Thursday, 28 February 2013

Going Off Piste in Wiltshire

And so to High Wycombe where Daughter no 2 was moving across town.  I suppose the name of the place should have been an advance warning, but my poor arthritickal knees did find climbing flights and flights of stairs of houses built into steep hillsides whilst ferrying various boxes of possessions to and fro quite exacting.  I think the new abode will be OK, though, as while the man from letting agency was going around with the inventory, I watched a red kite circling over the houses opposite.  Has to be a good omen.  Unless you are a vole or something.

Driving off piste down country lanes in the early hours of this morning - two sections of the M4 westbound were closed completely for roadworks and no one had bothered with diversion signs, of course - I was struck by the fact that although I had no real idea where I was, even in the dark there were indications.  Admittedly the banks of snowdrops could have been anywhere, but red brick and thatch (so different from Devon's cob) spoke loudly of rural Wiltshire, and when I saw how much gleamier the soil of the rougher tracks were, I recalled the etcher Robin Tanner's love of the old chalk roads of that county.  Isn't it wonderful how places wear their vernacularity even in darkness.  And if that word doesn't exist, it should do.  

Anyhow, it reminded me of the poem 'Earthed' by U A Fanthorpe, which she describes as a love poem to the various places she'd lived in England.   I've blogged about before but I love it so here it is again.  

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

So, what do we think of buboes and pus?

If you've read my novel 'Dart' about a family living on Dartmoor during the Black Death, you can rate it here and here. Be honest, now!  

Friday, 22 February 2013

I Should Rococo

If you are in Bristol during March and a classical music fan, do pop into St George's Church on Great George Street as it will be hosting the first Bristol Baroque Festival in association with BBC Radio 3.  Its publicity claims it will 'unwrap an abundance of great music and artistry that flourished during the Baroque era, bringing it into the light of the modern day in a way that underscores its zest and glorious originality', with a particular focus being 'the musical genius of J S Bach'.  

Now, if you know me, you will likely be aware that I have an aversion to all things overly curly, be it art, sculpture, architecture, interior design, costume or music - in fact, anything apart from hair. I don't even - whisper it - like Bach much. At all, in fact.  So why am I bleating on about this festival?  Well ...

... over the last seven or eight months the monthly Poetry Can workshop I attend has focused on Baroque poetry, and we have been writing poems in the style of certain of its practitioners and/or modern takes on the form.  This isn't quite as horrific as it sounds. For one thing, the major poets regarded as writing in a Baroque style - John Donne, Andrew Marvell, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan et al - coincide for the most part with the first two phases of the period, rather than the excesses of the hateful Late Baroque period, also known as ... shudder ... Rococo, and I am mightily fond of some of their works.  For another, I now have a better appreciation of the techniques they employed to make their poetry so distinctive from what preceded it - wit, metaphysical conceits such as far-fetched similes and metaphors, irony, paradox, intellectual rigour, etc.  

The exciting thing about all of this is that thirteen poems are going to be displayed on big boards in St George's cafe bar for the duration of the festival, including one of mine about a street-sweeper, entitled 'The Dream-Catcher'.  So if you want to be one of the approximately 3,000 people who are expected to pass that way and see them, make sure you drop in before the end of March.  Added artistic value for money, see?  And a distraction from all that twiddly stuff.  

And now I am going to post a portrait of the extremely hot John Donne. Because I can.


Thursday, 21 February 2013

A Vlog about the Launch of Dart

The following is a vlog by my daughter, Jennifer, about the launch for my novel, 'Dart', last week - also featuring my son Will, their lovely friend Kirsty, and a certain border collie called Ted who wasn't even present.  Apparently the footage of the actual launch is to follow ...

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A Visit to M Shed

I visited M Shed today with my cousins, Joy who lives in Thornbury and Sandra who flew over the week before last from New Jersey on a blizzard-defying visit prompted by the launch of my book, Dart.  Neither had been to this comparatively new museum before, so it was quite high up their List of Places to Visit.

I like the upstairs part of the museum better than the ground floor, as it contains more about the lives of people living in this city.  I have to say that as a novelist engaged in research, I need more detail than any museum could hope to include amongst their displays, but as a poet, there are plenty of telling details at M Shed that spark the imagination. For instance, I'd forgotten that we used to call the bits of surplus cooked batter which we often had scrumps; a story about Paper Sal, a newspaper vendor in the late 1800s and early 1900s, reminded me.  Here she is.  

Next we moved on to the exhibitions.  There was one about the chocolate-making industry in Bristol, which made me feel very nostalgic (we used to get Frys misshapes very cheaply when I was a child, from someone my father knew) and one entitled Revealing Stories, about the experiences of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people living in Bristol.  This second exhibition is long overdue and was by far the most interesting of the day's displays.  It was good to see my friend Dru Marland's story included, as well as mention of two of my colleagues who are involved in Deafab, and two of my favourite local poets, U A Fanthorpe and her partner, Dr Rosie Bailey.  There were also three pencil portraits by Malcolm Ashman of Bath Artists' Studio which made my heart jump a bit, not least because I met him on several occasions last year, when he drew a portrait of me as part of the Faces {Bath} collaboration with Bath Poetry Cafe.  

In the M Shed shop I was pleased to see a poem on sale there by local poet, Miles Chambers. 

