Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Difficulty of Writing Sunsets

This month's fiendish assignment from Colin Brown of Poetry Can is to write an original poem about a sunset.  Time, then, to dig out some photos ... 

Look, here's a sunset viewed from an unnamed road on the edge of Southmead in Bristol.  I took it one freezing January afternoon, a fortnight before my marriage fell apart ...



and here's Leeds being all dark and satanical just a couple of months earlier ...



... while this sunset is pouring down the tors of my beloved Dartmoor into the River Teign ...


... and sliding into the sea beyond Worms Head.


Being a bit of a swot, I've done my homework already and it'll pass muster.  But it's basically a debunk job and that irritates me because it's an admission that I don't know how to write a serious and passionate poem about something that's not only so beautiful as to verge on the ineffable, but has also become ... well, hackneyed.  By which I mean I don't know how to do it without stomping all over the graves of Hallmark greeting card versifiers past.

I took the photo below from a ridge south of Shepton Mallet.  There I was, a lone, middle-aged divorcée with pretensions to writing poetry, standing next to her ineptly parked automatic car and looking wistfully westwards towards Glastonbury Tor, that mecca for menopausal women who've exchanged serving their husbands for worshipping the Goddess.  The only thing that saved me from total cliché was the fact that I'd left my dog at home. (Yes, I know - 'Well, at least he'll be company for you!')

With the exception of my newborn babies, it's the most beautiful sight I've ever seen.  It was so sublime I felt my heart seize up. The camera knows how to depict it. But I don't believe I have the words. 





Finished Portrait by Malcolm Ashman

Following on from my previous post, this is the finished portrait by Malcolm Ashman for Faces {Bath}.  Personally I think he deserves an award for services rendered in the drawing of hair.


For more of Malcolm's work, click here.  I'm definitely coveting one of his landscapes ... 

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Lammas Hireling


I went to see/listen to Ian Duhig read tonight as part of the Bristol Spring Poetry Festival, and you probably didn’t, so here’s a taste of what you missed.


Thursday, 19 April 2012

Coming Over All Poetickal

I've had lots of cultural nay poetickal excitement lately, including seeing a wonderfully tragicomic production of Chekhov's 'The Cherry Orchard' at the Tobacco Factory; a lecture at Bristol University by veteran poet Al Alvarez (quite extraordinary to hear him talking of being handed some 'light verse' by Sylvia Plath only to be confronted with 'Daddy' and 'Lady Lazarus') plus readings by Tom Raworth, Edward Lucie-Smith and John Fuller; and a trip to Words and Ears in the Cellar Bar of the Swan at Bradford-on-Avon, where I shall be the featured guest on June 21st, reading poems on the theme of 'Solstice'.   

Last Saturday it was the long-awaited Bloodaxe Day, organised by the indefatigable Sue Boyle as part of the Bath Poetry Café.  In the morning we had an interesting and informative lecture by Neil Astley, founder of Bloodaxe Books and editor of that fine trilogy of poetry anthologies, 'Staying Alive', 'Being Alive' and 'Being Human', on how to get our poetry published.  After lunch with my lovely friend Helen - and a quick pop into Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights where the nice man at the till readily relieved me of one of my packs containing my poetry collection, 'Communion' - I had a lovely afternoon reading with my peers, again in the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution.  I have to say that the quality of the poetry on offer in the Café just gets higher and higher.  In the evening we were treated to a reading by Neil Astley and Sara-Jane Arbury of poems selected from 'Being Human'.  I drove back to Bristol crackling with energy and inspiration.


It was over to Bath again today with my friend and fellow-poet, Pameli Benham, to visit the artists Malcolm Ashman and Ben Hughes in Bath Artists Studios in Comfortable Place.  (Can't help wondering about the etymology of that pleasingly named backwater!) Our excursion was our entry into a project called Portraitswest, in which the artists will draw and exhibit portraits of local poets and the poets will respond with words, culminating (for now) in an evening of art and poetry in Bath in November.  I had a great time fossicking around Malcolm and Ben's studios, asking them about their work and taking a few quick photos, and trying to sit very still and look intelligent and not too fat while they drew me.  Have lots of ideas already about what to write and I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into it.  To add the icing to my delicious cake of a day, staff in Bath's other equally delightful independent bookshop, Toppings, also took a copy of Communion to put on sale, and when I popped into Durdham Down Bookshop in Bristol to pick up my World Book Night books and press a pack on them, I was told - quite casually - that there was no need because they already had it in stock!

