Troubadour of the Hills does Radio 4’s Ramblings!

On a glass-clear day at the end of January, I set off with David Armitage of Malvern Hills AONB, Karen Gregor, producer of ‘Ramblings’, and the one and only, marvellous, Clare Balding. We were taking a poem for a walk, as part of Ledbury Poetry Festival‘s Troubadour of the Hills project,
which is a joint venture between the Festival and Malvern Hills AONB. Also with us were Dimitri Houtart (BBC Head of Rural Affairs) and Peter Sutton, translator of ‘Piers Plowman’. Our programme will be aired during the new series starting mid February. Watch this space for the exact date!

We left from Hollybush car park and turned south, skirting Ragged Stone Hill on a path through the woods to its west side. Here we paused (to get our breath) and I read –

I’m lit along the wood-edge. 
Blond light off corn stubble,
a sky full of rain and light. 
In one ear, press of hide on saplings, 
the unseen deer retreat

Raggedstone, steep, sallow

Then we climbed to the ridge, and Peter Sutton told us about the Malvern Hills known to William Langland back in the 14th century, and the connections still to be found here.

We greeted a friendly golden retriever who was obviously a Ramblings fan, then stopped before the fine views of Chase End Hill. So I read –

Banked with shades and shadows
winding up inside a slope
the deep lane remembers everything
forgets remembers.
I misremember everything, I know

Chase End Hill, white cumulus, concrete trig

At this point I have to admit that we missed the turn in the wood (talking, talking) and so yes, we actually did lose Clare Balding on the Malverns. She was extraordinarily nice about it, (she was just extraordinarily nice, in fact), and we did retrieve the situation within a few minutes, and made our way down to show her the extraordinary meadow ants field.

Here Ramblings’ director Dimitri sprang to and saved a sheep who was cast on her back, and meantime we mused on the internal intricacies and simplicities of anthills.

We walked on to reach Hollybed Common, where Karen produced a welcome bag of doughnuts, Clare asked the geese to be quiet and they instantly were – and then I read –

A bellwether sheep 
leads a long file past me,
roman nose to soiled tail.
They beat the cloven common
into the common

Hollybed, pale, trodden

From there uphill to The Gullet, with its dark lake under the ancient rocks of the quarry.

Here I read –

Come out at the car park 
red car, yellow car, sweet,
seedy blackberries. 
Rain runs down me, 
down the hill, and down the hour

The Gullet, fogged, viridian

And we climbed (some more) up through the throat of The Gullet to reach the ridge below Midsummer Hill. And up again, past natural windows in the bare trees, showing us glimpses of Hollybed Common far below, and long, clear views away to the Lickey Hills and the Cotswolds. On top of Midsummer Hill the wind was fresh, and the views in every direction utterly breath-taking.

I read –

The hills are always here. 
They wear away. 
They stay, grip close 
the patience of the igneous.
Their fossils sit me out

Midsummer Hill, bedrock, bowl-sky

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Troubadour of the Hills

Happy New Year! It’s 2019, and the Troubadour of the Hills project is filling my thoughts.  It’s such a lovely poetry job to be asked to do.  The project is a joint venture for Ledbury Poetry Festival and Malvern Hills AONB, and it was launched on National Poetry Day in October.  I’ve already done some schools work, taking local children into the woods under the Malverns to make poetry – and there are more walks and workshops coming up before Ledbury Poetry Festival in July.

I’ve written my first commissioned poem for the project.  It’s based on a 7 mile circular walk, which you can plot on the map by following the poem. Here it is.

One uncertain history

Wide horns and white
medieval flanks.
Heavy as sighs,
the park cattle linger
by a shrinking pool.

Bromesberrow, oaked, milky

I’m lit along the wood-edge.
Blond light off corn stubble,
a sky full of rain and light.
In one ear, press of hide on saplings,
the unseen deer retreat

Raggedstone, steep, sallow

A bellwether sheep
leads a long file past me,
roman nose to soiled tail.
They beat the cloven common
into the common

Hollybed, pale, trodden

Come out at the car park
red car, yellow car, sweet,
seedy blackberries.
Rain runs down me,
down the hill, and down the hour

The Gullet, fogged, viridian

The hills are always here.
They wear away.
They stay, grip close
the patience of the igneous.
Their fossils sit me out

Midsummer Hill, bedrock, bowl-sky

Banked with shades and shadows
winding up inside a slope
the deep lane remembers everything
forgets remembers.
I misremember everything, I know

Chase End Hill, white cumulus, concrete trig

You can find a recording of me reading it on Ledbury Poetry Festival’s website here, and please do contribute your own poems about hills to the same page. There are lots there already, and we’re really enjoying them!

