Category Archives: Literature

The Alternative (and true) Legend of Medusa & Perseus.


Most of you will be familiar with the legend of Medusa and her snakeyfied locks with a look that could turn men to stone. But are you aware of how she came by her serpenty hairdo? Well, wonder no more.

With the exception of the poet, Sappho, most ancient Greek scribes were men. And, as is typical of most men, women don’t fair too well in their myths and fables. This is my attempt to redress the balance a little bit.

The Alternative (and true) Legend of Medusa and Perseus.

By David Milligan-Croft.

Perseus crept stealthily through the tunnels of Medusa’s grim cave, sword extended before him, eyes peeled wide over the rim of his shield trying to absorb as much light as possible. He clung to the mirrored shield Athena had given him to protect against the serpent-headed monster. Perseus brushed against something solid. It felt like a statue. But on closer inspection it was the petrified figure of another warrior seeking fame and glory.

Perseus had been sent on his quest by King Polydectes of Seriphos in order that he might fail and leave his mother free to marry the king. However, King Polydectes had not counted on divine intervention from the goddess Athena. “Do not look directly into Medusa’s eyes,” she had warned him. “Otherwise, you will be turned to stone just like the countless others who have tried before you. Use the mirror to see where she is, then cut off her head. But, be careful, Perseus, she is wily and cunning and will use all her powers to trick you.”

The orange glow of a torch began to illuminate the far end of the tunnel. Cautiously, Perseus edged towards the light. The closer he got, he began to hear the sound of sniffling. Closer still, he detected the sound of a woman crying. He could see that the tunnel opened into a cavernous space. Perseus turned around and held the mirrored shield before him so that he might see behind him into the cavern. He angled the mirror and saw a woman seated at a dressing table with her head in her hands, weeping.

“Have you come to kill me?” came a muffled voice.

As he adjusted his grip on the mirror, Perseus saw the serpents slowly uncoiling. “I am Perseus, of Mycenae. I mean you no harm, good lady. I am a weary traveller and merely seeking shelter until the storm passes.”

The hunched woman chuckled. “‘You mean me no harm, is that so?” she said. “Then why do you approach with your sword drawn?”

“It pays to be cautious when entering an unknown labyrinth such as this, my lady.”

“Well, as you can see, I am quite alone. You may sheath your weapon now.”

Perseus scanned the cave for Medusa’s two monstrous sisters, Stheno and Euryale, but they were nowhere to be seen. 

Medusa straightened herself up and looked in the burnished mirror of her dresser at Perseus, who flinched, stealing himself against attack. “You need not worry, brave Perseus,” she mocked. “My reflection cannot harm you. Only if I stare directly into your eyes will you become petrified. But then, you know that already. Otherwise, you would not be approaching so covertly with your own mirror.”

“It is Athena’s mirror,” he said, proudly. “The goddess is my protectress.”

“Ah, the goddess Athena,” Medusa said wistfully. “It was she who cursed me to be like this.”

“You defiled her temple by fornicating with the god Poseidon!” Perseus exclaimed.

“Is that what she told you?” Medusa let a wry smile cross her lips. “Poseidon raped me in Athena’s temple whilst I was making an offering to her. 

“When he took my virginity, he took my ability to serve as her priestess, so she cast me out! 

“And yet, she took no action against her uncle. Nor sought reparation from her father, Zeus. Instead, she chose to punish me with these accursed snakes!”

“I … did not know that,” Perseus said. “I’m sure the great, benevolent goddess had her reasons,” he said, composing himself.

“Yes, jealousy being one of them.”

“Why would a goddess be jealous of a lowly mortal such as you?”

“When I begged Poseidon to intercede on my behalf, he said it was because of my beauty. She wanted to make it so that no man could ever look upon me with desire again without facing instant death.”

Perseus studied her face in the reflection of his shield and tried to visualise her without the hideous snakes for locks. Instead, he imagined long golden curls cascading about her shoulders, framing her oval face. She was more than a match for any divinity. It was not difficult to see why the gods would be envious of her.

“But you could help me, Perseus,” she pleaded.

“Help you how?” he inquired. 

“Take me to Lesbos! It’s an island populated only by women. My curse does not work on women – it only petrifies men.”

“Why only men?”

“Because women don’t try to rape me or cut off my head!”

Perseus shifted uneasily. “What would be in it for me?”

“Hundreds of warriors have come here to claim my head as a prize and all have failed. The treasure from their abandoned ships would be yours.” Medusa said.

Perseus contemplated the vast wealth within his grasp.

