Tag Archives: spring

Pennycress, Willowherb

IMG_0503Because it was a sunny day and I’d just missed my connection – watching powerless as my homebound train pulled out of the station without me (always painful, much worse than missing it by ten or even five minutes) – I walked on to the end of the platform where sun struck stone paving unimpeded by canopies or walls. A row of advertising boards, brash inducements to buy the latest ‘Number 1 Crime’ books, each with their own moody picture, intimating the gruesome and forensic, gradually petered out. I was happier looking at the stone underfoot, the grid of moulded rectangles harbouring sweet green creases of moss the further along I walked.

A tiny pennycress grew out of nothing, no visible earth, valiant among the coming and going of trains with their strident livery and their harried passengers, noses in novels, fingertips stroking screens, ears plugged against the outside world – I knew this because I’d just been one of them.

At the very end the platform sloped gently down until it met grey-blue clinker. I could see some plants with red leaves growing among it, sturdy against the sharp stones. Deep-veined, prolific, possibly a willowherb. I ambled slowly down the ramp scanning for any other plant life that might be thriving in this apparently inhospitable setting. The toothed leaves of an unfamiliar thistle wrapped themselves around a discarded bolt, rusty and large enough to be missed.

I eased the rucksack off my shoulders and placed it on the ground at my feet; knelt to look more closely and touch the veined leaves I’d seen from a distance, fiery in the sunlight that warmed my face and shoulders after such a very long winter, cramped and flowerless.

I dug in the pocket of the rucksack for my camera to take a picture in the afternoon light, all the lovelier for coming unannounced, unexpected. I crouched down again to focus close enough to catch these low-to-the-ground, unostentatious plants.

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Come away from there, now, step away, step away.   Please return to the platform.

A loud voice, with worry in it, a man’s. I lifted my head to see a bearded young man in a lilac uniform carrying a walkie-talkie. He repeated his instructions as if it were a matter of life and death, staying at the top of the ramp some distance from me. Until proven innocent, clearly I was dangerous.

Come up now, come back to the platform.

Another man, shorter, navy blue jumper, stood beside the first, twitching slightly. If he’d had a gun, he’d have his finger on the trigger. I could tell how much it cost him to say nothing. The tremor in his shoulders gave him away.

I had a choice: to argue the toss and claim my freedom as a citizen, my fundamental right to look at plants in the sunshine while waiting for a train; or simply let it go and reassure them – for I could see they were anxious about something and were in dire need of reassurance – that I wasn’t a terrorist, or suicidal, or a flagrant destroyer of railway property.  Though what they were reading into my grey hair and best black coat was a puzzle to me, a disguise impenetrable even to myself.

I’m just taking some photographs.

Forced to confess, it sounded like a crime. To persuade them it was true, the only sin I was committing was photography, I lifted up my camera and the shorter man started bobbing from foot to foot. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had told me to drop it and raise my hands above my head. 15.34, a Wednesday and Central Station was suddenly an action thriller. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for these men, looking down at me, chests puffed out – so keen to do their duty, or be seen to do their duty, on high alert where there was nothing to be alert about. How exhausting it must be to wear a lilac uniform, carry a walkie-talkie and suspect middle-aged women of unspeakable crimes, a threat to the common good and trains running on time.

IMG_0506I made my way up the ramp slowly, with dignity I hoped: the only way I could express my deep disappointment at such misdirection of human energy, a senselessness that seemed to becoming more and more familiar, not just to me but everyone I speak to. Resistance burned at the core of me, political, existential. The willowherb remained unphotographed.  Had it come to this – that a person was no longer able to look at flowers growing in a railway station when the weather coaxed them in that direction? Would it have been different if I was a man writing down the number of a passing train?

The two men looked disappointed too.  Perhaps that I’d proved such easy meat and offered no further opportunity for their heroics. The drama had come and gone too quickly. I wanted them to be embarrassed but no one apologised to anyone else. Not I, nor the men, who turned on their heels and scurried back towards the main body of the station, disappearing in the coolness of the shade.

