Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Fetch: A Dog's Tail

Will lost my new ball in the hedge yesterday so on our way to Purdown, Mum bought me a new one.  Couldn't wait to play with it though she hung about taking pictures of stuff.






I had to make do with chasing a squirrel while I was waiting for her.Dunno why they're called dog roses, I'm far more interested in my ball and why she isn't throwing it!  


Snrrrgh  schngomf thwrpp


How can I fetch it when I can't fecking find it?




Mum, you're going to lose this ball if you're not careful.
I'm feeling pretty seedy now, actually.


Now look what you've done!










You're kidding? Right in?










Schlurp schlumpf schlurble






Schloooorgle  fnnnnp








Schnlurrrrrrrrrrrr


I'm not really German, you know.




Home? Already? Can we stop off and buy a new ball on the way?





Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Poetry in Motion ...

... all over the place!  

The weekend before last it was off to Bath for a Poetry Café writing day on the Saturday, which was run by the indefatigable Sue Boyle with assistance from Lesley Saunders, and in the evening I helped to run the bookstall at the Acumen Poetry evening at which the winners of the competition I'd helped to judge were announced.  On the Sunday, the judges were invited to lunch at Sue's lovely home in the company of Patricia Oxley, the general editor of Acumen Magazine, and her husband, poet and philosopher William Oxley, and a fascinating time was had.

That would have been enough adornment for any week, but this was just the start.  Monday I read at Acoustic Night Bristol at Halo Cafe Bar, which is just about the best, friendliest and most varied open mic you can imagine.



Thursday it was off to Bradford-on-Avon to celebrate the Summer Solstice at Words and Ears in the cellar bar of the Swan Hotel, an open mic at which I was the featured guest.  Despite the monsoon, I had a wonderful evening, sold a few books and had some very kind feedback from organiser, Dawn Gorman.
Better still, while we were puddling disconsolately around the town in the afternoon, we encountered a handfasting taking place on the grass outside Bradford-on-Avon tithe barn.  It was just wonderful to watch and I felt no need to rattle my chains, as is normally the case at weddings.  What I liked best is that as well as invoking Aphrodite and Ganesh, the priest summoned The Old Ones ... and we duly arrived.  Pameli Benham and I had a sip of Buck's Fizz from the Loving Cup and gave the celebrants a copy of our respective poetry collections at which they looked rather alarmed.  Maybe they thought we were Jehovah's Witnesses.
  

Photo by Dru Marland
Then on Friday I read at Poetry Please in Chipping Sodbury Town Hall, having come second in the Chipping Sodbury Festival poetry competition this year with 'The Poet and the Boatman'.  I've been asked to judge it next year, so took the opportunity to tell those present that I shall be open to bribery. (Just kidding, of course ... )

Saturday saw me reading in Halo again, at a Ladyfest Fundraiser also featuring Rose Flint whose work I like very much.  There were some other great contributors also, including the wonderful Lou Bell, whose voice I adore, not to mention her guitar playing but who has no videos on Youtube for me to post (though I did barter a copy of Communion for one of her CDs).  And the equally wonderful Rebecca Cant who does, but who forgot to bring any of her CDs with her.  I adore her song,
Fisherwoman Blues, from her Songs in the Shed session.


That might seem like enough, but I'm off to Bath again tomorrow to attend the launch of the new art exhibition, faces [Bath], which which I and lots of other local poets are collaborating.


How much better is my new life than my old one?  Impossible to quantify.  What price freedom and poetry?






Monday, 25 June 2012

Homesick in Surrey

Surrey is relentlessly picturesque and so in-your-face about it that it made me want to issue it with an Asbo.  Though I did enjoy marauding around Gunter's Wood (second woodpecker of the week) and sitting by Hambledon village duck pond writing the first draft of a poem while waiting for my guided tour around Oakhurst Cottage.

Which was equally picturesque and furnished with improbably lavish chattels for a labourer's cottage, but we'll let that go. Because how could you not love somewhere that looks like this ...



