Sunday, 16 October 2016

A Visit to Wells Festival of Literature 2016

After two weeks of intense poetry rehearsing, reading and listening at the glorious Bristol Poetry Festival, we were off to Wells today for more of the same at the Wells Festival of Literature. 

It's never a hardship to go there, especially at this time of year. The light is golden on golden stone, the interplay with the trees astounding, even when you've seen it before.

And how can you not love England's smallest city, with this view on one side ... 
... and this on the other? 
We were headed for the poetry judging at the Bishop's Palace, as my poem 'Mr Cowper's Hares' was slugging it out with the other shortlisted poems for one of the prizes on offer. 
I've a soft spot for the Wells Festival of Literature poetry competition because back in 2010, my poem 'Coleridge Changes his Library Books' took first prize. It was this that prompted me to stick my head above the parapet and start going to open mics and entering more competitions - which in turn led to a publishing deal for my poems and my novel, and the making of so many friends in the poetry community.
As it is, 'Mr Cowper's Hares' put up a good fight and came away with the Hilly Cansdale prize for local poets in their paws.   
William Cowper was an 18th century poet and hymn writer, born a generation or two before Blake, Coleridge, Clare and Keats, and like them, posthumously diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Of course, we can never really know what caused the mental illness of any of them; in any event, what's more interesting about Cowper is the fact he kept three orphaned hares as pets and found some comfort in caring for them. 

Mr Cooper’s Hares

And so he sits without moving
holds them in his lap

not so tightly they’ll take fright
leap through the window, scream up the lane
outstripping every attempt to catch them
hurling themselves from rock to moss to wild supposition
till they’ve gone beyond all returning
no longer know they have a home

and not so softly they’ll take fright
bolt down the passage, out through the door
dodging the grasp of passers-by
plunging almost suicidal into tan pits
brought back half-drowned in a sack
caked with lime

and so he holds them without moving
pent between his hands
sees his reflection in their mad
amber eyes

©Deborah Harvey 2016

Monday, 10 October 2016

An Odyssey to Odda's Chapel and the Priory Church of St Mary, Deerhurst

Finding myself at a loose end on the north side of Gloucester for a couple of hours yesterday morning, I took myself nine miles up the road to Deerhurst, somewhere I've wanted to visit for some time on account of its brace of Saxon Churches. Yes, two Saxon churches within spitting distance of each other. Brilliant.

First stop, Odda's Chapel, which Earl Odda, a relative of King Edward the Confessor, had built for the benefit of the soul of his brother, Ælfric, who died nearby in 1053. 

Dedicated in 1056, it was incorporated into a 16th or early 17th century farmhouse, its nave being turned into a kitchen and its chancel a bedroom. Like St Laurence's, the Saxon church in Bradford-on-Avon, it was only in the second half of the 19th century that it was 'rediscovered' and separated from the farmhouse, itself an impressive historic building.  

A Saxon flower arrangement

This is a copy of the original stone with the dedication inscription that is now held in the Ashmolean in Oxford. It was discovered in 1675, entangled in the roots of a nearby apple tree which was blown down in a storm.  

‘Earl Odda ordered this royal hall to be built and dedicated in honour of the Holy Trinity for the soul of his brother Ælfric, taken up from this place. Ealdred was the bishop who dedicated the building on the second day before Ides of April in the fourteenth year of the reign of Edward, king of the English’

Odda's Chapel is just the sort of church I love - a small, dark, rural place of worship. Having found St Laurence's deeply affecting, I was expecting a tidal wave of history crash down on me, but - oddly - I didn't feel it.  

My chief presentiment - because I've decided you can have a presentiment about the past - was that cows had probably been kept in there at some point. 
On to the Priory Church of St Mary, which is 300 years older than Odda's Chapel, its contruction having commenced by at least 800AD, and possibly during the late 6th century.   
If what we know of the history of the church is anything to go by, Deerhurst was an important site in the territory of the Saxon Hwicce, a subkingdom of Mercia. Excavations have uncovered remains of the Saxon monastery, with 7th century burial remains.  

