I love Mondays in Hargate Primary

This week my Monday was a joy, spent in the company of the wonderful children of Hargate Primary School, in sunny West Bromwich.  It was sunny, it was a lovely day.
I first met Hargate Primary when they sent a group of 15 children to The Hurst in Shropshire, for a week on Arvon’s schools programme, at which I was one of the tutors. Since then I’ve become their Poet in Residence, visiting the school every term to celebrate poetry with all ages of children.

On Monday I worked with Years 4, 5 and 6, and we played first at telling what could be a truth, or could be a lie, and I had to guess which was which.  In the process, I get reminded of the children’s names!
Then we all enjoyed Robert Seatter’s well-known poem, ‘I come from’, before writing our own versions.  So many fantastic lines:


I come from wanting a hamster and a parrot

I come from a house full of havoc and phones
I come from Sandwell Hospital with fireworks outside
I come from a cup of tea

At lunchtime I took my cup of tea to the library, made poems with visiting children, and we read together. At the end of the day I gave a reading, and fielded lots of questions from bright-eyed children enriched by a great range of languages and cultures.  Hargate is a very special place.  There’s a lot of humanity about.





Making Poetry on a Hillfort

I’m just starting work on a fascinating project focused on Earl’s Hill above Pontesford, just south of Shrewsbury.  It’s called Impressions of the Past – a community arts project celebrating the Iron Age landscape.   A week ago I joined Joe Penfold from Stiperstones & Corndon Hill Country Landscape Partnership Scheme, Hugh Hannaford, Senior Archaeological Advisor at Shropshire Council, and a big group of interested people – and up we went.

Here’s a flavour of the place, and the writing that arose from being there.  The words are those I collected from participants on the walk, as well as my own.


now we walk in a gaol of ash, its vertical bars/   for here is the cold side of the hill/  this bright world flickers in thin strips



sky is slate & bright/ at once, rain cold



we stand in cold on the swelling edge/ of ramparts that denote/ their status in their number



look up & understand/ the hillforts planted in the sky god’s path/ his race across heaven/  whirled rays of stone/  & bronze/  his little votive wheels



we climb to learn an architecture/  that unmanned/ that put the shield arm/  wrong-sided to the rampart, raised the eyes



Here they used no coin, but cattle, metal/  & a life in the sky god’s upturned hand


The whole poem is below:

Earl’s Hill Translated

begins on a low green mound
edged round with oaks
where recent schemes of replica roundhouse
motte & bailey
green burial site
were all seen off
by local buyout, how this hill
still matters in the town

& we take in sheets of images
how LIDAR maps
the earth, what’s on it
trees & soil & houses
in one hit
to every half a metre
translates to
coloured images
of time & shadow, bounces
off tree canopies
& then subtracts them –
makes ground digital

we stand in cold on the swelling edge
of ramparts that denote
their status in their number
look up & understand
the hillforts planted in the sky god’s path
his race across heaven
whirled rays of stone
& bronze
his little votive wheels

sky is slate & bright
at once, rain cold

we pass from hand to hand
a stone that’s more deliberate
than accidental
hold it in your palm & run
your finger down its cutting edge –
a tool

we’re glad to move, get warm
along the Bulldozer Path, just one
of the names not on the map
but passed by mouth
she says she’s been here nine full years
but has a lot to learn

he says he’s been up the hill a thousand
times & once years back
when deer were few, a roe buck sprang
along the slope – a scout he says
& once he found a slow worm on the path

now we walk in a gaol of ash, its vertical bars
for here is the cold side of the hill
the way to The Craft & all
this bright world flickers in thin strips

to where the path turns steeply up
where a Shropshire word again
not on the map is valley under rampart
we crick our necks to see where once
a palisade joined sky & ground
stark against Eastridge & Lordshill

we climb to learn an architecture
that unmanned, that put the shield arm
wrong-sided to the rampart, raised the eyes
& struck reluctant awe

Here they used no coin, but cattle, metal
& a life in the sky god’s upturned hand

& we speak of Lily Chitty, local, polymath,
archaeologist & botanist, who walked this track
& wrote her thoughts down in the thirties

then save our breath & place
our boots in giant’s footsteps
as the children do
we’re nearly there, this is
the top of the world
nothing can stop us

(how every child in Shropshire’s
been lifted
onto the white trig
to be photographed)

& wind bites us in a howl out of the west
sun thins, a rainbow is
a strip of brilliance
against this stony sky
& bracken browns & crisps
dies back
from a fire of toadstools

maps rattle between several hands
wind cuts through Gore-Tex, but
from here the ramparts of The Wrekin
rise two-horned
& we salute the ditches at Wem, at Nesscliff
& Old Oswestry, at Llanymynech
& the Breidden
at Beacon Ring & Callow Hill








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


VERSE TO GO! – your choice!

Today I had a lovely time at Helena Lane Day Centre’s Open Day in Ludlow.  Helena Lane Poet at Work (1)They invited me along (in association with Creative Inspiration) to set up with my 1932 Good Companions Portable (Very Slow & Noisy) Typewriter.  Then all sorts of nice folk dropped by to order a poem. In no time I was clattering away making poems with them on requested subjects including:

  • Zumba
  • Snakes
  • Steam Trains
  • Komodo Dragons
  • Love
  • Being a chef
  • Being on the beach
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • His violin
  • Bouncy castles

Here’s a few!  I photographed them, then we tucked the poems into the envelopes and away they went.

Helena Lane Poet at Work (3) Patrick Helena Lane Poet at Work (8) Ollie Helena Lane Poet at Work (12) Snake

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.


