No More Compassion For A While

IMG_0687Well, of course I should and shall still be trying to do my compassion meditation (although I am failing in dramatic style whenever I try to extend metta to Tories these days) – but what I mean is, that’s the end of this year’s tour for The Trouble With Compassion. Many thanks to all my venues and all my audience members. You can still buy the poetry collection from Burning Eye Books.

In the meantime, here is my scary-lovely alter ego Imelda, taking out her frustration and self-loathing on a party-sized chocolate cake.

And here are all the wonderful pieces of advice and encouragement given to Imelda via the Heart Of Hearts…


Last Rogues But One

Wonderful times at Jabberwocky Market Festival, where these delightful souls drew pictures of one another whilst finding out what made their subject happy. Kudos to Katie who likes ‘control’ and ‘sarcasm’! Her own, or other people’s, I wonder?

LAST SHOW is on National Poetry Day, this Thursday 6 October, 1pm at City Library, Sunderland for Sunderland Literature Festival. It’s only a suggested donation of £2, so you can easy afford to buy a copy of my collection as well 😉

Feeding The Hungry

Compassion without action is nothing, so they say. I’ve been looking for examples of concrete goodness in the communities around me, so a few weeks back I went to a deserted car park in Middlesbrough on a Monday evening, to help members of the Sikh temple hand out food to the homeless.


Now, I think I’ve been conditioned by many TV shows to expect a certain kind of soup-kitchen vibe, perhaps featuring a cheery guitar-playing proselytiser or two, and of course a load of grateful recipients. But it’s not like that. Of course it’s not like that. For one thing, Sikhs aren’t big on preaching while they work. The development and practical application of compassion is an essential part of devotion for Sikhs, with particular emphasis on the distribution of food. In cities with larger Temples, for example in Birmingham, the community goes into the town centre on a weekly basis and simply gives away free hot food to whoever wants it. In our slightly Walking Dead-style Boro car park, we were five people, two camping tables, forty takeaway cartons of lentils and rice, and two boxes of second-hand Greggs donuts. The handout was swift, slightly chaotic, and mostly conducted in silence by both givers and receivers. I wondered what the youngest member of our group, just a boy, made of this dutiful work.


I had a bit of a chat on with one woman, who carried in her head the days, times and locations of all the charitable food handouts currently running in the area. It’s obvious they are essential for her and many others. But do they provide compassion, emotional sustenance beyond the bare nutritional essentials? It was very difficult to make human contact, very difficult for both sides of the table to make eye contact, very difficult indeed to feel anything other than desperately sad as the thirty-minute feeding frenzy came to an end and the last six spoons of sugar were ladled into the last cup of coffee, and the forty homeless men and women drifted away to places I can’t fully imagine.

I swear, I don’t know I’m born.


After A Break, More Rogues

A big thank you to the lovely folk who came to see my show at Alphabetti Theatre and at Acklam Library recently – here are some of their mug shots for your viewing pleasure. I’m glad so many people are made happy by simple, achievable things, but I am a little concerned for the person who said ‘watching neighbours’ made him happy – I think he meant the Australian soap opera….

Penultimate show of this year’s tour is 7.30pm, 30th September as part of Jabberwocky Market Festival in Darlington – tickets here!

How’s It Looking?

I had a rather nice time in Hexham yesterday, doing the show and wangling some unofficial production shots out of my lovely photographer friend, Lilly. Here’s me in action, looking not nearly as muggy-sweaty-rumpled as I felt!

Next show is in the wonderful Alphabetti Theatre, if you’re around in Newcastle on Thursday please do come and see it 🙂

Rogues Gallery #2

So tomorrow I take the show to Hexham, one of my favourite venues, to see whether or not a matinee slot of 2pm brings in a good audience. If you’d like a ticket, you can book one here.

I’m very much looking forward to meeting people during the show, but even better than that is meeting them all again afterwards when I look through the results of the ‘sketching a stranger’ portion of the show! It got quite out of hand at ARC last month, we ended up playing two tracks from my Compassion playlist, not just one 🙂

Here’s some of the Stockton Rogues…

How To Make A Perfect Day

2013-03-02 11.01.10.jpgHello, welcome, come in. What’s your name?

Ok, this is how it works. For the next five to ten minutes, you’re going to describe to me your perfect day. Anything at all is allowed in your perfect day. I may ask some questions, for clarification, but mostly I will just listen, with all of my attention, with my heart open to everything you are saying, and to everything you’re not saying.

