'Change' by Sally Clarke
Sally Clarke on 'Change'
I have always loved National Poetry Day right from the beginning and used to get so excited thinking of all the ways I could celebrate it – from sending Firewords to the stars, hanging poems on my copper Poetree, making edible poetry for breakfast, filling the supermarket shelves with tins of poetry or becoming a Poetry Postie and delivering poetic inspiration to the Nation! It filled me with such glee dreaming up these ideas.
And then, a few years ago, something changed. I suddenly started worrying about what I was doing - whether I was doing it right. Or doing enough. National Poetry Day had become like work. I discovered that the joy had gone out of it. This was terrible! Something had to change. I needed to rekindle the happiness I had always felt. “The chief aim of poetry is to delight” as the poet Dryden said. Where was my delight? I needed to find it. And quick.
So earlier this year, using the theme of change, I started sewing and customizing little purses and filling them with small change that I’d made - silver coins of contentment to remind me of what we’re all here for. To be content, to be happy. In each purse I also put a copy of a poem about how when my children were born my heart turned into a silver coin and threw itself into the well of love. (You can read the poem below.) Making the purses made me feel so happy and I remembered that feeling of delight that poetry can give you. I promised myself that I must never let poetry make me worry again.
My children changed me. You know how a caterpillar has to change into mush before turning into a butterfly? That was what it was like being a mum. I had to turn to mush. Give up completely what I was before. It was SO difficult! SO scary. ( ‘Who is this mushy woman?’ I’d say to myself, looking in the mirror.) Then slowly but surely I changed into a new being – one that could fly. My children had given me wings. I’d gone from being a caterpillar to a butterfly in my heart. But it was scary. Change is scary. I heard the philosopher Krishnamurti once say in a rather strict voice “Why don't you change?” I felt like he was speaking directly to me. “ I don't know” I whimpered. “ It’s so difficult!! Sometimes we know there are things about ourselves that we would like to change but we have to find ways to inspire ourselves to do this. Here are the things that I would like to change about myself:
a) My mess: The chances of this are low. Mind you, the state of our house did inspire a picture book called The Higgeldy Piggeldy Pigs so it has its uses! However, now even my daughter is despairing. “ You gotta do something” she says. I just smile and sing her the little song attached called Housework of the Heart. It’s going to be hard for me to change because I can always find better things to do (if I can find them among the mess that is!)
b) Do more exercise – be healthy. The Greek philosopher Socrates took up dancing at the age of 70 because he felt that a certain part of his soul had been lacking. I feel the same although I’m not quite 70! So I try to dance around the kitchen to a 70’s soundtrack. If I do it I feel wonderful but sometimes I’m just too lazy. It’s as if the chair has got arms and it’s grabbed me round the waist and is not letting me go. I thought I could give yoga a go but I found it so boring. So I devised a way to make it more interesting. I called it StorYoga- exercising the heart’s imagination. I’ve attached some examples. Give it a go!
c) Be brave. As the artist Matisse says “ Creativity takes courage. “ Sometimes you have an idea and no-one encourages you. Or enCOURAGEs you. Gives you the courage to follow your dreams. So you have to do it yourself and it can be lonely or scary. I have just come back from Cuba on my rounds as the Poetry Postie and I had to travel to a copper mine in the far end of the country far away from anywhere. On the long bus journey into the middle of nowhere I must admit I was a little scared. “ Am I mad? “ I thought. But once I had done it I felt triumphant and more confident than ever to continue dreaming up such poetically adventurous ideas and making them happen.
You have to stick to your convictions, even if people think you are crazy or ignore you and cause you to have a nagging doubt that perhaps you are barking up the wrong tree! Talking of trees, once I made a book in the shape of a Poetree. “ You can’t do that” said a woman who happened to see it (even though I had already done it.) Her dismissive attitude caused me to lose my confidence and put that book in a drawer for 20 years, thinking it was a failure. It was only last year that I resolved to get it out again and try and make something of it. Coincidentally, I met that same woman again and she apologized! “ I’m sorry I said that about your book.” She said. “ I was wrong .“ But I had stupidly listened to her. Sometimes it’s good to listen to advice. But it’s better to listen to your heart. And if you think something is a good idea, follow you intuition and go for it!
d) Write more. Rush less. I have a tiny little shed in the garden. From it I can see the ever changing sky, the moon smiling down at me or the sun making golden brooches out of the seagulls or the beautiful leaves whispering to me all their green tongued gossip. I LOVE it in my shed. But often I have so many things to do I don’t get a chance to sit there as much as I would like amongst the magic. So I am trying to turn things upside down. Rush around less, spend more time in the shed writing poetry. Mind you, I have to pay the bills. Rumi says “ Penniless one has a thousand dreams “ but it’s difficult to buy the shopping with such beautiful sayings. If only they would pay poets vast sums to sit and daydream!
e) Be better at social media. Help!!
f) Change the community into a happier place to live. When I started on my rounds as the Poetry Postie, I noticed there were people who were lonely and isolated , staring out of windows all day long with no-one to visit them. I wanted to try and develop the Poetry Postie work I was doing into something that could tackle this problem and help make 1st class communities . So I launched a Postal Service of Happiness. You can read all about it at www.thepostalserviceofhappiness.com and if you have any ideas or would like to be involved, just get in touch!
I do believe, however, that to change the world one has to change oneself and so I try hard to change the things in me that need changing. To help me worry less I imagine I have a Chinese table tennis player in my mind who wears tight fitting shorts and a t shirt. (He is Chinese because when I was young the best table tennis players were Chinese and this is what they wore.) Anytime a thought starts entering my mind that I don’t want, I get him to whack it away out of sight. I don’t want to let negativity or such things as worry sneak into my mind with their muddy footprints. (Ironically, the house of my mind I want to be spotless!) But I know this will take time. Things don’t happen overnight. So I try to be kind to myself as well as others and to forgive any failings I have. If we can have compassion for ourselves, we can extend this to all around us and help change the world into a happier, more poetic place to live.