Finding Treasure in the Marches

Finding Treasure workshop 2016 (12)
Part of the Nummus Hoard, plough-dragged in its field

This morning 12 poets joined me and Peter Reavill, our regional Finds Liaison Officer, in a workshop exploring just some of the treasure trove of the Welsh Marches.  Peter blew us away with a mix of archaeological precision and rich storytelling – the hedge under which someone, in 1645, buried the Bitterley Hoard; the river ford where someone wrenched the Dinham Pommel from a sword, then hurled it into the waters of the Teme; the rhythmic, hour-after-hour sound of someone dressing a cutting-stone in the Paleolithic.

Finding Treasure workshop 2016 (1)
On the top floor of Ludlow Library, Peter Reavill makes handaxes new. 

Despite time being as ever too short, the poets produced the beginnings of characterful, muscular work.  Here they all are.

Finding Treasure workshop 2016 (10)
Poets deep in concentration, Peter still using every minute too.

And here’s the tyg, a 17th century loving cup.  On a night in 1645, the tyg’s owner drained his eggy, clovey, honeyed posset, then stacked it with his stash of coins, some of which dated back to Elizabethan shillings.  Perhaps the Royalists were going door-to-door in search of contributions to the cause.  Our man was having none of that.  He buried it.  But never dug it up.

Finding Treasure workshop 2016 (14)
The tyg, in which the Bitterley Hoard was found.  Left, the remains of a kid purse inside it.

I am so thrilled that in a mere two and a half hours the group came up with such exciting starts to poems.  More #FindingTreasure events are planned!  We’ll be publishing the poems that result!

Finding Treasure workshop 2016 (17)
Extract: A Charm Against Uncertain Borders, by Jean Atkin



Finding Treasure – gold, dust and detectorists

Viking troll wife pendant
For knifed into the bronze, my troll-wife
leads her horse down these same paths.
All night her long hand bridles him
with snakes to make him tame.

her long eye is my old amulet
she is the secret dark
inside of barrows


I’m working with Peter Reavill, the Regional Field Officer of the PAS – Portable Antiquities Scheme, looking at ways of developing a project.  I’ve written some poems about artefacts dug up here in Shropshire.  The extract above is from one of them – about a bronze Viking pendant dating from the 8th to the 11th century.  It was found near Oswestry, on the very edge of the Danelaw.  It was an object signifying cultural belonging, and was probably a good luck charm.

Our next activity though, is to offer a Poetry Workshop: Finding Treasure at which Peter will introduce some artefacts, and I will provide creative ways into writing about them.  It’s booking now – do reserve your place quickly!
flier PAS poetry JA











In which #Pen2Mic goes to #NAWE2015

Durham lights
Lumiere at Durham in shiny rain

Just home from this year’s NAWE Conference in Durham, a whirlwind of exciting ideas and interesting people passionate about writing, education and imagination.  Returning on the train last night I agreed with Liz Hyder (@LondonBessie) that it could not have taken only three days. More like a week.

This year Liz and I took our new workshop Pen To Mic, up to Durham for the Conference.  The point of Pen To Mic is that workshoppers write a new poem, edit it, prepare it for performance, learn microphone skills, and then perform their work to the rest of the group, so they all become each other’s audience.  All in 90 minutes.  We think 2 hours would work better!

Pen To Mic was scheduled for 9am on Sunday morning (which took a fair bit of coffee to counteract) and we were expecting a diminished band of sleepy workshoppers.  Imagine our surprise when 22 people arrived.

What made it work of course, was that we had such a skilled group, who knew what they were doing, and really took part with generosity and gusto.  Thank you everyone for your lovely feedback!

Here’s how it went:

me leading Pen to Mic
The group at work, writing their poems in response to prompts
Pen2Mic reading to wall
Reading to the Wall, a vital part of the workshop
Pen2Mic reading to wall2
Individual microphone coaching
Pen2Mic performing
And – the performance to audience
Pen2Mic performing 2
The memorable performance of a great poem that ended with a one-word sentence: ‘Damn.’


Poetry In The Museum Vaults – a first taste of what’s to come…

Museum Vaults group locked inFor almost six weeks I’ve been working with a marvellous group of people In The Museum Vaults at Ludlow Museum Resources Centre.  Each week a curator locks us into a different vault, where we make notes, take photos, and then I help along the writing, applying coffee and chocolate biscuits as you do.

