Unwindings & The Unanswering

This is a video of a reading at Minstrels & Bards* Spring 2022 for an upcoming show.

For Calling In The Muse, May 1 - July 13, 2022, an on-line show by Erica Ross curated from her Open Studio sessions, I share two poems written in 2022, Unwindings and The Unanswering. These poems share my inner perceptions in, hopefully, a language that is honed, polished, yet which flows, that has an aesthetic beauty of its own.
In Unwindings, Virginia Woolf is a muse. Re-reading her novel, Mrs. Dalloway, I came across a sentence that reverberated. Each day, another image arose in response. The final poem is about the unwinding in her novel, and the unwinding in us when we undergo inner revolution. My second poem has five potential titles, Woman Walking In-Verse, Hanged Woman of the Tarot, Pittura Infamante, and Soul Question. As of writing this, I think it's last line works best: The Unanswering. I took a Movement & Memoir course with Sara Porter in January 2022. We moved between dance and writing. In the session out of which this poem arose, she asked us to dance our deepest question. I was working with a concept of a personal ‘life review’ at that time, and danced my question from angstful depths. Then we drew our dance on paper, and that drawing is now a choreography of the piece. We got up and danced again, this time guided by our drawing. After that, we sat and wrote about our question in the dance that transpired. Again we rose, danced, and after, noted shifts that occurred in the writing and the dance through the successive iterations. From this whole process, I later composed my poem and, because it has a choreography, can dance it anytime I read or recite it.

If I dance The Unanswering at an event again, the poem needs to be memorized! I put this video together quickly so that what I submitted to the show would have a visual component. It's kind of a fun reading, though, especially as good friends were in the audience.

The drawing of the original dance and that has become a choreography for dancing the poem:

Woman Walking In-Verse, 2022, 17" x 10", deAtramantis inks on Strathmore drawing paper.

*Minstrels & Bards is a quarterly writing & music series I run at the Tranzac Club in Tkaronto/Toronto. Go the the Facebook group or scroll down on my website Homepage to see more info:
Music from Arms and Sleepers - Cinemas For Marseille (Instrumental) Primo Levi - Violin Piano Floating II (Instrumental) Center Of The Sea - Bending Gravity (Instrumental)


Alchemical Wheels: A Portrait of a Painting & a Near Death Experience (a silent video)

Alchemical Wheels: Portrait of a Painting & a Near Death Experience (a silent video)

Alchemical texts are riddles. Writing about visionary experience is impossible. Here goes…

the circle dips


& two become one

opalescence of the self,

golden pearl rising

A psychic and artistic journey encircling a dream of alchemical wheels emerging on each side of the face. Wetting charcoal dust, dragging charred willow, self-portrait surreality. The spinning wheels become Catherine Wheel fireworks, then a spiral goddess path. Maria Prophetissa,1 mother of alchemy and chemistry, beckons, one arm about me, the other pointing.. How to do the work of turning lead into gold — her formula:

“If the two do not become one, nothing will take place. If one does not lighten, and the two become three, nothing will take place. But when one yellows, three becomes four, for one yellows with yellow sulphur. At the end, when one tints into violet, all things become violet.”2

Carl Jung, in Alchemy and Psychology, writes:

…the ultimate aim of alchemy…was trying to produce a corpus subtile, a transfigured and resurrected body, i.e., a body that was at the same time spirit.”3 

Scraping, chiselling the carapace, breaking the shell, sloughing the cocoon, a serpent’s, an oroboros’ discarded skin. Hardships, pain, complexes, defense mechanisms, PTSDs. Grit of peeling. An emergent self — trust, openness, sensitivity, generosity, loving. Untarnished, wondrous child. The transfigured self, glittering healing radiance of what calls, powerful love pulling us to live in intimate near-death-experience, profound, inclusive. Fully who we are and fully in the panorama.

Impossible vibrating luminance of the self beyond the self in the self.

The video follows a journey beginning with, ‘Self-portrait after an Alchemical Dream,’ 2021, 20x26", charcoal on Yupo paper, then focusing on ‘Alchemical Wheels,' 2021, acrylic on canvas, 30x40”.

My Near Death Experience at the age of 28: 

‘Radiant energy appeared. A startling and powerful love had come for me. How powerful this love was is indescribable — the greatest love I have ever felt, complete and full. I drew upwards, rising from my body, leaving it on the bed below. I felt only ecstasy, the wave of my form nearing the radiant healing energy like entering the Great Union or heaven or Nirvana. As I rose, I thought, ‘but my father’s grief, the life I’m to live…’ and, immediately, fell back gently into my body and the radiance vanished.’

For many decades, I’ve regretted my egoic attachment to my little life, to not embracing that powerful love, to what I might have learned and brought back. Working through this grief in painting has brought me to a realization that something was, indeed, imparted. If it was a type of ‘das-log’, a shamanic Near Death Experience of Tibetan religion, then I may have given from it.


