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.

Saturday, 13 August 2022

Short walks in high heat

I didn't anticipate the heatwave back in May, when I arranged for Lewis, the plumber, to fit a new bathroom. Ooh, the summer holidays! I thought. I'll just go out on day trips with the dog for however long the job takes, to the seaside and Dartmoor, and to see friends on the canal, and to (re)visit lots of the places still on my places-to-visit list. Except that as I write, it's 32°C and forecast to get hotter still, and I'm slumped on the settee at home in a pool of sweat, while power ballads emanate from the traditional, plaster-encrusted transistor radio that accompanied the impressive number of tool boxes Lewis brought with him (see above). Cwtch might be a dog, but I'm not a man and neither of us are mad enough to go out in this.  

Except, of course, dogs do need exercise, especially collies, so we have been out, just very early in the morning, before it gets hotter than unpleasantly hot and sticky. One place I had to go was town to pick up a lampshade, so we took the opportunity to wander from Castle Green down to Brunel's Buttery on Wapping Wharf.

The Pride Progress crossing on Castle Street

View from Bristol Bridge

The Granary

I used to spend a lot of time on Spike Island when my kids were small, as my son who has autism was captivated by the boats and the water and the cranes, and above all, the harbour railway. It's nice to wander down there every now and then, and remember how he enjoyed it.

Looking back up to St Augustine's Reach and the Arnolfini

With the hike in temperatures, I've made efforts to take Cwtch to places that are going to be cooler-ish, by their very nature, which means woods. One of these is Badock's Wood, which nestles in a small gorge on the River Trym, and is an old favourite of mine. To get there you have to negotiate a field or two, which are currently so dry they crunch underfoot. 

Southmead round barrow

It's too hot up the top even for Cwtch and the crows to make much of a game of it. The temptation is to head down into the gorge as quickly as possible. Not that there's much of the River Trym to splash in (though I have seen it completely dry before now).

A sad thing is that the carvings we took so much joy in seven years ago, and then were dismayed to find damaged, have now been totally wrecked. You must surely be devoid of creativity and empathy to carry a chainsaw down to the wood and do this.

2015 & 2022

I've been visiting the lower part of the wood for years, but it's only comparatively recently that I've realised there's more to the fringe of trees that runs along the top of the gorge than I'd imagined.


It's a long way down!

There was a shrine in one part of the upper wood, with deflated balloons and dried up flowers. For all that there are some who prefer to destroy, others return to a place that's special to them and find solace there when they need it.                       

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Poetry-walking the poetry streets of Upper Horfield

Maybe we IsamBards were off our trolleys, holding a poetry walk through Upper Horfield estate on a hot August afternoon ...

... but it's something I'd wanted to do for ages. I first mentioned it to the Northerner probably back in about 2011, as a possible outreach event for one of the poetry festivals, but actually, I'd been fascinated by the poetry streets, where my father grew up, since I was a child. 

The Northerner's response back then was 'well, go ahead and organise it'.  I suppose I could use the excuse that the entire estate was being rebuilt at the time as an explanation for why it took so long, but the construction work was completed in 2013. Any delay was largely just a matter of me not pulling my finger out. 

But finally here we were, in Poets Park, waiting for our audience - always a nerve-wracking moment. But they arrived, and what brilliant listeners they turned out to be. 

For the first time, in addition to our own work, we were reading poems by other, famous poets, namely those after whom the streets are named, as commemorating them was the main purpose of the walk. So in the park, which is on Eliot Close, we read 'The Rum Tum Tugger' from T S Eliot's 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats' and, as we were within earshot of  Larkin Place, Philip Larkin's melancholic poem, 'The Trees'. 

Our next stop was Auden Mead, near Keats Close.  The installation here, which was designed by local school children and is inscribed with lines from John Keats' memento mori, 'This Living Hand', took on a life of its own in the run-up to the poetry walk. I tweeted my indignation about the positioning of litter bin bang in front of it, making the poem impossible to read without getting a whiff of dog poo, and it was picked up by the Bristol Post, an interview ensued and suddenly Angry of Bristol's diatribe got some traction.* 

The obvious poem, then, to read at this point was 'This Living Hand', which is fragmentary and very moving, written in 1819 when Keats' health was failing as a result of TB. He was to die in 1821 at the age of 25. 

