Friday, 31 March 2017

The South Country II : Apotropaios and the Fishbourne Sea-Horses



To set Bryony's stripped back landscapes in context, I'd wanted to explore something their historical setting. Before I started researching, all I knew of the Romans' presence in Chichester was the city's name, but within two minutes, I'd come across Fishbourne Roman Palace, and it was clear I needed to go there ...  


... for the synchronicity of squares of fired earth, earth coloured, if nothing else. 


Fishbourne was discovered by chance in 1960 when a water main was being laid. Excavatations began the following year, and what the archaeologists uncovered was extraordinary - a 'palace' of around 100 rooms, built c75-80AD. 
Around a quarter of the mosaic floors survive, and they are amazing. 


Some have subsided and look a bit mad in a sumptuous sort of way. Here you can see the fence post holes from a Roman granary that previously occupied the spot. 


Others have been laid over the top of less elaborate mosiacs, which seems a bit profligate when you consider that the Palace was only inhabited for a couple of hundred years, having been destroyed by fire c270AD. 


I mean, getting a new one of these is probably a lot pricier than popping down to Allied Carpets. 


Here is Bryony's exhibition plan foreshadowed in the central heating system of the palace.


And there were other, unlooked for - though perhaps not unexpected - echoes, this time of apotropaios. In addition to the deliberate mistakes inserted by the craftsmen to appease the gods - 24, it is believed, in the mosaic of the Boy with the Dolphin alone - this seems to be another hexafoil or daisy wheel


And here, in the museum - imprints of shoes and feet - and paws! - that maybe correlate to the outlines of shoes associated with churches. If so, it seems to be a pretty early example of a symbol replacing the symbolic concealing of well-worn shoes in buildings as magic charms to ward off evil spirits. And in a secular context. 


Of course, I'm not an archaeologist or historian - just a poet with an interest in magic and a tendency to make wild connections ... 


... but doesn't this paw print in particular look to you like it has been deliberately placed? And next to some possibly apotropaic concentric circles?


But look here, there's a poem to write.


I'd already decided that I needed to study the aforementioned Boy on a Dolphin moasic and it didn't disappoint - especially not the Fishbourne seahorses, which I already knew would feature in whatever I ended up writing. 


The other thing which was occupying a big space in my magpie brain were the unmissable skeletons, one in a glass case in the museum, the other lying presumably where it was exhumed. 


These are believed to be the bodies of Romano-British squatters who settled into the ruins of the palace after the catastrophic fire. 

But my brain was making connections with the bones of much deader people than them; namely, those of Paleolithic people from all over the world, which have been discovered stained with red ochre as part of their burial rites. 

It was time to stop fossicking through layers of history, however; we were off for a bit of psychogeography. 




Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The South Country I : Daughter of the Soil

My friend's daughter is in the final year of a degree in fine art, and her mother sounded me out about displaying a poem alongside her work to add depth to the exhibition. Bryony - the daughter - has been making her own pigments from various types of earth and painting gorgeous squares of pure colour - literal landscapes. It all sounded intriguing, and I could think of quite a few poems off the top of my head that might fit the bill. 

'The only hitch,' I said to my friend, 'is that she'll need to sort out The Copyright Thing and that could prove Quite Expensive.' 


'Ah,' said my friend. 'She's thought of a way around that.' 

[pause] 

'She was wondering if you might write one for her?' 

'And could you get some local references in to where the soil comes from?' 


To which the answers were yes, and yes, but I'll need to get down there for a day because I'm not very good at writing about places I'm not very familiar with. 

And the answer to that was ... Road Trip!



First stop, the pleasingly named Bishop Otter campus in Chichester, where we took a look at their current exhibition 'Women Artists: Power and Presence' and had a look at Bryony's  work. 



She'd been practising hanging a few of her paintings ... not in the final exhibition space, I hasten to add. 



Back at Bryony's studio, I had a glimpse of the process of making both the paint and the art. 











Already I was aware of echoes and synchronicities, of which there would be more later in the day. 



Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A Poem for World Poetry Day 2017

Strange, I thought, and rather unnecessary of the man working in my locallest Oxfam bookshop to pick the very moment I began to browse the one poetry shelf to start lifting books off to make a World Poetry Day 2017 display in an already crowded shop window. The day was half over anyway, and I probably would have bought more than just one slim volume, had most of the books not been whisked away from under my nose. I might have doubled or even tripled their total number of books sold on World Poetry Day 2017.

