A POETIC RESPONSE
By Craig O’Flaherty
Since we went into lockdown here in South Africa on 26 March 2020, I have been using my personal practice of writing poetry as a way to ground and steady myself in these difficult times. I find the time spent to reflect and still myself has helped to provide a place to go to when I need solace – especially being on my own. I’m going to start a blog called ‘A Poetic Response’, where I capture these and other things. Teaching myself to do this is a new possibility. It’s a world where we are tempted to react – when what we are being asked to do is to respond – stop – reflect – then and only then to act.
I think each of us is being asked to contribute in our own way. I hope that you are finding yours.
I’m not a doctor or a nurse or healer, those whose role has become so crucial in our changing world. But I am a poet and I think the small contribution that poets make in our world is to witness, watch and observe what happens in the world around them and then turn these into words that might help others to pause for a moment and consider what the world is saying to them.
It’s a daily practice for me, so I will post one each day
Be safe in these world-transforming times.
Day 1 – 27 March 2020
A Mystical Virus
A poem to help make sense of what we all are experiencing in this time and space…
Day 2 – 28 March 2020
We once conquered this world
and blithely defined our own…
Day 3 – 29 March 2020
As Winter Comes
Our streets are silent again tonight.
This malaise has its own way
of being hushed and soundless.
Day 4 – 30 March 2020
we don’t simply want to be weeds in a plot
that’s become empty and overgrown,
Day 5 – 31 March 2020
Letter from a Virus
Sitting down today I was struggling to think of what to write. Then the universe sent its own inspiration – ‘What is the virus trying to say to us?’. Things started to fire and ignite.
We often de-personalize and objectify events or occurrences in our world – the weather, the current, flowers even animals. So what if by giving the virus a voice we might start to listen to what it’s trying desperately to say, that we are not hearing?
I took on for a period, the personality of the virus and tried to write a poem to say what it might be saying. We as humans are so good at assuming we are ascendant above everything else around us. Perhaps if we heard what the earth is trying to say to us – we might listen in a new way. That’s not to venerate the death and suffering the virus is causing – but all too often we only start to listen, see and understand what’s going on around us when we encounter suffering and disturbance in our lives.
So, here’s what the virus might be saying to us. The question is – will we listen, really listen?
Day 6 – 1 April 2020
A Language of Optimism
The essential palette that a poet works with is a vocabulary of language that gets woven to create imagery. An imagery that pulls the reader into experiencing their familiar word in a new way.
Artists work with stone, fabric, paints and wood. Musicians work with sound and the spaces between notes. Poets have words as their palette and scales.
Tonight’s poem is rooted in an emerging language that we might consider weaving into our dialogue. Words create worlds – possibilities beyond what we see. As I thought about what to write today, words began to suggest themselves. What’s a language that comes from the very essence of who we are, that no virus can ever infect?
The more these words flowed from the ink of my fountain pen, the more they began to take on a new identity. It reminded me of how poetry can take obvious or existing words and by using them in new ways, can gift them back in ways that generate new meaning and possibility.
In each of our own ways I think this what we are being asked to do – take what we think we know, or are skilled at and find new ways of using it – to help us as a collective, as we frame what being human in this new realm of existence is. I hope that these words open up new worlds for you, as you stand into the emerging reality that embraces us all.
Day 7 – 2 April 2020
Owning My Truth
Sometimes as poets, as in many other crafts, we need to keep open to learning from others. Craftsmen and craftswomen of old would often meet in village squares or around kraal fires and would watch how others made their pots or shaped their assegais (spears) – and then build their observations and learnings into new ways of perfecting their crafts. It is a way of learning we need more than ever in these times. For this poem, I learned from the poem of Portia Nelson, who wrote a thought provoking poem called – There’s a Hole in my Sidewalk: The Romance of Self Discovery.
As we all ponder deeply about what is happening to the world around while we watch the news or surf the web, it’s all too easy for us to seek who or what might be to blame for the virus and it’s devastating consequences. My sense is that we will not find a way through these difficult times until we are prepared to take individual and collective ownership for the circumstances that have led to this global tsunami of devastating consequences. Each of us has, in our own seemingly tiny or, in our view – irrelevant actions, contributed to what is unfolding. Choices we might have made in how we live, what we eat, what our needs are – and how all of these have in their own way contributed to what might be happening.
Until we step into that, we will conveniently take on the role of being the victims of what is happening around us – rather than owning being contributors and therefore, also the agents of the changes that might need to be made in how we act in, live through and imagine into, the world in which we live.
Perhaps we are been given a time to think about ‘what matters most?’. Are we using this time or, will we simply continue to act as if we are merely corks bobbing in an oceanic wave of distress?
Day 9 – 4 April 2020
This Universal Silence
Sometimes, the words that accompany what’s written can’t say as much as what’s written. It’s a late Friday evening. Each of us sit in our own silence and wait for a new morning. A morning where new levels of this deep challenge to humanity, and how we live, arise. And then we need to encounter them with calm and compassion for ourselves.
The poem tonight comes in two forms. One being the words which find a way of combining to generate a way of considering what is happening around us in new ways. The other is a picto-poem – where words and imagery are combined to engage and create more sensory feel for what’s being said. Let me know how it changes or adds to what you read.
I’ll be using the weekend to rest and restore so that the words that flow on Monday come from a regenerated me.
