Bio

In 2016 - 2018 Susan's poems have appeared, among elsewhere, in: The Cafe Review, Oregan, USA - Gather In, in a Special Irish Edition; Bosom Pals,Ed Marie Cadden (Doire Press, 2017) an anthology entirely in aid of Breast Cancer Research in the National UniveristyHospital, Galway and When They've Grown Another Me in Poetry Ireland Review, Dec 2018. January 2018 has seen her poems Commended in the Gregory O'Donoghue Poetry Competition.

She has been an invited reader of her poems at local readings in Galway, Cork and Dublin and at festivals, including the Belfast Book Festival, Cuirt International Festival of Literature and Clifden Arts Festival. Her poems have been read on radio.

Susan completed her degree in social science and qualified as a professional social worker in Trinity College, Dublin 1975. She was a psychotherapist, trainer, facilitator and occasional consultant to organisations for over thirty years until her retirement in 2012. Drawing together her writing with her earlier skills she has written interviews and facilitated conversations mediated by poetry. She continues to work on a manuscript relating the story of starting out in poetry and a mid-life move West along with occasional other creative non-fiction pieces.

Her workshop Having a New Conversation: About Dreaming was listed on the The Cuirt International Festival of Literature Programme (2015) and she facilitates similar workshops on a variety of themes, discussed through the medium of poetry, regularly and occasionally in local community settings.

While a founding editor of Skylight 47 Susan interviewed: then Ireland Professor of Poetry, Harry Clifton; Kay Ryan, former US Poet Laureate invited to Ireland by Dromineer Literature Festival and Dani Gill who talks about curating The Cuirt International Literature Festival.https://skylight47poetry.wordpress.com/previous-issues/. Her most recent interview, of Maeve O'Sullivan, appears in The Honest Ulsterman February, 2018.http://humag.co/features/around-the-world-in-poetry-haiku-and-haibun

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

DANCING THE SPIRAL


 I was at a newspaper stand at Malaga airport when I discovered the Dancing the Spiral workshop I designed had made it to the front page, top story, of the Irish Independent (25.10.2014). I’d intended to buy an international newspaper but I was hooked. Apparently the title was sufficiently noteworthy in itself not to merit further explanation in the newspaper article. It would have spoiled the innuendo. I will return to the workshop but the article led to related considerations.

Mary Robinson, in her inaugural speech as President of Ireland, famously spoke of ‘Mna na hEireann’, ‘women of Ireland’. She said she would also like also to be President of the mythical Fifth Province – the province of our imaginings of ourselves. During the course of her presidency she lit a candle for ‘the Irish diaspora’ in the window of an upstairs room at Aras An Uachtarain, the official residence of the Irish President in Phoenix Park.

These words and images remain in the hearts and minds of Irish men and women at home and around the globe. They are quoted or recalled because they had an effect.  They made us think differently and create change because the consciousness evoked has led, or leads, to increments of action that might not have happened if they had not inspired, encouraged or emboldened us.

Symbolic and resonate, their poetry and rhetoric, go beyond the level of everyday discourse - with more effect. They provide food for thought. This is the quality of language that poetry and mythology put at our disposal, allowing space for art and science to overlap and meet.

We might define myth as the narrative of our personal and collective mythologies. Within this definition, science might even be included. From an historical and anthropological perspective we could perhaps see it as the defining – or prevailing - mythology of our time; the way we most effectively explore, discover and understand the truth of human life and the universe inhabited, and influenced, by species of every kind but few would argue that art and literature don’t have something to add to that understanding and its expression.

Joseph Campbell has written about prevailing patterns – or archetypes - across cultures within these mythologies. Campbell, as described by the poet and business consultant David Whyte, talks in The Hero’s Journey of how a life’s journey is more visible considered as in the wake of a ship than as a clearly defined path ahead at any one time.

When I think of a resonating pattern of connection between people and their cultures and the rituals through which it is expressed, I think also of dance. We can talk about how people occasionally use language ‘to dance around each other’ or the dance that families or particular groups of people engage in meaning a way of describing a recognisable pattern of interaction. Mystics, and people who have experienced moments of heightened awareness, have described their story as one of experiencing themselves momentarily as part of a universe that is vibrating in a kind of cosmic dance. I wonder has Riverdance, with its powerful display of tap-dancing, had such international appeal because it taps into something of this universal language - a river in rhythm that repeats itself in various ways in the music of different cultures, starting perhaps with drumming. But those more knowledgeable about music than I am would be needed to discuss this further.

