The Air We Breathe (A Poetic Collaboration)


[This was originally born, last summer,  from the photo provided by Shan Ellis-Williams, which spawned some poetry from three of us, members of the Grass Roots Poetry Group. It is now presented to Victoria Slotto’s “Writers’ Fourth Wednesday:”, this week on one of my favourite poetic prompts, Ekphrasis. Have a wander over to Victoria’s piece on The Bardo Group’s Blogazine, HERE ]

Mountainous Montage (A Poetic Prompt)

Mountainous Montage
(A Poetic Prompt)

(by John Anstie)

Neither is the path so long,
nor is it two-dimensional,
but has it ever made you feel
the depth as well as width of life?
The touch of fate that threatens you,
that takes you to the brink, the edge,
is all it needs to stop your breath,
but, when you feel most vulnerable
and choked by stifling air,
its density lying heavily…

…up there where air can bite you
this moment’s revelation can
elevate your spirit, steal your fear,
invade your nose behind the eyes,
and drug you ‘till your vision’s clear.

Atop the world, the deep blue heavens
come closer than you’ve ever known,
and take you to that other place
where is the air we breathe,
the fruit of seeds we’ve sown.

Jamming off John
(by Marsha Berry)

…where is the air we breath,
the density lying heavily
pregnant with electricity,
ready to crackle
yet the fruit dangles
enticingly … promising

Jamming off the mountains:
(by Shan Ellis-Williams)

It was enough, once,
to meander lazily,
one foot pushed forward,
the other followed,
always seeking the comforts
of freshly potted jam
and newly baked bread.

Then came the rain.
Enticed by mud, we skipped,
bare-footed, petticoated,
eternally youthful,
beneath that pacific cloud,
breathing in that fresh musk
of summer showers.

No-one remembers
when it ceased,
or how motion drove us to forget,
desist from moments of joy,
but it happened.

As true as I stand here today,
in fresh snows,
calling upon ancients for wisdom,
for they know the secrets,
kept from us meanderers,
as we search for home.

Jamming off Shan:
(by Marsha Berry)

Magical wisdom
clods beneath our feet
fractals of the clouds above
drip drip drip drip drip drip
the rains come
the moon wanes
and so the sun
shall warm us all
heat disperses
and returns transformed…

Jamming off Shân and Marsha:
(by John Anstie)

…renewing and refreshing
from memory alone
those childish mores
of sweet-laden stores
and of days on end,
when the sun always shone
through lime green leaves,
dappling a longing heart
and the inner recesses
of a life that once was …

© 2013 John Anstie, Marsha Berry, Shan Ellis-Williams

[This collage of poetic ad lib, ekphrastic ‘jamming’ occurred, as ever it does between these friends, following the prompt of the inspiring picture, proposed by Shan… and we thought what better place to publish it than in the dVerse Poets’ Pub on ‘Open Link Night’ tonight. And so it was, we did.]

About PoetJanstie

“Life is short and art long, the crisis fleeting, experience penniless and decision difficult” ~ Hippocrates. As a young man, John was sporting and fit. It was then as much his recreational therapy as a cappella harmony singing, music, walking in the hills and writing is now. Playing Rugby Union for over twenty years, encouraged in the early days by a school that was run on the same lines and ethos as that famous Scottish public school, Gordonstoun, where our own headmaster had been as a senior master. This gave shape and discipline to a sometimes precarious early life. His fitness was enhanced not only by playing rugby, but also by working part time jobs in farming, as a leather factory packer and security guard, but probably not helped, for a short time, selling ice cream! His professional working life was spent as a Metallurgical Engineer, Marketing Manager, Export Sales Manager, Implementation Manager and Managing Director of his own company. Thirty five years spent, apparently in a creative desert, raising a family, pursuing a career and helping to pay the bills, probably enriched his experience, because his renaissance, on retirement, realised a hidden creative talent as a writer of prose and poetry. He also enjoys music, with a piano and a fifty-two year old Yamaha FG140 acoustic guitar. He sings bass in three a cappella harmony groups: as a founding member of a mixed voice chamber choir, Fox Valley Voices and barbershop quartets. He is also a member of one of the top barbershop choruses in the UK, Hallmark of Harmony (stage name of the Sheffield Barbershop Harmony Club), who, for the eighth time in 41 years, became UK Champions in 2019. He is also a would be (once upon a time or 'has been') photographer with drawers full of his own history, and an occasional, but lapsed 'film' maker. In his other life, he doubles as a Husband, Father, Grandfather, Brother, Uncle, Cousin, Friend and Family man. What he writes is sometimes autobiographical, often political, sometimes dark and frequently pins his colours to the mast of climate change and how a few humans are trashing the Earth. In 2013, he published an anthology of the poetry (including his own) of an international group of poets, who met on Twitter in 2011. He produced, edited and steered the product of this work, "Petrichor Rising", to publication by Aquillrelle. His sort of strap-line reads: “ iWrite iSing iDance iChi iVolunteer ”
This entry was posted in Collaboration, Free Verse, Hope, melancholy, nature, nostalgia, Pleasure, poem, poetry, Wonder. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to The Air We Breathe (A Poetic Collaboration)

  1. cloakedmonk says:

    So beautiful! I love the poetry jam and wouldn’t that be fun to do. (files thoughts away)

    I enjoyed just pondering the dimensionality.


