Paul Nash, Flight of the Magnolia, 1944
New Year’s Day—
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.
Paul Nash, Flight of the Magnolia, 1944
New Year’s Day—
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.
Christmas Cactus, 1979
Oil on board, 46 x 56 cm
The world is white, deep snow, the sky is deep blue, the mountain Old Man Tindale is blinking sleepy eyes of silver blue white, and I would like to be a squirrel and sleep until my flowers come out from deep under the snow.
Letter to Ben Nicholson, Bankshead, late 1970s
A couple of events I’m involved in coming up that folk might be interested in attending – and news of a big 25% discount at Arc that’s worth a look. I like the idea of Reading the Flowers wrapped up under people’s Christmas trees. Here’s a link.
Then, this coming Monday – from the NCLA website…
Flambard Poetry Prize Announcement
Join us for the announcement of the 2016 Flambard Poetry Prize, followed by readings from this year’s judges Linda France and Andrew Forster.
Linda France has published eight poetry collections since 1992, including The Gentleness of the Very Tall (a Poetry Book Society Recommendation), The Toast of the Kit Cat Club, book of days and, her most recent, Reading the Flowers (Arc 2016). She also edited the ground-breaking anthology Sixty Women Poets (Bloodaxe 1993). Her poem ‘Bernard and Cerinthe’ won First Prize in the 2013 National Poetry Competition. Linda’s work has appeared in anthologies, magazines, newspapers, on radio and TV, in public art installations and other collaborations with visual and sound artists.
Andrew Forster published two collections of poetry with Flambard Press: ‘Fear of Thunder’ (2007) and ‘Territory’ (2010), and, more recently, ‘Homecoming’ (2014), with Smith Doorstop. ‘Fear of Thunder’ was shortlisted for the 2008 Forward Prize for Best First Collection and two poems from it, ‘Horse Whisperer’ and ‘Brothers’, appeared in the AQA GCSE syllabus. ‘Homecoming’ was shortlisted for the Lakeland Book of the Year in 2015 and was a ‘Read Regional’ title for 2016. He has read his work at events and festivals throughout the UK and Europe, and as part of the annual ‘Poetry Live’ series, alongside Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage and John Agard.
This event is free – all very welcome.
Location: Newcastle University, Percy Building, G.05
Time/Date: 28th November 2016, 18:30 – 20:00
Andrew and I enjoyed judging this valuable competition for poets without a full collection to their name (yet) and look forward to announcing the winners and hearing them read with us.
And down in Leeds, in a week or so…
Public Poetry Please!
Quentin Bell’s The Dreamer
Date: Wednesday 7 Dec 2016
Location: The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery
Time: 17:00 – 18:30
Join us for an exciting evening with award-winning poets who’ve participated in the Yorkshire Year of the Textile and responded to items from our collections.
Public Poetry Please! will be an exciting evening with the poets who’ve participated in the Yorkshire Year of the Textile and responded creatively to items relating to Yorkshire’s textile heritage.
Public poetry has been a key theme for the year-long celebration, and this special event celebrates new commissions. The evening will include readings by Malika Booker, Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow at the University of Leeds; Linda France, Creative Writing Fellow at the School of English; Helen Mort, former Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow at Leeds and Lecturer in Creative Writing (Poetry) at Manchester Writing School; Rommi Smith, Hedgebrook Fellow and Kate Fox, stand-up poet, writer and comedian.
Highlights from the programme include a reading of Malika Booker’s poem ‘There is an etiquette to everything’, which draws inspiration from John Russell’s pastel portraits of the textile magnate, John Marshall and his wife Jane (now prominently displayed in the Gallery). Helen Mort will read her new commission responding to Mitzi Cunliffe’s Man-Made Fibres, and her poem, ‘Texere’, which is incorporated into a newly-installed public art pavement response to the Man-Made Fibres sculpture by Sue Lawty. You can also hear Linda France’s response to William Gott’s Dyehouse Pattern Book, currently on display in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery.
The evening also gives an opportunity to highlight the co-creation of poetry in our knit/lit workshops, where poets reflected on the role of textiles in daily life and encourages recollections by participants of the workshops.
The event will be chaired by Professor Ann Sumner, Head of Cultural Engagement.