The pattern that connects (a term borrowed from the anthropologist and early family therapist Gregory Bateson); the dance of that pattern, or those patterns, an understanding of systems – of how we are part of a living system of life  – a dance that simultaneously delivers, and fails to deliver, desired outcomes informs our imaginings of ourselves. Dance implies movement. We are either dancing; agents in life, engaging with agency, active beings or, we are dying from stagnation – perhaps we may even be doing both, at the same time. Stagnant pools, however, are not enticing. Streams, with dancing droplets of sparkling water, entice. You’re dancing when you put your feet on the floor each morning. If you stay in bed, stay recumbent too long, your body will ultimately decay.

Hindu mythology has Shiva  and Kali. ‘Kali is the black goddess of destruction, the logical wife for Shiva and the Dance of existence…’(The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, David Leeming, Oxford University Press). In Christianity, Sydney Carter’s hymn or song Lord of the Dance has the lines: ‘I danced in the morning/ with the moon and the sun…// …I danced on a Friday/ and the sky turned black/ it’s hard to dance with devil on your back…..// and chorus ‘Dance then, wherever you may be…// I am the dance/ and the dance goes on’ where he uses dance as a metaphor for God.

What better symbol for life than a spiral? Archimedes first described his mathematical spiral in the third century BC.. Descartes explored spirals further in the seventeenth century. Triple spirals are carved on stone at the ancient burial site at Newgrange.  Spirals intrigue us sufficiently to have something to say to our notions and imaginings of life. One participant in the community workshop I facilitated, titled Dancing the Spiral - and designed for the support and continual development, both professional and personal, of psychotherapists and other participants with related interest - spoke of how the spiral in the name evoked for her the double helix associated with DNA.

In the Dancing the Spiral workshops participants discovered the healing and other benefits that could come as they shared the narratives of their lives – their own personal mythologies – and engaged: through conversation, imagery and meaningful ritual and as they supported each other to play: make art – with clay,  pastels, through pantomime, to learn to dare to be creative and discover more of who they were (and are, the workshop continues as a self- sustaining community) and could be and how that could support their day to day work, wellbeing and resourcefulness away from the group. They explored what it takes to build community. In the free hours they went walking, swimming, climbed mountains, meditated and encouraged those afraid of such things to face those fears. All of this took place in the context of being mindful of a pattern that connects, being a microcosm within the macrocosm of life, developing a circle of friends, a circle that connects and overlaps with all the circles in their lives.

We can become circumscribed by a certain language. Hence, Jesus, in the bible – when he is being ‘accused’ of healing and corralled into a corner by the questions of the Pharisees says something akin to, ‘Is it better to say, ‘your sins are forgiven’ or that your wounds have been healed? The way we understand and/or describe the manner of our healing may not be as important as the healing itself.

We are not done with understanding the art and science of healing - whether it be of bodies or minds. A recent fascinating television programmed documented pioneering research on the placebo effect - undertaken in Harvard and other places of renowned scholarship – which suggests that its effect may be much greater, whether in orthodox or other healing practices, than has been hitherto appreciated. Even in spinal surgery, where it would seem an unlikely factor, early studies suggest it has significance. It may become a more deliberate ingredient in the medicine of the future.

The Dancing the Spiral community workshop that took place initially over twelve days a year, in one six-day and two three-day blocks, is based on fairly orthodox practice – drawn from the fields of group therapy facilitation, psychotherapy and psychology but there is a need to be careful when suggesting the denigration of any therapy people find healing (whether orthodox allopathic or classified as complementary to such) because people find healing in unexpected places and their healing is valuable. It ought not to be undermined by otherwise valuable efforts: to reach better understanding of medicine and what is needed for wellbeing or by the need to protect people from fraud. The best of physicians, and investigators, are all too aware that their treatments have to be delivered in the light of history which reveals that the good practice of today also has potential to become the unfortunate practice of yesterday while the fraudulent ‘cures’ of today have propensity to be discovered to have hitherto unappreciated value.


The challenge we face is to find ways to evaluate good enough practice in the promotion of healing, wellbeing and the building of resilience that don’t undermine the very thing we seek to promote.

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