Troubadour of the Hills

I’m delighted to tell you I’ve been appointed the first-ever ‘Troubadour of the Hills’ for Ledbury Poetry Festival and Malvern Hills AONB.  The project launches next Thursday 4 October at 10am when I’ll perform at a National Poetry Day event at Ledbury Books and Maps.

But today was a less public, but (I reckon) more energetic Troubadour happening, in the marvellous company of Y5/Y6 of Bosbury Primary School at Old Colwall.  A cold night was warming to golden sun under the Malverns when I turned up.

We were welcomed into an attractively dilapidated 19th century conservatory beside Old Colwall’s extraordinary Cloud Hedge. The plan was to work with the children so they had the chance to respond in poetry to both the Cloud Hedge and Old Colwall’s 1000+ year old yew on the hillside.ToTH Bosbury Sch_Sept2018 (1)

We explored the Cloud Hedge, which dates back to the 18th century (at least). Children raced through its passageways, stroked its bark, discovered the strange red sap of the yew that helps associate it with blood and death. We talked about yews in churchyards, yews cut for longbows, yew that lasts longer than an iron post.

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Then we went back into the conservatory and wrote. Each pair of children provided me with a line for a collaborative class poem which I scribbled down then edited over my sandwich at lunchtime. Here it is:

The Cloud Hedge
has leaves like bubbles in air
has twisted faces that mutter in the wind
The Cloud Hedge
is shady like a tent and stormy like the Channel
is a mysterious tunnel stretched like a witch’s broom
is textured like bubbles outside, and inside dark and poisonous
The Cloud Hedge
has branches that flow through an everlasting maze
has branches that flow like water
has branches that reach to sky like hands reach to the heart
The Cloud Hedge
is ancient spindled roots
is green patchwork silky leaves
is puffy and shady like a comfy dream
The Cloud Hedge
has spooky spidery branches
has hot air going in but cold air coming out
is fat like a hippopotamus tree
The Cloud Hedge
is a dark sharp spike, a pin that blows in the wind
is as grumpy as a cloud
The Cloud Hedge
swallowed us like flies
never stopping to wait for us
the dark green silky dim curved green long stretched-out
Cloud Hedge

We had enormous fun performing this, with everyone doing ‘The Cloud Hedge’ each time I raised my pencil!

Then there was cake.

And after that we all set off through a field and up a steep hill to visit the great Yew of Old Colwall.

The Yew is simply massive, a vast core trunk that sends tremendous branches out to all sides. The branches arch, re-root and grow further great spurs.  The tree must have a radius of 40 yards or so.  It was wonderful to see the children clamber into the tree, scrambling along branches, wriggling into the forks, feet dangling down, Poem Notes in hand and in use.

Back in the conservatory we wrote tankas about climbing in the Yew.  Some absolutely outstanding writing – here’s some:

We finished the afternoon with a poetry reading, and shared so many wonderful and brand new poems about the yews. Huge thanks to all at Old Colwall, not forgetting Hetty the extremely popular dog.

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‘At midnight, pick half a pound of hail out of a blue lake’

In the midst of summer 2018’s heatwave comes Ledbury Poetry Festival, rich with words and sunstruck sofas out on the cobbled lane as ever.  Dressed rather warmly in my best ‘medieval wise-woman’ garb, with large straw hat, I set up in the Walled Garden alongside a colourful spread of tents and stalls providing entertainment to all.

I wrote spells for all ages, requests ranging from dinosaur seeds to relief from headaches. It was an inky joy.  Thank you Ledbury!

Words from the Vaults

This spring I’ve been working with a great group of people who’ve been attending ‘Creative Writing in the Museum Vaults’.  Ludlow houses the county’s precious and extraordinary Museum Resources, and this series of workshops allowed us access to the ‘Vaults’ and the wonders they contain.  Throughout all of this we were expertly supported by Ludlow Curator Abigail Cox, and by Fay Bailey at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

During April everyone can come to Ludlow Library and Museum Resources Centre, and read wonderful new poems inspired by some of the artefacts we met in the ‘Vaults’.  And next week, there’s a special, one-off reading – open to the public.  There will be cake.

Final reading poster #3

Here’s a glimpse (too many reflections) of just some of the work on display in the foyer of Ludlow Library and Museum Resources Centre.

And meet the handsome Dr Hickman, and Lizzie Prudence’s delicious words…

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What a treat
warm intelligence lighting
strong brown eyes
shining out among the dull
bewhiskered dignitaries.

If Jane had seen you
dancing across the
Assembly Rooms floor
she might have chosen
you for Darcy.

 

The impact of a distinguisher at a vaseboard

Cafe Writing is once again under way in lovely Ludlow Kitchen at the Food Centre, Bromfield.  I run these workshops for people who wish to write poetry or prose while enjoying a good coffee, and sometimes a pastry too.  This morning a dozen ingenious minds created a Dicsaurus.

I had asked everyone to invent a new word using two words handily hanging around the beautiful conservatory in which we’re working in Ludlow Kitchen.  So – a vaseboard derives from a cupboard.  And a vase.

Then all new words were passed to the left (or right, or somewhere, this bit was creatively chaotic) and a definition invented for the new word.  Which we then shared, through raucous laughter, fine coffee and cake.

The word Dicsaurus was duly invented to explain what we’d done.  Here it is:

CW Dicsaurus

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:

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.

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“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.

Celebration Day for Impressions of the Past

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At last this wonderful project has come to its end.  To celebrate the months of workshops, walks and community, we held a celebration party at Poles Coppice, the site of the Oak Palisade and the Poetry Bench.

Around 55 people turned out to share food, fun, stare over at the Iron Age ramparts on Earl’s Hill, find the clay roundels they’d designed, and the words they wrote.  We read a few poems, and crowded round the installations.

Over 150 people contributed to ‘Impressions of the Past’ – thank you to each and every one, and special thanks from Ruth and me to Huw, Mike, Betul, Bob Gibson, Jim Sadler, Nigel McDonald and Joe Penfold.

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

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