Being a Writer When Not Writing : Litha & Lammas

It’s been a while… I haven’t written a poem since Beltaine. And, as the reader will attest, not a blog post either.

Litha, or Summer Solstice, the Celtic season just passing is the Solar Energetic peak of the year, the time of greatest energy for accomplishment and productivity – getting things done and bringing things into fruition. So I might have been expecting this to be a peak time of fruition for my writing practice. Yes, I’ll be writing non-stop through endless summer daylight, sitting on the beach with notebook and pen, wandering on the Downs composing intuitively, sitting in airy cafes with my laptop open… Well, in a different year, or if I was a different person altogether, maybe.

But the high summer energy doesn’t work like that for me. It makes me restless. Open. Endlessly curious and unsettled. I make impossible plans and irrational decisions. I thrive on intuition, little food and less sleep, as I camp out on the earth in my tent. I want to run away and live like a nomad. Leaving behind everything I’ve carried with me since winter and starting again: fresh & free.

Every. Year.

I can’t sit and write when my energy’s so high. I’m refuelling. Like the plants. Opening out my green leaves and reaching my face to the sky. Taking it all in. Imbibing and embodying all that Prana, life-force energy, that’s radiating from the sun, and storing it up for my winter – when I’ll be glad of firm foundations and the comfort of warmth and fire. Like the logs that burn, I’m holding the sun’s energy within my bones to be released and burn bright in darker, leaner times.

I’ve scribbled a few lines, taken a few notes, copied out some citations. All these will be woven together into a poem that radiates with summer heat when I withdraw inside in the autumn, ready to sit down again and write.

And I haven’t been idle. I’ve not only been absorbing, but thriving on, that Litha Solstice energy. Since Beltaine, I’ve had more writing published than ever before, given more readings, and shared workshops at more festivals.

Here’s how that energy’s been moving through me and my writing:

On 20 June, Dolly Turing & I completed our dub-ritual for the Original Plus Dub anthology, reading (and burning) our poems at the book launch in London

That day, I also visited the Kathy Acker exhibition at the ICA with Sarer Scotthorne, and we spent time looking through & celebrating the submissions we’d received for the anthology we’re co-editing, WRITING UTOPIA, forthcoming at Beltaine 2020.

On 11 July I shared my research into Utopian Poetics at the Everyday and Extraordinary Utopias conference at the University of Brighton

Sally-Shakti Willow ‘WRITING UTOPIA NOW’ at Everyday and Extraordinary Utopias, University of Brighton, July 2019. Holding an intuitive drawing of my presentation by Vikki Parker.

On 12 July I led a ‘Breathing and Moving for Wellbeing’ workshop at the University of Westminster

Between 17 and 21 July I was at Buddhafield festival in Taunton, where I shared a ‘Poetry Mandala’ workshop in the Word Up! tent. We wove words and co-created from the central mandala, which included the poetry cards from Sascha Aurora Akhtar and John Alexander Arnold’s Only Dying Sparkles, quotations from Anne Waldman, Diane di Prima, Nisha Ramayya and others. Each poet wove these words into their own writing, and in turn, wove each other’s writing into something new. The resulting poems were beautiful, powerful: medicine. Words that yield new meanings with every deeper reading.

Following this, I was invited to read a poem as part of the main Buddhafield Ritual on the Saturday night – this was a huge and unexpected honour. The ritual performance was deep and beautiful – the ritual team spend almost an entire week choreographing and co-ordinating the performance and performers for this. And my words formed the soundscape to a part of the ritual’s transformative process. I read my poem ‘Earthkeepers’ to the biggest crowd I’ve ever read to, in an enchanted field as part of a sacred rite. It was a big deal. A friend filmed the ritual and I’m working on putting a clip together with my reading – I’ll upload this as soon as it’s ready.

On Thursday 25 July I read from my forthcoming book, [un].holy : 33 sonnets for Brigid at the Mayday Rooms in London – right next door to St Bride’s Church! The location was saturated with Brigid’s energy, and I meditated on the steps of the St Bride Institute to set the intention for alchemy in my words. The reading as part of the Hesterglock Press Night and launch of Steven J Fowler’s book, Unfinished Memmoirs of a Hypocrit.

Saturday 27 July I held a Peace Drum Ceremony, singing medicine songs including the Buddhafield Ritual Song, at the Yoga Life Studio in Eastbourne.

So, as seasonal energy alignments go, it’s pretty much exactly what I need to be doing at this time of the year. Sharing the fruits of all that I’ve been cultivating and growing this year.

