Online, every Friday in March and April 2020, 7-8pm GMT
In this time of great turbulence and change, what does poetry offer to us? Could it land in our homes and hearts, as buttress, balm or bridge? Perhaps it could help us to listen differently, giving us a glimpse into new ways of seeing and being, so we can figure out where we have come from, and ways of navigating from here.
Given were we are at now, I’d love to invite you, virtually, into my living room, for an online poetry salon. I’ll have the fire lit. Bring a poem which brings you alive in some way, or speaks to this moment. Perhaps there a poem about to connection and belonging which you think is fitting right now, or a poem which offers some comfort.
If you’d like to just come along and listen, that too is fine. There is no obligation to read.
If you are joining and have a chance, please drop me a line so I have a sense of numbers. Thank you.
Our salon space:
We will gather in Zoom- an online platform. You will need to have downloaded this software in advance, and please test your microphone and speakers.
I am offering this out with an honesty box attached. If you are in a position to support the continuation of this work, and the development of further resources, I’d welcome a contribution to the evening.
I was driving up to Dublin yesterday, and got a message from Naomi Sturdy with a question, which turned into a prompt. Naomi had the idea in the morning to do a special episode of her podcast, Heart of the Matter, gathering advice for younger women from women in her circle of friends, colleagues and confidantes. As I drove, words started arriving and forming into a poem. I pulled in, began to catch them, and later, as the full moon rose, the rest landed.
Naomi spent this morning gathering the messages from these women, and compiling them in this beautiful episode of her podcast, to which I was delighted to contributed alongside this circle of women, who are sharing their wise words and wise ways.
That our bodies are our bodies.
That power comes from within our blood, our bones, our inherent belonging.
That our wombs are bedrock from the original place.
That our cycles have the cosmos in them, and the earth’s entire spin.
That when we say peace, we mean for men too.
Because when a woman says there has been a breach of her sovereignty, she is still, most likely, playing it down.
Because when the system is at war with the feminine, the system is at war with itself.
Because we do not need to apologise for the shape of our natural.
Because violence has no place on cheekbones, or homes, or the dreams of a young girl longing to fulfil herself.
Because our grandmothers, and theirs, and theirs, beared too much of the weight.
Because silence is rarely a solution.
Until our hands be recognised as healing things.
Until our voices have equal place at the highest tables.
Until our right to choice is but a given.
Until our gender does not dictate our pay, our position, or our possibilities.
Until the laws enshrine it so.
For our gift is in our forgiveness and our rage.
For our hope can heal the many broken things.
For our circles can protect the mystery in the middle.
For our love is the inheritance we offer the earth.
For our breath is the life we breathe for each other.
It’s all, after all, sacred ground,
and we, after all, are calling each other
I have many stories from my travels in California, from encounters with Redwood trees and wild deer, to tales from the workshops and the poetry salons. Those stories and their lessons are circling, and some are beginning to land, but sometimes it is the simplest and smallest encounters which leave lingering impressions. As news of virus spread goes viral, what I fear most is the spread of fear itself, and of the stranger, and of the other. I am all for hand-washing, but let’s not loose out on the seeing the person in front of us, and the glorious, nuanced lives they hold… and so, a story from an average morning commute, which had a touch of the major in it…
It was just past rush hour and the BART was dense with people and noise. The glare of screens illuminated nearly every face, and a proliferation of white earbuds pointed to noise coming from other directions. The morning commute must, I understand, be tolerated, and perhaps for some the only way is to block it out. Of course, travelling only once through it has all the aspects of novelty. I am a people watcher. I enjoy thinking about who is behind the scenes, the lives they carry and the way their days hold them to it. What brings them joy? What of their losses? I scan the faces for scars, and smiles, and the stories they conceal. I like to notice the way light falls on fingers and how each hand holds a myriad of potential shapes and shadows. Perhaps it is the photographer in me, but I like finding single frames, then seeing what moves in and between them. On this morning, there was little interaction, other than jostle.
