About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
My fourth poetry collection, The Shadow Factory, will be published by Indigo Dreams Publishing in 2019. I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy. https://theleapingword.com

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Bollocks to Brexit

I'm pleased and honoured to have two poems in this newly published anthology, 'Bollocks to Brexit', which features work from writers across the UK on what Brexit is and how it is affecting individuals, families and communities.  

We live in horrifying times and for a while now I've wanted to channel some of my outrage into my writing, but I've been hampered by the fact that I'm not really a declamatory poet and I don't write invective. With the two poems in Bollocks to Brexit, I found a way of making a political point by referring to earlier historical events in one, and a late mediaeval painting in the other, and this helped to underscore how progress isn’t linear. The Brexit Party MPs emulating the Nazis by turning their backs in the European Parliament the other day was further confirmation of how we are repeating the mistakes of the past.

For more thoughts on politics and poetry, you can read an interview with me by editor Ambrose Musiwiya here.  


Friday, 5 July 2019

Seven Sisters from Birling Gap and Beachy Head

So memorable was a previous visit to Cuckmere Haven in East Sussex that when we got the chance to return to the same area, I asked my fellow-jauntees if we could go to the opposite end of the chalk cliffs, known as the Seven Sisters, at Birling Gap. 

And they said yes. So we did.

And here they are, looking west towards Cuckmere Haven, with Seaford Head beyond. 

The one thing everyone knows about Birling Gap is that it's falling into the sea. Or at least the Coastguards cottages are. 

At the turn of last century there were seven of them (ringed in red). The Coastguard Watch House (ringed in blue) was lost to coastal erosion in 1926.

The end cottage was pulled down prior to collapse in 1974, with two more going in 1994 and 2002. 

The most recent cottage to be demolished was in 2014. You can see its foundations sticking out of the cliff (far right). 

Figures vary, but the cliffs here appear to be eroding at a rate of 12 inches - or maybe as many as 36 inches - per year. Whichever's correct, that's why they're so white. 

We went for a wander along the beach. It was so very different from the geology of the South West, very beautiful and also slightly disturbing. 

I remember when I was a very young child trying to get to sleep, I would sometimes see on the inside of my eyelids stones of the purest, smoothest white that I knew represented death. 

Well, this chalk is a little like that. In fact, I wonder if, when you die, you see high white cliffs like these. 

What with our drive from Bristol to Sussex taking over five hours, thanks to extensive roadworks, and a rather leisurely lunch in the pub near Beachy Head, we didn't walk far but what we saw I'll remember. 

On then to Belle Tout lighthouse, which I distinctly recall being moved back from the cliff edge in a grainy black and white Blue Peter film of (probably) the 1970s. Except that it happened in 1999.

It still looks pretty close to the edge to me, but apparently it is good for a while yet and its new foundations are constructed in a way to make it easier to move next time.  

Here is some viper's bugloss and agrimony ...

... and again, the old foundations poking out of the cliff. 

I'd taken longer to climb the hill than my sons - a cominbation of being old and taking photos - so I hadn't seen the woman who'd been standing on the jutting piece of chalk ringed in this photo. 

If you fall, it's 530 feet down.

I didn't care to be so close to the edge.

Get back!

On the way back down - the slow way - I spotted my first milkwort ... 
... and up ahead, the lighthouse that replaced Belle Tout at the foot of the famous and notorious and beautiful and deadly Beachy Head. 

This was close enough for me. It felt like when I visited the stretch of the River Wharfe called The Strid above Bolton Abbey some years ago. That you can choose between life and death on nothing more substantial than a whim in such places. 

Today, I'm pleased to say, we all drove home. 

Monday, 1 July 2019

Inspiration : Echoes on the Severn

I've written before about walking and the effect it has on my creative process. The most productive walks for me in terms of sparking ideas are when I'm idling along familiar routes with my brain in neutral. This is far from ideal. It can be quite awkward stopping on the side of an always busy A4171 to scribble a few notes down, especially if I also have to juggle Ted the dog (sometimes literally, especially when cyclists without bells are zipping up and down the pavement). The other time this tends to happen is just after I've slipped into a hot bubble bath (infuriating) or when I'm driving (infuriating also, with a side-order of peril).

I also love to walk in places that are new to me, although it's rare that I come back with a poem or even the idea for a poem waiting to be written. This is probably because I'm on alert on these walks, taking every detail in. I find new experiences take a while to percolate through my mind and into the subconscious reservoir of images that can be used later.

There's always an exception, however. During the first few months of the year, I did a lot of walking along the banks of the Severn. Occasionally, there's some historical interest but it's mainly sea air, water and light that provide the draw. And now it's free to cross the river, both sides are much more accessible to this impoverished poet than was previously the case.

One of our walks took Son the Younger, Ted and me to Aust, where the ferry ran for centuries until the opening of the old Severn Bridge on 8th September 1966, an event I remember for the emotions it stirred in my four-year-old breast. 

