Josie Moon

Poet, Musician and Educator

By

Holding Breath

It’s the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and that point in the year of transition to the increasing dark.  This morning the air was grey and thick and I felt strangely sad.  I am currently waiting on decisions and changes that will shape the coming year and am experiencing a weird suspended animation that I hope resolves as autumn unfolds in all its golden glory.

The great joy of this summer has been the garden and my re-engagement with growing.  For two years I found it impossible to find any pleasure in gardening and I did wonder if it was something consigned to the pot of losses. How glad am I that I was wrong and that this year I have created a riotous, rambunctious urban garden, bustling and bursting with colour and joy. What was a very old and tired space has been reinvigorated and will continue to grow and develop as I am inspired.

There is nothing like the consolation of soil, the sheer pleasure of that communion with the earth that yields the rewards of food and flowers. Tending my flowers and herbs – vegetables and fruit next year – I have found deep peace and time has slipped away without care.

 

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Summer’s End

It feels as if autumn is here. From that misty smell in the air to the webs hanging between shed, wall, bench and plant pot to the earlier dusk and later sunrise, the year has turned. What a summer it has been, with intense heat here in the east and days that seemed luxurious while they lasted.  My garden has been a source of constant delight and distraction, evolving and changing over the months. It’s beginning to look a little weary and it is time for bulbs and autumn planting to take over from the summer blooms.

This can be a melancholy time, looking back over the adventures of the summer. I think of the lovely Verdi Cries by 10,000 Maniacs (give it a listen here if you don’t know it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1dQRgtUxu0 ) and the tender, sad words evoking a summer holiday and its end as well as something deeper and ineffable.

My summer has included some get-away time to beautiful places where the environments have been restorative and full of peace and wonder; from gardens full of statuary and majestic trees to canal walks and the signs of autumn in the hedgerows.

As the autumn settles in I am thinking about new work, poems, songs, gigs, partnerships and productions, much of which is underway. I am glad to have had such a fine summer in so many ways and glad to have been able to walk in the sunlit uplands with my best human.

Best Humans

Together in Grant Thorold Park for the East Marsh Community Day

 

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McCarthy and Moon Autumn Tour

McCarthy and Moon J and P

We are pleased to announce our Autumn Tour for 2018 with a series of dates in North East Lincolnshire.

Friday 14th September 

7.30 pm at The Globe in Cleethorpes.  This lovely new coffee and book shop is an intimate venue with very welcoming hosts.  Entry is free. Signed copies of Poems from the Swamp will be available to purchase At £7.50

Poems from the Swamp Josie Moon

Poems from the Swamp

Saturday 29th September

7.30 pm, The Steel Rooms, Brigg

£5.00

Myths of  Birds and Water: An evening of Poetry and Jazz featuring a spoken word performance from Steve Meek.

The theme of the evening is birds and water and the myths that surround both.

Saturday 27th October 

7.30 pm, The Steel Rooms, Brigg

£5.00

An evening of Poetry and Jazz featuring a spoken word performance from Steve Meek. With special guests David Power and Ken Marley.

Thursday 1st November 

7.30 pm, The Albert Room Cleethorpes Library

£5.00 – Tickets available from Cleethorpes Library.

An evening of Poetry and Music featuring very special guest, internationally renowned bass player, Dave Green.

Dave Green

Internationally renowned bass player, Dave Green

 

 

 

By

Bridges

Tamar

I had a dream when I was about seventeen in which the most beautiful music was playing. It was the song of the morning and I could not recall it when I woke up but I knew that song connected me to everything that lived. In the dream I was in my favourite place in the world, the river Tamar looking out towards Landulph and into Cornwall. The sun was bright, the Tamar Bridge and Brunel railway bridge were there, sturdy and strong.

But as in all the best and most memorable dreams, the landscape was both familiar and unfamiliar.  The bridges stretched for miles and miles into the distance, and a train was standing still, not on the track, just on the hillside, packed with brightly dressed animals all wishing me well on my long journey ahead.

I was travelling far away, deep into the heart of the countryside, a long way from everyone and everywhere.  I knew in my dream I was walking from one reality to another, one state to another and that I had to say goodbye to everything I thought I knew in order to make that journey. I was not afraid or excited, just peaceful. With the song in my head, the good wishes of the strange animals in my heart and the beauty of where I was going to guide me I was ready for what was to come. At the time of the dream, I believed I had glimpsed heaven.

That dream is what Wordsworth called a ‘mansion of the mind’ in his sublime poem Tintern Abbey.  Mansions of the mind are interior places to visit when they are needed. They are to be recalled in loving detail and held in reverence. I visit my dream when I need to, when I am thinking about bridges, about transcendence, about the unfamiliar and the familiar.  Once again today I tried to hear that music  but it is gone, only the trace memory of it remains. And oddly, that is enough.