At MacArthur station the doors opened and a young mother pushing a heavy buggy with her toddler, tucked herself in beside me in the standing section of the carriage. She was on her phone, texting, and as the train pulled out, the child, no more than two years old, started screaming, loudly, the reverberations moving down the aisle, causing a ripple of winches and groans to pierce the commute. The illuminated faces darkened for a moment as disparaging frowns were returned to the mother.
‘Who this young woman?’ I wondered. She was barely skimming the tail-end of her teens, and already looked tired of trying. The screams bounced around the metal carriage. I glanced down at the young child, an attempt to make eye-contact, and appease. I winked, waved, smiled, but the child having none of it, only renewed his interest in his mother’s undivided attention. I feared I had only fuelled the situation, such was my want of trying, but the mother now seemed to sense the increased need for mothering, and took the sobbing, wriggling child into her arms. A heavy-set and suited commuter beside us relaxed his shoulders, somewhat, anticipating the decrease in volume. He had been angry, you could see it in his stance, which was now distinctively softening. With the hold of the mother, and the child in arms finding solace, now calming, I glanced over again at the child, this time my smile reaching him; his hair thick with dark curls; the tears now beginning to dry on his cheeks. He was wearing a Micky Mouse t-shirt, which seemed oddly out of place. We made eye-contact, and a curl of a smile was returned.
The train continued to make its way into San Francisco. I watched for signs of nature; birds taking flight, the wind making patterns, shadows moving across glass, loosing myself in this space of arrival, until I too am awakened by the feel of a little hand nuzzle itself into my grasp, and quickly bury deeper. The touch felt startling but tender; my whole being jolted into a soft kind of life. I looked down at the little boy, his hand still insisting on mine; his head leaning in towards me. Is this a landslide in my heart? It is sometime real, and very very present; this tender touch. Neither of us let go. One minute turns to many more, and I can feel that softening travel too, to the people beside and opposite us, and down the aisle to those next to them.
‘What’s his name?’, I ask his mother.
She is quiet, and proud, ‘Major’, she says.
‘Is he your only one? I ask
‘Yes, and probably the only one. I have many younger siblings’.
We talk about that for a while; the coping, the juggling, the responsibility.
Mayor’s hand wiggles in mine. He has noticed my ring, and seems intrigued with my golden shoes. He begins to explore the new textures with this other hand.
‘You know’, she continues, ‘I am very shy… but he opens me’
‘I have a dog like that’, I say, and we laugh.
The laugher seems to be license. The tall suited man beside us reaches into his shirt pocket, pulls out his phone, skims for something, then flips the screen and shows it to Mayor’. ‘My daughter also likes Mickey Mouse’, he says, beaming.
‘How old is she?’, I ask,
‘Nine’, he replies, then puts the phone back in the pocket closest to his heart.
Outside, I turn to watch the birds take flight, as the blue sky reflects itself back to us, clearly, sharply, rising above the city, as only openness can. Twenty-five minutes go by. I feel that little hand in mine, still holding strong.
‘I’m getting off at the next stop’, I say to the mother.
‘So am I’, she replies. As we leave the train, she going one way, I another, we turn towards each other, look into each other’s eyes, and smile.
‘You’re doing a good job’, I say to her, but just as the crowds take us over, so I’m not actually sure she heard the words I desperately want her to hear. As I walk out of the station, I can feel the sky on my face, the day in my hair and a little handprint still leaving an impression.
Now, weeks later, I rub my palm and find a little memory there. It is shaped like a hand, and it is reaching out, determined. Major’s spell has travelled. All it holds is the alchemy of touch.
And now my skin remembers what the secret is: connection.
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There is a special place not far from where I live. The road there, winding and twisting with grass down the middle, turns back on itself until the vista spans into the sea then falls off the edge, or so perspective would have you believe. This is a ‘thin place’, part ethereal, part earthy, which takes you to the thresholds of the big questions of life: who are we, were are we going, and what is beyond.
I’d gone down there on New Year’s Eve with a friend. It seemed like a fitting place to close one decade and enter another. ‘Could it bring us into the questions which would help define us, and refine us’, I had wondered. I hoped to leave feeling more certain, clearer of my next steps. So, I packed a flask and some emergency chocolate (one must always be prepared), and headed off, into the afternoon’s lingerings.