Since we'd just walked up Shelley Way, we also read a few verses from Percy Shelley's 'The Mask of Anarchy', with a rousing 'Ye are many - they are few!' to end it, while Dominic read W H Auden's 'Refugee Blues', which is more poignant and pertinent than ever. 

On then to a little grassy spot on Thackeray, via Shakespeare Avenue, which prompted some Bard-related poems, and, in anticipation of our walk down Hughes Gardens, David's poem about his mother-in-law going fishing on the River Exe with Ted Hughes. And as we were just a street away from Macauley [sic] Road, where my father grew up in the 1920s, I read a poem not by Thomas Babbington Macaulay but me, about my grandfather and father's experiences of the first and second world war respectively. 

Leading the stragglers

Our destination was Horfield Library on Filton Avenue, where there was tea and cake waiting, courtesy of the Friends of Horfield Library ... 

... and poems about Wordsworth and Coleridge, whose streets are somewhat further afield than the route of our walk permitted us to explore.  Coleridge was particularly relevant here, given that he used to make an 80 mile round trip on foot between Nether Stowey, north of Bridgwater, to his nearest lending library, which was in King Street, Bristol. Thanks to its Friends, Horfield library is still going and residents are spared that effort ... for now. 

If you think the Council should move this bin so that this installation and its poem can be appreciated properly, please contact its parks team. There’s a page on the council website called ‘Improve a park or green space.’ The name of the park is Auden Mead and you don't need to be a resident to make your suggestion.

Sunday, 31 July 2022

Poetting at the 2022 Kennet & Avon Summer Floating Fayre

And so to the summer floating market on the Kennet and Avon canal, this time on Darlington Wharf in Bath. (They call it the floating fayre these days, but I like floating market, as it sends me straight to Neil Gaiman's 'Neverwhere'.) 

We weren't entirely sure whether we should take Cwtch with us or not; she's had a sheltered life so far, especially during her formative months, being a lockdown pup, and she was quite nervous at the Christmas floating market in Bradford-on-Avon, but she took it all in her stride this time. (Apart from some bloke we met asking if she was a husky ... 😂 )

We had a cup of coffee with Dru and Jinny on the towpath next to NB Eve. (It was so good to see Jinny back at the west end of the K&A and to be able to give her a hug at last.) Then Dru mentioned the poetry reading taking place at the buskers' spot and how I could read and I said I had no poems with me to read (despite having the Satchel of Poetry on me) and Dru said you've got one in the book and put a copy of 'Poets Afloat' in my hands and the Northerner said I lit up like a Christmas tree - in summer! - and that was that. 

Here's Jinny, Dru and Mitch reading their poems. 

Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Cavorting in Coventry

Well, not cavorting really. I was there to visit a friend of very long standing, who's been poorly lately. First, though, a flying to visit to Coventry Cathedral, which, I'm ashamed to say, I'd never visited before. 

Everyone says not to approach the new Cathedral until you've explored the ruins of the old. So I did, at length.

I'd guessed it would be a chastening experience, and possibly also a reminder of the bombsites of my childhood, Bristol having been blitzed heavily too (although not to the point where a new word was coined to describe what happened - koventrieren, to completely destroy). Even so, I wasn't prepared to feel as tearful as I did within two minutes of entering, when I saw the (replica of the) charred cross that was made from two fallen roof beams the day after the old cathedral's destruction, with Father Forgive inscribed on the wall behind it.

Everywhere there's evidence of that night's murderous destruction ...

... but also of peace and reconciliation, most notably in the artworks that link the city with Dresden and Hiroshima, Berlin and Belfast.

Jacob Epstein's Ecce Homo

The only memorial to have survived the fire-bombing is that of Bishop Yeatman-Briggs, who died in 1922. The band of his mitre is embellished with three fylfot crosses, otherwise known as swastikas - but which had yet to acquire their unfortunate - and in this instance, ironic - connection with fascism.  

