Star maps

Necklace of Stars

Beyond Necklace of Stars writer Jackie takes us on a far-ranging journey through the stars and through time in her short prose poem Star Map, below. She then gives us her own personal journey into star-gazing in her AUTHOR’S NOTE, explaining the significance of the constellations to her.

Star map

Were the stars our home? Have we long forgotten? The universe stands silent. The stars silent, their brillance only surpassed by the sun, a dazzling display. Each nights array a flickering constant. Piercing the cloak of darkness, twinkling fairy lights for us to behold. For mariners they light the way, navigation points to sailors of old.

Jackie

AUTHOR’S NOTE

I moved into a property with a skylight and suddenly one day thought to myself, “I need a telescope!” Then I got a star map and learnt the constellations and took my star explorations from there. The high room became my Observatory, a window set in a roof.

Once you become embroiled, looking at the stars and planets, it makes you more aware. Normally you’re caught up in life here on earth, but it’s not until you start observing the stars that you can see beyond your own nose. It makes you think about space.

I’ve always been intrigued by ancient Egyptians, their beliefs. My dad was stationed in Egypt with the army in the early 1950s, at the Suez Canal. In fact, he used to go swimming in the Canal. He’d talk about Egypt, a fascinating place — palm trees and pyramids. As a child, it was an adventure to me, I romanticised it, it made me think of faraway lands, ancient cultures.

It took me into connection with different spiritualisms. All very interesting, the belief in Karma and the afterlife which is shared by so many cultures. If you look up at the stars in a certain way it can make you feel very small. We are just another rock with life on it in the solar system, in the wider universe. If you study the sky from a religious point of view, you think who’s made all this? All this wonder.

I don’t believe life human life happened just because we accidentally evolved, it’s not only random conditions. What’s the chance of that? It would be naive and arrogant to think that we are the only intelligent life on Earth, or in the universe. We still need to test that idea, like Christopher Columbus asking is the Earth is flat. “Let’s find out shall we? If I fall off the edge of the world, you won’t hear back from me!” Thank goodness for the intrepid adventurers, for the geniuses and visionaries asking: is there something else out there?

Questioning the night sky leads you to other questions. For instance as soon as you have children you think about the environment, you think about what’s going wrong environmentally, you think about their future. Do you want them to live in a world that is on the brink of extinction? We don’t want our children to be dinosaurs! We want them to have a life that isn’t polluted or fearful.

The stars make you nature aware. You gaze on what’s in the sky and then that gaze turns itself back to down here. You learn to see the birds in the trees. I never really looked at them before, but it slaps you in the face when you’re aware. A lot of the time I feel like Alice in Wonderland, amazed – and yet it was all here before, why didn’t I see it? All that’s missing is the White Rabbit. You’re in Wonderland. Look at the clouds, the beauty and the form, look at how different each one is.

I’ve wasted years being a zombie and now I am alive at last. Instead of autopilot, someone’s flipped the switch. And it started with looking at the stars.

Jackie

Image: visual poem ‘Starsperience’ by Gill Ormond

Star Travellers

Necklace of Stars, poetry

From Jackie, one of the writers on the Necklace of Stars project, a journey deep into the sky and into the deep past.

Oh how the stars have shaped our lives
We gaze upon history.
See -

Great ancient cultures were born 
Of their worship
Of celestial ancestors

Rediscovered over generations
To be themselves revered as epic
Monuments of lost civilisations.

We gaze upon the same 
Wondrous interstellar light show 
As did the 

Pharaohs, Aztecs, Maya; we gaze upon history
As we strive to join our brethren
The sky gods.

Jackie

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations. Alongside writing and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we invite written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness.

Starshine

Necklace of Stars, poetry

From TS, one of the writers on the Necklace of Stars project, an imagining of who wears the necklace. And who is watching...

A necklace of stars sparkles, 
Gracefully around the neck  
Of this cosmological goddess 
Holding her supreme position 
In the firmament; she reigns 
Over her subjects
As they move, almost indiscernibly 
Across the skies.  

The goddess moves her elegant hand 
Across the glittering jewels 
Adorning her throat 
Realigning them to create 
The most favourable conditions 
For earthly followers who scrutinise 
Every change and charm.
Step by step, she strokes each precious piece 
Until the ultimate arrangement arrives.