This is a free event but spaces are limited so booking is essential.
Book your place here: https://publicpoetryplease.eventbrite.co.uk
Austin Wright’s Limbo
Always a pleasure to read as an ensemble, particularly when there’s a shared theme – this should be a fascinating evening.
Microscopic image of skin cells
Ben Freeth’s sound and light installation
Ahren Warner’s scrolling prosimetrum
Tom Schofield’s interactive ‘skin-covered’ construction
Kate Sweeney’s photographic Still Life
My new prose poem bound as a book
(an extract on the left hand side of the first image here)
Despite the rain, it was good to be up at Cheeseburn today helping install our sound piece, ‘Compass’. Hearing it for the first time in the place it was created in and for was immensely satisfying. The Formal Garden (above) is where the Dawn Chorus happens (and where we heard it in the Spring), coming from four concealed speakers arranged around the central space. Hard to tell what’s ‘real’ and what’s not.
Outside the Potting Shed, an ancient sundial of unknown provenance (possibly Scottish?) was an early inspiration for the 4 x 4 concept of the piece.
Inside the Potting Shed are some of Paul Scott’s beautiful ceramic ‘cuttings’ in old Cheeseburn pots. For sale over the weekend. I’m very very tempted…
Over a year’s work for three days – like a plant that only blooms once in its lifetime or an exotic insect’s short span on the wing – even more precious for being ephemeral – like the sounds themselves.
I’ve mentioned visiting Lisa and Mel during their year in residence at Beadnell before and posted a log on their lovely blog. For this new publication, I’ve written a poem from my time there – about the Rosebay Willowherb growing in the dunes. Do come along to the Lit & Phil, if you can make it, on 12th April. I’m sure it’ll be a rich and interesting evening. Look forward to seeing you there.
Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –
I got your Letter, and the Birds –
The Maples never knew that you were coming –
I declare – how Red their Faces grew –
But March, forgive me –
And all those Hills you left for me to Hue –
There was no Purple suitable –
You took it all with you –
Who knocks? That April –
Lock the Door –
I will not be pursued –
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied –
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come
That blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame –
After two days thinking about Poetry, Creativity and Environment at last weekend’s symposium in the School of English at Leeds University, the idea that my mind keeps returning to is one suggested by Zoë Skoulding – ecological writing (and thinking) should always engage with the possibility of imagining something different, a radically altered viewpoint.
Her own practice enacts that process by taking ‘a deliberately skewed perspective’ to both time and place, walking in urban spaces and re-imagining them as if all the accretions of man-made city life were not there, acknowledging historical disjunctions and the impossibility of ‘accuracy’. She read from her wonderful sequence Teint, which charts the Biévre, one of Paris’s underground water courses.
Harriet Tarlo also spoke about her ‘writing outside’, the notion of fieldwork, both alone and in collaboration with artist Judith Tucker – their different disciplines coming together like Bunting’s ‘lines of sound drawn in the air’. Going out in a state of attentive awareness in search of ‘particulars’ and then undertaking a process of ‘condensation’ and ‘selection’, preferring to bypass ‘the lyrical I’ in any resulting text. It was good to hear Harriet quote her mentor in Durham, Ric Caddell: ‘To live here is not to escape’.
I was particularly happy to meet Madeleine Lee, a Leeds alumna like myself. She is a poet and an economist and recently Writer in Residence at Singapore Botanic Gardens, where I spent a fascinating and fruitful week en route to Sydney in 2013. She noticed that people were tending to sleepwalk through the gardens and wanted to draw attention to the environmental implications of their colonial history through poems about native ‘economic plants’ like rubber, nutmeg, clove and other spices, traditionally grown along Orchard Road, now the main shopping avenue. Through her writing she has become an ‘accidental advocate’ of green spaces, the remaining 5% of tropical rainforest on the island of Singapore.