And things look set to get even better.  The spring forerunner of the Bristol Poetry Festival is on, and I have tickets to see Paul Durcan, Ian Duhig, Carol Rumens, Sasha Dugdale and the marvellous Pameli Benham over the next couple of weeks, not to mention a special Olympic-themed Acoustic Night 
Bristol on World Book Night at which I'll be giving away my free copies of Kazuo Ishiguro's 'The Remains of the Day'.  Such a stunning book! (And no, I shan't be reading poems about my burning desire to participate in Synchronised Swimming or even my ex-husband being for the high jump - rather, I shall be erring on the side of Greek gods and the Oracle and so on.)

I also have a free workshop with the wonderful Polly Moyer to look forward to, the reading of my poem, 'Kin', at the launch of Geraldine Taylor and Dru Marland's latest collaboration, 'The Secret Blackbird', and - well, just loads more lovely stuff.


Having become, in his words, 'caught up in my hair', the lovely Malcolm Ashman was planning on finishing his drawing of me this afternoon.  
Here's how it looks so far:


Friday, 13 April 2012

St Arilda's bluebells and cowslips

It being my mother's birthday yesterday I turned down the opportunity of a jaunt to Wells in the now fully functioning Moggy with Dru Marland and John Terry, instead partaking of a carvery with my parents and my aunt in a pub on the A38 just outside Thornbury.  As I was fetching them their 'bottomless Cornish ice-cream' (sub Mr Whippy in a small glass sundae dish, self-served from a machine that oozed it out in a way that reminded me of my dog's rear end), I decided to wrest the remains of the afternoon from the jaws of defeat and take them somewhere worth going.

A churchyard is possibly not the most tactful of places to take a captive audience whose combined age is 252, but none of them had ever been there before.  And anyhow, St Arilda's is perched high on an ancient man-made tump overlooking the flood plain of the River Severn and the views are splendid.
 


This being somewhat later than 
last year's visit, the daffodils for which the churchyard is famed were mostly over, but there were bluebells, cowslips, dandelions, primroses, herb robert and lovely starry stitchwort, not to mention hedgerows crammed with still blossoming blackthorn. 


Here's my mother at 84, still blazing a trail ahead of my father and her younger sister.


 And yes, she still has enough puff to blow out all the candles in one go. Must be all that exercise she gets talking.

  

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Ghost in the Machine

My dishwasher broke down before Christmas, at the same time as my washing machine and tumble drier.  Because the latter two were still under guarantee, I got a Comet engineer to come out to fix them.  While he was thus engaged, I mentioned my defunct dishwasher to him, and he said that he did a bit of repair work on the side and would come back round to fix it - which, eventually, he did, for the sum of £50.

Between Christmas and New Year the dishwasher started making the same ominously dry clunking noises as before and then turned its face back to the wall.  I switched it off and phoned the engineer ... once ... twice ... then gave up and bought a pair of Marigolds.  Trying to keep the kitchen tidy enough for him to visit was far more stressful than clettering dishes with a thorn twig and dreaming of the summer sales and a trip to Cribbs Causeway.


I was away for a few days over Easter, and upon my return, was surprised to discover that the dishwasher was in mid cycle.  And there was water running through it.  I asked my younger son if he had put it on.  No, came the answer. Well, had anyone been round to fix it while I was away - the engineer, perhaps? My dextrous brother-in-law, Alan?  No.


Then I had it - Shaun over the road!  He and his wife, Cathy, have keys to my house and once, despairing at my slovenliness, they'd bought me a replacement kitchen bin which hadn't fitted under the sink.  Fixing the dishwasher unbeknownst to me was just the kindly sort of thing they would do, and since my youngest has become nocturnal during the Easter holidays, he wouldn't even have realised they'd done it.  'No,' said Cathy as I was poised to thank her. 'It wasn't us.'


So - it looks like I have a good-hearted ghost?  A philanthropic poltergeist?  Or maybe some handy house elves that have graduated from cobbling?  Although if mentioning them in a blog is the 21st century equivalent of  leaving out little suits of clothing, I shall most likely never see hide nor hair of them again.  




Monday, 9 April 2012

Scorhill, Shovel Down and Kes Tor

Hooray!  First proper walk of the year on Dartmoor and it was just gorgeous!  Like last Easter I was lucky enough to be meeting up with Ellie and Vicky and their dogs, Teddy and Dougal, and as it was only their second visit to Dartmoor, I decided to take them to several of my favourite spots which happen to be very close together.
We parked in the small car park at Scorhill, beyond Berrydown, and walked down hill towards the Teign.  It was the first time my Ted had been off the lead on Dartmoor and he didn't put a paw wrong as long as he had a ball to chase.
Teddy and Dougal were very gentlemanly and allowed the whippersnapper to chase unimpeded while they obligingly carried their own balls.