TS

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations. Alongside writing and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we invite written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness.

For reading on clear, starry Spring nights

Necklace of Stars, poetry
Herewith, for reading on clear, starry Spring nights. Full of hope as we come out of lockdown -- two poems from AOS:

A necklace of stars,
Interspersed with dreams,
punctuated with memories
of beautiful themes.

Moments to treasure,
A joy to recall
Filling my life with pleasure, 
A sense of peace overall.

Gathering these  fragments
A delicate task,
Storing them  carefully
Seems a lot to ask,

But the happiness they bring
As I turn to reflect,
Give  me   Moments so beautiful
Life seems  quite  perfect.

AOS.

And next is a “simple thank you”, dedicated here to a son – but for everyone who helps us get through difficult times.

I need to thank you for being
my son,
I need to thank you for the things
you have done,
Taking time to talk when my spirit
is low,
means more to me than you will
ever know.

Thank you for the love you have
given without measure,
for this is a love only a mother
can treasure.

Thank you for all the  help and care,
Thank you for always being there.

AOS

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations. Alongside writing and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we invite written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness.

Between the trees

Necklace of Stars, poetry

Raindrops hang like tears

from the solitary tree

outside my window.   

                                  

Its bare cold branches

heavy with the falling rain.

It weeps for the world.

A blackbird perches

on the drab, grey leafless branch

And sings its heart out.

The gentle snowdrops,

Their innocent heads held high,

Swaying in the breeze.

Petals like teardrops

hang down, clustered together,

a pure, white, delicate gown.

Their tender green stems

Stand proud, they do not falter,

Defying the wind.

Day is almost done.

Between the trees, soft lights shine.

The world looks softer.

Anne

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations. Alongside writing and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we invite written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness. Here, Anne’s haiku sequence tells a story, moving from a dark mood towards the light — as the day itself travels in the opposite direction.

The song of twilight

Necklace of Stars, poetry

Three poems that sing, by Necklace of Stars writer Paula Elizabeth Tate:

Skylark 


Oh such pleasure from your songs
Listening to your silver tongues
Let me ride upon your wings
Hearing all the joys you bring.


Or I shall float as a cloud
Side-by-side with you reside?
For all the treasures of the world
Do not compare to thee, as none has thy sweet harmony.


And I shall polish stars at night
The moon will beam with sheer delight
But only when the skylark sings
Dancing round a million springs, for my heart’s a-flutter, a sky of wings.


Paula Elizabeth Tate


——

After Shelley

"We look before and after
And pine for what is not
Our sincerest laughter 
With some pain is fraught
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought."


Yet on we strive with songs of love
Hoping that one’s soul be reached
Never sure what would inspire
Knowing only our own desire
Until we hear that voice from thee, then all our dreams lie — silently.


Paula Elizabeth Tate


——

The Song of Twilight


The distant calls enchanted
As birds sang from a tree
No tender words were needed
They were in the melody.


Joined by sudden ripples
From the singing brook
In that fleeting moment
In that fleeting look.


The breeze was also humming
In a gentle way
For now’s the time for twilight,
The closing of the day.


As soft grey shades of evening
Make silver threads on leaves
Twirling to the music
The flurried dance of trees.


I stopped to search and listen
Some precious time I took
In that fleeting moment
In that fleeting look. 


Paula Elizabeth Tate

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations. Alongside writing and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we invite written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness. Paula Elizabeth Tate’s poems are chock-full of rhythm and melody. Whether she’s taken flight with a skylark, in mid-conversation with the ghost of PB Shelley, or listening to the sounds of evening, she is a poet whose words sing.

The Good, the Bad and Covid

Necklace of Stars

Two Necklace of Stars writers share their thoughts on the pandemic.

First Jo:

The Good, the Bad and Covid

Strangers crossing the road to avoid passing me by. Social etiquette changed, no shaking hands or hugging and no standing next to someone you do not know. Throughout the world our perceptions have changed. The old normal is no longer relevant and new normal is here. It is one year now since the world has lived with Covid.