No one was particularly interested in either the didactic/rhetorical or the elegiac/mourning modes of writing about the natural world. Generally these poets are bearing witness to land, place, plants and creatures, dismantling assumptions, risking ambiguity and uncertainty, taking a modernist, experimental stance. A lucid, appreciative interpretation of Jorie Graham’s Prayer (by post-graduate researcher Julia Tanner) reflected the weighing up of moral and ethical predicaments with ‘something instinctive’ in order to transform and ‘re-singularise’ that ‘problematic’ ‘I’ everyone was tiptoeing around so nervously. Although it was heartening to see it for a change, I wondered if the mood and emphasis would have been different if the panel were all-male rather than all-female, or a mixture? Another poet with a strong Leeds connection, Jon Silkin (as you can see from the photo) was also with us in spirit – and in Emma Trott’s paper on his Flower Poems.
Yesterday I walked out of the School of English onto Clarendon Road after my classes, delighted to see the magnolia buds stretching to release their deep pinks and to hear a lone great tit playing the xylophone of its throat – notes going up, notes going down. Encountering poetry and creativity at its most vivid, spontaneous and inescapable out of doors.
Another mind is moving in me, a second nature that is as inseparable from me as my shadow, except that in relation to it I am the shadow and it the light. The dilemma I find myself in (if I find myself at all) is that this other is hidden from me in the same way that seeing is hidden from things that are seen. The work of meditative thinking is a collaboration between these two natures—the seer that remembers and the seen that always forgets. As in rowing, if you pull more on one oar than the other, you go round in circles, and, as in rowing, all I can see is what I have passed as I press forward toward a point that is hidden behind me.
I am tired, but she is not tired.
I am wordless;
she, who has never spoken a word of her own,
is full of thoughts as precise and impassioned
as the yellow and black exchanges of a wasp’s striped body.
For a long time I thought her imposter.
her jokes, even her puns, are only too subtle for me to follow.
And so we go on, mostly ignoring each other,
though what I cook, she eats with seeming gusto,
and letters intended for her alone I open with curious ease,
as if I, not she, were the long-accomplished thief.
My friend and collaborator the artist Birtley Aris has just finished making some new drawings to illustrate a small pamphlet of work from the Rutland Friends of the Earth Earthwords 2 Writing Competition I helped judge with Clive Anderson and Jon Canter. They’d asked me if I might contribute a couple of poems of my own. These two seemed to fit with the theme and, as usual, Birtley’s images have added a fresh dimension. The whole business of collaboration, the conversation between poet and artist, word and image, an endlessly fascinating one. Where does one end and the other begin? How to describe that third element, what happens in between?
Talking About the Weather
The gardener sat on the old wicker chair,
hands wrapped round a mug of nettle tea –
and even though the room was warm, curtains
drawn against the night, the way we hold
our breath between winter and what might follow –
snowmelt, rainfall, lambing storm, the words
she spoke flung open the door on water, a river
in spate, rushing and roaring between us –
her worst fears of flood and disaster,
an unstoppable lostness sweeping her away,
tossed in the current of truth, lies, testing
the strength of this earth we cling to – as if our lives
were leaves, whispering North, North, North.
After Guiseppe Bartolini’s lithograph, Pisa
Jellyfish fall through the heavens above
the viridescent night of the Orto Botanico.
Count their drifting moons, skullcaps
for the duomo, just visible over the wall – 7, 8,
9. In fact, they’re all parachutists: cumulative grace
at odds with their singular mission; that history
still untold. Let’s say today they wear the ruched silk
of angels, landing within the garden’s jurisdiction.
Watch them unhook their spent umbrellas and pick up
a spade to dig fresh beds or a rake to sweep paths
clear. They’ll unravel the hose to revive parched myrtle
or pelargoniums; reinstate tumbled ceramic, fix
cracked signs and screw the last bolt in new glasshouses.
As the city sleeps, they’ll delve till the trees toll
their boughs in exaltation, each one seen so hard
the people will wake up to the world’s first day.
Be ahead of all departure; learn to act
as if, like the last winter, it was all over.
For among the winters, one is so exact
that wintering it, your heart will last forever.
Die, die through Eurydice – that you might pass
into the pure accord, praising the more, singing
the more; amongst the waning, be the glass
that shudders in the sound of its own ringing.
Be; and at the same time know the state
of non-being, the boundless inner sky,
that this time you might fully honour it.
Take all of nature, its one vast aggregate –
jubilantly multiply it by
the nothing of yourself, and clear the slate.
Rainer Maria Rilke
From ‘Sonnets to Orpheus’
Austin Wright’s ‘Limbo’