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.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

A new trauma is as good as a rest

Three weeks ago, I was racked with worry and frustration after a horrible and abusive PIP assessment for my son. I thought it was as well we'd visited Beachy Head the day before it rather than the day after. I was consumed with hatred of the DWP for putting him through torment. 

Then an accident forced a total switch of focus. I learnt that picking blackcurrants can be a surprisingly dangerous pastime, especially if you are very elderly and sitting on a stool on a downhill slope. I learnt that you can still wait four hours for an ambulance even when you are 91 and live a two-minute drive from the hospital. I learnt that eating Marmite doesn't guarantee immunity to mosquito bites after all.  Also, that the chip of ice Graham Greene refers to is still lodged there in my writer's heart.

Above all, I've been reminded, over and over, that the NHS is the most precious thing we own collectively, and that we should take to the streets, if necessary, to ensure its survival. 

My mother has been transferred up north and so my watch is ended ... for now, at least. I've started the long and convoluted process of being made my son's appointee, and we await the PIP decision, ready to fight it if necessary. Meanwhile, there are proofs to check, poems to write, jaunts to be jaunted.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Bollocks to Brexit

I'm pleased and honoured to have two poems in this newly published anthology, 'Bollocks to Brexit', which features work from writers across the UK on what Brexit is and how it is affecting individuals, families and communities.  

We live in horrifying times and for a while now I've wanted to channel some of my outrage into my writing, but I've been hampered by the fact that I'm not really a declamatory poet and I don't write invective. With the two poems in Bollocks to Brexit, I found a way of making a political point by referring to earlier historical events in one, and a late mediaeval painting in the other, and this helped to underscore how progress isn’t linear. The Brexit Party MPs emulating the Nazis by turning their backs in the European Parliament the other day was further confirmation of how we are repeating the mistakes of the past.

For more thoughts on politics and poetry, you can read an interview with me by editor Ambrose Musiwiya here.  


Friday, 5 July 2019

Seven Sisters from Birling Gap and Beachy Head

So memorable was a previous visit to Cuckmere Haven in East Sussex that when we got the chance to return to the same area, I asked my fellow-jauntees if we could go to the opposite end of the chalk cliffs, known as the Seven Sisters, at Birling Gap. 

And they said yes. So we did.

And here they are, looking west towards Cuckmere Haven, with Seaford Head beyond. 

The one thing everyone knows about Birling Gap is that it's falling into the sea. Or at least the Coastguards cottages are. 

At the turn of last century there were seven of them (ringed in red). The Coastguard Watch House (ringed in blue) was lost to coastal erosion in 1926.

The end cottage was pulled down prior to collapse in 1974, with two more going in 1994 and 2002. 

The most recent cottage to be demolished was in 2014. You can see its foundations sticking out of the cliff (far right). 

Figures vary, but the cliffs here appear to be eroding at a rate of 12 inches - or maybe as many as 36 inches - per year. Whichever's correct, that's why they're so white. 

We went for a wander along the beach. It was so very different from the geology of the South West, very beautiful and also slightly disturbing. 

I remember when I was a very young child trying to get to sleep, I would sometimes see on the inside of my eyelids stones of the purest, smoothest white that I knew represented death. 

Well, this chalk is a little like that. In fact, I wonder if, when you die, you see high white cliffs like these. 

What with our drive from Bristol to Sussex taking over five hours, thanks to extensive roadworks, and a rather leisurely lunch in the pub near Beachy Head, we didn't walk far but what we saw I'll remember. 

On then to Belle Tout lighthouse, which I distinctly recall being moved back from the cliff edge in a grainy black and white Blue Peter film of (probably) the 1970s. Except that it happened in 1999.

It still looks pretty close to the edge to me, but apparently it is good for a while yet and its new foundations are constructed in a way to make it easier to move next time.  

Here is some viper's bugloss and agrimony ...

