It was my pleasure to participate in this talk at the Poetry in Aldeburgh Festival in 2021 with Andre McMillan, Rachel Lewis and Louisa Campbell. Mental health is a tough subject but all the poets approached it with such empathy and honesty. Be warned there are triggers and my own work deals with schizophrenia, incarceration and evaluations. You can listen to the podcast here https://anchor.fm/poetry-in-aldeburgh/episodes/Poetry-on-Mental-Health-e1c0pd7
For the last eight years I have edited 30 editions of Ambit Magazine and it has been such a pleasure to see so many people grace its pages and work with such lovely colleagues. However, since turning 60 I’ve decided to spend more time on my own work and studies. I’m delighted to hand the reins over to Kirsty Allison who has been managing editor for the last year and a half. In this recent podcast Kirsty talks with me about my pamphlet Lament and all things Ambit. Enjoy.
Here is my poem that was inspired by the stories of acts of kindness as submitted to the Museum of Kindness and the exhibition at The Wells Maltings in Norfolk organised by the artist Kazz Morohashi as part of the Museum of Kindness.
The Sound of Human Kindness
Dedicated to the community of Wells-next-the-Sea
This town sits nestled on the North Norfolk Coast.
Its quay bristling with lobster pots.
See plastic catch trays stacked along the sea wall,
The fishing fleet, salt marsh beyond,
The endless beach, wind farm harbour,
and generations of lifeboat crew.
A town with butchers and bakers,
Well used pubs and tea-rooms,
fish and chip takeaways with a ’99 flake,
ancient walkways used by smugglers,
higgledy houses with priest holes and
brightly painted beach huts, legs buried in sand.
Covid-19 struck Norfolk early that Spring.
Doors were locked, public meetings cancelled.
Only essential shops stayed open.
Fear tore down Two Furlong Hill, up Burnt Lane
Through Jolly Sailor Yard
And whistled around Northfields.
Wells became a ghost town.
Gone were the tourists, the crabbers,
The day trippers and the beach combers.
Furtive shoppers slid quietly between
Howells, Nisa and Jaggers. Shopped quickly,
Anxious to get back to the safety of their homes.
Outsiders were banished.
Police received complaints from suspicious neighbours.
They knocked on doors, sent rule-breakers home.
Masks were worn, the two-metre rule enforced.
Church communion was suspended.
Kissing, hugging and singing, all were banned.
But while the town was in the silent fog of fear,
Skeins of hope wound through the streets.
Like shafts of sun on sea after a storm.
People looked outward and offered their help.
Children of essential workers went back to school.
The Carnival Committee entertained on-line.
A schoolgirl wrote poems for nurse’s funds.
Flowers decked graves for absent loved ones.
Lifeboat teams volunteered at vaccine clinics.
Roasts were delivered to NHS workers.
The theatre streamed at-home offerings.
The god of Zoom became the saviour of connection.
The self-isolating and shielding were supported.
A widow found friends she hadn’t know.
A gluten free loaf was baked for a paramedic.
Small and personal tasks would be completed unasked,
Not for fanfare, money or fame,
But the simple goodness of the thing.
A new heart was heard beating,
In the clinking of masts on a quiet creek.
The tap, tap, tap of East wind at keyholes.
Footsteps on cobbles, a sea shanty beat,
Sweeter than a high tide in summer.
Human kindness reverberated throughout the town.
By Briony Bax
I’m delighted to be featured poet in the exhibition ‘Wells of Human Kindness’ organised by artist Kazz Morohashi in July 2021 at the Wells Matings. We will be asking people to send us their stories of kindness and then poet Sally Festing and I will be weaving them into a poems commissioned for this exhibition.
As part of this I’ll be hosting two workshops at Alderman Peel High School, one on writing about kindness and one on performance and then we’ll have a public reading at the Wells Matings and a prize giving.
Community projects like this are a joy to work on. They involve listening, researching, creating, collaboration – all of my favourite things. I can’t wait to share my poem with you.
Even though all in person events surrounding the launch of my booklet Lament were cancelled, we did manage to do a socially distanced event at the SeaFever Festival at the Wells Maltings. Here is a recording of my interview and reading with the wonderful Vicky Rangely-Wilson. Watch it here
Here is a reading which was part of the Rough Trade Books Launch on May 7th 2020. The book is available for purchase from http://roughtradebooks.com/editions/lament/ and all profits I receive will be donated to MIND.
My poetry pamphlet Lament will be published by Rough Trade Books in May 2020 and I’m delighted that the virtual launch will be on 6th May 2020 at 6pm London time at http://roughtradebooks.com in their Events section. Here is the publisher’s blurb:
‘Briony Bax leads the reader through the brutal world of mental illness and specifically an account of an individual’s journey with schizophrenia. A world where sections, court rooms, locked wards, tribunals and assessment centres form the backdrop of the daily living of sufferers and caregivers. Through honesty and testimony, it shines a light on the disastrous effects of government austerity measures on the mentally ill.”
You can purchase a copy at http://roughtradebooks.com/editions/lament/ and all money I receive will be donated to MIND. I’m available for readings both virtually and in person after lock down.
Briony Bax is a poet, writer, producer, editor and social activist. She has been the editor of Ambit Magazine since 2013 and produces the quarterly magazine and organises and appears at events including workshops, poetry readings and community poetry events. If you’d like to enquire about booking an event and rates please contact Briony using this site.