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, 31 October 2018

A Dartmoor Halloween

Actually, I took this photo of the River Dart in Hembury Woods three weeks ago, but only yesterday noticed the skull-like face reflected in its waters. Maybe it's some poor soul who heeded the legendary Cry of Dart?

Anyway, Happy Halloween and Samhain Blessings be upon your head, etc ... 

Monday, 22 October 2018

Church-hopping in West Pennard and Shepton Mallet

The first time I went to Glastonbury to visit my friend Jan in her new home it tipped with rain all day. The week before last, the appointed day for our get-together dawned in the grip of Storm Callum, and the charm of goldfinches in the tree in her garden clung to the branches like sad little leaves. 

So, a wander up the tor was out. Instead we decided to visit a couple of local churches, the first of which was St Nicholas in West Pennard. 

There are a few fragments of stained glass from the middle ages, and plenty of garish Victorian painted stuff, of the type William Morris  rejected when he returned to mediaeval methods of manufacture, with the aim of raising ecclesiastical glass to an art form. 

I liked this more modern window, though ...
... with its wheeling crow.  I haven't been able to discover who made it (though it reminds me a little of Harry Stammers' work). 

Churchyard cross

After West Pennard we drove on to Shepton Mallet to have lunch. 

First, though, we popped into the Church of SS Peter and Paul. 

There's something very solid about the interior. The pillars are massive and were probably part of walls that were pierced, possibly Saxon in origin.

The church is famed for its wooden ceiling, carved with 350 panels of different designs, and 36 carved angels. 

'The finest 15th century carved oak wagon-roof in England', Pevsner said, though I couldn't make out any detail, even with the help of the mirror, and was none the wiser ...
... until I saw this photo by Michael Garlick, from the Geograph website. Now you begin to see what old Pevsner was going on about. It's absolutely stunning.
I was also struck by the effigies of two late 13th century knights which have been placed on window ledges at the west and east end of the north aisle.
They must have a much better view where they are now ...

... all interesting and smudgy through the old glass. 

Nipping up into the pulpit

The brass memorial to William Strode who died in 1649 (with Death taking aim at his wife). 

The sea holly on our table at lunch

Thursday, 18 October 2018

The Ballad of the Angel-Maker and the Live Canon Anthology 2018

I've been a bit remiss in not mentioning this newly published and most beautiful anthology of poems, the Live Canon Anthology 2018.

It comprises poems that were short- and long-listed in this year's Live Canon poetry competition judged by Liz Berry.

Live Canon are an ensemble performing poetry from memory at theatres, festivals and various other events, as well as recording poems for radio and CDs, creating poetry installations and digital projects, publishing poetry and working with young people to promote the enjoyment and creation of poetry and the spoken word.  This makes their annual competition particularly interesting to enter, as every poem is read aloud as part of the judging process. Poems have to work both on and off the page, which means that a poet might enter something a bit different from the more usual 'competition-style' poem. They can also be any length, rather than the more standard 40 lines beloved of most competition organisers.

I decided to enter a 56-line poem written in the decidedly unfashionable style of a traditional ballad, on the grounds that if you've got the metre right, and the repetition right, a ballad can sound fabulous read aloud. My punt paid off because the poem was long-listed and is published in the anthology. 

This scary-looking women is Amelia Dyer, the subject of my ballad. Dyer was born at Pile Marsh in my home city of Bristol in 1837. She was by trade a foster mother, and by her actions, quite possibly the most prolific serial killer in British history.

A quick bit about baby-farming: The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 contained a bastardy clause, which absolved fathers of any responsibility for their illegitimate offspring. This was an attempt to restore female morality, the thinking being that if unmarried women who became pregnant faced losing their jobs and ending up on the streets, they’d keep their legs together and the cost of supporting single-parent families would cease to exist. (I'm surprised the current government hasn't yet introduced similar legislation.) 

Anyway, all this did was create thousands of unregulated 'baby farmers', who’d charge considerable sums of money, and sometimes blackmail, desperate single mothers who had no means of support for themselves or their babies.  Amelia Dyer was one such custodian, but instead of caring for the infants she took on, she drugged and strangled them. She was ‘the angel-maker’, as she once explained to her own daughter, Polly, who was curious about the babies that kept appearing in the household and then disappearing. 

When arrested by the police on a charge of murder, Dyer admitted her guilt, saying ‘You’ll know all mine by the tapes around their necks.’ She was tried and hanged in 1896.

If you are into poetry and the spoken word, do visit the Live Canon website and find out more about them.

Model not included

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Filling the Honey Pots of the Mind

It was a beautiful, sunny day and I had nowhere I had to be apart from at home doing the sort of everyday stuff that doesn't get tackled from one month's end to another because there are always more interesting things to do. So I wrassled the dog into the car and set off for Dartmoor.

My destination, and the starting point for our walk, was Buckfast Abbey on the south-eastern edge of the moor. 

Buckfast Abbey has an interesting story of its own, but as soon as I'd parked, I was up off the lane past Fritz's Grave, heading towards Hembury Woods.

(No one seem to know who Fritz was, by the way.)

Once in the woods, I started to make my way up to the hill fort. 

It was a slow, steep way, with much puffing on my part and patient waiting on Ted's.

Entry through the ramparts

Looking along the ditch

Hembury Castle aka Danes Camp was built during the Iron Age. 

Inside there is an 11th or 12th century motte with a surrounding inner bailey, which might have been used for a short time following the Norman Conquest. 

The legend  - NB there is always a legend - is that at one time the fort was held by the Danes, until some local women allowed themselves to be taken. At night when their captors were asleep, they got up, killed them and let in their countrymen. 

There isn't much of a strategic viewpoint these days on account of all the trees. 

Quite a steep drop down

The next part of our route would take us on a meander back down the hillside to the River Dart at its foot.

It was autumnal and lovely.

The remains of a Viking shield (probably)

Forest fire

A glimpse of the Dart

Local wildlife: Ted ...

... and a crocodile

We wound our way along the right bank of the Dart.

Miss Tick's shambles

The creative team of autumn and sunshine was trying out nifty lighting effects ...

... while the wardrobe department was dressing up in silk-embroidered brocades.

Eventually we had to leave the river and climb back up to the road.

I think Ted misses holidays in Devon as much as I do, as he sat very close to me on a log and we had a bit of a cuddle. 

This day of remembered light, carefully stored in the mind's honey-pots, will have to get us through months of darkness. 

Back at the Abbey there was just time to pick up a modest bottle of tonic wine, much beloved of Glaswegians, I understand, and ex-pat grockles. 

And then it was home.