Thursday, 28 November 2013

Bitterning in Devizes

Bitterns are secretive birds.  If they sense they've been seen, they will point their bills directly upwards and blend in with the surrounding reeds.  This is called 'bitterning' and it's all well and good if you actually are a bittern, not so if you're a book about them.  These must be ushered into the well-deserved limelight, so whilst on a visit to Holt in Wiltshire to see our potter friend, Jan Lane, Dru Marland and I popped into Corsham and Devizes to visit a couple of bookshops. (Yes, really, they still have bookshops on the Chalk.)  



Corsham is crooked and quaint in an almost-the-Cotswolds sort of way; Devizes is a proper place.  I really like Devizes.




Couch Lane: former hospital for animals






my clever and talented friends

Is this a genuine Victorian pillar box?

Either way, Ted wasn't impressed.

Monday Market Street


Pigeons


Mission darn well accomplished



Ted says "'Inking Bitterns' - a book of poems and pictures for wild places, illustrated by Dru Marland - is published in association with Poetry Can and available from Gert Macky books and good independent bookshops - in Bristol, this means Durdham Down Bookshop, Standfords, and Foyles, price £5.  So please buy one so that I'm not reduced to foot warming duty in that draughty old bone-rattler they insist on bumping around in. Please.' 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Celebrating British Sign Language Poetry


Now the furore about who was and who wasn't invited to the celebration of contemporary poetry at Buckingham Palace last week has died down, I'd just like to say how delighted I was to learn that my work colleague, Richard Carter, an eloquent and inspirational poet in British Sign Language, was included in the reception and his contribution to our shared art recognised.    I'm delighted that he was there to represent not just his strand of poetry, but all of us who would like to be considered poets.  

Here's Richard with a poem called Peach.  




Monday, 25 November 2013

Inking Bitterns on the North Bristol Art Trail


Here are the Isambards - David Johnson, Pameli Benham, Stewart Carswell and me, reading poetry on the North Bristol Art Trail this Sunday just gone, and yes, we did trot out a few Brunel-themed pieces, but Stewart and I also read our contributions to this brand new and fantastic poetry bookette, Inking Bitterns, lusciously illustrated by Dru Marland and costing a mere £5.




'Inking Bitterns' - a book of poems and pictures for wild places, illustrated by Dru Marland - is published in association with Poetry Can and available from Gert Macky books and good independent bookshops - in Bristol, this means Durdham Down Bookshop, Standfords, and Foyles, price £5. 

  


For more peeks inside this gorgeous book, take a look here!







Saturday, 23 November 2013

Late November at Arnos Vale


Arnos Vale Cemetery was laid out as an Arcadian landscape in 1837.  Now the landscape has taken over.  






My grandparents' and infant uncle's grave, now beginning to sink (and yes, I really should go back and do some weeding ... )





Even the leaves are condemned; they all have the Black Spot.



Looking across to the Chhatri of Raja Rammohun Roy, who died of meningitis on a visit to Bristol.

But it's not poetry, is it?


'Happy are those who see beauty in hidden places where others see none ... '


Thursday, 21 November 2013

Setting the Darkness Echoing: A Literary Wake for Seamus Heaney

And so to the Festival Hall for Seamus Heaney's Literary Wake.  

For some reason the woman who, less than five years ago, couldn't pluck up the courage to look at her car as she walked past it, parked outside the house, thought it would be a good idea to drive there.  And actually it was, quite.  (It probably helped that I hadn't cleaned the inside of the windscreen for a while so I couldn't see just how scary all the other traffic was.)  Though I don't feel a pressing need to repeat the experience any time soon.  


Riding shotgun were Colin Brown and Hazel Hammond.  Upon arrival, we wondered around for a bit - helpless Southbank virgins - until we met up with the far more organised Rachael Clyne, who'd sensibly made her own way up from Glastonbury.


The evening got off to an intriguing start when Hazel's glass of orange juice, untouched on a table in the bar, unilaterally upended itself all over the floor tiles.  I suppose such a happening could have been construed as inauspicious, but actually it felt like the prelude to something special.    

Here's Hazel and Rachael, waiting for the show to start.  
At this point, we had a wager about how long it would be before we got emotional.  Rachael claimed she was already teary just reading the programme.  Predictably, I held out only as long as the final line of 'Mid-Term Break', Heaney's early poem about the death of his little brother, read by Bernard O'Donoghue.  


I have a bowl of shell buttons on my table through which I like to run my fingers.  Choosing highlights from an evening featuring so many heroic poets would be as impossible as choosing a favourite button or two.  Except that I did love Paul Muldoon's reading of 'Death of A Naturalist' ...


  ... and Carol Ann Duffy, again accompanied by John Sampson, reading 'The Blackbird of Glanmore', another, later poem about Heaney's little stillness dancer ... lost brother ...


... and Edna O'Brien. who is, unbelievably, 83 now, giving an object lesson in how to read poetry.  And such poems! ... 'Punishment' - so loving, so tender - 'At the Wellhead' - 'Postscript' ... God, I'd've crawled on my hands and knees to London and back to hear her read them, and there she was, alongside the likes of Simon Armitage, Paula Meehan, Tom Paulin, Michael Longley, Christopher Reid, Charlotte Higgins and the actor, Ruth Negga.  Just how lucky were we?


