Poetry & Pottery: The Perfect Partnership

1978

1978 was not a good year, for me
even though I hold it dear

Try as I might I could not find the key
to unlock my brain
work out its mystery

Lurching this way and that
never finding a hold
I fell so many times
but got ever more bold

Crashing right down
I broke back to the core
then inched my way through
to daylight once more

The clay in my hand
is the life that I’ve led
I have cried, ached and screamed
and wished I was dead

But I never gave up
and I never gave in
I just kept on going
and drank lots of gin

Joking aside –
though I do like a drop –
I feel like I’ve won
I’ve come out on top

For I have love in my life
a treasure most true
I’m here and I’m now
simply human, through and through

© Maggie ‘Glad the Poet’ Baker 2021

1978 was the year I graduated with a degree in Ceramics from Bristol Polytechnic. 

I’d reached out to art in my teens as a way of asserting a direction, without knowing where that direction might take me. It was driven by some deep-rooted instinct; an instinct which for a long time I thought had failed me. But it hadn’t.

As it’s turned out, my life has taken many “twists and turns, and loops and leaps”, most of which have left me struggling to find a foothold. Finally, however, I feel I am on firm ground, and astonished to find myself turning back to working with clay, after a break of over 40 years.

What’s even more astonishing is that I’m not only loving working with the medium, I’ve got ideas coming into my head from goodness knows where. I’m not having to push myself just to produce something, anything, as I did when I was at college (although I was proud of what I did produce in the end; it was no easy feat, considering the complexity of mental health problems I was dealing with).

Art didn’t work as a therapy for me when I was younger; the damage went too deep and I had to find ways to dig it out – just like clay has to be dug out.  What I’ve got now is malleable and mouldable in whatever way I choose. I can be creative in any way or ways that suit me; working with clay or words; working with my life.

I hope my pots can be poetic; and that my poetry will continue to be potty.

Solid and fluid at the same time. This one’s long gone; I’m making others now.

Working again

After grinding to a halt last year (when I was 64), I’ve had 12 months of resting and recuperating. It’s been great to have no time pressures, be able to catch up on household jobs and generally just ‘chill’. However, I still don’t feel like giving up on my working life altogether and have just started a new job. It’s part-time and temporary – just for a few weeks – and has tested my ability to keep calm in the face of new technology (use of a smart phone is an intrinsic part of the job). With some effort I’ve been able to keep my anxiety levels within manageable parameters – breathing through the stress and repeating my ever-faithful affirmation of ‘I choose to be peaceful and calm; everything is unfolding as it should’. There have been times when I have felt anything other than peaceful and calm but I seem to be settling in. It’s tiring, but I’m doing it.

When I was going through the worst of my breakdown, one of things I hung on to, to haul myself through, was the knowledge of how hard I’d worked when I was younger – dealing with anxiety without any coping mechanisms for a long time – to develop work skills and experience. I was determined that all that hard work would not go to waste.

I do believe that if more people had more help with anxiety and associated difficulties when they were younger, it would help to avoid the devastation that having a breakdown can bring. As a society we still have a long way to go before we can consider ‘inclusion’ a reality rather than a pretend game.

Being 65

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In one sense, this post should just be entitled ‘Being’, because age is irrelevant.

I interact with the world essentially as a being, and don’t need a label.

On the other hand, I do have history, and the ways that I have worked through that history impact on the way that I interact with the world – and other beings in it – on a daily basis.

It isn’t always easy to put the past behind us, especially when heavily loaded with emotions associated with trauma and grief.

Accepting things that I cannot change has been a hard life lesson to learn for me, helped by meditation, affirmations, and Buddhist teachings (including one in particular by Gen Togden of the Kadampa tradition).

Not having had children is a major regret. Raising this as an issue with a therapist recently, still needing to work it through, I was met with a profoundly uncompassionate response: “So you decided not to have them then, did you?”

At one level, she was right. I made choices – decisions – that led to me being in a state of extreme mental and emotional turmoil in my late 30s and 40s. Decisions that I made as a struggling, vulnerable young woman in my 20s were mine, and I was an adult. But should I really have had to pay such a high price in later life?

Shit does happen though, and doesn’t discriminate. Thankfully, I have had previous experiences with other counsellors/therapists who’ve approached my distress with humanity and empathy.

Even so, some things take a long time to work through. Some ‘stuff’ from the past has just come up that I thought I’d put behind me, or at least wanted to. It doesn’t always work like that though, and I’m sure my brain dredged it up now because I hadn’t properly dealt with it previously.

Now I’m in a much better place than I have ever been before, living with a kind, loving, supportive, funny partner. Being 65 is a starting point for me, and it’s never too late.

If I can send out a message to anyone who’s going through personal difficulties – whether recently experienced or long-term endured – it is to say: “Don’t give up.”

We don’t always know what we’re made of until our backs are to the wall, especially if we’ve oriented towards ‘flight’ rather than ‘fight’ in early years.

Fighting for survival is a primary motivator and there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Even if you can’t see it for yourself, let someone else – a friend – see it and hold it for you until you can.

I’m only 65, and I’ve got all my life ahead of me. So have you.

Soap

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It may not be the most obvious thing to write about at this time of year, or even at any time of year.

However, it represents, for me, something of a New Year’s resolution, albeit one that I started with before this New Year; in fact before the last few New Years.

I started using soap instead of shower gel as a way of using less plastic. It’s a small contribution to a massive environmental problem, and I’m sure soap itself has negative impacts on the environment.

But I believe in small steps, building up to marathons and mountain climbs.

I make other buying decisions to reduce the impact of my waste on the world, such as buying unpackaged fruit and veg when I can, although I’m still horrified at the amount of ‘stuff’ that goes into our recycling bins.

This relates to an earlier post Poetry Rule No. 9b Keep recycling to a minimum until you’ve got your other priorities right. It may not seem obvious that it does – almost a contradiction in terms – but I will write further posts with further insights from this position.

For now though, I just want to keep this post simple, like the soap I use.

Cancellation

Cancellation

My holiday was cancelled

and I had to stay at home

I started feeling angry

and even a bit glum

But then I saw the sad news

so many dead at sea

fleeing from their countries

just wanting to be free

I was disappointed

they were lost and drowned

it gave me some perspective

and made me look around

I only had to change my mind

I still had life and breath and limb

I’d only lost a holiday

While they’d lost everything.

2013 & 2017

Poetry Rule No. 9b Keep recycling to a minimum until you’ve got your other priorities right

Cover

Don't judge a book by its cover
don't even begin to think that you know
what lies underneath
when every belief
that is written in time comes and goes

Don't judge a book by its cover
for the pages are those that can lie and deceive
the wisdom of years
may appear as true fears
and the rest will come in as you weave

Don't judge a book by its cover
when the story has not yet begun
Yet the time is right now
and in some way, some how
what needs to be said will be done

Don't judge a book by its cover
it's only a matter of time and again
tattered and torn may be weary and worn
but it's all the same in the end

Don't judge a book by its cover
don't even begin to think that you know
for it's all in a muddle
and inside the middle
is a tale that is waiting to grow
so it will

2014