Wednesday 31 December 2008

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

A chilly New Year's Eve at the National Botanic Garden of Wales

Happy New Year!

I am hoping that Mistlethrush will confirm my identification of a little dabchick in the foreground. We felt so sorry for the ducks. (Click on the photo to enlarge).

Monday 22 December 2008

Christmas Greetings!

Composite 'card': the chapel at Bethlehem near Llandeilo, Wales, UK. (Click to enlarge).

For many years it was possible to have Christmas mail franked with a Bethlehem postmark at the local Post Office.

the star shines
cattle call
a baby cries

© Caroline Gill 2008

Friday 19 December 2008

Who's dreaming of a white [stoat] Christmas?

Right: Mount Grace Priory, Yorkshire
(in the care of English Heritage)

Top: through the arch
Lower left: even the pheasants are looking for stoat holes ... or rabbits! (click on photo to enlarge)
Lower right: are there any stoat prints in the mud?

'Slowly the moon takes her brush, and drips
midnight tips on two stoat-like tails.'

Last couplet of 'Mount Grace Priory: heads and tails'
© Caroline Gill 2008
Poem published in 'Tips' (ed. Wendy Webb)
Issue 68 (September/October 2008).

Early birds listening to the 'Today Programme' on the BBC before 7am this morning will have heard the report about the resident stoat population at Mount Grace. The stoats are predicting a cold winter: they have turned white for Christmas!

Read the full story in the Darlington and Stockton Times.

Thursday 18 December 2008

Calling Fair-trade chocoholics ...

The deadline for the Divine chocolate/Christian Aid poetry competition is approaching fast ...

The President, the Poet and the Performers

Poet, Elizabeth Alexander is to read at the inauguration ceremony of President Obama, who was seen recently with a copy of Walcott's Collected Poems.

P.S. Just for those who can't resist a catchy tune: There's no one as Irish as Barack Obama. The Corrigan Brothers (aka Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys) starred on the Late Late Show on Irish TV on 7 November 2008. Irish American Democrats have invited the band to play at the inauguration party on 19 January 2009. The Guardian ran a feature on Obama's Irish lineage back in 2007.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Barlow's birds

A Christmas stocking idea!

Snapshot Press publish an annual Haiku calendar. If you would like to order one before Christmas, there are only two more days to go!

Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku can also be ordered from Snapshot Press. The book was written and compiled by John Barlow and Matthew Paul. Sean Gray was responsible for the illustrations and Stephen Moss wrote the foreword. Twitchers will find themselves ticking off 131 species if they hurry to enjoy a Haiku breath of fresh air.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Red alert: polar bears in at no.9

The WWF has issued a list today of its 9 most endangered species. The site has a 'Take action' box to encourage people like us to 'speak out for wildlife and wild places' worldwide. I guess this means that those of us who write should 'speak' with our keyboards and pens! How many of the animals in the danger list can you name correctly?

Congratulations, Wendy!

Wendy (left) and Caroline outside the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea
Summer 2008

Well done, Wendy!

Wendy Webb, editor of 'Tips', the magazine of Norfolk Poets and Writers, has won a 2008 '1st in Class' Writers' Grand Circle Rosette award from the Writers' Grand Circle (WGC) for her small press magazine. The WGC is an organization that 'developed from a successful writers' group formed in 1971.'

Monday 15 December 2008

Birds and Bierds

The rule of three?

I am always interested to find new bird poems, and today I came across a review by David Barber (poetry editor of The Atlantic) of Flight: New & Selected Poems by Linda Bierds. I thought Barber raised some interesting points about the constantly changing relationship between science and the arts. I particularly noted the mention of the famous Keats and Newton discourse on rainbows, the reference to Poe on 'vultures' and the CP Snow allusion.

I also liked the red cardinal on the tree in the picture accompanying the review: it reminded me of one of the pictures in my childhood set of pelmonism cards and of how hopeless I always was at that game!

Saturday 13 December 2008

I remember, I remember ...

Left: 'Brek-ke-ke-kex-koax-koax' (the frog chorus in The Frogs, Book X, Aristophanes - in translation).

