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.

Marchimage_HenkeepersAlmanac_01
March Araucana
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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

*

Owlpen Tuesday (20)

in the dark lane
you look both ways

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

*

Owlpen Tuesday (13)

smallpox under
the sycamore avenue
on the islanded hill

such old, old trees

*

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.
Dismantling Little Museum of Ludlow10

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.

Dismantling Little Museum of Ludlow12

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.

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.

Ludlow-poster

Wenlock Poetry Festival : Poetry is wakeful, in plain view

wpf-01-s600x600Well, only days to go before Wenlock Poetry Festival!  The Festival launches on Friday 24 April with Kei Miller, Hannah Lowe and Luke Kennard, with Mia Cunningham – and it sweeps to a close on Sunday night 26 April when the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Queen’s Gold Medallist Imtiaz Dharker, Little Machine and, er, me, take to the stage in the Finale.

As Poet in Residence, I’m hugely looking forward to being based in Much Wenlock all weekend, and oxter-deep in poetry.  My collaborative poetry and photography exhibition Luck’s Weight, opens on Friday at the official Festival launch, and will be in Priory Hall all weekend.  Then at 9am on Saturday morning I’m taking part in the lovely Poetry Breakfast in Tea on the Square, with Anna Dreda and Steve Harrison. WGood Companion Typewriterords, coffee, croissants, this must be what heaven looks like.  Next I’m starting off the Wenlock Poetry Busk, which opens at 12 noon in the Methodist Church, and in between events (and my own efforts to go to as many as possible) you’ll find me thundering away on my 1932 Imperial Typewriter in a corner of Priory Hall – please interrupt, I’m sure I’ll need to rest my fingers…  I aim to hear the wonderful Jonathan Edwards, and I’m hugely looking forward to Michael Rosen (supported by my friend Paul Francis) on Saturday night.

Come Sunday I want to snatch a few minutes in the Ambulance with my friend Deb Alma, the Emergency Poet.  I’ve been her assistant (Nurse Verse) before, but reckon it’s my turn on the couch to be soothed and given my poetic prescription.  I also want to go see what Wenlock’s Publisher in Residence is up to  – that’s Jane Commane at the discerning, innovative Nine Arches Press.

Then at 1pm I’m In Conversation with Roz Goddard up at The Edge.  Roz is a wonderful poet, and furthermore I’ve been lucky enough to work with her (with her West Midlands Readers’ Network hat on) all winter as Reader in Residence at Southwater Library, and she is, simply, magic.  Then I’m involved in presenting the prizes for Wenlock International Poetry Competition, which was judged by Imtiaz Dharker, one of my own very favourite poets.  I helped with the sift, and the quality was terrific – so the winners have really earned it.

I shall rush off to catch Oversteps Poets reading at Wenlock Pottery, then back to the final performance of Expanding the Universe – a unique event involving two poets, a musician and an astrophysicist.  I’d love to see Kathleen Jamie (supported by my friend Liz Lefroy) if I can – and then I need to get ready for that Finale.  Find a minute to eat something.  If I can.

Being Poet in Residence at Wenlock this year has been filled with wonderful opportunities that I’m so grateful for.  This Festival really has a very special atmosphere, and is run by amazing people. Make sure you come and join in if you can!

They lie, crowned, with their hands crossed/ The Kings and Queens of Aragon

I’ve been making a book from a poem.  The poem is about the royal tombs of the Kings and Queens of Aragon, from the 12th to the 15th century.  Their huge stone tombs are in the nave of the Abbey church in the Monastery of Poblet, in Catalonia.  I saw them twenty years ago while travelling through Spain by bicycle.  It was a bitter winter day and we were the only visitors.  Poblet was threadbare, austere and echoing.

The book is made using thin card, modrock, gesso, pastels and indian inks.  It was all very experimental, not helped by our 9 month-old cat, Orlando, who sat on it, and kicked things off the table.  The binding is made with a short piece of hazel cut from our town garden hedge, and a length of leather thong.  I wanted to create a weathered surface, like very worn parchments, abraded by time and damp.

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