Winter 2021 Newsletter

‘Just over the horizon a great machine of death is roaring and rearing.
We can hear it always. Earthquake, starvation, the ever-renewing sump of corpse-flesh.

But in this valley the snow falls silently all day, and out our window
We see the curtain of it shifting and folding, hiding us away in our little house,
We see earth smoothened and beautified, made like a fantasy, the snow-clad trees
So graceful…’

— Hyden Carruth, The Curtain (1996)

Welcome to the 2021 Winter Edition of the UKAGP Newsletter

I am opening this issue with a photograph of a gorgeous winter scene sent in by my Polish colleague, and fellow gestalt therapist, Dominik Sałdak. It was taken by him a few days ago, whilst on holiday with his young family in Beskid Sądecki – the border region of Poland and Slovakia.

This stunning picture has reminded me of the long, cold and snowy winters of my youth when on some occasions whilst in the countryside, heavy blizzards and huge snowdrifts disrupted roads and railways leaving me completely cut off from the world. Without doubt the worst such occurrence took place at the end of December 1978, when the temperature plunged to minus 25 degrees. Below is a photograph taken in this momentous winter.

During this so-called ‘winter of the century’ – I was seventeen years old and had gone away for a few days with a group of 10 friends. The tiny village where we stayed had no electricity or gas and of course no mobile phones. The only running water was in the nearby stream which had frozen over – this meant that in order to drink and to wash ourselves, we had to use an axe to cut out chunks of ice and thaw them in a bucket on the wood burning stove. It was so cold that we drew lots to decide who was to get out of bed first into the minus 5 degree temperature of our bedrooms to light the stove. It was a whole week before the local roads were cleared and during this time we learnt much about using our ingenuity to sustain ourselves.

And yet, I recall this time with great pleasure. I don’t think I had ever felt calmer, as if the weight of living in a complex world had lifted from my shoulders. Here, cut off in this village – tucked-away in the mountains of southern Poland with no more than five farm houses and a kiosk selling sausage, beer and cigarettes, I was far away from my controlling parents, and away from painful tensions and the noise of their constant bickering, during which they seemed remarkably unconcerned about me and my pressing worries around my education and who I would become.

This enforced isolation also gave me some respite from the overwhelming embitterment and anger which was bubbling up towards the communist establishment amongst the Polish population, particularly in cities like Warsaw where I then lived. For this was two years before the emergence of the Solidarity mass movement and the imposition of martial law – Poland’s self-limiting revolution of the 1980s, which eventually led to the demise of its authoritarian regime. This temporary near total isolation, the simplicity of carrying out the practical tasks of surviving in the harsh conditions and the exquisite beauty of the midwinter scenery, was bliss.

In the same way as I found bliss in being cut off in the snow all those years ago, I have learnt that the restrictions on my life imposed by lockdown in this current pandemic, can also allow me a sense of serenity which comes from living a “smaller life”. Living within my chosen bubble and focussing on the necessary practical tasks has meant largely staying within the confines of my own home and the local area. As a consequence every walk in the fields behind my house has become as exciting as the most exotic holiday, whilst the passage of time is being measured by periodic ‘click and collect’ trips to the local supermarket.

Of course the serenity of smaller scale living could have become even more appealing and enjoyable if only I could ignore the massive death toll, economic downturn, rise in unemployment, poverty, instances of domestic violence and misery of the recent flooding in some parts of the British Isles. This is not even to mention the droughts, hunger and wars in other parts of the globe – made worse by the inability or unwillingness of governments to engage with the complexity of contemporary living and the consequential global environmental disaster and even survival of the human race.

Snow fell today – all day
Relentlessly doing its job
Covering everything in sight
Inevitably revealing an age old truth
That this world is black and white

Truth Revealed, Leszek Jamiołkowski (2021)

So it was with this experience in mind that soon after seeing the photograph with which I chose to open this winter edition and my vivid associations with the Polish ‘winter of the century’, the poem The Curtain by Hyden Carruth came to my mind. I own his Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey collection (1996), from which this poem is taken. For some time I have wanted to use this poem and now seemed the right time as it goes together well with the photo and is particularly poignant in our present situation.

