Category Archives: Poetry in the Community

A Spell for Haymaking

Today I was The Spellwright for the Hay Meadow Festival in a cool and beautiful field below The Stiperstones in Shropshire.  Whenever I looked up I saw people scything meadow grasses, tossing haybales over a high bar with a pitchfork, making flowers, drinking beer, listening to a spot of jazz and swing.  All very lovely.

Meantime, I wrote spell after spell, for people of all ages, requesting everything from help to catch a Shetland pony to spells for invisibility, for wings, for a tree house, for Silliness… Here’s a small selection.

Words on the Water & Newport Canal

I’ve started work on a new project.  It’s called ‘Words on the Water’ and it’s a course of creative writing inspired by Newport Canal.  Funding for this project has come through Public Health at Telford & Wrekin Council, in support of social prescribing through GP surgeries.  Every week our group of friendly people come along to Cosy Hall on Water Lane and we set off down the towpath to observe, talk and make notes about what we see.

So the place is the same, but each day’s different.  As someone wrote last week:
Distances are short
but thought is long.

Here’s a flavour of what we’ve created so far:

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here’s willow branches dipping
kissing the canal

frog
I saw a frog, he was playing dead
a lovely green body and a shapely head

Week#1 Words on the Water (7)
at the black gate we’re locked out
behind the black gate, the black dog


yellow lollipops
lilies stand up like yellow lollipops
& children’s voices shrill out

Making ‘Outdoor Magic’

Outdoor Magic is a collaborative project based at Hereford Community Farm, and funded by Ledbury Poetry Festival.  I’m working alongside the wonderful artist Jeanette McCulloch, and with the people who come regularly to the Farm.  Hereford Community Farm provides inclusive therapeutic land based activities and skills training for people who face disadvantage through disability, ill health, social need or any other condition or situation which has an impact on their daily life.  The Farm is a warm and wonderful place.

Jeanette and I are working towards a collaborative exhibition which will be on show during Ledbury Poetry Festival 30 June to 9 July.

Visit 2 HCF (3)

Here are things that are used & things to be fixed
& a garden ringing with snoring pigs.
Tulip & Rosie snore through bristle

 

Visit 2 HCF (8)

His horns are two ink coils of ampersand. 
He hops with rage.  Then comes a moment’s lull.

He reverses smartly, drops his head. 
The charge to butt, the click of skull.

 

reccy visit (7)

All busy lips & ruffled beards
& brindled yard-brush coats
the pygmy goats are nibbling up
one dropped handful of oats.

 

Visit 2 HCF (15)

this is fiddly work
Lisa, but now
you’re talking
in riddles

you say,
it all takes skill

that was a goat
this is a drill

 

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Jane slabs on
smiling
stripes of turf.
Her grass grows high.

And gently Jake
swirls his brush
through
his own blue sky.

 

Visit 4 2

The swallows are back
chattering on the phone wires.
They dive before cumulus
whip through wooden barns.

Out of an owl’s eye

My involvement in the Impressions of the Past project continues!  A big, varied group of families and individuals from the local community converged to meet ceramicist Ruth Gibson and I in Pontesbury a couple of weeks ago.  We all walked up through the green lanes and footpaths to Poles Coppice.  Ruth got everyone making clay impressions, and I handed out Poem Notes booklets.  Everyone set off to explore and write and make.

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out of an owl’s eye/ the different/ views of winter

(part of a poem I put together using words the participants gave me up at Poles Coppice – you can read it here).

At lunchtime, we all headed back down to Pontesbury Public Hall, where archaeologists Mike and Teri gave a talk and slide show.  Seriously channelling the Iron Age now, everyone set to and created new poems –

and I wrote one based on words I’d collected from the participants during the walk.

Make Variations poem

Songs of the Trees: Telford

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It ain’t got silence, the crow and the geese go over

Since October, I’ve been working on a wonderful creative writing project in Telford. ‘Songs of the Trees’ was funded as a pilot project for health and wellbeing in older people, and managed by the excellent Creative and Cultural Development Team at Telford & Wrekin Council. The project attracted a core group who have stayed with the project throughout – requesting it to be extended.

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Nothing swims on the lake/ but a drowned tree rises

Every week we meet in Southwater Library, and then take a walk into Telford Town Park.  We see the same trees, the same lakes, the same paths again and again.  And they’re different every time.  We’ve written Telford Town Park from autumn into winter, and now we’re writing winter into spring.  We’ve been out in warm sunshine, frosty sunshine, thick mist, east winds and a couple of different kinds of rain.

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Coming back in the garden a second time/ that stallion could be a unicorn here

I encourage the group to write notes as we walk, and there’s a lot of conversation.  Back in the library, we listen to everyone’s notes, and I borrow a line or two from each person, which I take home and edit into that week’s collaborative poem.  Members of the group have taken to working and editing their notes into finished writing at home.  Most rewardingly, this group of people who didn’t know each other have become friends, laughing together and developing in-jokes.

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The giant pebbles look/ like sleeping swans

Spells & Hexes, popular as ever

 

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Last weekend, I ran a Scrivener’s Stall for Ludlow Medieval Fayre, at which I provided Spells, Recipes & Hexes to an astonishingly eager public. Lovely event! I wore a dubious medieval costume (blanket, kilt pin and big hat) and never looked up for four hours – except once to quell a squabble in the queue about whose turn it was.

People of all ages told me what they wanted, and then to a greater or lesser extent we collaborated on the spell, which I wrote on the parchment in my best italic.  Then we lit a stick of red sealing wax, and they applied the stamp.  Heads craned.  Several people asked me if the spells would work.

It was such fun that I’m keen to do it again – so if anyone you know needs a spell-writer for an event, then I’m your inky-fingered poet…

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.

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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

 

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sky is slate & bright/ at once, rain cold

 

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

 

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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

 

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

 

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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

 

 

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