Daisy Goodwin and Jeremy Paxman are joining forces with fellow poetry aficionados, under the aegis of the BBC, to encourage teachers in schools to breathe new life into the practice (N.B. I avoid the word 'discipline') of learning favourite poems by heart (N.B. I prefer to avoid the word 'rote').

The feature (livelink above, The Daily Telegraph, 16 Nov 2008) set me thinking about my early - and later - school experiences. Alas, I am not renowned for my memory in an 'examination' kind of way; but I have tried to think of a mixed bag of poetic pieces that I learned (often only in part) at school. All these have travelled with me over the years, bringing a great sense of pleasure and satisfaction.

After 'Incey Wincey Spider', the first poem (or song) that I remember learning in its - albeit short - entirety at school was 'Four ducks on a pond' by William Allingham. Sections, and sometimes quite small sections, from the following literary pieces followed. They have been treasures in 'my memory bag' ever since. They are presented in a rough chronological order of learning, rather than in order of preference.
  1. The Lady of Shalott
  2. Flannan Isle
  3. The Frogs Aristophanes (in translation ...)
  4. Macbeth
  5. Antigone by Sophocles (in translation ...)
I have two questions in mind:
  1. What poetic pieces will our school leavers of today - or tomorrow - take with them?
  2. What poetic pieces travel with you from your school days?
A final thought: it must be quite hard (I would imagine) for today's youngsters to commit pieces of contemporary literature to memory, since we now inhabit a world in which rhyme, alliteration and 'even scansion' are not as popular in poetry as they once were.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

The President reads Walcott

'... sinuous swans ...'
Derek Walcott, Omeros XXXVIII, III

I had the privilege of hearing St Lucian and Nobel poet Derek Walcott at the Guardian Hay Festival the summer before last; and was captivated by his outlook on the world, and particularly by his book, Omeros which I bought in The [excellent!] Poetry Bookshop in Hay.

Here in the UK rumours currently abound in the press regarding the identity of the Poet Laureate Designate. Poetry, it seems, is equally alive and well on the opposite side of the Atlantic. I am grateful to the Poets who Blog site for pointing me in the direction of an article on CityFile about US President Obama reading Walcott's Collected Poems - thereby presumably encouraging others in the support of poetry.

I have already mentioned my early love of the tales and travels of the Greek hero, Odysseus. Omeros as the name implies, is another epic poem about the web of human existence exemplified in sea travel and culture: indeed it is - in my humble opinion - a singularly fascinating 'take' on Homer's Odyssey. It is more than that: it is a new and unique work in its own right (though I use the word 'new' advisedly as the book was first published in 1990!). The poem makes use of the engaging Terza Rima form of chiming verse, a form used effectively by Dante.

My copy from Hay came for good measure with a news cutting inside the cover: 'Hustling Homer' by Oliver Taplin, who was reviewing a production of 'The Odyssey' (Walcott style) at The Other Place in Stratford. The production was, apparently and appropriately, 'a cyclopean feat of poetry'!

Further information

Wednesday 19 November 2008

I remember, I remember ...

Left: 'Brek-ke-ke-kex-koax-koax' (the frog chorus in The Frogs, Book X, Aristophanes - in translation).

Daisy Goodwin and Jeremy Paxman are joining forces with fellow poetry aficionados, under the aegis of the BBC, to encourage teachers in schools to breathe new life into the practice (N.B. I avoid the word 'discipline') of learning favourite poems by heart (N.B. I prefer to avoid the word 'rote').

The feature (livelink above) set me thinking about my early - and later - school experiences. Alas, I am not renowned for my memory in an 'examination' kind of way; but I have tried to think of a mixed bag of poetic pieces that I learned (often only in part) at school. All these have travelled with me over the years, bringing a great sense of pleasure and satisfaction.

