At the weekend I read poems about trees in the sweet company of Matilda Bevan‘s Nootka cypress (Cupressus nootkatensis) at her gorgeous exhibition The Common Language of Green in Healey Church. On Bonfire Night and around Samhain it felt right to turn our minds and hearts to trees as we enter the dark time of year – and now COP27 just beginning in Egypt, reminding us how intertwined we humans are with all life on the planet.
If you’d like to spend more time delving into where we find ourselves just now in the biosphere and locate your own place in the mycorrhizal web, there are two events in Newcastle this week you might like to come along to.
On Thursday night (10th November) at 7pm I’ll be reading with Poets of the Climate Crisis at Culture Lab, Newcastle University, alongside Mina Gorji and Togara Muzanenhamo, and in conversation with Jake Polley, as part of this term’s NCLA programme.
It will be a fascinating evening – free to attend and you can find out more and book here.
Any excuse to return to the Villa Borghese Gardens
Then on Saturday (12th November) I’m facilitating a day’s workshop (10-4) called The Classroom of Trees (a title I took from Jason Allen-Paisant’s wonderful Thinking with Trees (Carcanet 2021).
This is the sort of thing we’ll be thinking and writing about:
Why are there so many poems written about trees? And under trees? What more is there to say about trees? What do they teach us about the world and about ourselves? In this generative workshop we will be ‘thinking with trees’ (Jason Allen-Paisant): ‘Trying to be part of the forest, to learn their names by breathing.’
No specific arboreal knowledge is necessary – simply a willingness to explore the ‘tawny grammar’ (Thoreau) and ‘mother-wit’ (Snyder) of our deep connection with these venerable plants that hold the key for a more culturally-rooted sustainable future.
There are still places available and everyone is very welcome. I can’t think of a much better way to spend a Saturday in November – in the company of trees and fellow writers open to exploring what deep changes can happen (in our writing and our lives) when we take time for ‘thinking with trees’. Here’s more information and how to book.
And as a small forward-looking postscript, a cheer of appreciation to Candlestick Press for their new pamphlet of Christmas poems – Christmas Stories (a perfect postable present). When they asked me to contribute, I wasn’t sure what ‘story’ I might be able to tell, but, as often happens, it was trees that showed me the way.
My father – a mischievous man with delusions
of grandeur and Neapolitan charisma,
given to stories – told me his grandparents’ names
were Mary and Joseph. Only nine at the time,
I pencilled them in on our scant family tree
before catching the twinkle in his merry eye.
After that, every Christmas, not knowing
where I belonged, I’d gaze at the nativity,
away in the manger – pastoral, beatific –
wanting the holy family’s story to be mine.
My mother, down to earth, no nonsense, preferred
to blend into the background, almost invisible –
but at Christmas what made her happy was a tree.
Every year we’d trek deep in the wilderness
beyond the railway line, her swinging the big saw
as if it were a handbag. Under cover of dusk,
Mam at one end and me at the other, we’d carry
the chosen one home. Our trees were pine, not bought
spruce – long-needled, rangy, poached – hung
with mottled post-war baubles, paper lanterns.
Short of any other narrative to make sense
of the world we find ourselves in and to venerate
our lost ancestors – émigrés, survivors –
I tell my sons these stories in the dark of winter:
our origin myths, borrowed and stolen, a forest
of rootless, ungovernable evergreen trees.