Luckily for me, I had the guide all to myself.  I told him the origin of the phrase 'upper crust' and he told me where 'sleep tight' comes from.  




















Then it was on to Godalming, passing on the way the Devil's Punchbowl (oh, the much loved paperbacks of my youth ... )

Once in Godalming I was unaccountably homesick.  Well, maybe not unaccountably - I think this shop display (one of many on a similar theme) had something to do with it, not to mention the lamp posts weighed down by Union flags.  And the plethora of antique shops which made it seem like a red brick tile-hung Cotswolds and are fine if you want to eat a Chippendale chair or bang in a nail with a Dresden Shepherdess.  Final straw for me was the brass band in the bandstand.  It was like being trapped in Trumpton.  

In the Church of St Peter and St Paul, I really liked the twelfth century wall paintings,the 13th century oak coffer, some gorgeous Arts and Crafts tiles, and the fish graffiti, though I resented the fact that the graffiti was mentioned in the guide book because I prefer to find these things for myself.  I also didn't like that the Anglo-Saxon carved stones from the 9th century were in a glass case with very reflective glass, and chairs and a pew were covering a 16th century brass memorial carved with a fine-looking (from what I could glimpse) Elizabethan gentleman.  




Add to this a slight biliousness when I learnt that the beam of the gallows used to execute two alleged murderers in 1818 was reused as a rafter in the spire and I was feeling downright grumpy.

I wandered along the bank of the picturesque River Wey, dotted with picturesquely fluffy ducklings and edged by magnificent but picturesque ornamental weeping willows. Then my eye lit on a wonderfully tussocky scrubby unkempt piece of land - three water meadows, in fact, called the Lammas Lands and still being used to pasture cattle.  This was more like it!

I climbed a stile and squelched across the marshy land.  Oh, it felt good.  I didn't even notice the brass band any more.  A little bit of wildnerness in the heart of Daily Mail land.   

As I left, a stinging nettle kissed me goodbye and I treasured my welt all the way back down the M4, heading towards the sun and home.  Seems my roots are digging down ever deeper.     



















Thursday, 14 June 2012

Writing Poetry as an Extreme Sport


It’s clear that for performance poets, poetry is something of an extreme sport.  I am far more of a page poet although I do enjoy reading my work in public and one day I might even pluck up the courage to perform it a little.  But it’s writing the stuff that thrills and exhilarates me.

By the time I start a poem, the seed of it has usually – though not always – been dormant in my head for some time.  Then, as I feel my way towards it, I fall in love – with its subject, its sound, the look of it on the page, the adrenalin rush of hunting down the right word and trapping it, only to have a tiny doubt – ‘surely there must be something a bit more perfect? Yes, here it is, look!’ – until it’s done.  Obviously interspersed with all that passion are stretches of doubt and discouragement  of the ‘God, this is total crap’ variety, but unless I put it to one side in despair, nine times out of ten I end up with my mouth full of something that pleases me.
  
Then obviously I start something else, look back after a week or so and realise how buck-toothed and bespectacled my previous amour was.  So I ignore it for months, then finally go back to it for more tweaking, its weaknesses having become obvious in our estrangement.


There’s a picture of Lizzie Siddal, painted by her husband and dark star, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, called ‘Beata Beatrix’.  It depicts Beatrice Portinari from Dante Aligheri’s poem ‘La Vita Nuova’ at the moment of her death.  I’m not a big fan of Rossetti or his art.  Although he was supremely talented, much of his later work, particularly of Jane Morris, is too decadent for my sensibilities.  And he treated both Lizzie and William Morris, whom I venerate, shamefully.   But this canvas is sumptuous in colour and composition.  With her face upturned, her eyes shut and her hands held out to receive the poppy which Death’s messenger, a red dove, is about to put in them, Beatrix is anticipating – even welcoming  - her death.  The biographer Jan Marsh has identified Lizzie’s posture as being reminiscent of someone in the throes of drug-induced euphoria, and poor Lizzie being addicted to laudanum, this is entirely plausible.

