What plans have you got for 2019? Quite a few people have asked me this. We like to give shape to our lives, don't we? We like to have things to look forward to, especially when there are things we dread. I refuse to use the B word in this blog. The world is a mighty big place and the current fiasco will continue with or without our consent.
Let's talk about snow! What fun that was - for some of us, anyway. Bodmin Moor would't have been my chosen route knowing all that weather was rolling in. Sorry if I sound smug. But really, the only thing I'd get in a car for in that situation would be to do a funeral - and yes, I have on at least one occasion done that. Otherwise, this is where you'll find me. Skiving off, because we only have one life and it's important to live it well if you can.
There's something marvellously focusing about snow. Its ability to transform everything that's familiar is remarkable. Everything sounds different for a start. There is an absence of smell, which sharpens your sense of it. You suddenly become aware of that morning's soap on your hands when you take your gloves off to blow your nose. A passing muntjac has left its scent on a hedge. There. And now it's gone. Colour shocks. Red berries. A dog's pink tongue. And then there's that stinging sensation when a blizzard whips up and snatches at your face. Lovely, that feeling of being alive and alert to the fact.
And still the daffodils that came up on Christmas Eve persist. And still the crocuses and the snowdrops pierce the green that follows the thaw. Spring is not far away. The birdsong has already changed. There are pairs of dunnocks, house sparrows, blue tits and even robins in the garden. I spend hours looking at birds through my binoculars this time of year.
Here's another B word that fills me with joy. Bonn. I am looking forward to a return visit in June. The relationship between Stanza II and Dada war alles gut goes from strength to strength. We are still sharing our work and still translating and workshopping our poems. We have a joint reading planned for June 10th at Anno Tubac, which boasts Bonn's oldest cabaret stage. More news to follow in subsequent blogs, so watch this space.
Wakefield is a City of Sanctuary. It is proud to host asylum seekers. I shall be reading at their poetry competition celebratory event some time soon and it will give me much pleasure. I am also heartened and excited by the Afghan Women's Orchestra Project in Oxford. They will be performing with the Orchestra of St. John's at the Sheldonian on Sunday 17th March. Click here for more information and to book a seat. And tell your friends. Better still, bring your friends.
Recently, I attended Refugees’ Experience of Grieving the Dead - a seminar organised by the Death, Dying and Bereavement Group, Open University and the Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath.
It's important to move away from Eurocentric perspectives now and then. I work with refugees on and off throughout the year, so this seminar was enormously useful. It was valuable on many levels, not least with regard to humanist ethics.
The talks examined our human (micro) responses to the (macro) machinery of global catastrophes like war, famine and political oppression. How do people living in refugee camps bury their dead? How can they honour/commemorate those who died in their homelands if they are displaced and can't return there? If a relative has been disappeared or has drowned in the Mediterranean, how can a person grieve? What, then, is the nature of that grief? We considered people who were locked into a frozen state of bereavement and how we might create rituals that offer some kind of solace or at least formal recognition. There were some extraordinary accounts of human endeavour and compassion - repatriation of bodies to Senegal, the task of identifying bodies that had been washed up or rescued, opening up personal family graves to accommodate strangers' loved ones who had died. There are many individuals doing hugely important work.
Bereavement is seldom considered by NGOs. Bereavement is never considered by politicians/populations wishing to keep refugees away from their borders. Big serious issues here - emotional, psychological, cultural, religious, ethical...I shall be signing up to attend more of these seminars and very likely their conference later this year.
For those of you who are interested, here are some links: