A loop in the fabric of time

Those instances where, when you’re in them and realise it and think, through the delight, that this moment, this particular configuration of the universe as apprehended in this instant is so exquisitely beautiful that it will live in me and be a constant source of joy available at will, like a rare scent to be unstoppered from the bottle of memory and stroked on the pulse points, conjuring on the brain’s skin and in the brain’s eyes and ears a waft of re-being in that pure ecstasy.

Or (of course a poet says it so much better) a Wordswothian time spot:

There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence–depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse–our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.

Thus early this morning when SecondSpawn sat cross legged on my bed, the diffuse brightness lighting his cheek and brow and lips and features of solemn concentration as he bent over his knitting, I curled and warm beneath my duvet gazing gazing gazing and so full of love that time and space and every dimension and all meaning converge and are held motionless in that moment.


small lost dog
the colour of autumn leaves
ears can see what eyes can’t tell

Brilliance. In two parts.

Part I. Brilliant Coroners.

I have edited a book of poetry.

What an extraordinary statement to make. Also an inaccurate one. I co-edited a book of poetry with my dear friend the Velveteen Rabbi. She did most of the work and provided the brilliance. I opted to go camping at the critical moment in circumstances where “wireless” referred to an apparatus with which one might tune in and listen to radio broadcasts using twiddly knobs rather than ethereal, fast, always-on access to the internet.

For on the internet was the project germinated, on the internet was it gestated and from the internet might it be acquired, fully formed. Or, as the information on the publisher‘s site puts it considerably more elegantly:

Writers and artists have always formed groups for mutual support, commentary, and encouragement, sometimes collaborating on public projects from group shows to hand-printed literary magazines. But while one tends to think of local writers hanging out in Paris cafés in the 1930s, or on the lower East side of New York in the 1950s, how does that desire for communication and creative inspiration translate into today’s online world? The poets and visual artists of this anthology met online through their blogs, and have corresponded for a number of years, across continents and oceans.

It’s one of the most rewarding things I have done. Printing off a great swathe of poems and reading them with minute critical attention whilst also being attuned to the writers themselves. It didn’t impede the task but rather enhanced it. So too did the knowledge of and absolute confidence in my hugely talented and experienced co-editor, Velveteen Rachel, who has an all-inclusive post about the book. It was a collaborative effort throughout with artwork, design, layout – everything you can imagine going into the production of such an object – being undertaken by members of the group. It is, on so many levels, a labour of love.

Brilliant Coronors

It’s for sale too!

Part II. d’Arbrilliance.

The wonderful and extraordinarily multi-talented Natalie d’Arbeloff  (who not only has a poem in the volume above but of course has also recently published The God Interviewshas just won a prestigious competition, to celebrate 50 years of the Guardian‘s women’s pages. See Natalie’s accounts by scrolling down to entries for 5, 7, 8 and 10 November. And for her pain (that inflicted by the party boots) she gets to edit the section for a week. I can hardly wait to see what she’s going to do. And what she thinks of the experience.

I like the movement implied in these two disparate shining things. The interplay between “old” media and “new”. Writers and artists exploring “new” ways to produce and distribute an “old” media product; a writer and artist immersed in the “new” bringing her talents to the “old”.

A great wave of happiness

I mentioned earlier that the poet George Szirtes has contributed to the online culturezine qarrtsiluni.

I’m absolutely delighted that the editors have used one of my images to illustrate his most recent contribution, Say, which is published today.

I think it’s a really beautiful poem, please read it if you have time 🙂

(Actually delighted doesn’t even come close. But it will have to do since I’m trying to be grown up.)

Spooky trees


I’ve never had a problem with trees. Quite the reverse – they’ve always featured prominently and positively in my life. Symbols of strength and refuge, protection and patience, enduring and recovering from the terrible wounds inflicted on them by people and circumstance, beings of great beauty, exciting climbing frames and providers of delicious fruits and nuts.

