Friday, 13 October 2017

SIGNIFICANT EVENTS AND SMALL THINGS

Significant events 

(Working backwards) - my son's wedding in Cumbria on 7 October, the first family get together at my new house in Wales, a writing week in Italy with Blake Morrison.

Small things
Waking early just as dawn was breaking in Tuscany and seeing three (roe) deer; waking early in Cumbria and hearing the tawny owls continuing their night-time conversation until first light.

I read the TLS on the train back to Wales from Carlisle (we were the last, very slow train through on Wednesday morning when the main line was badly affected by flooding).  Pamela Clemit's review of Coastal Works: Cultures of the Atlantic Edge (eds Nicholas Allen, Nick Groom, and Jos Smith) caught my attention.  The book includes an essay on Cumbrian Poet, Norman Nicholson.  To me this was a new angle on Nicholson.  I had not thought of him as being a poet of the Atlantic Edge before. "His terrain is narrow - the coastal strip bounded by the Solway Firth in the north and the Duddon Estuary in the south, and hemmed in by the mountains - but he digs deep.  Nicholson's vision, as described by Andrew Gibson in a superb essay, is of a coastal wasteland devastated by generations of industrialists, entrepreneurs and governments, to which he (a devout Christian) gave a spiritual dimension."

I've been away for 2 weeks so it's good to by back and to tackle some of the boxes which haven't been unpacked yet.  The workmen have nearly finished.  I thought I had decluttered before I moved but now I find things I haven't looked at since June and ask myself, do I really need them?

Monday, 18 September 2017

AUTUMN FORAGING

At the beginning of this month the swallows were getting fidgety and lining up on the overhead wires.  Now the skies are bereft.  They left early this year – does this mean they sensed bad weather coming (Storm Aileen) or had the older adults (who tend to leave later) not survived the Welsh summer?

I noticed today the dark red of a hawthorn tree against a rare deep blue sky.  Flocks of rooks are gathering in the fields.  Beyond my garden several acres of late spring-sown barley has turned a pale straw yellow but has yet to be harvested.  My next door neighbour has had a bonfire going all afternoon.

Like the squirrels (grey on the peninsula, though Anglesey has reds) I’ve been doing some autumn foraging.  Here are some of my gatherings:

The Scottish Poetry Library has honoured its founder, Tessa Ransford, with a blue plaque.

She founded the Callum MacDonald Memorial awards.  The publishers’ section was won this year by the tiny Dumfries-based Roncadora Press (for Sheep by Hugh Bryden and Hugh McMillan).  I’ve been to two of Hugh Bryden’s workshops on handmade poetry pamphlets – they are inspirational.

Dave Coates (on his blog Dave’s Poems) has researched poetry reviews.  He concludes: “Even a preliminary study of British and Irish poetry magazines and prizes shows how ingrained is the culture of structural racism and misogyny.”  I would add that the paucity of poetry reviews in mainstream print publications is abysmal. 

But it was good to see a Kenneth Stevens’ poem as the Guardian on-line poem of the week recently. It was taken from his version of the Irish legend of Deirdre of the Sorrows.  Stevens writes in a way not unlike George Mackay Brown.  His work is rooted in the Scottish countryside and Celtic tradition.

I recently had a conversation with a man who writes Welsh poetry.  He told me he was composing an englyn.  I did a quick google and discovered an intricate verse form of rhyme and cynghnnedd.  Each language is different.  It would be hard to do in English (perhaps Hopkins and Dylan Thomas have come nearest) without seeming forced and artificial.  But it works in the musicality and flexibility of the Welsh language.  Don’t get me started on the way Italian (an inflected language) has influenced the use of rhyme in English.

Enitharmon Press have announced the autumn publication of The Heart’s Granary, an anthology to mark the 50th anniversary of the press.   “This momentous publication marks the end of a much cherished poetry list”.  I fear the worst.

Carcanet covers are changing.  I’m used to glossy colourful covers usually with a large contemporary painting.  I’ve just read Sinéad Morrissey’s On Balance and I have Gillian Clarke’s Zoology and Thomas A Clarke’s The Farm by the Shore on my teetering To Read pile.  What they all have in common is a pale matt cover with a simple understated image and folded-in “wings” front and back (like a dust cover).  They look remarkably like a Cape poetry publication!


The large barley field next to my garden was the swallows’ insect-hunting space.  How I miss their purposeful curving flight.  I’m conscious of the approaching equinox when day and night are poised equally and the surise and sunset are aligned due east and west.  Then the balance of light will shift and autumn will have arrived. 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

SURPRISE AND DELIGHT

I'm delighted to have won first prize in the Second Light 2017 poetry competition (short poem category) with my poem 'Six Studies of Pillows' based on a Durer pen and ink drawing.

My poem 'Clustog Fair' was placed in the commended section.

One of those buses moments.