Then, for the next fifteen to twenty minutes, you can close your eyes and relax as I describe your perfect day back to you, in the present tense, as if you are living it. I will use all my powers as a poet to bring your day alive with details. And I will record it.

Later, I will transcribe and re-record the piece, a process that takes sixty to ninety minutes, and then my sound engineer will add on an ambient soundscape using a special app. Then I will send it all to you, as your personalised, bespoke relaxation tape.

I’m doing this because I don’t want to perform a show about compassion without making the effort to offer active, useful compassion to my audience. Today one of my Perfect Day participants came up to me and said she’d had a horrible couple of weeks, but she was soothing herself to sleep every night by re-imagining my voice describing her perfect day. I haven’t even finished her tape yet.

If you’d like a Perfect Day, I will be at Queen’s Hall, Hexham this Saturday 9th July with slots available at 10.00am, 10.45am, 11.30am and 11.45am. The show then starts at 2pm.

I will also be at Alphabetti Theatre on Monday 11th July with slots at 1.00pm, 1.45pm, 2.30pm, 3.15pm and 4.00pm. The show is on Thursday 14th July at 7.30pm.

To book a Perfect Day, please email me at Thanks xx


Rogues Gallery!

An hour is a fair length of time to listen to spoken word, even when there are films and funny bits. Which is why, halfway through my show, we all take a break to listen to some music from my tracks-donated-by-the-public Compassion playlist while we draw happy stick-people portraits of one another. Oh, and it’s sort of about getting to know strangers so you can feel kindly towards them.

Here are some of the magnificent drawings produced by the compassionate punters of Hartlepool on Tuesday, complete with doodles representing what makes the sitter happy. May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from suffering!

The last Teesside show is tonight at ARC, Stockton – 5.30pm, pay what you decide, buy a book for a tenner. More coming next month in Newcastle and Hexham.

On retreat

Any repeated action has the potential to become a form of meditation. ‘Form’ not only meaning ‘type’, but also ‘form’ in the sense of ‘a shape that we can follow’. The shape of the repeated action endures, is a constant; the breath, a tai chi sequence, the schedule of a day, the structure of a retreat. We repeat the form not in order to ‘get it right’ or ‘be good at it’, but because by placing ourselves into the constancy of its shape we can more clearly observe ourselves. We provide the ever-changing contrast.

So this retreat was both the same as others, and at the same time completely different. Dhanakosa retains its form, breathing us and and breathing us out, but the dynamic of the people changes. We are here as a chance sangha, temporary and at the mercy of random association. We make the best of the situation that we can, through our external actions and relationships, and through our private contemplations.

The bells calling us from sleep to waking, from silence to community, from leisure to attention – these are like the changing postures of the tai chi form, guiding us to act and move to the same purpose, in the same direction at the same time. In this way our individual energies are brought into synchronicity, and are amplified, until the sangha emerges as a single energetic organism of which we are the cells.

The repetition of the days, our willingness to immerse ourselves in the joint endeavours of meditation, cooking, eating, silence and writing – these are the things that polish the retreat until it becomes a smooth, heavy gem. Then it is able to drop deeply, taking our joint and several practises to more profound levels.


Compassion In Action

Double-alaskan-rainbow.jpgWe all write our names of slips of paper, then drop them into the bottle-green velvet bag. We all pick out a name, and write on the slip of paper what colour of the rainbow that person would be, and why. Then we share the positivity. Some people are sunshine yellow, because of their enthusiasm. Others are blue for calmness, pink for their loving hearts. Even if they are new to the group, like me, they are still gifted a colour and the benefit of the doubt. I am white, for clarity and honesty. It’s a positive version of judging a book by its cover, and I’m surprised at how touched and buoyed up I am by this simple exercise.

This is just one of the ways in which things are kicked off each week at the MAP Project, a very lively and welcoming support group at ARC Stockton that engages anyone having mental health issues through Mindfulness, Art and Poetry – and a whole heap of friendly enthusiasm. Their strong focus on positive reinforcement comes directly from personal experiences of anxiety and depression, and they are creative, practical, committed practitioners of inclusive kindness.

One member has set up her own support group for people living with invisible illnesses, so I visited them too. They meet up just for a Wetherspoons breakfast and a chat, twice a month. The tales they told me of ways in which they have been able to help others was an inspiration, literally – I have decided that part of the show will be the creation of an ‘instruction manual for compassion in action’, turning examples of kindness that have been donated to the show into a set of (sometimes strangely specific) instructions. For example – ‘take someone black tights and cigarettes after their mother dies’.

If you’d like to contribute an example that can become an instruction, please take my survey, and be as detailed and specific as you can!