I’m imagining that we have all tried to balance the weight of the sorrows of the World, with the peace and comfort of our cosy homes, the romance and beauty of winter and the pain of existence. How to do it? Maybe you have found a way?

Below I quote Carruth’s magnificent poem in its entirety:

The Curtain
By Hyden Carruth

Just over the horizon a great machine of death is roaring and rearing.
We can hear it always. Earthquake, starvation, the ever-renewing sump of corpse-flesh.
But in this valley the snow falls silently all day, and out our window
We see the curtain of it shifting and folding, hiding us away in our little house,
We see earth smoothened and beautified, made like a fantasy, the snow-clad trees
So graceful. In our new bed, which is big enough to seem like the north pasture almost
With our two cats, Cooker and Smudgins, lying undisturbed in the southeastern and
southwestern corners,
We lie loving and warm, looking out from time to time. “Snowbound,” we say. We speak of
the poet
Who lived with his young housekeeper long ago in the mountains of the western province,
the kingdom
Of cruelty, where heads fell like wilted flowers and snow fell for many months
Across the pass and drifted deep in the vale. In our kitchen the maple-fire murmurs
In our stove. We eat cheese and new-made bread and jumbo Spanish olives
Which have been steeped in our special brine of jalapeños and garlic and dill and thyme.
We have a nip or two from the small inexpensive cognac that makes us smile and sigh.
For a while we close the immense index of images that is our lives—for instance,
The child on the Mescalero reservation in New Mexico sitting naked in 1966 outside his
family’s hut,
Covered with sores, unable to speak. But of course we see the child every day,
We hold out our hands, we touch him shyly, we make offerings to his implacability.
No, the index cannot close. And how shall we survive? We don’t and cannot and will never
Know. Beyond the horizon a great unceasing noise is undeniable. The machine,
Like an immense clanking vibrating shuddering unnameable contraption as big as a house,
as big as the whole town,
May break through and lurch into our valley at any moment, at any moment.
Cheers, baby. Here’s to us. See how the curtain of snow wavers and then falls back.

And so back to the task in hand.

As you can see, the UKAGP newsletter has had a makeover for 2021. Our intention is to bring you more visual content and a clearer format which can easily be read on different screens and devices. Bringing the newsletter onto our website also makes it easier to connect with social media, which is good timing as we recently welcomed Charlotte -UKAGP’s new social media officer.

What do you think? We’d love to hear about your experience, dear reader. Please send your comments to Alec and help us to continue developing how we create and share this newsletter with you.

As you can see it is another bumper issue, as we have received a record number of submissions for which we are extremely thankful. The content of the winter newsletter is as rich as it is varied; we have a few in-depth articles, brief reflections and notes, collections of photographs and poems. All the submissions are very personal and all are relevant to our life and times.

I want to thank all the contributors to the winter issue: Dawn and Gillian, Karolina, Lucy, Hugh, Ben, Dominik, Jon, Charlotte, Belinda, Leszek and Nickei, knowing that some of you have been waiting a long time for this issue to be published. I can only hope that what you see here was worth the wait. Our Wider Reading section has also expanded and following suggestions from some of you, the visual content of artwork and paintings is also enlarged, and we chose to dedicate to it the whole new section called ‘Arts and Articles’. And there is also music accompanying current issue; you won’t hear it unless you let yourself imagine our soundtrack. It starts with Those who rejoice in the snow – painting by the Ukrainian artists Olga Kvasha, who once said: “Not everyone knows about it. But the trees are dancing. They sway, waving branches to the music that sounds inside them. We cannot hear it, but just see dancing trees along the road, and the white snow, to which they rejoice”. The imaginary soundtrack runs throughout and finishes with James Berry’s poem When I Dance. Enjoy!

The one thing visibly missing from this issue …the conspiracy theories, but maybe next time? Anyone?

Wishing you all a joyful good read. And please do not forget to write to us. Email us any reactions and responses you have to the content of this edition. As always, we also 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]. To ensure their inclusion in our spring edition please email us by the next deadline of 10th April 2021. We look forward to hearing from you.

With warm wishes,

Piotr Mierkowski
[email protected]

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