I have always loved autumn, with its dramatic heavy skies, wet and windy weather, foggy mornings and strands of fog-lit spider webs. These sparkle, like the most precious beads when illuminated by sunlight as it emerges from and through the clouds. Each season has its novelties and delicacies, but here, in Hertfordshire, in the northern hemisphere, the autumn months are a carnival for the senses. In late October and November, nature dresses up in an abundance of colours: mustard, yellows, burned orange, rust and gold, and browns, reds, murky greens, greys and black appear even more extravagant against darkened hazy surroundings. Notice the humble trunk of a tree I captured on camera the other day; all these greys, brownish yellow, black, silver blue…. Delia Owens, an American wildlife conservationist and author, wrote in her debut novel ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ (2018), that when it is time for the trees to shed their colourful robes ‘autumn leaves don’t fall, they fly. They take their time and wander on this their only chance to soar.’ Reflecting sunlight, they swirl and sail and flutter on the wind drafts.
The air fills with the sweet and opulent perfume of damp, earth, and fungi, compost, rot and decay. ‘Nature celebrates death in this very tangible way.’ The luxurious, thick and heavy, cloak of weather cuts out the sound, so it becomes muffled, and just like music from the Baroque era or a shot of brandy make me feel warm in my chest, loosen me up and soon I am ready to collapse onto the sofa with a good read. For me, autumn stands for respite and release. There is also something comforting in knowing that all the previous order of things will only go on declining, until what is left is the soundless and ever so still dead of winter. Autumn is probably the best season to give into the flow of time; or as the author of ‘Late October’ observes to ‘begin to stop in order to begin again’.
I chose to open the Autumn Edition with the poem by Maya Angelou for two reasons. Firstly, because ‘Late October’ remains one of my favourite autumn poems. I first read this in Polish, my mother tongue; and my hope is that it will speak to you, dear reader, as much as it has touched me. The verse confirms the reasoning behind my own experience and love of this season. Maya Angelou had an incredible talent for bringing clarity to complicated things. Here, she meditates on the conflicted feelings autumn evokes in many of us, the feeling of endings and beginnings happening all at once. Her poem reflects on the impermanence of life and things such as love, and equally strongly acknowledges autumn as a time of rebirth and revaluation – the organic ‘tidying up’ process that gets underway, at the same time appreciating nature’s beauty, as reflected in the poet’s loving choice of adjectives: ‘carefully’, ‘tinny’, ‘ruddy, ‘roseate’, ‘ceaselessly’, ‘grey’, ‘black’. Maybe, as October winds on, you can take it as an invitation to slow down, exhale, and prepare to begin anew in whatever way you want.
The second reason behind choosing this particular poem is that October is known in the UK as Black History Month, a celebration of the Black experience that has for too long been overlooked in British education and culture. Here, ‘the term “Black” is a political and sociological term, identifying people who have been most vulnerable to the oppression of White racism owing to differences in skin colour,’ (BAATN website, October 2021). The Eurocentric curriculum in British schools, universities, the domination of White focussed media and politics, and the social outlook in general has done little to highlight Black history beyond slavery. Significantly, for people of colour this neglect of history adds to a greater sense of nonbelonging. It is disempowering not only to people of Black, African, Asian and Caribbean Heritage in the UK, who embody this country’s multi-cultural identity, but also to white people who don’t appreciate the broader picture of their country’s background, and how this has shaped identities. The same applies to most of the training and professional organisations in the UK, including counselling and psychotherapy.
I wanted to acknowledge and support this significant occasion brought from the US to the UK, just over thirty years back, by Ghanaian-born analyst, journalist and pan-African activist Akyaaba Addai Sebo. As he explained it in his 2017 interview for ‘New African’, the month of October was chosen ‘because of its significance within the African calendar – the period of the autumn equinox in Africa – October is consecrated as the harvest period, the period of plenty, and the period of the Yam Festivals. There was time in history when Africa was the cradle and breadbasket of civilisation. October is also a period of tolerance and reconciliation in Africa, when the chiefs and leaders would gather to settle all differences. This was also the time to examine one’s life in relation to the collective and to see if the targets set for oneself and the group during the past year had been achieved or not.’ Its UK mission statement this year is: ‘Dig deeper, look closer, think bigger.’
