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, 26 June 2015

Summer Solstice in Bath, Bathampton and Bradford-on-Avon

I've always been a bit ambivalent about Bath. I suspect this dates from when I was 11 and found myself confessing to the well-to-do mother of a schoolmate that I'd only been there once before, on a school trip to visit the Roman Baths.  Given its proximity to Bristol, my cultural ignorance appalled her.  She also corrected my vernacular pronunciation (Baath) to the far more acceptable 'Bahth'. (They do like their blood sports, the middle classes, and a working class girl new to grammar school was clearly fair game.) 

The one area of Bath I do like is Walcot Street, although these days the same corporate mindset that has rebranded Bristol's Counts Louse as 'City Hall' and parts of the centre of town as 'Old City' calls this area of Bath 'The Artisans' Quarter'. And it has gone up in the world - look, here's a Bentley that's so posh it's allowed to park on double yellow lines. 

There's some good art, though, too, like this holloway by Stanley Donwood, who worked with Robert Macfarlane and Dan Richards to produce a book called ... erm ... 'Holloway'. I particularly like the interaction of the creeper and the road sign.   

I was there for something else, however - an exhibition in Walcot Chapel, a former mortuary chapel which dates from the 1790s.

Architecturally not really my cup of tea, but inside a beautifully austere space. 

The exhibition was part of Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month, and featured interviews, family photographs and written memoirs.  I was especially intrigued by a photograph of a family wedding in 1917, with the groom and one of the young male family members in uniform.  The guest had a patch over his eye, presumably injured in action and home on leave.  I also learnt that they started to breed coloured horses (skewbald) during the first world war because the military would conscript black and bay horses.  

Also exhibited were paintings and sculptures by travellers and members of the local boating community ... 
... including Dru Marland, who had produced a series of beautiful paintings of her friends and neighbours on the cut. 

For close-ups, see Dru's Flickr stream.

The graveyard was interesting too, with a large proportion of plain headstones, though I did spot these cherubs. 

I always wonder what stories lie behind the blank half of a stone. 

We made our way to the canal at Bathampton for a cup of peppermint tea on NB Eve.  Then, while Hazel had a lesson from Dru in how best to paint lichen, Pameli and I took our dodgy limbs (hip replacement and ankle ORIF respectively) along the Kennet & Avon canal for a therapeutic stroll. 

A glimpse of Brown's Folly in Sally in the Wood. 
Then it was on to Bradford-on-Avon and a sandwich in The Swan, followed by Words and Ears, where I was guest reader, courtesy of Dawn Gorman.  Such a treat to spend time listening to so many talented local poets, in such a calm and sunny setting - a distinct difference from the last time I read there on a summer solstice, which was memorable for quite different reasons!

I drove home with the very last of the light feeling lucky indeed. 

Monday, 22 June 2015

Midsummer Night in Badock's Wood

It's been a while since I went down to the wood.   

There's been a fair bit of carving going on down there in the meantime. I love it. 

As it often does this time of year, the Trym had dwindled to a trickle. Which makes it almost a winterbourne, which just happens to be one of my favourite words. 
Hard to believe it cut down through rock to form this mini gorge back in the Ice Age. 
Nevertheless, Ted was able to sniff out some water to splash in. Like many border collies, his nose doubles as a dowsing rod. 


 The trees were still dancing, however ... 
... Boggis the root was waiting for midnight to stand up and walk around ...

... and above the cleave, the bronze age chieftain stirred briefly in his tump and started snoring again. 

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Friday, 5 June 2015

In Conversation With Tamsin Abbott

Yesterday afternoon brought the opportunity of hearing a talk at the Creative Glass Guild by one of my favourite artists, Tamsin Abbott, who makes illustrated stained glass panels.  I've been a fan of Tamsin's for some years now, so this was a real treat. 

Here are some examples of her exquisitely detailed work:

Rather than guide her audience through the technicalities of her art, Tamsin chose to talk about her inspirations with accompanying slide-show, and I was delighted to discover how much of it chimed with my own, even though our respective media are very different. Walking in the countryside featured a lot, as did Pogles' Wood, Orlando the Marmalade Cat and John Masefield's 'The Box of Delights'.

Also pleasing was the reference to Samuel Palmer, whose work, like Tamsin's, is concerned with light, and to my very favourite artist, etcher and print-maker, Robin Tanner, himself also influenced by Palmer. 
 Certainly there is an enclosed feel to his work that finds echoes in Tamsin's, along with a fascination for stiles, finger posts, tunnels with light at the end, etc.

I am fascinated by all of this also and can't resist photographing examples when I'm out and about. 
Deave - or Death - Lane, Throwleigh, Dartmoor
Tamsin's inspired by poetry also.  Here is her Tyger. 