“Plus, everyone knows you defeated the Minotaur of Crete, you are already a legend. Perhaps you will also be famous for your compassion as well as bravery.”

“But it was Athena who gave me this mirrored shield. She said you would try to trick me!”

“Trick you how? It was she who turned me into this monster in a fit of rage, when it was I who was wronged!” Medusa sobbed. “I do not wish to live if this is how I am to be. Skulking in dank caves for eternity, fending off assassins like you trying to claim my head as a prize. You may as well take it now!”

Perseus saw his chance and raised his sword. Medusa instinctively spun around and, before Perseus could swing his blade, she was upon him, her snakes coiled around his throat. Medusa stood behind the great Perseus as he gasped for air. He looked at her reflection through his bulging eyes and saw torment and despair in her face. A snake slid down his sword arm and wrapped itself around his wrist, squeezing until he was forced to release his grip and it hit the rock floor with a clang.

“You know,” she whispered in his ear. “I could force you to look into my eyes.” A snake began twisting Perseus’ neck around toward her. He squeezed his eyes tightly. “Perhaps the gods don’t want me revealing the truth about what they’ve done to me?”

“I’ll take you!” Perseus yielded.

Medusa sensed deception. 

“I give you my word,” Perseus gasped. “I shall surrender my weapons to you for the duration of the voyage if you give me your word you will not petrify my crew and I.”

“And what of Polydectes? He will need a head.”

“We could trick him.”

“You mean, murder an innocent maiden?”

“No, no! One recently deceased. We could thread snakes through her skull.”

“The skull would contain no power, unlike mine.”

“I could say it was a myth. Once you had been decapitated all your powers died with you.”

Medusa walked slowly back to her dresser, her head bowed in contemplation. Perseus glanced at his sword lying on the ground, but dismissed the treacherous thought. “You could live out the rest of your days in the light. Without the need to hide in the shadows, nor fear trophy-hunting men.”

“Like you?” she smiled.

“Like me,” Perseus bowed his head slightly.

“There is something you should know before we set sail on the high seas.”

“What is it?”

“I am pregnant with Poseidon’s child,” Medusa said. “If he finds out while we are at sea, he may not take kindly to you and your crew aiding me.”

Perseus picked up his sword. Medusa flinched as he walked toward her. But Perseus got down on one knee and offered up his sword in his palms. “Then we shall have to be cautious and travel in disguise. Wear a hooded cloak and veil. Your sisters can act as your attendants.”

It’s unknown whether Perseus delivered Medusa to the Isle of Lesbos. Legend would have us believe that Perseus sailed to Seriphos with what he claimed was Medusa’s head and presented it to King Polydectes shortly before chopping off his head. In the ensuing commotion the head was conveniently lost, or so it seems. 

Sailors who unloaded their cargo at Lesbos heard tales that Medusa was befriended by the great poet Sappho and gave birth to Poseidon’s children – Pegasus, the winged horse who was seen flying above the island’s mountains before departing for Mount Olympus to be by Zeus’ side. And his twin brother, Chrysaor whom Medusa and Sappho raised as their own child until he was old enough to be called a ‘man’ and had to leave the island for his own safety. Whereupon, he was known as Golden Sword and travelled to far off lands in search of his own fame and glory.

At first, Medusa wore a headscarf and veil when she ventured out on the streets of Lesbos. But Sappho, and the other women, begged that she take them off and let the world see her for who she really was: Medusa – the woman, whose beauty, even the gods were afraid.

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Antio sas, 2022.


That’s Greek for goodbye, if you didn’t know.

At least, that’s what Google translate tells me. It could say ‘f*ck you’ for all I know. Which would work just as well.

Saying farewell to the year in a foreign tongue has become a bit of a custom for reasons I shan’t go into right now.

Greek mythology and the divine muses have been pretty prominent for me in 2022, so it seems quite appropriate.

This year, I’ve managed to paint lots of pictures, visit lots of the Peak District and write lots of poetry. So much so, I’m hoping to publish my second collection of poetry, “Go tell the bees” some time in 2023. (I’ve even been dabbling with a book cover design for it.)

To see out the year, I thought I’d leave you with a few samples of abstract doodling which I’ve been doing quite a bit of lately. It’s a very cathartic and mindful exercise if you want to give it a go. I’ve even tried it with patients on the ward and it went down really well. (Remember, it’s about the process of doing art rather than the end result.)

It just remains for me to say, thank you for visiting my blog, your support is very much appreciated. I hope you have a very happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2023.