But, I don’t want the learning and celebration of the Black experience and history to be restricted to just October, and so our newsletter has been honouring Britain’s multi-cultural identity throughout the year. And yet, just as in June, when I chose to mark Pride Month with the additional sprinkling of poems and art, and articles about LGBTQ+ experience, so in the Autumn Edition, I envisioned a celebration of the Black experience and history by including some pieces created by people of colour, both in my editorial and in the Art & Poetry section. I also thought what could be better than marking Black History Month on the pages of our newsletter than opening this issue with a gorgeous and wise poem written by one of the most renowned poets in the world, who as it happens, was a black woman.
To add even more to the sense of celebration, I chose the photograph above that comes from the bold and empowering exhibition of larger-than-life portraits of Black women by contemporary visual artist Mickalene Thomas. The artist’s intention behind her 2010 ‘Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires,’ that is unapologetically based on Manet’s 1863 painting, was to present women of colour confidently gazing towards the viewer. Aware of their own empowerment, they are also aware of the viewer’s potential range of responses: the existing stigmatisation of Black people, in particular women, in the Western world and the dominant heteronormative and patriarchal values; (‘A Sky Filled with Shooting Stars,’ an interview with Mickalene Thomas, Lehmann Maupin, 2010). I hope the focus of my editorial and what you read and see here in this Autumn Edition will stimulate and inspire our readers to contribute more on the subject in future editions of this newsletter.
Before going any further let me give space to another poet Jericho Brown, the 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner of poetry for his book ‘The Tradition’ that has been described by some as a masterful force of poetic writing that combines the sickening imagery of the modern world with an intense amount of self-reflection. Whether Brown is ‘discussing the fears of “free”black people, mental health problems, AIDS, or sexual assault, his lens is both a microscope and a telescope into the human experience and the broken psyche created by living in our world today’ (Alexandria Swan Tuesday AKA, The Tuesday-Xavier Collective blog on www.irvingtonvinylandbooks.com/).
Personally, as a queer man and an avid reader of poetry, I have been hooked on the intimate, honest and immediate style of Jericho Brown’s poetry at the very first reading of his debut collection ‘Please’ (2008). Now, however, I want to refer to his poem ‘The Tradition’ from the most recent book of the same name, as it is most relevant to what the Black History Month is about. Note, how the poet has chosen to draw a lyrical parallel between black men and flowers both, beautiful, fragile and often cut down by violence and sheer prejudice.
‘Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us. Star Gazer.
Foxglove. Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath.
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.’
— Jericho Brown, ‘The Tradition,’ 2019
‘I’m always writing poems so I shouldn’t second guess myself or short sell myself,’ says Jericho Brown in the interview for the ‘French Quarter Journal’ (23rd May 2020). ‘I think “The Tradition” is about that. (…) I just think that we’re beautiful. I think black people are beautiful. And I think the word out on black men is a lie. You know, I grew up with a dad and I grew up around other men who were really interested in what their yards looked like. They had beautiful front yards with beautiful flower beds. And they had very clean cars. They did all of that for two reasons actually. One was for the simple fact of beauty – their own satisfaction and contentment with beauty. Number two, it also had to do with their responsibility to their families and to each other’s families and to one another in the neighbourhoods in which they lived. (…) So, it was part of what I understood growing up, when I was mowing the lawn or helping my daddy do that kind of work. I wasn’t just doing it for us. I was doing it for the street. I was doing what I was doing for the street that we lived on to make that street a more attractive place for all of us. We’re not thought of that way – and yet that’s who we are. I wonder how much we think of ourselves in that way. Because so many lies are out there about black men. We don’t realize the truths that we experience every day because we keep seeing lies about us every day on news and social media. Among the stereotypes on black men, none of them is that black men are concerned with periwinkles….’
