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, 26 June 2019

A Poem for National Writing Day 2019 ... or put a tiger in your tanka

It's National Writing Day today, so I decided to post a poem about writing. It's also a poem about the nature of the tiger's roar, which I learnt about recently.

What I find especially fascinating is that the power it has to cause its prey - including people - to freeze is believed to come not from the loud roariness of it, but from the part which is pitched too low for us to hear, but which we can sense or feel. Researchers have discovered that this infrasound can travel huge distances, permeating buildings and cutting through dense forests and even mountain ranges.

I've decided that poetry probably roars too, and this is why those who can hear it are compelled to read and write the stuff. It also explains why the stuff some people insist will transform your life feels like so much flum
mery. Who wants to rearrange cushions or sort their books according to the colour of their spines when their tiger is summoning them? 

'Try Yoga' is from my forthcoming collection, The Shadow Factory', which will be published by Indigo Dreams later this year. 

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Midsummer on Kelston Roundhill

Even the most successful poets struggle to make a living out of their writing, at least not without supplementing their income in some way. But poetry does sometimes open doors to new experiences.

On Friday night it was a gate that had its rusted-up lock sawn off so that we could enter the copse on top of Kelston Roundhill for a bout of poetting and storytelling. And very special it was too.

We'd gathered a little over half way up the hill at the Old Barn, at the invitation of the current Bard of Bath, Conor Whelan. We were a bit early, having had an easy drive from Bristol through comparatively sparse traffic. 

We whiled away the time studying the views and trying to get our bearings, while fielding calls from less fortunate friends who'd trusted to their sat navs and were now having to reverse down narrow and awkwardly cambered lanes. 

There but for the grace of all Sun Gods everywhere, thought I, having a swig of red wine. 

Eventually everyone arrived and we headed up the remainder of the hill. 

No one can be sure of the historical significance of the hill. When the trees were planted at the end of the 18th century, it was claimed to be the site of a tumulus or barrow.  If so, any evidence would have been greatly disturbed by the planting. 

There are no springs up there, so no one would have lived there, but it would have made an excellent lookout. 

It's been suggested that there might even have been a temple up there. (Perhaps like the one on Brent Knoll?) 

Notions of spirituality soon gave way to wheezing and puffing. Rather foolishly, we'd allowed the Bard to lead the way, and he was a lot younger than many of us. 

Looking north-west to the Severn and Wales beyond

He was still apparently heading in the wrong direction when we reached the top, parched and gasping for breath.

Round the other side of the hill, there was an impressive view of Bath, to the south and east. A hot air balloon drifted over from the direction of Bristol. 

After a little fiddling with the gate, the bard led us into the middle of the copse.
It was all a bit exciting and magical. You wouldn't have been that surprised to bump into Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed. 

And then it was time for poems and stories, which is when the enchantment really started.

By and by, the sun began to set, and it grew chilly for those who'd come without the benefit of a jacket or a bardic cloak. 

Just time to hear from the farmer who'd worked on the land all his life, and who read a poem he'd written about the Old Barn - how it had fallen into disrepair as the land use had changed from cultivation to pasture, and then found a new lease of life as a meeting place. 

Then it began to get a bit psychedelic, and we had to get back for the dog, so we picked our way down the hill in the last of the sunlight ...

... and home via the chipper in Cadbury Heath. 

Friday, 21 June 2019

A visit to the Doris Hatt exhibition at the Museum of Somerset

From the passenger seat of the car, Taunton seemed to have changed enormously from how it was when I lived there briefly, 30-odd years ago, but there was no time for a proper look as my Friend-Formerly-Known-As-'Er-Over-The-Road and I were on a mission, having only a week left to find a parking space and get to the Museum of Somerset before the exhibition of work by Doris Hatt closed. 

Because when would we next get the chance to see a whole exhibition devoted to Doris, whose art should be far more celebrated than it is?

Doris Brabham Hatt was born in Bath and into money in 1890. She decided to make a career for herself in art while she was at finishing school in Kassel, Germany, and subsequently studied art at the Bath School of Art, Goldsmith's and the Royal College of Art. 

One of Doris' earliest commissions came in 1915, in the form of a World War I recruiting poster for the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee. 

Doris soon disowned her work as news came through of the appalling casualties of the conflict. At the same time she was becoming radicalised in London through exposure to the poverty she saw in the city, the plight of returning soldiers, the Women's Suffrage movement, and the writings of William Morris.   

You can argue - and we did a bit - that like Morris before her, it's easy to build a beautiful, cutting-edge home to live in and devote your life to your art when you have pots of inherited money. 

But, again like Morris before her, Doris put her not inconsiderable money where her mouth was. In 1917 she joined the Independent Labour Party, and in 1935 the Communist Party. She travelled to the Soviet Union, became a regular seller of the Daily Worker, and stood as
party candidate in the Clevedon Urban District Council election in 1946 and 1947. She also taught children how to draw, and ran adult education classes into the 1960s. 

 Doris shared her life with her partner, the teacher, artist and weaver, Margery Mack Smith. Their extensive travels in the UK and abroad had a significant influence on the development of Doris's art. They were often joined by close members of their family, and I naively hoped for a
loving acceptance of their relationship, but tragically and horribly, a large quantity of her letters and personal records were burned by a relative after her death in 1969. Fortunately, two chests of material,
including sketch books, were saved by Margery, who took them to their second home in Watchet.  

On to the exhibition.

Doris was very influenced by the landscape of her native West Country. Here's Cumberland Basin with the Clifton Suspension Bridge in the background ... 

... and an instantly recognisable Brandon Hill, both in Bristol. 

She often revisited the same scenes in different media ... 

... and it's fascinating to compare landscapes to see how her style developed over years. 

Here, Sennen Cove in Cornwall. 

I love the feeling of movement in a lot of her work. Here the mad, wind-swept trees on the front in Clevedon ...

... and a still life, which is anything but. 

I also loved her paintings that make use of counterpoint.

Sursum corda - lift up your heart

The Melon Picker

Bay Cottage, Lyme Regis

Some of Margery's weaving

I think this might be my favourite painting of all. I love this woman's placid strength. 


After we finished the exhibition, we went around again because it was that good - informative and beautiful. Not everyone agreed ... the only man there while we were was loudly explaining how he would have framed everything differently, although to be fair there was also a woman complaining that the paintings hadn't always been hung in the strict
chronological order she craved, which shows you can't please everyone. 

Anyway, the exhibition ends on 29th June so if you are reading this and think you'd like to go, you'd better get your skates on.