'Do you draw from memory or photos?' someone asked.  Tamsin said she tended to draw from photos for accuracy's sake, 'but working from what you think something looks like sometimes captures the essence of it better.'

'Taint what a horse looks like, it's what a horse be' (Granny Aching)

And since I've lapsed into Pratchetty, here's a quote from 'A Hatful Of Sky' which for me embodies Abbott's art- and Tanner's art - and what I would like my poems to to try to encapsulate also:

'She tells the land what it is. The land tells her who she is.'

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Heritage Blues Orchestra

Urban living has its disadvantages, but if you have no choice, well, Bristol isn't a bad city to find yourself in, at least not as far as culture is concerned.  Last night after the Poetry Can board meeting, it was off to St George's next door to see the Heritage Blues Orchestra.  Hard to pick a stand out moment with a band comprised of virtuosos in their particular field, though I have to say I particularly enjoyed the harmonica playing by Vincent Bucher.  Here's one he prepared earlier.

And amongst a constellation of songs, this next one was very shiny also.  Love Chaney Sims.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Merchant Of Venice, National Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

An overnight stay in Stratford, cut short by what turned out to be a wild goose chase courtesy of the estate agents marketing my house. (Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to the closing of this chapter in my life.) 

As if in sympathy, the production we went to see - the RSC's 'The Merchant of Venice', directed by Polly Findlay - was equally rushed. Maybe the cast had tables reserved at the local curry house, maybe they were keen to catch the World Series of Darts on ITV4, but with cuts amounting to almost a third of the play and a breakneck delivery that robbed it of much of its poetry, it was all over in two and a bit hours.

The production isn't helped by the set which fails to give the play any context, the reflective surfaces accentuating the narcissism of characters who have already been stripped of much of their subtlety.  There is no intensity of feeling between any of the characters, with the exception of the lovelorn Antonio, whose passion for Bassiano, himself bent on a marriage of convenience to Portia to improve his financial relations, is the cause of the merchant's deep depression.

This lack of connection is most noticeable in the relationship between Shylock, played by Israeli Arab actor Makram J Khoury, and his daughter, Jessica, who runs off with much of her father's fortune to marry a Christian.  This is important as it is the catalyst for Shylock's later determination to exact vengeance on Antonio, yet the audience never really gets an insight into the reasons behind her behaviour. 

It's a given that none of the characters in 'The Merchant Of Venice' are likeable; in this production, the characters are consumed by their greed and prejudice.  Ultimately, it is the much spat-upon Shylock who elicits the most sympathy, and not just because his costume of cardie and slacks makes him look like Man at C&A.  His dignity in the face of extreme racial abuse makes his lust for vengeance, if not forgiveable, understandable. 

Monday, 1 June 2015

Christy Moore with Declan Sinnott, Colston Hall, Bristol, 10th May 2015

A few weeks back, I had the good fortune to see the great Christy Moore play a gig at the Colston Hall in Bristol.  Here - belatedly - is a review I outsourced.  :-)

CHRISTY MOORE, with Declan Sinnott on guitars, Jimmy Higgins, percussion, and Vicky Keating, backing vocals

The Language of the Heart

Christy Moore was born in Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland on the 7 May, 1945 so he'd  turned seventy just a few days before this concert. ‘Happy birthday!’ someone from the audience called as he walked on stage. Christy smiled wrily and replied, ‘I know, you don't have to tell me, I don't look a day over sixty-nine!’
Any Christy Moore concert is a big deal. As a solo artist and as a founder-member of the hugely influential bands Planxty and Moving Hearts, he's one of the best loved of contemporary Irish musicians, recording well over thirty albums, performing numerous sell-out shows all around the world, including the Albert Hall and Carnegie Hall, and in 1991, twelve successive nights at the Point Theatre, Dublin to 70,000 people. 

Christy Moore sings songs that tell the stories of real people in intense situations. It might be love, good or bad, ecstatic or sad; it might be an experience such as alcoholism, or about missing home when you can't go home; it might be about unemployment, about injustice, about people caught in political and economic strangleholds such as the Chinese cockle pickers of Morecambe Bay; it might be about a subject as big as the holocaust, but whatever the experience, whatever the song, the music is beautiful and the lyrics poetry. What’s more, Christy Moore's delivery is committed, he isn't misrepresenting anyone, and he isn't letting anyone down. There are no cliches, no stereotypes, no lies spun. He's offering someone's experience for you to feel,  he's creating  ‘the language of the heart’. It's very moving, refreshing and empowering, because in this language of the heart, we remember what we are and who we are. I suspect that after the General Election result, this was just what the audience needed. I also suspect people who vote Conservative don't tend to go to Christy Moore concerts much.