Stock photo of a pen writing in blank ink on ruled paper

Poems by Sheena Sen: The Beat of My Heart

In a second post featuring poetry by one of our workshop participants, Sheena Sen, Sheena gets to the heart of the project by personalising our project title and, indeed, the title of Natalie McGrath’s play. In her earlier poem, Sheena explores the emotions and thoughts tied up with experiences of loneliness. By contrast, ‘The Beat of My Heart’ is a heartfelt exploration of what motivates and drives the speaker. The beating heart is often a symbol of warmth, passion, and energy. In this poem, Sheena uses repetition and rhyme to create a closely packed and punchy piece that really moves us.

This heart beats for Loyalty

and too for acceptance

with or without commonality

it beats for simplicity

in a world full of complexity

 

for the sounds of my family

for lost love and last loves

for the lost and the found

for kisses once dreamed of

and gendered equality

 

It beats for diversity

to be brave and show courage

in the face of adversity

it beats to end prejudice

and be fierce in the fight

for all human rights

like those who precede me

 

It beats for memory of time

for belonging and longing

for all that is certain

and all that is not it beats

for the breath that rests

between life death

and freedom

 

Asked to reflect on her poem, Sheena has added:

I took the title of the play and thought about what it all is, what is the stuff we are made of in our beating heart of existence. Your project and research is valuable as it creates a space for the questions inside us. It allows space to breathe in integrity and with as much honesty as we have in us, when we express what it means to be lonely or to belong in a place or a family that expression is real . I felt like an imposter at the start of the sessions as my personal journey hasn’t been difficult and yet I realised I too have felt isolated and a sense of loneliness at one time in my life. I recognised others words were like mirrors as they resonated in the story of my life. It made me write.

We’re very glad it did.

 

To cite, please credit Sheena Sen.

 

— Richard Vytniorgu

Poems by Sheena Sen: The Well of Loneliness

After each of the workshops we conducted in the summer and autumn, we invited participants to submit any additional writing or creative work that they felt inspired to do after attending the workshops. One of our participants, Sheena Sen, sent us some wonderful poems and reflections on her experience of participating in the workshops, and more broadly, on loneliness and belonging as an LGBTQIA+ person.

In a series of posts, we will showcase Sheena’s work and reflections, and pause to think about how they shape understandings of LGBTQIA+ loneliness and belonging.

Sheena’s first poem, ‘The Well of Loneliness’, explores the emotions surronding experiences of loneliness over a period of time.

Titled after Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928), Sen’s poem is, to my mind, a tribute to Hall’s painful experiences of loneliness as well as bringing the idea of ‘the well of loneliness’ into the twenty-first century. Hall’s story, ‘Miss Ogilvey Finds Herself’ (1934), was used as one of the prompts to get us thinking in the autumn workshops.

Image of Radclyffe Hall's novel, The Well of Loneliness. Image depicts a painting of two women.
Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928)

In that place of despair
where emptiness swilled
and spilled its bile
of discontentment
I stood there barefoot
In the silence of pleas
and known certainties
now traceless in a past
that held the pieces of me
In my sense of belonging
in my split sideways
dreams and in sentences
where words have wobbled
from one side of reality
to places I barely could see

In the familiar and formal
In informal discretions
inside a fragility borne
inside the parameters
of fear and acceptance
It is there where I leaned
between mirrors
and laughter made
of small bubble tears
there I felt most alone
as I breathed out for fear
and in for my courage

at the well of my loneliness
I remember how fast
my own heart can beat
at a sentence wide open
to someone’s rejection
in the depth of a memory
as I tentatively trace
the years of my longing
in the pit of despair
I learned there how pain
can visibly bleed.

I asked Sheena about her poem, and she explained to me how she wrote it and what it means to her.

The poem was written in the midnight hour, somewhere between silence and stillness is where it began. In the recalling of the discussions shared in the project around belonging and loneliness and what came from the personal accounts of those people who opened their hearts up to strangers in honesty.

It matters to be integral to speak openly; however painful the sound of a truth might be, it is imperative to think about what makes us feel a sense of acceptance and belonging in a world full of diversity where oppression, or the fear of it, even now still finds me. I am a lucky one in my finding my identity and sexual preference; it came relatively easy with more acceptance than rejection, but it’s the essence of fear that beats in a heart full of uncertainty that you can’t see, and that’s why I wrote it — as a collection of thoughts from my own history and the pieces of those in the LGBTQIA+ community who have had their struggles too.