“I’m going to be a poem”

I’m back from a fantastic day in Hargate Primary School.  The joy of being their Poet in Residence just grows with every visit!  This time, a tiny little girl stopped me in the corridor at break, looked up and said, “I’m going to be a poem”.  She smiled broadly, and skipped away, and it all made me so happy.

Today I was mostly in Year 4, who are learning about Africa.  The great range of nationalities in Hargate meant there were children who had relatives in African countries, and who’d been there, so they told us stories.  We read African poetry, one of which had a fierce storm in it, which gave me the chance to demonstrate my Thunder Tube* to fabulous effect, and then we employed the Elfje form (eleven words, in a set pattern, Dutch!) to write about the brilliant colours of Africa.

*Thunder Tube!

 

Here’s some more elfje poems.

And then we had huge fun performing them later!

Shy Snowdrops & Trees Upon Trees

I’m just back from a most inspiring and exciting week at The Hurst, tutoring a band of marvellous young poets from Hargate Primary School. My co-tutor, Wajid Hussain, was just great to work with, and he has a lovely manner with the children.  The staff from Hargate are just exceptional, and they worked their socks off encouraging and supporting the children, who are only 10 and 11 years old (there was the occasional bout of homesickness).  Hargate Primary School, from West Bromwich, is the school where I’ve been poet in residence for the last three years, so it’s a special pleasure.   All week, the house and grounds at The Hurst provided these urban children with an extraordinary and inspiring place in which to live and work: I could see it changing them by the hour.

Snowdrops come from winter.
Why so many?

Leah J

The first night, we all went out for a Night Walk, under a huge full moon.  Once the children’s eyes had adapted, they were staggered by the brightness of the sky.  I showed them their moon shadows, and we watched the snowdrops gleaming in moonlight.  Back inside, Wajid and I collected oral descriptions of what the kids had just seen and experienced.  So at 11pm I was scribing a twelve foot poem onto a roll of lining paper, using only their words, but editing them into order.  Next morning I rolled it out on the breakfast table.  Lovely to see the kids creeping along it, reading.

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Later, we explored the woods, making poem notes on a small folded booklet.

We wrote about magical objects found in the wood, and we searched out doors and portals to write about changing spaces and new surprises.  We looked closely at bark, and discovered storm-torn trees with fragrant heartwood newly exposed.  We listened to the birds and stared into the pond.

A mixture of leaves and mud
turned into a bowl of soup.

We walked and there I found
my magical object.
If you throw it, it comes back.
It is made out of wood.
Do you know what it is?

Simran

Here’s the Crow workshop – my Crow is about to be lifted out of his cardboard box to ooohs and ahhs.  We swopped crow lore and stories, then I gave the children tiny stapled books to write their crow poem into.

On Thursday we wrote about nests, inspired by Tom Pow’s pamphlet from Roncadora Press.  The children held the nests very delicately, and wrote inventive poems.

When the nest came to me
it was very fragile.
The smell of nature
coming into my body
soothed my mind.
The little egg contained inside
was the smallest egg I’ve ever seen
and it made the tiniest of rattles.

Alfie

On the last morning, I admitted that I am also the Spellwright, and encouraged the children to write a Spell for the Making of Poetry for themselves.  They took the very fabric of The Hurst as their inspiration, and investigated fireplaces, doorways, sinks and old glass.  Then I dripped hot sealing wax onto their spells, and they applied the brass Seal which makes the spell work.

Take – 

the soot from the chimney
the spines from the books
and a mile of stripes from John Osborne’s scarf…

And here is the feedback sheet gathered in by Hurst Director, Natasha (while Wajid and I had a much needed coffee).

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Truly, it was a marvellous week.  I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to work at The Hurst again, and especially with Hargate Primary School.

Be as quiet as a sheep in the dark…

Back to my throne in Shrewsbury Museum this morning, for a second day of Spellwrighting with the hordes of young witches and wizards enjoying ‘Museums are Magic’ weekend.  I absolutely love the way they get into writing a spell – I say, “So what kind of water do you think we should put into this spell?”, and they reply, “Definitely running water”.  For example.  And their eyes go round with the magic of what words can do.

Big thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery who helped manage the queues!

Widen your eyes, tie a knot in your handkerchief

Museums are Magic!  I’m being The Spellwright for two days of wizardry at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.  The Museum lent me the most magnificent chair and table.  There was a Stuffed Owl and goose feather quills…

Everywhere were bright and sparkly kids in Hogwarts cloaks and gowns.  They turned up clutching potions they’d made, and requesting spells -everything from the power to freeze time to a means to summon dragons.

