Poetry in Motion
Life can be Poetry in Motion as Kate Hammer invokes the call of Madonna ( as mother ) “not about performance or conformance, the invitation is to walk, step in, or step out with compassion, care, soothing and empathy. “
Inside the rings that Kate and her husband exchanged were the letters WWO the number 2 and the letter B, which stands for where we ought to be from a Quaker song based on the tune of an old Anglican hymn called “simple gifts”. I can turn and turn and come down just right. If I am lucky and find where I ought to be.” We can suffer losses or face the horror to a loss that is impending. There’s a different kind of horror to a loss that’s totally unexpected. Trauma kicks. A dream turns into the nightmare that you were not expecting. The heartbreak opens a window of grief.
For Kate this happened when her mother died unexpectedly. Kate promised herself to bear that responsibility with grace. Quite strangely she realised that she had become the mother. She had always had a mom who she had been close to. She mothered her daughter who had a grandmother. Kate’s promise was to do something that her mother had never been very good at. This is to invite people in, to ask for help, to seek support, to admit when she did not understand things. Learning how to do that asking has been one of her greatest gifts.
We turn our attention to poetry – to poem as a verb, not a noun; seen as an event that just happens. Kate dedicated her poem Jigsaw to me, because she was so bowled over by the depth and the intensity of my response when she shared it. Jigsaw is a self-portrait – one that Kate trying to leave behind. The solitude of facing a jigsaw can be quite overwhelming, particularly if it has so much detail and you really do not think you are up to the task and do not want to quit
“Piece by piece, I’ll set my sorrows into the waiting frame and call this my self-portrait. The calls I forgotten to return, the thanks I failed to convey, the hearts I broke not least my own. The overdue library books so late, they’ve been replaced, I’ve been billed, and I’ve paid and still, I can’t forgive.”
Her second poem Bone Dust invokes washing clean. “Bone Dust takes me to a place where I judged myself less, I accept myself more and I let be myself, my feelings and I hope I let be others. “
Kate you are a revelation!
00:00:00 Paula: Welcome to “TesseLeads” with your host Tesse Akpeki and moi the co-host Paula Okonneh. “TesseLeads” is a safe, sensitive, and supportive place and space to share hear and tell your stories and experiences. In “TesseLeads” you will hear from top experts and thought leaders, strategies, tips and techniques they have found useful in navigating a diverse range of challenges, difficulties, dilemmas. And so we hope as our guests, you can help create and shape these opportunities. Today we are graced with a phenomenal guest, her name is Kate Hammer and she will be talking about poetry in motion. Let me tell you a bit about Kate. Dr. Kate Hamer writes and advises on how to make industrial and corporate innovation processes more human. Kate’s coaching practice helps people grow to be emotionally free and able to live more creatively and more deliberately. She is training as a psychotherapist and looks forward to decades of serving individuals who are seeking clarity, peace, and ease through troubled times. She’s also a qualified coach and supervisor and workplace creativity trainer. There’s something that you need to know about Kate, early in the pandemic she volunteered to get in quality PPE to frontline healthcare workers, and then organized an open innovation project involving universities and corporations, which focused on design and comfortable reassuring workwear for carers. This is called CareSleaves, and really it’s a government line that is entering into his fourth prototype series. This has led to the urgent development of washable protective polyester milled in England. Well, there’s so much to talk about Kate. She was born in the 1960s in the USA, but immigrated to London in 1993 and has lived there more than half her life. And in talking about that and talking about lifespans, should her one daughter live as long as Kate’s, grandmother lived, Kate’s daughter would die in 2110. Their two lives both precious to Kate, span 227 years. I could go on and on about Kate. Kate you’re phenomenal. I’m going to end here because as I said, the whole podcast would be just talking about the things she does and she’s such a fantastic guest. I’ll hand you over to Tesse, but I want to say welcome, welcome, welcome to “TesseLeads”.
00:03:09 Kate: Thank you.
00:03:11 Tesse: Wow. Welcome Kate, so glad to have you on the show. And as Paula has said, you just radiate talent. You know, it just one of the things that I just think, when does Kate actually find this time? But in the time I’ve known you, and this is what the best thing that came out of the pandemic for me was meeting you. You just are in that space of not just awesomeness with humility, but making time for people and things that matter, so thank you so much. I’m kind of curious Kate about what the highlights of your life have been? What have been those kinds of mountain top moments that you feel and have felt triumph?