Work on the new cathedral started in 1954, with Basil Spence appointed architect, and lasted eight years, the new Cathedral opening in 1962. The first thing you notice as you walk in is the vast Baptistery window, designed by John Piper and made by Patrick Reyntiens, who also worked on Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral together. Their work here is no less stunning. 

A guide came over and asked if I had any questions, but all I managed was some hand-waving, indicating much emotion.   

The stone in front of the window is a sandstone boulder from Bethlehem, carved to serve as a font.

It was only at this point that I turned to really look at the West Screen, through which the new cathedral is entered (though it's only the West Screen liturgically speaking, being on the actual south side of the building on account of its positioning at right angles to the ruined original). It's just as stunning as the window, once you notice it. I've never really held with the notion of saintly saints, and angels whose mission it is to help you find a parking space, and the saints and angels here, designed and engraved by New Zealander John Hutton, are really quite as focussed and scary as I've always thought they must be. At first they made me think of the illustrations of my favourite book illustrator, Charles Keeping, and then the White Walkers from Game of Thrones, and I remembered seeing more angels of their ilk in Guildford Cathedral (also Hutton's work). 

The back of Jacob Epstein's Heroic Torso

The other windows angled the length of the nave only come into view as you walk down it and are equally beautiful, rising to a height of 25 metres. They were designed by students and a tutor at the Royal School of Art.  It's difficult to do them justice with a camera phone.

The liturgical east end of the nave - which is the actual north end of the building - is graced with a tapestry of Christ in Glory in the Tetramorph, designed by Graham Sutherland. 

The tiny cross you might just make out at the centre of the High Altar cross is made from mediaeval nails that were found scattered over the floor of the ruins after the bombing. This is the first of many such crosses made of nails and distributed around the world in the aftermath of the war, as symbols of hope and reconciliation.

Oh and while we're down here, look at this organ. (This is just one side of it.) I think there was a lunchtime recital scheduled the morning I was there, so maybe I was lucky and heard the rehearsal; anyhow, the playing was beautiful and added hugely to the atmosphere of the place. 

The tetramorphs turn up again in one of the side chapels, the Chapel of Unity...

 ... which also has amazing stained glass windows. 

By now I realised I'd spent so long fanning myself with my guidebook in order to bring me back to myself that I was running short on time. A quick dash around the liturgical eastern end brought 
an encounter with the original Charred Cross, now installed inside for its protection ...

... this moment of great beauty in the Chapel of Christ the Servant (or Chapel of Industry) ... 

... and in the crypt a glimpse of a silver Altar Cross and candlesticks made by Arts and Crafts silversmith Omar Ramsden, which were rescued from the burning cathedral on the night of its destruction.  

Epstein's St Michael's Victory over the Devil

Despite the massive destruction visited on Coventry, there are still a few mediaeval buildings about. I was hoping to see the Coventry Doom in nearby Holy Trinity Church but it was locked, which meant I wasn't going to be as late going to see my friend, Angela, as I'd feared, hooray! Except that I promptly got lost, despite the combined efforts of Google and the map I'd printed to get me back to the car park. 

I did see all this in my wanderings, however. 

22 Bayley Lane - The Cottage - built in the early 16th century

The Golden Cross Inn, built in 1583 and still a pub, having been much frequented by local lad and celebrated poet, Philip Larkin

3 - 5 Priory Row - the Lychgate Cottages

'Man's Struggle' by Walter Ritchie, whose sculptures also adorn Bristol Eye Hospital

The Art Deco Ellen Terry Arts and Media building, named in honour of another famous local

Then off to suburbia - only a mile from the city centre - to see Angela in her fabulous cave of a home. Angela has worked all her life in the vintage clothing industry and her flat is stuffed with so many wonders, they'd require a blogpost of their own to do them justice.   

I'll just mention this chair accommodating my bottom, one of four with a matching table, that used to be sat on by Robert Plant's bottom. Another holy moment in a day crammed with them.