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.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Remembering Seamus Heaney

I was having a discussion yesterday with Colin Brown of Poetry Can about profundity and whether a poem can be great without necessarily having depth.  'What about Seamus Heaney?' Colin asked. 'His poems aren't always that deep.'  We considered 'The Skylight' and I had to concede that for all its breadth - moving from pitch-pine domesticity to the extravagance of the sky and the need for healing and renewal - that particular poem isn't all that 'deep'.  It is, however, great, and not just in the skill of its execution.

I don't really remember how we ended the conversation - maybe we just drifted onto something else - but now Heaney is dead, my mind keeps returning to it - in fact, I've done nothing but think about it since I heard the news, driving all the way home from town with my hand over my mouth in shock.  It's not just the passing of the man.  Seventy-four is no age, and as with Ted Hughes and Dennis O'Driscoll before him, I mourn the poems we might have expected but which will not now be written.

Heaney's poetic legacy will be debated for decades.  Poets of his calibre are rare.  But right now I'm still grasping for a handle on his greatness, even as I wrestle with the impossibility of there being no more poems.  For now a few words suggest themselves: generosity ... tenderness ... above all, wonder ...

Sunday, 25 August 2013

David Bowie Is Happening Now

Something I wrote for me arts column in the local rag, innit ...

David Bowie Is Happening Now, Showcase Cinema de Lux, Tuesday 13th August

Having been a David Bowie fan for decades – I wonder how many others reading this remember dancing to ‘Rebel, Rebel’ the day it was released at the Friday Night disco in the Charborough Road Scout Hut? – I intended visiting the V&A’s ground-breaking retrospective, David Bowie Is, this summer.  Unfortunately, I didn’t procure a ticket before they all sold out, so I jumped at the chance of seeing David Bowie Is Happening Now, a  nationwide cinema ‘event’ screened live from the museum as a finale to the exhibition before it tours abroad.

 Introduced by the curators, Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, the show featured guests offering insights into some of the 300 key exhibits from the David Bowie archive, including Kansai Yamamoto who designed the ‘Tokyo Pop’ vinyl bodysuit Bowie wore as Aladdin Sane and who became a friend despite their mutual inability to speak the other’s language; Professor of Fashion, Iain R Webb, who described his overnight metamorphosis, having seen that seminal July 1972 TOTP performance of ‘Starman’, from weirdo to Bowie Freak; and the lovely Jarvis Cocker, looking more like a poly lecturer than ever, discussing the impact of seeing Bowie’s extraordinary lyrics ‘looking like they had been scribbled by a 14 year-old girl’.

Perhaps most telling was photographer Terry O’Neill’s story of the day he took the second most recognised rock image ever, namely, that shot of Bowie with ‘that huge dog’: how, when the dog leapt up, everyone ran for cover except our hero, who just stayed still in the pose.  ‘He’s a laid back type of cat,’ averred Terry. 

From footage of a 10 month old toddler to the 1964 interview with Cliff Michelmore about The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men, from his reaction to the plaudits for his convincing performance in the film ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ (‘I rest my makeup case’), to the rendition of ‘Heroes’ at the Concert for New York City post 9/11, it was all there and all lapped up by an audience not just of fifty-somethings like me but packed with younger people too.

The Periodic Table of Bowie by Paul Robertson

The show ended as it began, with sound bites recorded by visitors to the exhibition, including one from a starstruck young woman who gasped ‘I mean, he’s not even dead yet!’  No, and it’s hard to imagine we won’t hear more from our Starman in the meantime.

Monday, 19 August 2013

All These Things I Will Give Thee ...

After lunch in the Kingsley room at the Church House Inn in Holne (where Charles Kingsley's father was vicar at the time of his birth), we went for a last little wander on Dartmoor before autumn.  

The moor, which wore its winter yellow for so long this year, is already laying a golden sheen over its summery green.  The bracken is on the turn, but I think it's more down to the heather and autumn gorse in full blossom, and the red-gold bilberry bushes.  
We set out from the car park at Combstone Tor and walked above the O Brook for a short way before heading south-east towards the cairns south of Horn's Cross.  A scad of rain blew over us like a cold-fingered ghost but didn't hang about for very long. 

I was more intrigued by the ravens - a large group of them.  Two flew in a pair, a few others made solo forays, but most flapped about together, rising and settling like bits of burnt paper. Maybe they were young birds yet to find a mate. 

