sheffield on June 1st.

 My blog http://www.chakracaz.wordpress.com

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Mask

I came, I went, I’m here again

Not the same, different, but still me

Was happy, but sad

Looking for answers, afraid to ask

Alas! hidden behind the mask

 

Moving in a life with those I love

Yet! no real friends, fear behind the mask

Acquaintances only, which is so sad

A partner and children I so dearly love

Yet! still hidden behind the mask

 

Years fall away

The hiding stays

Fear of exposure

Hurting those I love

Who is really hurting

Behind the mask

 

Angel of death beckoned

It was so real

Not like me

Still living a lie

Near death behind the mask

 

Guardian angel came and I clawed back

It was the time for the mask to fade

Gradually it falls away

However, the hurt and the pain stay

For those who mean so much to me

 

No longer a need to hide

Truly loved ones are by my side

The real me is flourishing now

The actor is no longer needed

No more mask

 

Here is the real me

Family, friends and soul mates

So dear to me

Their love for me, just being me

I came, I went, I am finally here.

 

© 2011 Carol Robson

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CamIris: Cambridge Women’s Photography Group

18 Mar

CamIrisCamIris

Cambridge Women’s Photography Group

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CamIris, Cambridge Women’s Photography Group, provides support to women who are interested in photography in the Cambridge area.  This may be through workshops, conferences, or encouraging women to exhibit and curate their work collectively.

 Our members range from keen amateurs, artists, environmental sculptors to photography tutors and to those whose work involves photography at a professional level.

 The group came together as part of Signals Festival of Women Photographers in 1994 and since then has held annual exhibitions and published two books ‘CamIris’ and ‘Ancestry’. Both books can be bought from us and also found in the Cambridgeshire Collection at the Central Library, Cambridge and at the library at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge UKNineteen years on, the group is still thriving.  We currently have twenty members.

 CamIris were invited to participate in International Women’s Day on 9th March at Anglia Ruskin University. Our stall attracted the attention of a diverse range of people, and while individual members merchandise was bought by delegates and members of the public, CamIris members, Lou Dellow, Dragana Lazici, Soo Martin and Veronika Romashova photographed the thought-provoking and varied talks, events and workshops which took place throughout the day.  The group have taken an active role in IWD for many years and our contribution at these events raises the profile of the group and increases our members’ confidence by giving them the opportunity to take photographs for a good cause.  Experience was gained, techniques shared and a great day was had by all.

 

Stall 4306 by Veronika Romashova

Stall 4306 Original Photography by Veronika Romashova

© Veronika Romashova

Stall.4402  by Veronika Romashova

Stall.4402 Original Photography by Veronika Romashova

© Veronika Romashova

The .Women of Note Original Photography by Soo Martin

The Women of Note Original Photography by Soo Martin

The Women of Note © Soo Martin 

The Women of Note perform - transported by the music - 2 Original Photography by Lou Bellow

The Women of Note perform – transported by the music – 2 Original Photography by Lou Bellow

The Women of Note © Lou Dellow 

The poet Hollie McNish Original Photography by Soo Martin

The poet Hollie McNish Original Photography by Soo Martin

The poet Hollie McNish © Soo Martin 

http://holliemcnish.bandcamp.com/

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In September, CamIris will be exhibiting work at The Museum of Technology in Cambridge.  The show will be in collaboration with the Cambridge women’s theatre group The Freudian Slips, and will be called ‘It’ll All Come Out in the Wash’.  The Freudian Slips will be performing a piece which focuses on the lives of Cambridge female bedmakers or ‘bedders’ who have worked for the colleges for centuries, while CamIris will be exploring the broader theme of laundry.  Individual interpretations will no doubt lead to an interesting and exciting exhibition.  Here are a few examples of Margot Krebs Neale’s preparatory work. 

Original Photography by Margot Krebs Neale

Original Photography by Margot Krebs Neale

© Margot Krebs Neale ((http://www.facebook.com/MargotKrebsNeale)

Original Photography by Margot Krebs Neale

Original Photography by Margot Krebs Neale

© Margot Krebs Neale ((http://www.facebook.com/MargotKrebsNeale)

If you would like more information about CamIris, purchase our books or feel you would like to join the group, please contact Soo Martin at soo@bengwy.free-online.co.uk .  

You can also follow us on Twitter @CamIrisPhoto 

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To see more photographs from CamIris’ members see below:

www.helenahadjioannouarts.net/

www.maryhumphrey.co.uk

http://www.stefaniereichelt-photographyandprints.com/projects.php

www.elspethowen.net

www.kaygoodridgephotographics.com

 

Curtains by Tiffany Coffman

18 Feb

Curtains

Curtains

It’s Saturday, a day where she should be kissing the world and venturing outside her boxed life, but there’s so much of it. God saw fit upon every sway through each day that her attention was drawn to couples; couples in love, couples laughing, and couples making a life. It had been years since she made anything. The slap that God delivered she viewed as particularly cruel as her decision to remain alone seemed dishonored. Or perhaps her anger was rooted in the idea of a God forcing her to see things differently, to buy into that bullshit hope that maybe one day, one day ‘he’ would come. But she was smarter than this and knew she’d outwit her God.

