Category Archives: Literature

Blackout poetry – as mindfulness.


What Blackout Poetry actually is, versus what I think it is, could be two completely different things. I could Google a definition of it, but I can’t be arsed.

My interpretation of Blackout Poetry is where you take an original piece of text, then ‘black out’ the majority of the text to create a new piece of text. Kind of like what Mi6 does to official government documents.

I reckon folks got a bit bored of doing this after a while, so they started adding colour and doodling around the highlighted text to add a bit of spice to it.

As you’ve probably noticed by now, the original source material for my Blackout Poetry is a Harry Potter novel by J.K. Rowling. Now, before J.K. fans become apoplectic with rage for desecrating one of her sacred tomes, in my defence, the edition I had was damaged beyond use. (I.E. Some of the pages were waterlogged and were illegible.) Plus we had another copy.

As we all know, books are only meant to be read. Unless it’s a colouring book. In which case, you can, well… colour it in. Or a sketchbook. You can’t really read that either. Or a photography book… Look, the point is, I don’t advocate destroying perfectly readable books for the sake of art. Unless, of course, it was written by Piers Morgan.

The text you leave highlighted – or legible, doesn’t have to make sense if you don’t want it to. The point of this exercise is to practise a bit of mindfulness.

Just pull out a few words that speak to you then doodle around them. You can use felt tips, pencil crayons, watercolours, pastels, collage, acrylics, whatever you like.

You can do abstract shapes, geometric patterns or something more illustrative and representative.

Bit of a cheat this one, as I haven’t really highlighted any text, just used it as a background.

Obviously, actually composing a compelling piece of blackout poetry out of existing text can be quite challenging, but that’s not really the purpose of this exercise. This is to lose yourself in the act of creating something new and different out of something that already exists. A creative springboard if you like.

The original text doesn’t have to be from a book either. You can use a newspaper or magazine. Or your granny’s will. Whatever’s handy.

I’ve done this mindulness exercise with patients at the hospital, adult art groups and children alike.

And remember, don’t worry about the end result, it’s the act of doing that’s important. Losing yourself in the process is the objective.

Now get out there and start ripping up your mam’s latest thriller.

(Top tip: start from the back.)

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Things I stole from Sylvia.


My daughter and I went to visit Sylvia Plath’s grave again in Heptonstall, West Yorkshire at the weekend. (I know, it’s just one thrill ride after another at our house.)

It was a stunningly sunny day and I took the liberty of stealing a couple of leaves from her grave as a memento.

Now, some people might consider that tantamount to desecration.

I must add, however, that if you look at the picture I took of her grave back in March versus the one I took last Saturday, you could argue that I was merely ‘pruning’.

31st March 2021
17th July 2021

Whatever side of the felonious fence you sit upon, here’s a photo of Exhibit A.

Anyhoo, after sticking the leaves in my sketchbook and pondering them for a while, I decided to write a poem about them.

So, here it is

Lady Lazarus

by David Milligan-Croft.

A leaf stolen

from Sylvia Plath’s grave.

I wonder if the atoms

from her decaying, mortal flesh

have permeated terra firma?

Her nutrient-rich essence

seeping into the soil

absorbed by the roots,

rising up through the stem,

branching out into the veins.

Verdant leaves vignette to aubergine,

unfurl to the scintilating light,

as though – with eyes closed –

she stretches out her slender arms

to the glorious, morning sun.

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This moment.


This Moment

By David Milligan-Croft.

When I watched my mother dying,

Over a period of months, then weeks, then days,

Her eyes closed, never to reopen.

Her breath laboured,

Her skeletal frame sinking further into the mattress,

The morphine drip, drip, dripping into her veins,

I wondered whether she might be better off dead.

Not out of malice, of course, but out of love.

I wanted to see an end to her suffering.

This was not life – it was living death.

Before she entered this comatose state,

She spoke of sitting in her garden

Amidst the spring narcissus,

Surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

What was the point of thoughts of the future,

When there is only this moment?

