Samhain Ritual Poetry Performance

Reading at the University of Sussex’s Hi Zero poetry night has been a dream of mine since I started going there to listen to poems, five years ago. So I was super excited to be invited to perform with fab-collaborator Dolly Turing at this year’s Halloween event!

Dolly & I have been working together to create ritual poetry for a couple of years now. We collaborated on Freedom of Movement in March 2018, created a sequence of poems for the Original + Dub anthology (Hesterglock Press, May 2019), performed our poems at the anthology launch in June, and were saying we’d like to grow that work to the next level when the Hi Zero invite arrived. This was a thirty minute slot for us to fill as we wished.

Our work has always been both political and spiritual. Freedom of Movement was our first anti-Brexit protest performance, and the ritual poetry we created for Original + Dub was an anti-racist protest in response the Windrush scandal.

Sally-Shakti Willow & Dolly Turing ritual poetry performance at the Original + Dub launch, Peckham Pelican, June 2019

Hi Zero’s performance, being just a couple of days before Samhain and the intended (delayed) Brexit date, gave us a further opportunity to combine the political and the magical in our performance. So we got together to create a ritual performance especially for Samhain 2019, as part of the #Hexit anti-Brexit protest.

Dolly’s sound work with the giant gong, bowls, bells, chimes and more wove a layered textural soundscape that rose and fell around my voice as I read my poems. My movements both resonated and jarred with the words and textures of Dolly’s poems, creating an embodied response to those rhythms.

On the floor by the mic stand, there’s a large metal Flower of Life mandala, energising us from the roots up and amplifying the energetic resonance of each poem as we speak.

We saged the space, lit three candles, and transported our audience into another realm for the duration.

Dolly Turing & Sally-Shakti Willow ritual poetry performance at Hi Zero, October 2019
Video by Verity Spott

Here’s what people said:

“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before” – Verity Spott

“A lovely mélange of bodily & spiritual affect” – Joe Luna

“It definitely transformed the mood of the whole room” – Samuel James


Though we were both working with forms and practices we feel at home with, it’s the first time we’ve done a gig like this on this scale, so there are (always) things that can be improved. I didn’t always feel fully confident in my movement improvisation and intend to be more fully present in my embodiment as we develop this work further. Looking at ways of opening and closing the ritual space is also an area we can keep bringing into greater awareness.

But for a first gig of this kind – perhaps anywhere in the world ever (though it reminds me a bit of the San Francisco Be-ins in the 60s, especially with the way that half the audience ended the evening spread out across chairs, tables, the floor; eyes closed & blissed out!) – it wasn’t bad.

It was pretty powerful magic.

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