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My Poetry Story

When I was age 7 and in first grade, my best friend Lisa and I wrote many short poems together.  We took great delight in cutting and folding paper, writing our poems out in coloured ink and in making "books" of our poetry.  I feel a happy-fire in my belly just thinking about us and our little treasure(y) which we stored in our locker.

Shortly afterwards, Lisa sadly moved away and I signed up to a pen pal service.  I began writing letters to children (and Lisa) across the country whom I'd never meet. The rays of hope that showered out of the post box every week with stamped news and tales from afar kept me going through the many difficult days of my childhood.  Thank you, parents, for the pocket money to buy stamps!

As I approached adolescence, the pen pals became mostly boys and I turned to bulk-writing in journals, where there were no limits to what could be said, what could be imagined nor which emotions could be dumped.  I learned to be contained by the written word and by the time I submitted my first poem for publication at the age of 12, I knew that words were my friends and through them, I could always speak truth

My uncle, George Venn, is a poet and Pacific Northwest Historian and throughout my entire life, has sent us his published poetry books.  I'm grateful to his example, encouragement and input over the years.  George set the standard for me and the norm that if you are a poet, you share your poetry - in books, in Christmas cards and at family gatherings. He is a great folk musician, story-teller and poet; I could listen to him for DAYS.  My father, his older brother, can remember every word of every verse of every song and hymn.  And is a copious reader.  My siblings are also book worms and I'm grateful that we were not raised on television and microwave ovens.  The Bellingham Public Library was our second home - the place we went to after school to wait for our Dad to collect us after work and take us out to our rural home.  I believe I read every single book in the children's fairytales and mysteries sections before we moved upstairs to start browsing through magazines, as teens do.

In 2009, I needed major surgery and instinctually, knew to pack a notebook and pen to take to hospital.  I knew what to do with pain.  Write it.  Write about it.  Draw it out and in so doing, let it pass, breathing through the words, being healed through the words.  And therein, that year, my poetry returned.  The work you will find in this website and in my upcoming book are all words which have been written since then.

Since 2011, I have performed my poetry with pianists such as Marcel ZidaniJanine Smith and Sequoia. I created “Concert Poetry” which is poetry inspired by music and performed alongside each piece that inspired it, creating a frame through which audiences may engage with the music.  This innovative work has been well received and collaborations with various performers continue. My poetry commissions to date include artist, Tony Heath, Coughton Court, a National Trust property, The Bulmer Foundation (renamed The Brightspace Foundation) and the Winchcombe Festival of Music and Art. I'm a current member of The Society of Authors and also a trustee of Orchestra Pro Anima.

My composition story

By the time I was 14, I discovered that by putting my fingers on a keyboard, a language could be found for my emotions far more easily than with pen in hand.  So I stopped writing poetry and began composing songs.  Words found tunes and tunes took over. The black and white keys became my new friends and I began to stumblingly pour out my heart through my fingers - ever groping for the sounds, the registers, the volumes and textures that would be able to speak for me as I retreated further and further into myself.  Whilst I had performed on stage from the age of 4 singing in a trio with my siblings and playing the flute from age 8, I was a terrified pianist and dreadful at piano recitals.

As a child, nobody ever told me that I could be a composer.  The first time I learned that being a child composer was an option for someone other than Mozart was at the age of 19.

One day during my freshman year, I found myself sitting before Roger Briggs in his office at Western Washington University.

"Tell me what goes on in your head," he gently bid me.

"I hear music in my dreams at night and I want to write them down...but I don't know how."

"Play them for me, play the sounds you hear in your head," he said, and tenderly sat me down at his piano.  For some reason I wasn't afraid to play for him and the sounds spilled from my heart through my fingers.  He then sat down at his desk again, not saying anything and from across the table said, "You are a composer."

"Am I?!"

"Yes.  Would you like to study composition and become a composition major?"

"Well, yes please!" I replied, having no idea what I was signing up for other than that I felt very comfortable in the presence of this teddy-bear of a man.  He then picked up the phone, made an administrative call and that was it.  I was a composer.

That term I wrote songs for piano and voice for other people to sing and play, getting past my performing terrors to the true intention of my communication.  I sang in Faure's Requiem.  I listened to Stravinsky.  I entered a whole NEW world.  A wonderful, WONDER-FILLED world and I've never looked back.  My journey took me to the University of Washington where I made another friend in Joel F Durand and then on to London to study with Michael Finnissy at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM).  I had found my tribe.

I was 12 weeks pregnant when I graduated with my B.Mus. degree from the RAM and for the next 12 years predominantly taught piano, wrote a few pieces and generally poured myself into garden and family - as per the template of my Colombian Mother.  As the children grew older, I was able to do more and began writing to commission again, moving on from piano teaching to do so.  The children, family and garden have been the subject of many pieces and poems and I'm grateful for the wealth of material they provide.  I always remember Michael Finnissy saying to me, "Helena, it's not the material that matters, it's what you do with it that matters."  Thank you, Michael.  As always, you are right.

My precedent was set with Emily Dickinson writing from within the world of her garden and my dear friend Helga Hislop ONLY painting what she found within the boundaries of her garden.  My material is limited on purpose.  It's all I know.
 

My business story

Writing to commission is beautiful but jolly laborious work as one must generate the ideas, communicate them onto a score, create parts, be meticulous about detail and do all this in a timely manner so that the performers have the scores in hand in time to rehearse and premiere.  I'm grateful that my husband was supportive of my creative work and whilst I also supported him in his business, I could carve out the time for commissions.  However, when he began to irreversibly lose his eyesight in 2014 and our lives turned inside-out, commissions could no longer pay the bills and I had to do something else, and fast.

When life throws you lemons....MAKE LEMONADE!  So that's what I did.  I took all my creative energy, love for the earth and all things holistic and (over the past few years), built a company.  It has been jolly hard work, but remember, I'm used to that.

The attention to detail in the materials and the centre (my score), the team (orchestration), the humility in serving others - all components of a magnum opus.  My ego died when my first website went down with our obsolete server so when I started the detox business, all fantasies of poetic or compositional greatness were carried permanently downstream.

I was wired to serve, (my whole family is involved in social work), not to win nor compete.  So business for me, is about serving as many people as I can, delivering what I promise to deliver (and more) and always, for everything, to be beautiful.

My dear friend Stephanie taught me, "the deeper the pain, the greater the need for beauty." It has taken years for pain to work its way out of my cells and now, I'm left with a love for silence, solitude, serenity, simplicity and stillness.  I'm not afraid of anyone's pain as I have sat with my own - which is why I love my new business.

This website is my gift to you.  I will sell content in due course, I have a book coming out and possibly, in the near future, a CD of concert poetry.  But what is here on display, is for you.  Now.  So take your time, go through it page by page and be blessed - for that is my intention.

Thank you for being here with me,

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ART

In May 2013 Alison Henry delivered a one day portraiture demonstration at the Winds of Change Gallery in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, as part of the Winchcombe Festival of Music and Arts.  Helena - a poet and composer based in Gloucestershire - agreed to sit for the day.  The piece was finished from photographs in the studio.