  2. dragonkatet says:

    I really enjoyed the differing viewpoints presented here and how each seemed to flow into the next. I did not expect to read more than you, John, so it was a pleasant surprise. 🙂 That picture is magnificent! One could almost fly away into that great big expanse of sky! I was born in the Pacific Northwest and I will always miss the mountaintops. Not the foothills of Appalachia and the Smoky mountains like we have in TN but the REAL mountains, the ancient ones, like the Himalayas and Alps (and even, to an extent, the Cascades and Olympics). Anyway, it was a delightful journey with all of you. Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

    P.S. I really like the picture of your “tree rat” in your header up top. 😉


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Mountain air is certainly invigorating and life enhancing. We have hills here in the English Peak District and moorland, but not the same. The tree rat, or squirrel as we call them (albeit the grey squirrel, which originally came from North America) inhabits that hole in a tall sycamore tree that I photographed one sunny morning five or six years ago. The tree and the squirrels are still there today.


      • dragonkatet says:

        I was kind of kidding with the ‘tree rat’ description. That’s what a lot of people call them here in the south, although I have always liked squirrels. When I lived in Ohio, there were even some wild albino squirrels, which were quite the sight!


  3. Jamie Dedes says:

    I so enjoyed this the first time I read it, John. You played off one anther beautifully, at once immediate and nostalgic. Interesting.

    Thanks for playing with us for Writers’ Fourth Wednesday, John.


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Thanks Jamie. We did enjoy those collaborations and the fruit they bore, but I guess there are only so many times you can regurgitate the same material until it needs to be put to bed for a while! Anyway, I’m glad one or two seem to have enjoyed them for the first time. 🙂


  4. I so admire this collaborative effort and the magnificent vista if offers in photo and in words. I’m lucky enough to live in a mountainous area. It does something for the spirit.


  5. Jamie Dedes says:

    Clever and fun and totally enjoyable. 🙂 What a good idea … an online poetry jam. Poem on …


  6. eden baylee says:

    I loved what Joe said and how you responded. Your words flowed nicely from one poet to another, and back to you once more.


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Yeah I did too. Great idea for a poetry slam with improvisation… now that would take some focus and talent to achieve.


      • eden baylee says:

        I did something quite original for a short story – 4 different authors, each writing their own part — a relay race where we passed the baton to the next person, and they had to write their piece. I started it and it went from there.

        I’m not sure how it would work for a poem, but It might 😉


        • PoetJanstie says:

          I just read it and its a great story that holds together very well and a very unexpected ending! I was particularly impressed by Billy Ray’s ability to write in the first person singular… a man writing as the woman of the piece. I do think it can be done in poetry, not only in the way that we demonstrated above, but in a more structured form too, but I still think this would be an ultimate challenge to slam poets :).

          Incidentally, I just remembered, two and a half years ago, when I started blogging, I came up with an idea that was clearly not a new idea, but was prompted by memories of how to entertain three children on long car journeys, which we did fairly regularly. Anyway, you can read about it here: and follow the link at its end to the first part of a Sci-Fi story I started, but never got any further, probably because I didn’t have any followers at that time – poor old Billy Nomates I was 🙂 – and is now lost in time. If you fancy a read, let me know whether you think my fiction writing career has begun, or whether I should stick to the day job ;).


  7. othermary says:

    Oh very cool jam! :o)


  8. I agree with the others that it was verbal music – a chorus of voices singing a song – and as I have seen Wales (although I wasn’t able to “experience” it) I can certainly see how the delicacy of the wild trees alongside the rugged mountains can inspire this painting – this reverie. Beautiful.


  9. Beth Winter says:

    Incredible. Collaborations aren’t easy and to create such beauty, smooth progression and three voices speaking in one voice is truly a rarity. Bravo to the three of you. Excellent.


  10. Joseph Hesch says:

    My dear friends, I so enjoyed this collaboration, reminding me of watching blues guys nod to their mates to say, “Take it!” and each carries the next artist higher. Just great, mates. 🙂 ~ j


  11. 1emeraldcity says:

    O, you three! What fun you had…how clever…and really some beautiful lines here… Bravo!


  12. Mary says:

    Truly amazing work! What a wonderful collaboration. I really cannot imagine achieving what the three of you did. Kudos to you!


  13. Splendid work, all three of you. The ability to collaborate on a poem requires unique talent and mindset, but look how it developed. A collaborative effort could be a good thing when the muse takes leave. Something to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • PoetJanstie says:

      Thank you very much, Victoria. I wish I could say it was contrived, designed, but it was just the inspiration of the Shan’s picture and bouncing off each other. But, you know, you’re right, it’s always got to be productive getting a few poets together to (as Marsha put it) ‘jam’ off each other. The best kick start you could want, really. It was certainly refreshing.


  14. brian miller says:

    ha. conceptually this is amazing…i can just see poets sitting in a circle someone dropping a verse and the next playing off it and on from there…like a drum circle even…where to even start…you all did well…love the open end john to let it wrap back around..i wont start quoting as i may leave someone out unintentionally but know it was appreciated…smiles.


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