After 'Incey Wincey Spider', the first poem (or song) that I remember learning in its entirety at school was 'Four ducks on a pond' by William Allingham. Sections - and sometimes quite small sections - from the following literary pieces followed, and have been treasures in 'my memory bag' ever since. They are presented in a rough chronological order of learning rather than in order of preference.
  1. The Lady of Shalott
  2. Flannan Isle
  3. The Frogs Aristophanes (in translation ...)
  4. Macbeth
  5. Antigone by Sophocles (in translation ...)
I have two questions in mind:
  1. What poetic pieces will today's - or tomorrow's - school leavers take with them?
  2. What poetic pieces travel with you from your school days?
A final thought: it must be quite hard (I should have thought) for today's youngsters to commit pieces of contemporary literature to memory, since we now inhabit a world in which rhyme, alliteration and even scansion are not as popular in poetry as they once were.

Further Reading:

Friday 12 September 2008

Todd Swift on the friendship between poets

Right: Nether Stowey, The Ancient Mariner Pub (click to enlarge)

One tends to think of poets as lonely souls who wander cloud-like through life's ethereal by-ways. Swift, however, reminds us of the very real and beneficial friendships that have bolstered so much of our literary heritage. We think of the poetically symbiotic relationships between Keats and Shelley, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Edward Thomas and Robert Frost - to name but three.

Swift's point in writing was, I feel, to explore the nature of poetic relationships in these days of nepotism in the world of publication. Politics aside, I know that I have benefited greatly from the tutelage of others and from the community of 'poets who blog'. I thought Swift's post was a good reminder of the help that we can be to one another as we pursue our passion to write.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

When a (bucket and) spade is not a spade

Left: snow white on pecan pie or Little Egret in the Loughor Estuary?

Unlike fellow blogger and poet, Mistlethrush, home decorating is definitely not my scene. That's not to say, however, that I take no interest in material swatches or paint cards. In the course of my craft class work, I have greatly enjoyed looking at and developing colour schemes for particular projects. I was intrigued, therefore, by an article by Lori Borgman in The News & Observer on the 'poetry' of the extraordinary plethora of names for different shades of paint.

Modern poets try to restrict their use of adjectives for the sake of strength, punch and clarity. Are there times, I wonder, when names like those in the feature (e.g. Southern Pecan Pie, Sand Between Your Toes and Peach Slush, to name but three) are simply too irresistible to pass over?

In a recent draft of a poem as part of a Poetry Prompt Month for Sol Magazine, I found myself struggling to find a suitably dull alternative for the word 'beige'. Some colour names definitely seem to suit their respective shades, rather in the way that there can sometimes be an uncanny resemblance between owners and their pets. I should know about these things: many years ago, my Shetland Sheepdog won a green rosette in an exemption dog show class for coming third in the contest for 'pets who look most like their owners'!

Friday 5 September 2008

Poetry Form Challenge (1) Cornish Sonnet

The sonnet, as I understand, became a part of the poetry scene in English under the influence of Thomas Wyatt in the early 16th century.

I came across the Cornish Sonnet for the first time today, and am in the process of trying out the form. Can anyone tell me anything about 'early' Cornish sonnets?

The Cornish Sonnet is purported to be a hybrid of English and Arab writing that found its form in the eighteenth century. It would be good to be able to back this statement up with some evidence!

The rhyme scheme has two alternative patterns:

A, b, a, c, b, c - D, e, d, f, e, f - A, D

where capitals stand for lines that will be repeated in the closing couplet, and where other repeated letters stand for lines that share an end-rhyme e.g. 'e' and 'e' or 'A' and 'a'. The dashes represent the breaks in the flow of the text.


a, b, a, c, b, C - d, e, d, f, e, F - C, F.

Blogspotting (2): Galumphing

Left: a lamp in the Cathedral Close at St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK. The reflection makes me think of Narnia and Mr Tumnus.

Galumphing: the title alone is a curious one, and it comes from The Jabberwocky poem by Lewis Carroll. It is the 'other' Lewis (C.S. Lewis), however, who features most prominently in this blog, along with a few others such as Tolkien, Homer and Shakespeare!

The blog belongs to Jeremy W. Johnston, a teacher of English and Classical Studies (two of the three subjects I trained to teach as part of my Exeter PGCE back in the 1980s).

On the subject of Tolkien, you might like to take a look at the blog entry for 18 August, entitled The Annotated Hobbit. I was particularly drawn to the words of Horace on the subject of reading and re-reading. If I really like a book, I like to read and re-read it. Do you?