Climbing up to the cairn on the highest point, a 360 degree view of the peninsula, the castle ruins and a lake were cast in calm below, the cliff-faces looking velvet in the setting sun, the rocks with a hidden animacy felt like they were about to speak, until there came upon the wind-currents some rare, but familiar calls. Choughs. These black-winged, red-billed beauties, circling and swooping finding their roost in the castle turrets for the night. In their swooping, and the way the light was falling, time seemed to vanish. Up there was only this; no need for questions, no need for strategic plans, no need for clarity, because this was presence, this was a kind of prescience– a knowing that this is really everything: this sentience, this quality of being… and could I say it out loud, could this also be… love? The light you see had shifted. It was not light at all, but honey-hued, a golden filament, landing on our skin, our faces, threading us to the raw elemental around us. Then, across the hills, an arc of spectral light, separated into its constituent colours: otherwise known as a rainbow, reached into the great expanse. Even with a scientific lens, beauty is beauty. ‘I think this may be peak-life’, I said to my friend, ‘does it get any better than this’. And we laughed. We are also made of this.
We are also made of this. The line left an echo in my heart, or was it a clue. It also felt oddly, terrifying.
For the last few years I have chosen a ‘word for the year’ to give the months ahead some anchor. The word should plug into intentionality and focus, steering me back to course. Before going up that thin place hill on New Year’s Eve, I had some ambitious words ready to take the reign, but coming down from the hill, I knew there was only word I could choose. It is heavily loaded, often seen as the domain of the weak, the irrational, or the hopelessly romantic. To speak of it effulgently in the public realm is it is be labelled as naive, or overly-sentimental, or sensitive. To define yourself by it: a dreamer, an idealist. But, we also made of this. This being an intrinsic kind of love. An already worthy kind of love. A wild, connected love. A love which is already whole. This is not about falling in love, or finding love. This is love as a verb. This is to be love.
And so, down from the mountain, I declare: my word for the year is a verb. LOVE
But why is such a seemingly sentimental word so scary? Because, I already know, it will change things, deep things. Love as a verb is a practice, and with practice, we evolve over time. Thomas Merton writes, ‘Love affects more than our thinking and our behaviour towards those we love. It transforms our entire life. Genuine love is a personal revolution. Love takes your ideas, your desires and your actions and welds them together in one experience and one living reality which is a new you.’
To love as a verb then is a revolutionary, revelatory act. Feck. Am I willing to give myself fully to this? And what does it mean to really live my love? These are age old questions, of course, so I turn to some age old sages.
‘Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it’, says Rumi.
‘The important thing is not to think much, but to love much; and do that which best stirs you to love’, said Teresa d’Avila
‘True love is born from understanding’, said the Buddha.
Mmm…. there is clearly much I need to understand. So I go to my bookshelves for more clues. There is already quite a collection on this topic: ‘When Love Meets Fear, ‘Loving Kindness’, ‘Radical Love, ‘World as Lover, World as Self’, ‘Meditation for the Love of it’, and even, ‘All about Love’. As I am flicking through the pages, moving from poet to priestess, I realise that part of me thought I knew love, that I understood its mechanisms, dimensions and power. But as I begin to interrogate love, move into into my hands so as to contemplate it deeper in my action, I realise how much I’ve still been subconsciously operating from a notional, received love; one that gets played out in our movies and scripts; the one where love is an external rather and an intrinsic force.
Yes- Love as a verb is a force of nature, and here am I calling myself to it.
So you can see why it can be scary. Those thin place questions of ‘Who are we, where are we going, and what is beyond’, have led to a singular infinite: love.
And that is when the voice of Rilke kicked in.
‘Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves… Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.’
I feel a sense of ease arise. Maybe that is everything that is required: to be as proximate as possible to the questions and the intimations of love. To stay close to the essence of the power and presence of the this in the thin place, and try to live from that force.
In the end it always comes back to remembrance, and attempt.
So, I close my eyes, picture the light on my face and the golden filigree of infinite presence which binds us all, and I whisper into my heart, ‘Remember, we are also made of this’.
