‘The path up is the path down… The way back is the way onward… Black is white and white is black… The great secret is no secret… Come closer and I will tell you…’ * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * New poems and writings where being haunted is shorthand for the poetics of memories and feelings. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * “I’ve loved Toby Chown’s sparse poetry for some time. This small collection is a gem, full of woven myths and deep imaginings. He goes to dark places to find small flowers growing and shines moonlight on our evaporating civilisation. And the deathly line at the heart of it could stand as the admonition for our age: ‘Learn to become haunted.’” – Steve Thorp, author of Soul Meditations and editor, Unpsychology Magazine

Buy on amazon here

“Learn to become Haunted”

(“Haunted Evaporation”)

We live in an age of fragmentation and uncertainty.  We are told that both our lives and wider political events are “narratives” that we could change if we so wished.  Tell the right story about yourself, the implication is, and you could become what you want.   And we have begun to do this with abandon, broadcasting minute aspects our lives and thoughts into an endless web of digital mirrors in the hopes that they will be recieved well.

Yet our sense of time and the reality around us have been increasingly mechanised and impersonal.  We now live in an increasingly technological-industrial world, with an increasingly garish shapeshifting neon surface.  Bombarded by images and information, it becomes hard to have a sense of what or where reality is.

It does not seem co-incidental that the rise of Brexit, Trump and fake news has been followed by an intense public debate about the meaning of truth and reality. How far can we manipulate reality to achieve our own ends?  The problem is that there seems to be an unbridgeable split,  “hard” material reality on the one hand, impersonal and efficient, and “personal truth” on the other, subjective and subject to change and any moment.

I suggest that stories and narratives are far harder to change than we imagine. They hook into us at a deep level.  Whilst writing “Haunted Evaporations,”  I studied the myth of Orpheus.  I think this story reveals something about the ambitions and limits of our  modern desires, in an age when creativity has become insantly accessible through iphones and the internet.

Orpheus, the archetypal artist, entered the Underworld to free his beloved from death.  He used his creative genius to unlock the doors of the underworld. He bargained for the sake of his soul, but at the point of re-entering the daylight world he turned and saw the image of his love evaporate like smoke.   In my Orpheus poem, I write that he:

“never again mistook
A poem for a kiss”

(Blue Flowers)

Orpheus enters the underworld in order to free his soul-image.  What he discovers at teh threshold of underworld and dayworld, is the difference between an image he has created, and the world itself.  The grief that follows the acceptence of the limits to his creativity, are what allow his soul to be finally liberated, and for his story to become timeless, still told milennia after his death.

Yearning for the true ground of being

Yet life is not simply defined by alienation or fragmentation. Human beings are not only the victims of an uncaring reality. Reality has more to offer than measurement of matter or an endless reflections in digital mirrors.  We are born embodied into a sensual world of touch and smell, our brains wired towards intersubjectivity, to give and recieve.  That web of life is the true ground of being, the dark soil that teems with life, the small plants that crack concrete, the salt in the oceans ocean, the dumb flocks of pigeons, the bandit crows.  This is the true reality, the true ground of being.


The snaking tendrils of
the green god’s leaves

(the Ivy Covered Theatre)

There is another tradition, hidden below the surface of western thought, of a poetic basis of mind, of the mythic patterns within everyday experiences, of traces of a greater whole.  This tradition seeks depth in stories, sees them not as the medium for the shaping of personal identity, but as golden threads that bind us to the dark soil and lift us to the blue sky.  Hell is below in the world we are afraid to fall into, the asylums, prisons and hard streets,  chaos above in the baroque and grotesque hoardings of wealth that feed power.  Stories place us right here, in the lilies and mud. Fertile ground.

Can we accept stories not as pretty projections that flicker on our living room walls,  but pathways inscribed into us through thousands of years of psychological struggle.  And if a story has a presence, what then is the character of this presence?

“as haunted as breath
when it enters
the body,

a passing song
composed by
its own heart.

In this sensual world,
with your ripe red heart,

in the green
dance of ecstasy
in the yellow moon
of sorrow

Become what you are –
a ghost amongst ghosts –

learn to become
a haunted

Haunted by absent Gods

“Orpheus, I missed you at the poetry reading”

(Blue Flowers)

The poems in this collection are not about being haunted by ghosts but by gods.

‘The God’s have become diseases,’ wrote Jung – a darker vision of gods, not as fantasies but pathologies, as ways of imagining the return of banished forces that interfere with our own desires, and which we have no place for in our lives.  This seems a lot like being haunted, this way of imagining the gods. They haunt us with those aspects of our lives that we refuse to face.  They haunt us both our compulsion to unconciously repeat,  to replay the same story or to avoid the implications of a different one.  They haunt our avoidances of the meeting place, between life and death, of depressions.

Inanna and the Descent into Images

A note: Gods do not offer solutions to problems, they offer the problems reimagined.  This is not a call for a return to the worship of old gods.  It is rather a call for a perceptual shift that allows their realm to be seen, the imaginal world that holds together soil to stone, root and branch, clould to sky.  A perception of the heart that sees feels and imagines.

They’re a way of seeing pathologies reformed as mythic, of healing the split between the individual and the collective through the medicine of culture, where culture is the act of imagination completed. They depersonalise problems, linking the individual to the psyche and to nature it comes from.

Perhaps, as Martin Shaw says, myth is not meant to enchant us, but to wake us up, to remind us of what we have forgotten to call our attention to where.