Johnston highlights an interesting point about the etymology of Bilbo's name. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll were all masters when it came to making up names for their characters. How often do we attempt to create new words? In my craft class last week, I tried to think of a term I could use to describe my new technique of turning a photograph into an abstract greeting card design. I am not quite there yet ...

Johnston mentions Homer, and I was reminded of how much I fell in love with the tale of Odysseus as a result of a child's version of The Odyssey. Perhaps that was why I went on to read Classical Studies for my degree. You might be interested to read an article by about the universality of the Homeric themes in the Chronicle Herald.

Thursday 4 September 2008

Competition with a twist ... of lobelia

I came across a curious Poetry Nottingham competition notice on the polyolbion blog. I have seen some strange poetry contests in my time ... and it isn't even April 1st. I might just be tempted to have a go.

Riddles in the Sand (ii)

Left: Curious 'statues' in the sand at Newgale, Pembrokeshire, August 2008.
(Click on photo to enlarge: can you spot the mummy?)

We have been watching Dan Snow's version of Hadrian's life on BBC2. It has been a whirlwind of travel from Hadrian's Wall to North Africa, and from Egypt to Jerusalem.

On the subject of Ozymandias again, I was particularly pleased to see the Colossus (or colossi) of Memnon in the desert in Egyptian Thebes, and to see the graffiti (a mere 2000 years old) of four Greek epigrams in the Aeolic dialect by Julia Balbilla, incised on the left leg of one of the statues (some 3000 years old). Julia Balbilla accompanied the emperor and his wife, Sabina, as they travelled in Egypt in AD130. They listened to the colossal 'singing' statues at dawn on 19 and 20 November, in the hope that they would hear the voice of Memnon from the stone as it expanded under the heat of the rising sun. The Colossus was, in fact, not Memnon (son of the Greek Eos or 'Dawn') but Amenhotep III.

Heat & Ice, Rhyme & Reason

I am great admirer of Tony Harrison's craft, and the way in which he draws on aspects of the classical world. I watched his fiery film on 'Prometheus' some years ago, and see that Harrison has now turned his thoughts to the ice-cold footsteps of polar explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, in his new verse-play 'Fram'.

The critics, it seems, are not of one mind. There are those, according to The Telegraph, who feel that they prefer prose rather than poetry on stage. Rita Yeaman, on the other hand, in her comment on the feature in The Times feels that this is 'theatre at its best.'

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Blogging at Bay Lit: Shock of the New

I can hardly believe that I began this blog back in May. It has been a fascinating journey of discovery so far, on account of the people - fellow poets and others - I have met along the way. I have become very interested in other literary blogs and in the ways in which fellow bloggers choose to showcase events, to display images and to incorporate podcasts, special effects etc.

I am something of a technophobe: it takes me a long time to grasp procedures. I tell myself that it is because I am left handed and like to think 'out of the box'.

I had a mailing from academi at the weekend, and noticed that Yemisi Blake, an 'Emerging Artist in Residence' at the Southbank Centre in London is due to lead a workshop on 'The Creative Art of Blogging' as part of the Cardiff Bay Lit Festival in October. I hope to pick up some new ideas and to have my 'blogging vision' stretched!

Photo: the Millennium Centre, Cardiff taken by David Gill

Plein Air Poetry

Poets in the Atascadero region of the USA have collaborated to produce a book called 'Poems for Endangered Places'. The seven participating poets set out like their predecessors, the plein air painters, to 'capture' the landscape in its fragile setting.

I think this is a terrific idea, and I wondered whether others have attempted similar feats in the name of raising awareness of conservation issues and of celebrating the landscape as an entity in its own right, rather than merely as a backdrop for our human endeavours.

P.S. The Guardian Blog had a good feature on mountains and the muse by Ben Myers.

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Riddles in the Sand

I stumbled across this Sphinx in the sand at Newgale in Pembrokeshire some days ago. There was also a rather fine pyramid. Both works of art were about to fall victim to the sea as it raced up the beach.

I couldn't help thinking of Ozymandias ...