Day 11 – 6 April 2020
Transfixed to a Curve
Words aren’t the only things that poets can use. Line lengths can sometimes create a visual picture that underlines or accentuates what the words are trying to say. Image and picture combine to invite the reader into sensing what’s being written.
One of the things that gets used so often by media and medical people with regard to this virus is the concept of ‘flattening the curve’. Keeping the number of people who become infected below certain levels and stretching it out over a longer period – to leave medical and hospital facilities able to cope.
This poem tries to capture in image and emotion the turbulence of the curve we are on – almost like being at a fairground and riding a roller-coaster.
What we do know is that roller-coaster rides end – so do viral pandemics like this. We need to not lose hope.
Day 12 – 7 April 2020
I went shopping for the first time this Saturday, since lockdown began. The empty streets were eerie and unreal – particularly for a weekend. Standing in the winding queue for Woolies gave time for thought and reflection. The memories of shopping at other times in life, as a boy, came flooding back. I remember what a tradition shopping-day used to be in times gone past. In my Gran’s generation – it was a social outing. So contrasting to what shopping is in our modern era – especially in these times.
Shopping had a ceremonial side to it – what one wore, where one went – who one went with. So different to how we tend to shop today. Any last shreds of ceremony have been ripped away in these recent times – to be replaced by new ceremonies of hand washing, regimented queuing and functional buying. Much of this might be good for us and our planet. But perhaps we had already lost any sense of shopping as a social outing, as previous generations might have had. Perhaps new protocols and practices will start to emerge about how and when we shop and what it’s purpose is. I think it’s only one area of change, to what existence in this emerging world is becoming.
Day 13 – 8 April 2020
Home Work is Homework
And then there are times during this where we need to see the lighter side. The ‘sturm und drang’ of the news and internet blitz we sometimes subject ourselves to can be a real drag. In the midst of drama, humor and a bite of sarcasm can take the edge off of what we feel and lighten the way.
Humor in poetry is not easy. It’s not like acting or movies – where the humor can be indicated and amplified by expression and gesture. Or cartoons – which use exaggerated imagery. So the temptation is to accentuate it, which can make the poem come across a little overblown. It’s probably better to use irony, that’s what I’ve tried to do. I must admit, before this I never really engaged with poetry as a humor enabler. For me it was always a medium for exploring the drama, mystery and sadness of life.
Sitting down to write this was fun – the glass of wine did help!. Laughter has a way of lightening life. I hope that poetry doesn’t suffer too much from this attempt.
It would be so easy to be sucked into the most profound existentialist crisis that mankind, in such population number that cover the earth, has ever faced. Humor is in us and all around us – if we are prepared to look for it. I’m sure even amongst this mailing list, there is a plethora of funny and humorous incidents that have happened to you and others during the lockdown, or laughter that has been generated from silly incidents.
We need to hold onto these. No amount of tears that we might shed in this impending wave, will make any difference to our navigating it successfully. Humor will. Hope this helps you to look at the silly side of what is happening around you.
Day 14 – 9 April 2020
They’ve just announced the two-week rollover on our lockdown. As if we ever we thought that it might miraculously end after twenty-one days? Almost like you go to try out something for a while and realise its way more serious than that.
This is a time we really need to be kind to ourselves. Especially about how our life has unfolded up to now. Amongst the unsettling times we’re spending trying to get our lives reconfigured, there’s the inevitable time we’re spending reflecting on how we got here. It’s times like this where we look back and ask ourselves what’s got us here and what we might have done differently.
In moments like these we need to be especially gentle. Ultimately, it’s all served a fundamental purpose in getting us to this point. A point where we’re being asked to consider what might be different going forward. It’s times like this where we make commitments or vows or promises to change things, live another way. There’s no harm in that. But what we really need not to forget is ourselves.
We have each reached a stage in our development where we are being asked to do the most important thing of all. To be compassionate to ourselves and to realise that we are on a passage to becoming more than we have pretended to be, up to now. To take the real step of holding and cherishing who we are becoming. It’s the most difficult step that all of us need to take – more than this virus can ever ask of or take from us. Challenges like this give us moments where the future can become what it was meant to be – in which we allow ourselves to be. As easy as that sounds, it’s our most profound task. Only then, will we be able to truly be there for others in their quest to come home to themselves.
Easter in some faiths is a time where we celebrate the death of some parts of ourselves, so that our true essence resurrects. It is the most challenging Easter many of us will have lived through.
Perhaps we are being given a chance to do things differently after this. But only if we love ourselves. For some of us, they’re promising rain this weekend. Watch the rain as it falls and drips down the window – and consider what it might be allowing you to wash away.
Day 17 – 12 April 2020
This Season of Fire
Was only going to send the next poem on Monday – but the significance of an Easter unlike we might ever have experienced, held sway, making it impossible not to reflect and write another poem.
The Easter ceremony has a lineage way beyond its accepted Christian heritage. The Nordic tradition had Eostur as a season of new birth, whilst Eastre was a Teutonic tradition honoring the goddess of fertility. Perhaps more than ever in our world we need to find ways of bridging our faiths, beliefs and traditions – without losing them, but unifying them. The true tragedy of this Viral spread would be if it separated us again as humanity, rather than integrating us.
Fire is a key symbolic force that enables the burning away of things, to leave what is precious and useful behind. As this world of ours goes through its own alchemic process around the virus it will call on us to question many of the practices and traditions that have become habits in our modern world. How much we travel. Our flagrant mining and deforestation practices. The busyness that is a crippling norm for many individuals and families. This can only have positive outcomes.
