Gathering Words

by Diana Erskine Hill

Why do I like poetry? When I began to think about the question I was not too sure why I write poetry or indeed if what I write is really poetry at all! It does seem to be a  case of wanting to find words to express a thought or a feeling. Painting a  picture with words seems to lead to a different place that can often be refreshingly new. A DIY form of mindful listening!  Something can have an  impact and  I love to  try to  catch it. Like a ‘moment in time’ it may disappear as fast as it came. The motivation to write  is not always clear and that is part of its charm! There is a compulsive sort of obsession about trying to sculpt a shape, the pulling and the tugging of emotions while ruthlessly ditching words that so often get in the way.

I began writing some years ago while trapped inside my own body. Deafness since childhood a key part of it. Words a tool to help communicate and make sense of experiences I found baffling.  Writing gave me a modicum of comfort and lightness whilst in a very dark place.  For years I have avoided this form of expression because it reminded me of a period I wanted to forget. Then ten years ago at a workshop the vibrational sound of a buffalo hide drum being played very close to me seemed to have the effect of waking me up from the dead. Further training at The Institute for Shamanic Studies, Dunderry Park, Navan inspired a renewal of writing as deep-rooted resistances started to gently melt away. Learning to stalk nature listening to the silences  and sounds differently becoming increasingly important.  (Mary T. Malone: Praying with the Women Mystics: 2006). Her contemporary interpretation of a poem by Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) ‘Rivers of Fire’ resonated so well.   But I long to make again a sacred sound. I want to sound out God-I want to be a young juicy sap- running tree-So that I can  sing God as God knows how’.

The late Vincent Humphries, his colleagues in the Dublin Gestalt Institute and  Netta Kaplan (Israel Gestalt Institute) have been a pivotal part of the ground work in this spiritual process  over many years. Their supportive relationships and struggles being mirrored within the context of movement and/or stuckness between peers in group work. Individual gestalt supervision gave me a precious connection with reality when my brother died and a few years later my mother.  I found strength from writing poetic pieces that ultimately made sense.  The night before my mother’s funeral I recited a piece I had written to honour four generations of Mothers and Daughters. I played a simple heart beat sound on the drum at the end of each line. A very dear friend happened to be listening unbeknownst to me and quietly suggested that I could not do one without the other. I was astonished by her reaction nearly more than by the ease of discovering how I might match one sound with another. This ritual reciting a poem and playing a drum as an acknowledgement of my late Mother’s life became a sign post in learning to trust my own voice. There was a sense of  excitement in spite of all the grief. (Mary Oliver: Evidence. 2009) In her poem ‘Just Rain’ she says, I could feel the unborn things rejoicing in the earth.

(Noirin Ni Riain: Listen with the Ear of the Heart: 2009) Refers to Theosony, a greek word, meaning the God of Sound suggests that listening to the ear of the heart is where the real work begins. Doing voice work with the Naked Voice methodology in Wales over several years inspired a conscious unravelling of the blocks between my inner and outer sounds. Participating in sonic landscapes where all versions of sounding, singing, chanting seemed to create an ethereal sense of colour, truth and beauty was liberating.  Meditational walking and writing poetry an integral part of the work. Reciting poems many by Rumi, John O’Donoghue, Mary Oliver led to the beginning of  sharing poems I have written. Finding this essence has been so important in the slow shape-shifting admission of loss of  musicality.

In discovering the gentle exploration of movement with the Feldenkrais method in a group I  became more aware of my eyes. Habitual patterns and rigidities that up until then I had seldom  noticed –  every eye movement working away making sense of what is being said; watching  gestures, lip shapes, facial expressions perpetually searching for clues. I hear with my eyes.

‘Imagine how it might be,  to be present to what is,  no need to push for more just to get it right! Instead watching your mouth, opening and closing, alien shapes splurging out. Premature judgements when lips seem wide and pushy or thin and mean or just hidden, patience spent.’

 (Diana Erskine-Hill: Gathering Words: (extract): 2010)


The Secret Garden

Everything is nigh
Be patient
Be patient
Opening, Open, Opened
Purple crocuses
Elegantly discreet
Uniform daffodils
Buds sealed tight
A bee zooms past
Then a stillness
Birds twitter ebulliently


Daphne deepest pink
Fragrance divine
A sprawled webbing
That is Montana
Thickets and hedging
shady profusion
A willow tree
Centre of gravity
For white, red,  black
Currant bushes &
Raspberry canes
Naked and brittle
Everything is nigh
Be patient
Be patient
Opening Open Opened

Inspired by chaotic contrasts between decay & growth in a magical garden this springtime as a metaphor for life transforming changes that are emerging. Significantly this piece could not have happened but for the  wisdom of my  supervisor (Gestalt modality)and her deeply intuitive creativity.   



Oceans of Aum
A stillness
New realms
Yellow gold leaves
Just falling
Waking up
To the stillness
Without Noise

Away on a training course in the welsh countryside I drifted outside. Playing  a Tibetan singing bowl  these words are a  response to the wealth of  colours, damp smells, and cold air that I found such a relief to be a part of momentarily as I sat under a tree.



In four days
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
The President Mary McAleese
And the people of Ireland
As One


The Irish flag and the Union Jack
Flutter in the same breeze
On Government buildings
Yet nothing moves the Capitol evacuated


A wreath laid, her head bowed
Recognition for those who fought in
The War of Independence at
The Garden of Remembrance


The silenced graveyard
Decaying at Island Bridge
Now worldwide recognition
To the thousands of brave Irish men
In the Great War who never came back


Croke Park
Once the scene of Black & Tan
Acknowledged with respect


My sense of place
Born in England
Reared in Ireland
A double honour

This state occasion 17-20 May 2011 evoked a releasing of old family grief, clarity of identity and recognition of a new level of acceptance towards ancestors. Being a witness to an historical event of this magnitude was amazing all the more so for its sheer impossibility not so many years ago..  


You shyly follow
Daring and brave
Into the circle
Music fills the room
Five years olds flutter
In ballet shoes, tights, skirts,
Wrap-overs and hairbands
All in pink, a Degas scene
A deaf child’s dream
Like then, no sound, just eyes
To copy the rhythm
Each step a counterfeit movement
A passionate quest
To hide a handicap
Moving to blend in
Reaching out to match every step
Stretch and hold
The fight to survive
Dancing to come alive
A dream to blend in and merge
In a circle just like you
Time moves on
A circle of laughter
Loving eyes, you and you and you
Mouthing words
Building friendships
Awake now to
life changing vibrations
Access and inclusion
An outsider no more!

Observing a ballet practise session reminded me of my own ballet school years. How those dreams to be an equal with others with normal hearing was a contributory driving force in co-founding the Irish Hard of Hearing Association years later.        

Diana Erskine-Hill MIACP, MIAHIP works in private practise in counselling, psychotherapy and supervision in Dun Laoghaire,Co.Dublin.  Email


Helminski, K.(2000) The Rumi Collection. Ears, The, 11; Zero Circle; Guest House, The, 187; Boston & London: Shambhala Classics

Malone, M.T. (2006) Praying with the Women Mystics. Beyond Silence: Fire, Rivers of,95. Dublin: Columba Press

Ni Riain, N. (2009) Listen with the Ear of the Heart. An Autobiography. Dublin, Veritas

Oliver, M. (2009) Evidence.  Pond,At the, 34. Rain, Just, 60. USA: Beacon Press

O’Donohue, J. (2007) Benedictus. For a New Beginning 32; For a New Position 39; For a Brother or a sister 110; UK: Bantam Press