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.
Warm wishes for Winter and a Peaceful 2018
(You can see these wonderful Allendale horses pull the plough on Instagram @lindafrancebooksandplants…I’m afraid it’s not possible to upload them here…A glory.)
I had no idea that the Barbican had a Conservatory – or a Library until a few weeks ago when I found myself there, reading at a launch of Issue 18 of Long Poem Magazine. It was a friendly affair, surprising and happily sprawling like the unsung long poems and sequences the magazine does a wonderful job in drawing attention to. We were tucked away in the Music Section, a niche of hidden delights.
I particularly enjoyed hearing Katharine Pierpoint read her poem Camelopard, trying (and succeeding) to catch the giraffeness of the giraffe and Anna Reckin’s graceful evocation of various emanations of Jade. Also Alex Bell’s epistolary Dearest, lurking in the shadows of Victoriana, as did my own contribution – A Hundred Ways to Know Our Place.
When I was younger and a touch adrift I often read self-help books to check my bearings. Most of them have migrated from my shelves now (apart from a few classics like Dorothy Rowe on depression and Buddhist angles on anxiety) but I was interested to trace a clear line of connection between those and the beginnings of the genre in the 19th century.
A Hundred Ways to Know Our Place is part of new work I’m writing for my PhD, an overture to a book-length piece. If you’re interested in reading it and other longer poems and sequences, I’d point you in the direction of Long Poem Magazine, edited with passion and insight by Linda Black and Rose Hamilton.
Etiquette books also fascinate me. It’s hard not to be braced by their arbitrary sharpness, like eating a particularly arcane olive. Possibly after a long soak in a dirty martini. Some Russian visitors I had once called that sort of snifter a ‘walking stick’, to be taken before leaving the house for any reason. And in the right quantity (although this is hard to gauge) it can rinse the senses wonderfully. Isn’t that what we want reading a poem to feel like? To ‘take reality by surprise’, in Francoise Sagan’s phrase.
And so back to music (always)…My senses didn’t know what had hit them watching and listening to Ukrainian ensemble Dhaka Brakha perform at the Sage last week. And it was a performance, highly choreographed and styled with stunning costumes riffing on traditional styles, as did the music that playfully transforms folk songs from their beleaguered motherland into something almost miraculous. I was transported, utterly enchanted, and continue to be so listening to their latest CD the road. Dhaka Brakha ‘know their place’ and invite us to spend some time there. Foolish to refuse.
Down in London, I can sometimes feel like a bit of a country cousin. Walking from the Tube station to the Barbican, I was very excited to see a plant breaking up the clean lines of the long tunnel of the Bridgewater Highwalk. It wasn’t going to be told where it could grow and where it couldn’t, what freedom means.
Knowing our place is no easy matter – fierce, transgressive, and extremely quiet, it must take the risk of being there, doing it for ourselves.
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.
What the land says
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
fluid hardness of wood
leaning into, leaning on
a steady place to start
bones and barks both bend
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
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
in an auditorium of green fire
furious and ferocious me
I lie down and rest
bliss – a line
need and no-need
sun-grown leaf, grain, fruit
this stone below me, slow
this light on my face
a constellation of solar systems
the dandelion meadow
sleepy cushion after lunch
furnace of microbial life
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
a chance to listen to air
my mother’s bloodroot
a wave of tiny combustions
the wave arranged in patterns, rhythm
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
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,
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
preoccupied by the thinking
we forget the knowing
delusions like crows on a fence
arthritic old thorn
to sapling ash, oak, gean
ten thousand green eyes
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,
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.
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.
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.
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?
Feathers in the Basket
Through my sunglasses
the world’s turned copper and blue
a wild year’s last roar
flotsam of ice washed up
in the ash trees’ shadow
dotted along the verges
domes of fine earth
lifting my mood
on surface tension
make time for what matters –
the cover of John’s notebook
amid the canter of horses
I see my father again
blurred by years of warm sunshine
when your mind goes blank
enjoy the silence
Hotbank, Harnham, Holy Island
Whin Sill outcropping
still resonant volcanic flow
stays at home
at the Blacksmith’s
ordering tea in Italian
swearing in English
the rabbit managed ten holes
during my absence
so much of our days
is this – hands opening
grey meets white
a line carefully not drawn
would you cut the wood?
would you chop the wood?
would you burn the wood?
feathers in the basket
a mouthful of mint
imagine Kusala conservatory
full of scented hyacinths
Nanna always said
the days get longer
by the stride of the cock
two months’ news fast
relief for the heart.
A genius loci renga
at Harnham Buddhist Monastery
on 28th December 2016.
A Nocturnal on St Lucy’s Day, the Shortest Day
‘TIS the year’s midnight, and it
is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.
Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.
All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.
But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.
But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.
Robert Rauschenberg’s Gold and Pollen on Yew (Allen Banks)
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.