Category Archives: collaboration

By Heart

ED91D044-9969-4B54-BCC6-54563CF93619.jpegI went to one of Sofie Layton’s wonderful workshops around this work and ended up contributing a poem to the exhibition.  This is not it…but a sideways take I found during my research.

His Heart

The earth is suffocating. Swear to make them cut me open, so that I won’t be buried alive.

Chopin on his death bed, 1849


Smuggled by his sister

back into his homeland

past Russian guards

sealed in a jar of cognac

interred in a Warsaw crypt

conferred on an SS officer

who admired his music

returned to the Holy Cross

examined for cause of death:

pericarditis, chronic tuberculosis.




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At Allen Banks


I’m spending a lot of time at Allen Banks these days – stepping out of the garden into the wild.  It’s the site for my current PhD research at Newcastle University and I’m looking at its history as well as its ecology towards writing a book-length sequence of poems.

As part of my endeavour to consider it as a collective site, it seemed natural to invite a group of folk to participate in a walking renga at the end of the summer, on the brink of my starting my second year of study.  We walked on the East side of the river, up through Moralee Woods to the tarn, stopping along the way to write and share our verses.


Here is the renga we made together:

The Landscape, Ourselves


Today’s truth –

the seventh month is our ninth

white river brown


a startled heron

wingbeat of silence


what is that sumptuous smell?

she only knows it

as ‘country’


a choice is made

to keep to the middle way



tripping on roots

my breathing quickens


through the ghost of a window

we gaze over the valley


mirror tarnished

by pondweed



layer upon layer

memories settle


my companions are painting light

collecting earth

gathering pollen


by the water

a stack of wooden bones


and so we lean

into the landscape



picture the moonlight

shadowing these branches


in a wild grove

between two fields

with all that’s unspoken



muttering, meandering.


A 14-verse Renga at Allen Banks,

Morralee Wood,

on 6th September 2017.



Jo Aris

Matilda Bevan

Holly Clay

Martin Eccles

Linda France

Malcolm Green

Sharon Higginson

Alex Reed

Eileen Ridley

Christine Taylor



Sound artist and fellow PhD student, Martin Eccles recorded the day and you can read his own renga here.  As well as writing our collaborative version, this time I encouraged everyone to keep all their verses and make their own individual renga, imagining them all as parallel shadows of our shared experience.


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Borderlands Renga

IMG_3645What the land says


Morning sun

warms crumbled earth

relief from frost heave


I hold it in my hands

it holds me


hills made overground

by velvet tunnellers

dark soil workers


home to the unseen

and the spectacular


a rusty horse-shoe, half-buried


O larch, cone

and whisker of you

nubs of dusted red


ash trees do it for me

sometimes, especially


fluid hardness of wood


leaning into, leaning on

a steady place to start

bones and barks both bend


hollowed, clothed

folding rock and living humus


the burn’s law carves a groove

divides a field

opens up earth’s skin




sunlit current between the banks

silent cross-currents within me


aching for the river’s touch

to be closer

to my open hand


telegraph pole floating down in the flood


the stream tumbling into my right ear

drifting from my left


glistening water

passes under the high bridge

carries thoughts downstream


shadow of a fish

playing with light



a water world



too thirsty to write a verse

above the river, I drink


above is below, flickering

skittish dipper flashes

stone to stone


today’s green umbrella

sheltering last week’s rain


earth route, sea bound


the water continues

sure in its course

holding to uncertainty





around the shadow of my hat

grass glows


in an auditorium of green fire

burning off

winter’s residue


furious and ferocious me

I lie down and rest


bliss – a line

scorched between

need and no-need


sun-grown leaf, grain, fruit


this stone below me, slow

this light on my face


a constellation of solar systems

scattered over

the dandelion meadow


red absorbed

sleepy cushion after lunch


furnace of microbial life



photosynthetic factories

forging the sward




feathers in my pocket

song in the air


crows – two in the uplift

corks on an unseen river

your wings, my home


take me up, thermals

so that I may see


the nothingness of being

that lives by breath


ripple in the pool, rustle in the tree


tickling my cheekbones

songs of blackcap, chiff chaff, jackdaw


drowsy afternoon

a chance to listen to air

sifting memories


my mother’s bloodroot


a wave of tiny combustions

the wave arranged in patterns, rhythm


cow-breath gorse-breath

blowing the flute

of the secret valley





where the skylark is –

even to the ten thousand galaxies


this pen settled in the saddle

of thumb and forefinger

widening to describe all this


space curves

there is a tree, a wall, a house


a network of human habitation


soft sow shape of Cheviot

stretches out asleep

over all those centuries


distant granite whaleback


in the distance

between thoughts – a space to fade to


sky full of bird paths

each flown invisibly

opened and closed


bear’s garlic, shepherd’s purse,

Persian speedwell


blue harvest


slip through

follow the fold of sky






the me that has no thoughts

the other quietly watching


a way to be back

along the boughs

a root home


with all the twists and turns

still there is the green


can we meet the tree?

sometimes I sense it

and so must she


tell me what I am

and through me sing


a group reflects

a hawthorn dances

I listen


preoccupied by the thinking

we forget the knowing


delusions like crows on a fence


arthritic old thorn

teaches silence

to sapling ash, oak, gean


ten thousand green eyes

turned skywards


what a day of embrace!

tree of heart’s desire

hold our grief, our trust, our uncertainty


alive to this place


tangled in and out of shadow

risk yes risk joy.