I was captivated by these very much more modern headstones in the churchyard, a full millennium older.  

Although tucked away in a village, St Mary's is an important church and knows it. What's more, it was full of wedding flowers from the previous day and bustling parishioners arranging homely-looking apples and small, decorative pumpkins ready for the Harvest Festival, which was due to start presently.
I knew I was going to have to be quick ... 
... so I was startled to feel the weight of centuries - all those lives! - settle on my chest and in the base of my throat. By the time the vicar came over to ask me to stay to the service, I was overwhelmed to the point of tears. She probably thought I was a bit bonkers. 
Small chapel at the end of the north aisle - herringbone stonework, a tomb chest and tomb slabs and brasses on the floor
The church chest dating from 1674
The west wall of the nave with its high, double-headed window
One of the beast heads now on either side of the inner door but which would have originally flanked the outer door
Nave capital c 1200
Mediaeval stained glass in the west window of the south aisle
Carving of the Virgin with child, early 9th century
And then there's the font. 'Discovered' - like so many others - being used as a trough in the field over 100 years ago, it is acknowledged as the finest Saxon font in existence, being carved from a single block of limestone with a spiral decoration.

I want to go back and study it when it isn't all lit up. 
A mysterious sign saying 'To the Angel' took me around the outside of the church to the ruined 9th century apse, high on the remaining wall of which ... 
... is this Saxon carving.

Saxon herringbone stonework
A reminder of how close we are to the border with Wales
Back in the churchyard, nature bestowed her own harvest upon me - conkers from a horse chestnut and high above, six ravens having a natter. Here are three of them, the others being barely visible in cloud. 

I'd noticed that the footpath through the churchyard was on top of what looked like a modern dyke. There were floodgates too, between the two churches, and a couple of depthmarkers. I decided to see how close the culprit was.

On the way to the river I passed this oak with the perfect writing room and a desire path leading towards it.  

And there, one field away, was the River Severn, strangely dark despite the beautiful October sun, as if it already has some tricks up its long, barely wrinkled sleeve.   

Thursday, 6 October 2016

A Poem For National Poetry Day 2016

It's National Poetry Day today and the theme is Messages.  To mark this, I'm posting a poem from my latest collection, Breadcrumbs

Dead Poet at the Swimming Pool describes what is probably the most powerful dream I've ever had, back in 1999. I interpreted it as a message to my waking self that if I continued to ignore my creativity - specifically, if I didn't write - something vital inside me, which was already close to death, would perish altogether.

So I started to write - poems and a novel.  Not that this stopped my subconscious pumping out admonition after admonition; in fact, I continued to be inundated with stressful dreams about imminent exams for which I had done no revision/attended no lessons or lectures/had no idea of the syllabus until my first collection, Communion, was published in 2011.  But I will always be grateful for this message, which I heeded despite being incredibly busy at the time with four young children, two of them autistic, a part-time job, and a troubled marriage.  Ultimately, it changed the course of my life. 

Dead Poet at the Swimming Pool

Outside rain clatters through gutters
pays thick ropes through gratings, drains

and still he’s here, hunched on the steps, his head
hanging in his hands. No one takes any notice

Not the receptionist in her office       
pool staff swabbing dingy floors, slick-haired men

fraught mothers trailing dripping kids with neon wings
all too preoccupied

to clear his eyes of silt and withered leaves
his dirt-stopped mouth

It’s early autumn when she kneels beside him
drops a coin to gauge the depth      

ten more years before she hears it
hit the bottom

©Deborah Harvey 2015

'Dead Poet at the Swimming Pool' was shortlisted for the 2015 Bridport Prize

Artwork by Dru Marland

Friday, 30 September 2016

'I made a wish on a sliver of moonlight' - Bristol Poetry Festival, 11th October 2016

Tuesday 11th Oct     7.30pm

The Mackay, Bristol Grammar School, Elton Road, Bristol, BS8 1SR.

