Picking up on Poetry: My Workshop Experience

Book ID Parade

On Developing My Poetry Journey by Roberta McDonnell

I just spent ten weeks under the online tutelage of celebrated Irish poet Kevin Higgins and I cannot tell you how transformative it was. Not only did we receive tremendous weekly prompts and expert edits from Kevin, but we were able to read each other’s work and the group members were so encouraging and informative that I feel like I have just been through an intensive, high level tutorial.

There are more online courses to come and anyone interested can sign up at the Over The Edge website. Kevin runs face-to-face courses in Galway Arts Centre as well and produces the fantastic monthly Over The Edge poetry reading events. You can sample some of his work in the book Identity Parade (just click on the link below or the image above) and in numerous books, journals and newspapers, including his own published collections.

For anyone interested in poetry writing, particularly if distance and finances are challenging, Kevin’s affordable online course is a brilliant opportunity to push your own envelope, get some expert feedback and some fabulous peer support. All with a bit of a start to perhaps your first collection, who knows? I for one can testify to the value of this kind of tuition and will keep going, spurred on by the great community at Over The Edge.

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Let’s Hear it for The Beats

When I read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road the voice in my head insisted on reciting it in an American drawl with a jazz rhythm and haunted tone. Quite why this occurred is a mystery to me but I admit that it certainly added to the enjoyment of the book. Yet on hearing the author himself read the extract above I was blown away. So what made the work of The Beat Generation and Jack Kerouac in particular so enthralling?

For me it’s the depth; the scary extremes; the delving into and compassion for human experience that underpins their expressions. A fascination with the era of the early sixties further fuels my current obsession with The Beats, all of which are brilliantly portrayed in the regularly repeated documentary on Sky Arts 1 which charts the life and work of Jack Kerouac and includes interviews with a number of his contemporaries. With the programme due to be repeated on Sky Arts 1 next Tuesday 31st March 2015, I’ve the timer set and it’s in my diary. If you’d like to join me please feel free to comment on here as well. Happy reading, viewing, whatever floats your boat, until next time 🙂

Buried by the Shadow: Lessons from Baudelaire

Having just read a piece of historical fiction called Black Venus by James MacManus, I have been left at once saddened, uplifted, more informed about the French poet Charles Baudelaire and perhaps also a little wiser on the work of shadow energies in our lives. In the midst of public horror and ridicule, this gifted but tormented artist had the courage to face and describe the human shadow through its many manifestations in his personal life (much like James Joyce would do a century later). It is this window of identification and therefore the sense that we are not alone in our experiences that is, I believe, one of the massive attributes of literature, indeed all forms of expression. These ideas are also tied in with my current interests in creativity and mental health recovery and promotion, as well as with previous musings on the role of the shadow within a Jungian approach to personal maturation.

That literature and Jungian ideas overlap is inevitable. Jung emphasised the symbolic nature of human thought and imagination, as did Baudelaire and Manet. A muse was often a source of both inspiration and projection for the artist, a dynamic that may well be present in all our lives – who hasn’t ever had a hero or a guru or some other personified source of inspiration and motivation?

 

But to truly move onwards in  the hero’s journey of our life course, it is essential to incorporate and balance all the archetypal energies, of which the dark shadow is only one. The self-acceptance required remains elusive and unthinkable still for many of us and therefore while we might take the necessary step of acknowledging the shadow’s terrifying existence in ourselves, we must also avoid disowning and projecting it, or conversely, allowing it to swallow and destroy us. I fear that Baudelaire may have been devoured by his own shadow, a force he projected into his muses and possibly detected in himself but was unable to fully accept with compassion and therefore was ultimately unable to constructively channel it.

Like many before and since, Baudelaire went relatively unappreciated in his own time but is now recognised for his visionary genius and his initiation (with the painter Manet) of a whole new world of symbolism, modernist literature and the impressionist artistic oeuvre. T. S. Eliot, who wrote the groundbreaking modernist work The Wastelandcited Baudelaire as having paved the way for him and as the inspiration behind his poetry.

While the nihilism of these writers might be something of a blind alley if taken alone, and for many an all-too-shocking description of human nature, they did at least move towards a more authentic insight into that nature, if ultimately a too-pessimistic and destructive one. From  more recent work on the shadow as being both dark and light, we can embrace the shadow as having something to teach us, as gifting us with the potential for liberation and motivation, while living alongside the inherent potential danger.

It is unclear whether or not Baudelaire reached a level of self acceptance and accommodation. Certainly by all accounts he struggled and suffered but also experienced episodes of joy and happiness  in his life. I suspect we are all dancing a similar dance and can only hope that through literature, compassion, empathy and all the many forms of self-expression we can find, we can each give and take encouragement with our fellow journey-makers. Whether or not we manage to face, own and constructively channel our own shadow aspect is possibly the chief deciding factor of our mental health and well-being, perhaps even one of the  core tasks of our lives.

The novel Black Venus  by James MacManus is and excellent read by the way (follow the link at the start of this post).

My book is available now in the UK, USA and on Palgrave and Amazon sites:

Creativity and Social Support in Mental Health: Service Users’ Perspectives (Palgrave 2014)

 

images: Top: Charles Baudelaire by Emile Deroy

and Second image is T.S.Eliot photo by Lady Ottoline Morrell

 

 

Thank you to all my friends who liked, commented or just looked in 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,700 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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