Thursday, 31 July 2014

Round For Six Bells: A Postscript


As a postscript to yesterday's blog post, I am thrilled to the point of speechlessness - but still able to type, hooray! - that as well as becoming part of the collection of the National Coal Mining Museum at Big Pit, my poem 'Round For Six Bells' will also be on display at the Visitor Centre of the Mining Memorial in the village of Six Bells itself.  I am honoured beyond imagining.







Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Round for Six Bells

This photograph of women waiting at the pit head for news of their loved ones following an underground explosion at Six Bells Colliery near Abertillery in June 1960 has haunted me ever since I first spotted it in the National Coal Mining Museum at Big Pit, getting on for a decade ago.  I knew as soon as I saw the stoicism of those women that I had to come up with a response. 



It took years of waiting to be in the right place in my own life, a subsequent visit to Big Pit last year and a trip to the moving memorial at Six Bells itself before I finally set about writing my poem.  

It seemed to me that a form poem would best suit my purpose - one in which lines are repeated in a set order, to mimic the circling of thoughts that go through your head while waiting for news that could go either way, each time worse than before. I was also very aware that the news at Six Bells turned out to be as tragic as it could be, for only three of the 48 men working in the district of the mine where the explosion happened survived.  This meant whatever I wrote had to be unsentimental yet empathetic, and as good as I could make it.  
Eventually I wrote a pantoum and called it 'Round for Six Bells', the idea being each of the six stanzas would toll a litany of loss.  Well, that was the idea, anyway, and this is what I came up with.



Round for Six Bells

Above ground the women are waiting.                                      
Stretchers are piled against the wall.                                           
All that they know is sliding away.                                                         
Their hands grip the railings to steady their fear.   
                                                                  
The stretchers are piled against the wall.                                               
The sound of the hooter is like a wail.
Their hands grip the railings to steady their fear,                                 
to keep worry out of the shadows and small.
                                                           
The sound of the hooter will be their wail
as long as they cling to iron and rust,                                          
to keep worry out of the shadows and small                             
like the bacon left boiling on the stove.                                      

As long as they cling to iron and rust,                                         
they won’t imagine the flesh of the dead            
like bacon left burning on the stove,                   
no point turning worrying into dread                 
                       
so they don’t imagine the flesh of the dead        
their husbands’ skin is blackened with dust                  
it might not be as bad as they dread                    
it was just the faintest of shudders felt    
                       
and their sons’ skin is black, yes, but only with dust               
and all that they know is sliding away               
in that faintest of shudders felt                 
above ground. The women are waiting.             
  

© Deborah Harvey 2013, 2014

Once written, the poem lay around for a bit.  I read it at Bristol Poetry Festival in the autumn of 2013 and earmarked it for inclusion in my second poetry collection, Map Reading for Beginners, which is due out this September.  Then I remembered something I had read years ago: an observation Leonard Cohen had made about being duped out of the rights for 'Suzanne' and how he had once heard some people singing it on a ship on the Caspian Sea, concluding that maybe it was appropriate that such a well-loved song didn't belong just to him to make money from.

I'm not deluded enough to compare 'Round for Six Bells' with 'Suzanne' or to think that I will ever make any money out of my poetry, but I do believe that poems are like songs in that once they are take their place, however modest, in the world, they don't really belong to the poet any more.  In the narrowest sense, that hopeful little © above can easily be ignored, as recent notorious acts of plagiarism have shown.  But what I'm really talking about is the way they contain enough space for the listener or reader to interpret them in the light of their own emotional truths, which means that each time it is read, a poem takes on a new existence. 

At any rate, I wanted to give something back to the community that inspired me so I contacted the curator at the National Coal Museum and asked whether they would display it or simply keep it in their archive.  Almost immediately I had a response to the effect that they would 'frame it and hang it where people could read it'.  My poem's going home.  