This precise moment, where you are a prisoner

In your own decrepit body and locked-in mind.

But the nurse told me that you could hear us.

And I thought that, despite your pain –

Your second-by-second suffering –

It must be of some respite to hear the voices

Of your children close by. Sometimes talking to you,

Sometimes to each other – reminiscing.

Perhaps making an inappropriate joke,

Despite your circumstances.

The dab of a coffee-soaked sponge

To bring succour to your parched lips.

(Or Tia Maria, when the nurse pretended not to look.)

Then your grandchildren,

Pottering about your granny flat,

Wondering why this contraption of a bed was in the living room.

Bringing you gifts from the kitchen – a saucepan, a spatula,

Touching your paper-thin skin, telling you to ‘wake up, grandma!’

But you were awake.

That must have made you smile in your mind.

There is only ever this moment.

No future, no past.

Just a collection of moments to be cherished.

Or not.

So, my mind began to change.

I did not think you’d be better off dead.

I thought you were exactly where you should be –

Surrounded by your family,

Loving you,

In this moment.

For my mother,

Christine Milligan,

14th August 1943 – 2nd March 2021.

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Japan tsunami – in memoriam


It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11th 2011 claiming the lives of 18,500 people.

Here are some incredible before and after shots capturing the devastation and the rebuilding that’s gone on in the past decade.

At the time, all I could do was write a poem as I, like billions around the globe, bore witness to the calamitous event unfolding before us.

I felt impotent. I tried to sell prints of my poem for $1 online to raise funds, to no avail.

I wished I was something useful like a doctor or a nurse, or a rescue worker that could do something practical to help.

Then I thought of all the creative people I had encountered during my long career as an art director in the advertising industry and I asked them for help. The response was phenomenal. I got donations of works of art from all over the world to be put into an auction to raise money for the Red Cross who were working on the ground over there.

Less than a month later, we held the Japan Art Auction at Jonathan Oakes photography studio in Manchester, hosted by The Smiths drummer Mike Joyce. It was an incredible success and, thanks to a great many people, we raised quite a few grand.

A lot has changed in 10 years. As you can see by the photos in The Guardian link above.

Things have changed for me too. I am now a Nursing Assistant at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.

And, whilst my poem did not raise a single dollar, it did inspire Austrian composer Albors Pascal Askari to write this hauntingly beautiful piece of music. All the proceeds from which also went to the Japan relief effort.

And, unbeknownst to me, my poem was on the English curriculum at several schools in London for a couple of years.

Who says poetry can’t make a difference?

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The Violence of Silence


This is a new poem I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks. It’s not about Black Lives Matter, but it was inspired by it. Or rather, the silence of the white majority to the unfair and unjust treatment of black people and people of colour. The implicit violence that silence can bring.

That is the only connection – silence. And how crushing it can be.

Please be advised that the following poem contains harrowing themes.

The Violence of Silence.

By David Milligan-Croft.

The smirk,

The eyeroll,

The sigh.

The undoing,

The redoing,

The restacking the dishwasher,

The recapping the toothpaste.

The elbow grease on the bath,

The busying of the dishcloth.

The fingertrail in the dust,

The torment,

The subterfuge,

The game.

The song unplayed on the turntable,

The needle stuck in the groove.

The portrait on the wall,

Staring into an unseeable space.

The spent match.

The sheet music on the stand.

The dried paintbrush.

The gagged canvas.

The unwritten manuscript,

Of characters without a story,

Or Motive.

The spoon in the can.

The creeping mould.

The hungry bottle,

The greedy glass.

The torn betting stub.

The baby shoes in their box.

The unworn party dress.

The deflated balloon.

The candle wax on the cake.

The forlorn swing.

The jury’s gaze.

The unwound watch,

Ticking in your head.

The heaving chest,

The eyes cast down,

Searching the floor for an escape route.

The unanswered call.

The empty wardrobe.

The rosary beads on the dresser.

The bulging suitcase.

The silent doorbell.