Keep being creative and tell those closest to you that you love them.

In the words of the great poet, Philip Larkin:

“…we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind   

While there is still time.”

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Landmine – new poem


Landmine

By David Milligan-Croft

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There is a type of landmine

That only detonates

Once you have taken your foot 

Off of it.

.

It spares you

Instant disintegration – 

Instead, it gives you

That split-second realisation

Of the impending horror that is about 

To ascend upon your hapless body.

.

Of course, if you are fleet-of-mind,

You may realise the error of your way,

And keep your weight

Pressed firmly down on the detonator.

.

In the hope that someone

Might come to your rescue.

That they collect rocks

And sticks and boulders – anything

They can lay their hands upon

To replace the downward pressure,

That is you.

.

And that is how it feels

To be in love with you.

To have two choices:

To wait for you in vain,

Or to accept fate

And lift my foot off.

.

για τη δέκατη μούσα μου

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The Legend of the Patron Saint of Knitting.


για τη δέκατη μούσα μου

The Legend of the Patron Saint of Knitting and the Sheep Girl.

By David Milligan-Croft.

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A long, long time ago, there was a young girl, about 14-ish, who was a shepherdess. She was a diligent girl who worked hard for her family and was thankful for the meagre things she had. If she had one tiny flaw, it was that she was slightly envious of other girls’ names. Ones who had names that meant things like ‘starlight’ or ‘princess of flowers’. Because pretty much everyone called her ‘sheep girl’. Apart from that, she was happy enough looking after her woolly friends. 

After the sheep girl had tended her flock and safely rounded them up for the night she would spend the evening with her mother knitting in front of the hearth. She loved to knit with the fleece from her flock. She made clothes for all the family and for most of the villagers too.

Then, one day, a rider came galloping through the valley hailing that he had important news. Sheep girl hurried home as fast as she could, (with the sheep scampering behind her). All the people of the village were gathered around the fountain in the square, where the rider was breathlessly proclaiming the news that a vast army was approaching from the west. That it grew in size and wealth after each town and citadel that it sacked and plundered. No one knew why it was coming, or why it was gobbling up everything in its path, and either killing or enslaving everyone, but coming it was. And it was unstoppable.

The only good news the rider brought, was that the invading army was still many miles away and there were lots of towns, villages and citadels in the way of the behemoth before it reached their paltry village.

The sheep girl wanted to help her village, but she felt powerless, so she carried on the business of tending her sheep while wracking her brain for ideas until, one day, one of her flock went missing. She searched all over the valley but could not find the stray anywhere. Next, she tried the slopes of the valley, to no avail. She climbed higher up the mountain until the ground became so rocky and spartan that she needed her staff to gain purchase on the skittery rocks. Eventually, she came across the mouth of a cave with an eerie yellow glow emanating from within. Tentatively, she walked inside, and there was her missing sheep, Mathilda. But her fleece shone with the brilliance of gold. As she approached the nonchalant sheep, she realised that its fleece was, in fact, actual gold! So fine and delicate was the thread it felt like silk.

The sheep girl knew of a legend from her childhood that a great warrior would come down from the mountain one day to save the village from calamity. Was this a sign, she thought. That the hero was indeed about to appear before her? And was this sheep a portent to his impending arrival? Then, she was struck with the idea of how she could help the village and the great would-be saviour. She would knit him a suit of golden chainmail armour so strong that it would be impenetrable to arrow, axe or sword! She sheared, spun and knitted all day and all night until the gleaming suit of chainmail was complete.

Then she waited.

And waited.

But the hero did not come.

And the billowing plumes of smoke from sacked cities on the horizon grew closer day by day.

She stared down at her village from the mouth of the cave as she absentmindedly ran her fingers through the shorn fleece of Mathilda. Then she felt the sheep’s head pull away. The sheep girl looked down at Mathilda who gently nudged her hand with her head. Then she turned and trundled back into the cave, stopping occasionally, to check whether the sheep girl was following her. Mathilda stopped before the golden mail neatly folded on the rock. When the sheep girl arrived next to her, Mathilda pushed the mail toward her with her nose. Sheep girl laughed, ‘I can’t wear it, Mathilda. It’s for the great warrior who’s coming to save us!’ But Mathilda trotted behind the sheep girl and butted her toward the suit. 

‘Well, I guess there’s no harm in trying it on, little miss bossy britches,’ she said to Mathilda. The sheep girl lifted the hauberk over her head and found that it was surprisingly light for a shirt made of precious metal. Next, she pulled the coif over her head, neck and shoulders so that only her resplendent face was visible. She held out her arms and turned around. ‘What do you think, Tilda?’ she asked. ‘It fits pretty well, even if I do say so myself.’ 

