Celebration Day for Impressions of the Past

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At last this wonderful project has come to its end.  To celebrate the months of workshops, walks and community, we held a celebration party at Poles Coppice, the site of the Oak Palisade and the Poetry Bench.

Around 55 people turned out to share food, fun, stare over at the Iron Age ramparts on Earl’s Hill, find the clay roundels they’d designed, and the words they wrote.  We read a few poems, and crowded round the installations.

Over 150 people contributed to ‘Impressions of the Past’ – thank you to each and every one, and special thanks from Ruth and me to Huw, Mike, Betul, Bob Gibson, Jim Sadler, Nigel McDonald and Joe Penfold.

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Publication news

I’m very thrilled to have a poem in both these beautiful new anthologies – #2 from Vanguard Editions, and the fourth ‘Birdbook’ from Sidekick Books, which focuses on Saltwater and Shore.

A Tramp of Poets for Arvon

I’m just back from a gift of a week, staying at The Hurst for the inaugural Poetry with Walking Retreat, led by David Morley.

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Sixteen pairs of walking boots littered the hall, and it was very interesting, going for group walks and yet being alert to the possibilities for poetry.  It worked, slightly to my surprise.  (I’d planned to disappear on my own now and then if it didn’t).  But the group was lovely, and rapidly bonded to become a very supportive and creative community.  Helped on by the truly marvellous food…

I’d met David at various events, but hadn’t experienced the high tide of energy, irrepressible curiosity and sheer knowledge before.  He did a lot more than he needed to, including providing one to one sessions for us (mine was exciting and challenging and fruitful).  He filled the workshop room with books and handouts and bits of bone and feather, took us out with a bat detector and a great device that you can point at a tree to hear birdsong several times louder than life.  He trained us all how to call owls.  He made us see asemic writing in the woods.  Here’s some:

The steady rhythm of walking is good, I think, for writing.  I scribbled constantly and illegibly in my scruffy small notebook as we put in the miles through coppice, hillside and river paths in the mornings, and then wrote all afternoon.  There is something magical about The Hurst – a mellow, thinking house.  Steve Ely was our guest poet, rolling up in an ex Forestry Commission van with a lamping light on top.  He was great.

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Early in the week David provided us all with a photocopy of Clun dialect words and meanings, and loosed us on the village with the resulting short dialect poems.  I have to say I enjoyed this a lot.  Not great art, but great fun.  I hid mine in a shop. And it was such fun to walk with poets – they look around themselves so much.  They are so nosy.

Twelve Poems about Chickens – Candlestick Press

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I’m so delighted to have a poem from my pamphlet, ‘The Henkeeper’s Almanac’ picked up by Candlestick Press, for their beautiful new book ‘Twelve Poems about Chickens’.   Here are poems which celebrate the quirks and curiosities of chickens.  Sentiments range from Sir Charles Sedley’s 17th century complaint at an early wakening:

Thou Cursed Cock, with thy perpetual Noise,
May’st thou be Capon made, and lose thy Voice

to a meditation by Kay Ryan on a chick breaking out of the egg:

It can’t afford doubt.  Who can?
Doubt uses albumen 
at twice the rate of work.

‘Those dabbing hens I ferociously love’ – how I do love Norman McCaig’s poem ‘Cock before dawn’.

The West and the East are measured from me…
It’s time I crowed.  The sun will be waiting.

I’ve had cockerels with just this megalomaniac streak, rigid on a wallhead in the morning, crowing insanely at all they can see.

I contributed a little poem about a black Araucana hen I used to keep in Scotland, drinking from the pond in a blowy March.

Her feathers blow backwards
but she hops out
onto a stone and sips
pondwater.  Frogspawn
ripples in the gusts.
She tips up her head.
Her bright comb’s
a first flower.

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March Araucana

From Uley to Owlpen

Owlpen Tuesday (23)I’m working on a set of poems that have developed after a week spent in Uley and Owlpen.  I found well-worn tracks and holloways, the ruins of a medieval cloth industry built on wool, hills topped by Neolithic barrows, topped again by Iron Age hillforts, and once again by a smallpox isolation hospital, once again lost.  There’s still poverty.  There’s still wealth.  Here’s a faint flavour of place.

Owlpen Tuesday (22)

we stop for breath and the wood
breathes leaves
on the steeps
below Uley Bury

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Owlpen Tuesday (20)

in the dark lane
you look both ways

it wends low in the land
& nights, the badgers
own this road

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Owlpen Tuesday (13)

smallpox under
the sycamore avenue
on the islanded hill

such old, old trees

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Owlpen Tuesday (15)

so many things
vanish
without trace

one is pulling up its roots,
has started walking

*

Owlpen Thursday (5)

this is how beech leaves
take the light down with them –
make use of water
to sink it into soil

*

In which I have a poem on Radio 4

I’m on Radio 4!  This is truly thrilling for me!

Something Understood candle

I was very lucky, alongside excellent poet Elisabeth Charis, to be part of a Writing West Midlands-brokered commission to write a poem for Radio 4’s ethical and religious discussion programme Something Understood.

The programme’s theme was ‘Bread’, and it went out on Sunday 23 August, and if you’re so minded you can listen to it for the next 29 days (and counting).  The link is here, and you can hear me reading my poem Bread Generations about 6 minutes in.