I mention this partly to have a beautiful picture to post with this blog, but mainly because that is how I feel about writing poetry.  It’s a rush, an addiction, a passion and a thrill.  I hope it never gives up on me. 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Death and the Cat

I watched a video on the Guardian on Facebook the other day about an artist who turned his dead cat into a helicopter.  The link which subsequently posted itself on my timeline caused a bit of a stir, with a couple of people finding it in poor taste and  potentially setting a bad example to passing children who might be driven to feline persecution. 

I was a bit taken aback by the vehemence of the response it received.  After all, it was hardly cruelty.  The poor creature had been run over.  His owner, Bart Jansen, could have buried him and left him to rot, or had him stuffed and displayed in a glass case.  That he chose to let him fly like the pigeons Orville - for that was his name - used to watch seems to me to be the gift of a tenth life and a great way to honour his memory.


I can't help thinking that much of the outrage expressed stems from a fear of looking death in the eye.  It reminded me of seeing the embalmed corpse of Edwin McKenzie - aka 'Diogenes' - in
the fantastic exhibition of Robert Lenkiewicz's work at the Royal West of England Academy last year.  Although it was unsettling, I didn't have a problem with the morality of that either.  McKenzie's dying wish had been carried out by his friend.  He was displayed in a dignified manner as a counterpoint to his immortality in paint, and was certainly the most effective memento mori I've ever encountered.  Death is, after all, the stuff of life - or the stuffing, in Orville's case.  

Difficult to be sure, but I can't help thinking that Orville's dying wish, had he been able to articulate it, might well have been to fly amongst those plump and juicy pigeons.  Orville is dead; long live Orville!





Still Lives

You can’t get much older than dead
and Diogenes is non-living proof.
Twenty-six years off this mortal coil
and he’s as distant as Lindow Man.
A scrim of leathery skin and sticks,
a nomad’s 
long abandoned tent.
Exhibited in a glass case but no kiss
will wake him.

He’s a mummified relic,
a fossilised footprint
still surrounded by his mates –  
vagrants, gays, disabled children,
the not-so-quick, the dead, 
no-better-than-they-should-be muses  
gazing out from the Academy’s walls,
holding the eye, defying the viewer

to look away.
A derelict re-envisaged, 
translated by empathy and paint
into pensive sitter, Death the Jester,
his own pipe-smoking ghost. 
A tramp now dignified as Rembrandt
and bristling with life, the sprightly presence
death’s society denies him. 


©Deborah Harvey 2011, 2012

 



Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Poet and the Boatman

Another poem takes its (very modest) place in the world, having won second prize in this year's Chipping Sodbury Poetry Competition and earning me a discretionary twenty quid, which I shall spend on petrol for a jaunt somewhere with Ted.

So here it is, flushed with success (rather than tuberculosis).  


(Incidentally, the Boatman was James Harvey, my great-great-great-great-I-can't-remember-how-many-exactly-greats-grandfather, who travelled around the south-western peninsula and lived briefly in Teignmouth in the very early 1830s, having married a woman from just along the coast at St Marychurch.  He would never have met Keats, having moved there some fourteen years after the poet's sojourn.)
                       


                  The Poet and the Boatman


                  Tidal here, and salt - 
                  the final turn of Teign
                  before its fretful merging with the sea
                  creates a harbour in the lee of land,
                  this curved blood-coloured beach.

                  Through mist that lifts like linen wraiths

                  I glimpse the poet stripping off
                  his white ballooning shirt and britches,
                  bathing in a manner 
                  far from gentlemanly

                  The water's cold, 

                  he'll catch a chill

                 
while over here a boatman's sanding smooth

                  a newly mended hull.
                  He'll check the caulk is watertight
                  before he ventures out to rescue souls
                  condemned to whelming death.

                  Both men are bright-faced,

                  close in age
                  yet they'll never share a jar
                  for by the time the boatman's posted here,
                  John Keats is twelve years dead.