The ‘closed’ sign on the shop.

Fallen petals on a florist’s floor.

The midnight car lot.

The despondent moon.

The fallen tree in the forest.

The charred embers.

The ripple without a stone.

The starling without a murmuration.

The stalking wolf.

The disused canal.

The stagnant water.

The ghost of a railway line.

The forbidden tunnel.

Fragments of a life unlived;

Or lived.

Who knows?

Or cares.

The drop of the body,

From the bridge.

Falling

Into the darkness.

Silence.

The stoic rocks.

Then violence.

The relevance of the cello piece? I adore the cello and I thought the subject matter of the poem suited the haunting and melancholy sound. If you are familiar with the lyrics of Chandelier by Sia, you’ll see why I chose it as an accompaniment.

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Now, I am not.


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What with the Coronavirus and all this isolation, it’s given us all a lot of time to think about things. Some positive, some not so much.

I’m not a religious person per se, in that, I don’t subscribe to any particular theism. I guess the closest I would come is Pantheism. Even then, I have my own theories about it. In fact, I wrote my own Creation myth to go with it! (I’ll post that at some point in the future.) Or will I? Because the future doesn’t exist. Or, does it? Is everything predetermined… whoa! You’ve got me off track.

Phew, that was close.

We could’ve been here for hours discussing that particular conundrum.

What I do think about a lot is death. Don’t go! I don’t mean that in a depressing way. More of a philosophical one. What happens when we die? Is there an afterlife? Does such a thing as reincarnation exist?

What’s that got to do with Covid-19?

Well, a lot of people have died from it. And nature seems to be thriving since we’ve isolated ourselves from huge swathes of it. So, what is the point of us? Is there one? Are human beings as insignificant as a dandelion? (Or, significant, if you’re a dandelion.)

I dunno. I don’t have the answers.

What I do know is that human beings are made of energy. We can’t live without it. That’s not my opinion, it’s a scientific fact. Another scientific fact is that energy can never be created nor destroyed. The atoms that created you and I came from the Big Bang. And they will not go anywhere, but back into the universe. That means, the atoms that make up you and I have been pottering about the universe for the past 13.8 billion years! God knows what mine have been up to. It can’t have been good.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the energy that keeps you and me alive maintains its sentience once it leaves our bodies. But it did make me think of a poem.

It’s one I wrote a while ago and came to mind because of what’s going on in the world. How quickly and easily life can be arbitarily snuffed out whilst other life thrives. Perhaps the question is not, does human life have purpose? But, doesn’t all life have purpose?

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Now, I am not.

By David Milligan-Croft

 

I am an electron.

I am an atom.

Now, I am not an atom.

I am a star.

I am a white dwarf.

I am primordial gloop.
Now, I am not.

Now, I am molten lava,
Coursing through the juvenile earth.

Now, I am not.

I am a rock.
Marble, to be specific.

From the cliffs of Massa and Carrara.

Now, I am not a rock.

I am an amoeba.
Now, I am two amoeba.

I am sky.

I am cerulean-blue sky.
I am cloud – I am rain – I am river.
I am
w
a
t
e
r
f
a
l
l,

I am ocean.

I am vapour.

I am a droplet of dew on a monkey puzzle tree.
Now, I am not a droplet of dew on a monkey puzzle tree.

I am a puzzled snow monkey in a hot thermal spring.

I am a tiger.

I – am – a – tiger.

Waiting.

Watching.

Padding.

Creeping, slowly through the long grass.

I see you with your spear.

I. Am. Tiger.

Now, I am not.

I am a slave.
Skin flaking from my red-raw back
Like cherry blossom petals.

Now, I am free.

I think I am a Greek.
Therefore, I am not a Greek.

I am a hoplite.
My dory has shivered,
My hoplon is buckling.
Now, I am not.

I am a foetus.
I hear my mother’s muffled weeping
From somewhere close by.
Now, I am not a foetus.

I am the darkness
That envelops you.

I am a judas.
All that have gone before
And all that will come.

