January Dawn

On Tuesday morning, I forgot my book, so gazed out the window of the 7:30 bus winding down from Dartmoor into Exeter.  I took the images I saw into the darkroom of my Soul and melded them with words. I borrowed a pen from the lady at the cafe and painted a picture of the morning.


January Dawn

A smudge of sun rises through the mist
to bathe the morning in pearlescence.

Proud winter trees stand over spiky frosted fields,
holding white twigged branches aloft.
They soften and undulate into the brumous distance.
Blackbirds quarrel in the hedgerows.

High above
an azure sky holds a waning sickle,
poised to reap another day.

– Melinda Schwakhofer, 2017

Shrouds of the Somme

July 1st, 2016  marks the hundredth anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

The Battle of the Somme (French: Bataille de la Somme, German: Schlacht an der Somme), also known as the Somme Offensive, was a battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the River Somme in France. The battle was one of the largest of World War I, in which more than 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

The first day on the Somme was the worst day in the history of the British Army, which saw 19,240 deaths.

The Great Folly of 1916 by Jason Askew

The Great Folly of 1916 by Jason Askew

There is a very moving exhibit 19240 Shrouds of the Somme in Northernhay Gardens, Exeter to commemorate and remember the 19,240 British men who lost their lives on that day.  The Shrouds of the Somme will be open to the public from 7:30am – 9:00pm each day from Friday 1st July until Thursday 7th July.


Each of the 19,240 soldiers who died during the first day of battle is represented by a 12 inch figure, wrapped and bound in a hand-stitched shroud and arranged in rows on the ground.  Artist Rob Heard spent six months handcrafting each of the figures.

The purpose of this work is to physicalise the number – to illustrate the enormity of the horror which unfolded and the loss of life.


During the creation process Rob referred to a list of names of all of the British soldiers who fell on the first day of battle.


Each figure is associated with a name so that each soldier is individually acknowledged and remembered.


Rob worked his way down the  list, crossing off one name each time a soldier is created as he reflected on their individual experience.

Rob created the figures unaided, cutting and hand-stitching their calico shrouds, covering and binding them in a ritual of creation, remembrance and personal introspection. As each soldier is wrapped they take on their own form, twisting  and bending into their own unique shape – not only representing the dead – but death itself.


It is easy to say the number but almost impossible now, almost 100 years on, to imagine the physical reality of the bodies and the impact that these deaths had on the friends and  families of these individual soldiers or collectively, upon society as a whole.


The  sight of the figures both individually and collectively presents a poignant and provocative experience for the viewer, providing a moment for reflection within themselves about the physical reality of the war, in approximately 1:6 scale.


Each of the names of the 19,240 soldiers is being read out over the course of the exhibit, as well as WWI poetry and prose.  One of the poems certainly read is ‘Before Action’ written by Lieutenant William Noel Hodgson who served with the 9th Battalion the Devonshire Regiment .  He wrote the poem on 29th June, 1916, two days before the Battle of the Somme.


‘Smiler, May 1916’ by Captain John Upcott

‘Smiler, May 1916’ from the pocket sketchbook of Captain John Upcott of the 9th Devons. ‘Smiler’ was the battalion’s nickname for Hodgson and this little sketch is almost certainly the last image of him.

Hodgson’s battalion was to advance across the downward slope of a hill, in full view of German trenches on three sides. They knew how slender their chances were.

Lt Hodgson was Bombing Officer in the attack. He was responsible for keeping the men supplied with grenades during the attack, which would be especially important if they got into the German positions.

On 1 July 1916, two days after penning ‘Before Action’, Noel Hodgson was killed in the opening minutes of the advance, as he had expected. Over half the battalion and all but one of the officers who fought that day became casualties with him.

He was aged 23. He would never again see a sunset.


Before Action

By all the glories of the day
And the cool evening’s benison
By that last sunset touch that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, O Lord.

By all of all man’s hopes and fears
And all the wonders poets sing,
The laughter of unclouded years,
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages stored
With high endeavour that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord.

I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this; –
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.

– W. N. Hodgson

Jackdaw Medicine


Jackdaw Medicine

Jackdaw picks
and pokes
and stirs
through the glittering wreckage
of my story and the history of my tribe.