I’ve found it difficult to locate a seriously malevolent trope among tree mythology and folklore. See, for instance, the wonderful Forests and tree symbolism in folklore which is part of a series of papers on Perceptions of forests. Of the myths the most widely prevalent through time and geography is the all-embracing world tree:

The World Tree is a motif present in several religions and mythologies, particularly Indo-European religions. The world tree is represented as a colossal tree which supports the heavens, thereby connecting the heavens, the earth, and, through its roots, the underground. It may also be strongly connected to the motif of the tree of life.

The tree of life?

The tree of life is a mystical concept, a metaphor for common descent, and a motif in various world theologies and philosophies. In mystical traditions of world religions, sacred texts are read for metaphorical content concerning the relationship between states of mind and the external experience of reality. As such, the tree is a manifestation/causal symbol – the Tree of Life representing the coveted state of eternal aliveness or fulfillment, not immortality of the body or soul. In such a state, physical death (which cannot be overcome) is nevertheless a choice, and direct experience of the perfect goodness/divine reality/god is not only possible, but everpresent.

The same centrality is obvious in folktales:

Some are cautionary tales about the perils of cutting down forests. In others, humans become transformed into trees. Trees appear in dreams. They sing and talk. They offer consolation and convey special powers. In many of the tales, a tree serves as teacher or guardian of the truth. Characters who sit under a tree or climb up into a tree are suddenly inspired to set out on a journey or receive a decisive insight. Enchanted beings, both helpful and forbidding, emerge from forest places. The world itself is shown to emerge from a tree. And, on a lighter note, noodleheads and fools are snapped to their senses through an encounter with a tree.

My particular favourite is Why Death is Like the Banana Tree.

Possibly the best-known actively malevolent individual tree is the fictional Old Man Willow created by JRR Tolkein in The Lord of the Rings:

Old Man Willow cast a spell on the hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin), causing them to feel sleepy. Merry and Pippin go to lean against the trunk of the willow and fall asleep, while Frodo sits on a root to dangle his feet in the water, before he also falls asleep. The willow then traps Merry and Pippin in cracks of its trunk and tips Frodo into the stream, but the latter is saved by Sam, who, suspicious, manages to remain awake. After Frodo and Sam talk about possibly burning the tree so that it is frightened enough to release the others, Merry yells from inside to put the fire out at the risk of the tree squeezing them to death. They are saved by the timely arrival of Tom Bombadil who ‘sings’ to the ancient tree to release Merry and Pippin. The tree then ejects the two hobbits.

He is said to be a Huorn, a race of tree-like creatures similar to Ents:

They are vengeful, but their methods of exacting revenge are unspecified; people do not leave the forest if the Huorns do not let them. Huorns can create darkness to conceal their movements and are capable of moving quickly. They still have voices and can speak to the Ents, but unlike Ents, they do not seem able to speak intelligibly to other races.


But Tolkein himself was distressed by any assumption that he was portraying trees in a negative light, as shown by this excerpt from one of his letters:

With reference to the Daily Telegraph of June 29th, page 18,1 feel that it is unfair to use my name as an adjective qualifying ‘gloom’, especially in a context dealing with trees. In all my works I take the part of trees as against all their enemies. Lothlórien is beautiful because there the trees were loved; elsewhere forests are represented as awakening to consciousness of themselves. The Old Forest was hostile to two legged creatures because of the memory of many injuries. Fangorn Forest was old and beautiful, but at the time of the story tense with hostility because it was threatened by a machine-loving enemy. Mirkwood had fallen under the domination of a Power that hated all living things but was restored to beauty and became Greenwood the Great before the end of the story.

It would be unfair to compare the Forestry Commission with Sauron because as you observe it is capable of repentance; but nothing it has done that is stupid compares with the destruction, torture and murder of trees perpetrated by private individuals and minor official bodies. The savage sound of the electric saw is never silent wherever trees are still found growing.

The spookiness of trees appears to derive less from their individual nature and more from when they are found in numbers – forests. Tolkein named one of his fictional forests, Mirkwood, after the forest of Norse mythology, Myrkviðr. The trope of an enchanted forest is widespread:

Such forests are described in the oldest folklore from regions where forests are common, and occur throughout the centuries to modern works of fantasy. They represent places unknown to the characters, and situations of liminality and transformation.