And as if they weren't riches enough, there were reels, jigs and a Lullaby for the Dead from The Chieftains ...


... and the mesmeric sound of the uilleann pipes played by master piper and Heaney collaborator, Liam O'Flynn, with Neil Martin on cello.  

Ooh and as we left, my cup overflowed just a tiny bit more at the realisation that I had been sitting within spitting distance of the lovely Michael Wood for the whole evening!

Anchor for the night, Andrew O'Hagan conjectured that Heaney would have been 'embarrassed but secretly pleased' by the evening's event, and said he might have once more quoted Hugh MacDiarmid - 'it was excessive, but not enough'.  I could have listened for hours longer, but it was time to head west through the London traffic and along the rain-dark M4, cupping the flame that is Seamus Heaney's legacy.  





Thursday, 14 November 2013

Richard II, Showcase Cinema de Lux, Bristol, Wednesday 14th November 2013


As the queue for Screen 11, the largest in Cabot Circus’ Cinema de Lux, wound around the concourse, I pondered the new-found passion of Bristolians for the works of the Bard.  Or were so many of them waiting to see this inaugural live broadcast from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford simply because David Tennant was playing the titular role?  Yet there wasn’t as much as a glimpse of a sonic screwdriver to be seen the length of the line. 

The evening’s entertainment began with a quaint 1950s introduction to Stratford, followed by a behind-the-scenes peek at the current production.  In between were shots of the stage with a set which looked holographic but actually comprised curtains of hanging chain onto which was projected the image of a soaring nave.  Into these regal surroundings sweeps the fickle, unconscionable Richard, who, having sanctioned the murder of his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, banishes his loyal agent, Mowbray, and Mowbray’s accuser, Bolingbroke, even as his victim’s coffin stands centre stage, before seizing Bolingbroke’s inheritance on the death of his father, John of Gaunt. 

It is hard to sympathise with the narcissistic, tyrannical King, but with Queen Elizabeth regarding the usurper Bolingbroke as a threat to the divine right of monarchy, that is what Shakespeare (wisely) asks us to do.  Thus, as his allies desert him and power shifts to the brusque and brutal Bolingbroke, newly returned from exile, the increasingly vulnerable Richard becomes – well, pitiable.

The paradox of this fey, self-defeating ruler is that he only grows in authority as his authority wanes.  Only when he has lost his kingship does Richard appear to value it, only then does the ‘hollow crown’, which earlier slipped almost over Tennant’s eyes, finally seem to fit. 

‘You can’t feel sorry for him!’ hissed my partner as we left the cinema. ‘Remember the Peasants' Revolt!’ But I was eavesdropping on the comments of the audience, in particular those who might have attended in the hope of seeing a reprise of ‘The Shakespeare Code’, when Doctor Who encounters a Bard in the process of writing his play, Love’s Labours Won.  The mood was enthusiastic, surprised even that the language had been a lot easier to understand than they had expected, and with the news that the screening had played to over 60,000 people and generated over £1 million in box office receipts in the UK alone, with more than 34,000 schoolchildren due to see it two days later, this has to be a cause for celebration.
  

Photograph © AP Images


Sunday, 10 November 2013

Inking Bitterns (after 'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott)

'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,' grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

'It's so dreadful to be poor!' sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.  

'I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,' added little Amy, with an injured sniff.  

'We've got Father and Mother, and each other,' said Beth contentedly from the corner, 'but best of all, there's Inking Bitterns, published by Gert Macky Books in association with Poetry Can, hot off the press and costing only £5 per copy! Just about everyone can afford to buy a few of these to give as presents.  And if they're really lucky, they might even get given one themselves, to treasure for ever!  Look, they're available to order from this handy website!  I'm going to buy one for everyone I know - even strange people who think there's something to 'get' about poetry which they feel is beyond them, because all of the poems in this book are enjoyable and accessible, and the illustrations by Dru Marland are just glorious!'



'Let me see!' said Amy, snatching the book from gentle Beth's gentle hands.  'Lawks, Jo, look at these! They're awesome!'




'Gosh, yes, I shall buy one for Laurie and Aunt March! Even that old bat will melt when she sees this beautiful cat in the wind!'



'No, I want to buy one for Aunt March!' cried Amy. 'I'll put it in her stocking. Wait, though, where's Meg?'



'She's online!' cried Jo. 'Quick, stop her before she buys the entire remaining stock! It's such a gorgeous little book (to quote esteemed poet, Penelope Shuttle) that it's sure to sell out if we don't get our orders in quickly!'






'Don't take on so,' soothed Beth. 'We could always get our copies from Acoustic Night Bristol at Halo Cafe Bar on Monday 2nd December. Lots of the featured poets will be there reading from the book and some of them might even be sober enough to sign it.  And failing that, there's another opportunity to hear the poems and buy a copy or four at Can Openers on Friday lunchtime, December 6th.   It'll be upstairs in Foyles as usual.  That'll be one in the eye for that sneaky cow, Meg!'  

And the remaining sisters all agreed that it bloomin' well would be.