Oh and the views were getting sublimier the higher we climbed.  This is looking east, down to where the River Teign meets the sea at Teignmouth.  (The biscuit tin is just over the most distant blue hill on the  left hand side of the picture.)

This is the view over the Dart gorge to Haytor Rocks, Saddle Tor and Rippon Tor on the skyline ...

... and this the view from Dartmeet across to Hameldon and the ridge of tors above Widecombe.  

And this is looking over to Venford Reservoir in the middle distance. 

These sheep were more interested in us ... or rather, Ted. 

Up on top of the ridge it was getting a bit boggy.  We picked our way over to the tin mine workings, where we could look over to Mardle Head with Ryder's Hill, Snowdon and Pupers Hill beyond. 

'Down over there,' I told the Northerner, 'is Chalk Ford', and we sat for a bit under sunny blue skies and watched desultory showers drift over the lowlands.  There wasn't even any need to bow down and the worship the Devil; all of it was ours. 

The big question now was had we walked off enough of our Homity Pie to manage a cream tea at Brimpts, near Dartmeet?  We decided we had, although I made a mental note to have a fast day the next day.  

So we picked our way back over the boggy bits and down the hill ...

... to Horn's Cross.  

After filling our faces with scones, thick yellow clotted cream and strawberry jam - in that order, obvs - all that was left of our Dartmoor holiday was to pull into the side of the road at Bennett's Cross above Postbridge and pick a sprig of lucky heather.  

With that luck, we'll be back before long. 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Between The Devil and the Deep Black Mire

Look, a raven launching itself from Boulters Tor.

And a chatter of jackdaws just up the track.

And a swallow swooping over the tangle of streams at Wedlake, below White Tor.  

And in between, the view back down the track to Peter Tavy ...

... and over to St Michael de Rupe on top of Brent Tor.  

We'd also stopped for a chat with John (or George) Stephens at his grave ...

... leaving him a little bunch of hawkweed and heather, and a black feather, wrapped in sheep's wool, secured with a few strands of hair and weighed down with a glittery white granite chip.  Though upon reflection, maybe the lucky heather was a bit late.  Still, maybe the feather will help his spirit fly ...  

... though not back home, obviously; that's why his grave is at this crossroads.  

After the long gentle descent to the bottom of the valley came the climb up the slopes of Roos Tor.

It started out benignly enough ... 

... but soon became a sort of attrition.  

Every now and then we had to have a little rest ...

 ... but we made it in the end. 

This is the massive logan or rocking stone at the summit. 

From Roos Tor there is a great view up to the twin stacks of Great Staple Tor, like a giant granite gateway ... 

... and over to Cox Tor.  To both of which I was planning to walk. 

But then I told the Northerner about the stone circle on Langstone Moor, and the eponymous standing stone, and suddenly that was where we were headed instead, along the wet and sloshy track you can just see heading north into nowhere.

Looking over the Walkham valley to Great Mis Tor

A skylark - silent and just visible 
Langstone Moor Stone Circle

Between the stone circle and the standing stone, which was our next point on the walk, the ground is so wet as to constitute mire.  

It's prudent to head north to a relatively dry track, rather than pick your way over them. Having done that, we would be able to make our way past the foot of White Tor and Boulters Tor, back down to my car which was parked in a disused quarry just above Peter Tavy. 

So here is the standing stone, circled in purple, towards which we must progress ... and alongside it, ringed in red, a colossal Highland bull, standing and staring in our direction. 

I know this bull. I met him last year, not too far from this very spot.  He is the size of a static caravan.  The Northerner and I retired to the mire to have an intense discussion of tactics.  

My companion wanted to go back the way we had come and then pick our way down the valley, which would have involved a fair bit of traversing of mire.  I wanted to risk passing close-ish to the bull, on the grounds that the bull probably won't get you but the mires always will.  It wasn't much of a choice, however.  

In the end the bull wandered back up the hill a bit and we reached the standing stone with nothing worse than squelchy feet.  

This sheep wasn't as lucky - now just foam and bones. 

But we were busy putting mucho distance between us and the bull and look, here's that funny quilty ground again, which is so characteristic of this part of the moor.  

Give me Dartmoor Hill Ponies over bulls anyday.