00:03:56 Kate: Mountaintop moments is such an exquisite image Tesse, and thank you. And the one that immediately Springs to mind is in 2013, on a Sunday in March in London, where unbelievably it was snowing. I married my husband and at our wedding, our daughter my daughter, his stepdaughter walked with other children down the aisle and my husband and I exchanged very traditional wedding vals. And then to her surprise, her godmother presented a ring, which my husband placed on my daughter’s finger while I read a vow that was our vow to her. And no one, but Audrey’s godmother knew that this was happening. Magically the ring was familiar to Audrey because I had connived a way to get her to design the ring, but she believed she was getting the ring for her birthday. She was turning nine. And I had family stories about how I had been remissed as a mother, because I had received a ring when I was six and I had never gotten her a ring. So please could she design a ring that I might give her for her ninth birthday. And there were about 60 people sharing the ceremony with us and people were bowled over by that vow and that unexpected exchange. And so quite automatically, all of them stood and filed through the room that Indie and I had left with our all important marriage certificate in hand. And one by one, they greeted her and introduce themselves as they didn’t know her and asked, please could they see the ring? And so there was a beautiful sort of 20 minutes of pure married bliss alone in the reception room, my husband and me. And inside the rings that we had just exchanged were the letters. WWO the number 2 and the letter B, which stands for where we ought to be. And that comes from a Quaker song based on the tune of an old Anglican hymn called “simple gifts”. And it’s about how I can turn and turn and come down just right. If we’re lucky, we find where we ought to be.
00:06:45 Tesse: Where we ought to be, a place of belonging,
00:06:48 Kate: Yes, a place of belonging.
00:06:50 Tesse: Wow. And a soft place to fall.
00:06:55 Kate: Yeah, absolutely. And I rely on the two of them so fundamentally, and I don’t ever play the game in my head of what the pandemic and lockdown would have been like if I had been without them. And honestly, even though this whole episode in the planet’s life has come at such a time where my daughter absolutely deserves the independence that any teenager needs. She has been so willing to accept the burden of confinement, and that’s been what’s required. And many days, I feel like it’s just the three of us on a boat. And I couldn’t wish for better travelers, better companions.
00:07:48 Paula: You were so poetic. Three of your travelers on the boat and you couldn’t wish for better travelers. That’s beautiful. I mean, it took the circumstances on just use such poetic words in describing it. And so they listened, that was one of the high points of your life that you shared with us. Are there any moments that you’ve struggled that you would like to share with us as well?
00:08:17 Kate: I, yeah, seven years ago yesterday I had the rug just absolutely pulled out from under me. I had been in the USA for work and I had flown back to England to collect my daughter and she had turned 10. And I was here for, I think a night and a day just to collect her to fly back to my mother in the USA who has been widowed. And my mother had planned the holiday of a lifetime for the three of us. And Audrey’s father from whom I was divorced, had agreed that we could have this extra long month together in America with my mother and while Audrey and I were in the airplane with no warning, she died. My mother..
00:09:11 Paula: Your mom?
00:09:12 Kate: My mother. And I knew that she had been heartbroken, but nothing was physically ailing her.
00:09:22 Paula: Oh, my word.
