Poem – Crows

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.

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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.

 

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Crows

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,
not sleeping?
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.

 

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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.

 

Dorset Poems – Autumn lambs at Upcot farm

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It’s a long time since I shared a Dorset poem with you – it was last October when we went there, and there is still much in my notebook to turn back to.  They fill up with words, these books, like ore, which can be taken up to the light, and sifted, and cast into something to keep, to help another day.  They fill up with things you rediscover, and see afresh.

If you would like to go back to a few other pieces from that time, you can do so here:

Dorset Poems – Scrumping in a Hurricane

and

Dorset Poems – St Gabriel’s Chapel, 1
So, while I am preparing and mullling over some more recent work to share with you – and I will do so – I thought I’d bring you this.  While we’ve been out and about walking this autumn, I remembered hearing these lambs last year, after a day of many miles and many hills, and wondering if I was imagining things.  The wind was whipping about very strangely, and I was in need of tea and cake. Rounding the corner and coming across this farm, it felt like a strange, sheltered place where, rather than things falling into decline, and ending, and growing darker, we were looped back to spring, and hope, and the almost reckless persistence and optimism of life and new beginnings.

It’s very gloomy here today in the UK.  It has grown suddenly cold.  The clocks have gone back, and it’s dark early.  I felt I needed this today, to remind me of the strange tenacity of hope.

Autumn lambs at Upcot Farm

A high thin bleating carries
on the wind
as we draw close to the farm.
It sounds like lambs, I say
It’s October, you reply,
yes, but even so,
even so…..

Twins, newborn, their chords still visible,
blue, elastic bands around each tail,
short, white wool,
ears like pink shells
full of light
with the sun behind.
Soft, new, wide-eyed,
wide-mouthed.

And another mother,
and lamb
and another
and a hen with a
cluster about her
cheeping like spring,
as the gale gusts
and blows sharp leaves
in our faces.

Here, amid the berries
and apples
and bright golden leaves
there is still the sound
of life, there is still
unexpectedly,
wonderfully,
the bleating of new lambs.

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All photos by my husband, Peter.  With thanks.

 

 

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Walking after Edward Fitzgerald.

So, we’ve been been on our feet quite a lot as part of my husband’s walking project.  We thought we would stay local last weekend, and as we’d been talking about the poet Edward Fitzgerald recently, we thought we’d explore some of the places where he lived and worked and saw his friends.  My husband has just finished reading a book he gave me some time ago, The Artist’s daughter written by the late Sally Kibble.

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It’s a lovely book, a fictionalised memoir of Ellen Churchyard, daughter of Thomas.  It shows the group of friends, The Woodbridge Wits, who took great pleasure in, and inspiration from, each other’s company and cast of mind.  EFG was part of this group. There are accounts of their meals and walks and conversations.  The book is full of the lovely soft pictures of Churchyard, and some of these were of locations that you can still trace, and recognise, today.  Personally, I would have liked a bit more of the poetry of EFG and Bernard Barton, but I’m trying to fill those gaps with my own reading.

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View of the River Deben, Thomas Churchyard.  Painted near the railway bridge – you can see the steam train bending away towards the station.

We  planned a walk which was just shy of ten miles in the end, quite ambitious for me, but it took in many of the places where EFG lived in and around Woodbridge, Suffolk.  The first place on the itinerary is also, probably, my favourite.

The Quaker poet Bernard Barton’s tiny crooked cottage was the place where they often met – these Woodbridge Wits – to eat cheese on toast.  For that was all they could cook over the fire, the only means of cooking.  It seems to have been one of their favourite places, too.  Bernard and his daughter Lucy were clearly good company and warm hearted hosts.  Their simplicity and equality of life appealed to EFG.   The artist and lawyer Thomas Churchyard lived up the road, and it’s lovely to think of them together, talking in the firelight with the smell of toasted cheese.  These two poets were also friends with other writers – Tennyson, Charles Lamb, Robert Southey and Anne Knight among them.   I am trying to track down some more of Barton’s poems, and you do occasionally find his lyrics in an old hymn book, such as these, which seems apporpriate for a walk.

Despite Edward Fitzgerald’s privileged background – his family lived nearby in Boulge Hall – he preferred simpler settings. He had rooms above a shop on the Market Hill, and you can see a stone plaque marking the spot – very like the one on his rooms in King’s Parade, Cambridge – just up the hill from Barton’s cottage, and even nearer the Bull Inn where Tennyson stayed when visiting him. From here, after buying eccles cakes from The Cake Shop to sustain us, we meandered around past other places where he had associations, on the way to Boulge Hall, with the church next to it.