Here’s the poem.

Bread Generations

The grandmothers said, it’s an art like fire
They said this
is the very nature
of leaven.

Snare in a white bowl
your kitchen’s tiny alchemy
of airborne spores.
Observe them strengthen
through a pale brown week of bubbles,
then raise like a thin,
elastic ghost,
yeast’s reek.

For unleavened bread
has no past.

The grandmothers said, keep some starter
back in your dish
to be fed like a kitten
and watched
like a fire.

They said, think ahead, provide
for the ones that follow.

Call them in.
Break bread
together.
Re-make
a bakers’ rising.

How we returned the wheelbarrow #LittleMuseumofLudlow

All good things must come to an end: Kate Morgan-Clare and I packed up the last of The Little Museum of Ludlow yesterday, returning lent objects to their owners, and gathering into the fabulous wheelbarrow (I love that wheelbarrow, unacquisitively) a selection of our found objects to return them to the town…

Dismantling Little Museum of Ludlow7And then we pushed it back across Ludlow, from Ludlow Library, along Tower Street, across the Bull Ring, up King Street, and back to the derelict garden where the wheelbarrow has rested for decades.  In the hot sun, kneeling on weeds turned crackly with drought, Kate slowly placed the objects we’d brought at the foot of a crumbling old wall.

I wrote a poem.
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Returning the Wheelbarrow Behind the Gate

You will crashsqueak on dry earth.  Lurch
this weedy, sudden garden to the space
the barrow had.
Put down your burden.  Breathe.
Kneel in dry leaves.
Be slow.

Place a bone to an ivy root.
Lay
a paper flower pinkly by the wall.
Thread a tattered feather
past a root-loop.
A labelled rip of rubber spun
off a tyre on Old Street leans
on a twig not native to this place.
Slip
a luckless scratchcard
to a knuckle bone sucked dry by dogs.
Hear rook-caw.
Rain
reverent confetti.  Rain its petals
on the footings
of this limey, head-high wall.
Let ring
a rolling quarter-chime of church bells.

Labels dangle.  Stir.  Feather
quivers in a swell of air.
Wheelbarrow Tag No. 9891
has gone
to rest among the nettles.

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The Little Museum of Ludlow: wheelbarrow & wood bust

For a fortnight The Little Museum of Ludlow (part of Ludlow Fringe) has welcomed in a strange and marvellous collection of objects, lent to us by the public, and scavenged from around the town by artists from London-based Paradox of Order and more locally, from Hereford College of Art, plus poets Martin Evans and myself.
Little Mus Lud wood headHere’s my poem about the hardwood bust, lent by a Ludlow resident.

Head & shoulders, in hardwood 

so much heavier than you think & smooth
as the hand you long to hold
(It’s what she held when she was tiring)

age & gender don’t seem to matter much,
though this must be about a kind of youth or essence
of who we are at heart

head slightly turned to the left and tilted, just
a hint of question; the lips stay softly closed.
(It’s what I hold in my hands to remember her hands)

ears only an indication, eyes are blanks
or eyelids: this is all about
the power of touch on our mortality

& only the one small blemish
underneath to say
it’s human

Little Mus Lud Wheelbarrow 3And a poem I wrote for a scavenged, hard-worked wheelbarrow.

Found:
a barrow that’s gone to ground, front tyre worn
to cloth, almost, & weaves
when pushed & shrieks & cries,
draws Broad Street to the Buttercross
in its labour

this hard-used metal pocked with rust
& caked cement & folded, what is more,
this barrow is upcycled,
someone has kept
the frame & fashioned it a fresh bed
from sheet metal, cut straight
as cloth but bent to shape,
wrapped round perhaps the worn original
to get it right, then pinned
spot-welded on the metal band
that holds it still

wheelbarrow carries its haul of ivy
dried to a frill of veinous brown,
its fading elderflower confetti,
some pigeon’s lost white feather
& a long-dead stick, light as a shell
& faint
with crumples of grey lichen

& from someone’s house, bright chips
of royal blue paint

‘Eglwyseg Day’ published on The Clearing

I’m hugely pleased to have my poem ‘Eglwyseg Day’ published on The Clearing.  The Clearing is an online magazine published by Little Toller Books that offers writers and artists a dedicated space in which to explore and celebrate the landscapes we live in.  I’m very proud to be in the company of writers and poets like Katrina Porteous, Tim Dee, Paul Kingsnorth, Nick Groom, Ken Worpole, Lucy Wood, Robert Crawford, Philip Gross, Neil Ansell, and Eleanor Rees.

2  Eglwyseg[11.09 am]

path up through windclipped gorse, wind in the eye
& such yellow splashes through the heather

sheep-cropped mounds & sink-holes of the mines
all smooth as china cups & saucers stacked up

at the table edge
& shelved up there, the purple hills,
here, bilberries & our purple fingers.

[12.23pm]

share coffee from the Thermos.  Perch
on springy bones of heather root & watch

across the gorge, a nursery
of dark firs gathered quiet
& good by the cliff’s white knee

we listen to the shush
of a sheep through whinberries

& hum of a bee-line into warm air.


for the rest of the poem, please click the link here.

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