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Drop in by Vicky Allen

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming another one of Hedgehog Poetry Press’ talented stable of poets, the brilliant Vicky Allen.

Hi Nigel

Thank you so much for inviting me to drop in. It is so lovely to have the opportunity to reflect on one of my poems from “Broken Things and other tales”, which was published by Hedgehog Poetry Press last year. Most of the poems in the pamphlet were written from a place of quiet contemplation (my favourite place to be!), and I have chosen “What Comes From Silence” as being quite characteristic of that. 

This poem was birthed out of a poetry prompt from a writing retreat I took part in a couple of years ago. We chose a line from a Wendell Berry poem and used that as a springboard for our own writing. The springboard poem was “How to be a poet” by Wendell Berry – a particular favourite of mine, incidentally, and a poem worth savouring in its own right. 

Silence is something I treasure, and I try to gift myself times of quiet and stillness regularly. I had begun to explore it as a form of daily spiritual practice as a sort of personal challenge during the Lent period following my mum’s death at the start of 2018 (this challenge was inspired by the well-being community interest company Space To Breathe, who offer some wonderful resources to equip us to care for ourselves and others). It was both challenging and healing to allow those spaces of quiet to open up each morning, and to be attentive to them.

Sometimes we can use busyness, activity and noise as a defence mechanism or an avoidance tactic. Yet I’ve come to believe that the greatest kindness we can offer to ourselves during times of difficulty is the kindness of attention. Why must I keep myself busy? What am I afraid of noticing if I stop? What might I discover if I turn the noise off and listen to my own inner self?

The practice of daily silence during that Lent was an unexpected gift. I would sit quietly in a particular chair, gazing out the window, listening to the wind and rain of a Scottish February morning, and in the quiet I was able to recognise the grief of losing my mum. It allowed me to feel the weight of it, and somehow that was profoundly helpful. More often than not I would discover I was crying.

Later that Lent I would go for a walk with my dog down at the salt marsh near our home, and find a quiet place to sit (the driftwood branch mentioned in the poem was perfect for this) and experience the expansive space of grief all over again. The times of silence always felt safe, kind and ultimately life-giving; the daily practice offered me a way through the grief in small and gentle steps. 

I really appreciated what Lucy Crispin wrote on your blog recently about her own poetry – noticing the sacred in the everyday is something I relate to deeply and also recognise as a high value I hold. I think a lot of my writing attempts to somehow capture this, and certainly much of what I love to write about comes from encountering and contemplating the world around us.

Next week read my review of Vicky’s mystical Broken Things and other tales.

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