August promises more of the same. Starting with a reading for the launch of Paratext Issue 7, at the Peckham Pelican.

The calendar date for celebrating Lammas is usually 1 August, but this year the astrological point of Lammas falls on 7 August, so we’re still in transition between the two seasons.

As Lammas approaches/arrives, I can already feel the chill in the mornings and evenings, the palpably shortening days, the sense of knowing that the earth is shifting into the waning phase of its cycle. Also known as First Harvest, Lammas is a time to really celebrate the year’s abundance, both reaping and pruning – cutting back to encourage increased growth, letting go of what’s served its purpose.

This is the perfect energy with which to approach the task of re-drafting my PhD (except that I still want to be outside in the golden summer heat!). It’s the first time I’ve sat down to read the whole thing as a coherent thesis. The first time I’ve sat with what it feels like as a narrative that tells the story of my research. The first time I’ve been able to see it objectively and critically, as a document that needs proof-reading and editing. So I’ve been cutting sections and making notes for improvement. Doing this as if it’s not my own work, but writing that I’m reading with a critical and professional eye.

I can see where the cracks are. I can see where the improvements need to be made. It’s refreshing to actually see my PhD in this way. On its way to becoming the thesis, even the book, that will make sense of my research and share what I’ve been working on with others.

So my Lammas harvest is very much about shifting back into that waning energy, the energy that makes me the poet that I am (so often I’ve neglected this aspect of my own cycle/psyche, as well as the seasonal cycle). Reaping the harvest of the past five years, and pruning it into shape as something meaningful and worthwhile.

Yet I’ll still be out there sharing my summer fruits. Here’s where you’ll catch me:

15-18 August ~ MEDICINE POEMS WORKSHOP, POETRY READINGS & PERFORMANCES at Tribal Earth, Laughton

23-26 August ~ EMBODYING POETRY WORKSHOP, POETRY MANDALA WORKSHOP & POETRY PERFORMANCES at Into the Wild Summer Gathering

Sat 31 August ~ PEACE DRUM CEREMONY at the Yoga Life Studio, Eastbourne

Sat 21 September ~ PEACE DRUM CEREMONY (EQUINOX) at the Yoga Life Studio, Eastbourne

And here’s a reminder of my recently published writing:

ATHA:
On Monday 6th May, I officially launched my second book of poetry, ATHA, published by Knives Forks & Spoons Press!

The poems collected in ATHA use collage techniques to anchor into the reality of this moment. Refusing to avoid the challenges and political crises of our time, while navigating a deeper channel of the possibility of utopia that can be accessed even now.  [Read more about this here].

This is what poet Scott Thurston has to say about it:

Sally-Shakti Willow’s bold new collection ATHA utilises collage technique to espouse a Utopian Poetics described as ‘a relationship of non-alienation between reader and writer’ in which one encounters one’s embodied and intersubjective self. In combining fragments from a rich array of sources such as yoga manuals with the 24 hour news cycle, Willow ensures that this enquiry fully integrates inner and outer worlds in lines like ‘hormone secretions stimulate freedom of movement.’ In her series of rituals for Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, this utopian tension is memorably chased by a ‘ghostword’ that ‘sembles’ and ‘dissembles’ as it ‘search [es] the words / for the root.’ The final section ‘Movement & Meditation’ opens with the question ‘how to metabolise this’, when ‘this’ feels like all the evils of the world rising to engulf us. That the answer must be ‘my voice’ puts Willow’s courageous and generous work firmly in the company of writers like Maggie O’Sullivan – to whom she pays tribute here – making ATHA an accomplished and inspiring act of ‘edgewordering.’
 
–Scott Thurston

You can visit the official website to see sample content and order your copy.  

WRITING UTOPIA NOW:
Utopian Acts Special Issue of Studies in Arts and Humanities Journal – this is the first academic publication of my creative-critical research into Utopian Poetics, a manifesto for the act of WRITING UTOPIA NOWClick here to read the abstract online, then download the full PDF for FREE!

ORIGINAL PLUS DUB: 
“beautifully rhythmic poetry, remixed and collaboratively dubbed” – this anthology features two of my poems in a four-poem collaborative sequence with Dolly Turing. Get the book here! And read more about our process here.

RISE UP & REPEAL:
An anthology of poetry to mark the one year anniversary of the Repeal the 8th Referendum in Ireland, including my poem ‘radical doula’, was published by Sad Press on 25 May 2019. You can order your copy here!

Photograph of I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London

I may not have been writing much this summer, but when I look back over what I have been doing, I can certainly still say I’m a writer.

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