And there was a moment of delight when we scanned a school photograph from the 1940s and my cousins picked out their mother, my Auntie Mavis, who died of breast cancer in 1979 when she was 48 and they were 19 and 17 years old, and who is much missed more than thirty years later.  It was so good to see that she is still part of our city's story.    

Monday, 18 February 2013

Amazing Dartmoor Treasures Discovered

There's been some far more exciting news about Dartmoor than a book launch today, namely the excavation of a recently discovered cist on Whitehorse Hill which was found to contain ... well, here's a link to the video about it.

Photo Dartmoor npa

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Darts of Love

Photo by Nicola Stantiford

The launch of 'Dart' on Friday night at the Halo Cafe Bar in Bristol went pretty well: apart from a rather wobbly lectern, there were no hitches, the audience was attentive and appreciative, and I sold enough copies of the tome to off-set costs, which, of course, is what a launch is all about.  

Or is it?  I'll remember the evening for other, more special reasons.

First, the sight of two of my colleagues from the school for deaf children where I work signing my words, and Reg Meuross's songs, so that a third, who is deaf, could be part of the evening.    To see 'Dart''s first translation into a different language in process was beautiful, moving and exciting.  I must have the best colleagues in the western hemisphere.

Hearing the voices of my characters, which for years resounded only in my  head, somehow cross the 665 years between them and me was just brilliant.  And that some of them were read by my son, Samuel, who has autism and learning difficulties but who performed with confidence and aplomb, was miraculous. 

The last hour before the launch started, when the room filled up with people I love from all eras and areas of my life, was so warm and sustaining that I'll keep the memory in my pocket and take it whenever I need it.  

Photo by Maxine Fone

I'd like to say a few thank yous:

to my troupe of readers, Pameli Benham, Ruth Boston, Maxine Fone, Samuel Grashoff and John Terry (who has also taken my lectern home to fix); 

to my mediaeval troubadour, Reg Meuross, whose songs dovetailed so well with the themes of the night (except, maybe, for 'It's Me or Elvis' although, as Reg pointed out, the King of Rock and Roll is dead,  much like most victims of the plague); 

to Hazel Hammond for being a warm and capable MC and for bringing three turnips along to add to my collection of root vegetable lanterns gurning from the sides of the room;  

to Andi Langford-Woods for the loan of her PA and her reassuring expertise; 

to Jenny, my daughter, who filmed it;

to the wonderful writer for young adults, Julie Hearn, for providing me with a quote for the back cover, becoming a dear friend and fellow-jaunter, and travelling down from Abingdon to be there on the night;

to my cousin Sandra who made a blizzard-defying flight across the Atlantic from New Jersey;

to my friend, Jill, for providing late night curry, champagne and company,

and to everyone else who attended.  You have all made my inner seven year old, who always wanted to be a writer but whom I ignored for far too long, very happy indeed.   

Illustration by Dru Marland

Monday, 11 February 2013

Still Burning

The Guardian has posted a fascinating video by the film-maker Sandra Lahire to mark the 50th anniversary today of the death of Sylvia Plath, whose poetry still burns as fiercely as ever.  

Friday, 8 February 2013

Warm Earth

So ... erm ... before I was so rudely interrupted by the arrival of 'Dart' (a relief really, seeing as how the launch is only a week away), I was talking about my local wood and how spring is beginning to shoulder its way out into the open.  Here's a poem I wrote about the wood at the cusp of winter and spring three years ago.   

Warm Earth

Before celandines
fasten their buttons

before anemones
embroider themselves

the scent of warm earth
and a charge of wild garlic

shocks the woodland
from its trance

fires the sap in limbs still
callipered by winter

©Deborah Harvey 2010, 2013

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Dancing to the End of Love

I've got into the habit of working through my lunch hour when I am office-based on Mondays and Tuesdays. This is all the more foolish because I work five minutes walk away from a lovely wood in a miniature gorge with a river running through it and a bronze age burial mound in the field above it, all made more miraculous by the fact that it is on the edge of a large inner-city council estate.  And to my shame, I hadn't visited since October.  So today, as it was sunny and dry and I fanced a break, I took a stroll down there.  

It's my almost favourite time of year in Badock's Wood, not because it is especially beautiful now, but because I know that it soon will be.  The horse chestnut tree in the cleft of which a celandine will soon bloom is still bare but the whitethorn buds look as if they will open within the week.  The blizzards of wild garlic which will fill the darkening late spring wooods with light are no more than a blade or two of green pushing through the soil, but already you can smell that faint, familiar whiff.  Anticipation is all.  

I've been coming down here for a few years now, almost obsessively during the break-up my marriage and its aftermath, at first alone and then with my dark poet, Ted.  Here he is as a pup, with me, Will and Liza.  In some ways it's hard to believe that he is four now; in others, he - and the wood - have been part of my life forever.  

A lot of trees have been thinned on the right hand bank of the river since I was last there, and this makes me a little sad although the wood is sensitively managed by the Forest of Avon and I'm sure they've done it for a reason.  On the other hand, some things are the same year in, year out.  Boggis, my favourite beech root, has been caught short again and with no bluebells yet to cover his blushes.  

And the trees ... well, the trees are still dancing to the end of love.