Whatever and however you celebrate Easter, or use it in service of your own beliefs – I hope that you continue to be safe, but open to what is being asked of all of us.
Day 19 – 14 April 2020
Easter has come and gone. The new reality is that this lockdown may extend for longer than we might have imagined. The hype that certain broadcasters and world leaders like to spin is that this will soon be over. The inner voice that we all listen to, is whispering to us that we prepare for something more fundamental. Whatever the timing of our lifting of restrictions is actually a minor point of significance in the estuary of change that we are adrift in.
What’s of more import are the changes to the nature of life that will prevail – before a vaccine is developed, tested and rolled out. Perhaps what lockdown is preparing us for is a new reality that is emerging, in which social contact, gestures and signals will be radically changed, forever.
In so many societies tactile connection is a fundamental part of our discourse with one another. For some time we are going to need to get used to connection without contact. We are fortunate as human beings that we have voice, language and gestures as a way signaling to one another. Perhaps this period will require us to say more than we normally do. To be clearer and more articulate about what we mean. Already, we are learning to be more proficient at communicating the subtleties of what we mean when we SKYPE or ZOOM or even call one another.
Today’s poem explores that added dimension of being able to hold someone with our voice. We will need to communicate more profoundly, not just with the words we use, but also the tone and melody of the sounds we utter. The inflections and range that we use might have to grow, to make up for what touch used to do. Our facial expressions might also have to expand, to indicate the subtlety of what we once communicated in more physical ways.
Our animal cousins already use sound in profound ways. One only has to think of the distance that whales communicate across, or lions when they grunt over vast savannah stretches and birds whose sounds float for miles on the wind. Voice is perhaps coming into its own in new ways we haven’t yet explored.
Day 20 – 15 April 2020
It’s a time when Leadership is most required. As humanity struggles to engage with these challenging times, we will most remember those who in their own way, place and time took bold leadership steps to navigate us through. There are many world leaders who are being forced to accept and navigate their people through a crisis never yet seen in this fledgling century. There are those who will lead at the coalface of healing and research that will eventually allow us to prevail.
But there are also leaders who on a worldwide basis are being brutally exposed for their lack of integrity and visionary commitment for what is needed. Watching international broadcasts one is astounded by the overwhelming airspace that channels give to the current leader of the United States. The tragi-comical buffoonery of the current incumbent is almost beyond belief. And yet it’s a reality that would be laughable, if it wasn’t creating such mayhem and distress. The press conferences he holds are unlike any we have seen in any recent democratic context. Where bullying, abuse and disdain are standard fare – and the possibility of debate, dialogue and critique are given short shrift.
Many leaders will be remembered for what they did or said during these times. Perhaps, we should never forget his contributions. They are a graphic reminder of what is possible when we allow ourselves to go to sleep in democracy. Political cartoonists are great at emphasizing facial features or statements that leaders make – by choice or mistake. Perhaps it’s poetry’s time to see what it can do when it reflects in words, the parody that poor leaders can be.
Day 22 – 17 April 2020
Before this pandemic existed virology always seemed like a dark art. They dressed strangely, toiled in relative obscurity and received attention only when breakthroughs were made. But the onset of viruses in the last few years has elevated their status and meaning in society. They conversed in a language of acronyms, formulas and antigens. They made predictions and gave warnings in epidemiological and medical journals, which we largely ignored. Now when they speak we listen with concerned fascination to their words. But we should have listened sooner.
Who knows what might have happened if we had listened louder in January? They’re now starting to break some of the protocols by doing live testing, and in some cases in ‘challenge trials’ using humans as the rats we previously relied on.
Apart from our failure to take heed in the busyness of our lives, the contagion is exposing another fatal human flaw. Our inability to see that we are being invited to unite around this virus, rather than compete. At last count there were close to fifty separate laboratories, on all parts of the globe, in the process of spending anything between two to five billion dollars in the hunt for a vaccine. The gods are grimacing at us, because unfortunately it has become more of a competition rather than a collaboration. What difference might a possible ‘Unified Viral Council’ make, which pooled the billions and coordinated and shared the efforts and processes? Perhaps, until we do this, the anticipated period for a successful solution will continue to seem like a holy grail – just beyond our reach. Even when we do find it – the likely period until it can be manufactured and more importantly widely distributed, is still not easily calculable. And then what will the process of that distribution be? Who will receive it first, within countries and across nations?
All the while, it almost as if the virus is thumbing its nose at our inability as humans to unite rather than dislocate. Perhaps the severity if its impact may change things. But until we drop those figurative as well as literal borders, boundaries and barriers, we will continue to struggle in our fragility. What will we dissolve our selfishness?
Day 25 – 20 April 2020
This weekend began to crystallize the agony of choice that faces us. The word ‘dilemma’ originated in Roman times, where difficult choices were compared to being confronted by the horns of a ferocious bull – neither choice being easy or desirable, because choosing either one saw you impaled. Many countries face the dilemma of when and how to raise their lock down designations and allow people to go back to work, school and other activities. The dilemma faced is that lockdowns in many situations have retarded the spread of COVID. However this has come at punitive cost.
The unpredictable is what will happen when you allow people to begin co-mingling again – this virus has a resilience and capacity to spread that is ferocious.
