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!

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A new project – Creative Conversations

I’ve just started work with Creative Conversations, led by Arts Alive and Media Active. This three year partnership development links experienced agencies for arts and health to help establish new creative opportunities for people aged 55 and over. Participants may want to develop their own creative ideas, acquire new skills that can be shared with others, or may simply wish to try something new.

This is a really exciting project, collaborative and specifically in search of new ways of working. Professional musicians, poets, writers and digital artists will regularly visit various groups and venues to have creative conversations, gather stories, share music, write songs and poems, make films and digital drawings.  Over the next two years we will be collecting these and feeding them into the production of a touring Variety Show and exhibition; this will tour around to many small community spaces and village halls across the county, celebrating older people and putting their creativity quite literally centre stage.

I’ve just done the first ‘taster’ sessions at Shropshire day and community centres – and we’ve had a wonderful time making poems together from stimuli such as a heavy horse bridle –

On Clee Hill there was a Shire
across the railway line.
Sometimes my cousin’s husband
would put a saddle on that horse
and ride it 
like a medieval knight.

I saw a Shire horse in a field,
before our time.

and on a different day, from a painting by Anthea Craigmyle –

I write down what people say, trying to keep up, trying to keep the way and the exact words they choose, then we read them back.  Maybe add a bit more.  When we’re done, I chop it up with the scissors, do a swift shuffle and edit, then sellotape the bits back together.  Then we read it all again, much clapping and laughing.  Here’s one:

I thought it were one of them roundabouts.
Can you write Yorkshire?
I said a leprechaun, but no,
a unicorn by the river.

We three kings,
being as it’s coming to Christmas,
and a spotty dog, all
on their way to Bethlehem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only the van

I’m just back from a rewarding morning making poems at Coldwells House, a care home near Hereford. Today there was a group of a dozen, quite a few of whom I’d met before, but not seen for three months.  I took in copies of an Eric Ravilious print ‘Wiltshire landscape’ (1937).

Eric-Ravilious-Wiltshire-Landscape

We all talked about the picture, and what it meant, and what everyone saw in it, while I took furious and punctuation-free notes on a clipboard. It often helps to squat down next to an older person to talk and listen, so I did quite a lot of that. I try to record exactly what someone says, in their own words.

Then I read back what we had – and there were some additions to write in.

While the group of a dozen drank their tea, I knelt on the carpet and cut up my three sheets of A4 scribbles, and began to move them around – a quick edit on the ground – literally. Then I got the sellotape out and stuck them altogether. Everyone enjoyed watching this!

Aug2018 Coldwells (1)

Then we read it all again. And again. There was so much smiling and nodding.

At home, I’ve done a final edit (I don’t add any words, but move words around and select a bit).  Then I’ll email the finished poem to the Home for them to show to the participants, and put on the wall.  I’ll be back to see everyone in a few weeks.

Meantime, here’s an extract from the end of our poem:

vi)
I’m sure I’ve been in a place like that.
Here’s the question.  Where does that road lead to?
This is a main road and this is a side road.
The sky looks rather depressing.
All these hills and only the van on its way.
We can’t see where he’s going.

vii)
But that’s nice.  I hope I can get through it.
The telegraph poles go far away.
We’ll have to wait and see.

viii)
To be honest I have to think straight through
to my mother, or father.
It’s lovely, a beautiful place.
A road going home.

‘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!

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

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

‘The wood is as rough as a black bear’

Last week, on a day with a distinct October nip in the air, I walked back to the woods with Bucknell Primary’s Key Stage 2 class, as part of my project ‘In woods we forget things, at the wood edge we tell stories’.  We carried laminated copies of the children’s poems, and cameras to film their performances under the trees they chose to write for.bucknell-visit3-inwoodsproject-jean-atkin-11

Once we were in the wood, the children scattered to find their trees.  No-one had any trouble remembering exactly the right place.  Indeed more than one pair showed me the precise knot or bulge or bark pattern that had inspired a particular line or phrase.

Everybody practised, and then we all trooped round the wood, alternately being the performers, and the audience.  The performances were moving and joyful, and the quality of the listening was just as good.

bucknell-visit3-inwoodsproject-jean-atkin-24

We left the laminated poems tied onto the trees for Toni and Ru to find later.  (And we also left a poem for the Composting Toilet).

bucknell-visit3-inwoodsproject-jean-atkin-5

This project is funded by Shropshire Hills AONB and Shropshire Housing Group.  More on the project blog here.

Poetry and #dementiaawarenessweek

Best_Margaret
Margaret pointing to the pink windowsill

At 8am this morning I was on the phone to BBC Hereford & Worcester, talking about making poems with people living with dementia, and later on, I was in Highwell House Nursing Home in Bromyard, really making poems.

I shared printouts of a painting by Joan Eardley around the room of ten people.  Not everyone has dementia, though several have it quite badly.  I’ve been working with this group for over a year. Today, Joan Eardley’s painting of 1950s children on the streets of the Gorbals proved very popular with everyone.  I write down (a desperate scribble) exactly what they say:
“Oh they’re joyous!  They’re real children”.
“You can see your own children in there”.
“Look at the mum’s tired face”.
“I love the little boy in the braces. His trousers are too big.  His face is too thin”.

After a while I read back to them my scrambled notes, ‘so far’.  Everyone listens, and then I go back round the room, speaking to individuals and persuading further contributions.

Later, at home, I put together a group of poems.  I don’t add any of my own words, but I restructure the ones I took down in my notes.  I think this is today’s favourite.

Pink Windowsill

Red hair, red cardigan buttoned at the top. What’s that dark
in her hair?  Oh, is it the shadows?
I was always knitting cardigans
for my own children.

Mother’s tried to brighten the windowsill
by painting it pink.

Words from Jean, Jim, Peter, Iris, Cecil, John, Isobel, Margaret, Jean, Stella

Next week I’ll take the poems back to the group and we’ll read them and enjoy them slowly – and probably twice.

And then we’ll make some more.

 

 

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