About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Arnos Vale Cemetery at Halloween

Some of the best poetry moments for me this year came during the series of poetry walks I did with my fellow Isambards at Bristol Botanic Garden. 

So I'm really excited at the prospect of doing some more in 2020, this time at Arnos Vale, which is a Victorian garden cemetery and one of my favourite places to visit in all of Bristol. 

We had a preliminary meeting with Public Engagement Manager Janine Marriott at the cemetery the week before last, to discuss possible routes and dates. 

She also gave us a guided tour of part of the site, and talked about notable incumbents, the intricacies of consecrated ground, and the variety of wildlife found there. 

I was astonished to learn that over 300,000 Bristolians are buried or have their ashes scattered her. (This number includes my paternal grandparents and my father's baby brother.)

That's over half the present day population of the city.

When I arrived home from this first visit, I realised I'd taken the same photo as I did on an earlier visit this year. 

Of course, needing to write poems about a place is a good excuse for frequent visits, so I went back again today, this time with my dog, Ted, to walk some of the paths I'm not yet familiar with. 

Being interested in death, I already have lots of poems on the subject, but the poetry walks are a good excuse to write some new, site-specific ones. 

I already know that I want to write a poem about the corner of the cemetery where stillborns were buried in the middle decades of last century, without ceremony and more often than not without the knowledge of their parents either.

My godmother's first baby was stillborn in the 1950s, and telling their story in a poem feels like something I can do for her and her lost son. 

I also want to write about the wildlife in the cemetery ... although visiting late morning with a border collie in tow is a sure way of not seeing any. Apart from those other unsubtle creatures, magpies. 

Here, at the grave of Baby Dean, I was reminded of U A Fanthorpe's Christmas poem, The Sheep Dog, the eponymous hero of which is left behind to guard the sheep while the shepherds heed the angels' bidding and go to the stable. 

I had to stay behind wi' t'sheep.
Pity they didn't tek me along too.
I'm good wi' lambs,
And the baby might have liked a dog
After all that myrrh and such. 

Real roses on an old grave gave me pause until I realised I was at the graveside of George Müller, adopted son of the city and its benefactor. 

For all that is it wild and beautiful, a delicate balance between nature and artifice, there's also a palpable atmosphere of anguish in the cemetery, and by now I was beginning to get the collywobbles, so I decided that was enough for one day.

I'll be back soon. 

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