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Flower, Flower, Flower

Just returned home from a wonderful trip to Glasgow where there seemed to be flowers everywhere we went…

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at the Tramway’s beautiful hidden gardens

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and the lovely Botanics

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in Kibble Palace

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to this – my new collection!  Hooray!  Spring is here!

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When the Clocks Go Forward…

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…The Whole Place Goes Up

 

Today with Spring here finally we ought to be living

outdoors with our friends.

Let’s go to those strangers in the field

and dance around them like bees from flower to flower,

Building in the beehive air

our true hexagonal homes.

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Someone comes in from the outside saying,

‘Don’t play music just for yourselves.’

Now we’re tearing up the house like a drum,

collapsing walls with our pounding.

We hear a voice from the sky calling our lovers

and the odd lost people. We scatter lives.

We break what holds us, each one a blacksmith

heating iron and walking to the anvil.

We blow on the inner fire.

With each striking we change.

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The whole place goes up, all stability gone to smoke.

Sometimes high, sometimes low, we begin anywhere,

we have no method.

We’re the bat swung by powerful arms.

Balls keep rolling from us, thousands of them underfoot.

 

Now we’re still. Silence also is wisdom, a flame

hiding in cotton wool.

 

Rumi

 

 

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Back at the Lake

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as if the world could be different  – an avenue of budding branches

the upturned boat a sarcophagus for the corpse of winter

siestaing swans – necks wrapped across their backs

water’s gentle glissando as a man takes his reflection for a walk

a child’s drawing of flowers – bright celandines

on the island a female goosander shows off her elegant profile

inside this lake a smaller lake – patch of blue sky

who will teach me how to hold these incongruities?

small insects motes of dust tickling my face

this is what nothing looks like – liquid fullness

last year’s willowherb scrawny and bedraggled

the boardwalk a wooden snake winding nowhere

behind my eyes penicillin blue pomegranate red

planes of light glancing off the lake’s stillness

 

 

 

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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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New Shoots

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For some reason the rabbits seem to be letting my spring bulbs alone this year.  I’d planted everything in pots for easy removal if necessary but, touch wood, no sign of damage so far.  It’s very heartening to see some colour up here after our long subdued winter.  And the sunshine these past few days has softened the blow of returning from Rome and missing its irrepressible light and crumbling grandeur – an unequivocal primavera.

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Some bright new things to let you know about – a couple of readings and a new digital publication.

On Thursday 30th April at 1pm I will be reading from another wild at the Robinson Gay Gallery in Hexham for the Book Festival.  My collaborator, the artist Birtley Aris, will be there and Sue Dunne will be playing the Northumbrian pipes.  The Gallery will be showing some of Birtley’s original drawings for the book.

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At Burnlaw Centre in Whitfield, near Allendale, on Friday 1st May, three of us will be reading from and talking about our new books connected with the land – Malcolm Green, Peter Please and myself.  It starts at 7.30pm and it is rumoured there will be copious quantities of tea and cake.

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Mslexia magazine have just launched the first in a new series of e-books.  Poetic Forms is a revised and extended collection of a sequence of articles on the crafting of fixed forms commissioned back when the magazine started in the late 1990s.  A lot of people have told me how useful they’ve found these pieces and I have continued to use them in workshops and tutorials so I’d definitely recommend you download a copy if you’re at all interested.  A second e-book based on my First Principles series will be available next month.  You can find out more here.

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Da Roma Con Amore

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I began to attach myself by so much looking.  Here I was, centred.

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Knowledge of Rome must be physical, sweated into the system, worked up into the brain through thinning shoe leather.  Substantiality comes through touch and smell, and taste, the tastes of different dusts.  When it comes to knowing, the senses are more honest than the intelligence.

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Seeing is pleasure, but not knowledge.

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From A Time in Rome by Elizabeth Bowen, 1959.

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The S Word

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The S Word

 

The cups and frills of tête-à-têtes

at my door only make me want

more. Deeper. Longer. Your eyes

full of looking. That sweetness

in the light piques my appetite;

a lick of salt, sap knocked back

in a shot glass. Didn’t we both clock

the pussy willow at the same time?