I was outraged that the entire primary school, including my elder sister, went to see it being opened by the Queen, with the exception of the pupils in the two Reception classes, which included me. For some reason, our teachers didn't want to take 80 tots, whose sum experience of school amounted to less than a week, on a school trip involving traffic, water, royalty, and acres of mud. Can't think why.  

This time I knew what I wanted to see: the  ferry terminal where  25-year-old Bob Dylan was photographed by Barry Feinstein just four months before the pomp of the royal opening, at a famously pivotal
point in the history of both the Severn and rock musicI also knew that I wanted to write a poem about these twin disruptions and their very different outcomes: Bob's star has never waned, despite the controversy of his decision to abandon solo acoustic songs and gigs, but the original (and most beautiful) Severn bridge has been supserseded by its younger sibling three miles downstream, and it's now quite quiet at Aust even though the M48 is hanging 445 feet above your head. 

There was a poem there too. In the end it was a heron that helped me find it (though not this one).

Like the Severn heron, who flew off across the river, the poem also headed for Wales and the 2019 Welsh Poetry Competition, where it was highly commended in fourth place. 

Bob Dylan waits for the ferry at Aust

The tide is so far out it’s over the horizon.
You are far out too, dressed in black and wearing shades
against the quibbling English rain

Electric Dylan, stalking the slipway
hands in pockets, shoulders hunched
your feathers ruffled

waiting for the ferry to tie up at the pier
your back to the river, facing land
while I frown, trying to work out where you’re standing

but the wooden café’s rotted, gone,
the moorings silted up with mud,
the turnstile entrance to the Gents rusted shut.

Even the bridge being built behind you
replacing this passage of two thousand years
is underused now, left to drift among the clouds

as the warth fills up with rising water
and a heron straggles into flight,
turns and trails its spindling legs across the Severn.

©Deborah Harvey 2019

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

A Poem for National Writing Day 2019 ... or put a tiger in your tanka

It's National Writing Day today, so I decided to post a poem about writing. It's also a poem about the nature of the tiger's roar, which I learnt about recently.

What I find especially fascinating is that the power it has to cause its prey - including people - to freeze is believed to come not from the loud roariness of it, but from the part which is pitched too low for us to hear, but which we can sense or feel. Researchers have discovered that this infrasound can travel huge distances, permeating buildings and cutting through dense forests and even mountain ranges.

I've decided that poetry probably roars too, and this is why those who can hear it are compelled to read and write the stuff. It also explains why the stuff some people insist will transform your life feels like so much flum
mery. Who wants to rearrange cushions or sort their books according to the colour of their spines when their tiger is summoning them? 

'Try Yoga' is from my forthcoming collection, The Shadow Factory', which will be published by Indigo Dreams later this year. 

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Midsummer on Kelston Roundhill

Even the most successful poets struggle to make a living out of their writing, at least not without supplementing their income in some way. But poetry does sometimes open doors to new experiences.

On Friday night it was a gate that had its rusted-up lock sawn off so that we could enter the copse on top of Kelston Roundhill for a bout of poetting and storytelling. And very special it was too.

We'd gathered a little over half way up the hill at the Old Barn, at the invitation of the current Bard of Bath, Conor Whelan. We were a bit early, having had an easy drive from Bristol through comparatively sparse traffic. 

We whiled away the time studying the views and trying to get our bearings, while fielding calls from less fortunate friends who'd trusted to their sat navs and were now having to reverse down narrow and awkwardly cambered lanes. 

There but for the grace of all Sun Gods everywhere, thought I, having a swig of red wine. 

Eventually everyone arrived and we headed up the remainder of the hill. 

No one can be sure of the historical significance of the hill. When the trees were planted at the end of the 18th century, it was claimed to be the site of a tumulus or barrow.  If so, any evidence would have been greatly disturbed by the planting. 

There are no springs up there, so no one would have lived there, but it would have made an excellent lookout. 

It's been suggested that there might even have been a temple up there. (Perhaps like the one on Brent Knoll?) 

Notions of spirituality soon gave way to wheezing and puffing. Rather foolishly, we'd allowed the Bard to lead the way, and he was a lot younger than many of us. 

Looking north-west to the Severn and Wales beyond

He was still apparently heading in the wrong direction when we reached the top, parched and gasping for breath.

Round the other side of the hill, there was an impressive view of Bath, to the south and east. A hot air balloon drifted over from the direction of Bristol. 

After a little fiddling with the gate, the bard led us into the middle of the copse.
It was all a bit exciting and magical. You wouldn't have been that surprised to bump into Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed. 

And then it was time for poems and stories, which is when the enchantment really started.

By and by, the sun began to set, and it grew chilly for those who'd come without the benefit of a jacket or a bardic cloak. 

Just time to hear from the farmer who'd worked on the land all his life, and who read a poem he'd written about the Old Barn - how it had fallen into disrepair as the land use had changed from cultivation to pasture, and then found a new lease of life as a meeting place. 

Then it began to get a bit psychedelic, and we had to get back for the dog, so we picked our way down the hill in the last of the sunlight ...

... and home via the chipper in Cadbury Heath.