Our beloved and inspirational tutor Angela Locke is celebrating a special birthday this month. A choir of 18 Mungrisdale Writers were delighted to sing “Happy Birthday to you” at our meeting on the 11th May (very tunefully, we thought!), and to present Angela with a special birthday cake and a volume of the Collected Poems of May Sarton.
Come out of the dark earth
Here where the minerals
Glow in their stone cells
Deeper than seed or birth.
Come under the strong wave
Here where the tug goes
As the tide turns and flow
Below that architrave.
Come into the pure air
Above all heaviness
Of storm and cloud to this
Come into, out of, under
The earth, the wave, the air.
Love, touch us everywhere
With primeval candor.
Collected Poems: 1930-1993, page 364
Many happy returns, Angela! x
MARCH is here already – another turn of the calendar page – and hopefully you’ll have marked up yours with our March meetings – on the 9th and the 23rd. Proposed homework for the 9th is here.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, we’ve been unearthing some of Mungrisdale Writers’ early work – some of which was published in now unavailable MW booklets years ago, and more of which was stored on the floppy disks of the time (1.44mb!).
The aquisition of a new floppy disk reader has enabled retrieval of the archived Voices of the Mountain – in which, among other fine work, the late Vi Taylor’s poem Blencathra was found.
Mungrisdale Writers will celebrate 20 years in 2019 and is still an inspirational bedrock for several original members, as well as a host of newer ones over the years. 7 or 8 new writers have joined the ranks in recent times.
All this is quite an achievement – and one which founder Angela Locke can rightly be proud of. We’ll seek to celebrate all this and more, in all sorts of ways – not least, I expect, in writing!
Happy New Year to everyone! After our fantastic last session before Christmas, and a marvellous Christmas lunch, I am really looking forward to seeing everyone on 23rd February to begin classes at Mungrisdale Village Hall for MWG.
Meanwhile, at Maryport …
In the interim, I am running four weekly classes on a Thursday at Maryport in February and March, linked to the Maryport LitFest, and supported by the Arts Council. I would be delighted if some of our writers would like to join the group – it will help fill the gap in writing classes before we all start again, and the last one is at the beginning of March, which only just overlaps the beginning of our term. The classes will be from 10.30 to 1.30 at the Senhouse Roman Museum in Maryport, and the cost of each class very modest. Tea coffee and biscuits are always provided, and last year it was a really good series of sessions, which we all enjoyed, with some fantastic work. The group sessions begin on 2 February, and carry on every Thursday until 2 March. I hope we may see you there!
Warmest good wishes
Photo at Pixabay
A very special memory this year was the carol service in the ancient church of St Kentigern in Mungrisdale. I don’t go to church very often, but I have always thought this was a very special place, in this very special village, and sometimes I slip into the tiny church to sit quietly for a while, looking out through the end window at the fells. I will miss it so much when, regretfully, we leave the village in the New Year.
This year, some of the villagers got a choir together and instituted a Carol Service for the first time. I was honoured to be asked to read a poem: Christmas by John Betjeman. I’m not particularly a fan of Betjeman, but this is an evocative poem of a particular time in the twentieth century, which I can almost, though not quite, remember – trams and oil lamps, and girls in slacks like my mother wore at weekends as a kind of rebellion (trousers were forbidden for teachers during the week). I have read poetry in performance, mostly my own, at fairly large gatherings, even on BBC2 in the Review Show. But I was really nervous this time to be reading in front of my neighbours.
Oddly, I felt I was representing Mungrisdale Writers, for all the wonderful writers who have been part of the group for the last eighteen years. Dorothy Chalk, for example, who was such an important part of the community for so many years, who now lives in Caldbeck and can rarely get to classes, the late Jill, Lady Jackson, a dear friend, who with Dorothy helped me start to the group and inspired me as our first chairman (she hated the word chairwoman). Way back then, we discussed how we were going to begin with a journal about writing to be called ‘The Fell and the Star.’ I still like that name. When I think of the hundreds of fantastic poems, prose, and stories that have poured out of the amazing group and given such pleasure and laughter and moved us so much, I felt I was reading the poem for everyone.
I practised it loads over the pre-Christmas period while preventing a very small black Labrador puppy from destroying the house, trying to remember who I had sent Christmas cards to, and generally organising Christmas in my normal chaotic way. There were a few lines in the poem which could be difficult, and I know that those little hiccups in scansion and meaning could be minefields when faced with an audience, liable to trap one into a stumble. Then I had a dream which threw me into a mild panic, that I had forgotten to take the script with me, and had gone to the wrong church. Marooned in the snow, with no transport, it was impossible to get back to the right church on time. Mindful of the portent of dreams, I took one copy in my pocket and one in my handbag, just in case …
We struggled into the church out of a wild storm. What seemed like hundreds of candles flooded the little building with light, right up to the ancient beamed ceiling. The village had really gone to town. Carols in their own way are their own ritual. When we return to ritual, of whatever kind, we are stretching back through Time, on our personal journey … For me, the connections include our youngest daughter Harriet singing the solo in ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, a single voice in the enormity of St Andrews Church in Penrith. I didn’t have a ‘religious’ childhood, and we never went to church as a family, but somehow carols transcended all that, and are part of the rich fabric of our heritage.
