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, 30 April 2016

Pebbles On The Shore

On Thursday we were off to Teignmouth for the launch of Pebbles on the Shore, an anthology of poems about the town. We went via the scenic route. 

Gibbet Hill and Brent Tor

Cox Tor car park
My glee at being on Dartmoor under my favourite circumstances - bright slanty sun and pewter cloud - dissipated as rain rolled in over Tavistock and hit the moor. Hard. 

The same rook which had been preaching in the shade of the ice cream van almost exactly three years earlier was there again, but wetter.   

There was nothing for it but to retreat to the car and eat a Magnum.  My dog, Ted, kindly offered to do some of the driving through driving rain.  

By the time we reached Shaldon, the weather was brilliant and beautiful ... 

 ... though fitful.


I'd felt a bit apprehensive about returning here while I was driving down the M5.  The sudden death last spring of the owner of the caravan park, where my family had two caravans, had resulted in a massive hoick in ground rent, followed in September by two months' notice to everyone to get their vans off the site so that his sons could install a fieldful of lodges at £180,000 apiece.  

It was painful to lose what had been our home from home for the last 45 years, but the nagging fear inside that the landscape I loved had somehow abandoned me turned out to be unfounded. (Of course it did!) I'd simply forgotten Herman Hesse's wise words: 'Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.'

So now I was looking at everywhere with new eyes, stripped of complacency.  A new relationship, a fresh and fruitful way of interacting with a place that is part of my heart.  And still less than 100 miles from where I live.  

(Of course, we wouldn't be in this situation if my parents had bought this house, Thalassa, when it was offered to them decades ago, but £3,000 was a huge sum then and they couldn't raise it.)
I must have eaten dozens of meals in the Clipper over the years, but this was the first since they dismantled the glass-walled booth selling souvenirs of Devonshire pixies and unpinned the tea towels from the walls, and it was by far the best, being decidedly palatable.  The cider was pretty good too. And it's dog friendly. 

A quick wander up to the bridge ...

... a glimpse of a still rainy moor ... 

... a peep down School Lane, through which my sister and I would walk to fetch our dad's newspaper ...

... a peek at the river between cottages ... 

... and it was time to head to the Alice Cross Centre in Teignmouth for the launch of Pebbles on the Shore.  

As well as reading some of the poems, anthology editor Neil Howell explained about the work of the Centre and gave the audience background information about them, while the artist Maureen Fayle spoke about her ink illustrations, many of which were executed in part with twigs.  I love this one of the back beach she drew to accompany my poem, The Poet and the Boatman, which you can read here

The whole evening went well, and it was a pleasure to meet some of the local poets. Even Ted behaved himself, although in the penultimate poem I heard a couple of loud, theatrical sighs emanating from the back of the hall to signal that even dogs who are dark poets can sometimes get poetried out.  

Information about Pebbles on the Shore and where to buy it is here on Neil's blog.  

'The Poet and the Boatman' is from my collection, Map Reading For Beginners.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Into the Black Mountains Part III : Llwyn Celyn at Crucorney Fawr

The reason why we'd come to the Welsh Marches was the chance to explore Llwyn Celyn, a Grade 1 listed farmhouse and one of the finest mediaeval hall houses in Wales, the day before a multi-million pound restoration was due to begin. 

Although we couldn't actually go inside the house, because it's deemed too fragile.  Here's a link with some photos of the interior.

We did, however, get to have a good fossick about in various barns, sties, stables, etc.


Dru detected two ploughs scored into this old stable door. 

I liked the spring rising between a barn and the house and running down the hill - must be murderous in the winter.  

Jamie Lake, artist in residence, had set up some light installations, of which the ones mapping the cracks and fissures in the stonework were the most effective.  Bristol-based poet Fiona Hamilton also read some of her poems, encapsulating her response to this resonant site, to the loud bleating of sheep.  Two of them were translated into Welsh, which was pleasing. 

Once restored, the farmhouse is to be a Landmark Trust holiday let for the well-heeled.  Dru and I wondered idly what would become of the sheep dip. An ornamental pond, I hazarded. She rather thought it might be turned into a hot tub. 
The barns and outbuildings are to be reserved for educational and community use.  

Monday, 25 April 2016

Into the Black Mountains Part II : Capel-y-ffin and St Martin's, Cwmyoy

I last visited Capel-y-ffin - well, a little less than 50  years ago, and being very young, remember little other than my parents telling me, maybe as a sop, that there were artists there. It worked. I spent the whole trip with my eyes on stalks, on the lookout for anyone sufficiently exotic-looking to pass as a painter or maybe even a writer, as if I might somehow bask in their Ready-Brek glow as they passed. Much later, I learnt that Eric Gill and his entourage had lived in the monastery there 40 years earlier, and that the poet and artist David Jones had been a frequent visitor.  But I saw no one who might have fitted the bill that day.

I'm not even sure which hill we climbed, though this one looks familiar.  If it is the one, I suspect the fact I remember being told it didn't have a name might well be because it's called Lord Hereford's Knob.  

The chapel of St Mary the Virgin, in the shadow of said Knob,  is delightful, and its diminutive size reminded me of Culbone Church on Exmoor.  

The Rev Francis Kilvert described it as 'owlish', which makes Dru's discovery of owl pellets in the churchyard fitting. 

'I shall lift up mine eyes unto the hills from when cometh my help'

A copy of David Jones' Sanctus Christus de Capel-y-Ffin

Leaving Capel-y-ffin, we headed back down the valley. Up on a hill to our left, I glimpsed a church that looked as if it were melting into the ground. Dru explained that the whole village of Cwmyoy was built on a hillside subject to slippage, so in a way it is. 

I don't think I've ever seen so many toppling graves before. 

The tower of Pisa is 4.7 degrees out of alignment; the tower of St Martin's 5.2 degrees.   

As for inside, Dru's assertion that there wasn't a straight line in the place turned out to be true. 

I started to wonder if the only thing keeping the windows in place was the ivy. 

Back outside, we came across a tastefully lettered headstone to one Arthur Denys Gill. Ah, has to be one of Eric's clan, we thought, but a bit of (admittedly desultory) research has yet to reveal a link. This Gill, it turns out, was a racing driver.
The sky snagged in a tree
Off then for a swift drink at the Skirrid Inn, which could comfortably accommodate a whole blog post all by itself, what with its tales of the days - well, centuries, actually - when the first floor served as a Court of Law and 180 locals were hanged from the beam in the stairwell. For sheep stealing, mostly.