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!

In the darkness/ a bird makes its nest

Recently I spent two wonderful days at Hellens Manor, in Herefordshire, providing poetry workshops to local primary schools for Ledbury Poetry Festival.  Ledbury PF have an acclaimed community and schools outreach programme, and Hellens Manor is a marvellous place.  Chloe Garner, artistic director of Ledbury Poetry Festival, did a wonderful job welcoming and enthusing the children – a real effort aimed at demonstrating that poetry really was for them.  We hope to see some of them at the Festival, which this year is 29 June to 8 July.

Then it was time for the first workshop.  The children exclaimed in excitement as we walked on snowy cobbles under an arch, and I asked them to help carry in firewood.  Our room was down a maze of flagged passages hung with iron breastplates, and once we’d arrived, on that first snowy Monday morning, everyone could see the point of lighting a fire.

tw Hellens fire

Once we’d warmed up, we talked about nests.  What they are, how they are, what they mean.  We handled nests I’d brought in with me.  And a very tiny, blown hen’s egg.

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Then we played with cut up poems borrowed from Tom Pow’s beautiful pamphlet ‘Nest’, from Roncadora Press.

And then we wrote poems.  Here are some of them.

For me, it was a very rewarding two days, and fantastic to be working alongside superb practitioners Sara Hirsch, Val Bloom and Matt Black.  We had a lot of fun.

 

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:

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.

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