“light spills
from the crack

in a broken guitar”

(The Bridge)

Whether the denial is of death, of depression, of ecology, or the feminine, the gods continue to haunt us, existing in the mythic patterns enfolded in our mundane experiences. They do this, because in each of our problems we can locate the
absence of a god – the absence of a numinous metaphor that
connects our problems to our culture. We wait it instead like Innana, suspended in the underworld, expectant of something to bring us to life:

“the taste of seed cake in her mouth,
the kisses memory
on her expectant lips”

(On A Hook (Re-membering Innana))

Becoming Haunted.

Gods, then may not be a matter of faith, they may not care if you believe in them.
They are away of seeing through to the archetypal dimensions
of the everyday, the patterns in the deep narrative. ‘The soul will fall sick again and again, until it gets what it needs,’ writes Hillman. In the same way, we find ourselves returning to the same haunts, and the same problems return in new ways, until we see through the details to the root of the issue, and discover what they really want to tell us.

So these poems act as markers of hauntings, things unseen that yet have power – the return of the gods through writing. They are metaphors for something half-known and half-felt, yet they are vital and filled with power to transform. Through this kind of writing we can learn to haunt ourselves,

“the flesh of a ghost
stiched into a heart”


These disowned forces can reclaim their birthright, both within the realm of our own haunted selves and the wider reality of our beautiful, haunted world.

Here then is the title poem of haunted evaporations, one that seeks to clear this ground and give space for a whispering voice that longs for the return of soul,  the seek it in “the ripe red heart, the green dance of ecstasy, the yellow moon of sorrow”.  The voice that whispers, “learn to become haunted

Haunted Evaporation

“As a lamp, a cataract, a star in space,
an illusion, a dewdrop, a bubble,
a dream, a cloud, a flash of lightning
view all created things like this” Tathagate Buddha, The Diamond Sutra

I learned to listen
until one ear grew to
half the side of my head

Learn to become haunted

I learned that every thing
is alive – the rocks, the rain,
the gutters and drains,
even the grey marks stained
on blandly patterned carpets
in featureless travel lodges
have a moment of birth,

It’s not enough.

I learned my rage, my heart,
were bubbles
in the hand of a
distracted child,
they reflect and burst
leaving only the
dirty trace
of a rainbow

Learn to become haunted.

I learned my glamorous mind
was filled with chattering demons,
that the abandoned man
with the schizophrenic mother
and a skin
of dust and paint
was closer to god than
that as Jane’s Addiction sing
“how you treat the weak
is your true nature calling”

Learn to become
haunted, haunted,
learn to become haunted –
as haunted as breath
when it enters
the body,

I learned how to stop pretending
that my feelings were me
I learned to stop defining myself
by my misery,
that my heroic attempts
to overcome suffering
just perpetuated them.

I learned of this world
and its paranoid core
how the rational few
keep their mind in a jar

I learned to slow down
and watch the pigeon
lady scattering cheap
bread to the birds in
the newly landscaped park
to gaze stupidly
at fat pink
nodding in the breeze
to interpret graffiti on derelict churches,

to let bricks decay
and to stop listening
to the hypnotic repetitions of the newsreaders
I learned that my thoughts were
as changeable as a mood,
as temporary as a life
as symbolic as clothing
no core, no essence,

only an endlesss stream of fantasies enacted
on a stage made up of slick institutions,
concrete streets and silenced stories,
tasteful corporate lobbies
and temporary accommodation

I learned to question all my
to bargain with my fears
to realise I was the same as everyone else
that I was no better, no worse,
no different, that all my questions
and poetry were just ways of keeping
the black dog at bay

Of secretly crowning myself
King of an imaginary kingdom
that no one was permitted to enter
near cracked housing
in isolated valleys, where

the only shop sells
happy shopper food
taking refuge in the belief in an invisible
garden of high grass, green mazes, wildflowers
and broken statues,
until the contradictions struck
my voice away,
and all I could do is gesture at
the beauty, the horror,

the terror, the pity,

You have learned how to listen,
but yet you repeat
all of the things you have learned
as if they might somehow accumulate
into something that you might possess
the sense of being a better person,

or a moment’s weightlessness,
or some kind of moral superiority,
gained through insight into ephemerality.
But what if there were no one who learned all those things?
what if there was no kingdom, no bubble, no garden,
and no one listening?

Learn to become
haunted, haunted,
learn to become haunted –
as haunted as breath
when it enters
the body,
a passing song
composed by
its own heart.
In this sensual world,
with your ripe red heart,
in the green
dance of ecstasy
in the yellow moon
of sorrow
Become what you are –
a ghost amongst ghosts –

learn to become
a haunted

The Wound and the Eye

I’ll say a word: “sadness”
and give you a thorn in bloom,

the world and you seem tinted blue
and filled with bitter perfume.

Sadness is a world you see,
“the wound and the eye are the same”

reaching down to the chalky ground
where the bones and the dust remain.

But sadness is only a word you see
the world overspills the eye,

a dull warm ache, a need to relate,
confusion persists as to why.

So I’ll say a word: “sadness”
but sadness is only a word

beneath cement, a deep lament
above it, the song of a bird.

“the wound and the eye are the same” is a quote from psychologist James Hillman, quoted in an essay by Mary Watkins Intellectual Accompaniment by Two Fathers,  Hillman and Friere.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s