Five bars of rusting iron hold nothing in,
apart from flattened brown bracken
before the mountain and its quick green rise.
You have to love a gate that keeps nothing out,
untethered by fence or railing,
jettisoning even the protocol of posts;
its sudden mystery – leading nowhere,
space and more space, with passing places,
a strong westerly, Loch Voil wild with breakers.
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
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
layer upon layer
my companions are painting light
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
A 14-verse Renga at Allen Banks,
on 6th September 2017.
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.
I heartily recommend this fantastic one man show about Capability Brown at the Moot Hall in Hexham on 12th October. See details below.
I saw it at Kirkharle, Brown’s birthplace – in a marquee within a barn – and we were all entranced by John Cobb’s evocation of this literally ground-breaking landscape gardener. Not much is known about the man himself, allowing plenty of room for poetic license, some beautifully inventive physical theatre and a rollicking text to remind you of the great number of commissions Brown undertook during his lifetime and his skilfully-cultivated connections with influential clients – all against the dramatic backdrop of eighteenth century history.
Catch it while you can – a marvellous way to celebrate Capability Brown’s tercentenary.
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
capability shifts landscape
in the mind
twist in flight
on the ridge of his horizon
a skeleton tree
pegs show contour
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
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.
Clara May Warden
Also known as Japanese briar, saltspray rose, beach rose, potato rose and Turkestan rose.
The white variety Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’ is now in bloom in my garden and doing much better than usual after a spell without any cows in the field next door. On Sunday my friend Cesare from Milan and I were inspecting the more common deep pink variety up at Harnham and pondering the rugosa part of its name. The Latin means ‘wrinkled’ but although the petals have an unironed quality, they’re more dishevelled than actually creased or wrinkled.
It eventually occurred to me that perhaps it was/is the leaves that were/are rugosa – quite deeply lined, much more textured than other varieties of rose. It seems to make sense. Strange to notice how this new insight about a plant I’ve loved for a very long time has made it come alive in a new way for me, freshening my intimacy with it. And that’s all before I even mention the smell…These past few warm days the garden’s been a veritable bowl of sweetness.
an ache in the day the way bones ache where they were broken
is it enough to say rosehip? my shadow walking?
grubby necks under water the swans are two fat pillows floating
not a lonely place – a lonely month – back-to-back faces
I try to find a corner round a lake which has none
wind engraves its secret formula on your gunmetal surface
the sort of weather broom is built for – waxed rumours of leaves
an eyeful of fieldfares cast loose in the implacable sky
I want to be more here and less here in a finger-click
this bench dedicated to a child who died after ten years in the world
so cold a flask of coffee can’t warm me
swan wings working like an engine trying to ignite
slowly I feel the real in my finger ends
what should be done by one who’s skilled in goodness and knows the way to peace
Be branching bone.
Strip yourself of yourself.
A silver bell rings in the quietness.
Let your tongue become that bell.
Friday was a beautiful day and I tagged along with a couple of Transition Tynedalers to pick some apples at Jim’s orchard – an unlikely spot squeezed between the River Tyne and the A69 on the edge of Hexham.
It was the start of a conversation I’ll be having with Transition Tynedale (and Edible Hexham) considering the poetry of food, gardening and ecology. Part of a new Northern Poetry Library Project, which is placing six poets in residence in libraries across the county. I’ll be based close to home in Hexham. There’s a launch reading at the Northern Poetry Library in Morpeth on National Poetry Day, Thursday 8th October at 7pm. Do come along if you’d like to find out more and meet the poets.
Transition Tynedale will be pressing some of Jim’s apples (and others) at Hexham Farmers’ Market on Saturday 10th October 10 – 1. If you’re passing, come and say hello and have a taste of juice. I will also be pressing poems out of people!
At 96, Jim has trouble keeping on top of this wonderful orchard he planted himself. Figs, peaches, medlars and soft fruit as well as apples. Talking to him put me in mind of Robert Frost’s poem After Apple Picking.
My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.