For me, the images of breathing and a beating heart capture the immanence of loneliness and the way it can manifest in physical sensations. I am reminded too of the broader capacity of the heart to ‘bleed’, but also how pain can be a source of learning. This is a paradox of LGBTQIA+ loneliness as well as other forms of emotional difficulty: painful as these experiences are, sometimes they can be sources of insight into ourselves and other people. Sen’s poem does that for me: it reveals the speaker’s journey, oscillating from loneliness, pain, and longing, to moments of courage, learning, and remembering — literally, collecting the pieces of oneself and placing them back together in a new mosaic.

— Richard Vytniorgu.

I come from

I come from — part two

In August we published our young people’s collaborative poem, ‘I come from’, which explored their feelings about belonging, and more broadly, aspects in their lives that have lived with them and which they felt they ‘came from’. These poems were inspired by Dean Atta’s poem of the same name. For our 26+ workshops, we repeated the activity, with really different results.

This poem has a more lyrical, exploratory shape to it, and participants often contributed more than one line, so that the poem is an amalgamation of individual poems. The overall piece has a strong thread of environmental or nature imagery running through it, suggestive perhaps of the rural experiences of some of our participants.

The final ‘I come from’ really hits home for me – ‘being asked the daft questions / I didn’t yet have the answers to’. The hint is perhaps that these answers are still to be negotiated, and may only ever be provisional.

I come from the belly of the earth,

from jellyfish and amoebae,

sharks teeth and rain clouds,

wild oats and silkworms,

puffer fish, waterfalls, mudslides and golden jackal scat

I come from seagulls and seashells and music and love

I come from Scotland, then a life of segments, compartments, boxes

I come from another world

I come from the calling of crickets and air beating off fenceposts

I come from the womb of a woman who loved her newborn

I come from the love of two people who were the best they could be

I come from a family, from the love they gave me

I come from good grades and vodka bottles

I come from duty and desire

I come from the oppressor and the oppressed

I come from the belly of the earth and the end of the Victoria Line

I come from amoebae and supernovae

I come from sharks teeth and milk teeth

I come from wild oats and oat milk in tetrapaks

I come from silkworms and nettle cordage

I come from puffer fish and puffs of smoke

I come from golden jackal scat and golden syrup

I come from tapioca cooked properly so it’s neither slimy nor sticky

I come from mermaids and magic, hairdressers and the zoo

I come from stone circles and pasties, sunsets and nightmares

I come from beauty, I come from shame

I come from being trusted from being told honesty is better than a lie told in regret

I come frog fishing with holes in a net

I come from dancing with a hairbrush to Carly Simons “coming around again”

I come from being a child in the eighties,

from Bros and Boy George pinned to my wall

I come from being in before dark,

and being asked the daft questions

I didn’t yet have the answers to.

— Richard Vytniorgu

 

(To cite: please credit University of Exeter).

I come from

I come from: Young people’s poetry of LGBTQIA+ belonging

As an experience, loneliness can be frightening to think about. For LGBTQIA+ people especially, speaking about loneliness has the potential to trigger unhappy memories and emotions that strike deep chords within.

Which is why for our first workshop with young LGBTQIA+ people (16-25), based in Cornwall, we began by thinking about the experience of belonging.

Where do I feel like I belong?

Where do I come from?

To whom do I belong?

So together we watched Dean Atta’s performance of the poem ‘I Come From’. This is a remarkably simple yet complex poem. Essentially you write it yourself, using only ‘I come from’ as the start of a line. Usually you’d join together two quite unlikely sources of belonging, such as

I come from fish and chips and Chemistry homework.

But over time, you end up with a really intimate and personal glimpse into what makes you you.

The young people in our workshops each provided a line or so using the ‘I come from’ format. And the results were deeply moving. We’ll leave them to speak for themselves.

I come from punk and the heart of the forest 

I come from a feral family and well spoken words

I come from rainbow and black and white 

I come from total freedom and a medically controlled mind 

I come from soft piano compositions and loud guitar screeches 

I come from boy’s shirts and pretty skirts

I come from neglect and care 

I come from Instagram captions and polaroids being fashionable

I come from boredom and an anxiously racing mind 

I come from an empty bedroom and big crowds. 

 

— Richard Vytniorgu

N.B.: for those who wish to credit the poem by quoting it, please use University of Exeter as the ‘author’.