We in South Africa have an intensified dilemma. It’s been hard enough to implement and maintain the lockdown, but we are still in the very embryonic stages of viral spread. We have yet to experience what cities such as New York have when the virus takes hold. Unrest is brewing, especially amongst those who have been adversely affected by restriction. Safety has come at the cost of basic human needs, such as access to water, food and shelter. The distinction between those who have and those who don’t has been brutally exposed. Perhaps this will lead to the kind of economic change and re-alignment we so desperately need to keep our land viable and fair.
However, the agony facing the President and his team is profound. Break the curfew too soon and the virus will take hold with a vengeance that will be unforgiving. Hold the curfew too long and the distress and dissolution will manifest in an unrest that will be difficult to contain. When the phrase of ‘horns of a dilemma’ was framed centuries ago, it was this very kind of situation that was envisaged in terms of the profundity of choice.
Day 26 – 21 April 2020
Rewilding Our Streets
In the midst of the turmoil and desperateness of our unfolding circumstance, there are moments of wonder and delight. One of these has been the reclamation that our animal cousins are making of the spaces that we have vacated. There are stories from around the world of how rapidly nature can begin to reclaim its rightful space. Some of the wondrous that we are hearing of are rumors of coral recovery in the Great Barrier Reef – tentative, but evident… Or boars, that have started to venture even further from forests and woods into deserted Italian Cities. Or, lions in the Kruger Park that have started using the warm tar roads in the Kruger Park as underfloor heated carpets in the fast approaching Winter.
The poem today takes some other examples of this reclamation – some of which give one deep reason to pause and wonder what else is possible if we were more mindful of our context.
We often wonder how quickly our planet might recover from the devastation and pressure we have placed on it in the brief time of our existence on it as humans. Perhaps these stories show us that the earth-force of Gaia – our ancient world, is much more resilient than we might have believed. That’s not to say we should disregard or ignore what we have done or might still do. But perhaps the evidence we are seeing of the re-colonization that nature can affect, might convince us to aid and assist its reclamation of our planet, when our lock-downs and restricted living eases.
Perhaps it might encourage us on our brief visits out of our places of abode, to really look around us at what we might see changing. How quickly things grow over, how left alone, earth rejuvenates itself faster than we could ever do. It just needs time and space. Perhaps we might be looking at how this time could rejuvenate us too. What might we be doing that is restorative and healing? Even better, what has being forced to stop allowed our bodies, hearts and minds to do?
Day 27 – 22 April 2020
The Hunger Virus
The true profundity of this global infection we are experiencing is how starkly it exposes the differences in what concerns different people and places. Africa has so far not been plagued with the waves of infections that other parts of the globe are suffering from. The range of unsupported theories is fascinating – ranging from it’s different climate, to its relative youth compared to other continents, to all sorts of other mystical claptrap. We on this continent secretly hope that there may be some truth in any or all of these theories. The brutal reality might simply be that the continent is simply behind on a timeline of the passage of CORONA.
What is different on our continent however, is that the virus itself may expose some of the fundamental structural differences we have e.g. access to hospitals etc. What is of deeper concern are some of the differences between various classes of people – who have unequal access to health-care facilities, housing and food. Already our own country, with its existing high levels of unemployment, is having those schisms exposed and widened. Our true crisis may not lie in the eventual toll of the virus, but the true toll that occurs in this differential access to food, water and basic housing. Some of our brothers and sisters are already saying that they would far rather die of infection than hunger. It brings what’s truly happening into stark perspective.
As we approach winter, these differences will become radically amplified. Starvation, lack of healthcare and ability to pay for basic goods and services, may take a greater toll than the eventual viral casualties. Access to facilities to help healing, after the virus has left the body, is something that is of much greater concern in our land than the initial infection itself.
While the rest of the world seeks vaccination as its holy grail – we on this continent seek access to facilities, funding and food, that other continents are able to take for granted – and even with these, some of the more developed countries have struggled. The virus may expose the true inequality that exists here and that may cost way more than the virus initially does. Perhaps this ancient continent may have access to spells and herbs and potions that the rest of the world lacks. But none of these will help to bridge the economic inequalities that do exist.
We and the world around us, may be forced to radically rethink how wealth gets shared and distributed. These questions and challenges may also be with us long after a vaccination is found. The answer to how we re-structure our economic reality, rather than recovery from the initial infections, is going to be by far our bigger quest. We will need courage, resilience and compassion to take this journey as a country and continent.
Day 29 – 24 April 2020
Our Butterfly Moment
It’s the end of another week in lockdown. Some lightness about possible changes ahead, like being able to walk outside as we go to Level Four, but the grim reality of little else changing. As I thought about how to end this week I was reminded of a phenomenon called ‘The Butterfly Effect’. The butterfly effect is the phenomenon in chaos theory whereby a minor change in circumstances can cause a large change in outcome. The butterfly metaphor was created by Edward Norton Lorenz to emphasize the inherent unpredictable results of small changes in the initial conditions of certain physical systems.
This tiny virus has created some irrevocable changes to our planet and our lives. We have yet to see how this unfolds, but there will be shifts that will be with us for good. Some of these will be uplifting and constructive, others will be regrettable. But this virus has created more disruption than we have ever experienced in our generation. It’s extraordinary how small moments like these often create the largest changes. Martin Luther King’s speech declaring freedom, before it was actually so. Winston Churchill’s declaration at the depths of the war that Britain would never surrender, when all seemed lost. Our own beloved President Mandela who declared that ‘never, never and never again’, during his inaugural speech.