Mathilda bowed her head and stroked the ground with her hoof. 

‘Alas, I have no sword to smite my enemies,’ she joked. Then she noticed her staff leaning against the cave wall and another idea fell upon her. She took up her knitting needles and sharpened the points of them with her shears until they were sharp enough to pierce the mountain itself. Then she attached them to the head of the staff with golden thread. 

Outside, the wheels of war grew ever louder as the mighty trebuchets of the invaders drew closer. Great columns of dust rose behind the cavalry as their hooves thundered across the plain. Drummers beat a rhythm for the massed ranks of infantry to march to. Buglers trumpeted the impending triumph of their mighty army. Heraldic banners fluttered in the wind. Sheep girl’s heart began to race as she paced the cave. Slate grey storm clouds gathered overhead and the tumultuous air was charged with electricity.

The sheep girl stepped out of the cave with her bident held aloft and beheld the vast invading hoard below, stretched out as far as the eye could see. What could she, a mere shepherdess, do against such a foe? Just then, the clouds began to part and a great beam of sunlight burst through and illuminated the sheep girl in her golden chainmail. The light refracted off the individual chinks and split into a myriad of shards of light, blinding the soldiers below and burning out their retinas. Those that were not blinded either fell prostrate before the angelic warrior from the heavens or turned and fled the battlefield in fear of the gods’ divine retribution. Then, a terrifying bolt of lightning cracked from the sky connecting to the sheep girl’s bident and the landscape turned a scintillating white. And, just like that, she disappeared.

Nothing was ever found of the shepherdess, except for her charred golden chainmail and scorched bident. In the years that followed, people from all over the land went on pilgrimages to the mountain to pay their respects to their saviour. Theologians and philosophers came from far and wide to beatify her in some form or another and bickered over how best to honour her name. Even though she was the golden warrior of light and had conquered the greatest army the world had ever seen, it was her dedication to her flock and her love of knitting that she would be remembered most, as La Cher, the Patron Saint of Knitting. 

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The Perfect Poetry Antidote


Friday is Library Day for patients on Arden Ward at Stepping Hill Hospital.

And, if you didn’t know already, reading is very good for your mental health. (Probably not if it’s by Piers Morgan or the Tory party manifesto, mind.)

Reading quality literature and poetry, however, is proven to alleviate stress and anxiety.

Quite serendipitously, I came across this collection of poetry by Mary Dickins entitled Happiness FM. I thought her poem, ‘How to administer a poem in an emergency’ was perfectly apt for the group. So, I thought I’d share it with you.

And here is the poem from whence the collection takes its name.

Of course, our visits to the library aren’t just about reading. They’re about social interaction and doing other mindful activities.

While I was writing this post on a rainy Sunday evening in Stockport, a haiku came to mind. So, I’m going to share that with you as well.

The pitter-patter

Of rain outside my window –

Nature’s melody.

Night, night.

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Time to Wise Up


I first became aware of Aimee Mann via her soundtrack for P.T. Anderson’s sensational ensemble movie “Magnolia”.

In fact, Anderson said it was Mann’s lyrics that inspired the screenplay. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so. It features an array of fabulous actors, including the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, John C. Riley, Julianne Moore, Melora Walters and a sublime acting masterclass from Tom Cruise. Here’s the trailer:

But it’s Aimee Mann’s classic, ‘literate lyricism’ that I want to revisit. Anderson actually used her lyrics as a dialogue in the movie for Claudia’s character played by Melora Walters:

“Now that I’ve met you,

would you object to,

never seeing each other again?”

Here are three of my favourite songs from the soundtrack, but this time from Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse, which I hadn’t seen before, so I wanted to share them with the class.

Enjoy.

And now, from the movie…

with the entire ensemble.

And here she is doing a cover of The Cars’ classic, ‘Drive’ about self-denial and facing up to alcoholism.

(You can still watch it, just click on the link to YouTube.)

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Dandelion Clock – new poem.


‘Nebular’ by Maria Popova.

This poem was inspired by an article I read on The Marginalian by Maria Popova about G.K. Chesterton, called ‘The Dandelion and the Meaning of Life.’

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Dandelion Clock

By David Milligan Croft

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I searched for the meaning of life

In philosophers’ books.

I looked for a reason for being

In great religious texts.

.

But I could not find anything

To assuage the frustration

As to the point

Of my own existence.