As we stand on the threshold of one calendar year to the next, the threshold is both an invitation and a doorway. It offers us space to reflect, recalibrate and concentrate our attention and intention on the life we constantly choose to step into. This guidebook is designed to support you to listen inwards, tune in with your highest potential and articulate clear intentions and refined actions for the coming year.
39 pages of journal prompts, audio meditations, visualisations, creative practices, reflections and planning tools.
You can listen to the introduction letter from the guidebook here to get a sense of the contents…
How this guidebook came about:
I enjoy the quiet, transitional time between Christmas and New Year. After the whirl of the seasonal rush and before entering January, I love to take some time and space to reflect on the year that was, and tune into my intuition and longings. It is a chance to dream, learn, grow, create, and visualise the future I am seeking to live into. In many ways it has become a ritual of mine. Sometimes I do the dreaming process alone, but mostly I invite a small circle of friends and we gather for a day to work through the materials together. We light candles, journal, go on walks, meditate and support each other to believe in the highest possibilities for one another. It is a glorious, enriching time. Throughout the year we then check-in with each other, usually around the rhythms of the Celtic seasons- the equinoxes and solstices-to see how the year is unfolding and remind each other of the intentions we are holding.
This method has been transformational for me. I have felt the effects hugely in my own life, from giving myself permission to trust my heart’s desires and intuition, to helping me zoom out and have a longer, deeper perspective on what is meaningful in my life. It has supported me to cultivate and appreciate more of what brings me alive, including developing the relationships and support structures to help me to stay on track and gently nudge me back when I feel I have wandered.
This guidebook is a version of this visualisation and planning process. The techniques and tools take an approach based on intention setting rather than resolutions, and have been gathered over the years through a range of practices and disciplines from yoga and meditation, to design thinking, creative leadership, and cognitive science.
A two years ago I shared the first version of this guide, and have been iterating it each year, refining it based on my own learning, and feedback from people who have been using the guide too. It has been a beautiful, organic process, and I am grateful to continue to develop and expand it each year.
You will be guided through three movements, or sections, to aid your reflections:
Grounding, Sensing, Becoming.
Each movement contains a combination of writing, meditation and creative practices, and includes a bonus practice.
Part One- Grounding: In which you will be invited to clear some space, externally and internally, find some stability within, and capture your learnings and insights from the past year.
Welcome audio letter
Finding Stillness Audio Meditation
2019 Review- journal prompts
The Enough Inventory and the Joy Inventory
Bonus Practice: A Note of Thanks (a gratitude writing practice)
Part Two- Sensing: This is all about tuning in with your highest future self, through creative visualisation and ‘future writing’.
An Introduction to Future Writing
Accessing your Future Self- An Audio visualisation
Letter from the Near Future
Refining Core Intentions
Bonus Practice: Create your Imram (A Nature Quest)
Part Three- Becoming: This is where you will clarify your core intentions, articulate your priorities and think through the scaffold or support structure to help keep you close to your highest self for the year ahead.
Mapping the Year Ahead
Support Team & Accountability Partner
Blessing from your Future Self
Bonus Practice: Making your Intentions Visible.
How much time do you need?
I have designed this guidebook so it can be completed in about four hours, or over the course of a couple of evenings. However, you may want to create your own home retreat, clearing a full day to dive deeply into the process. I suggest a sample day retreat schedule, including bonus creative practices. You may choose to do this alone, or invite a circle of friends to join you for the day (which can be such a treat!)
If you are short on time, at a minimum I recommend completing the ‘Sensing’ practices in part two, particularly the ‘future writing’ exercises.
How I’m offering the guidebook:
One of the things I love about living in West Cork is the abundance of honesty boxes. People grow their own vegetables, then leave them in little shelters by the roadside, with a box beside them, trusting that a payment will be made in exchange for the home-grown produce. There is no guarantee that this will always be honoured, but it is an invitation to trust.
I have decided to offer the guidebook this year on the same principle.
So this my invitation to you to make a contribution to honour the time, skill and experience I have put into creating this- my version of home-grown produce, while also honouring the time and energy you give to it. It is experiment in trust, reciprocity, generosity and relationship.