The dangers of forests even today are not to be underestimated. Only three years ago was India’s notorious bandit Veerappan killed after a more than two decade of activity in a large area of forest.

The unknown, uncharted, possibly gloomy or dark and potentially threatening can of course give rise to all sorts of fears and lead to thoroughgoing panic:

Legend has it that one of Pan’s favorite diversions was to torment ancient Greek travelers traversing the byways of that once-forested land. Pan would lie in wait, concealed in the bushes, awaiting his unwitting victims. When a traveler passed by his hiding place, Pan would gently rustle the bushes, engendering a sense of apprehension in the person walking by. The traveler would pick up his pace, and Pan would then scurry through the forest to intercept his quarry at the next dark turn of the path. There, he would rustle some more vegetation, and the traveler would make even greater haste as Pan’s amusement grew. By this time, the traveler would begin to breath heavily, and his heart would begin to pound, and the sounds of his own quickening footsteps would be magnified in the stillness of the forest to resemble those of a pursuing wild animal. One more rustle of the bushes from Pan and the traveler would be hurtling as fast as he could run along the dark and narrow forest path. It took no more provocation from Pan to keep the human interloper in Pan’s forest kingdom from fleeing as quickly as possible. Never would the unsuspecting traveler re-enter the forest without experiencing a wave of apprehension. Thus did the term panic originate.

One of my favourite representations of such a panicked state is Mole‘s foray into the Wild Wood in The Wind in the Willows. How familiar all the adjuncts of arboreal terror are – the rustling of leaves; cracking of branches underfoot; sighing, soughing, squeaking and wailing of wind in branches; the looming, moving shapes that appear full of eyes and faces, limbs and weapons.


It would seem that spooky trees are, mostly, what we have made them.

[This is my submission for the forthcoming Festival of the Trees which will be a special Halloween edition at Windywillow. Submission instructions can be found here. The current edition is up at trees, if you please.]

A case when Lessing is definitely more

So utterly superb. Doris Lessing wins the Nobel Prize for Literature:

Permanent Secretary Horace Engdahl said, “I think it was a big surprise to everyone and probably to herself. She was not home when I phoned, she is not waiting for my call.”

So much so that she was out shopping. And came back to a Reuters camera crew outside her house.

There’s a longer version of this clip here.

I feel sorry for her. She probably knows how appallingly invasive “newsgatherers” can be and the full horror of being in the spotlight. And she’s old. And probably rather tired. And almost certainly not entirely well-tempered. And it’s going to be annoying going down in history as the person who said “Oh Christ” when given the happy news. But it’s a great piece of video.


For instance, the blessing for the body uses the word חלולים / chalulim, “ducts” or “tubes” or “openings.” (In context: “Who formed humans with wisdom and created a system of ducts and conduits within them.”) A chalal is a flute, so this blessing evokes the ways in which our bodies are like flutes through which the ruach ha-kodesh (“holy spirit,” more or less) flows.

Velveteen Rabbi

“We are all in some way instruments. And we all have to be virtuosos at taking a back seat when necessary. Way back. The prayer life of a flexible instrument cannot be well ordered. It has to be terribly free. And utterly responsive to a darkly, dimly understood command.”
– Thomas Merton
The School of Charity

Whiskey River

If I had wings

If I had wings
I might eat a lot of prunes
And shit from a great height

If I had wings
I might learn to preen
With my teeth

If I had wings
I might have to learn to sew
Because none of my shirts would fit

If I had wings
I might spread my feathers in the rain
To shimmer liquid light

rain feather

If I had wings
And the feathers were pure white
I might dye them to match my socks

If I had wings
Moulting might make me hungry and tired
And more cross than my period

If I had wings
I would fold them round you
And hold you warm against my heart

If I had wings
I would want them on my shoulders
Not my arse


(This piece of foolery was inspired by the topic secondborn had to write a poem about and the simultaneous appearance, as he was telling me, of the above trousers.)