Facebook Twitter
Colin Hambrook's Blog
The mirror that refused to look back
Written by Ardent Hare   
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 07:47

Lynn left a simple but thoughtful comment in response to my last blog. She said "Who is really brave enough to want to see the mirror's reflections?"

Dream-of-an-impossible-knitter-1It took me by surprise. And it made me think about the lack of choice some of us have in being faced by what 'the mirror' has to tell. Nearly 50 years on I'm still trying to unravel a thread on the things that made me who I am: the nightly hallucinations that haunted me as a child between the ages of 5 and 9, which have left a legacy of a lifetime of problems around sleep.

Those nightly terrors were damaging, but were also part of something magical; a reminder of something beyond the daily mundane reality. And having grown up in the throes of an evangelical fundamentalist religion, which made no concessions for reflection I was forced from an early age to question what was going on? And maybe what destroyed me, partly saved me, also, at another level.

And maybe having the courage to keep looking in the mirror, even when it kept refusing to look back, (I mean, there was somebody in the mirror but he wasn't me) has given me a resilience I would never have otherwise have had.

The mirror that refused to look back

He had been shelling peas, neatly
into a tupperware bowl;
pretending not to be,
when mothers' blanket slipped.
From under the ironing board
the child learnt the ways
of the shades of the dead,
Immersed in wonderful skies
beyond heaven’s hellish grip.
Sleep never came easily;
interrupted by the nightly carnival,
playing in a dirty yellow light
at the top of the stairs,
just outside the bedroom door:
a robber in striped jumper and eye mask
hovered with a bag marked 'swag'
big enough to take a whole life away.
And once, a lion with a full mane
lingered on the same spot,
at the foot of slumber,
threatening to roar the house awake.

Later... as boyhood beckoned
the looking glass refused the steady gaze
he offered its silvered reflection.
Perhaps it couldn’t embrace
the coating, like limescale
that grew from the twilight corner
of a fractured sense of loss.

Who is really brave enough
to want to see the mirror's reflection?


(Image: Dream of an Impossible Knitter by Colin Hambrook)

Listening to the Undercurrents
Written by Colin Hambrook   
Monday, 02 April 2012 07:05

Finding time to write poetry is a constant juggling act. I like to go into a slow space – somewhere more internal. Life doesn’t allow that quiet space often. I’m always writing on the go, where and when I can grab a moment.

pen and ink drawing of a tree with naked man and woman in an eye shapeGoing into the poetry zone is a meditative process of listening to the undercurrents – the thought-foxes [as Ted Hughes once described them] that move through the undergrowth. I love this space. It gives me a feeling of being alive; an in-the-moment kind of space where the usual restrictive censorship doesn’t apply.

Getting there demands a certain degree of isolation; being free of interruption. I’ll often use music to enhance the emotional connection I’m looking for. Finding imagery feels a bit like probing the body for memories that want/ need to be told. Often, I find the images resonate from memories edged with a certain grief… the loss of a mother and my own resulting childhood descent into psychosis.

I gather up disparate strands and let them out on the keyboard. For example there was a phase in my youth, when I never knew who I’d see, staring back at me, when I looked in the mirror. There was something hypnotic about the way the face would morph from one image to another.

In a poem [still very much in draft], I’ve been playing with a series of memories that range over a period of 20 years. In the poem I’m trying to say something about the way that grief embeds itself. Some things we don’t ever ‘get over’ – and the mirror that refuses to look back is an expression of the extent the mind/ body will go to, to bring denial into our consciousness, so we can cope, get on with our lives, possibly? The poem begs a question, about why? Is it that the mirror can’t bear to reflect? Or that the person who is doing the looking refuses to see? It is also possibly a comment on the struggle to come to terms with mortality.

I’m not sure if it’s complete. If it says everything I want it to say? Perhaps reflecting back on having written this will help me decide.


The Mirror that wouldn’t look back

She had been shelling peas, neatly

into a tupperware bowl; pretending not to be,

when mothers' blanket slipped.


Sleep never came easily;

interrupted by the nightly carnival, playing

in dirty yellow light at the top of the stairs,

just beyond reach of her bedroom door.


A robber in striped jumper and eye mask

hovered with a bag marked 'swag'

big enough to take a whole life away.


And once, a lion with a full mane lingered

on the same spot, at the foot of slumber,

threatening to wake the house with a roar.


When terror turned the twilight corner

made a home in a cupboard for the damned

even the wall mirror refused to look back.


