Tag Archives: Paris

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


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.


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.


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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The Beauty of Structure

Read on for another guest post – this time from gardener and designer extraordinaire Rosie Hudson.  Her business Terra Firma Horticultural Services is based at Langley-upon-Tyne (01434 618208).


The Anemone coronaria have been valiantly flowering almost continuously since last June.

One of the pleasures wrapped up in a holiday is coming home at the end of it and seeing the changes that the garden has gone through in our absence. Things are never quite the same, whatever the season, and now, in the beginnings of spring, there is much to enjoy. Here in our elevated moorland garden, tulip, muscari and narcissi bulbs are poking through; anemone, crocus and iris reticulata are flowering; catkins are drooping from the hazel and everywhere buds are fattening – some already beginning to show a glimmer of the colour that lies ahead.


Spring launches us into the season of growth and over the coming months its energy will change the shapes, colours and textures of all the spaces. One of the things I get real delight and inspiration from is experiencing how this unfolding works against the structural framework of a garden. It’s happening everywhere but one particular focus for us is our little potager, now just beginning its fourth year. Here, the evergreen box, yew and Ilex crenata hedging will become the backdrop against which the bulbs and annuals we grow there flower and the spring and summer vegetables ripen. The area is enclosed by a beech hedge to provide shelter from the powerful winds we experience; its russet winter leaves will soon be pushed off as this year’s foliage emerges in an explosion of zinging green.


Emerging tulips are fosteriana ‘Exotic Emperor’, an early variety that we’re growing for the first time.  The potager is a wonderful space for experimentation: we grow lots of flowers for cutting, trying different species and varieties each year.


Banks of the Seine 

We’ve just returned from a week in Paris, a charismatic city that’s an old chestnut of a joy in Spring. It’s such a vibrant place that this most spirited of seasons is perfect for a taste of all it has to offer. Who could resist the pleasures of a stroll along the tree-lined banks of the Seine, a meander through the Tuileries, or a snatched hour in the sun on one of the many chairs in the Jardin du Luxembourg? As much as anywhere I can think of, the parks and squares of Paris are wonderful examples of creating beauty and elegance from a strong framework of structural planting.


Jardin des Tuileries

There, of course, it’s all done to perfection, and on a truly grand scale, fitting to a gracefully romantic capital city: enclosures and avenues of pleached lime and horse chestnut, blocks and parterres of exquisitely cut box and yew hedging and topiary, cascading and sculpted ivy, and (this being Paris) standard lemon and orange trees in vast Versailles planters. All the flowering colour – and there is much of it – happens against this backdrop. It’s very seductive and inspiring. Incredibly precise and mostly geometric in layout, these green public spaces have a wonderfully calm and unhurried atmosphere, a welcome counter-balance to the constant activity of the streets.


 Place des Vosges

It’s a refreshing joy to dip into a different world and to come away with something of the experience taking root inside you. And after it all, nothing feels as good as returning to the wild beauty of Northumberland with its big, open skies, curlews calling and spring hovering over the moor; and our little garden, a dot in the landscape of something much, much bigger.

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