Boulge Church, the main focus of our walk, has been snagging at my mind.  It is where he is buried.  I had been before, on another walk, with a friend, but my husband had not.
I remembered it was hard to find, that there was no lane to it, and that the paths did not seem to follow the OS map – not even when we used the one on the phone rather than our battered paper one that was giving way on the creases.  And so it proved to be this time.  We saw one sign from the road – at the site of the lodge cottage where EFG had lived in preference to the Hall – which said “No access to church” but there was no sign telling us which way to go.  After much meandering,  a walk along what looked like a long-gone drive between trees, and a short dash along the private-no-right-of-way lane, we found the church.

Perhaps it had been the private church of the estate at some point,  it didn’t feel like a public space.  But it was open, and clearly used, with hymn books and information and welcome. The congregation must be adventurous, and dedicated. There were instructions as to how to turn on the lights – it was an old church with small windows,very dark despite the sunshine. So we turned the lights on, and sat and rested in the peace.  Sitting there, I saw in a side chapel some plaques up with the Fitzgerald name on them, but they were not for Edward.  There wasn’t any of his poetry about.  I was wondering if there might be some kind of memorial, or stone with verse, or a card, but I couldn’t see one.  It was almost as if the long-ago family tension was still exerting an influence.

Outside, in the graveyard, is an elaborate family vault, with a simple granite slab next door for Edward.  There is a rose planted at the head. The rose is a descendant of that on the tomb of Omar Khayyam, whose great poem EFG translated.  There is another rose at the foot.  It seems that it was his request not to be buried in the family tomb.  As he had lived at the gatehouse on the edge of the grounds of the hall, reading and writing and having his friends for simple meals, so he was buried outside the vault.

He loved simplicity, friendship of the mind,  and left behind an astonishing piece of work, in his translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  Maybe some in the family disapproved of this work, from a Persian mathematician and astronomer.  It only came to be generally respected after his death.

As we sat on the bench in the churchyard, eating our snack, I wished I had brought the book with me.  My copy is hardbacked, and quite heavy, but a quick look on my phone brought up the following lines.  They seemed appropriate for reading under the tree where we were.  They celebrated something very profound, a kind of communion.
A simple meal of bread and wine, and companionship, these are riches indeed.

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
I thought these words were in keeping with the spot.

We carried on walking, taking in some more places where EFG had lived. The pattern of roads and lanes and paths has been the same for so many generations.  So many other people, remarkable in their way and in their time, have walked here.  It felt good to remember and honour them, the ones who thought of themselves as ordinary, the ones who have been forgotten, and know that our steps succeed theirs, and in turn will be succeeded by those who come after us.

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Churchyard – a windy day near Melton

Checking final proofs – Jesus said “I am”.

So, it’s arrived!

An envelope containing the “final proofs” is here in Suffolk, and I have two weeks to go through them and answer a reassuringly short list of queries…. as well as  making any final amendments I may wish to make.  I shall try to resist doing too much of that at this stage….

I asked for a paper copy as well as a pdf, as there is something about the black type on white paper which helps me read it as a book, and hopefully read it more attentively as a result.

It is laid out on proper pages, and does feel quite real.

So, here goes!

 

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The publication date has been put back to January.  I’ll let you know when I know more!

Poem – The courtesie of pigeons

Each morning at the moment, I go outside to see what’s happening.  I don’t get up with the dawn, so by the time I go outside, life has been bursting out for a couple of hours – there’s always something beautiful that makes me catch my breath.

I spend time sitting, meditating, or in contemplative prayer, and then I get out my notebook and try to write what I see, what is happening right now.

Our old bench was beginning to rock and sway, especially if more than one person sat on it, so we have a beautiful new one from Genesis, Orwell Mencap  I particularly like the way that someone involved in making the furniture comes to help deliver it, and see where it will be enjoyed.

 

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Sometimes, sitting on the bench, life’s dramas play out before you. This one, with the pair of pigeons who nest in our garden, felt like part of an old chivalric romance, hence the rather archaic spelling….

The courtesie of pigeons

The pigeons, on the roof-ridge,
or on the black line of the
telephone wire,
begin this dance the same
each day.

She, head bowed slightly away,
He, with a deep murmur,
bows low, his beak sinks
to meet the wire, or the tile.
With a tail elevated to the sky,
he puffs up, more than
his full size,
his wings droop slightly.
He rises and bows,
Rises and bows.

My strength, lady,
is yours to command,
is at your disposal
should you wish it, lady.

But she steps sideways,
and again,
and flies, nonetheless,
but, nonetheless,
she cannot always do so,

for each year, come summer,
plump grey squabs sidle
across the lawn,
feasting on its richness.

 

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Photograph by Africa Gomez

 

It calls to mind another pigeon saga…..Nest

We have a publication date!

Some of you kind readers may remember that I’ve been working on a book over the past year or so – exploring the I Am sayings of Jesus.

I am delighted to be able to share with you that it will be published on 19th October, 2018.  The publisher, BRF, has kindly put an early page up on its shop, although I do not think you can order it yet – I’ll let you know when that is possible.

