Thursday, 6 November 2014

A route map to Atlantis

Phil has been working with Blackpool Arts for Health on pieces for the new mental health facility The Harbour, which is being built on the edge of Blackpool. Over the next few days, we will post excerpts from Phil's Blackpool blogs from this summer and autumn. A complete set of the blogs and photos is at the Blackpool Arts for Health blogsite.

October 2014

Phil writes:

Should storms drive you to anchor
seek a place of quiet calm, like the ruins of Atlantis.
Gather up what still remains
the friends who stand beside you
are the means to sail again.
Find in the companionship of the sea
a shining reflection of a brilliant promise.
Calendo, O sea of screaming rage
hush and listen to the breathing world
see the glassy horizon glow.


The myth of Atlantis, the lost city, is the stuff of legend and poetry and occasional B-movies. Archaeologists - I am told - have found the site of the old city in a volcano crater under the sea. But the myth remains intact because it calls to a deep part of us all, with the allure of something that can never really be reached.

We are working on a sequence of images and poems that also hunt for an elusive thing, a definition of happiness. The pieces are for the corridor of The Harbour mental health facility in Blackpool and our idea is that they help make the journey along the corridor a happy one - but also gently question what happiness might be.

Today, the group worked on a collective poem about the hunt for Atlantis, as a metaphor for the journey through life. It is a story about the struggle through the human storms and shipwrecks that we all encounter as we travel through time - and what we hope to find at the end. The morning and afternoon groups both contributed to Atlantis, so it is a many voiced tale. In writing their individual verses the group worked tremendously hard. I've dotted this blog with verses (each written by a different person) from our group's Atlantis:

I leave behind me

all that has destroyed me
farewell dear friend, farewell; may
Hermes master of the roads
comfort me as I journey to
the island forests I dream.
(What will I see as I go by
birds flying high in a horse-tailed sky?) 
Sweetly caressing tones stroke 
softly on my face.


The greatest block to all was self-criticism which in some cases was so harsh that the writers came to a dead stop. We talked about the reasons for stopping and very often behind the self-judgement was a history of harshness, particularly the viciousness of teachers or parents encountered in childhood. Some of these stories were heartbreakingly sad. As people worked, they talked, reporting how they felt and the poem gradually grew, incorporating some of the conversation. Writing it became a journey in itself. The greatest pleasure for me was to see that the group coming out of their shells - like cautious sea creatures - and supporting one another, listening to each other's needs.

Interleaved with our poem are fragments of WH Auden's wonderful poem Atlantis, and Sea Fever by John Masefield, which was a staple of British classrooms for decades. Auden was struggling with his life journey and the poem has the emotional openness of someone in crisis: it is a sad, sarcastic, yet hopeful piece that looks for deliverance with tired eyes. When it finally arrives at its ending, it carries the relief of a long, hard voyage finally done. My hope is that we will carry some of the same spirit in our work and gift it to the people who will live with it.

All the little household gods

request that we listen today
to the call "ATLANTIS"
the light of their countenance.
The thrashing waves and foamy rush
where waves meet in high
briney smell and spray so fine
is sight for tired eyes. And all I
hear is the wind flowing out and roaring in
a quiet sleep and a sweet dream.


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