We – and Ludlow Museum Resources Centre – hope this will become an exhibition of creative writing and artefacts next year.

Meantime, here’s a taster of some of the exciting new writing that’s emerging.  And some photographs, that I took, and that don’t match.  But hopefully you’ll get the idea.

Stones and Mammoth Bones

was it a terrified marmoset or a rock python
a giant toad – a bufo marinus – mid-croak
or an eagle-headed griffin… that made you stare?

Stuffed, Tagged, Pinned
Stuffed, Tagged, Pinned

You, golden eyed, red burnished like sun on rusty tin, velvet ears pricked.
Magnificent you are.
Thin you are.  

Working Clothes & The Rustle of Silk
Working Clothes & The Rustle of Silk

It was such a plain dress; no frills or flounces, bows or lace, silk or taffeta. Somehow I could just picture you wearing it, your tall frame filling it as you walked down the summer lanes.  

Ladies, ladies, how fortunate you are!
Goddesses bathing in a sylvan landscape,
Your ample figures quite acceptable.
Today you would be hurried from the scene,
And sternly offered diet sheets.  

Cow's Hair Suitcases
Hairy Suitcases

Who named these things? Wulfenite, marcosite, topaz and tourmaline,
olivine, garnet and aquamarine?
Was there a Miss or Mr Hach who named the Hatchbetine
or a mad professor who named Ogygiocarella debuchi from the Ordovician sea
of Llandeilo, where sheep now graze?  

Costume (3)
In the First World War a million uniforms died  

I visited an archive full of clothes
hung high to the ceiling in double rows
and there were boxes and boxes of caps, shawls
and scarves, christening robes, aprons, bonnets
and shoes. A red cross uniform from the
First World War, a single Tudor sandal,
ice-skates and stoles. Each item had a number
and I relished the democracy of it all.  

Dolls House
Dolls House

During making iron,
dross is skimmed off the molten metal,
in order to pour good metal into moulds.

But what do we do with the quirky dross
of un-fileable museum items
Hide them behind the door.  





Specially for #NationalPoetryDay last week, I sat at a desk in the middle of Ludlow Library with my noisy ancient typewriter and provided VERSE TO GO! to a succession of lovely people of all ages who were curious enough to come and find out what was going on.  We wrote poems together about gorillas, a special place in New Zealand, a cuddly toy called Rabbie, a sea-plane flight in Norway, Peppa Pig’s wellies and bellydancing at Appletree Theatre in Ludlow.  Just a few below:Bellydancing Appletree

Jean Verse To Go Copper Beech poem Olive + poem Olive's poem Peppa Pig


“Give us your inner guillemot!”

said John Hegley to Section E.  Section E was two nice people selected because they wore spectacles.  Sections A to D were whole corners of the very well-packed Sitting Room at the Blue Boar in Ludlow, but when their big moment came, the two members of Section E gave vent to their inner guillemot in style, bringing a wonderful night of poetry to a rampaging close.

John Hegley & Leaning Audience 2
“Lean to the left!”

Every two months I organise The Poetry Lounge in the Sitting Room, Ludlow’s open mic night with guest poets.  It’s great fun.  But last night we did excel ourselves, because we had not only the excellent poet Ian McEwen in town, but also Mr. John Hegley himself.
John read us poems about his grandmother, which teeter on the very brink between regret and celebration, he read poems about the great divide between spectacles and contact lenses, and generally delivered poems which carried the audience with him every joyful step of the way.

Lively audience
Happy Audience
Audience participation Ian McEwan
Ian McEwen inspiring some audience participation

Ian McEwen gave us a set described later (by poet Steve Griffiths) as both playful and substantial – an exact and accurate phrase I can’t improve on.  His Fridge poems, which were both thoughtful and surreal:  ‘the light that is/and isn’t there’ – were hugely well received.  He read us his National Poetry Competition prizewinning poem, the truly beautiful Our Lady of the Pylons.

… Her shadow

laid on corn, on tar, on earth,
is levering the sun around the earth,

to explain the hollow landscape,
and her faint construction-lines

are the gateways to a sky. Hum for us
Our Lady of the Pylons, hum for us
or hum

Ian finished his set by sending out his ‘poetry ninjas’ (oh, yes) to hand out copies of a poem for audience participation, ‘Fire’ ‘Fire’ Fire’ we all chanted happily.