00:09:23 Kate: And when we landed, I was calling her from the immigration line because Audrey had developed a stye on the flight, and so she wanted to be seen by a nurse and get a prescription. And so I was trying to rearrange the complicated transport plan that we had. And I couldn’t raise her and I thought, well, maybe there’s been a thunderstorm. You know, maybe the telephone lines are down, maybe the power’s gone. So I called my brother at his office and he answered, and he instantly said, travele to her house I will meet you there wait for me outside. And I didn’t know why, and he didn’t know why, but that was his instinct. And we were in one of those, one of those airport taxis. And it was hot and her eye was swelling, and I was getting these texts from my brother, giving me updates about his journey. And my brother is not the sort of man who micro manages anything. And that really confused me. And it didn’t even occur to me to argue with his instruction, I just went with it. And so when we reached the drive, he had given me the number to use on the key pad and said, bring your bags into the garage. So I brought our suitcases into the garage and the neighbor next door who knew us waved and then when she realized that we weren’t entering the house, she came out and offered us water. And my brother pulled in and he went into the house and the time ticked on and ticked on and ticked on. And he opened the door from the laundry room to the garage with a face the likes of which I have never seen. And he just shook his head and started to weep. And she was upstairs in her night dress on the bathroom floor and the cats were nowhere to be found. And all I could think was at least we three are together. And I know each of you have suffered losses, and there’s a horror to a loss that is impending, and there’s a different kind of horror to a loss that’s unexpected. And I have never experienced the heartbreak that I experienced on that day. And it was quite strange for me to realize that I had become the mother. Because I had always had a mom who I was really close to, so even though I had obviously mothered my daughter, she had a grandmother and I had a mom and suddenly I was the last. And I promised myself to bear that responsibility with grace, and I also promised myself to do something that my mother had never been very good at. Which was to ask people in, to ask for help, to ask for support, to admit when I don’t understand things or something’s too complicated or too annoying to just ask. And learning in my forties, how to do that asking has been one of the greatest gifts.
00:13:26 Paula: Learning to ask. And so you’re saying, in other words that as humans, we need to sometimes share. When we’re going through a hard time, to ask for help, to ask for others to hold our hands and walk with us.
00:13:45 Kate: Walk with us or step in so that we can step out.
00:13:52 Tesse: Yeah. Step in so we can step out, I really love that. And I, something else you said there was about learning how to use the language to ask for the help. This is such a deep sharing. The trauma that kicked in when the dream turned into a nightmare and the nightmare that you were not expecting.
00:14:24 Paula: Ties in with what you said was your daughter’s ring WWO, where we ought to be.
00:14:32 Kate: Yes, it does tie with that
00:14:35 Paula: And you guys were meant to be in the United States at that time, going to your mom’s house.
00:14:41 Kate: We were meant to be there. And one of the things that I find so magical when I look back on it, is that the month before I was due at a conference in upstate New York, and I arranged with my ex-husband, that my daughter would have a longer stay with him so that I could fly over and have a weekend with my mom. And it was that weekend, she was seated in her husband’s reclining chair that had always been his chair until his death. And I was sitting in her chair and we made the dates for Audrey’s and my flights to the US and the other travel arrangements. And as a surprise in the month, following my mother moved her den out of her room, which she had really loved the view of over the backyard, into the front of the house where Papa had had his done. And she was creating bedrooms, one for Audrey and one for me, because we had always shared a room. And my brother was traveling, I think he was making a film in maybe Italy. And so at the end of that visit, I remember speaking to my mother and she said, how funny my European child is in the US and my US child is in Europe. But he got home from his travels and she rang him and she said, could you come and hang the curtains in the new rooms and hang the pictures? So he went to her house, this was the day before Audrey and I flew. And as he walked through the house, he could hear our stepfather calling our mother’s nickname. Button, Button, and so when I could not raise my mother by telephone, he thought she’s gone, she’s gone to rejoin Job. And when I think about the pair of them, they would not have wanted either grown-up child, myself or my brother to bear that burden alone. And so here was a way that we were together where we ought to be.
00:17:11 Tesse: Together, where they ought to be, this was a way. As I hear you’re sharing this, thank you so much for sharing your experience. The design of life, it just happens. Sometimes in a way that in the sadness of things, we are surrounded by those who are meant to be there and supported by those who care, who understand, even when we don’t have the words to say. Just kind of standing with, sitting with looking with and listening with is enough. As you share this story, it’s a sad story. And you said you stepped into that role of being a mother in a different way, in addition to what you were a mother to your daughter. But now you’re the matriarch of your family, right? And that’s such a rich role. I’m thinking of, there was a poem that you dedicated to me, “Jigsaw”. This poem actually comforted me at the lowest point of my life. When my brother Tony was killed by a hit and run driver in Dover. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for that poem, because it was so rich. And I’d be honored if you would read that point, Jigsaw,
00:18:52 Kate: I would love to read Jigsaw. So listeners, this is Jigsaw for Tesse.
