This picture has been part of my life for all of my life. It was a wedding present to my mother and father from my maternal grandmother's sister and brother-in-law, Phyllis and Maurice Pavey. Indeed, it was painted by my Great-Uncle Maurice, who was a member of the Royal West of England Academy. I remember as a small child being told that it had been painted at Weston, but although I easily recognised the island of Steepholm, I could never reconcile the depiction of Brean Down with the headland sticking out into the sea as seen from the back of a donkey on Weston Beach. Although I liked it, I wondered if it was a very good painting at all!
As an adult I realised that the perspective was from further down the beach, not far from the Axe estuary at Uphill, but it took me until today finally to get around to going there. My mission? To try to take a photo from more or less the same spot Uncle Maurice has chosen for his painting.
First, though, we made our way from the small car park on Uphill Way down to the Axe. Then to the beach, otherwise known as Ted Heaven.
The best thing for me, though, were the constant shifts in weather that made for some beautiful and ever changing skies ...
... and the chance to try out my second-hand-but-still-pretty-new-to-me Canon EOS 400D.
The recent storms had left some props on the beach ...
... but Ted showed once again that he has little sensibility when it comes to art.
As the tide fell, we could see oyster catchers poking about and hear their lovely piping call. The layers of sky, receding sea, sand and mud were glorious.
After a while the rain forecasters had threatened materialised but it wasn't really very wet or cold (despite veering towards hail once or twice.)
And then there was the most amazing rainbow I'd ever seen. stretching right across the beach between us and the town.
But wait ... before we make our way back along the River Axe for lunch in The Dolphin, let's take a closer look at photo of Brean Down and Steepholm in the rain.
I don't think it's that far off this ...
And come to think of it, neither is this. I think we might be pretty close to the spot.
Let the tide go out a bit and ... yep, that's about it. Result!
Meanwhile, the rain has buggered off to Brent Knoll ...
... Ted has assumed the position under the pub table ...
... and the couple in the window have left the dregs of their radioactive coffees. Just another day in Somerset.
I've been so busy distributing brochures for the Bristol Spring Poetry Festival next month - have I mentioned that before, the Spring Festival? - that I missed until now the fact that it's World Poetry Day. Never mind, here is a Feather Crown.
Scattering sparks, glints of glass,
it scalpels down through solid light,
freeing lethal, sharp-edged feathers
of every colour that is black –
crackle of witchery, guilt-edged
misery, thunder, mussel shells, the cavern
that is absence
Watcher, jagged scavenger, dark harbinger,
the idea of raven
arranging pieces into claw, beak, sinew, eye
fused to horizon,
melting from the blazing sun,
emerging glossed, wing feathers
fingering bright air
Wing feathers fingering air, a quick
flickering in woods
Black or white, day or night,
it’s not that simple
Somewhere a river’s running backwards,
pebbles, stones are treading water,
flowers open on the coldest day of winter
so don’t spit rituals, mutter rhymes
to make me safe, unwind bad luck
Don’t read meaning into chance configuration
I don’t take jewels, the fairsies’ gold
I whet the silver’s sickle edge,
the half light of the half dark moon,
a stealing shadow
Steely shadows, colour of doubt,
pinned to the ridge tiles of the house
by silver eyes that do not blink
makes you think, this time,
will be any different?
feathers rags, your ageing bones
thin, too frail to hold you high,
yet still they launch themselves on air,
urgent pairs of clattering jackdaws,
skilled practitioners of chance
and how to take it
their chackles words of love
hurled against the dusk
Hurled against dusk,
big bang. Oh, it starts quietly enough –
handfuls of rooks, cartwheeling stars,
shining a path, beating
of coming night
this strident tide of dark matter,
caught in its rip,
conjured from nothing
a black-tailed comet of
down through failing light
pulled by the wood, its need
to leaf the
Leave these trees, night-watch rooks,
pack your black suitcases and go
sling your hook! Bare branches need us.
We jays are ornament enough,
dressed in daybreak’s
rosy cloud, cerulean blue,
more celestial than the leaves
that startle grass
we copy winter’s frosty opera –
banshee gales, sexed-up foxes,
wind on stone
If you rooks will not be told,
we’ll sing you gone
Everyone wants them
TAKE AN ANNUAL, SUSTAINABLE CROP
somebody said they
wire them up
let’s face it, they’re
THE CARRION CROW POPULATION
and it’s their
they’ll eat anything,
even road kill
ENHANCE THE CROP OF GAME
that keeps the other
crows away and
they’ll peck anything,
CAN SHOOT DURING WINTER
they’re left to hang
spread against mourning
Sails spread against morning,
chancing the breaking spray of light,
a couple of choughs, pioneer lovers
seeking haven, their new court,
dreams of a dormant people
feathering their shoulders
The old ones knew the truth
with no tongue
lose his land
so map our granite, tells its edges,
jig these clifftops
in your scarlet dancing boots,
lit firesticks blazing in your beaks,
'Seven Feathers' will be published in the poetry magazine Sarasvati anon.