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I wrap your scent around me

like a shawl, walk out into the stretch

of a lost afternoon, to the tune

of ipod-shuffled finches, Larkin’s

stutter. Your F sharp charm, here

and away, the wink of your eye.

 

 

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In Pelion

Opening into May – one of Northumberland’s most glorious months – I am delighted to introduce a new guest piece brought home from the other side of Europe by a talented young writer I have worked with over a number of years.  Still only 16, Marcie Winstanley is passionate about words – reading and writing – and committed to what I’m sure will be a lifetime of putting pen to paper (or increasingly fingers to keyboard).

I heard that Marcie had written a short piece while on one of her family’s regular visits to her aunt’s cottage in Mainland Greece, looking out onto the Aegean, where the nearest town is Volos.  I was particularly intrigued by the mention of a Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum).  I had to look up the musmula (Mespilus germanica) – and discovered that it is a mediterranean medlar, a cross between a pear and hawthorn, which sounds delicious.  So, enjoy this small taste of a garden in Greece, caught just at the end of April.  The photos were taken by Marcie’s sister, Nina (age 14).  

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On a bee’s hum I hear an echo of things that have been, of memories. And I zoom in as if through a camera’s lens on the present, the sense of now, the moment.

Trees grow, thick and leafy and from here I can see the shades that make up the view that shares itself with me, allows me to capture a fragment of its beauty. I see the spring shoots and tendrils of the vine, fresh and light amongst the weathered brown of its trellis and I see the deep green of the musmula leaves, so close I can almost touch them. The grass is speckled with daisies, white.

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The Judas blossoms blush pink and petals drop at intervals onto the stones of the terrace below, joining the violet of the wisteria flowers, tumbling from the growing plant, which pokes its head towards the balcony.

A few light drops of rain begin to fall amongst the leaves, touching their edges like tiny feet, and my gaze wanders towards the sea. The mass of tangled green branches of olives seem to run to its edge, merging with the shimmering grey that matches the clouds. A pale blue haze on the horizon fades and ever changes.

 

Marcie Winstanley

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All This Juice And Joy

As if Spring had even infiltrated the pages of my diary, I’ve been blown hither and thither in the cause of hey nonny no etc etc.  The backdrop of catkins and crocuses, blue skies and birdsong has made my busyness bearable – but my constitutional preference for SLOW is probably why Spring isn’t my favourite season.  The sheer energy and constant motion of it makes me feel quite queasy.

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I’m feeling the undiluted strength of it more keenly this year because it didn’t really happen in 2013 as a result of the seasonal upending that occurs if you spend any time at all in the Southern Hemisphere. And then last Spring itself was so cold and late it quickly came and went.  I remember being very puzzled to return in April after my three months away to a landscape and colours not so very different from those I’d left.

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An unexpected consequence of Climate Change is that Spring is not a cliché any more.  No longer predictable, when it does come, aren’t we relieved, grateful that another year has turned, another winter passed and we have survived to see it?  Although we’ve had a mild, relatively kind winter here, there’s still the feeling among people of relief and revival, the return of the light.

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Apparently, the Equinox coincided with World Poetry Day and World Flower Day – which seems somehow suitable. They all feel like part of the same tradition, fuelled by the same ‘green fuse’, sap rising. Can’t be hurried, can’t be slowed – can only be felt coursing through you like caffeine or adrenalin.

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If you’re going to greet the spring anywhere at all, I can’t think of anywhere better than Edinburgh Botanic Garden.  This weekend dry bright days brought lots of folk out despite it still being cold enough to need hats and scarves.  The rock garden was the perfect spot to savour the year’s new beginnings – everything in miniature, small words after the silence of winter, exquisite forms and optimistic colours, all arranged around the dramatic waterfall, skilfully landscaped levels and winding paths.

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I heard on Gardener’s Question Time that ‘March comes in with an adder’s head and goes out with a peacock’s tail’ (Richard Lawson Gales, 1862-1927).   I like the sound of that, the circle between the two.

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Nothing is so beautiful as spring –

            When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

            Thrush’s eggs look like low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightning to hear him sing;

            The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush

            The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

 

What is all this juice and joy?

            A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,

Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,

Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

 

Spring

Gerard Manley Hopkins

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