1 Maria Prophetissa was a 1-3rd century Jewish woman who invented the bain Marie, the double boiler, still used in cooking and chemistry today, and who is credited with being the mother of chemistry and the first recorded practitioner of alchemy.

2 Quote from Jame Hillman’s audiobook, The Alchemy of Psychology, BetterListen! LLC., 2015.

3 Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, trans. Gerhard Adler and  R. F.C. Hull, Princeton University Press; 2nd ed. edition (Oct. 21 1980), p. 514.

With gratitude and thanks to the Centre for Applied Jungian Studies' Art of Individuation 2021 course.
Music, a edited mix I did of Kepler, BytheWay May, a paid-for license from


Self-Portrait After an Alchemical Dream

Self-Portrait After an Alcemical Dream, 20”x26”,charcoal on Yupo paper. ©Brenda Clews 2021

Self-portrait after an Alchemical dream. ©Brenda Clews 2021. 20"x26", charcoal on Yupo paper.

[Adding the original dream & something on the process of what's appeared in this preparatory sketch for a possible painting, if you'd like to know what it's about.]

Original dream
…red spots develop under my cheeks, and as I powder them, they become raised wheels, one on each side, which the thick powder whitens, six spokes, a central hub and an outer wheel, a relief sculpture perhaps, like something from myth, an archetypal symbol, which the attempt to hide with powder only accentuates. I feel no horror, or pain, but awe as I brush the powder on skin become wheels and spokes. Sculpted like Medieval cosmological wheels, alchemical wheels of transmutation, the configurations are mysterious, almost reverential, an embodied reference the Wheels of Ezekiel, but also to the powdered faces of highly-stylized Oriental performance, and somehow the magnificent coiled antlers of Bighorn sheep… (2008)

Process of charcoal sketch:

Friday, I decided to try a charcoal drawing to see how my dream of the alchemical wheels appearing in my face, rising in my cheeks, might appear. In the dream, I powdered them as they rose sculpturally. But here I hoped to let my 'unconscious' take over and I did go into a light trance and even worked with my eyes shut at times. At the beginning, I used a sponge and charcoal powder that I then sprayed with a fixative, and kept working. There are distinct shadow and light sides. The wheels are dark - to me, the one in shadow looks floral; the one in light, ocular. The hair fed snake-like into the wheels, which seem almost to be whirring and that is unlike the dream. And I see four eyes!

I find the drawing a bit scary, actually. There's psychic progress for sure. Self-portrait after an alchemical dream. 20"x26", charcoal on Yupo paper.


Fruiting Bodies

Fruiting Bodies
is writing begun during lockdown and stay-at-home orders. When you are alone, you don't have a sense of yourself-in-context of the society in which you are a viable subject. You move through your rooms invisible to yourself, you don't think about how you look, and aren't dealing, one hopes, with your otherness among people. Race, colour, creed, size, age, these aren't at the forefront when you are home, in your own space where you are safe to be yourself. The images, in this section, are from my abode, and, when I read them, I find the familiarity of what I dwell among. I wanted this writing to have a spiritual dimension since I believe we all speak in our privacies to something ineffable, to what guides us through our lives.
Recording a reading was entering the world in some way. It was hard to look at a non-existing women, myself, in the clip, to see her, the gesture of my physical body, the contours of age. I hung a William Morris Tree of Life weaving as a backdrop, and shot in a room of sunlight. Editing the video, I began layering in poppies I've photographed on my walks through my neighbourhood, perhaps seeking to add some beauty in what is essentially a 'talking head' video. I live over a subway, which I rarely hear, but, oh, could you hear them on the sound track! I removed the sound of 8 trains! Lastly, I added chimes, which I had ordered for this video, some larger ones, and played, standing, moving the clapper. I hope I've produced a watchable reading. 

A reading for a feature at the Art Bar Poetry Series in Toronto - one in a series of many Canadian poets who have videoed themselves reading their poetry during lockdown over the last year and a half. Many thanks to Margaret Code and Rosa Arlotto for their hard work and dedication to providing one of the best spaces for poets to read, share, blossom. 

A special shout out to Lizzie Violet, whose beautiful hand-crafted flower I wore in my hair.


Tulip on Tulip

An open studio that my friend Erica is offering. I had no idea what I’d do this time. Sometimes showing up and allowing the inspiration of the moment is the way to go. Grabbed this and that and a chalk pastel and Taylor’s chalk of tulips wilded on paper. No plans to keep the pastel which will go out with the tulips, but they make an interesting photograph. 



Portrait in Black & White

Drawn with graphite putty and a 4B pencil on yupo paper an hour or so ago.



