On a bright, fierce, freezing day in December, an enthusiastic group of poets gathered for our latest Troubadour Day at Barton Court, under the Malverns. Barton Court is a Georgian gem of a country house tucked under the hills. It has a tithe barn, a medieval dovecot, a piggery, a ferretry – and a hound-wash, just to be going on with. It’s run by its enthusiast owners Linda and James, who looked after us beautifully, gave us a delicious lunch – and mince pies from heaven…
David Armitage, of Malvern Hills AONB, took us on a fascinating, if arctic, tour of the grounds, telling us history and anecdote and tall story. Back indoors I started everyone writing new poems…
And then we had the marvellous lunch, followed by a tour of the inside of this beautiful house, which most importantly, included the ghost. And then more discussion, prompts and writing.
So I’m delighted to have permission to publish here some of the work written that day:
The Nowhere Room
This was the rabbit hole to wonderland.
Bridging the centuries, hanging in air
a tiny room the width of its door
straddling two houses.
It had whitewashed walls stark as a hermit’s cell,
a lamp, a wooden pole and a window.
Above the sill a grid of leaded panes
opened to a space, glass roofed
a no man’s land of light and air
where black wood beams faced Georgian stone
held there by cross ties, huge ribs of iron.
In here was a world of safe sizes
the tumble of toys, the lord of misrule.
A child’s stretch and fingertips
could fathom it from side to side
no shadows when the door shut
on stitched samplers, bon mot
seen and not heard.
The child is still there, between then and now
in a far corner of a room
in a warren of a house
that we think we have left behind.
The Gardener’s Cottage
The small brick cottage is within earshot of
The lord’s morning bell calling his workforce.
And just a stone’s throw from the walled garden,
A sun trap once providing produce to the kitchen.
Later it will be home to solar panels.
I wonder how the gardener coped
Living adjacent to the kennels.
Next door is the deep hound-wash.
When returning from the hunt the pack
Would be pushed one by one through the archway
Into freezing deep waters to swim across.
On the other side was a small yard,
Where they would be fed after shaking themselves off.
Now a bistro set sits in their place.
Very refined dogs, I thought, to use a table for dinner.
An Unseasonable Death
The body lies past Boxing Day
inside the cottage he didn’t own.
His death was inconvenient
at this time of celebration,
but it’s cold; the corpse can keep.
The funeral will have to wait
until the dazzle of hunting pink
has faded into January.
The master’s guests, oblivious,
filled to the brim with Christmas cheer,
tip his replacement and remark
how he doesn’t change from year to year.
Good old chap – still going strong.
The hounds remember. They are unsettled.
Unknown hands feed them now.
He was reliable as time.
They recognised his daily patterns,
learned his heavy tread, his cough.
They pine for the familiar stink
of pipe tobacco, clay and sweat.
Their ululation is for him.
Post Tenebras Lucem
A fire in each of the fifteen bedrooms.
How many daughters of Colwall trudge
these stairwells to kindle grates?
Their shadows chase through windows leading
to the black and white heart of this house.
At midnight, the lone bell tolls in dreams.
How many daughters of Colwall find their place
here, footsteps stamped into the earth
beneath stone slabs and floorboards?
Mary J and Mary C sweep cobwebs dawn till dusk
Lizzie and Betty and Nancy and Ann
fall into step, lug watering cans to the walled garden.
Coal scuttles at dawn harden muscles, ready for
arm-aching picking, peeling and polishing.
Toughened up, Grace and Alice live up by the rafters,
Amy, Hannah and the others toil along lanes at daybreak,
muffle giggles at the piggery, the ferret house;
fling their wishes to the skies with the doves.
Tithe Barn at Barton Court
Winter wind rushes across tethered beams,
through patterned holes in brickwork,
bringing light and breath –
a collection of sighs tied to the past.
Voices echo with the lone bell,
footsteps woven with doves’ wing-beat:
a coming home to this ancient space.
How we’ve lost our way
How we swipe through our days
How we need this restoration.
In this cobwebbed, dust-filled shelter we become
rooted, grounded in a past we had forgotten,
finding our place again in this rural home.
The Things We Leave Behind
A puzzling photo
A half-written tune
A sturdy table
A hand made chair
A plate and some mugs
A mystery ‘thing’
A faded carpet
A tattered bear
What unrecognisable version of my life
will be deciphered by a future poet
from the relics that remain?
Rising from Green
Rising from encircling green, rock steady,
smooth ridged, magnificent, serene.
Crown of the Malvern Hills, British camp commanding
All the countryside around.
Ancient, mysterious, brooding.
Men become small and unimportant,
Tiny stick figures outlined by the sky.
The sense of past history, as clouds mask the sun.
They stand there in awe, for a moment at one
With those many before who too felt the draw
Looked down, felt the sound
Of long gone voices, echoing round.
Past battles, past losses, gone grief, children’s cry.
Those tiny stick figures outlined by the sky
Roll back the ages, stand tall in the sun
Feel the weight of past times and years yet to come.