Sharp beaked,
keen eyed,
she sorts the heap
half in two.
One side,
dark and heavy;
unwanted burdens,
carried way too far
for far too long.
These will be held,
grieved and
given back to the earth.
One side,
bright with promise;
priceless treasures,
that they threw to one side.
I will make from these
gewgaws and gimcracks,
bagatelles and bibelots,
and hold them up for all the world to see.
– Melinda Schwakhofer, 2015
Photograph by Nigel Hillier


This morning, before my drawing class, Andrea rang me and asked if I could bring in a poem for her to read during our warm-up exercise.  I’ve very recently discovered Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw poet & writer.  I actually have about eight of her books due at any minute in the post.  But not today.  I did a quick Google search for ‘Linda Hogan poems’.  The first one I came to, I downloaded, printed off and took to my drawing class.

tear in fabric


It was the time before
I was born.
I was thin.
I was hungry.
I was only a restlessness
inside a woman’s body.

Above us, lightning split open the sky.
Below us, wagon wheels cut land in two.
Around us were the soldiers,
young and afraid,
who did not trust us
with scissors or knives
but with needles.

Tear dresses they were called
because settler cotton was torn
in straight lines
like the roads we had to follow
to Oklahoma.

But when the cloth was torn,
it was like tears,
impossible to hold back,
and so they were called
by this other name,
for our weeping.

I remember the women.
Tonight they walk
out from the shadows
with black dogs,
children, the dark heavy horses,
and worn-out men.

They walk inside me.
This blood
is a map of the road between us.
I am why they survived.
The world behind them did not close.
The world before them is still open.
All around me are my ancestors,
my unborn children.
I am the tear between them
and both sides live.

–  Linda Hogan (Chickasaw)

Image ::  Still from a video tutorial: Tearing cloth in 3ds max 2011 (no audio)

Antidotes to Fear of Death

I’ve been back at my Monday morning drawing class for the past couple of weeks following the mid-term break.  Today we were invited to bring in an object “constrained by form”  which speaks to us as an ‘antidote to the fear of death’.

I brought my mother’s wristwatch, one of the very few items I have that belonged to her.  It’s a Timex watch she bought from Long’s Drugstore when I was about 10.  Sometimes I wind it up and wear it.  It keeps more or less accurate time.

One of the gifts I claimed from the death of my mother, when I was 16, is the awareness of mortality.   When I got a little bit older, I was able to reflect on her life and I realised that she had waited until too late to start making positive decisions and choices based on her interests, well-being and desires.  Besides going to college at age 50 and leaving an unhealthy relationship with my father, I wondered what else she had left too late.  My mother died from cancer when she was 55.  At a very young age I decided that I did not want to follow in her footsteps and wait until it was too late for me to live my own life.

In a way, she gave me the gift of time which is symbolised by her wristwatch.

Anyhow, here is my drawing, followed by a poem which my drawing teacher read to us.


My mother’s watch, charcoal, 24 x 36cm, 2013

Antidotes to Fear of Death

Sometimes as an antidote

To fear of death,

I eat the stars.


Those nights, lying on my back,

I suck them from the quenching dark

Til they are all, all inside me,

Pepper hot and sharp.


Sometimes, instead, I stir myself

Into a universe still young,

Still warm as blood:


No outer space, just space,

The light of all the not yet stars

Drifting like a bright mist,

And all of us, and everything

Already there

But unconstrained by form.


And sometimes it’s enough

To lie down here on earth

Beside our long ancestral bones:


To walk across the cobble fields

Of our discarded skulls,

Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,

Thinking: whatever left these husks

Flew off on bright wings.


 – Rebecca Elson, 2001

My mother's watch

My mother’s watch

Imagine a Woman

"Our Lady of the Starlit Night" by Elizabeth Gibbons8" X 18", Mixed Media

“Our Lady of the Starlit Night” by Elizabeth Gibbons
8″ X 18″, Mixed Media

Imagine a Woman

Imagine a woman who believes it is right and good she is a woman.
A woman who honors her experience and tells her stories.
Who refuses to carry the sins of others within her body and life.

Imagine a woman who trusts and respects herself.
A woman who listens to her needs and desires.
Who meets them with tenderness and grace.

Imagine a woman who acknowledges the past’s influence on the present.
A woman who has walked through her past.
Who has healed into the present.

Imagine a woman who authors her own life.
A woman who exerts, initiates, and moves on her own behalf.
Who refuses to surrender except to her truest self and wisest voice.

Imagine a woman who names her own gods.
A woman who imagines the divine in her image and likeness.
Who designs a personal spirituality to inform her daily life.

Imagine a woman in love with her own body.
A woman who believes her body is enough, just as it is.
Who celebrates its rhythms and cycles as an exquisite resource.

Imagine a woman who honors the body of the Goddess in her changing body.
A woman who celebrates the accumulation of her years and her wisdom.
Who refuses to use her life-energy disguising the changes in her body and life.

Imagine a woman who values the women in her life.
A woman who sits in circles of women.
Who is reminded of the truth about herself when she forgets.

Imagine yourself as this woman.

© Patricia Lynn Reilly, 1995