I was also curious to discover how many poems I could call to mind concerning both the sphinx of Egypt and the sphinx of Oedipus and Theban mythology.

Oscar Wilde, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Sophocles come immediately to mind.

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Brain Fungus?

I took this photograph in a bowl in the Preseli landscape some days ago, when we were having a picnic by a stream. I have tried to identify the orange mass, and it seems to me that it may be tremella mesenterica or yellow brain fungus. If you feel you want a closer look, click on the image to enlarge! If you can confirm the identification, I would be interested to hear.

Kelly Chadwick is in the latter stages of editing a poetry anthology on fungi, called Decomposition. The aim of this intriguing anthology is to examine 'elements of what it means to be human through fungi-related poetry.'

Blogspotting (1)

I came across Professor David Morley's blog today. Having taken part in a recent outdoor community arts project, I was fascinated to read about Professor Morley's open-air poetry commissions. I was particularly interested in his Strid Wood and Bard Box project.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Winners in Wales

The results of the Welsh Poetry Competition 2008 are out. You can read th winning poems if you follow the link.

Saturday 23 August 2008


We visited the Crannog on Llangorse Lake. You may remember it from the Time Team programme. You can watch a clip about the site on S4C.

Wednesday 20 August 2008


The site, Poets wear Prada, is inviting submissions (and will be, on 'through October') on the theme of bugs. You can also join the Poets wear Prada Facebook group.

Give it some welly!

Time for a nap

Farmers' Weekly is holding a poetry competition to celebrate National Welly Week, 11-18 October. The closing date for your 'Ode to a Welly' is 1 October 2008. I am advised that there is no fee to enter. The competition is run in conjunction with RABI (the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution).

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Costa competitors

It seems that we live in a world in which characters like Noddy triumph over Othello and Hamlet. The poll at the Costa Book Awards has raised some eyebrows, but one is left wondering whether the results for the nation's favourite authors would have been totally different if a larger section of the population had been asked to cast a vote.

Monday 18 August 2008

Blue is the colour

On our way back from a few days in Berea, Pembrokeshire, we decided to drive across the Preseli landscape to see the bluestones in their natural environment.

In the course of our meanderings in the hill country, we came across this plaque (left), nailed to a stone memorial in Mynachlogddu. The plaque was on the far side of the stone pillar in the lower photograph. Waldo Williams was a Welsh language Romantic poet.

We were particularly interested in the view from the memorial of Carn Menyn or 'The Cairn of Butter' (Carnmenyn on OS map) and Carn Meini (SA66 7RY).

This is real Stonehenge bluestone territory. Current Archaeology published what some may view as a controversial article, Message in the Stones, about the purpose of Stonehenge.

The air was very pure, and there were many interesting and unusual lichens on the stones. We watched a kestrel as we sat beside a stream (or series of mini-rapids, thanks to the exceptional August rainfall). It was a most evocative place.

Poetry: a panacea?

Some days ago I blogged about The Island by Victoria Hislop, and mentioned the fact that the story revolves around leprosy. I highlighted the plight of those affected by the disease, and mentioned the special shoes supplied by The Leprosy Mission (TLM) for those with ulcerated feet.

As someone who regularly requires the services of UK NHS hospital orthotists (and as someone who enjoys poetry), I was very moved by a report in the Worthing Herald about the father of a wounded son in Zimbabwe, an orthotist in the UK, and a poem that crossed continents by telephone.

Cacoethes scribendi

This seems a site to keep in mind. There is a forum and poetry competition. I have not been able to trace its (geographical) origin, but one of the links was to Carole Baldock's kudos site.

Saturday 16 August 2008

Creative Carers, our unsung heroes

Earlier today I came across a call for poems by carers about their role for an anthology. In a strange serendipitous way, I have just read this heart-warming story from Harrow.

Saturday 9 August 2008

Home of the modern Olympics

In two recent postings, I mentioned Olympia and the ancient Olympic Games. The September 2008 issue of House & Garden has a feature by Celia Fox entitled Cultural Marathon, about the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, the 'last - and first' city (or should that be polis?) of the modern games. Pieces of original sculpture sit alongside casts of the Elgin Marbles.

