A blog for ‘The Dark Farms’

Some years ago, I became fascinated with the Galloway Forest.  It’s a remote, depopulated region in south west Scotland, hundreds of square miles with scarcely a road across it, and a diminishing number of working farms on its inhospitable hills and moors.  It’s become a place famed now for its dark skies, and it’s visited by astronomers and those curious to see a sky without neon.  I’ve very belatedly set up a blog to record my explorations and the poems that came out of them.  Click here to have a look.

I grew up in rural Cumbria, among small family farms, and so recognised that what I saw in 2011 in the Galloway Forest was disappearance.  The disappearance of the hills under the conifer forests which were mass planted there in the 1950s and 60s, and the disappearance of small farms, some overwhelmed by the new conifer forests, and many more slowly abandoned as hill farming has become so uneconomic that only the oldest are still farming, often without the assets to retire.

So I went looking for the ghosts of stables, and cart-sheds, and sheep rees (the Galloway word for a sheepfold).  I went looking for the ghosts of placenames and farm names.   I found places where the severe weather has reduced cottages to a threshold stone and a hearth stone.  Cottages overtaken now by birches and brambles.  I found a rural museum with a black leather bull mask and a necklace of horse’s teeth.  A farmhouse with its windows bricked up – truly a Dark Farm.

I took the photographs at the time, on days of being savaged by midges, falling into peat clefts, wading upland burns where the O.S. map still marks the place as a ford, long since washed away.  The poems were published in 2012 in pamphlet form by Roncadora Press, enhanced by Hugh Bryden’s rich artwork.

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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:

DSCF4898
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

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

 

DSCF4539

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.

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.

DSCF3878

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

‘If there’s a dog on the cellar steps/ I’m dreaming and there’s/ a price to pay.’

‘Is this a dream or a lie?

The hippogriff canters on the grassy downs.

I see its soft feathers.
I avoid its cold, dark eyes’

Isaac invented his poem from using our Randomiser (pictured), then chopping up his ideas to edit into a poem.  We had long discussions about line-breaks.  Here’s the whole thing:Home Ed group Isaac poem A dream or a lie

This one is by Loreta, with its origins in tsunami and sudden violence:

Home Ed Group Loretta randomiser poem

Her little sister Mollie wrote about her pet degu, using the Randomiser for ideas.  This is a degu.  From what Mollie says, her degu is almost as unpredictable as the one invented by the Randomiser.
Home Ed Group Mollie randomiser poem

 

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