While I watch the news, questions arise in my head. Why were the Government slow to act?  Why too late in their actions ordering PPE?  Why no border controls for 12 months?  Why did they not follow medical evidence in February?  Why no strategy, or half-baked at best?  Why no explicit target on how to drive the virus out? No explanation on the failure in Track and Trace and the lack of disclosure or suppression of data. Scientists not challenging Government proposals when evidence suggests action needs taking immediately. U-turns in policies and non-action causes me to think the mistakes made amount to a state failure of mismanagement. My exasperation grows and a deep mistrust  surfaces within me.

But the Vaccine roll-out is a success.  The lockdowns caused by Covid gave me time to hope, to dream, to create and have time to act on my thoughts.  It gave me the space to finish tasks that needed completing, to breath fresh air and connect with nature.  I can pursue my hobbies cherish my family and friends.  I learnt of the caring and kindness of neighbours.  It allowed my imagination to wander to put my thoughts to paper and most all realise through the difficulties of 2020 — the human spirit is alive and well.

And now Lynn Ezea, and the summers ahead:

How have things changed? Trust has changed, because more is hanging on it. Some people can be trusted more than others. Some family members will stay safe within their bubble, some won’t — or can’t. For some people, the NHS is heroic, for others who couldn’t attend the death of relatives, they’ve lost trust in it. And what about trust in politicians? The politicians waited last year, trying to leave the difficult decisions ’til this year. A bigger lockdown could’ve happened a year ago. We have a Prime Minister who takes his time, but time is life. So many people have died in the hospitals. I’d be surprised if Covid has gone this year, what with the variants and the politicians.

My advice is to fill your mind with other things. Reading, writing, radio, TV. Go out if you can. People are dreaming of holidays, but that can’t be right now. The only thing you can possibly say is — it won’t last forever. Have hope – and look forward to the summers ahead…

Photo by Sue Dean

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations. Alongside writing and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we invite written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness. The photos are by volunteer Sue Dean.

Writing in Solitary

Necklace of Stars


Necklace of Stars writer Tony Shelton on writing and healing:

When my wife died after 50 years of marriage and five years of terminal decline, I resolved to rebuild my life. I moved, I joined, I volunteered, I explored, and I made new friends. I also made an effort to keep in touch with old ones and with distant family members. Then a news report emerged about a virus outbreak in an obscure city in China and the world changed. Looking back, I have always written, from student days onward and over the years I have tried short stories, even a novel, and poetry. For some years, I even wrote (amateur) music reviews and a few articles (some satirical) for professional journals. I enrolled for creative writing courses. I have researched and written about local history. In total, I have been paid about £150 for my efforts.


But now, in the eleventh month of being locked down and isolated and with almost all my other activities suspended, I have almost become a full- time writer. I sometimes used to imagine how I would cope with being imprisoned: I would ask for pen and paper and write, write, write. Now I am shut up, shut off, I am doing just that. Almost as soon as I have had breakfast, I open up the laptop and write. I scribble in a notebook, sometimes in the early hours of the morning, and ideas go in and around my head. On some days I write for 4-5 hours or more.


My writing is varied. I keep a diary of my experience under the Covid regime (now nearly 200,000 words long). I write emails, texts and WhatsApp messages to friends, new and old, both nearby and distant. I keep in touch with distant family members in the same way. And, to one old friend in the West Country, who doesn’t use email, I write and post letters. I have contributed to a University dream survey. I sometimes send in pieces to a creative writing group in Cumbria which I used to belong to. I have entered one or two competitions with no success. I also write very practical stuff as secretary and ‘scribe’ of a local charity, drafting policies and compiling an archive.


And thanks to the guidance of arthur+martha’s Necklace of Stars project, I have compiled a series of pieces on my childhood memories, some of the most rewarding writing of all.


I’ll not turn anything down if it gives me a chance to write. But I can’t write if no one is going to read it – that would be like a stand-up comic performing to an empty hall. But if a piece of writing is useful or that people might get something out of it, that is rewarding. I
like the idea of being a journeyman writer – able to turn my hand to almost anything. Writing is about communicating and is some compensation for not being able to meet and talking in a café or pub, visit people at home or entertain visitors. Writing gives me
challenges, it keeps my brain working, keeps me focussed, stops me thinking and brooding too much and passes the time like nothing else. At the moment, I have no idea what I would do without it…


Tony Shelton
February, 2021

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations.

