Tag Archives: creativity

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

 

steepness

a water world

wagtail

 

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

 

flowers

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

return

 

 

 

*

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.

 

Participants:

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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New Work

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Microscopic image of skin cells

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Ben Freeth’s sound and light installation

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Ahren Warner’s scrolling prosimetrum

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Tom Schofield’s interactive ‘skin-covered’ construction

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Kate Sweeney’s photographic Still Life

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My new prose poem bound as a book

(an extract on the left hand side of the first image here)

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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

white-blue-white

 

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.

  

Participants:

 

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

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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.

 

Participants:

Boris Deliradev

Linda France

Yana Genova

Stefan Ivanov

Zdravka Mihaylova

Margarita Peeva

Yana Punkina

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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)…

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Photo by Zdravka Mihaylova

 

 

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Poetry in the Library

 Not exactly ‘Lunch Poems’ but there is a seriously foodie element…

 

Poetry readings! Drama! Books!

Hexham Apple Pressing Day Renga!

As well as readings from the new anthology – ‘Among Woods and Water’ – and the Northern Poetry Library project more generally, the event in Hexham Library on Thursday night will be enlivened by some short presentations by a Drama Group who meet in the Queen’s Hall, led by TSF’s Sarah Kemp.  They will be performing specially created interpretations of some of the poems written and read by the Library Workshop Group, who will also be reading from their own work, alongside Poet in Residence, yours truly.

There will be a rare opportunity to hear (and buy) the splendidly fructiferous Hexham Apple Pressing Day Renga, created by 52 visitors to Transition Tynedale’s Apple Pressing Stall at Hexham Farmer’s Market last October.

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All are invited to come along to what promises to be a convivial evening celebrating community, culture and creativity – where no hares will be harmed in any way.

Hexham Library

Thursday 19th May

7 – 8.30pm

The event is free but places can be booked by ringing 01670 624525.

 

 

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Writing ‘Reading the Flowers’

 

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Reading the Flowers began life as a small collection of poems written during a Leverhulme Residency at Moorbank, Newcastle University’s Botanic Garden, sadly now closed. Nine months in a garden isn’t even a full cycle of the seasons so it was natural to want to expand into a longer, more far-flung exploration of what happens in a Botanic Garden, a space where nature and culture meet.

The poems do not document or delineate the gardens I visited so much as put them under the microscope, zooming in on individual plants and processes. They also range beyond the walls of formal gardens, spilling into hedgerow and meadow, wild garden and island. The ‘landscapes budding inside us’ also draw my attention, psychological, social and spiritual concerns mirroring what is translated into botanical classification and horticulture. This thematic diversity is reflected in an abundance of formal strategies and multiple voices telling how their gardens grow.

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As a garden is a managed, boundaried green space, so the collection opens with an invitation ‘to enter./Step across the carpet of petunias and fuchsias’, in a poem called ‘Cut Flowers’, immediately placing together the realms of plants and paper in a collaged ‘flora’, signalled by the book’s title. Similarly, the final poem enacts the dynamic of arrival and departure, entrance and exit, via the traditional turnstile gate.   This cycle is built into the poem’s structure, which uses the mirrored specular form. An earlier, simpler version of the poem gave its (then) title, Through the Garden Gate, to the pamphlet it introduced of poems from Moorbank. I’ve enjoyed the sense of evolution and adaptation in the six-year process of gathering this collection together.

 

 

 

The epigraph is from Iris Murdoch’s novel ‘A Fairly Honourable Defeat’:

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.

This clearly points to its opposite – how people on this planet fail to appreciate the beauty of the flowers that grow all around us and so miss out on a whole world of wonder and delight. Part of the poems’ intention is to encourage the reader (and the writer) to look more closely and not bypass the opportunity to ‘be mad with joy’ at least some of the time.

 

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Joy is not the only response flowers elicit. They also inspire gratitude and appreciation, reminding us that we depend upon green growing things for the very air we breathe, by courtesy of the process of photosynthesis. Plants provide us (and other creatures) with food, shelter, medicine, clothing, artistic inspiration, spiritual illumination and hope. The natural world, a traditional symbol of renewal, is currently under threat; climate change, desertification and development, extinction, all shifting the emphasis towards that other symbolic association – impermanence. A flower’s beauty is enhanced by its short life. Although it comes and goes, part of us knows it will return the following year. This is becoming less and less of a certainty, making flowers even more precious, as are all the birds and insects with which we share our gardens.

A sense of ‘kin’, the glittering web of interdependence, is taken up in the poems capturing memories of family, nurture and roots. Love too is nourishment, offering the possibility of (re)generation.

 

 

Travelling ‘away’ to gardens across the globe, the concept of ‘home’ is investigated – a source of identity, presence, desire and nostalgia. Its dark side is revealed in poems triggered by the colonial agenda of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, reflected in the horticultural and botanical imperialism of plant collection and classification. War, violence and environmental disaster are also part of the garden’s story.

 

 

IMG_0670 (1)         Ultimately, however, the balance is tipped in the light’s favour, the therapeutic effects of time spent ‘reading the flowers’ undeniable. In many languages this has a double meaning of ‘picking the flowers’, recalling the origins of our word ‘anthology’, from the Greek meaning ‘a gathering of flowers’. The implication is that reading about flowers has a similar effect to closely observing flowers. Many gardeners write extremely well about the plants they spend so much time nurturing. Many others enjoy reading what these gifted writers have to say, particularly during the winter months when short days and harsh weather keep those of us in the northern hemisphere indoors.

Reading the Flowers follows the long line of poet-botanists/horticulturists such as Goethe, Erasmus Darwin, D.H. Lawrence, Vita Sackville West, Michael Longley, Louise Glück and Sarah Maguire. It is not a garden manual but, unlike the cherry blossom itself, a poem evoking cherry blossom will never lose its petals; absent loved ones live and breathe on the everlasting span of a page: both plants and poems naturally ‘our highest currency’. Looking at flowers is a lesson in transience, an encouragement to make the most of these small, brief miracles in our lives that are so easily overlooked.

 

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Dear March –

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 –

 

Emily Dickinson

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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An Open Door

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?

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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.

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Parachutists

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.

 

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Worthy Conspirators

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Robert Mapplethorpe

He came, in time, to embrace the flower as the embodiment of all the contradictions revelling within.  Their sleekness, their fullness.  Humble narcissus.  Passionate zen.

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He found them to be worthy conspirators in the courting and development of conflicting emotions. He also found it was as easy to hurl beauty as anything else.  Often they were symbolic of him; his processes.  Modelled in geometric shade.  Modified in a famous vase and inevitably turned in the realm of their own simplicity – the blossoming of the mystifying aspects of the pure.

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And the eye became a body, the murky heart of a rose.  The sinister shadow of an orchid.  Or the indolent poppy balanced behind the ear of Baudelaire.  All the finery, all the flame, distilled in the burning veins of the jack-in-the-pulpit, the blood of the spike surging upward into a buttery crown. In the foreskin of a lily.  In another lily military, erect.  In victory stems asymmetric, exact.  In the head of a tulip, the curve of a staff or in the unfolding flower’s face.

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Words by Patti Smith

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