Here’s just a flavour of the spells we wove:

A day being The Spellwright in Herefordshire

“Its fur is soft as pollen” she says, and waves her wand.

I’m writing a spell for a small girl who wants a kitten.  “This may take some time to work”, I warn, mindful of her concerned parent.

I spent today at Courtyard Arts in Hereford at their wonderful Family Festival, packed with dragons, witches and unicorns.  Ledbury Poetry Festival were there in support.  The sun shone in, and hordes of excited children stared around them for signs of magic.  I had a massive queue waiting to write a spell with me.

“What would make your life amazing?” I asked.  “The ability to control time” replied a serious boy.  Right.  We discussed time, and his requirement to be able to travel through it.

“I want to be able to turn a person into a duck”, announced a determined-looking girl.  “Is this by any chance a revenge spell?” I enquired.  It was.  She loved it.

“I need a sleeping spell for him”, said a mother, appearing in front of me with a sweet baby in her arms.  The queue groaned in sympathy.  (They really were all lovely people).  “Poppies”, she said, “Poppies should do it”.  We applied poppies.

The youngest was just two and a half.  He wanted things to put in a cauldron.  “Blue slugs” he insisted.  “And a magpie feather”.  And he was quite clear that the only time of night to stir it with a long bone, would be at midnight.

Here’s a selection of their genius and my inky fingers:

Am I growing or am I flying?

I’m celebrating National Poetry Day by adding this post about another marvellous day spent being Poet in Residence for Hargate Primary School in West Bromwich.  I go in usually once a term, sometimes more, and this is our second year of partnership.  I love the way it’s becoming more and more collaborative and creative.

 

It’s really exciting to be among such inspired teachers and lovely children.  This time, I worked with four classes, two from Year 3, a Year 4  and a Year 6 class.  I’d worked with some of these groups before, and one of the loveliest moment in a day rather full of them, was walking into a classroom and hearing the children behind me excitedly whispering “Poet!” “Poet!” to each other.

Here’s some of the work we did.  Some groups I asked to write ‘I Come From’ poems, a great standby for early in the school year – one of the teachers came up afterwards and told me how the exercise had helped her hear so many new things about the children in her care.

I come from happiness and laughter and being surprised…

I come from pancakes and jam and a white plate…

In the Year 6 class I read them a lovely poem called ‘My Cat Mitzi’ by Georgi Gill, suggested for National Poetry Day by the Scottish Poetry Library this year.  It’s all about floating free of gravity.  Great idea for a poem – and the children, as always, did not disappoint.  We talked about words that feel ‘floaty’, and white space around words, then did some visualisation, followed by some drafting and editing.  Enjoy these!

I saw ducks swimming the sun to me…

I was the kite on the wind in the breeze…

Happy National Poetry Day 2017 from me!

Writer/blogger-in-residence this August

This August I’ve been writer/blogger-in-residence at Museum of Cannock Chase, providing an outsider’s eye on all the wonderful and extraordinary things to be found inside the museum – and then flagging it up on a lovely new blog, which you can find here.

Davey the Canary cThe idea of the new blog for Museum of Cannock Chase is to create a place where you can find out more about what goes on behind the scenes, and what it takes to manage a museum, day by day, within their lively and engaged community.  In the short time I’ve been there, we’ve explored aged bicycles, the local mining heritage, pigeon-racing, behind-the-scenes in the Museum Stores, traditional Punch and Judy, which is not to mention the yellow feathers of Davy the Canary.  You can find him – and follow him – @DavyTheCanary…*tweet*  chick emoji

The archaeology of poo was especially memorable – as part of a Horrible Histories day, Penny the archaeologist could be found in a tent in the Museum grounds, encouraging young and old to take a special interest in poo.

“Yes, the photo shows my hand,” she said fearlessly, “holding a 3,000 year old poo”.  One small boy squealed and ran at this point, but others crowded in, agog for poo.

IMG_20170815_123621

“Pick a poo!” said Penny.  And explained how archaeologists are never happier than when they’ve found a midden, because poo can tell us such a lot.  If you find seeds in there, you know what the people were eating, at that time, in that place.  If there’s sweetcorn husks, then you’re probably in Mexico, with the Aztecs.  Bits of stone in your chosen poo, and you’re looking at a Viking sample – they ground their wheat in stone querns, and didn’t sieve it for tooth-breaking grit.

I can’t think why this was so popular.

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