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The Nature of Fire

Although I am more airy than fiery I find myself increasingly drawn to fire and its properties. Having an open fire in my current home gives me the opportunity to rekindle my relationship with this core element. I enjoy the ritual of sweeping out the hearth in preparation for building a good fire.

I build with paper, kindling, small logs and firelighters, if there is resistance, letting heat build gradually, watching with patience and care as my grate becomes a small furnace.

The dark dankness of this January week has given me the impetus to focus on fire and on using it not just for warmth and comfort but also to stir deep memory while simultaneously burning away that which is past.

Tonight the fire burns with serious intensity. Remnants of Christmas crumble to ash and will go out tomorrow into a pile at the bottom of the garden in readiness for mixing in with compost for the garden later in the season.

Watching the glowing and splitting veins of coal I remember winter nights with my grandma, watching her fire burn low and imagining myself a creature of fire, able to walk through the crumbling walls of red and orange coal, a fire city full of fire people.

The flames and heat are reassuring to me. I can conjure my grandma’s face, her warm eyes, the coo of her Devonshire voice and all the furrows on my brow smooth, my heart eases and I feel safe.

The flames consume the last ghosts of Christmas along with pieces of the past year of which I need to be rid. Fire

To the power of the fire I give up old hurts, wounds and worries and let the flames take it all. Fire is older and more powerful than me, before and after me and my time on this good green earth. I am grateful to the fire and as it burns itself out I breathe out into its heart and feel something dislodge from my heart and surrender itself. It feels peaceful and good.

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Touring, Travelling and All That Jazz

 

Welsh sky

I had one of those lie-ins this morning. It’s not something I do much these days. I like being up and into the day but this morning I was dead to the world and when I did wake up I had no idea where I was, what day it was or who I was – well, that’s a small exaggeration but I like the power of three. Once I’d re-calibrated myself and found the coffee the world began to resettle and assemble itself in a manageable order. I tuned out the news, it’s all bad, and thought about the past few days, with no small sense of wonder.

At the weekend we went to Llandudno. Primarily this was for a gig with the marvellous Alan Barnes Octet.  The festival had a magical vibe to it. Quirky, welcoming and brim full of exciting and varied jazz, it was a treat for the ears. The beautiful setting, the sea, mountains and sky made it a treat for the soul. The gig itself was wonderful – it always is. The music gets more exciting the more I hear it and I seem to find new paths through the poems each time I perform them. Performing with the octet is exhilarating and I feel full immersion in the experience each time. There are particular phrases in the music that have a visceral effect on me and seem to reach into my words to draw out nuances and meanings that I didn’t know were there when I was writing.

LLandudno

Early evening sunshine in Llandudno

 

We returned home very briefly on Monday to repack the bag and then headed off to that London for the theatre; The Old Vic.

Girl From The North Country is a brand new play by Conor McPherson based around the music of Bob Dylan and set in the Great Depression in 1934.  I was nervous about it because I wanted to like it so badly and I knew reviews were mixed – I had only read one in advance which was positive and I put it out of my head so as to receive the production freshly. It’s been a while since I’ve been to the theatre and a long time since I’ve seen anything brand new. Loving Dylan as I do, I was praying that the music wouldn’t be cringe-worthy, belted out musical theatre renditions of the ‘greatest hits.’  I love musical theatre but have an aversion to jukebox musicals.

I was transported, taken out of the world for a few short hours. Rarely do I finish watching a show and want to see it again immediately but I could have sat through it again, and again, and again. It is delicate, beautiful, sad beyond words and utterly human. See it if you can.

Yesterday we got caught in the rain and didn’t care. We were both light and full of the treasures of the previous days. The best human suggested we wander and wonder without a plan. The downside of this was a light lunch that required a bank loan. The upside was stumbling into Tate Modern and finding Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet sound installation. The best human had already experienced it in Liverpool and had wanted to share it with me and so finding this little gift from the universe was doubly wondrous as he had no idea it had moved to London.  Using Thomas Tallis’ Spem In Alium, the sound installation features 40 speakers, each one playing a separate voice from the forty strong choir. The experience of hearing it in a darkened room is eerie and intensely beautiful.

Holidays must end as you know sang Natalie Merchant in her beautiful song Verdi Cries. I always hear her singing that song in my head as I come home after time elsewhere. It’s in the back of my head now as I write. Homecoming is fine, it has to be. We got home to high winds and a feeling of madness in the air. Still, it’s never dull.

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The Nature of Birthdays

I have just had what is often referred to as a ‘significant birthday.’  It was my 50th birthday and it did feel significant but not because of the fact of the number 50. The number 1 is in fact the reason for its significance. This was my first birthday as Josie Moon and that is what feels important about this mark in time.

