Stone the Crones premier, Saturday 11 June

The first Stone the Crones was a ROARing success – those who were there will know about the ROAR! At the beginning of the spoken word event in the evening I read out a poem I’d written some time before but adapted especially for Stone the Crones, incorporating a ‘chorus’ which the audience could join in on – the lines are:

We are the invisible women
You know that we will roar

After a little warm up we were all roaring in fierce and hearty style, ready to welcome our ten open mic-ers, three of whom had attended our free workshop in the morning.

Our facilitator for our first StC workshop was Anita Karla Kelly. Attending workshops with Anita was a crucial part of my journey to re-finding my creativity and discovering that, all along, I had been a poet without realising it. So I know first-hand how great she is at gently but persuasively leading you on a creative journey to surprising places where you produce words you feel proud of.

And she did exactly that with this group – there was laughter, tears, hand holding, space holding, admiration, respect and incredible words! Very proud to have been there.

Our Saturday evening open mic-ers were welcomed open-heartedly by the audience and brought with them incredible material – poems and stories (mostly poems; one story) about poetry, time spent in a psychiatric unit, the sea, sexuality, dating, families, depression, aphasia, politics and more – invoking laughter as well as fierce energy and moving, thought-provoking moments. There was such balance, range and depth – amazing that it all came together by women volunteering to share their work without being officially ‘curated’ – and I shouldn’t be surprised – that’s the point of StC – it’s just confirmation that Bristol’s older women are creative beings with incredible rich voices and experiences.

For the interval I asked the audience two questions and invited them to answer in the form of poetry. Between us we created this beautiful collective poem.

What have you lost? What have you found?

I lost my youth
I found my voice
I lost my violin
I found my cello
I lost anxiety
I found my lion
I lost my flat
I found freedom
I lost my fear
I found my dharma
I lost all the fucks I had to give
I found within a joy to live

I lost my voice
I found my friends
A golden egg cracked its yoke
Splurged majestic sapphire chick
I lost my haste
I found my inner tortoise
I lost my nerves
I found my confidence

I lost my hair
And found my skin (2nd skin to be precise) (song ref?)
I lost my temper
And found my power
I lost my faith
I found the exit
I lost my patience
I found my motivation

After the interval we had our two headliners. I put myself forward as one of them – it felt appropriate to introduce myself and my work, so people had more of an idea about who I am and why I have created Stone the Crones. The audience were so supportive and engaged – what a lovely lot!

Helen Sheppard was our second headliner. Helen is a former midwife who started to write in her forties – very inspiring! She read poems from her recently published collection Fontanelle – exploring themes of birth, health, loss, and those whose voices are often unheard. Her poems were funny, moving, full of images and stories – fantastic!

Someone asked me how I wanted people to feel at the end of the evening – energised and inspired was my answer – it was definitely how I was left feeling. And it seems others felt the same:

“Life enhancing”

“Loved it ! SO good to roar  together xXx”

“I started writing a meno poem @ 5am!
Thank You
🙏 for inspiring me x”

“It was an amazing event, such a diversity of writing and all so well delivered. I also woke up at 5 and started working on a story.”

“That was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday night! X”

The top photo shows our gorgeous venue – the café at Windmill Hill City Farm – such a welcoming, relaxed place to gather. This will be our venue every second Saturday for the rest of the year (with a break in August). I think you can almost hear the hubbub and feel the good vibes of the audience in this lovely pic.

More about Anita Karla Kelly

Find Helen Sheppard on Facebook or Instagram.
Her collection is available from Burning Eye Books.

Fungal Architecture

This poem was written for the Hot Poets participation project, linking poets & scientists together to imagine a better possible future. During a six-week programme a group of poets were tasked to research the spark of an idea with a positive environmental impact, then connect with a scientist working in that area to find out more. While researching mycelium and mycorrhizal fungi I came across Andy Adamatzky, Professor of Unconventional Computing at UWE, in my hometown of Bristol. I knew my poem had to be about his fascinating and mind-blowing work with fungal computers and the Fungal Architectures research project.

