Poem: Weaving – Unweaving

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This is another poem from the  “They toil not” workshop -poems of spinning and weaving.  The first, you can read here.

At the end of the afternoon, Beth Soule gave us some ideas for doing and making, including this little loom and baskets of threads.

For several days, I’d had some words of Coleridge’s going round in my mind – I’m trying to find them.  I read them in Adam Nicolson’s wonderful “The Making of Poetry”, and they refer to Nature, like Penelope in the Odyssey, making and unmaking, weaving and unweaving.  So, there was an image in my mind of Nature, and Penelope, at her loom, weaving the shroud which she would then unweave at night, as nature makes and unmakes and makes again.

It’s a big theme for a small, playful piece, and maybe I shall return to it, especially if I can find the source.

For now, the woven poem is above, in the picture, hard to read, so here it is set out on a page.

 

 

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Attic red-figure skyphos: Side A, Penelope seated before her loom, and Telemachus standing (both named). Attributed to the Penelope Painter, ca. 450–400 BCE. Chiusi, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, 63.564. Drawing by Valerie Woelfel.

Woven unwoven

The mother gathers her threads,
green, and blue,
blue, and green,
earth, and sky,
field, and stream,
and weaves all day as the sun shines.

Then, at night, with darkness,
and with silver,
she unravels the threads
and drops them
into the deep.

 

 

 

I went to the workshop with my friend, Tracy Watson-Brown.  You can read her poems
Spinning Song

and

Bugs and blossom

on her blog.

 

 

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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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

Dorset Poems – St Gabriel’s Chapel, 1

 

We’ve come back from such a tranquil, peaceful break at a National Trust Holiday Cottage – this one was down a long lane which said “No Cars”, and then we turned off to an even smaller lane where the grass swished against our exhaust pipe.  It felt so safe and undisturbed. I felt myself calming as we slipped further away down these winding lanes. While we were there, we did a lot of walking.  Taking the car out was less attractive than just putting on boots and setting off. And while we were there, the remains of Hurricane Ophelia made her presence felt.

She did great damage in Ireland, but where we were, we felt the effects of a dramatic weather event, without the destructive force.  My notebook went with me as we walked, and I tried to record something of the landscape’s response to the storm.

 

 

St Gabriel’s Chapel

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Walks from the door.

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Seatown beach, with Golden Cap behind.  There is an excellent pub, The Anchor to refresh the weary walker! Portugese man of war jellyfish washed up on the beach.

We stayed near the ruined chapel of St Gabriel.  As I sat to write, my thoughts diverged down two paths.  As an experiment, I’m trying to explore both paths in poems, each path taking as it’s starting point the experience of sitting in the chapel as the wind blew.  This first poem follows a more direct path, the one we took over the cliffs back to another cottage where we had stayed as a family years ago, a place full of memory.  It was so good to retrace such freedom and laughter.  Next door Downhouse Farm runs a garden cafe with delicious food, and we enjoyed resting and recovering there, before turning back.  It was a long walk, taking in Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast, and as we climbed and descended, the sky began to turn a strange red, as the dust that came before the storm filled the air.

 

 

St Gabriel’s Chapel, Dorset,
Storm Ophelia
1

From inside this small, stone chapel,
over broken walls
I can see the sea –
the wild white water crashing
into the cob at Lyme,
the many clouds moving fast,
as one, the sky sliding
against the earth
as leaves
scratch in corners,
tangle in hair.
Yesterday the trees held
more, far more,
when we walked seven
hard miles of cliffs
and troughs,
back to the place
we were
years ago, when
we were
all so much younger,
and we walked, and ran,
with Bessie the dog,
down, down to the sea.
We retraced those steps
more slowly, yesterday,
but look how far
we walked,
look how far
we have come.

 

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Thank you to Peter Skevington for the photographs.

