elusive equilibrium

Yesterday was not a good day. The weather in my hometown Melbourne can be so changeable we say it has ‘four seasons in one day’. My mood is often like this too, but yesterday it was relentless cold drizzle with a major storm brewing. Anxiety that I could not shift until early evening when I gave myself a good talking to in my journal, pinpointing and writing down what was feeding these anxious feelings – some of which are in my control, such as obsessive checking of social media; and others which are not – other people’s behaviour, for example.

So I’m reminding myself of the things I know help to keep me grounded, such as writing first thing, before checking emails or social media; reading after lunch; reading when I can’t sleep; making lists; exercise. Earlier this year I attended some free Mindfulness and Writing sessions on Zoom, run by Adrienne Hannah and Bev Schofield. It was a wonderfully supportive and stimulating experience, and the mindfulness practices in particular I found really helpful at a time when I was feeling very stressed.

I also recently stood down as Chair of the committee that manages my local community garden, after three and a half years in the role. I’m still involved, as a committee member and regular volunteer, so it’s not a clean break, and for various reasons I don’t yet feel I’ve fully dumped that load. But it’s definitely lighter. I’m not though ready to write my tell-all memoir My Life as a Garden Chair – that one will have to wait for a while!

Of course, in the background – well, no, mostly in the foreground – are the ongoing pandemic and the incompetent (to put it mildly) management of that situation by the government; climate crisis hasn’t gone away; and this year, for me, several personal griefs. So it feels strange to experience highs alongside this – wrong, even – but they are there. So, if you’ll forgive me, here are a few good things that have happened for me recently. I hope there are some good things happening in your life too.

Wandsworth Poetry Week 2020 took place between 28th September and 2nd October. Every evening a reading and conversation with a different poet premiered on the Wandsworth Town Library Facebook page. On Wednesday, Joolz Sparkes and I read from and discussed our London Undercurrents collection. We had great fun recording our reading and chat with librarian Kate Halabura, and I think this comes across in the video. It was a fabulous series of events to be involved in – all the videos are on the library’s Facebook page and will be available on YouTube soon – do check them out.

Last year, I organised a last minute reading at a local café for National Poetry Day. This year, I emailed the Wandsworth Art team to suggest they feature some of Wandsworth’s poets on their new website, which celebrates arts and culture in the borough. Happily, they were up for that! I suggested some poets to include, and they added some more. You can read the feature here.

I was delighted that Emma Lee reviewed indoors looking out on her blog recently. I also had some lovely feedback from a friend:

Re-read your Indoors Looking Out collection. I really like the birds and animals – freer than us. Favourite decoration is ‘Middle distance, fog . . .’ Love it. Another favourite ‘day by day, more light . . .’, the line ‘human life alone kept on ice’. Glad to have it – thank you. – Sharon 

illustration and script by Stephen Graham

Lastly, I am every-cliché-for-delighted that my short story The Red Suitcase is going to be published later this month by Nightjar Press. I’ll write more about this shortly, so watch this space.

indoors looking out – out now!

9781527263192

Fanfare!! Here it is, the fruit of my collaboration with the artist Stephen Graham, an A5 booklet of haiku and tanka written under lockdown. The poems draw on observations from my second-floor window of minute changes and fleeting interactions.

Stephen has created a new script inspired by a book of St Cuthbert’s held in the British Library and the Nagari script used in parts of India. There are 28 full colour pages, one poem per page, and the booklet is decorated throughout. Our local printers, PowerPrint, have done a wonderful job. The booklet, in my totally biased opinion, is lush. The look, the feel – and the words, well, you can judge for yourself if you buy a copy.

I really love Stephen’s artwork. At one point during our exchange – mostly carried out by text message – Stephen texted me: ‘our styles fit – you push people to find your meaning, and my odd letters slow people down to thinking pace!’ That’s spot on. Collaborating on this project has given both of us a focus during difficult days. We hope what we’ve made together will resonate with other people.

I am donating £1 per sale to Refuge and Stephen’s proceeds will go to UNHCR for Syrian refugees.

indoors looking out

Recently I’ve been working on a collaboration, indoors looking out, with the artist Stephen Graham, and I’m delighted that some of our work has been selected for the online exhibition Covent-19 – Voicing Responses Under Lockdown. You’ll be able to view the exhibition on Instagram from 8th May to 5th June.

The collaboration began on the eve of lockdown, as an informal artistic exchange, with no idea as to where, if anywhere, it might lead. I know Stephen through our community garden. He’s a regular visitor to the garden and our artist-in-residence, creating a beautiful hand-designed pamphlet for the garden a couple of years ago. With the garden closed to the public during lockdown, I suggested to Stephen that I could try to write a short poem each day, and then text it to him to illustrate or interpret as he saw fit. Stephen was up for this, and so our collaboration began.

I haven’t written a poem every day, but more often than not when I’ve sat at my desk in the morning, I’ve managed to produce something. I’ve found the restrictions of the short Japanese forms of haiku and tanka a good frame to work within, and the subject matter is mostly drawn from observations from my second-floor window. Stephen’s pieces in response vary from abstract designs to loose illustrations; each one includes the poem in Stephen’s ‘odd letters’, as he describes them.

Covent19 E-invite-page-0

It’s just over a week ago that I saw the call out on Instagram for creative work in response to the lockdown, and suggested to Stephen that we submit several pieces. We’re grateful to the Covent-19 curators, Faryal Arif & Nadin Hassan, for this opportunity to share some of our work. And we’re now working towards publishing a booklet. Do check out the online exhibition if you can. I’m looking forward to seeing how people around the world have responded creatively to these current weird/difficult/strange/whatever-you-call-them times. I feel lucky to have this focus and creative outlet – I know many people are struggling. Hope you and your loved ones are keeping safe and well.