Thursday, 24 July 2014

Thunderlight and Tatty Feathers

Just the most stunning light last night on the Downs, here in Bristol - brilliant colours and the impression of everything being very sharply etched. So if it isn't in my photos, blame me.  



 

 


  

Yeah, very nice and all that, but you could throw the ball!  

  








Friday, 11 July 2014

High Summer on Purdown

My definition of high summer is when much of the vegetation is higher than me, which is generally about now.  This is how it looked on Purdown this morning.



Sadly, the work commitment which sees me with an hour to kill in the area of Purdown twice a month is coming to an end after more than two years, and although I know it's not that far from where I live, I suspect I shan't come here anywhere near as often once my routine changes.  

I decided to take lots of photos of its high summer splendour but Ted kept getting in the way ... 


... as in this study of chiaroscuro.  


And this one. 


Good, he's gone.  


Let's try the same trick with teasels.


And here's Duchess Lake looking very peaceful ... 


Hang on, where's Ted?  


Oh no ... through the gate and herding ducks! Underwater!  

(No photos at this point on account of having to retrieve criminal dog under the affronted glare of a sunbather ... ) 

NB. No ducks were harmed in the making of this blog. Just ruffled up a bit.



Ash tree with rosebay willowherb in the background and thistles to the fore





Vetch and a scribble of dry grass


Back past the lake. (Headcollar time.)


Nettles doing a  monochrome Jackson Pollock  (Green Poles!) 





It doesn't matter how often I remind myself that I loathe Georgian architecture ... and that although turmeric is a versatile spice with health-promoting properties, the colour is vile and never more so than when painted on an ugly bit of Georgian architecture perched on a hill ... and that actually the nearby M32 - far from being an ice-age torrent - is intrusively loud ...  


... I shall miss my barometer of the changing seasons.









Moon Wobbles


Maybe I should have been thinking about the Mercury Retrograde post-shadow phase  as I filled up my car this morning in preparation for my trip to Wiltshire.  Not to mention the intensity of all the Cardinal energies in the air.  Plus the moon wobble.  Yes, full moon wobbling in Wiltshire where they are expert in all things lunar.   

Instead I was wondering what colour exactly my nice new top is.  Then, after an altercation with pump number 7, I realised it was petrol blue.  


Over at Semington, Dru was on the phone.  While I waited for her to finish, I sat in a field and wondered what shade exactly you call green wheat turning gold.  


  



Then it was off to Pewsey so Dru could drop some of her art off in the gallery there.  On the way we passed the Alton Barnes white horse.  


I've a mind to tick off all the Wiltshire White Horses over the next few years, but it doesn't feel like today's sighting counted somehow.  Driving past at a distance won't do.  It has to be done on foot and up close.  


In the Pewsey Heritage Centre, Dru got all misty-eyed over engines, lawn mowers, surveying chains, etc.  This did it for me. 


Then it was back to Trowbridge Museum to meet up with potter, artist and needle-felter Jan Lane for a visit to her exhibition, Mockingbird.  Except that when we got there, it was closed.  Damn you, Mercury Retrograde post-shadow phase and moon wobble!  


A phone call later, Jan had ascertained that it was only closed because a volunteer had omitted to turn up and we gained entry anyway.  


Not for nothing is Trowbridge dubbed 'the Manchester of the South' - well, it is in Trowbridge, anyhow - and the museum is housed in one of the town's former mills.   


Jan's exhibition is in part inspired by the textiles in the museum's collection. 


Her trademark quirky birds are very much in evidence, and soon to be joined by the two who nest in my house, Leonardo the magpie and Murdo McLeod, who is a crow.  


Other inspirations are fossils from the collection of Rev George Crabbe, poet, surgeon and clergyman, who spent the last two decades of his life in Trowbridge.  


Look closer at this owl's head - it's patterned with ammonites.  


Mockingbird is on until 27th September so there's still plenty of time to get along there if you can.  

More of Jan Lane's work - including her wonderful felted creations - can been seen here and the blog of the exhibition here.