Spells & Hexes, popular as ever

 

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Last weekend, I ran a Scrivener’s Stall for Ludlow Medieval Fayre, at which I provided Spells, Recipes & Hexes to an astonishingly eager public. Lovely event! I wore a dubious medieval costume (blanket, kilt pin and big hat) and never looked up for four hours – except once to quell a squabble in the queue about whose turn it was.

People of all ages told me what they wanted, and then to a greater or lesser extent we collaborated on the spell, which I wrote on the parchment in my best italic.  Then we lit a stick of red sealing wax, and they applied the stamp.  Heads craned.  Several people asked me if the spells would work.

It was such fun that I’m keen to do it again – so if anyone you know needs a spell-writer for an event, then I’m your inky-fingered poet…

Making Poetry on a Hillfort

I’m just starting work on a fascinating project focused on Earl’s Hill above Pontesford, just south of Shrewsbury.  It’s called Impressions of the Past – a community arts project celebrating the Iron Age landscape.   A week ago I joined Joe Penfold from Stiperstones & Corndon Hill Country Landscape Partnership Scheme, Hugh Hannaford, Senior Archaeological Advisor at Shropshire Council, and a big group of interested people – and up we went.

Here’s a flavour of the place, and the writing that arose from being there.  The words are those I collected from participants on the walk, as well as my own.

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now we walk in a gaol of ash, its vertical bars/   for here is the cold side of the hill/  this bright world flickers in thin strips

 

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sky is slate & bright/ at once, rain cold

 

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we stand in cold on the swelling edge/ of ramparts that denote/ their status in their number

 

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look up & understand/ the hillforts planted in the sky god’s path/ his race across heaven/  whirled rays of stone/  & bronze/  his little votive wheels

 

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we climb to learn an architecture/  that unmanned/ that put the shield arm/  wrong-sided to the rampart, raised the eyes

 

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Here they used no coin, but cattle, metal/  & a life in the sky god’s upturned hand

 

The whole poem is below:

Earl’s Hill Translated

begins on a low green mound
edged round with oaks
where recent schemes of replica roundhouse
motte & bailey
green burial site
were all seen off
by local buyout, how this hill
still matters in the town

& we take in sheets of images
how LIDAR maps
the earth, what’s on it
trees & soil & houses
in one hit
to every half a metre
translates to
coloured images
of time & shadow, bounces
off tree canopies
& then subtracts them –
makes ground digital

we stand in cold on the swelling edge
of ramparts that denote
their status in their number
look up & understand
the hillforts planted in the sky god’s path
his race across heaven
whirled rays of stone
& bronze
his little votive wheels

sky is slate & bright
at once, rain cold

we pass from hand to hand
a stone that’s more deliberate
than accidental
hold it in your palm & run
your finger down its cutting edge –
a tool

we’re glad to move, get warm
along the Bulldozer Path, just one
of the names not on the map
but passed by mouth
she says she’s been here nine full years
but has a lot to learn

he says he’s been up the hill a thousand
times & once years back
when deer were few, a roe buck sprang
along the slope – a scout he says
& once he found a slow worm on the path

now we walk in a gaol of ash, its vertical bars
for here is the cold side of the hill
the way to The Craft & all
this bright world flickers in thin strips

to where the path turns steeply up
where a Shropshire word again
not on the map is valley under rampart
we crick our necks to see where once
a palisade joined sky & ground
stark against Eastridge & Lordshill

we climb to learn an architecture
that unmanned, that put the shield arm
wrong-sided to the rampart, raised the eyes
& struck reluctant awe

Here they used no coin, but cattle, metal
& a life in the sky god’s upturned hand

& we speak of Lily Chitty, local, polymath,
archaeologist & botanist, who walked this track
& wrote her thoughts down in the thirties

then save our breath & place
our boots in giant’s footsteps
as the children do
we’re nearly there, this is
the top of the world
nothing can stop us

(how every child in Shropshire’s
been lifted
onto the white trig
to be photographed)

& wind bites us in a howl out of the west
sun thins, a rainbow is
a strip of brilliance
against this stony sky
& bracken browns & crisps
dies back
from a fire of toadstools

maps rattle between several hands
wind cuts through Gore-Tex, but
from here the ramparts of The Wrekin
rise two-horned
& we salute the ditches at Wem, at Nesscliff
& Old Oswestry, at Llanymynech
& the Breidden
at Beacon Ring & Callow Hill

 

 

acorns

 

 

 

Grand Finale Night for ‘In woods we forget things’

A stream of excited children and smiley adults poured into Ludlow Assembly Rooms yesterday evening for the Grand Finale of In woods we forget things, at the wood edge we tell stories.

I laid on cakes (made in Ludlow, and not by me) in vast quantities.  There was also tea, coffee and juice – and once everyone had been refreshed, I was thrilled to bits to find over 70 people sitting down to see photographs, live performances and short films of the project.

‘The wood is as rough as a black bear’

Last week, on a day with a distinct October nip in the air, I walked back to the woods with Bucknell Primary’s Key Stage 2 class, as part of my project ‘In woods we forget things, at the wood edge we tell stories’.  We carried laminated copies of the children’s poems, and cameras to film their performances under the trees they chose to write for.bucknell-visit3-inwoodsproject-jean-atkin-11

Once we were in the wood, the children scattered to find their trees.  No-one had any trouble remembering exactly the right place.  Indeed more than one pair showed me the precise knot or bulge or bark pattern that had inspired a particular line or phrase.

Everybody practised, and then we all trooped round the wood, alternately being the performers, and the audience.  The performances were moving and joyful, and the quality of the listening was just as good.

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We left the laminated poems tied onto the trees for Toni and Ru to find later.  (And we also left a poem for the Composting Toilet).

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This project is funded by Shropshire Hills AONB and Shropshire Housing Group.  More on the project blog here.

Thinking about Children’s Poetry

A fascinating blog post from Josephine Corcoran, looking at children’s poetry, Winchester Poetry Festival and a 2015 issue of Modern Poetry in Translation magazine  which had a focus on children’s poetry in translation. Serious, important stuff.  Also fun.  Here it is.

Ahead of Winchester Poetry Festival which runs from Friday 7 October to Sunday 9 October, and because I’m teaching some poetry workshops for children at Trowbridge Town Hall on National Poetr…

Source: Thinking about Children’s Poetry

‘In woods we forget things, at the wood edge we tell stories’

Print screen blog cropI’m very excited to say I’ve got funding for a new project, which will take place this autumn.  It’s called ‘In woods we forget things, at the wood edge we tell stories‘ – click for a blog which will document our progress.  The project is funded by Shropshire Hills AONB and Shropshire Housing Group, and many many thanks to them.

The project will provide opportunities for three different groups from the community in south Shropshire to spend time in native woodlands, learn real, useful conservation skills, respond to place through poetry, and perform their own new site-specific work.

The three groups involved are from:

  • Bishop’s Castle Primary School
  • St Mary’s CE Primary School, Bucknell
  • The Working Together Group – a Ludlow-based registered charity who provide a focus for people with learning disabilities and their families

These groups are matched, respectively, with woodlands at:

  • Brook Vessons, Stiperstones
  • Tru Wood, Bucknell
  • Brineddin Wood, Chapel Lawn

I’m really looking forward to starting work on this.