Category Archives: Poetry & Wellbeing

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:

here’s willow branches dipping
kissing the canal

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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

Poetry, Punch & Judy in a Care Home

The children sat in front, legs crossed, looking up.
You want to be a bit scared, then brought back
into the real world again.
He had a trail of children following him, 
just like the Pied Piper,
all bewitched.

This week I was working in a Herefordshire care home with a large group of elderly people, many of whom are living with dementia.  I work regularly with this group, and this time I took them my grandpa’s Punch and Judy puppets to look at.

The puppets were passed round, their fragile condition much remarked on, and soon the conversation was flowing.  I keep the ball rolling, and do my best to write down as much verbatim, of what people say.  No punctuation!  Doing this work has made me inventive with a personalised shorthand…

Later, at home, I work on these notes to make poems, using only the words actually spoken, so adding none of my own.  Here are some photographs and extracts from the poems.DSCF0044

Mr Punch looks sly.  You wouldn’t trust him.
He’s on the make.  The Policeman did
a lot of shouting.  He wags his finger
at Mr Punch.DSCF0047


This ghost is a bit menacing.  Feel that rough carving.
It’s been handled such a lot.
That skull’s all shiny
with people smoothing its head.
He’s bad before you look at him.

Next week I’ll be back in the care home to read the group the poems we made together.  And make some more.

Poetry, disability, joy and fog on the Stiperstones

I turned off the engine.  The car informed me it was 9 degrees outside on the Stiperstones.  Visibility was down to 20 yards, but I could just see a few cold-looking people pulling on extra layers in the car park.

#5Sites5Senses is a collaborative project which takes people with severe disabilities, with their carers, out into the nearby countryside in the Shropshire Hills. It’s called Five Sites, Five Senses to reflect the nature of the places we’ve been out to visit, and bearing in mind the various and differing capacities of the service users.  My role is to make poetry with everyone, capturing voices and creating a record of our experiences together in these beautiful places.

Unsurprisingly, the state of the weather had put off some of our regulars, but here we all are (except me, behind the camera) at the start of our expedition along the all-access trail.

Everyone at Stiperstones

We told stories of the Stiperstones, of how the devil comes to sit on the Devil’s Chair when the cloud is down (so yes, he must have been in residence), of 11th century Wild Edric, who it is said sleeps with his soldiers under the hill, ready to protect this place from harm.  Bob the artist, who comes along as a volunteer, asked if we knew how to make a fairies’ handmirror.

Do you know how to make a fairy’s handmirror?
His waterproofs crackle as he bends to pick one

green stem from flowering reeds beside the path

& twists it to oval.  He grips the flattened swirls
of his handmirror’s handle.  He dips it, once, twice,
& a third time, through rainsilver folds of cobweb

while out on the steeps & crinkles of the moor
the fairies tread the heather, unseen in fog: 
Cherry, Tamarisk, & Toadflax Pug.

The Fairies Handmirror 

Jenni Tibbett from Natural England, was walking with us.  She told us about the three Exmoor ponies that graze on the Stiperstones.  Their names are Cherry, Tamarisk and Toadflax Pug.

We focussed on what was close at hand. The marvellous September cobwebs. The brilliant strangeness of Fly Agaric fungus.  The brightness of rowan berries.

Fly Agarics Stiperstones

By birches the quick and sinister/ year turns, & Fly Agaric ripens

Rainy cobweb Stiperstones

Here’s a cobweb draped on gorse/ cold drips pegged out on silk

Rowan Berries Stiperstones

Rowan berries shout through grey:/ fetch redstarts

When everyone was starting to feel cold, we scarpered down to the Bog Visitor Centre, who gave us a most warm welcome, hot tea, and homemade cake, while we told stories and sang songs.  Later, I put this together.  Maybe we’ll sing it together next time we meet.

When dragons died of fighting on this hill
they smashed down on the ridge & left their bones
for Shepherd’s Rock, for Devil’s Chair, for Manstone Rock,
for Cranberry Rock, for Nipstone.

When simple giants were tricked and shamed
they dropped their loads of stones along these paths
for Shepherd’s Rock, for Devil’s Chair, for Manstone Rock,
for Cranberry Rock, for Nipstone.

When Devil was fooled his tears of molten lead seeped
down through hill to mines.  He flies in cloud to Stiperstones
by Shepherd’s Rock, by Devil’s Chair, by Manstone Rock,
by Cranberry Rock, by Nipstone.   

Men last no longer than snowflakes in summer.  Nights
fog tugs at your clothes, you’ll catch a stink of sulphur
by Shepherd’s Rock, by Devil’s Chair, by Manstone Rock,  
by Cranberry Rock, by Nipstone. 

Poetry and Dementia – on film

For three years I worked as a freelance poet for In The Pink, a poetry and dementia project managed by Courtyard Arts in Hereford.  As the project reached the end of its funding cycle they made this little film, which focuses particularly on the work I was doing in one of Herefordshire’s care homes.  I like the film because it demonstrates the joy and engagement of these very elderly people with words, and with each other.