As we settle into this weekend, perhaps we might reflect on the smallest of things we might commit to or do, that might have profound effects around us. The big commitments and promises often seem to fade or go awry. What are the little things we might do or be that could be our own ‘Butterfly Effect’ in this changing world?
Day 32 – 27 April 2020
As we move into the next week of lockdown we’re understanding that the way things are, will not be radically changing over the weeks ahead. Sure, we’re going to a different level, with some possible changes ahead, but for many of us this state of new existence will remain largely the same. That means many more hours of restricted movement and freedom. By now we have all tried to establish new patterns by which to navigate these conditions. That hasn’t always been easy. But there are also some remarkable opportunities that have opened up. One of those that happened for me was the possibility of being able to look back over life and to reflect on what it might be possible to change. As I woke late this weekend, I was struck by how this might be a time to really take the opportunity to have a Forgiveness & Healing ceremony. Living alone allowed me to do something that the blur of normal existence had not. I started to do some internet surfing on redemption and forgiveness. For many tribes or social groups or communities in the past, forgiveness was something that was practiced in ceremonial form.
So, on Saturday, I took the day to do something I’d never done before. I spent some time drawing up two lists. The first was a list of people whom I felt had wronged me in the past, going all the way back to school. I wrote the names I could remember and a brief description of the injury or harm or insult I felt they had done. On the next piece of paper I drew up a list of names and a description of how I might have harmed others. We all have both of these floating around, often we remember them with resentment or regret.
I then lit some candles and wrote out a series of phrases that I could repeat, where I forgave others, or asked the universe to forgive me, for things I might have done. I read through the names and incidents, bringing them into consciousness, rather than hiding them away. In each case I forgave, whether living or dead, those I felt had maligned me. I also read out and asked those whom I had wronged in word or deed, to forgive me. There was a piece of music which I played that captured that spirit of reconciliation. Then, with one of the candles, I lit both of the pieces and watched them burn to ash. I went outside and allowed the wind to blow the remnants away. It was a deeply moving moment. The hours spent to prepare for, reflect and engage in the ceremony had some deeply poignant and lifting moments. Time is not a linear thing. Sometimes it flits away. At other times, in moments of regret or resentment, it stretches on for years, absorbing so much unnecessary energy and attention.
For all of those whom I forgave I began to understand that there was an ‘unconscious contribution’ I had made to all of those events or altercations. Even though the people involved might long have forgotten them, I was my jailer holding the key. Only I could liberate myself. I think this is a time that forgiving ourselves and others might be a powerful possibility for all. That’s what inspired the next poem.
Day 33 – 28 April 2020
Season’s Passing By
In these uncertain times it’s interesting how the structure we have built around our lives is changing and how we now need to reconfigure our lives to work for us. We’re having to re-look at how we order our days and our relationship to time. It’s interesting that this is happening at a time when we are transitioning between seasons and how we are having to rethink how we configure our lives to match an approaching Summer or Winter, depending on our hemisphere.
One of the tools we have as poets are various ways we can structure a poem, to emphasize different things. We can use different verse or stanza structures, to underline our message. We can use indented verses, to shift the reader’s attention to what we might be saying. Often, these are as important as the words we are using. As we start reconfiguring the ‘poem’ that is life around us, we are being challenged by the virus to come up with different ways of ordering things around us.
The poem today tries to show how we may need to combine alternative structures, to emphasize different things. So too in our emerging lives. Going ‘back to what was’ is probably the worst thing we could do. That’s simply going to re-create lives that our periods of isolation or lockdown have invited us to rethink. Certain poems have a rhythm of pattern and structure, to support what the poet is trying to say or create. In other cases, combining differing structures, causes the reader to pause and think about what’s being said.
As we start to rethink about what our lives might be in these times ahead, what are the commitments and lessons and insights we’ve had that we want to build into how we live? How might we like to rewrite our lives in new and different ways? It’s a process we need to engage and revel in, because it might open us up to things that have not been in our lives before.
Day 34 – 29 April 2020
A Step Into The Unknown
We’re on the brink of a threshold as Friday approaches. A step in the direction of supposed normality. But it’s a new normal. Our houses which felt like prisons in the lockdown, have become havens.
We’re categorizing people in new ways. We’ll need letters to travel around and experience a new liberation. The definitions keep morphing and changing as the exceptions become the rule.
What’s most uncertain is what lies on the other side of this new threshold. What seemed like a countdown to liberation feels a little unsettling the closer we get to it. The illusion is that we are stepping in stages to normality. The reality is we have no idea what that really is going to be or what the real consequences of stepping back into the world will be. The future is not what it used to be.
Day 35 – 30 April 2020
Our Changed Winter Landscape
This is a time of experimentation. Of doing things we have never done before – sometimes because we have to, at other times by choice. Prose poetry is a form of poetry that began to emerge in the 1800’s and has since flourished as a poetic form. Whereas more typical forms of poetry have clipped lines and tighter text, prose poetry blurs these lines. What it’s done for poetry is to allow for extended sentences, which can become conveyor belts of meaning – through their length, greater structure and linear nature. What it’s done for prose is a kickback that can make sentences and paragraphs to have more energy and intrigue bled into them.