One of my favourite West-based poets and all-round staunch chap, David Clarke, has asked me to take part in a ‘blogging tour’. Being ultra keen on jaunting, I was a little disappointed to discover that it doesn’t involve maps, B-roads or out-of-the-way pubs – rather, it’s a chain of blog posts by poets on a series of shared questions about their writing. Never mind, it’s pouring outside so maybe it’s as well.
Here's a link to David's blog, A Thing For Poetry, where he answers the same questions. My own responses are below.
1) What am I working on? My most important project at present is finalising the manuscript of my next collection, Map Reading For Beginners. It’s due at my publishers, Ronnie Goodyer and Dawn Bauling of Indigo Dreams, by June, and will hopefully be launched around the time of the Bristol Poetry Festival in the autumn. I put together a draft some months ago and now I’m waiting for it to settle before I turn a final, highly critical eye on it. I expect maybe half a dozen to a dozen poems to fall at the final hurdle in favour of other, newer ones. This is no time for sentiment!
In the meantime, I’m finishing a trio of poems about Somerset, one set in the present, one during the tidal surge/tsunami of 1607, and one c500AD. I’m also about to start writing a poem about the slave Pero, who arrived in Bristol from Nevis in 1784 and lived here for the last 14 years of his life. As for the longer term, I can feel my mind turning towards another possible collection, this time of marriage poems. Writing in a sustained and clear-eyed way about that would require much girding of lions and other big cats, however. 2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? Every poet has their preferred subjects and idiosyncratic approaches to writing. I tend to be inspired by place – hence the above-mentioned propensity to jaunt – and a particular landscape is often the starting point for a poem, even though the finished piece might not reflect this. It’s very hard to be subjective about what you write, however. I like to think I have my own distinct voice, but ultimately that's for others to decide. All I'm doing is responding to an impulse.
3) Why do I write what I do? On the whole I prefer to write what comes, which is why I find workshops with set exercises and a limited time to respond very challenging. Even though it can be tortuous, I'd rather sit around in the rain, waiting to see what takes the bait - although during times of drought, a prompt can be a life-saver. 4) How does your writing process work? It depends on whether I’m writing poetry or prose. With my novel, Dart, the story came from my research, then, as the characters established themselves in my head, they took over and dictated the action. Poems are different – more like threads blowing on the breeze. When I see one, I try to catch hold of it and follow it to the other end. Sometimes this takes a week or two; sometimes the process lasts months or years. Once or twice I’ve pulled a poem out of the air, fully-formed, but this is very rare for me.
I now have to find three other writers to answer the same questions. I'll post the links to their blogs as they agree to do it - although if anyone reading this wants to join in, just post a link to your blog in the comments below. Link to Rachael Clyne's blog here. Link to Alison Lock's blog here.
The books we are exposed to when very young have a huge influence on us, yet before too long, we are deemed by adults to have 'grown out of them' and they are disposed of before we are old enough to have a say in their fate.
My grandmother, Hilda Hill, gave birth to 11 children between the wars and by the 1960s she had an extensive toy cupboard for the amusement of her numerous grandchildren. My favourites were the red velvet dress in the dressing up box and the books.
There were three books I loved more than any others, all by Roberta Leigh, and they were 'The Adventures of Twizzle', 'Sara and Hoppity Get Lost', and 'Sara and Hoppity Find A Cat'. I recently came across an affordable copy of 'Sara and Hoppity Find A Cat' on eBay, and to my glee I won the auction.
I loved the stories of naughty Sara and her goblin toy, Hoppity, who was always getting her into trouble with his glowing green eyes and his rallying cry of 'Tiddley-tum! Tiddley-tee!', but it's the illustrations that hotwire my past. My favourite was this one, of the cat Sara finds and names Toffee (although she turns out to be called Ginger), studying the goldfish in the garden pond:
It's only now I realise I've been unconsciously copying Sara's hairstyle for the best part of half a century:
Looking back, I think I loved Sara because I wanted to be her. Quite apart from having a goblin toy on whom she could always pin the blame for her misdemeanours, her parents ran a hospital for sick toys, for goodness sake. And no matter how much trouble she got into, her parents always - indisputably - loved her. Even when she has fed the cat all her rice pudding and shut her in the potting shed where she gives birth to kittens in the middle of the night, Sara's smiling daddy still carries her back upstairs to bed. That would never have happened in our house, even if I'd been gooder than good. Which I mostly was.
I've taken 44 boxes of books to the Amnesty Bookshop over the last nine months on account of various changes to my living circumstances. But it seems to me that I can still make room for a few blasts from the past - in fact, as a writer, I'm obliged to, surely? So I shall be looking out for some more Roberta Leigh books, and - if I can find it- the annual of western stories, in comic strip form, which I was looking at when I realised that I could read all by myself - a seminal moment.
And the book of bedtime stories, the cover illustration of which gave me my first glimpse of infinity: two children, sitting together in a boat that is sailing among the stars, reading a copy of the same book, with two children on the cover, sitting together in a boat that is sailing among the stars, reading a copy of the same book, with two children on the cover, sitting together in a boat that is sailing among the stars ...