The title is, “Jesus said, “I am” – finding life in the everyday”

As we get nearer to October, I’ll tell you more about it, and hopefully share some of my work with you.  But, to give you some idea – in each chapter I spend some time exploring and reflecting on a part of John’s gospel, trying to immerse us in what was going on for Jesus at the time, and how that might connect to us and our lives now.  Then, I go on to offer suggestions for our response.  There are some questions to prompt thought or discussion, but also creative exercises, social engagement, things to do as you go about your day, prayers for personal or community use…  It’s about how we live, and how we have life.
I hope to give you some examples soon.

It has been taking me a while to do this, so thank you for your patience, and I look forward to sharing more with you soon.

Writing for Christmas in August – See, Amid the Winter’s Snow……

 

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One of the strange and rather wonderful things about writing for a devotional publication like Quiet Spaces  is that you sometimes find yourself doing things at times that feel out of step with the world outside your window.  So, now, in August, I am thinking of the cold and dark of midwinter.  Today, it is very rainy indeed here in Suffolk, and not at all summery, which nearly fits…

I decided to base my meditations on the simple and profound carol, “See, Amid the Winter’s Snow”, by Edward Caswall.  I am finding it a very moving  process, and am looking forward to whatever will emerge from it.
If you feel like some unseasonal listening, you could try the following, which are currently playing on repeat in my house.

 

How to read a Poem

 

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Earlier this week, a friend asked me how to read a poem.  It was a question I have been asked before, and so I felt I should know how to give a better answer than I did.  Of course, it may depend on the poem, and the mind and the training of the mind of the reader.  A good response to the question will take these things into account.

The exchange stayed with me, so I took some of the phrases of my answer, and wrote them in my notebook sitting on the garden bench later in the day.  I found they formed a a small poem themselves, inviting other words to join them – it’s what they seemed to want to do.

I begin with the mind – at school, so many of us ended up approaching poetry as if it were a form of cryptography, as if the pesky poet had deliberately concealed a meaning and we had to puzzle it out. Poetry rarely holds that kind of meaning.  In this, it is similar to story, as I was thinking in my previous post about parables.   The mind is a great resource in reading, and writing, and good academic rigour can seriously deepen our joy in a poem, but, for the nervous reader, it is not a good place to start.

Try starting like this, and see if that helps.

If you like to listen, you can listen here.

 

How to read a poem

Let your mind rest.
Do not pursue it anxiously,
grasping for meaning.

There is no riddle here
that must be solved
or else doom will fall.
No puzzle to puzzle
for a prize.

Let the sounds of the words
soak you,
water you.
Let the colours of the words
fill your eyes.
Receive it all, then,
with a yes,
hold the words
cool and dripping
in your cupped mind.

Come back,
come back again, for
something that snagged
your dreams
like the dark brambles
over an autumn path.

Come back.
In time, the words may
open to you.
You may taste
their sweet sharpness.
They may grow in you,
nourishing you again
and again.

 

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Poem – Treasure, Hidden. Of perseverance and hope.

 

 

 

 

Treasure, Buried

Each morning I find
small divots in the lawn,
dug neatly, completely.

Sometimes, the squirrel
comes while I am there –
both of us, quiet –
and with an arched back
and a bright eye
she digs.

Does she ever find her
hazelnut?
I don’t know.
I haven’t seen.

I do know I find
a seedling growing
unexpectedly somewhere,
sometimes,
and wonder –
was it her?

I push the divots
back into the lawn.
Each day there are more,
and more.

We value persistence,
the squirrel and I,
we value hope.

Poem – Morning Yoga Practice June 2017

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There has been much grief in the UK this week, met with an outpouring of love, and courage, and kindness.  These sudden losses shock us, remind us of our fragility, and the fragility of those we love.  The moments of national grief catch up our own more private losses, bring to mind what has gone before, and can take us deeper into questions – and the capacity to endure the space between the question and anything like an answer.

After reading Malcolm Guite’s reflections on being so close to the terrible events at London Bridge on Saturday night, I too have had these words of Shakespeare on my mind.

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days?

Asking questions seems a good response to the depths,

I am returning to my practice of writing freely, recording what draws my attention.  This morning it was this.

 

Morning yoga practice  June 2017

I bend on the grass,
look up at the bending gladioli
dancing cerise with their
graceful arches

as June’s north wind
rocks the branches,
as the air fills with
white petals –
blossom, roses –
that fall.

Why is it all so fragile,
this beauty?
why does it all slip
through my fingers?
I stretch, stretch out my
heart, and my love,
sending it both near,
both near and far away.

 
Restore them dear Lord,
Make them whole,
may they see
this life this beauty,
as the petals fall about me
in a cold blaze,
life and beauty ripped away,
yet carried on this June wind,
yet landing softly on this
green earth.