The influence of early prose poets like Baudelaire has generated a host of poets who have taken this literary form to new dimensions. Poets like Eliot, Jiménez, Neruda and Transtromer have taken this poetic form to new dimensions. Prose poetry creates a freedom to write without line breaks and to create sentences that stretch to the vey edge of printer margins. It gives poetry a more expansive feel, showing that sentences can have as much power as a line. The challenge is to adopt a sentence structure, without losing the impact of tighter, punchy lines. Like all crafts, it has its own challenges and benefits. When done well it can sound musical, without relying on the rhythm or rhyme of other forms. It creates a suppleness that can be unhindered by more choppy or staccato movements. It’s writing in a ‘stream of consciousness’ type way, that allows the reader to drift along with an unhindered stream of words and sentences. Poetic prose articulates the modern experience of blending and merging different modes.
It’s a powerful metaphor for what this viral experience is doing for all of us. In lockdown we are having much more blended and merged lives, where the sharp distinctions between work and home and social are being blurred. The clear boundaries of the lives that are emerging have far less separation and demarcation. We are living blended lives, where we mix social, work and family commitments – in many cases, for the better. Perhaps, as with prose poetry, we are building forms of life that are more integrated. Who knows what this might open up as we seek what life truly means in these times?
Today’s poem is a prose poem – a stream of noticing how the lockdown has forced one to shed the ‘standards’ of what one’s house should look like and to seek what one might have missed before. Enjoy.
Day 39 – 4 May 2020
Just as things start to shift in a particular way, something happens that unsettles the trajectory. It feels like a strange time. We’re not quite sure whether to be celebrating our shift towards greater freedom, or to hunker down for waves that might send us back. As the change in lockdown has eased certain things, it’s also brought up new uncertainties. Sometimes it feels like we’re adrift, with no real clarity as to where we are headed.
Another week begins, with mixed messages that are present. It’s times like this that we need to keep looking into the eyes that stare back at us from the mirror and to know that hope can sometimes be fragile, but it’s always possible.
Day 41 – 6 May 2020
Letting Go The Known
Sometimes we run aground. Yesterday I tried to write but found myself frozen in unfolding events and unable to just get through the basics of the day. I’m sure in these times we all have periods like this and that’s where we most need inspiration or just being gentle with ourselves.
For those of us in South Africa, we have just passed Forty Days in lockdown. It’s a period which at times has flown and at others, dragged. Forty day fasts and remembrance periods have been with us since the ancient Egyptian times (and even further back from wherever they inherited it from) and has woven its way into spiritual traditions across the globe. It’s a time of deep reflection and consideration. A period where we change the typical passage of life and impose certain changes of dress or diet or tradition to remind us of something more profound.
This has certainly been forty days with its own impact – except here, we have had to re-invent and rediscover traditions and practices that can get us through what’s happening. How we eat, sleep and enact our days has changed. Our social discourses and interactions have had to be altered within new boundaries and definitions. It’s ironically happened across a change of seasons – for us in the Southern Hemisphere over the Autumn to Winter transition.
Periods like this have been imbued with time for contemplation and commitment to changes we might want to make. What might those be for all of us as we continue with little clarity when this lockdown might end or how?
Day 42 – 7 May 2020
Not sure if you have looked at the night sky recently? The radical reduction in pollution has created a clarity that was not there before. The stars have a way of coming out when we need them too. We know that the lights we see are ancient – and are only still arriving from the vast distances in the galaxy they travel from. They have shone since we first started tracking them as humans millennia ago and they will continue to shine after we leave in our lifetimes.
What the stars have witnessed as they stream their light towards us goes beyond the telling. They witnessed the formation and evolution of this planet as a life sustaining context, a process that has taken incalculable time. What they witness now is simply a blip in the context of the vast disruptions the planet has undergone. Perhaps we need to keep reminding ourselves of that.
Day 43 – 8 May 2020
The end of another week in the unpredictable. Hope is a powerful word, a sense of what’s possible. Faith takes that one step further.
July 2019, WHAT IS THE CENTRE FOR COACHING AT UCT GSB?
The GSB Centre for Coaching aims to develop leaders who want to build their skills and improve their professional performance too. Kieno Kammies speaks to Janine Ahlers, Director for Centre for Coaching at UCT GSB, regarding this (Podcast).
more on Cape Talk
MARCH 2017, DON’T CRUCIFY THE GAUTENG HEALTH MEC
According to Professor Norman Faull the deaths of mentally-ill patients in Gauteng is a “medical Marikana” and an example of the failure of leadership.
more from eHealth News
more from HR Futures
FINWEEK: OCT 2016, HOW COACHING CAN BOOST YOUR CAREER
In an increasingly complex and fast-moving world, managers need all the support they can get. In South Africa, this gap has been filled by an ever-expanding corps of coaches. Who are these people? And what can they do for you?
FINWEEK: FEB 2016, FIVE WAYS TO SINK YOUR CAREER
The biggest mistakes result from the messy business of managing your managers, your team, and yourself, as the finweek team found out when we spoke to management advisers and coaches about common career blunders.
JAN 2016: COACHING ACROSS LANGUAGE, GENDER AND RACE: Lessons from South Africa for Europe
DNA research is causing us to look at history in new ways. From its very beginning Europe has been a seen as a ‘melting pot’. It’s a history that up to now, has been believed to be founded on waves of migration, invasion and colonisation from its earliest times.