A Poem for the road – Returning

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As we enter into Lent, I have been thinking about pilgrimage, journeys, wandering in a wilderness, being unsure of the way and the destination.  I have been reading Malcolm Guite’s wonderful Word in the Wilderness anthology of poetry, and I turned back to this poem of mine, and looked at it through the eyes of the wanderer in the desert.

The poem was written a few years ago for the Alive Festival, which used to run here in Suffolk, UK.  We were looking for something for our Sunday morning gathering, something which spoke of our sense of longing for home. Something that would help with the journey.  As I was searching, these words began to circle in my mind  They would not leave me alone.  I had to walk them out, pacing restlessly until the poem below took its form.

It draws from many of the stories in the Bible which help us make sense of our life’s journey.  They filled my mind as I paced.  Imagery from Genesis 3 which many churches read together as we prepare for Easter, seemed the starting point.  I moved on to homesickness and exile, which are threads that run through much of the Hebrew scriptures, and also of the discomfort of wilderness, which seems very good to remember now, as we think of Jesus in the wilderness.   But I did not stay there.  My imagination circled round to images drawn from the very end of the book of Revelation  All these images flowed together, as part of a larger, arching story.

I read this poem that morning at the Alive festival, set to  astonishingly beautiful music – Arvo Paart’s Spiegel im Spiegel , played then by Andrew Lord and Jonathan Evans.  The music still moves me to tears.

I hope this poem helps you today, as you walk, whether the way seems hard, or gentle.  May you come to a place of home.

 

Returning

We left the garden long ago,
Do you remember, though,
still, the trees heavy with fruit,
and how sweet it was?
To stretch out your hand was to be blessed.
Do you remember the cool waters of that deep river
silver with fish, alive and shining in the splashing sun?
And the flowers, bending and bending with the
weight of bees, the low hum of the land
that flowed with milk and honey?
He walked with us then, in the garden.

We have been wanderers for so long
in strange lands, wanderers looking
for a place of shelter, a place to lay down
the heavy loads we gathered at the gate,
when we left the garden. The pain we bear
so hard to bear for it is borne alone.

Our songs dried on our lips, the echoes of the
garden growing distant, and small:
the rhymes of the children playing in the apple tree,
the laughter and the ease of love,
hope’s courage    failing as the long dry road
wound through high and rocky passes
where nothing grows.

The path home is long, but that it what it is,
the path home to the garden,
to return to that place so distant
it has become the place of dreams.
And the gate stands before us,
terrible and splashed with blood,
the gate love made to bring us home.
And the gate is always open,
and beyond, beyond the Tree grows strong,
its green leaves fresh and full of light,
And the river flows deep and wide,
Deep, and wide, and always.
And you know the voice,
you have heard the voice say
Come, all you who have been thirsty for so long,
Come and lay your burdens down,
rest, and drink from these bright waters.
I am your home, your refuge, your song.

You can listen to the poem here.

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A Christmas poem, written in childhood

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Primary school was not a happy place for me.  I am dyslexic, but hadn’t been diagnosed at that point, and found a fairly traditional education involving spellings, handwriting, and learning tables by heart almost impossible.  I spent much of the time looking out of the window, and imagining.

While I couldn’t copy of the board, I did go home and write – often long epic misspelled poems – and occasionally, when we could write freely at school, I was brave enough to just do that, write freely.

My teacher, unknown to me, entered this poem in the high school Christmas Poetry competition, and it was commended.  That was such an important moment for me.  It was the first time I felt a sense of possibility at school – that I could do something, and maybe do it well. I am so grateful to that teacher for believing in me.  I showed her some of my scribbly notebooks after that.  Words and actions that encourage, that show you believe in someone, can seem such a small thing to the one doing them, but they can change the world of those who receive them.

 

When I was compiling Prayers and Verses I decided to include this Primary School poem, as it meant such a lot to me at the time.  I hope you enjoy it too.

 

The dawn is breaking, the snow is making
everything shimmer and glimmer and white.

The trees are towering, the mist is devouring
all that is in the reaches of sight.

