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.
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.
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.
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.
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
ripples in the gusts.
She tips up her head.
Her bright comb’s
a first flower.
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.
we stop for breath and the wood
on the steeps
below Uley Bury
in the dark lane
you look both ways
it wends low in the land
& nights, the badgers
own this road
the sycamore avenue
on the islanded hill
such old, old trees
so many things
one is pulling up its roots,
has started walking
this is how beech leaves
take the light down with them –
make use of water
to sink it into soil
I’m on Radio 4! This is truly thrilling for me!
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.
The grandmothers said, it’s an art like fire –
They said this
is the very nature
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,
For unleavened bread
has no past.
The grandmothers said, keep some starter
back in your dish
to be fed like a kitten
like a fire.
They said, think ahead, provide
for the ones that follow.
Call them in.
a bakers’ rising.
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…
And 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.
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.
Place a bone to an ivy root.
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.
a luckless scratchcard
to a knuckle bone sucked dry by dogs.
reverent confetti. Rain its petals
on the footings
of this limey, head-high wall.
a rolling quarter-chime of church bells.
Labels dangle. Stir. Feather
quivers in a swell of air.
Wheelbarrow Tag No. 9891
to rest among the nettles.
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.
Here’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
And a poem I wrote for a scavenged, hard-worked wheelbarrow.
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
with crumples of grey lichen
& from someone’s house, bright chips
of royal blue paint