PROPERTY PROFESSIONAL: JAN/ FEB 2016, COACHING OUT YOUR BEST
A good coach will help you to notice your unconscious patterns of behaviour and habits, to self-correct and to think up action plans and solutions. You may even discover leadership strengths you weren’t aware of
GSB BUSINESS REVIEW: DECEMBER 2015, THE SPIRIT OF LEADERSHIP
This Mandela Day, the Centre for Coachgin ar the GSB partnered with Lead SA to facilitate free, one-on-one coaching sessions for people who wanted to grow thier leadership skills. Here’s what the players had to say.
CAPE TALK RADIO: SEPTEMBER 2015, IMPROVE YOUR LIFE: WE FOCUS ON ‘COACHING’
Craig and Janine join Pippa Hudson in Studio to discuss coaching.
CAPE TALK RADIO: JULY 2015, BUSINESS COACH CRAIG O’ FLAHERTY ON MANDELA DAY PLANS TO COACH NGOS/ NPOS
The Centre for Coaching and the UCT Graduate School of Business have joined forces with LeadSA to identify organisations and individuals who could benefit from coaching and will be offering 67 minutes sessions to people looking to grow as leaders in South Africa. Craig O’Flaherty talks to Nina on Cape Talk
DUKASCOPY TV: May – Aug 2015, THE SECRETS OF SUCCESS IN COACHING
In this series, The Secrets of Success in Coaching, Janine covers topics such as “The secret to making coaching more affordable”, “Developing leaders in the most effective way”, “Examples of exceptionally powerful coaching” or “The secret to dissolving conflict through active listening”.
Episode 1 – What a successful coaching strategy should look like for an organisation
Episode 2 – The secret to making coaching more affordable
Episode 3 – How to develop leaders in the most effective way?
Episode 4 – Dealing with a poor individual performer
Episode 5 – How can you dissolve conflict through active listening?
Episode 6 – Dealing with a massive business crisis
Episode 7 – Dealing with poor team performance
WEBSTER UNIVERSITY: APRIL 2015, INTRODUCTION TO INTEGRAL COACHING AND HOW IT DIFFERS FROM COUNSELLING & MENTORING
What is Integral Coaching? How does it differ from Counselling? How does it differ from Mentoring? These are all questions that students and faculty from Webster University were curious to explore during a talk with Janine Everson, Academic Director of the Centre for Coaching based at the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town, and more recently based in Switzerland as well.
DUKASCOPY TV: DECEMBER 2014 COACHING, A TOOL FOR SUCCESS
What makes a good coach and how can you find the right one for you? Janine Everson, Director, Centre for Coaching
TOP 500: AUGUST 2014, THE EMERGING CONTRIBUTION OF INTERNAL COACHING
“Local organisations are starting to understand the power of a blended model – where both external and internal coaches can be integrated in a mix that services the key concerns of the organisation”
eXpress MAGAZINE: AUGUST 2014 ALWAYS 1 LEADER GETS A MAKEOVER
“It’s shorter, sharper and designed to help you succeed. The Always 1 Leader program is spreading the word….”
TOP WOMEN: MAY 2014, COACHING FOR SUCCESS
“The balance is becoming increasingly important. We have to start thinking differently as to how we approach life today”
CAPE ARGUS: 29 JANUARY 2014, ONCE OFF WORKSHOP ON USING INSTINCT TO MAKE DECISIONS
“Instinctual Intelligence Pioneer Ted Usatynski is set to present a self-development workshop in the city”
SUCCEED: 1 MARCH 2013, COACHING DRIVES EXCELLENCE
“Coaching Drives Excellence”
ACHIEVER: 12 JUNE 2013, BUSINESS COACHING
“Executive coaching can take your companies performance to the next level”
TODAY BUSINESS: 18 MAY 2013, BUILDING BETTER LEADERS.
“Barclays hosts training of its Executive leadership Team”
CAPE ARGUS:WORKPLACE 1 MAY 2013, ” PROJECTS AIMS TO DETER DROPOUTS”
“The HIGH drop-out rate among black South African students has been a concern in education circles for many years…”
IN THE LOOP:TOP PERFORMING COMPANIES 1 MAY 2013, “IN THE LOOP WITH COACHING CIRCLES”
“New research shows that Coaching Circles are emerging as the natural successor to action learning as the best way to develop…”
THE MARKETING SIT.COM, APRIL 2012, CENTRE FOR COACHING RECEIVES FURTHER ACCREDITATION
COACHING: THE IN-HOUSE METHOD, SOWETAN JOB MARKET, 26 JUNE 2012
THE SKILLS PORTAL, 27 SEPTEMBER 2012, HOW COACHING DRIVES EXCELLENCE.
PEOPLE DYNAMICS: 1 JANUARY 2011, COACH OUT YOUR INNER LEADER
PMR AFRICA: 1 JANUARY 2011, FUSING THREE DISCIPLINES FOR OUTSTANDING LEADERSHIP.
“Sharp strategy, great coaching and inspirational leadership might sound like a formula.”
BUSINESS DAY: 27 OCTOBER 2010, LEADERS SOFT SKILLS CAN COME FROM COACHING.
“Being a good leader is about much more than management.”
THE PROJECT MANAGER SOUTH AFRICA: 1 SEPEMBER 2010, THE PEOPLE PROCESS.
“High-impact projects are shaped by human resources.”
THE PROJECT MANAGER SOUTH AFRICA: 1 MARCH 2010, COACHING THE EXECUTIVE PROJECT MANAGER: UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN ELEMENT OF DELIVERY.
“Enlisting the help of a professional coach should be the key to project management mastery.”