This was a pleasing find, though. 

Anyway, in a bid to up my poetry quota for the day, I'm going to post one I prepared earlier. It's the title poem of my third collection, Breadcrumbs, and it's about resisting those who would wield complete control over us, whether on a domestic or international scale. It feels particularly apt for these troubling times. 

Breadcrumbs


She’s finished her chores for the week
five spare hours cupped in her hand
takes her hoard to the bedroom

In the kitchen
he’s checking the state of the floor
runs his finger down the counters
slams each gleaming cupboard door
stamps upstairs to glare at her
from the landing

turns as she puts her pen aside
crumples poems into balls
fills her pockets



©Deborah Harvey 2016


'Breadcrumbs' is available from Indigo Dreams Publishing, good bookshops everywhere, and Amazon





Saturday, 11 March 2017

Unsullied

If anyone had asked me the name of the pub in the Vale of Glamorgan where I'd attended a wedding reception nearly 30 years ago, I wouldn't have remembered, but googling for somewhere slightly further afield to go for Sunday lunch, I recognised it at once: The Captain's Wife, Sully.  

And in that moment I was right back there: six and a half months pregnant with my first child one warm Saturday in September, waiting in the dim, flagstoned lobby to depart while my mother-in-law, who came alive in the company of her children and grandchildren, took her long-drawn-out leave of them. After a while, I began to feel a bit giddy and leant against the wall. 'You'd better get used to this,' said my (now ex-) husband's aunt in my ear, her tone as dry as a bolt being shot home. 'You're a G------- now, my girl.'


Ghosts to lay, then. Though there was no strong sense of returning. It's been taken over by a chain in the meantime, its former quirkiness Farrow and Balled into nondescription. In any event it was warm enough to sit outside: our first outdoors pub lunch of 2017. 

The beach is less than welcoming at first glance. 


This is on account of the proximity of Sully Island and the huge tidal range of the Severn estuary, which means the causeway connecting it to the mainland for three hours either side of low tide is covered by rushing water at a dramatic speed.  


By the time we'd eaten, the tide was already far too high for us to contemplate going out there, though Ted was undeterred. 


As it was, we didn't hang about on it for long. There was three minutes between this photo ... 


... and this one. 


Sully island will have to wait for another day. 


Flat Holm and Steep Holm wrapped in mist and the wrong way round






Back on the opposite side of the Severn, it was time to celebrate my father's birthday. He is 95 today, and this being the opposite side of the Severn, in an excellent mood on account of the rugby.

Not a bad day. 


Friday, 10 March 2017

Satellite of Love

Satellite of Love is a relatively new gig in Bristol for page and performance poets alike, but over the last year it's become very popular, and not just because it takes place upstairs at the Greenbank in Easton, one of the best pubs around. The hosts - Helen, Pauline and Stella - are welcoming, the audience attentive and appreciative, and it just feels good to be there.  

I was so pleased they asked me to be one of the two monthly guest readers (along with Tom Sastry) on International Women's Day.  My Breadcrumbs poems have acquired a new resonance with the election of Trump, and even though we've long known that the personal is political, I feel a lot more like a political poet these days. It turns out the overweening desire for control is pretty much the same whether it's exercised in the home or the White House. Apart from the nuclear bombs.



Also, the event, which is free to attend, has raised over £500 in donations in the last fourteen months or so for various charities supporting refugees. 

It runs every second Wednesday in the month. Get in touch with the organisers via Facebook for an open mic slot.  



Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Clearing: A Poem for International Women's Day 2017


Clearing


'Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all' 
                     Hermann Hesse


Know your empty place, make it home
Scar tissue’s intractable, dead
It’s your wound that will remind you
who you are. Walk its edges,
test its depth, map its contours
your geography of loss

The trees might seem distant
They’re eating sunlight, snagging cloud
When night comes they’ll slip a spoke
in the turning wheel of stars
They won’t mind if you touch them
print their bark on the skin of your face

listen for the fizzing sap
rising in your veins



©Deborah Harvey 2016 


Art by Dru Marland 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017