Now, I am a magician.
Now, I am not a magician.
Ta-daaaah!

Now, I’m a daddy!
I cradle your delicate life in my trembling palms.

One day, I will be your father no more,

But, for now,

I am.

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A Walk Among the Gods.


I’m going through a bit of a Greek mythology phase at the moment. I’m fascinated by the myriad of ‘minor’ deities they have to represent nature – they literally have thousands.

While going for a walk in the woods down by the river, I got to thinking about ancient Greece and – if I were alive back then – how many deities I would be walking amongst.

So I wrote a poem about it.

Hope you like it. Stay safe and well during these turbulent times under lockdown.

naiads greece

A WALK AMONG THE GODS

By David Milligan-Croft.

On my morning walk, the goddess of the forest

Spread her roots before me to form a stairway,

So that I may walk down the steep slope of the valley

To where the river naiads skittered above rocks,

Meandering over Gaea’s flesh toward the open arms of Thalassa.

The sun goddess winked and flickered through the branches,

Scintillating off the peaks of the river’s crown.

The sky goddess held up her sister

Enveloping her in a lustrous, cerulean blue cloak.

The goddess of the wind chastised the reeds on the riverbank,

Tousled the leaves in the trees and held aloft the birds,

Who sang their song to the nymphs and protogenoi,

As automobiles droned in the distance, oblivious to the rapture

Of the forest.

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The Devil makes play for idle hands.


That’d make me the Devil then.

Oh well, I’ve been called worse.

Here’s a fun (yes, fun) writing game for kids and growed ups alike.

First off, draw around your hand.

No, the other one. The one you don’t write with.

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Next, you’re going to write a word in each finger.

  1. Think of an object, (such as a lamp, table, doll, trombone, necklace etc), and write it in your pinky finger. Don’t think too hard about it, whatever pops into your mind.
  2. Think of a colour. Write that in your ring finger.
  3. Name a place. Could be a town, a country or somewhere specific, like a treehouse. Write that in your middle finger. (And, don’t show the middle finger to your parents.)
  4. Think of a shape. (Circle, triangle, hexagon, sphere, etc.) Write that in your index finger.
  5. Finally, think of an emotion. (Happy, content, isolated, frustrated, sad, etc.) Write that in your thumb.

Now for the writing exercise.

Write a paragraph that incorporates all of the words you have written in your digits.

They don’t have to be in the order that you have written them down.

And don’t overthink it. Just let it flow. The sillier and more surreal the better.

Once you’ve finished, read out your five things then read your paragraph.

As you can see in the example above, there are three completely different paragraphs using the same five words.

You might be wondering why there are two hands in the picture above. Well, because you can play it with a family member, (if they are in quarantine with you), or you can just overlap your own hand over your previous drawing and colour in the shapes that overlapping them makes.

So, there you go. That should take up about 15 minutes of their day!

Well, they could use the paragraph as a springboard to a longer piece of prose. Or, like the example, they could do several variants using the same words.

It’s good for creativity, prose, composition, spelling, punctuation, grammar and comprehension. (But don’t tell the kids this, or they won’t want to do it!)

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Unleash your inner Tempest


Addendum.

Unfortunately, the Shakespeare exhibition and all workshops have been cancelled until further notice due to the coronavirus.

Apologies for the inconvenience.

 

Fancy contributing to an exhibition based around Shakespeare’s The Tempest?

I’m facilitating an exhibition for Arc in collaboration with Stockport Libraries as part of Shakespeare Week.

The theme for the exhibition is to bring the great bard’s classic play to life visually.

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Here’s one we prepared earlier…

Who can get involved?

Well, there are two groups of people that can take part – locals, and non-locals.

If you’re local to Stockport, you can come along to one of our group sessions at The Heatons and Brinnington libraries. They are on Tuesday 17th March and Friday 20th March respectively.

There are two sessions at each library. 10.30 am – 12.30 pm and 1.30 pm – 3.30 pm.