When you invest, you will also be investing your energy, and your investment helps me to continue to develop my work, making it available and accessible to others.
The materials I share have been refined and tested, and come from my own personal practice.
If you are unsure about what to offer, think of what you would pay for the equivalent of a yoga workshop, or a self-led home day retreat (which essentially this is)
If you are low on money at the moment, then offer a lower amount. If money is not such a challenge for you right now, then perhaps offer a little more.
If you’d like to share the guidebook with others, please direct them to this honesty box (PayPal Me link), asking them to make their own contribution and download directly.
Honesty Box Payment Process:
Make a payment contribution via PayPal Me- the link below takes you there. Payment in multiple currencies accepted). When you have made the payment, return to this page for step two below.
As we approach the turning point of the deep winter, snug to the fulcrum of the winter solstice, I invite you to listen inwards to find some stillness and pause in the coming days.
The final poetry salon of this Winter salon season, The Courage to Act, is now available for you. You can listen here .
Across a spectrum of poets and readings, I share ideas of courage as belonging, we’ll cross the terrain of resistance poetry, we’ll broach the power of saying ‘No’, and I’ll bring you into the world of Kasala poetry, a Congolese form of praise poetry, with Maya Angelou at the helm. You’ll hear words from Padraig O’Tuama, Jackie Kay, Joy Harjo, Brendan Kennelley and Mary Oliver.
Since sharing these salons this month, I’ve had beautiful emails from listeners in far corners of the globe, some sending me poems which have passed their way, and turned them to new forms of comfort and delight. I’ve also had offers to host more poetry salons when I travel to California early next year, in peoples homes, with their own friends and community. I think that’s exactly poetry’s power- to build bridges, not walls, and to reach across oceans into hearts and homes.
And some news…
I have been in a creative warren all week, conjuring this year’s Intentional Year Guidebook, in an expanded and refined format. This is a guide to help you tune in with your highest self, and clarify your vision and intentions for the year to come… the start of a new decade and cycle of time.
Expect audio meditations, visualisations, an introduction to ‘future writing’, creative practices, journalling prompts, nature dialogues and planning tools.
I’m finalising details over the coming day, and will post information here.
Wishing you love and blessings for these solstice and Christmas days.
Last night, as news of the UK exit polls broke, I was sitting in De Barra’s bar in Clonakilty, West Cork, with a room of people gathered to listen to poems by the poet Pádraig O’Tuama, in collaboration with The Velvetine Quintet. Into the space of the darkness and uncertainly, over the low and haunting notes of the cello, and as Pádraig began reading, there were tears shed, my own and others. His poems were speaking to the possible, to the human in us all, and to the common ground. There, as the notes and words came into resonance, I could feel us all holding fierce disappointment in one hand, and grace in the other. Then, as the poems continued to invite our deeper humanity into the room, there was this palpable sense too: that there are always other ways of seeing; that there there are always other ways to gather, and that there are always other ways to listen. It felt like a beautiful, timely moment of burgeoning awareness: that these spaces where we gather with these different ways of knowing, that these are essential for our time.
Poetry has always been a place where those other ways of knowing convene. It is a place to explore the big questions for our time while also speaking to into the nuances of mystery. It allows room for words which I think are so needed now, words like love, joy, beauty and dare I say, hope.
So, given the news of the last day, it feels timely that this next poetry salon I recorded for you is on that very theme of hope.
Hope- is that such an audacious thing, especially now? How can we have hope when things and times are so complex? And what does it mean to hope when we are feeling uncertain, at a loss to know what to do?
I take these questions into this next salon, where I am interested in the thinking about hope as a robust, resilient promise, something we can give our hand to and which shows up as action. What, I ask, does it mean to live in the space of the possible, and can we give our hope to that?
‘The Turn of Hope’ brings you poems from W.S Merwin, Rilke, Denise Levertov, Barbara Ras, Rupi Kaur, Jeanne Lohmann.
My invitation is to carve 30 minutes for yourself, find a quiet spot, and let these words enter into the crevasses of your heart, perhaps as solace, perhaps as hope itself.