Archeology of Water

This began with an image of memory scrawled in a notebook in April 2019 that I knew I would work with, either in a poem, or perhaps video. That note, 'memories carved on other memories like archeological layers that disintegrate, losing their definition under the press of time,' evolved into this filmsoundpoem of at least 50 layers all wrapped into each other as they dissolve.

In May 2020, I took some clips on a hike that struck me as interesting and began to edit them. Then I expanded the original journal fragment into a page of repeating phrases that were then written onto a new page, edited and spoken as a sound poem of repeating tracks (as part of a series of short soundpoems I'm working on). That final scratched-out page is placed on screen - we love to see other writer's processes.* 

The sheer number of compound images rolled into compound images in this video pushed my hardworking computer to its limit and eventually I simply had to stop, create some handwritten titles and credits, and let this little oceanic memory poem skip out on the waves.

I would like to thank my dear companions, Kate Rogers, Dai Evans and John Oughton for a hike on May 16, 2020 in Presqu'ile Provincial Park near Prince Edward County in Ontario where the lapping beach clips were shot.

As ever, this is a one-woman production - soundpoem, video, voices, editing, everything except of course my friend John, who skipped a stone on Lake Ontario, was done by moi, for better or worse.

*Archeology of Water, it seems in retrospect, though different in style, follows from a videopoem I worked on between 2014-2018 called Ink Ocean, a poem which emerged from a drawing into which I had written the beginnings of the poem. Here is an older official version based on a 2014 performance, with the drawing in it, Ink Ocean, and here is a newer more free-form performance that I quite like, Ink Ocean.


'Pull Down the Northern Lights for Chandeliers,' Zoom video August 20, 2020

 "I'd dance to death to evoke it." "Who in me writes?"

It was a rich, varied poetry evening where we read, talked about process, and asked questions. I'm still integrating what everyone said. An evening of inspiration. I would like to thank my features, Elana Wolff, Michael Mirolla, Margaret Christakos and Jeff Cottrill for their superlative poems, readings and expressions of inspiration. And for our fabulous, talented audience! You all added your creative energy to this dynamic event. Thank you, one and all! 💗

The drill order:

I open with a pre-amble, then read/perform a prose poem, 'Pull Down the Northern Lights for Chandeliers,' about breaking through a writing block of 9 years, followed by a Q & A. Elana Wolff and Michael Mirolla each read a poem and talk about their writing process. There is a 15min break, where discussion ensues. Margaret Christakos, and Jeff Cottrill each read a poem and talk about process. We end with an open discussion with feedback on poems and writing processes. My hope is that writers who watch come away inspired, and thinking about how best to continue writing in the ways they most wish. 


0:10 Brenda's pre-Amble
07:50 Brenda gets Lola, the tiny doggy
08:30 Brenda read/performs Pull Down the Northern Lights for Chandeliers
27:57 Q & A on Pull Down the Northern Lights for Chandeliers
42:54 Brenda introduces Elana Wolff
44:44 Elana Wolff reads 'Surfacing Behavior'
55:14 Break, with open discussion
1:09:16 Brenda introduces Michael Mirolla
1:15:38 Michael Mirolla reads 'Demeter Makes Plans to Uproot Herself'
1:32:42 Brenda introduces Margaret Christakos
1:35:34 Margaret talks about Pull Down the Northern Lights, performative aspect and imagery, and also her own poetic
1:41:00 Margaret Christakos reads 'Charger 12' and speaks about open field poetics
1:55:22 Brenda introduces Jeff Cottrill
1:57:50 Jeff Cottrill reads 'Wilfred Owen's Off Day'
2:13:41 Open discussion at the end

direct link:

I would like to thank the League of Canadian Poets & Toronto Literary Council for funding for this event.


Crawling Out of the Morass

A preliminary sketch that I hope to work on in the coming days. Photo with electric light during a dark thunderstorm. Self-portrait, stick and water-soluble graphite, 20"x26". Crawling out from a deeply troubling family crisis.



The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

June 20, 2020

Today I am silent. Between The Book of Night Women, by Marlon James, and the ballet dancer, Sergei Polunin, who I watch on YouTube. One, grippingly violent, a story of the slave trade in Jamaica, in beautiful prose, in a seamless, perfect and mesmerizing dialect; the other, one the best dancers in the world, spins and leaps that are superhuman, a force de majeure, but shy, introverted, a rebel and a visionary. I float through a heatwave, basking in humidity. Sitting on a bench with my cat, I stare at the foliage and sky, the green, until I am saturated with heat and the healing of trees. Later in the evening, I buy the 2017 documentary on Sergei, The Dancer. I am living in Lilith’s world where she defended herself violently against rape. There has been blood in my mouth since that scene. I had to put the book down because I am living in that hut with her and her burned, skinned-alive would be rapist. I fall asleep dreaming of pirouettes. 

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