00:19:05 Kate: Plastics straight edges will form the border. This is axiomatic. I’ll sift for those first, one sound all slop them into place, a kinesthetic click assuring the rightness that sometimes proves wrong, but easily enough I correct. Ah, here’s a resolution neighboring a determination alongside a string of completions, just so all orderly tidy, not at all the everyday of the missing sock. The pen playing out of ink, the tea to dark since the pour of the milk amounted to no more than a pale drizzle. The straight edge gives semblance of finality. At the corner, a turning, but not open-ended, instead it marks an arc of activity, definitively abandoned or aborted. A corner turned is an infinity four closed. Sacrifices must be made. It’s the inside pieces I find troublesome. Scallops gaps, clean images, these are my regrets. My misfires, my missteps. There are hundreds of them, hundreds in each 1000 piece set. Thousands and thousands across a lifetime. The words I misspoke, the ones I swallow. I could drop them singly into the waiting reservoir if I’m in a mood to sort playing disappointments from piercing mistakes. Sord timid hush from the egregious halabaloo or instead I might just as well sweep them with the edge of my Palm so they fall fist twelves into the waiting box land. There my fingers can lace through the overturned their plain blue backings so their belly up. Showing now not simply their contours, but also their faces unique delineations of color, line recrimination. There’s an umbrella blooming open on its curved handle missing the hand to hold it steady against the drench. The single shoe below the comfort trials are a lovely brown brogues stepping into an abyss. The child’s face that might instead be a doll’s disembodied cradleless. Bowling bowling, no bow, no embrace only emptiness. The wheel is taxing, the curtail, the Marquis. The stalk of what should be a lamppost standing headless in the dark. Piece by piece, I’ll set my sorrows into the waiting frame and call this my self portrait. The calls I forgotten to return, the thanks I failed to convey, the hearts I broke not least my own. The overdue library books so late, they’ve been replaced, I’ve been billed and I’ve paid and still, I can’t forgive. My autobiography refuses to finish. The missing piece shaped like the bare unblinking table that Blares. Clocks don’t tick in this digital world. No cat swishes figure eights around my ankles. Besides me, the flat is empty above vacant streets. Nearby stands a silent vacuum with a slurping wand, all mouth, no teeth and a belly full of dust and crumbs suspended in a lattice of hair strands that fell unnoticed and unaccounted for. Life persists, I puzzle on, even when things don’t add up or amount to much are inconclusive, tentative, or simply suspended. One tenant only, keep a broom in a home with Jigsaws only brooms.
00:23:40 Tesse: Thank you. Yeah, what led you to write Jigsaws?
00:23:47 Kate: So it was the first Sunday in 2021, and it was the first time that I had been alone in the house since October of 2020. And my husband had hired a car to take our daughter back to college. And I was working on a jigsaw puzzle, because I do a jigsaw every Christmas. They always help me on my igsaws. And so I found the solitude of facing the jigsaw quite overwhelming, and the particular jigsaw had such detail to it that I really didn’t think I was up to the task. But I didn’t want to quit. And so as I faced the jigsaw, the poem came to me, because poems are like events, they happen. Poem is for me a verb, not a noun. And I wrote it down, and very soon after I shared it, and Tesse, I was so bowled over by the depth and the intensity of your response. And so it was an honor to dedicate it to you.
00:25:07 Tesse: Thank you. It’s spoke to my heart, and there’s some something that was in there, which is the jigsaw and the missing piece. And then the bit at the end, which was a broom. And, let me put it this way, you went to a place in my heart that was hard for words to reach. But you did it with your poeming. Thank you. Paula, you said there was a poem that you would like Kate to read.
00:25:44 Paula: If you may, yes, if you have time. Because the Jigsaw, I’m working on a jigsaw, very complicated one. Well, and it’s a picture of me and it’s still hard. I took a picture the other day, I was like, whew.
00:26:00 Tesse: I love Paula. I love Paula.
00:26:06 Paula: Yes. I love that. I mean, I listened to you read that, I’m like, yeah. But in all those intricate pieces together, some things that look so impossible would they fit and you put it there. Whoa it actually fit. I know that feeling. And so that brings me to another poem that I know you have. It’s called Bone Dust. Would you be willing to read that for us?