In my mind, I always saw them as red and gold, the pages inscribed with ancient writing, like illuminated manuscripts, although one of the most famous, my favourite, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, was written by the poet Christina Rossetti in the nineteenth century. Learning to play ‘Away in a Manger’ on the piano in my first year of lessons was a fantastic thrill, although no one ever asked me to accompany them! I remember my first teaching job as I dressed the shepherds in tea towels, and draped tinsel round the angels’ heads, and then my first year Infant class singing ‘Away in a Manger’ in that special way only Infants do i.e. mostly forgetting the words.
I have just seen a film of my youngest granddaughter Freya, age 5, at their school carol service this year, holding the Baby Jesus as though her life depended on it, looking terrified. Her new baby brother had been born the week before, and I imagine she related to it deeply and felt her great sense of responsibility. (She actually burst into tears at the end and had to be led off the stage, and I hoped that wouldn’t happen to me!)
With this tiny church lit by candlelight, and crowded with villagers, I was quite nervous. I would have to sit at the end of the pew and wait for my prompt, which was the Second Lesson. Then, glasses on my head, I strode forward and hopefully performed a good rendition of Betjeman’s poem. At the end, dizzy with relief, I turned into the wrong pew, much to the surprise of the man sitting there. Several people came up to me at the end during the sherry and mince pies, to point out that the fan heater was so loud they couldn’t hear what I was saying. I believe the Greeks have a word for it – hubris!
I certainly felt I was representing you all, and your fortnightly journey to this tiny, powerful village of Mungrisdale – a place where, nearby, George Fox preached in the early years of Quakerism, a place which was probably special long before Christianity. I often have the strong feeling that we are only continuing a line of inspiration and creativity which goes back a very long way, protected and encircled by the mountains in this fertile place of flowers and trees and stories …
That is beyond any specific religion, for me. But I was glad to be in that place of candlelight with its own ancient story and traditions. I was glad to be asked.
Angela Locke writes
A big group of our Mungrisdale Writers had a great Christmas lunch at the Mill Inn at the end of term after a hilarious, if hard-working writing session, which I greatly enjoyed facilitating.
Entitled in part: An Eloquence of Lawyers, A Superfluity of Nuns and The Unkindness of Ravens, although there was only one lawyer present, no nuns or ravens, but a couple of clerics and a few doctors to minister to the flock. The most worrying offering was an Expense of Harlots, though not one present!
So wonderful to see so many of you there, and to remind myself what a very special, empathetic, talented and generous group of people you are! Definitely a Worship of Writers (see collective nouns). I feel so very lucky to be your tutor.
Special thanks must go to Lorraine for organising the lunch, and to Cathy, Simon, Mary, Tanya and Charles for all their support and for being such a wonderful committee.
Happy Christmas to all of you, and Happy Writing in the New Year. Just a reminder that we don’t reconvene until the 23rd February, but feel free to keep in touch. Many thanks for that must go to Simon and the brilliant new website.
Keep the home fires burning, and let everyone know about what we are doing by pointing them to mungrisdalewriters.com. We need to spread the word!
Love and Light
Angela Locke points writers to this article in Kosmos Journal, commenting that it says something about why our stories matter.
Angela Locke writes
Friends, I hope you managed to catch last night’s wonderful Channel 4 programme ‘Great Canal Journeys’ – the second of two with actors Timothy West and his wife Prunella Scales. Last September we saw them both filming in the churchyard on Iona, and there was a big section about Iona, including Prunella and Timothy sitting in the Argyll! Both that programme and the one before are worth catching up on if possible, as they are both about the Highlands, and the context of Iona.
It was a wonderful session today, deeply inspiring. Everyone was at the top of their game, and there was such good writing from all the participants.
We looked at Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Prayer‘ (see YouTube) – one of her most moving – to show the way that imagery can be inserted into a poem with surgical precision and be so effective.
Homework is to look at the poem again, and try to create a piece of prose or poetry inspired by it, preferably in the 1st person!
At Words by the Water Mirehouse Poetry Competition 2014, our resident tutor Angela Locke received a Highly Commended for her poem
Sanctuary of Aphrodite
Almost closing time, the fag-end of a winter’s day.
‘The Goddess has left, but her Sanctuary’s still here!’
The young curator smiles. There’s an imprint on his chin,
discus-shaped, as though at birth a god
had placed a thumb to mark him.
Copper pots, stone heads, a great clay urn,
stone baths for ritual washing.
Naked virgins parade unbidden in my head.
We got lost getting here, had a row.
I told him I was leaving. Now, sulking
in the village square, he reads his maps.
The curator’s black 4×4 goes past.
He waves. ‘Don’t worry. I won’t lock you in!’
I’m alone. Fallen olives lie on stony ground;
Sparrows rustle among dead leaves.
How lonely to be abandoned by your worshippers;
A beautiful goddess one minute, then cast aside
for the next best thing.
Among these fallen columns,
olive trees in a ruined sanctuary,
there are shadows, sky bruised after a storm,
always the sea, undimmed.
Perhaps the Goddess still waits in the grove
for Love, libations from the two-headed cup,
sacrifices; great kings landing in their black ships,
bees to nectar, along the golden sea-path.
From me, sprigs of rosemary, picked this morning
in the amphitheatre of Kourion, laid on this flat stone,
are small gifts for what may be an altar, still.