As an audience we were also treated to some really fine performances from our Open Mic spot poets – it was just lovely to watch Nina Lewis’s rapport with her audience, hear Paul Francis’ honed sestina on Ian Duncan Smith, Graham Attenborough’s questioning on what we make poems for, Rob Harper on Arthur Smith’s difficulties in a newsagent’s queue, Meg Cox’s inimitable delivery of her Fuck poem, Miriam Obrey’s long weather-people poem and its riff on ‘Sumer is Icumen in’ and Claire Leavey, whose poem about displaced people created ‘the quietest quiet of the night’, said John Hegley afterwards.

Thank you everybody who came along, who performed, and thank you to Adam and all at The Blue Boar, who are so supportive and enthusiastic about The Poetry Lounge.

Miriam Obrey
Miriam Obrey
Meg Cox
Meg Cox
Graham Attenborough
Graham Attenborough
 John Hegley's Souvenir Poem & Jean's dad's railway sign from the downstairs loo.
John Hegley’s Souvenir Poem & Jean’s dad’s railway sign from the downstairs loo.


Five Sites, Five Senses : disability, poetry & landscape

I’m working on a great project with partners Shropshire Hills AONB, the Vision Homes charity in Ludlow, Loudwater Studio and all-round dynamo and now good friend, Julia Walling from Woods for Wellbeing.  We’re taking people with severe disabilities, with their carers, out into the nearby countryside in the Shropshire Hills. It’s called Five Sites, Five Senses to reflect the nature of the places we’ve been out to visit, and bearing in mind the various and differing capacities of the service users.

In this way, for example, at Carding Mill Valley, I went with a blind man and his carer up a steep short path and over a plank bridge to reach a bird hide.  His carer walked backwards over the plank bridge, holding his hands to guide him safely across.  Once we got into the bird hide, it struck me that of course we were not going to look.  We listened.

5 Sites 5 Senses Loudwater poem bird hide CROPWe’ve made visits now to three of the Five Sites: Carding Mill Valley, Gleanings Rural Study Centre and Brynmawr Care Farm.  Our big scrapbook record is taking shape.  It includes photographs of participants, artwork by both service users and carers, my poetry drawn from conversation and observation, and artwork by Julia Walling.Book Carding Mill 5 CROP

Book Gleanings 2 Book Carding Mill 3 Book Brynmawr 2

The Poetry Lounge hosts John Hegley and Ian McEwen

I’m so thrilled to be hosting two wonderful poets at The Poetry Lounge in September!  The Sitting Room at The Blue Boar is a wonderful poetry venue, combining that challenge of a quiet, quirky space – with ready access to a bar…  Tickets have to be limited, this will be an intimate reading – so if you want one, or lots, rush to The Blue Boar, who have an allocation, or contact me quick!

#5_The Poetry Lounge John H Ian McE 1 Sept 2015 poster

A couple of photos of The Blue Boar.  If you haven’t been yet, it’s very nice.

Blue Boar sun deer in pearls

Writing poetry for The Little Museum of Ludlow

Little Mus of Ludlow Gaming Piece + words
WW1 brass gaming piece belonging to Egbert Lello, used to pass the time in the trenches.

I had a fantastic time with the Little Museum of Ludlow on Saturday morning.  It’s part of Ludlow Fringe, and an inspired idea to create a temporary, serendipitous museum of local objects brought in and lent for the duration by local people who’ve chosen to opt in.  I’m going along when I can over the next couple of weeks to make poems with some of these people after conversation about the things they’ve brought into the ‘Museum’.

Lovely to meet Teresa Albor and Catherine Wynne-Paton, artists from The Paradox of Order, who invented this project.   I was also there to meet Richard Lello, a very knowledgeable and nice man who came in to talk to me, bringing his great-grandfather’s brass bottlejack, and his grandfather’s WW1 gaming piece.  From our conversation and my high-speed notes of what he said, I’ve now written two new poems for the Little Museum,  which will shortly be on display with the objects in Ludlow Library.

extract from ‘Brass Gaming Piece’

He twirls it now, and it swings its fat weight up to settle
in a true gyre, that inertia-whirl before it falls.
Its tip is polished from spinning on mess tins.
Put Two, Take Two.

It’s a really lovely project, drop by if you can.


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