Poetry: the art and craft of writing

Right: the Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage on the tiny island of Eilean Bàn, under the Skye Bridge, where Gavin Maxwell lived and wrote.

Like Sylvia Bardell, I enjoy poems about poetry, but I also recognize that with such masterpieces in mind as In my craft or sullen art by Dylan Thomas, it can be hard to write on this subject with an original and authoritative voice.

It would be interesting to know whether most of us love these 'poetry poems' or whether we would pass over them for others. Is it, perhaps, all down to which individual poems happen to speak to us, regardless of subject? I know Mary Biddinger, for one, is not keen on poems about poems.

I love to visit places associated with writers, and to see their desks and pens. Many modern writers scribble notes on till receipts; but how many of us still prefer to write our drafts in long-hand, thereby allowing our thoughts to flow from brain to arm to hand to paper - without interruption? I use notebooks (and till receipts) and a tiny dictaphone; but when it comes to writing a first draft, I love to sit at my computer. I may not watch for mermaids (which is what the Reverend R.S. Hawker of Morwenstow reputedly did on occasions when there were no shipwrecks); but I love to peer over my screen and to know that the sea is 'out there', with rhythms of its own.

Incidentally and in connection with Eilean Bàn, we remember Maxwell as a prose writer; but his title, Ring of Bright Water originated as a string of words in a poem, The Marriage of Psyche, by Kathleen Raine.

P.S. On the subject of writers' rooms (see comment by Susan Richardson below), how about a poem about a writer's drawer?

Friday 8 August 2008

Global Poetry Prompt Appreciation Day

It's official: thanks to the folk at the word cage, we can all join in with their prompts and festivities.

The poem to the left is a first draft, taken from one of the prompts given by Mary Biddinger. The given words were: rubric, furrow, torch, balm and orchid.

The text will enlarge if you click on it.

P.S. August 15: I have just left a link to this poem on the 'Pen-me-a-poem' site for the Olympic games prompt.

Thursday 7 August 2008

Norfolk Poets & Writers: Anthology 2008

Left: Poet and Publisher, Wendy Webb
Right: Caroline Gill, 'summer' 2008

Wendy Webb's latest anthology has a colour photograph of the Suffolk village of Lavenham on the cover. The first poem inside is an ekphrastic one, 'Old Sailor's Tale' by Pamela Trudie Hodge, who drew her inspiration from 'The Depths of the Sea' (1886) by Edward Burne-Jones.

The anthology contains more well known names from the small press scene: Bernard Jackson, Norman Bissett, Joan Sheridan Smith, Claire Knight and Brigid Simpson, to name but a few.

There are also a number of poems from invited guests, including Alison Chisholm, Sophie Hannah and Geoff Stevens.

Wendy (and members of her family) met me for coffee at the Dylan Thomas Centre some days ago. In view of our chosen rendez-vous, it seems appropriate to mention the poem, 'Fadeless Light', chosen by Wendy for the anthology as a tribute to Margaret Munro Gibson. This poem (by MMG) was originally published in an earlier edition of Wendy's TIPS: it pays homage to Dylan's villanelle, 'Do not go gentle into that good night'.

I have subscribed to TIPS for some years now. The venture began as a writers' group for those who found it easier, for whatever reason, to belong to a postal group. Wendy still offers the chance to belong to a community of writers. She runs competitions and has devised several successful poetry forms including Magi poems, Echotains and Davidians.

Of bowls and bats

The May/June 2008 issue of Archaeology ran a fascinating feature on a 'Townsend's long-eared bat' bowl (c.1050-1150 AD) in its Artifact column. The bowl was found in the Cameron Creek area of New Mexico in the Mimbres River basin.

Bats feature in literature (Shakespeare ...) and art (Goya ...), but it would be interesting to discover other bat representations on ancient pottery.

(aka Thomas Aleto),
Professor of Anthropology at St. Louis, Missouri has posted a fine Mayan bat plate on flickr, and also a Zapotec bat bowl from the Saint Louis Art Museum.