For me, as a gestalt therapist, creating conditions for raising awareness of the deep-rooted unjust order of things, ‘traditions’, fixed gestalts, is as significant as creating, growing and working out the new patterns of behaviour; and so in order to learn the new we must learn our history. As for celebration of the diversity in our world, the Black History Month of October informs and educates people of the past habits, so called traditions, and the development of novel updated attitudes, behaviours and beliefs until ‘it’s about the history of all of us, getting to a place where we don’t need a Women’s History or Black History Month, just a good rounded history of everybody’ – to use the words of the legendary British poet Benjamin Zephaniah spoken in 2014 when he was invited to launch Lancashire’s Black History Month celebrations.
I will conclude this section of the editorial by quoting Zephaniah once more, this time however from his article in ‘The Guardian’ (Mon 12 Oct 2020). ‘We need Black History Month now more than ever before’ – writes the poet. ‘If we really want to understand what’s happening in the world, and change it for the better, we must confront the past and learn from the past. Good or bad. We owe it to ourselves, and future generations.’
I am delighted to present you with another voluptuous issue of the UKAGP Newsletter shaped by a large number of varied contributions by Gestalt therapists in the UK and abroad. On this occasion, we have received a large number of full length articles, each keeping with the now well-established individual and intimate style of our newsletter / journal. At the same time the range of subjects touched upon by their authors is vast. Maria Garcia Tejon presents a critique of the prevalent, rather robotic medicalised approach to parenthood. She describes her own turbulent process of identity changes when becoming a mother. Our already regular contributor Jim Robinson meditates on what he sees as our dominant troublesome individualistic preoccupation and evasion of the transpersonal nature of reality, while Adam Kincel expands on the theme of his recent presentation ‘Sensing and voicing collective gestalts – a journey from breath to society’ that complemented this year UKAGP AGM last September. I am also delighted to welcome on the pages of our newsletter an article by Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb on climate change that is the author’s personal response to her own subjective experience of nearing 50 degrees heat in her native Syracuse (Italy) last summer. The contributions also include a moving farewell to a renowned child and adolescent therapist Violet Oaklander who died only a few weeks ago; the tribute was written by Jon Blend who trained with Violet and got to know her personally, and now runs training inspired by her method of working with children.
Some of the material included in the Art & Poetry and Wider Reading section has been a result of your responses to the last Call for Submissions. Take for instance the poem ‘The Layers’ by Stanley Kunitz, which was suggested by Kay Lynn. Also a big ‘thanks’ to Laura Wilson who have been regularly sending us suggestions for stimulating reading, on this occasion a link to vibrant and powerful piece by Africa Brooke. Some other authors of submissions have decided to stay anonymous. I am very thankful to all of you who decided to take part in shaping this and any of the previous editions; I have always wanted UKAGP newsletter to be a platform of dialogue for our readers, UKAGP members and newsletter subscribers. As this is the last edition I have been involved in preparing, my hope is that you the readers will remain as closely involved when I am gone.
This is also a good moment to thank two of my dear colleagues who generously supported me in the editorial role over the past two years, Vivienne Barnett and Belinda Harris. I also want to thank Alec Parsons-Smith, the UKAGP administrator, for all his patience and support in transforming my often lengthy and complex designs into well-working online newsletters. I feel very lucky to have had your steady attention, encouragement, and interest to chew over my ideas and proofread my often lengthy texts. Before I leave, I chose to offer the readers my own contribution, as a parting gift, in the form of an essay on contact, and a recipe for the autumn inspired dish of marrow and prawn curry that has been a speciality of my Bengali husband. I hope you like it as much I do!
Please feel free to email any reactions and responses you have to the content of this issue. As always, we eagerly await your own contributions: articles, essays, poetry, as well as any form of artwork and photos. All contributions to the UKAGP Newsletter can be sent to [email protected]
With warm wishes,