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The sun dimmed

On the page I was writing,

As the Earth slowly rotated me away,

Into the shadows.

.

And there it was, shimmering

In the fading light of dusk.

A dandelion clock, swaying

Gently in a summer zephyr.

.

Its seed pods lifting off 

Into the atmosphere,

Like the universe itself

Exploding into life.

.

The wind would carry it

To its destination –

It did not need to worry what it should be

Or where it might be going.

.

I searched for the meaning of life,

And found it in a dandelion clock –

Either, it is all important,

Or none of it is.

.

I was looking for heaven,

And realised I am already here,

For the briefest, most glorious

Moments in time.

.

And the point of existence,

Is to have existed at all.

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Drawn to you – new poem.


Drawn to you.

By David Milligan-Croft.

I tried to draw your eye

But it was too big.

The drawing, that is,

Not your actual eye.

This was after two failed attempts

At drawing your whole face.

The first, was too long,

The second, too round.

I could not capture

How perfect you are.

So I decided to draw you

Piece by piercing piece.

First, your left eye – 

The one that tore through

My soul leaving me exposed

And vulnerable.

I felt like I knew you.

Not from a past memory

But from a memory passed. 

(If you believe in that sort of thing.)

Then, I moved on to your chin,

Your nose, I wanted to feel each part of you –

The curve of your eyelid,

The flick of your mascara,

Your russet eyebrows,

Your left ear,

Protruding through

Kobicha hair.

You have a hint

Of an epicanthic fold,

So I ponder your genetic makeup,

Which only adds to your etherealism.

Now, the impish curl

At the corner of your mouth.

The almost imperceptible smile,

On the lips, that only another woman shall kiss. 

My fingertips gently touch the graphite, 

Then draw them to my own.

And I slowly turn the page.

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Hawks over Haworth


Hawk hovers over

Wuthering moors, searching for

Cathy’s eidolon.

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Exquisite Corpse


Exquisite Corpse, or Cadavre Exquis, to give it its original French title, started out as a surrealist writing game in 1920s Paris. The name comes from a line in one of the original games: “The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.” Penned by Andre Breton.

It’s quite simple really, you just write a sentence and then fold it over (leaving part of the sentence uncovered) and pass it on. The next person carries on where you left off. Obviously, you need a few people to do it. Four is a good number. At the end of the page, or whenever you feel like stopping, unfold the paper and read it as one complete piece. I can guarantee you it will be surreal.

You’ve probably already played the pictorial version of the game as a kid, (or with your kids). It’s the same principle – you draw the head and shoulders of a person or creature then fold it over. The next person draws the torso and the next draws the legs and feet.

I remember playing this game in a restaurant in Dublin once. Me and three friends/colleagues went for lunch at one o’clock and left at two. Not an hour later, but 13 hours later. (We had dinner as well.) We didn’t play the game for the whole 13 hours, but it did wile away the time between blinis and Bellinis. 

Why am I telling you this? Well, you should try it. It’s fun. I’ve played it at various arts groups over the years and it’s always gone down well. And, because a colleague of mine played it recently with her flatmates and I thought what they wrote was brilliant so I wanted to share it with the class.

“The clouds above parted, like the Red Sea, revealing the beautiful, chiselled face on the moon. The man who lived a monochrome and solitary life. The lonely lifestyle of a duck on water; the only ripple on the pond. What a privilege it is to revel in the wonder of nature – and forget, for a second, the pain of being alive. In contrast the joys make it all worthwhile. I sit on the edge pondering what I dreamt about last night. The shapeless figure slipping through the doorway, watching me sleep. I dream of my own life, of starting all over again, and doing everything the same. In monotony I finally found peace. Then I woke up. The crushing weight of reality on my eyelids, as I wrench myself from the dark. The worst thing about me is that I’m afraid to open my eyes again, to look up at the dark side of the moon, shining judgement down on me. I thought only Jesus could judge what was right or wrong, but this proved me “wrong”. Everything in my life had led to this point. It was the most important moment in all my time. I finally did it – I took a deep breath and forgave myself for the choices I made whilst just trying to please others. I should have just prioritised myself, it seems like everyone else does. I can’t be like everyone else – or do I risk becoming a shadow of my former self. Oh, how I miss how I blossomed in the sunshine.  Now I wither as the Seasonal Affective Disorder gets to me. I should get a lamp. Something to light the way, from the darkness of which I crawled.” 

I think Breton et al would have been proud.

And the relevance of Florence + The Machine?

This is a post about surrealism.

There doesn’t have to be any.

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