A walking renga

from Borderlands 3 at Burnlaw,

Whitfield, Northumberland,

on 23rd April, 2017.



Jo Aris, Melanie Ashby, Michael Van Beinum, Matilda Bevan, Neil Diment, John Fanshawe, Jane Field, Linda France, Kate Foster, Malcolm Green, Sharon Higginson, Geoff Jackson, Martha Jackson, Georgiana Keable, Virginia Kennedy, Linda Kent, Martin Lee Muller, Karen Melvin, Tim Rubidge, Geoff Sample, Torgeir Vassvik, Gary Villers-Stuart, Rosie Villiers-Stuart, Nigel Wild, Richard Young.


Borderlands 3 was a gathering of Northern Networks for Nature.  On Saturday we were mostly indoors, listening to excellent speakers, sharing thoughts (and fantastic food – thanks Martha!) and watching and listening to a ‘salmon fairytale’ from Norway.  On Sunday we went outside and walked down the valley as far as Bridge Eal, stopping along the way to consider the elements and write renga verses.  This renga is the fruit of that walk in that place on that day with those people.



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Happy Easter


They bring this hint of something startled in them –

the dreadful earliness of their petals

against dead earth, the extremity of their faces

suggesting a violent start –

dumb skulls opening, overnight, to vehemence.

Their lives are quicker than vision,

their voices evade us.  And as

water tightens its surface in vases

and sharpens its glass, slicing their sticks

in half, these funnels clatter on their bent necks,

like bells for the already dead.


Catriona O’Reilly

From The Nowhere Birds (Bloodaxe, 2001)


I’ve spent the past few weeks writing about what women poets are writing about when they write about flowers (snowdrops in particular) and now I look up, the daffodils are nearly over.  Never my favourite flower, I think Catriona O’Reilly has caught something interesting in them – that vehemence.  It seems to be the case that women poets (and possibly men too, but in a different way)  write about flowers either as a strategy for addressing an actual Other or approaching what they experience as Other inside themselves.  All flowers seem to lend themselves to reflections on death, they last so short a while.  A good place to consider impermanence.

My own wild daffodil poem from over ten years ago (part of a collaboration with the ceramicist Sue Dunne) was nudged into being by the death of Julia Darling.  It’s a different sort of grief when a friend dies – at least it was for me, tangled up with my own mortality, the sheer lostness of loss.  Those brave yellow flowers have some of Julia’s radiance about them.


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After all that Easterish death maybe it’s good to think about all the Easterish rebirth…so here’s some daffodil-inspired handiwork and humour in an installation in Hull, UK City of Culture – 1700 flowers made out of nearly 150,000 lego pieces.  I wonder what sort of poem might these be a muse for?


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New Work




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)

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The Sounds of Summer


How do geese know when to fly to the sun?

Who tells them the seasons? How do we humans

know when it is time to move on? As with the migrant birds,

so surely with us, there is a voice within if only we would listen to it,

that tells us certainly when to go forth into the unknown.

                                                               Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

‘Compass’, a new sound installation, created especially for Cheeseburn Grange in Stamfordham, Northumberland, is a new collaboration with Chris Watson, one of our leading wildlife recordists. On Google Earth, Cheeseburn sits at just a few minutes past the noon of North. As well as North, South, East and West, ‘Compass’ also refers to other concepts that come in fours – the seasons, the elements and the four quarters of the day. So, in four separate locations around Cheesnburn’s grounds this Bank Holiday weekend, visitors can listen to an orchestrated soundscape of birdsong, wildlife, weather and original poems composed for each setting, time of day and season.


As Cheeseburn’s first Writer in Residence, I visited over the span of a single year, on solstices, equinoxes and cross quarter days, to create a calendar of the place, based on simple observation and reflection (You can read the ‘notes’ of this experience here).  The intimate awareness gained from this research informed both the concept of Compass and the poems I wrote to accompany Chris’s recordings.

The two of us spent time at Cheeseburn together over another year to create this exciting new installation, where a world riven with migration and change finds a compass in the sense of sound itself, the poetry of everyday listening. Filtered through the ears and the imagination, visitors are invited to travel across time and space, through light and darkness, life and death, home and away, whilst also being able to experience the wonderful gardens and grounds at Cheeseburn in ‘real time’ on a summer afternoon.

As well as ‘Compass’, there will also be new work from Mike Collier and Sarah Dunn, also referencing the natural world and its winged creatures.