Spared by the oncoming brightness of the day, she rattles around in her slippers scuffling across time. The rising light gazing through the broken curtain on her sliding glass doors suggests she’s peeked out a time or two into a world she feels doesn’t want her. Changing directions between wanting love than not, she sips her conflict slowly every morning heating up that spot on her tongue that has long forgotten the taste of a man.

Sitting slouched on the worn sofa, shoulders rounded from carrying the weight of a thousand nights, the first morning’s tea is finished off as she looks across the empty room at all the things that don’t belong to her. Charitable bits of odds and ends that neither reflects her style or intent stare back at her as if to say, “We just don’t care.” The irony of this is not lost on her as she shuffles back into the kitchen for a second cup of heat.

Inside her robe pocket, she pulls out a tissue that has seen better days. She once thought to invest in a handkerchief but was too broken to feel she’d deserved otherwise. Besides, there was something pathetic and demeaning about using a tissue until it fell apart that she found sadly familiar. Catching a glimpse of morning’s beam from the broken curtain on her kitchen window, she let out a sigh as another day was unavoidable. Wandering, she retraced how she felt upon the sun’s awakening the day she believed he loved her, the one after the others. Her heart, bright as the sun upon her, expanded with a rush of him filtering in only to be disturbed by the sound of the kettle’s final call. Little balled up bits dropped to the floor as the tissue partially disintegrated, making an unnecessary bread crumb trail from the whistling kettle to her teacup as she knew better than to be misled by anything unfiltered.

Traipsing back into the living room spilling her tea, morning had officially taken over. While she knew she should eat something she just prayed the day would speed by quick enough to carry her to night and straight into bed where hours could be tucked away. The clock high on the wall was permanently stuck at 2:19, dead and drained, with no indication of a.m. or p.m. except that it was the only thing left from her second marriage. A relic from a moment when her second husband actually gave a shit about something, at least something that alluded to being part of a family. She’d allowed it to remain on the wall despite its uselessness, partly because it did reflect a time when her second husband actually cared and partly because he placed it so high it was only accessible via a ladder of which she did not possess. Ignoring the clock after so many years, it had once struck her mind that he might have placed it so irretrievably high as to remind her how little in fact he did care about her, but she only allowed that consideration for a brief moment as the other scenario performed better in her head. Regardless, her complete indifference to him made any decision over the clock’s removal a waste of time.

Tea stains on her slippers, she let out another deep, long sigh. She wasn’t ready. Today was the day she’d promised to get the place together. Since her last child left home, she hadn’t cared about straightening up or much else for that matter. Things like grocery shopping and picking her clothes up off the floor seemed an effort she had neither the energy nor care for. Reduced to a life of slim pickings and stepping over things, she’d grown accustomed to expecting the least while tripping the most. “It’ll be alright, mommy. You’re strong. You don’t need him.” Her daughter’s last words echoed more confident than she. “Movement. You just need movement.” Noticing an odd flash of light from the hallway, she shifted slightly over to observe her cat scurrying from her daughter’s old room.

What had once housed her little beacons of light had now become asylum to odds and ends secreted away. More often than not she kept the door nearly closed as the broken curtain on her daughter’s window allowed in the sun without permission. But nothing would get past her. Not sun, not God, not love. The room, looking lifeless and in shambles, was but a ghost of what used to be; two dancing, silly little girls twirling and falling all over each other in laughter, giving her reason, giving her purpose. The closeness they gained being shoved in the tiny apartment after the fire seemed more charitable than the mismatched furniture ever was. At least the closeness was authentic, not feigned like the closeness she received from men.

Men. She never reasoned what they wanted except she knew it wasn’t her. One after the next would pass through her leaving a haunting residue. “I must be wrong,” she thought. “They never come back for me.” She remembered leaving home at 17 knowing well and good her mother didn’t care, but her father? She knew for certain he’d come for her. He never came, and just like the others after him they never came for her either. “It says something when your own father doesn’t come to collect you. It says something about you.” Glancing glossy eyed across the length and width of the room, she reached her hand inside her robe pocket for that familiar tissue. Backing out and into the hallway, another disintegrating bread crumb trail paved way as she proceeded to her room.

The scent of sandalwood imprinted in the bedroom hovered overhead sanctifying the space. It was the one room in the house that had some semblance of warmth. In the corner was her bed, shoved tight against the wall and butted up against the lone window in the room. She remembered how she despised the sleeping arrangement with her second husband as it trapped her in the corner, cold air hitting down upon her from the window. She always felt up against something when with him, something cold and immobile. “You don’t physically inspire me,” he’d once said upon her plea for intimacy. Noticing the devastation screaming across her face, he’d attempted to correct his misspeak by leaving to get beer so as to get intoxicated enough to have sex. A crumb of nothing, pointing to something, but a crumb she fed on nonetheless. Starved between a cold, white wall and a cold, white wall she felt snowed in, but at least one spark of warmth arose from the physical wall as it offered a comforting ear having wept into it a time or two.