Image: Lost and Found by Colin Hambrook

Lost and Found Poems
Written by Colin Hambrook   
Tuesday, 28 February 2012 09:07

Since last June 2011, I've been working towards writing a manuscript of new poems titled 'The Lost and Found Poems' to enter for the Straid Collections Award www.templarpoetry.co.uk/awards.html> This is a target I set myself after Up-Stream last year. If there was one definite positive effect of the showcase it is that is has got me back into writing poetry with serious intent. The competition guide says that there has to be between 40 - 70 pages of poetry -  so that has meant crafting a minimum of forty new poems - no mean feat. I've got six days left to have one last look at all the work - so I need to make some space in amongst everything else.

There is one bit of feedback that I've resisted; a criticism that I often use words that are 'difficult' that are not in common usage and therefore often make the work inaccessible. I'm the first person to back away from 'elitist' poetry. I agree wholeheartedly with Nicole Fordham-Hodges, who says in her DAO blog "Being real is more important than poetry. Poetry with a big P is an empty plate carried by a waiter with a neat white coat and no face." www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk

Black and white line drawing of woman knitting strange human formsPoetry has to be rooted in lived experience for it to carry weight or have purpose. But I don't believe that excluding a word because it isn't in current usage makes a poem elitist or inaccessible. I grew up when Monty Python first came on tv and they had a silly sketch about 'woody' and 'tinny' words. Woody words led Michael Palin into a sonorous calm, whilst tinny words had him leaping about hysterically. I learnt to appreciate the sounds of words. I listened to songwriters like Nick Drake and Al Stewart and learnt to appreciate how they chose words for the sound and lyrical quality of the word in tandem with its meaning.

According to <http://oxforddictionaries.com/words/how-many-words-are-there-in-the-english-language> a rough estimate is that 20 per cent of words in the Oxford English Dictionary are no longer in current use. The current modus operandi amongst poets seems to be this idea that those words should stay obsolete because the reader shouldn't be expected to have to pick up a dictionary. What bollocks!

The english language is so rich with sound. Poetry should celebrate the language, not be afraid of it. Each generation invents new takes on words and their meanings which are outside of the understanding of older generations. It's how it should be. It represents the dynamic nature of the way that language evolves - but if that is all we will allow, as wordsmiths or poets, then we really are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

I'll leave you with an example. Knitting time is a poem about how my mother used to try to calm herself and ward of the excesses of psychosis through the act of knitting with wool. It's one of a series of poems on that theme. In the second stanza I use the word 'tenebrous'. It is an adjective meaning dark or ominous.

The word has been questioned by more than one poet, yet I hang on to it vehemently, because I used the word, not to be clever or pompous - but because it has a great sound to it. Say it aloud and you'll hear monks chanting in underground caves or you'll see the roots of trees moving secretly and silently down into the depths of the earth. It has the feel of something that branches out and clings at the same time. And I think it strikes as a great counterpoint to the sense of illusions protruding; sticking out to alienate and confuse.

I'd be very interested to know what others feel about the use of language in poetry? You can leave a comment at the end of this blog or get back to me via colin.hambrook[at]btinternet.com

Knitting time

She could sing those star-garments into shape
in her sleep and does so readily on nights
when there is light enough to give birth
to a new universe. But her thoughts won't settle.
Like Lot’s wife, she looks back, at glass dripping upwards
the pane slipping slowly into sand.

Inhabiting a raw time, of all tomorrows, yesterdays;
she breathes, but nothing will hold,
and once the terror takes, there's hell to pay
for all those illusions, tenebrous protrusions
moving under the belly of self-belief.

And so back to the knitting vessel
carrier of her soul into the living land
the safe place of cross stitch, a stitch in time
where the breath can be measured
just one step, one small step, beyond the fear.


Image: Dreams of an Impossible Knitter, Colin Hambrook

Writing as a Form of Survival
Written by Colin Hambrook   
Friday, 27 January 2012 10:27

Writing is important to me for a myriad of reasons. One of the big ones is to do with impairment. Having M.E. makes life difficult. I lose focus and struggle to recall even the vaguest details of things. I write so I know what I'm doing; so that I have a record of events and how I felt or what I thought about them. I don't always go back to what I've written, but knowing I've something down in writing is reassuring. It gives me a sense of security that I don't get from moment to moment, living with brain fog and the persistent threat of finding my thinking processes have become incapacitated.


Ardent Hare is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales.

Company number: 05574285. Charity No: 1121501