  
First stop was Scorhill Stone Circle - not at all spooky on a beautiful day but rather different in cloud and mist, I'm sure.  Fragments of charred bone were excavated from the middle of the circle and it is said that horses refuse to cross it.  Ted had no such qualms.  He had a ball to fetch!    
After the Circle we made our way downhill to the where the infant North Teign and Wallabrook converge.  Lots to see here, including the Tolmen stone, through which you are supposed to climb to ease arthritis.  (My elderly mother did this a few years ago, even though it's very close to the river.)  
What's that splodge near the top left hand corner of the photo?  A drop of water?  Or a ghostly orb ... :-)
We also lingered on my favourite clapper bridge of all, the single slab (with added thorn tree) spanning the Wallabrook.  (There was several Wallabrooks on Dartmoor because as the Saxons progressed across it from east to west, naming each feature, the Celts - or 'Welsh' - retreated beyond the next river or stream.  A sort of Here Be Dragons, I suppose.)  



I love this spot. Sometimes I think I might decree that my ashes are scattered here.  Or maybe I'll wreak posthumous revenge on whichever of my four kids are still talking to me and make them trek right out into the boggy middle of the moor ... 


And not forgetting the Teign-e-Ver Clapper over the North Teign - several hundred years later than the previous bridge, being probably 19th century, but still a listed building nevertheless.






By now we had three very happy mucky pups!














On, then, to the stone rows and cists on Shovel Down, which I hadn't visited myself before.  They were pretty impressive.
 

Then we cut across open - and, it has to be said, worryingly dry moorland to Kes Tor.  By now my hated walking boots were rubbing my heels and I wished I hadn't been so mindful of the boggy terrain which wasn't.  I could have worn my lovely comfortable walking shoes instead.
Once on top, my sore feet were forgotten as we picnicked in the lee of the outcrop on chocolate (Lindt Orange Intense in my case) and oranges (in my case) and water.  Ted eschewed his bowl of fresh water in favour of lapping from one of the stone basins - the one with the particularly murky gunk in it, of course.  
Ted almost came a cropper when he unaccountably chased a non-existent ball not thrown by Vicky and went careering to the very edge of the rock, only to stop at the last second.  He didn't seem in the least bit concerned, whilst I was already envisaging a dog with broken paws at the bottom and how-the-hell-do-I-carry-him-back-to-the-car-scenarios.
'Come on, Mum, throw the ball, throw the ball, throw the ball!'













We also spent some time enjoying the lovely if hazy views over to Castle Drogo in the Teign gorge; Nattadon and Meldon Hill standing sentinel beyond Chagford; and Middle Tor and Fernworthy Reservoir.
 

Lots of interesting archaeological sites on the flanks of Kes Tor, including hut circles forming a substantial prehistoric settlement and stone rows.
Our next stop was Round Pound, enclosing more hut circles and with another thorn tree which verges on the iconic.






Our route then left the moor and took us through the conifer woods of Gidleigh Park.  We managed to go a bit off-piste here, which necessitated a fair bit of scrambling and trespassing, but we eventually arrived back safely  in the car park - and joy of joys, a mug of tea and chocolate cake with cream in Ellie and Vicky's very swish camper van!

The only less than great thing about the day was the state of my poor heels.  Three and a half years and I still haven't broken in my 'new' walking boots.  I miss my old ones so much, I only ever got one blister wearing them once and that on a blisteringly(!) hot day.  I think I'm going to have to save up for another pair in the summer sales.   





Monday, 2 April 2012

Poem for World Autism Acceptance Day 2012

This is a poem I wrote 13 years ago.  I don't much care for polemical poetry and seldom write it but this wrote itself.  (Plus, it's always satisfying to have a pop at the Daily Mail!)  I am reposting it for World Autism Acceptance Day 2012 which is today.

Back then I could never have known how well things would turn out for my two autists.  They were written off at the ages of four and three.  'No functioning intelligence,' said one White Coat. 'They'll never learn to speak.'  But they are both warm, creative and talkative people with hearts full of love.  I couldn't be prouder of them.


                 
                 Cut Out and Keep 

Already you test me with questions.
But how to explain the inexplicable
in ways you’ll understand?
I have no glib replies.

You bear off my inadequate words
in your hands
to look at, sniff and taste.

Meanwhile I ponder
what I’m not going to tell you –
how in years gone by
they’d have burnt you as witches
or left you to wolves
or the mental asylum,
simply because you’re you.

And I compare this
with latter-day attitudes:
patronising Daily Mail articles
re the latest miracle cure
that works for (a few of)
the Poor Brave Victims
they would deem you.

But we know
there’s no bravery
in no choice.

I have tried to love this otherness,
as much a part of you
as your scent and skin and smiles.
At times I do
and wouldn’t wish you otherwise.



© Deborah Harvey 1999, 2012