00:26:33 Kate: I would love to read Bone Dust for you. And Bone Dust is a poem for the weary. And I wrote it as, sometimes I think of parts of poems as prayers. This one, I think of as an incantation. So this is Bone Dust. The marrow in my bones dried to dust by overworking, oversharing, lopsided, carrying powders the insides of my clothes. Making their fibers, scratching, drawing my fingernails to disrespect tender skin. Scraping futilely, and ruthlessly to remove an itch inflamed when what I want, what I need is renewal. I agree I’ll stop, I’ll lend myself to you life. Oh, wipe me clean one weary piece of me at a time. Wash me with warm soapy waters, soft warm flannels that have circled elbows and surfed behind ears, under arms between toes and spun in the machines. Merry thought this carousel, then kissed by the sun as they wave like small semaphores from the washing line. Drawn from the fence to travels across a garden that has known more seasons than I have years. Squeaking clean, delicately patently dry with the same gentleness, the dew lands on the blades of grass that need not bow or bend to risk. With you life, there need to be no rabbit DOB, no abrasion, no haste. Crown my head about too long over pages and puzzles and predicaments in a terry cloth Turman. Plump my flesh with tenderness, soothe me with hopes ball, restore me to my grounds of being. So that clean I may sleep unburdened from nights re-laboring of days unfinished business. And so awake without alarm, clear eyed tenderly ready to begin again.
00:29:08 Paula: I could hear the weariness in that. You captured it. It is a poem for the weary. That part about the fingernails where it, that. To disrespect tender skins, creeping futilely, and ruthlessly to remove an itch inflamed when what I need is renewal. It says a lot.
00:29:35 Tesse: Yeah. I think that for me, there’s that thing, tangly ready to begin again. And it’s the tenderness and readiness, like water going over stones and washing them and refreshing them. In the weariness finding energy, which is it’s it contradiction. And yet it has to be the possibility to start again and to be the glimmer of hope.
00:30:06 Kate: Wow. What’s so beautiful about the conversation that we’ve been having, is that the story that you invited that bubbled out of me was about becoming the matriarch and Tesse, I don’t think it’s a role I do very well. I think I’m very absent-minded in terms of my ability to be a focal point for anyone but the trio in my home. But both of these poems for me come from that matriarchal place where, I know as a woman, I have asked and expected so much of myself. And the demands that I primarily make have been at times relentless. And Jigsaw is a self portrait and it’s one that I’m trying to leave behind, because the washing clean that is invoked in Bone Dust takes me to a place where I judged myself less, I accept myself more and I let be myself, my feelings and I hope I let be others.
00:31:29 Paula: I mean this is a perfect note to end on. Thank you. I hope, it’s like we have to lean in to hear that, and that’s what we want. We want people to be leaning in to hear whoa.
00:31:43 Tesse: Yeah.
00:31:44 Paula: What did she just say? And you said a lot.
00:31:48 Tesse: Yeah. Judge myself less, love others more.
00:31:56 Paula: Yes.
00:31:57 Tesse: And guess what? That’s what the matriarchs does. That’s what the Madrona does. And it’s not about performance, and it’s not about conformance. It’s about compassion, it is about care and it is about soothing with empathy. And that is what a matriarch does. Thank you.
00:32:26 Paula: Thank you so much. And to our listeners, what more can you say. You have heard Kate, you’ve heard about her poems, you’ve heard her struggles, you’ve heard about her triumphs. We want you to know, our listeners, that your precious stories and lives matter. I would love you to share them with us. In “TesseLeads” our purpose is to support and encourage and nurture whoever listens to this and the guests that come on, do a good job at that. So, if you love what you have heard, please head over to Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere you listen to podcasts and please click subscribe. If you find “TesseLeads” helpful, please let us know in your review. And if you have any questions or topic, you’d like us to cover, send us a note. And if you’d like to be a guest on “TesseLeads”, head over to www.Tesseakpeki.com/tesseleads to apply. Thank you.
00:33:44 Kate: Thank you both so much.
00:33:46 Tesse: Thank you, Kate. You’re awesome, you’re brilliant.
00:33:49 Paula: You are.