Plague dreams

Necklace of Stars, poetry

As part of our Necklace of Stars project, we’ve invited participants to reflect on the world around them during the pandemic, sharing experiences of the “new normal”, including the subtle echoes in the parallel world of dreams. Here, writer Lorna Dexter discusses writing her dreams during the pandemic. Below is her prose poem (The Reconnaissance Airship), followed by digging up thistles. The poems “confront my old childhood fears of the all-seeing, all-knowing, judgmental, punishing God of my Fundamentalist Christian upbringing – fears triggered again by the Coronavirus ‘plague’.”

Lorna:

Over the years I have tried to turn some of my night-time dreams into poems, and Philip had suggested that I make a small collection of these. Maybe as a result of this encouragement, I found myself actually dreaming of writing and remembering what I had written when I woke up, crossing the boundary between waking and dreaming, between conscious and unconscious writing. Both these poems, which came within two days of each other at the start of this year, emerged in this way.

(The Reconnaissance Airship)

She was standing in the forest when the long – very long – grey, very dark grey
 airship floated silently overhead. She stood stock-still, in case there were
 movement sensors behind those mean little windows and portholes, glad she
 was wearing green. It took a long time to pass overhead, only just above the tree
 tops, and when it was gone she still didn’t move. She was thinking what she had
 in the house to drink, if this was the start of an occupation: a carton of soya
 milk, some fruit juices … Later, down in town to stock up, she found herself
 taking a photo of herself at a crossroads, looking up at the signpost with its
 street name boards – a selfie, with the identifying evidence of where she lived
 normally, where she was ‘last seen’ – just in case she ‘disappeared’ and her
 phone was the only evidence of where she lived before – before what? – before
 whatever that huge reconnaissance vehicle signified...

digging up thistles

 I walked past a familiar field today –
 a rough piece, a wedge of grass
 at the valley’s rim, fit only for grazing
 half a dozen sheep, a horse or two –

 in it, a group of men, all ages, dotted about,
 bent double, digging holes, some very deep.
 The farmer and his sons stand and wave,
 acknowledge me – and all look up,

 some long-bearded, long-gowned,
 from the local monastery, used to hard work,
 some local lads in run-down fashion gear,
 old codger neighbours in rough working clothes

 all eradicating thistles by the root, organically –
 a communal act of friendship, a joint effort
 to rid this plot, protect the whole valley
 from this pernicious weed. I walk on –

 at the field’s edge a sycamore sapling
 is opening out its new bronze leaves.

digging up thistles came ready-written, as it were. I dreamt I was writing it, pen in hand, laid out exactly like this, line for line, word for word. When I woke I thought I might not remember the words, but they came back as soon as I actually started to write them down, despite an interruption to go to the loo! Similarly with a third poem Starting the Novel, though in this case it was in prose, and I knew I was ‘starting a novel’ – not something I have ever planned to do. Both dreams seem to refer, in their different ways, to the struggle I have had in the last couple of years to confront my old childhood fears of the all-seeing, all-knowing, judgmental, punishing God of my Fundamentalist Christian upbringing – fears triggered again by the Coronavirus ‘plague’, part of the biblical prophecy of the ‘end-times’ for a wicked world – stories which I now believe to be ‘pernicious myths’, rather as thistles are pernicious weeds.

Lorna Dexter

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations. Alongside writing and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we invite written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness. Lorna Dexter’s dreamed poems chime with the unsettling, haunted times. The photo is by Booth Centre volunteer Sue Dean.

A winter prescription: two poems by Jaye

Necklace of Stars, poetry
Dreaming the Dream

I felt the sun beating down
As I lay on the Bondi Beach
Felt the breeze caressing me 
As I basked in the sultry heat.

I adjusted my bikini and
Pinned up my golden hair
I heard the chink of glasses
A Campari perhaps for me?

Then my carer gently said,
"Here's a cup of tea."
And I awoke to a wintery day
In the reality of the UK.


A Medical Consultation

"A gammy leg, a gooey eye
Your hair is falling out?
So what's the best that can be done
For someone just like you?
I know, I'll send you to the hardware shop
To buy some Superglue."


Jaye

These two poems by Jaye are designed to put a smile on the face, during a hard winter.

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations.