Tag Archives: snow

New Year

As we make the time, so we make the weather.

Wishing you and your world a year of kindness and simplicity.

Here’s a reverse renga made from a selection of verses from the year renga I kept in 2020. It’s a good touchstone practice for days that make strange demands – a river to swim in and carry you along.

There should be a little more space between the verses which I can’t quite make happen in this format, so best take a breath as they unfold. Hope’s there’s something among or behind the lines for you to ponder and take with you into the new year.

Be well.



Le Temps 

Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.

                                                            Albert Camus



            You give me a word

            for the heart’s weather 

driving into Newcastle

as if we were travelling

to Samarkand

            how to feel sad

            without being sad

spiked with caffeine

overnight snow

dreaming yourself into existence

            bars of rain 

            on the sitting room window

one more winter

the same larches

an untranslatable decade

            the flowers don’t know

            it’s November

every year 

her body 

remembers his birthday

                nothing blowing

                against nothing

out at sea

all night long

a blue moon

            two hours lost

            in charcoal, pencil, ink

our first visit back 

to the cinema

it’s 1968, Chicago


            light the fire

            burn the day away

another Monday


how to begin

                sunlight you want

                to call miraculous

filling the day from end

to end so there’s no room

for nothing

            plant wallflowers

            a spell for overwintering

slow Sunday afternoon

watching Casablanca

you weep on the sofa

            2.30 pm around the brazier

            Autumn Equinox

a moment knows

something’s almost over

but not what it is

            pale lines of rain

            against the ploughed field

I paint the stone rise

in the kitchen

a colour called Thunder

            listening to Meredith Monk’s book of days

            time stops

stay with the ragged joy

of ordinary living

and dying


            your birthday: balancing

            pebbles on a burnt tree

rain all day

the garden rises up

to meet it

            the longest day

            stripped back to nothing

the only yellow flower

on the gorse bush

a yellowhammer

            the here and now

            and the mental there and elsewhere   

the yard white

a sudden shower 

of sky stones

            on top of the Iron Age fort

            we see beyond ourselves

without water in the taps

your mind full of nothing

but water

            distilling time impossible

            I try anyway

good thinking always happens

at the moment of speechlessness

jellyfish swim behind her

            you die 

            you are still here

a few seconds lag

between our chat

connects || separates


            the first swallow

            and tears come

storm moon and hailstones                                                               

I warm myself                                                                                    

at your fire

            the rowan’s shadow 

            ticking clockwise

punctuated equilibrium

how earth evolves 

in sudden ruptures

            every day the same                            

            every day different

Spring Equinox:

I am a tilting cup

a tremulous star

            in ceremonial kimonos                                                           

            they look back from the future

do not stand

in a place of danger

trusting in miracles

            our molehills                                                               

            are mountains

my driver knows

hardly any English but says

we need more water

            a dead man’s tattoos –

            fail we may, sail we must

on the windowsill                                                                                           

a bowl                                                                         

of borrowed time    


[Quotations from: Jane Hirshfield, Donna Haraway, Siri Hustvedt, Moroccan proverb, Andrew Weatherall.]

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Today’s flurry of snow settling round what few flowers are out in the garden also brings a couple of trailers for my new collection.

You can read an ‘In Conversation’ piece I did with Paris Morel on the Arc website here.  Apparently the cover’s still work-in-progress but you can see the beautiful photo of an Eryngium taken by Karen Melvin in her garden.  Out of shot, I am the one holding the piece of white card behind the plant.

One of the poems from Reading the Flowers (due in the Spring – with a launch reading at Hexham Book Festival) is in the new edition of the Australian Plumwood Mountain Journal, guest edited by Tricia Dearborn.  You can read it – ‘Self Portrait as a Case of Stick Insects’, and another newer poem – ‘Watching the Perseids with Sue’, here.

photo 2

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Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Robert Frost


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No Smoke Without Fire

When my camera broke recently, I dug out my old one to take some photos.  I discovered some images on it from when I last used it a couple of years ago.  These were of a bonfire at Moorbank in January 2011, built to burn the various branches that had to be felled because of snow damage during the particularly intense winter that year.  One of the biggest casualties in the garden was the old Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) that had stood guard over the entrance for many years.

I’d never seen one of these trees before and used to taste one of the fruits whenever I walked in –not the loveliest of flavours, but somehow cheering.  I was entranced by the way the fruits and the flowers were always on the tree at the same time – scarlet berries alongside creamy-white, waxy bells.  A native of Ireland, as signalled by one of its names – the Killarney Strawberry Tree – this unusual plant also appears in the Mediterranean and is the symbol of Madrid, reflected in the liqueur made from its fruits – madrone.  Hieronymus Bosch painted one in his Garden of Earthy Delights triptych (c.1490/1510), which currently hangs in the city’s Prado Gallery.  I have since seen specimens in all three of the Botanic Gardens I have visited recently – Padua, Sheffield and Oxford (the source of the first two photographs here).

If all those various associations weren’t enough, it became a powerful symbol of the garden at Moorbank for me during my residency for the way its collapse under the weight of the snow showed what the gardeners there, all volunteers, were made of.  While I was still mourning its loss, they were cutting it back, gathering up the branches to be burnt and planning what might be planted to replace it.  Literally looking on the bright side, they were pleased at the possibility of more light finding its way into that end of the glasshouse.  I was deeply impressed by their groundedness and pragmatism – the way all good gardeners must look to the future.

Some of that same spirit was in evidence today at the Open Meeting to explore possible ways forward with the future of Moorbank, since the University has made the decision not to renew the lease with the Freemen of Newcastle.  The valiant volunteers – the Friends of Moorbank – led forums on the different areas this green space in the heart of the city now needs support with – gardening, business planning, finance and marketing/events.  Around 150 people attended, bringing some wonderful ideas and energy to the discussion.  Everyone’s input will be pooled to take the garden onto the next stage of its transition.  Knowing what determination and commitment the Friends of Moorbank are capable of, I look forward to seeing where this might lead.  It was good to come home with the sense that Moorbank has clearly made lots more Friends at a time when it needs as many as it can get.


Arbutus unedo

Bosch’s paradise tree waved them past
the gate, scarlet berries winking on dark stems
beside waxy bells, a tumble of cream and pink.
Some said the fruit tasted of nothing – one
was enough; food for the birds. Others let
the flesh ferment into Spanish liqueur.

At the end of November the snow fell,
snow like no one had seen before;
their Eden lost in the sky’s dreaming.

The old tree couldn’t bear the weight
of its white coverlet, creaking till its trunk
and branches split, exposed the chilled bones
of a dying year.
Earth like stone
under their boots, the gardeners went back
to work, tramping through snow with sawn
and fallen boughs to coax into smoke.

Flames shone on their faces as the fire took hold;
flakes of ash fingered their shoulders like frost.
The incense of burnt heartwood rose.
As if such wild heat could melt a hole
in the heavens, that afternoon saw more snow;
zodiac of a virgin year turning.

They tilled the calendar with spades and hoes,
telling the legend of that winter, what had passed,
the snow, the fire, the strawberry tree.

Yesterday the Financial Times published an article on Moorbank you can read here  – and you can also become a Friend yourself on Facebook here.

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