Hoping the sun shines for us and looking forward to seeing you there – Saturday, Sunday, Monday 11 – 4.

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Celebrating Capability Brown

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John Cobb as Capability Brown in ‘The Eye Catcher’ at Kirkharle Courtyard


Making the Lake


This far north

dips and hills

unpredictable as summer


outside the tent

tall grass waves westwards


making the lake

a long lead time

different machinery


capability shifts landscape

in the mind


chittering swallows

twist in flight



on the ridge of his horizon

a skeleton tree


pegs show contour

banks woodbound

piles driven level


bring me a basket of bread

for the road to Cambo


moon in his eyes

will he be hunter

gardener or poet?


wheelbarrow stands in sunlight

casting a dark green shadow


these rattling meadows

our ancestors

our hope


a spider runs between cracks

in the dried earth


for this place, this day

a necklace of beads

of heat, mud, honey


where is the boundary to be drawn –

planned and unplanned?


begin with an outline

a structure, a framework

anchor it then overlay


Kirkharle – eight hours from Newcastle

on dirt roads


harsh edge of roofs

gives way to

serrated larch against the sky


the price of a line of beauty –

twanging muscles, calloused hands


looking north, new energy

beyond the oil route

wind turbines, wood


when the wheel stops

it starts all over again.



A renga in celebration of Capability Brown

on 17th August 2016

at Kirkharle, his birthplace three hundred years ago.




Birtley Aris

Jo Aris

Michelle Caulkett

Linda France

Patricia Gillespie

Rosie Hudson

Lesley Mountain

Diana Smith

Tony Smith

Clara May Warden

Liz Wilkinson

Margaret Williams

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On Nasturtium Street


On Nasturtium Street


July, behind the school

no one enjoys

the shade of the chestnuts


white house

conversations in the garden ­–

the past is inside


a wall of crooked stones

supports a line of box

my aching back


no cry of cicadas

just the sound of a baby

falling asleep


the only bloom

on next door’s patch –

an abandoned parasol


concrete tiles, concrete bricks

a shoot of ivy on a trunk –

is it strong enough?


Linda tells us

about 24 hour poetry

the plot of the clouds thickens


new grass comes in squares

slugs and ladybirds

not included


trees in the yard

nature constrained –

a human soul in the world.



A 9-verse ‘simultaneous renga’

in the Literature & Translation House,

Latinka Street, Sofia,

on 27th July 2016.



Boris Deliradev

Linda France

Yana Genova

Stefan Ivanov

Zdravka Mihaylova

Margarita Peeva

Yana Punkina


Unusual to work with a group of folk for whom English isn’t their first language writing in English in their own country – hence the impromptu/simultaneous nature of this renga and the three-line verses throughout.  Everyone responded to the space and wrote their own verse and then we worked on the editing of the whole piece together.  It was a great chance to share the renga form in a country where it is unknown and a lovely way to get to know more people there interested in writing and poetry.

Also, a sort of blessing for the Literature House, which is in the middle of renovation and expanding into its wonderful role as a sanctuary and resource for writers and translators from all over the world.  It’s on Latinka Street, which means Nasturtium in English!  We also had in our midst a Geranium (Zdravka) and a Marguerite (Margarita)…


Photo by Zdravka Mihaylova



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Reading at the Palace of Culture

Tonight at 6 o’clock Sofia time.

With poets, translators and collaborators Nadya Radulova, Kristin Dimitrova, Georgi Gospodinov and Vassil Vidinsky.

In the literary cafe called Peroto ( the Quill) – older poems plus some new work I’ve written while I’m here.  

Full report to follow! 

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A Day for Capability




Turning the Landscape


Roads that brought us here –

blink them away

three hundred years


rain crackles the safe tent

inside, gentleness


layers of water, earth, white rock

nothing straight

all balancing


Brown charted the sweep of these contours

shifted nature


songs of dragonfly and jackdaw

spread over the lake

a rippled roof for fishes


plodging, rafting

petting, gutting


ornamental maple

next to copper beech

salt next to caramel


feet circled

satellites flung from a planet


tumbled scraps of moon

sheep graze

this divided land


the other side of the day

slowing down again


in the pink


shimmering question marks


a hand’s brush

two droplets fall



a touch of Monet

upon Rothley Low Lake


ground sinks away

a natural ha-ha


over the old railway

you’ve gone too far

turn back


history’s fraud –

the foggy fort – kindly meant


sounds of planes, birds

but rain (the demanding child)

will be heard


glimpse of modern barn

through a Brownian gap in trees



soft edges

take care


bonfire piled high





A renga in celebration of Capability Brown

at Rothley Low Lake, Northumberland,

on 25th June 2016.




Linda France

Sharon Higginson

Liz Kirsopp

Nick Owen

Jon Randall

Eileen Ridley

Anna Smith

Tony Smith

Christine Taylor


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