                  No one could have saved the poet

                  from drowning in his blood

                 
Instead the boatman heads for breakfast

                  and John is gone with a flap of his red-stained shirt
                  to flirt with the sleep-soft girls
                  stirring in their beds
                  above the bonnet shop.


                 
©Deborah Harvey 2009, 2012

 

In Spring 1818, Keats spent three months in Teignmouth on the South Devon coast in the vain hope that the temperate climate and sea air would cure his brother's consumption.







A Scramble Up Tavy Cleave

Just back from a swift visit to the biscuit tin by the sea with Son the Younger and the hound.  It rained a lot so we watched Sherlock on DVD.  And when it wasn't raining - which was yesterday - we headed up onto Dartmoor, to explore Tavy Cleave.

On paper, Tavy Cleave is a straightforward walk - you park a mile south of Lydford on the A386, enter the moor on a military road, pass Willsworthy firing ranges and follow Wheal Friendship Leat and then the River Tavy up through the Cleave to its confluence with the Rattle Brook.  Then you simply climb up the side of the cleave, turn left and saunter back along the top.

In reality, the terrain is challenging, especially beyond the headweir of the leat,
consisting mainly of boulders, holes between boulders and bog.  Then, once up high, there's oceans of choppy, tussocky moorland to cross.  The scenery is ample compensation, however, so I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.


On a long weekend when there were gratuitous displays of flags everywhere, it was a relief to see that the flagpoles on the firing range were empty - no live firing on a bank holiday, of course, but good to be absolutely sure.
 

After a run and a bit of ball chasing, Ted had to go back on the lead as we didn't want him to indulge in any sheep chasing.  He didn't seem to mind too much as he still got to splash in the leat and later on the River Tavy as it plunged through its gorge.

Dartmoor is pretty high and exposed, so the hawthorns are still in flower in June.

  

We had a bit of a rest at the leat headweir, to ready ourselves for what was to come - a clamber alongside the fast-flowing Tavy.  If Son the Younger was doubting the wisdom of accompanying me, he didn't let it show (much).  

Parts of the rest of the walk up through the cleave were easy-going - grassy shores and at one point smooth rock right next to the racing waters.  Other times we had to climb great banks of granite boulders, taking care not to trap our feet in any hidden gaps between them and risk breaking our ankles. 





In addition to hawthorn, the spring gorse was in brilliant bloom, as well as ubiquitous rowan trees, with the occasional fox glove adding a dash of magenta to the mix .
Soon Sharp Tor and Tavy Cleave Tors came into view.  

(So much for letting the photos do the talking; these piddly little pics give no real idea of the grandeur of the place. 
Maybe I'd better post a couple of bigger ones, looking downstream.)  


 


When we weren't bouldering, we were trying not to get stuck in areas of boggy ground - not always successfully.  I almost lost my walking shoe to one of them, but managed to extricate it still half on my foot.  Just as well, as we had now reached the confluence of the Tavy with the Rattle Brook (so named because of the considerable noise it makes), and it was time to climb up the side of the cleave to the slopes of Hare Tor above us.  
From higher up there was a lark's eye view of the meeting of the two streams - Rattlebrook on the left, Tavy on the right ... and of the surrounding moorland, alternately splashed with sunlight and cloud.


By now my ankles, knees and hips were beginning to feel the worse for wear, but the wild beauty of the place made every step worth it.


Our next stop was Ger Tor, from which there were more stunning views, much appreciated by Ted.   Look, no flag!  
We then had to pick our way across very tumpy grass, using sheep tracks where possible, to a boundary wall which led us back to the firing ranges.  The leat we'd followed on the way up the cleave shone silver in the fitful late afternoon sun.
Eventually we passed the firing ranges, every step now a battle with my complaining ankles and knees.  


It comes to something when you think you might not make it across the car park and into the pub (The Plume of Feathers in Princetown in this instance).  In the end I did, but with the sorry realisation that if I want to carry on challenging myself over Dartmoor, I need to shift the weight I've put on since I acquired a car and stopped walking everywhere.  Looks like Ted will get a lot more outings over the next few months ...