... and again, the old foundations poking out of the cliff. 

I'd taken longer to climb the hill than my sons - a cominbation of being old and taking photos - so I hadn't seen the woman who'd been standing on the jutting piece of chalk ringed in this photo. 

If you fall, it's 530 feet down.

I didn't care to be so close to the edge.

Get back!

On the way back down - the slow way - I spotted my first milkwort ... 
... and up ahead, the lighthouse that replaced Belle Tout at the foot of the famous and notorious and beautiful and deadly Beachy Head. 

This was close enough for me. It felt like when I visited the stretch of the River Wharfe called The Strid above Bolton Abbey some years ago. That you can choose between life and death on nothing more substantial than a whim in such places. 

Today, I'm pleased to say, we all drove home. 

Monday, 1 July 2019

Inspiration : Echoes on the Severn

I've written before about walking and the effect it has on my creative process. The most productive walks for me in terms of sparking ideas are when I'm idling along familiar routes with my brain in neutral. This is far from ideal. It can be quite awkward stopping on the side of an always busy A4171 to scribble a few notes down, especially if I also have to juggle Ted the dog (sometimes literally, especially when cyclists without bells are zipping up and down the pavement). The other time this tends to happen is just after I've slipped into a hot bubble bath (infuriating) or when I'm driving (infuriating also, with a side-order of peril).

I also love to walk in places that are new to me, although it's rare that I come back with a poem or even the idea for a poem waiting to be written. This is probably because I'm on alert on these walks, taking every detail in. I find new experiences take a while to percolate through my mind and into the subconscious reservoir of images that can be used later.

There's always an exception, however. During the first few months of the year, I did a lot of walking along the banks of the Severn. Occasionally, there's some historical interest but it's mainly sea air, water and light that provide the draw. And now it's free to cross the river, both sides are much more accessible to this impoverished poet than was previously the case.
One of our walks took Son the Younger, Ted and me to Aust, where the ferry ran for centuries until the opening of the old Severn Bridge on 8th September 1966, an event I remember for the emotions it stirred in my four-year-old breast. 

I was outraged that the entire primary school, including my elder sister, went to see it being opened by the Queen, with the exception of the pupils in the two Reception classes, which included me. For some reason, our teachers didn't want to take 80 tots, whose sum experience of school amounted to less than a week, on a school trip involving traffic, water, royalty, and acres of mud. Can't think why.  

This time I knew what I wanted to see: the  ferry terminal where  25-year-old Bob Dylan was photographed by Barry Feinstein just four months before the pomp of the royal opening, at a famously pivotal
point in the history of both the Severn and rock musicI also knew that I wanted to write a poem about these twin disruptions and their very different outcomes: Bob's star has never waned, despite the controversy of his decision to abandon solo acoustic songs and gigs, but the original (and most beautiful) Severn bridge has been supserseded by its younger sibling three miles downstream, and it's now quite quiet at Aust even though the M48 is hanging 445 feet above your head. 

There was a poem there too. In the end it was a heron that helped me find it (though not this one).

Like the Severn heron, who flew off across the river, the poem also headed for Wales and the 2019 Welsh Poetry Competition, where it was highly commended in fourth place. 

Bob Dylan waits for the ferry at Aust

The tide is so far out it’s over the horizon.
You are far out too, dressed in black and wearing shades
against the quibbling English rain

Electric Dylan, stalking the slipway
hands in pockets, shoulders hunched
your feathers ruffled

waiting for the ferry to tie up at the pier
your back to the river, facing land
while I frown, trying to work out where you’re standing

but the wooden café’s rotted, gone,
the moorings silted up with mud,
the turnstile entrance to the Gents rusted shut.

Even the bridge being built behind you
replacing this passage of two thousand years
is underused now, left to drift among the clouds

as the warth fills up with rising water
and a heron straggles into flight,
turns and trails its spindling legs across the Severn.

©Deborah Harvey 2019