BUSINESS DAY: 29 JANUARY 2010, PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT A KEY TO COACHING.
“The demand for executive coaching skills has gained momentum and shifted from being regarded as a remedial intervention to a credible means of personal development.”
THE PROJECT MANAGER SOUTH AFRICA: 1 DECEMBER 2009, WHAT LIES BENEATH?
“Coaching unearths six fundamental drivers of human behaviour.”
BUSINESS HI-LITE: 1 JULY 2009, COACHING INTERVENTION BOOSTS TOYOTA MALAWI OPERATIONS.
“In a bid to deliver value-for-money cars to the market, Toyota famously designed the world-celebrated Lean manufacturing principles.”
BUSINESS DAY: 1 JULY 2009, COACHING SHOWS IT CAN DELIVER A COMPETITIVE EDGE.
“Quantitative and qualitative data support the view that it is worth the investment.”
CAPE ARGUS: 2 JUNE 2009, STUDY SHOWS COACHING OF STAFF DURING TOUGH TIMES CAN BOOST COMPANIES.
“Integral coaching® of staff during the current tough economic times can help companies boost competitiveness.”
DAILY NEWS: 19 SEPTEMBER 2007, COACHING GAINS A FIRM HOLD IN SA MARKETPLACE.
“A global survey shows there is an explosion of interest in business coaching in South Africa”
WITNESS: 29 AUGUST 2007, COACHING GAINS A FIRM HOLD IN SA MARKETPLACE.
“A global survey shows there is an explosion of interest in business coaching in South Africa”
WITNESS: 27 AUGUST 2007, COACHING COMES TO DURBAN.
“The Internationally-accredited Centre for Coaching at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB) is bringing a two-day coaching workshop to Durban this October in response to the growing demand for coaching skills in South Africa.”
CAPE ARGUS: 16 JULY 2007, THE $1 5 BN GLOBAL BUSINESS COACHING INDUSTRY TAKES OFF IN SA.
“Feted by many and bitterly criticised by others, life coaching remains a little understood phenomenon.”
SUNDAY TIMES: 17 JUNE 2007, COACHING, A HANDY BUT PRICEY TOOL.
“When we learn to drive a car, we know we need to spend a fair amount of time behind the wheel, getting a feel for how the car handles in different conditions as well as getting to grips with what not to do.”
CAPE ARGUS: 06 JUNE 2007, BUILDING A HEALTHY MENTORING RELATIONSHIP.
“The UCT Graduate School of Business (GSE) will run a powerful mentorship programme this June to give leaders and managers the tools to become high-impact mentors.”
HR FUTURE: 01 JUNE 2007, MENTORING IN A MODERN WORLD.
“Assuming that leaders and managers can automatically be mentors is a mistake that could cost South African business dear”
MINDSHIFT: 01 JUNE 2007, LEADERSHIP FOR ALL.
‘”WE ARE OFTEN CALLED UPON TO COACH LEADERS, BEFORE we become coaches we had an overworked and very shallow definition of what leadership is.”
WITNESS: 07 MAY 2007, COACHING EMPOWERED MY BUSINESS.
“KEITH Harvey, managing director of Durban based company Sovereign Health, knows what it takes to succeed in business ?putting your faith, and time and energy, into the people who run your organisation and empowering them to deal with change.”
MANAGEMENT TODAY: 01 MAY 2007, GLOBAL SURVEY SHOWS COACHING GAINING FIRM FOOTHOLD IN SOUTH AFRICA.
“The internationally accredited Centre for Coaching at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business is embarking on one of the largest scale roll – outs of coaching expertise yet, with a new coaching couse in Durban and additional courses in Cape Town and Johannesburg.”
CAPE ARGUS: 23 APRIL 2007, UCT COACHING CENTRE DOUBLES NUMBER OF COURSES AS DEMAND SOARS.
“Business and personal coaching is becoming a popular career choice in South Africa, forcing tertiary institutions to look at increasing the number of courses they have on offer.”
WITNESS: 02 APRIL 2007, CENTRE FOR COACHING COMES TO DURBAN.
“The Centre for Coaching – a centre of expertise at the UCT Graduate School of Business will bring its innovative and internationally – accredited aching workshop to Durban this year, for the first time.”
IMIESA: 01 APRIL 2007, TOP COACHING CENTRE BEGINS MASSIVE ROLL-OUT.
“THE INTERNATIONALLY – ACCREDITED Centre for Coaching at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT’s) Graduate School of Business is embarking on one of the largest scale roll – outs of coaching expertise ever seen in the country”
MANAGEMENT TODAY: 01 APRIL 2007, BETTER LEADERSHIP.
“The internationally accredited Centre for Coaching at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business is embarking on one of the largest scale roll – outs of coaching expertise yet, with a new coaching couse in Durban and additional courses in Cape Town and Johannesburg.”
CAPE ARGUS: 19 MARCH 2007, UCT OFFERS NEW COACHING COURSE.
“The internationally – accredited Centre for Coaching at the UCT Graduate School of Business is to offer a new coaching course in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.”
CAPE ARGUS: 21 FEBRUARY 2007,COACH YOUR STRATEGISTS.
“The UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB) will run an innovative course next month designed to help leaders make a success of key strategies and bring their visions to life.”
BUSINESS DAY: 27 NOVEMBER 2006, BUSINESS CAN BEAT THE STRATEGY BUG.
“Close but no cigar, it would seem, is turning out to be the strategy in a complex global economy.”