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.

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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

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

 

 

acorns

 

 

 

‘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.

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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).

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

From Uley to Owlpen

Owlpen Tuesday (23)I’m working on a set of poems that have developed after a week spent in Uley and Owlpen.  I found well-worn tracks and holloways, the ruins of a medieval cloth industry built on wool, hills topped by Neolithic barrows, topped again by Iron Age hillforts, and once again by a smallpox isolation hospital, once again lost.  There’s still poverty.  There’s still wealth.  Here’s a faint flavour of place.

Owlpen Tuesday (22)

we stop for breath and the wood
breathes leaves
on the steeps
below Uley Bury

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Owlpen Tuesday (20)

in the dark lane
you look both ways

it wends low in the land
& nights, the badgers
own this road

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Owlpen Tuesday (13)

smallpox under
the sycamore avenue
on the islanded hill

such old, old trees

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Owlpen Tuesday (15)

so many things
vanish
without trace

one is pulling up its roots,
has started walking

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Owlpen Thursday (5)

this is how beech leaves
take the light down with them –
make use of water
to sink it into soil

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