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.
Saturday 30th July
Back in the Botanic Garden, and of course it looks lovelier than ever because I am saying goodbye. I find myself making my ritual walk round, trying to imprint the experience of it in my memory to revisit when I am back in England.
There are only two other visitors – a woman of about my age and what I presume is her granddaughter. She takes a photo of the smiling child in front of a fern in the glasshouse. One of the gardeners is sitting at a wrought iron table outside in the full afternoon sun reading the Saturday paper. I, on the other hand, quickly seek out the shade round the back by the rose garden – one of the whitewashed wooden benches, a soothing place to sit, despite the unavoidable whine of the traffic barely twenty metres beyond the cypresses marking the garden’s boundary.
You enter this garden through a small flower shop, potent with the scent of lilies – cut flowers arranged in vases, highly confected bouquets, that the Bulgarians seem to love, plants in pots, for indoors and outdoors, lots of different papers and ribbons for wrapping. It is the custom to take flowers when you’re visiting – and always an odd number; even numbers only associated with death.
A door opens onto what they call the Greek garden – a little vignette of village life, panoramas of the timeless classical landscape and some ancient jars and marble fragments alongside southern plants, including a venerable specimen of a ‘European olive’. Every time I see a plant on this trip with Europaeus in its name I feel a pang of anger and sadness, already nostalgic for the continent I feel part of, at home in.
After ‘Greece’, you enter Central and Southern America, the desert plants – cacti, succulents and palms. There’s also a small Tropical House with a constant fine mist fed by a flowing cascade and trough. Even though it’s still hot, the sight and sound of the water makes you feel cooler. They are generally good with fountains here, large and small, part of their Austro-Hungarian heritage, scattered all over the city, particularly in the parks and gardens.
Outside, pears are ripening above pots of purple basil. Since my first visit to the garden a month ago, various things have gone over. The lilies and day lilies that were so striking then have been replaced by dahlias and Japanese anemones. Though I think today the roses have truly come into their own, looking fuller and more beautiful than a fortnight ago. I’ve enjoyed this way our two countries are connected – through our national flower – despite all the differences between us, a sense of recognition and understanding, possibly thorny at times.
Another of the gardeners (in the uniform of green dungarees and yellow shirt) is giving this part of the garden a good soaking – everything desperately thirsty. During this month there’s been only one day (an evening really) of rain. Otherwise it’s been in the high 20s and low 30s centigrade day and night. I have acclimatised mostly but sleep is sometimes troubled by the heat (and the mosquitoes, who took two weeks to notice I was here but, crikey, when they did, made a proper meal of me…).
In the Rose Garden there’s a fragment of volcanic stone – an unusual flowing shape almost like a horse, legs hidden by the grass, as if it were swimming. I saw a lot more of this on the coast, often studded with lots of tiny fossils. It is used extensively in the hard landscaping at Balchik Palace and the Botanic Garden there. Bulgaria has very diverse geological formations – to match its biodiversity (and cultural diversity) generally. It’s the second most biologically diverse European country (after Spain) – a fact that many of the Bulgarians I speak to are unaware of. They shrug and look confused when I tell them, unfamiliar with feeling anything like pride for their native land.
Last week I was interviewed on the National Radio about my Residency here with the Next Page Foundation’s Literature and Translation House. When the presenter (also passionate about plants, which I have to say is rare) asked how I found the country and Sofia in particular, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my answer – along the lines of ‘unusual, exotic, contradictory, something Asiatic, something European and something else I can’t put my finger on…’ Afterwards however I was more interested in the simple fact of being asked; seeming to suggest Bulgarians are so unsure about their national identity, they need to hear it from someone else, an ‘outsider’. So many things here seem very aware of their own status as work in progress. Nothing is fixed, certain or reliable. I noticed something similar on my travels to gardens in Italy. Although this can at times be frustrating, there is a truthfulness in it. Everything is work in progress after all, isn’t it? Including us. Hence my difficulty pinning down any neat definition.
Walking through the city to the garden this morning, I was struck by the accidental wabi sabi aesthetic of the place. Wabi sabi is what the Japanese call the quality of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and insubstantiality of life as manifest in the physical world, natural and man-made and the fruitful place where they meet. Unlike in Japan, in Bulgaria they don’t set out to create such an aesthetic, but it happens anyway. Their history – of many different invasions and changes of regime – has been absorbed into their world view and natural philosophy. There’s a strong sense of the ad hoc, ingenuity in the moment, informed by a deep acceptance (or maybe sometimes deep resignation) at the way things are.
Even though there’s a decadence to the appearance of things – architecture, streetscapes, even gardens – because of this outlook, there’s also an intense freshness, a childlike quality of innocence and openness. There is something consoling in this – a relief to let go of the whole goal-oriented, ‘grown-up’ perspective. And it also allows for the fact that if a thing (an idea, a poem, a garden) is never really finished then it can never really come to an end.
It’s only later I discover that Sofia’s motto is ‘Always growing, never ageing.’ I ask my friend Nadya (Radulova – one of the city’s best poets and translators) if some people might think it’s more accurate the other way round – ‘Always ageing, never growing’. But she is adamant neither are true, the city is always just itself, eluding any neat phrase or defining formula. The work in progress continues.
Today we had a tour of Vitosha Nature Park by the Director and an expert botanist called Toni. A massive pick-up truck transported us 2000 metres up within sight of the Black Peak.
1489 plants have been recorded at Vitosha – about half of the native Bulgarian flora and one third more than the whole of the U.K. flora.
Even at the highest point it was still hot but up there, the land was boggy, disguising the ever-diminishing reserves of peat. Small blue butterflies and big orange ones, bees and crickets were busy feeding on the nectar. We saw a couple of incredibly graceful kestrel practically floating in the enormous blue sky.
It’s not a problem untilI try to articulate my experience and find it impossible – words inadequate, the wrong medium. Birdsong might do it or some Scandinavian yoiking. All I know is when we came down my ears were full up and the city appeared too soon, also full, intoxicated with its own cacophony.
Sofia Botanical Garden is the only one I’ve visited (so far) that is practically located on a roundabout. It’s hard to imagine – even when you’re actually there. But of course the result is it’s very far from being an oasis, the constant heckle of traffic impossible to ignore.
Slow is the word…even the gardeners go very slowly to be able to work in the burning heat. Sometimes it’s cooler inside the glasshouses. My poetry brain feels a bit like a battered coffee percolator on an old iron stove.
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.