I chose to change my name last year – along with a great many other things. My full adopted name is Josie-Anne Elizabeth Crescent-Moon, Josie Moon for ease. I chose to rename myself as part of the process of reclaiming myself. I had an identity and way of being that no longer fit the person I was gradually becoming.  I wanted an identity that reflected the changes I was making to myself and my life. The change was not a slight to anyone or a rejection of any other person. It was an embracing of self.

When we are born we are thrown into the world and a context we cannot comprehend. Our existence and identity is entirely dependent on others and we grow and develop as part of a family, a society with a set of rules and practices that we have not chosen for ourselves. We do our best to live within our context and our given identity.

But contexts change. Experience shapes and influences us and we change as a result. Last year as I looked ahead to turning 50, to the inevitable changes that middle life brings I knew I needed a name to take me forward, a name of my own choosing.

I’d already been writing as Josie-Anne for a while and Elizabeth was my given middle name and I like very much. It was the surname that was the most radical choice.

Every month the crescent moon appears in the sky, sharp, new and clear. For me that moon is a symbol of renewal, of possibility and of mutability. All of nature is influenced by the moon and its relationship to the tides, to the cycle of a month, to the very cycle of life itself. The moon reminds us that change is constant and inevitable.

I also love Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel that is now more starkly relevant than ever. At the end Professor Maryann Crescent Moon chairs a conference on Gilead studies. Women are once again powerful, the keepers and guardians of other women’s stories, academics and thinkers and holding names relevant to the earth and nature. Although the Historical Notes section is a shock after the journey with Offred through the novel, and can arguably be read as flippant, it serves as a reminder of mutability. Nothing is constant, including fascist, totalitarian states. All will fall. There is always the possibility of change and renewal. There is always the possibility of a Professor Crescent Moon to curate the past but live in the present and look responsibly to the future.

So I became Crescent-Moon.  With this name and identity I curate the past including the person, in fact people I used to be. I honour the past and value it for all it taught me and for all its connections, relationships, triumphs and disasters.   But I live in the present and I look responsibly towards the future aware of my mutability and all the possibility symbolised in the monthly, hopeful crescent moon cutting the sky, sharp but rounded.

With this more fully realised sense of self I celebrated my first and my 50th birthday on June 3rd. On a quiet beach in a quiet place, dawn broke and I listened to the birds singing, to the breakers on the shore, to my heart beating and I knew myself very well.

 

By

Ode to Joy

Blackbird heralds dawn as light breaks.
Where his gentle wing abides
spring enters in as a protest
and his song sings of hope.

I had the pleasure of being invited to talk about poetry on Radio Humberside this week as part of the BBC’s shout out for short poems to be considered for inclusion in a City of Culture poetry installation later this year. Anyone can participate; simply write a poem of no more than four lines that says something about where you live. Write it on a postcard and drop it in one of the posting boxes either at the Radio Humberside office or at one of the libraries.

The poem I contributed, Ode To Joy, is at the beginning of this column. I had been listening to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the magnificent fourth movement with the Ode to Joy and thinking about its significance as one of the most enduringly popular and moving classical compositions of all time.

In 1942 the Nazis attempted to appropriate the Ninth and the Ode to Joy’s unequivocal message of unity and brotherhood in a performance for Hitler’s birthday. This naturally tainted the piece for some time, but it was reclaimed in 1951 when it was conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler at the Bayreuth music festival. Subsequently it was adopted as the anthem of the European Union in 1971 and has been performed at significant moments in history since. For instance, Leonard Bernstein conducted a performance of the Ninth when the Berlin Wall came down. The Ode to Joy continues to resist appropriation and be a resolutely optimistic work that truly celebrates universal values of love, unity and cooperation.

Inspired by Freidrich Schiller’s poem written in 1785 Beethoven takes the essence of the poem as inspiration for his symphony. It is a beautiful eulogy to the power of joy and of divine love. I was struck by the line in Schiller’s poem in which he references the sanctuary of heaven ‘where your gentle wing abides’ and its borrowed plumage well serves my own poem.

The song of the blackbird was my inspiration, as well as this wonderful moment in time, the spring equinox, when dark finally gives way to light and the days lengthen towards the summer. Listening to the blackbird singing in the early morning and hearing the pure notes of life affirming delight in its song, I am as uplifted as I am when I hear the Ninth Symphony. Both contain music that speaks directly to the soul and connect the oneness of the self to the embrace of the universe. In my poem I wanted to bring together Beethoven, Schiller, the blackbird and the idea that human connection, unity and shared optimism still matter. However dark the days might seem and however hard and cruel the world can appear to be, there is still a way to transcend darkness and to find solace and hope in the sublime; whether that is in the sublime beauty of Beethoven or in the morning song of the blackbird in your garden.

(First published in The Cleethorpes Chronicle, Thursday 23rd March 2017)