Monday, 28 August 2017

MARKET FOLLOW UP

After my taste of rye bread in my previous post -

Black bread

 On the shelf at Aldi rye bread schwartzbrot
bread that will keep in wooden chests for weeks
bread you can eat at dawn and do a day’s labour.

The sour-sweet taste of it – a snatched lunch when
we biked through July cornfields to the coast
on old Third Reich tracks, concrete white in the heat.

An ear of corn split with my thumbnail, flour
soft on my tongue.  Wind turbines flailed the air.
The A of a granary’s great brick gable,

tented with rye brown thatch, swept the ground.
A peg-mill, redeemed from fire, the whole mill-house
dancing to catch the eye of the wind.

                                                              And
the tracks ran on, resolute, determined,
as if the crew-cut stubble had no choice.
At Schönberg the Baltic hazed the horizon,

little whispy waves nibbled white sand
drifting against breakwaters (nicht betreten).
The drift of things: rye grains carried in carts,

in desperate sacks, in pockets, across
the settlers’ ocean to turf roofed dugouts

to rise as prairie sourdough. 


© Mary Robinson 2010, 2017

from The Art of Gardening (Flambard 2010)

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

NOTHING STAYS PUT

The exotic is everywhere, it comes to us
before there is a yen or a need for it

wrote Amy Clampitt in one of the best ever shopping poems (‘Nothing stays put’).     

Last weekend I was down in Bath visiting family for the weekend.  On Saturday morning we went to Green Park market which is next to a big Sainsbury’s.   We had a divide and conquer approach and while one member of the family did the weekly supermarket shop the rest of us browsed round the market.

Green Park station is a grade 2 listed building.  It was once an important railway terminus but now the market is held under the arched glass roof of the old station.  It’s spacious and there’s a relaxed atmosphere about the market.  People walk slowly, looking and chatting.   There are small children and dogs and no one seems stressed.   We sat and drank our coffees at the market café.   Music from the LP shop in a waiting room of the old station spilled over into the market.   There was a stall selling knick-knacks of vintage silver plate – items which one’s great granny might have possessed, such as sugar tongs (remember sugar lumps?).  Little time-capsules of curios.   Nearby was a stall selling home-made soap – beautifully scented from flowers in the stall-holders’ garden. 

But most of the stalls were selling food, home-grown and, in some cases, home-cooked.  As a child of self-sufficiency parents (John Seymour’s book was frequently consulted in our house) I greatly enjoyed visiting this small-producers’ market.  On the list were strawberries and jam (from the same stall) – lovely sweet juicy berries in all shapes and sizes.  A giant punnet and a jar of jam for under a fiver.   We resisted the wild meat man (will [grey] squirrel ever catch on?) but treated ourselves to some dry-cured smoked bacon (from Gloucester old spot pigs).  Such bacon was to us haute cuisine (we had bacon butties that night with a glass of red wine).

It was impossible to rush round the market because the producers were so enthusiastic.  There were lots of free samples and the stall holders needed no prompting to talk passionately about their food.  The bread was particularly good – we tasted the rye bread (from locally grown rye).  It was as good as anything I have had in Germany.

My daughter-in-law had requested some flowers.  We found a local grower’s stall selling dahlias – confident pompoms and mop-heads in mother-of-the bride colours – lilac, orange, peach, white tinged with mauve, lemon yellow with golden centres – not a curl out of place (like something out of Philip Larkin’s ‘The Whitsun Weddings’).  Freshly picked that morning, two bunches for five pounds.

 Dahlias, native to Mexico, eaten by the Aztecs, grown in Somerset.

Nothing stays put.  The world is a wheel.
all that we know, that we’re

made of, is motion.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

MOUNTAINS AND SEA

A perfect combination.

Today I walk the dog along the cliff path from Morfa Nefyn.  Yachts shelter in the curving bay of Porth Dinllaen.  The sea is a deep azure blue.  It is a day of Auden’s “leaping light”.  A window on the coastguard look-out tower flashes back the sunlight.  Waves gather, white crests glisten until the final stumble onto the beach.   To the north-west the hills of Yr Eifl are a shadowed grey – natural ramparts forcing the traveller inland.  Across the sea to the north Anglesey’s long low sandy shoreline ends in the submarine shape of Holyhead, the port for Ireland (Porth Dinllaen was once proposed as the Irish port – how different this beautiful coast would have been if the project had gone ahead).

The cliff path is dotted with late summer flowers – montbretia, ragwort, Himalayan balsam (all invaders) and the diminutive harebell which seems so fragile but isn’t.

Montbretia
orange as the gleed of a winter fire
     under the summer sun

Ragwort
each flower a thousand score of sun-kings
     heading straight for the battlefield

Himalayan balsam
popping up in all the plashy places
     painting her pouting lips pink

Harebells
that first syllable of breath
     trembling in the azure wind


© Mary Robinson 2017