Happy Listening, and please feel free to pass along this salon to those you think could do with some words which speak to the possible too.
As we approach the winter solstice, and as an antidote to the busyness which this time of year can bring how about some words and poems, to listen inwards, to pause, to recalibrate, to renew…
Here, I bring you the first of three seasonal poetry salons which explore the intersecting themes ecology, activism, hope and restoration, with poetry as bridge and balm, bringing us close to the question, ‘What does it mean to be human right now’…
The first salon is on the theme of ‘Nature and Place’, with poems from Wendell Berry, Joy Harjo, Rachel Holstead and Jane Hirshfield, and one of my own.
I hope you enjoy, and if you care to share, I’d love to hear what the salon sparks for you, and what poems or words it makes you reach for too..
December is upon us. The bare skeleton of the trees, showing what they are made of: strength, and endurance. In the pared back silhouettes, I watch the robins forage for berries in the remains of the harvest. A little one skits through the low brambles, seemingly giving flight to the hedge. Everything, even in its barest form, moves.
I have hung some bird seed on a feeder by my back window. Soon, with a little trepidation, more visitors arrive, in delight. More robins, and what I think may be a gold-crest. What we feed returns itself to us. The gift of my offering is given back in flight and red-breast. In the simple, eternal exchange of avian and human, something feels restored, if only for a few moments. Here on my backyard patch, where everything else is bare, wintering is commonage for this kind of love too.
We are nearing the end of a decade, a big chunk of time in a human life. Not even a blink in geological time. Just over a quarter of my own life. The years remind me of the gift of flight too: time flying and all that, so fast it is hard to reckon with linear time. The days move slowly, but the years? They seem to be wrapt in a magic cloak, transforming me through the questions they offer, and the ways they bring me deeper into the bare bones of life. My niece was three at the start of this decade, and is now going on young woman, who I barely recognise, such is the whole new cycle of life in her, in evolution. Ten years ago, there were people who I now call the dearest of friends, who I had never even met back then. And then there were the failures ahead, not even glimmers ten years ago, which I am only just beginning to realise have been, in fact, the greatest gifts of all. They have pared me back, and in the bare bones of my life, I can see, everything has been moving me, not from the external gauge of success, but from the inside out- my own barometer of being.
You see, when I scan the last ten years, in some ways, I don’t feel I have achieved much, except a collection of experiments and things which went pear shaped, and there were some very misshapen pears. I thought I’d have lots more books published by now, perhaps that PhD from Oxford, a house, a partner, and have set up something which has changed things, made a dent, internationally. But, this has not been the path of my particular, at least so far. Clearly the particular has things to teach me, mostly that I have been carrying a story which continually measures myself against a metric which is always just beyond me. Which is why checking in on the narratives I not only carry, but also perpetuate, is such a necessary thing.
Back on my patio, I watch those little robins on the branches inhabit the fullness of themselves, by virtue of being fully Robin. Not gold-crest. Not wren. But Robin. They are in the full expression of their particular. It is such a beautiful thing to witness.
And so, it makes me think, what is all our particulars. What is Clare’s particular? And what is your particular? Can we learn to live into that, and may that be enough.
That, I realise, always carries us back to our joy, and our gift: what is ours to offer.
And so, with that particular lens, I look back over these last ten year, and the story shifts. All those experiments, ‘failures’, have been expressions of my particular: the artist and writer in me, the experimenter, the learner, the friend, the do-er. The initiator has had a field day. The nature lover and sea-swimmer too. I’ve travelled, mentored, taught, written, painted, danced, laughed, wandered, questioned, pondered, tried things out, tried more things out, and learned, a lot, about what it is to be in relationship with what life is presenting: the simple act of living.
And so, with that lens, and with an indentured sense of gratitude, I think of all the ways life has taken me by the hand and drawn me closer to the essence of what I know to be a life well lived. I may not have all those books published, or reached these external things that I had set out for myself, but my goodness, isn’t there a robin only a few feet away, feeding on the seeds I have offered, looking like it is the bravest thing in the world: being its particular and glorious self.
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