Wenlock Poetry Festival #3 : The Busk, The 52-ers, The Gazette, The Finale

Wenlock Poetry Festival is so good on new things – and in 2015 a great New Thing was the Poetry Busk.  Designed and compered by the wonderful Liz Lefroy, the Poetry Busk packed in ten hours of non-stop poetry, in which so many voices were heard ‘below the Sheet’.  Here’s Liz in front of the Sheet.WPF 2015 Liz Lefroy

Here, in order of appearance, is everyone who read:
Jean Atkin, David Bingham, Steve Mearns, Kate Innes, Bethany Rivers, Suzanne Iuppa, Liz Berry, Andrew McMillan, Oliver Jones, Ted Eames, Keith Chandler, Ruth Cameron, Cathy Dreyer, Anna-May Laugher, Jonathan Edwards, Paul Francis, Emma Duffee, William McCartney, Lucy Cunningham, Immy May, Rennie Parker, Tanya Prudente, Adrian Perks, Vuyelwa Carlin, Charlie Wilkinson, Pauline Prior-Pitt, Ross Donlon, Jonny Denfhy, Colin Sutherhill, Tina Sederholm, Steve Thayne, Carol Caffrey Witherow, Hollie McNish, Josh Ekroy, Tom Wyre, Adrian Blackledge, Mary Cunningham, Gary Carr, Emma Purshouse, Graham Attenborough, Tom Wentworth, Nadia Kingsley, Martin White, Barry Tench, Dorothy Anne Prescott, Chris Kinsey, Robert Peake, Kevin Bamford, Roz Goddard, Jeff Phelps, Steve Griffiths, Emily Wilkinson, Jay Walker, Di Slaney, Lindsey Holland, Anna Lawrence, Lottie Holder, George Morehead, Rajesh Bhardwaj, Liz Lefroy, and Steve Harrison.

Everywhere, this year, was the 52 group, a torrent of talent set going by the amazing Jo Bell, who launched her new collection Kith (from the hugely impressive Nine Arches Press) to great acclaim.  Here she is, reading to Wenlock Pottery, absolutely stacked with 52-ers.WPF 2015 Jo Bell at 52
Here is Dominic Hammond, one of the team of young reviewers, holding up the incisive and incredibly professional Wenlock Poetry Festival Gazette, knocked out simultaneously to the events it described.  No kidding. WPF Fest Gazette and Dom

And the Finale.  Just after I finished my first set of poems, and was sitting next to Carol Ann Duffy watching Imtiaz Dharker perform her beautiful work from Over the Moon, I had a real moment of unreality, followed by such a rush of happiness and gratitude for this weekend, and all its wonders.  And LiTTLe MACHINe doing Adelstrop, and Jabberwocky.  Magic.  Thanks so much Anna Dreda, Lisa Blower, Jade Cancelliere and all the team.WPF JA reading

Wenlock Poetry Festival #2 : a Cabinet of Curiosities, Luck’s Weight and That Ambulance at Priory Hall

Volunteers cluster around the miracle-worker Emergency Poet, aka Deb Alma, on Saturday morning, as she sets up the Ambulance, ready for dozens of poetic consultations during the weekend.  Cake is likely to be applied, and tea.WPF 2015 volunteers at work

I was delighted by the beauty and intricate detail of The Cabinet of Curiosities, created by six artists and poet (Sue Challis, Jacqui Dodds, Julie Edwards, Jill Impey, Ann Kelcey, Elizabeth Turner, Mary V. Williams / Valentine Williams).  Here are tiny shoes.  And laces.WPF 2015 Cabinet of Curiosities 6

I took to writing tiny poems for them on my 1932 Imperial Good Companions Typewriter. Someone later stopped me in the High Street to ask where I got the ribbon (it’s a long story).WPF 2015 typewriter + poem

At the Festival Launch on Friday, I read some poems from Luck’s Weight, the exhibition and the pamphlet (in collaboration with photographer and writer Andrew Fusek Peters), and it was a real pleasure to share this work with so many people over the weekend.
How Time Is In Fields JEAN ATKIN  artwork & poem 1 CROP





WPF 2015 Luck's Weight 2



















Wenlock Poetry Festival #1: under the stars and out of doors

WPF Expanding 1 In two and a half jam-packed Festival days afloat on words, everyone who could wangle a ticket clambered into the planetarium which housed E-X-P-A-N-D-I-N-G the Universe in 45 minutes.  Two poets, Nadia Kingsley and Emma Purshouse, an astrophysicist, Professor Trevor Ponman and musician Giancarlo Facchinetti have made something breathtaking.  You lie on your back in the dark, the baroque ceiling opens to the stars, and you’re away.
‘Before the Big Bang, there was no before’.
WPF Expanding 4

Out on the streets of Much Wenlock, poets and audiences scampered in all directions, cramming in events.  So much hugging on street corners!

WPF 2015 round Wenlock sign crop

Under the Corn Market was Wild Wenlock, brainchild of Emily Wilkinson, who had magicked up tepees, which, when you put your head inside, were playing poems.  Small children were tucked up on cushions, listening.  More children made Things, everybody talked, and behind the tepees Wenlock Library offered Rhyme Time, when performers nipped in for a few minutes to share poems with passing tots.  I went and recited Queen Nefertiti to a round-eyed little audience.

WPF 2015 Wild Wenlock 1

Wenlock is small and lovely, and many people stopped to read the great cherry Poetree in the churchyard, on their way to coffee, cake and conversation in Priory Hall.

WPF 2015 Cherry Poet Tree


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!

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