“I made a wish on a sliver of moonlight. A sly grin and a bowl full of stars”

Tickets: £8.00 / £6.00 concessions

Gillian Clarke, Niall Campbell, Deborah Harvey

 Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales - 'Gillian Clarke is one of the most widely respected and deeply loved poets in the world' - Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate

Niall Campbell, poet/author of Moontide – ‘Through poems which are in turn darkly lyrical, atmospheric, humorous and moving, Campbell proves himself an important new voice and a genuine talent to be reckoned with' – John Glenday

Deborah Harvey, poet/author of: Communion; Map Reading For Beginners; and Breadcrumbs  ‘Her honesty draws you in because Harvey knows that honesty is itself an art form. It needs to be strongly crafted; it is a crafted matter; and she makes a persuasive poetry from the matter of experience’  David Morley

For more on Gillian Clarke:
For more on Niall Campbell:


Wednesday, 28 September 2016

A Streetcar Named Desire at Manchester Royal Exchange

After a reading at Poetry Cafe - Refreshed in Cheltenham last Wednesday night, followed by a poetry brochure delivery run to Weston-Super-Mare after work on Thursday, Friday saw me driving up to Leeds to stay with my elder daughter, before heading across to Manchester the next day to see 'A Streetcar Named Desire' at the Royal Exchange.  

Saturday was also Labour Leadership Election Mark II day. This felt inauspicious for two reasons, for as my daughter reminded me, the day after the last General Election we had travelled together to Liverpool to see the Leonora Carrington exhibition, our only solace on a murky day when the sun didn't even rise. And the day after the disaster that was the EU Referendum, which has given rise to such a surge in hate crime, my partner and I had picked her up in Leeds and taken her to North Yorkshire for a few days' break.  Things come in threes, we decided. Were we going to be treated to another major political disappointment at the hands of a deeply undemocratic Labour Party, which had removed her and her siblings' right to vote - despite pocketing their money? 

Happily, the answer was No. And the play, starring another Corbyn supporter, Maxine Peake, as Blanche DuBois, was superb. I have to admit, I couldn't quite envisage the forthright, no nonsense Boltonian as the vulnerable yet manipulative mistress of self-delusion beforehand, but she embodied her brilliantly, a portrayal which was complemented by the rest of the excellent cast.   

Photograph: Manuel Harlan

But above all, I was struck by Tennessee Williams' gift for writing such fascinating, flawed and utterly believable characters, in works which address what we tend to think of as the most current of themes - poverty, sanity, sexism, class prejudice, racism, domestic violence, sexuality, grief. I left the theatre itching to revisit his plays, on page and stage. 

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Let Union Be In All Our Hearts

We went to Seend last weekend for a handfasting.  And a beautiful day it was too - one of the last blasts of summer, I suspect. 

The proceedings took place on Lye Field, off Rusty Lane, within spitting distance of the Kennet & Avon, upon which many of the guests, including the happy couple, live.  

There was a lovely view over to the honey-coloured spire of what, looking at the map, I suspect is the Church of St Nicholas at Bromham.  
Even the field mushrooms had their posh hats on. 

Not that it was that sort of event. The dress code was princess or pirate, and most of the guests, unsurprisingly, had opted for the latter. 

What princesses there were seemed to be running around brandishing swords, which was gratifying.

In fact, it was wonderful, all of it. 

Back at the edge of the field, I was intrigued by a configuration of the hills nearby. Their shape reminded me of those at Cherwill, where one of the white horses is. In fact, several of them seem to be in - or on - a curved line of hills. 

'That's Roundway Hill, ' Dru said when I told her, 'The new Devizes chalk horse is just along and round the corner. It replaces the lost one ... which was on Roundway Hill.'  

So ... yeah.