Over on the adjacent wall, countless books were stacked on the overburdened bookshelf underneath layers of dust waiting to be touched. She’d no idea why she continued to buy books with no intent to read them except that it was comforting how they always found their way to her and stayed. Other times the books were bought on mere suggestion from men she felt a connection with but who had since moved on.

The rich tones of the mahogany furniture passed down after her Grandmother’s death were the only pieces in the house that didn’t feel charitable. They offered her a momentary sense of self-worth as she often deemed herself undeserving of such things, and while other foreign pieces were falling apart and peeling away their false laminate smiles, these pieces stood with warmth of heart and solid strength, much like her Grandmother. As for her Grandfather, he passed on in her youth as did the last time she felt adored. “Every morning at the breakfast table, he just has to have your picture there,” her mother would say. Never questioning whether her mother was genuinely endeared by her own father’s love for his granddaughter or flatly jealous, she’d convinced herself it was the former because it just had to be. “It had to.” Staring off into the atmosphere, she pulled out of a moment where the only people who validated her worth were now dead. She fumbled for her tissue.

Piece by piece, she slowly began picking items off the floor and putting them in their respective places. Her mind continued to drift as an automatic sense of where everything resided took over. Again she was flooded by thoughts of him, the one after the others. Entranced as she travelled across the floor, she tripped over a book and was brought to her knees. As the book stared back at her, they watched each other eye to eye attempting to read the other. One of the many books she had because of him, she clutched it to her chest sucking all the air from the room. Now, collapsed over onto the ground, she let out a small whimper. Her eyes, unblinking, welled up as her lip began to shake. Fighting against the urge her mouth tightened with resolve, but, unable to hold on, her anguish released into the floor.

Memories, pinning her down from all directions, turned into a harsh life review as she pricked herself with every lost love and every failure as the air of utter loneliness filled the four-walled killing jar. Dying deeper into the floor, tears rolled downhill soaking the carpet as she lay still, clutching the book. “I’m wrong. I’m wrong. I’m wrong,” she released unconsciously under her breath. Pondering whether this reflected verification or a change in thinking, she swiftly inhaled from a startled nudge on her arm. Lifting her head up from the floor, she watched her cat move past and jump into the lone window briefly parting its broken curtain. A glimpse of light and sky cradled her face. Wiping her cheek with the last bit of tissue as it crumbled to the floor, her eyes now rested on the broken curtain. Pausing, the air grew still.

Unwinding her way to her feet, a stone’s throw of every window in the house skipped across her mind. Meant as openings, she’d worked diligently at keeping them closed, but to little avail. The grubby paws of child and cat throughout the years engaged her in a tug-of-war with every curtain as they fought against each other. Her earnestness to close out the world and push out love had kept her isolated from the things she silently craved. And there, in the corner, was the bed she’d shoved so tightly against the wall. It could be no tighter and no more unwelcoming. Almost as if taken guard in the room, the bed allowed no passageway for new love to come. With tears in her eyes and a folding to her God, she quickly grabbed hold of the bed’s side and began furiously dragging it to mid-room muttering, “No more.” Her heart pounding at the possibilities, lightning discharged across her face striking a new smile.

Standing back from the moved bed, she took a deep inhalation. The air now felt clean. Her cat peeked at her from the window through the part in the broken curtain as if to say, “Is it all right to stop hiding now?” With an approving look, she bolted from room to room to uncloak every window. Fresh squeezed sun pouring through with the empathy of trees as tall as towering men greeted her with outstretched limbs. Now gliding and humming with the swirling air in the house, she swept down the hallway back to her room.

The bed, now in the middle meditating possibilities, was the metamorphosis she’d waited decades for. Still, there was much to be done in dusting away the old, polishing that rich cherry love that had been so gravely buried from a life she so craved. Now warmed by the gentle faces of books winking back at her, she began picking them up one by one across the length of the room and around onto the side of the bed unseen for years. Then, stopping cold, her smile released, and the air became charged.

There, tightly shoved into the crease of the corner wall, was a pile of old, worn tissues stacked almost as high as the bed. They were trophies from years of earned heartache that had fallen over the edge as many times as she; an edge she would not repeat. Another bread crumb trail left behind pointing to what must be done, her determined eyes narrowed. Without a sound and a mouth resolved, she hoisted the bed across the room and back against the pile even tighter into the wall. And giving a closing yank to the broken curtain, the tug-of-war ended.

Tiffany Coffman

February 16, 2013

http://tlcoff.tumblr.com/

https://twitter.com/tlcoff

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