A few weeks ago we were away, staying near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. I loved the deep steep valleys full of trees, with farmland and moorland above. I also loved the way we were close to towns, and railways, and the busy life of people. We were near Haworth, Bronte country, and staying at Hardcastle Crags, which some of you may know from the Sylvia Plath poem. I hadn’t realised quite how close we were to the places where Ted Hughes grew up and lived, and was so excited to come across the occasional little plaque in the landscape referring to this poem, or that. My backpack carried collections of poems, and notebooks, as well as chocolate and water.
So, I’ve been reading them both lately – Plath and Hughes – as well as beginning to turn some of our walks into poems of my own. It’s taking a while, but reading Ted Hughes has reawakened my curiosity about the crows who visit our garden. I remember doing an English project at school on Crow, and have come back to look at that collection again, in all its darkness.
What I noticed about the crows that I have come to know a little, here, is their sociability, their memory, their communication despite the apparent sameness of their cries. They seem intelligent and sociable creatures, and I have written a couple of poems from here, in my garden. It helps to pull things together – lived experience, and the inspiration of others – and to add a small voice to the other voices that sing songs in our landscapes.
I have also loved the wonderful exhibition at The Sainsbury Centre, UEA, of Elizabeth Frink’s work. I have been so looking forward to that ever since I heard it was coming, as I have felt drawn to her sculptures for quite a few years, and wanted to see more. The birds particularly struck me.
Now it is winter, the crows have come back
with the north wind, with the darkness.
They land softly, and in number,
at their old roosting place –
what remains the great beech
just there, ahead of us.
And then they rise again, suddenly.
They land and rise and caw,
and land, and rise, and caw.
The branches shake their dry leaves.
Can the birds tell the tree is dead,
They do not settle,
whatever they know.
They crisscross the sky in dark lines
above me in the garden.
They land first here, then there.
They try the blackthorn,
and the sycamore.
They drench the holm oak
with their dark wings,
and strip it of acorns.
Their sharp black beaks and
shark black claws work and work.
All the time their cawing calls,
they seek a new place,
they keep tied to each other
with these black lines,
with these cries,
as they fly restlessly
to and fro,
to and fro.
I have recently, and unusually for me, done a day’s workshop in lino cut printing at The lettering arts trust. It was such an inspiring environment, surrounded by such excellent work. I reminded myself to be inspired, not daunted! We had a very talented tutor, Louise Tiplady, who shared very generously of her time and talents.
I wanted to experiment with trying something at home. It’s really satisfying to gouge away at the lino, letting shapes emerge. The top of these two is the lino itself, and you can see how I’ve printed sometimes in red, sometimes in blue, taking out more as I felt I needed to. I don’t have proper inks yet – I was using old ink stamps – and that might account for the blurry, grainy texture. It’s something I’d like to keep trying, seeing if I can capture some ideas visually, as well as in words.