A bell is ringing, the town is beginning
slowly, gradually, to come to life.

A candle is lighted, and all are excited,
for today is the ending of all man’s strife.

 

Let us encourage one another this Christmas, look for the good even in unlikely places.

 

 

Sunday Teatime Penygroes – for All Souls Day

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The second of November is marked as All Souls Day by many churches, following on from All Saints Day the day before.  As the nights close in, we remember those who have gone before us.  We honour their memory, and remember that we are not alone, that there is a cloud of witnesses in those who have gone before.  We treasure their wisdom and their memory.

I wrote this poem as I remembered a childhood visit to my great grandparents in South Wales.  I remember the sensation of going back in time, of encountering an entirely different age, it seemed to me.  I remembered their kindness, their gentle laughter, the way they switched between English and Welsh.

Recently I discovered something about my great grandfather that makes me immensely proud.  During the General Strike of 1926, he was arrested and imprisoned for leading out 800 miners in support of their colleages who were suffering terrible hardship.  He was a man of honour and principle, a man of deep faith.

There are many others who have gone before us, whose lives we may barely know.  Today, we remember those we do know, we remember them in the love of God.

 

SUNDAY TEATIME –  PEN-Y-GROES

I remember that room so clearly.
My last visit,
although I didn’t know, then.
The room was dark,
peaceful among voices.
Rich browns of paint and polish.
The black kettle over the fire.
The tick of a clock.
Two voices speaking in
two tongues of
times far back,
tunnel-dark under the earth.
The smell of coal.
The smell of baking,

The table spread.
A gold-brown velvet cloth
topped with creamy-white lace.
Best china – edged with
gold like an open Bible.  Quiet.
While through the window were
row after row of cabbages and leeks
and tomatoes, waiting in the green sun.
The henhouse was empty.
They used to scratch and cluck
they said, and smiled.
So much, so much is left behind.
This poem was first published in Poems to help you through the Week

 

 

Fen Meadow – June. The power of memory.

 

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As we draw closer to the end of an academic year, as children begin to think of doing things for the last time – the last time in this class, this school, with these people, I have been thinking of the poignancy of repeated things coming to an end.   Every day you do something, and then you don’t. In this case, it was the walk to school – now itself a memory.  We passed through a piece of common land within our market town.  It was the nearest place we could go to run, roll down hills, sledge if the snow was right.  Each day, if it is your time for walking through it,  you can see some change in the growth of the plants, hear the birdsong, notice the way the path dusts your shoes, or muddies them. Sometimes it felt as if we were part of the place, and certainly the place is part of me. Each time you walk a familiar path, you can bring the experience of the previous times with you most strongly, it seems. Memory can be vivid, and overlay your experience of the now, as if you are in two times at once.  I try to explore that strange, split-second sensation in this poem.

I have some photos of the Fen Meadow buttercups, and orchids, but none of the willow trees yet.  Dry weather is necessary for the mounds of seeds the poem describes, and that has been hard to find so far this summer!  If I can find a dry moment with my camera, I shall share the pictures with you.  For now, I hope the poem helps you “see” the beauty of the place.

I hope you enjoy.

 

FEN MEADOW  – JUNE

We have been here so many times
before – this very spot – where
white clouds of seeds drift down
from willow trees, and fill our path.

You smile, and gather mounds of
whiteness – heaping the downy
seeds like warm snow.  What if
it stays till winter? You ask

And suddenly green grass
vanishes in a blaze of white
ice: bare trees, a low sun.
Our screams and laughter are

muffled by scarves as the old sledge
tips – I run my fingers over the scar
we left on the bark – and we shiver
in the warm sun. The very spot.

The breeze trembles again in full
leaves, and all around us buttercups
shine, and dandelion stems shudder.
You pick the clocks and blow

till bedtime, counting the hours:
lunchtime, morning, soft evening.
Your breath floats high, and
hangs in the air. Waiting