You can pop along for one, or both sessions. (There’ll be different activities in the morning and afternoon.) Stay for 10 minutes or two hours.

For non-locals who fancy having a go, simply email me a pdf of your piece (or post it if you have time) and I’ll print it out. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Vermont or Verona, just pick up your pencils and paintbrushes and wear your heart on your sleeve.

It’s quite simple really. I’m asking people to draw or paint on top of The Tempest text, as in the example above. Artwork can be A5, A4 or A3 portrait or landscape and can be in any medium.

Sometimes called Humuments or Black-out poetry. You can use the text as part of a background, or highlight certain parts of the text to make a completely different piece of prose or poetry, which doesn’t have to relate to The Tempest at all.

See examples above and below.

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The exhibition opens on Saturday 28th March at the Arc Centre Gallery Cafe, Hat Works in Stockport at 11 am – 4 pm.

That doesn’t given you long if you’re not local and would like to submit a piece. We’ll be putting the exhibition together w/c 23rd March, so ideally, we would like email/postal submissions by Saturday 21st March please. I’ll be waiting with baited breath.

Email me at thereisnocavalry@icloud.com for more details or my postal address.

Good luck, the world is your oyster.

 

 

 

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Adieu 2019.


Well, it’s been an eventful year, to say the least.

I’ve been doing a lot more visual arts this year, so I thought I’d do a month-by-month, blow-by-blow, pictorial representation of my year. (Lucky you.)

Actually, the reason behind it is to see if/how the images/moods have changed over the course of the year. And how that might correlate to my mental health.

As some of you know, I volunteer for an arts charity called Arc, (Arts for Recovery in the Community), which works with people with mental health issues. I am an ardent advocate of the arts as a medium to treat mental health, and wellbeing in general.

Many years ago, I visted the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and you could see the gradual decline in his mental health through his work.

Whilst I’m no Van Gogh, I am trying to see if there are any similar patterns to my own work.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

And before I forget; Have a Happy New Year and an absolutely spectacular 2020.

JANUARY

Oh dear… that’s not a good start.

IMG_3709

FEBRUARY

That’s a bit more positive. Birthday trip to Haworth, West Yorkshire, (home of the Brontes’), with my daughters.

1

MARCH

Pros: Part of an Arc exhibition. Cons: Became homeless.

me1

APRIL

Ee, it’s grim up north. Charcoal sketch of an L.S. Lowry.

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MAY

“Are you sure you’re all right?”

Rehomed.

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JUNE

Think I can see a pattern emerging.

cf4c350d6acd9de9ee610b3f2584b525

JULY

Rehab.

ME2

AUGUST

I guess a lot of things are obvious in hindsight.

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me3

ME4

SEPTEMBER

The road to recovery.

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OCTOBER

Signs of improvement.

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NOVEMBER

Apart from my volunteer work at Arc, I started facilitating a Creative Writing Workshop at The Wellspring homeless charity in Stockport.

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burst

There are always reminders.

me8

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DECEMBER

A change of outlook.

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me11

As you can see, it’s been a tumultuous year.

I feel very fortunate to be able to experience the last day of it. That would not have been possible were it not for the actions of my dear friend, Siobhan Costigan, over in Australia. Her, and my friends, family, NHS, Stepping Hill Hospital, Pathfinder, AA, The Wellspring and Arc have all played their part in saving my life and helping me to recover. And I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

As of 31/12/2019, I am 140 days abstinent. I feel completely blessed that I have been able to experience 140 days on Earth with my daughters, family and friends that I might not have been able to. I am truly a lucky man.

I wish you all a magnificent 2020; may the forthcoming decade bring you everything that you hope and dream for.

 

Addendum.

If you, or a loved one, are going through a difficult time, there are organisations out there who can help. Reaching out isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength that you have managed to hold on this far. And remember, if things get so bad, go to your nearest A&E dept., they will take care of you just like any other patient.

The Samaritans call 116 123

NHS call 111 or 999

Alcoholics Anonymous call 0800 917 7650

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