Fungal Architecture

I’m dreaming of sipping tea
in 2053
dirt under my fingernails
from digging in the musty shroomy earth
nutritious leafy loam.

Rain pitters on the window
and my sensory home knows
warms up just a little
dims the light down as I doze.

This building has mycelium ceilings –
tiny interwoven filaments
fungal threads that twine in tree roots
and through my mushroom walls.

Mycelium is free and shoots up fast
this house was bloomed in just two weeks
grown in a single monolithic piece
from fungi bound on frames of wasted cellulose –
discarded food, biomass
banana skins, coffee grounds, orange peel
and other stuff too tough to eat.

My clean home breathes, body warm
and nestles in within the trees –
smells of creamy stroganoff
I breathe it in deliciously.
Nearly sentient, this wall can feel my touch
when I lean my palm upon its velvet skin.
On the edge of thinking
my unconventional shroom computer
not quite conscious, makes smart decisions
senses when my hormones are out of whack or I am full of stress
filters air, nourishes, adjusts my meds.

We can quickly grow more homes
sustainable, living suedey rooms that gently biodegrade –
no chems, no trails – just slip away
decompose beneath our feet
when the need has gone.

Outside, wild boars forage at the tree roots
for truffles which are
talking to their mycorrhizal cousins.
My home is grown on mounds of
yesterday’s land, filling our futures
with soft-edged places
symbiotic relationships
within these mycelium walls.

Poetry as mindfulness, poetry as noticing

The state of ‘poet’ currently feels like a perpetual state of noticing – noticing what I see and naming it, noticing what I feel and naming it, noticing thoughts and following them until they dwindle or reach a conclusion or until I notice something else.

The noticing is about ‘being here’, being mindful of the moment I am in and how it feels. I am doing this from time to time, when I can, but it is certainly not a constant state of being – my mind wanders; I realise I have missed crucial plot points or conversations, or that I have been paddling about in an imagined future, or misremembered past. And sometimes I become aware that this is the case.

I enjoy noticing thoughts I’ve been having all week, or for months, sometimes for years – finally noticing them enough to articulate them in words, or into an image or feeling made from words. I find external prompts and exercises in workshops and courses are often a great way into these for me – also an amazing way into fantastic worlds and creative scenarios my brain makes for me like a ribbon unravelling, without any prior notice.

A while ago I was writing reviews of shows and gigs for South Bristol Voice and found this to be very useful practice for noticing – from neighbourhood pantos and community theatre to folk gigs, to full-on theatre performances and Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, to touring musicals and the Welsh National Opera at Bristol Hippodrome (spoiler – opera doesn’t do it for me) – and I got better at it the more I did it, noticing music and how my body reacted, noticing the judgments that were happening under the surface that before I might not have been conscious of, and trying to capture an honesty and clarity about it all.

Mindfulness as a route into clowning and fooling with Holly Stoppit and Franki Anderson has been a crucial part of developing my noticing skills. Using the breath and other mindfulness techniques to get in a headspace, taking the time to register and recognise my thoughts and feelings, and physical sensations, in the moment –- and acting on them – voicing them – moving into them.

It’s a raising to consciousness of all the things that are going on – how does my body feel, react? Noticing me, my, mine – and also observing out – like a painter who captures scenes that may not be considered beautiful – or word sketching of nature and non-nature, reportage of the world around me.

How can I capture these things that have been captured before, through my voice, my senses and mind?

– light on water
– fluffy white clouds
– vistas
– the beauty of nature
– the love of family and friends
– the down days

I have to start by really noticing how they make me feel and following the threads of thoughts that arise.

Here are some of the daily poems that I’ve written and posted on @FridayIsPoetsDay – some of the ones that come particularly from moments of noticing.