The clay face of a bat was found at Taíno, a pre-Columbian ceremonial site in Puerto Rico. Source: an article by Mike Toner in Archaeology, Volume 61 Number 2, March/April 2008.

The Met has a pair of gold bat-nosed pendants. Read more about bat representations in the Met timeline (& here for bat representations in the Panama region c.700).

I have already mentioned on my Bookshelf (bottom right) how much I like the poetry anthology On a Bat's Wing, edited by Michael Rosen and published by Five Leaves Poetry.

Ekphrasis - in reverse

I made an earlier post about ekphrasis, thinking in terms of poems inspired by art. Tim Murdoch has posted an interesting piece on his blog, The Truth about Lies, on art arising out of poems. I particularly like the definition of painting and poetry by Simonides of Kos.

  • Another take on ekphrasis: I came across an intriguing site Photo Link Love, which matches photographs with poetry.

From David Thomas
Caroline. Hi. Thanks for stopping by. You all have got me thinking. All the poetry I have written comes from photos I have taken. But the notion of maybe writing poems or even some short fantasy prose work based on a famous work of art.. Hmm. That might be an interesting exercise. [Davidnotes].

National Poetry Prompt Appreciation Day: tomorrow!

See The Word Cage. How do you plan to celebrate the day?

It seems to me that there is no reason why poets in Olin Hall should have all the fun. The ripples have already reached Wales, UK - so perhaps this can be the Global PPAD!

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Jeremy Fisher or Toad of Toad Hall?

This fabulous frog (for I think it is a frog and not a toad) hopped up on to our backdoor step in a teeming shower of rain at 1pm. I told my husband that the amphibian was rather like a gherkin with a yellow stripe down its back. Imagine our excitement for a split second when Google seemed to come up with the ID of Natterjack Toad!

If anybody can help us to name this frog (i.e. to tell us what sort of frog is gracing our garden), we would be thrilled. He was about the size of an adult hand, if you think of the body as the palm and the legs as - pretty long - fingers! We do not have a pond, and our garden is high up and about 3 km from the coast. The photographs should enlarge if you click on them.

Dragonfly Nymph at Dinefwr

I had been admiring Bev Wigney's submission on the qaartsiluni 'Transformation' pages when I came across this creature on a bulrush stem. I may be biased (in terms of my narrow perception of good looks), but I have to say that Bev's creature would get my vote every time in a beauty contest!

'My' creature is a dragonfly nymph (I think, since dragonflies bypass the pupa stage, but please feel free to correct me - or to identify the species). It does not have wings yet, and will have crawled out of the pond, and up the stem in preparation for the time when it will burst out of its 'buttons' and become a fully fledged - and beautiful - dragonfly.

Read about dragonflies on

Of twites and twitchers

Taken at Rhossili on the Gower Peninsula

I am hoping that my friend, Mistlethrush, will cast her eye over this photo at some point (no rush!). The defintion is not good, but it would be great to know whether these birds are stonechats or linnets. One looks like a female stonechat and the other like a female linnet to me, and yet I think they are a male and female pair of 'something'. The photo should enlarge a bit if you click on it.

Lark Rise to ... Carnglas

Local residents in Swansea have been living through their own Lark Rise to Candleford experience since the announcement some months ago that the Carnglas Road Post Office was on the list of local branches that could be closed.

There is a spirit of great rejoicing today, as news has filtered through on the BBC that - thanks to the representations of local people - the Carnglas Road Post Office has been saved.

The tragedy is that 44 other branches in South and West Wales have not been spared.

The Island of Spinalonga

Left: Thalatta, thalatta

I do not watch much television, but I have been enjoying Francesco da Mosto's voyage through the Mediterranean, aboard the beautiful Black Swan. David Bellamy's surprise appearance added a great sense of je ne sais quoi to the programme on Corfu, and helped to bring us closer to the spirit of that other naturalist and conservationist, Gerald Durrell.

I am, however, particularly looking forward to the episode of Francesco's Mediterranean Voyage on BBC2 tomorrow night at 8pm, in which the intrepid Venetian visits the little island of Spinalonga, once a colony for those with leprosy.

I am about a third of the way through The Island by Victoria Hislop, and have formed 'my' picture of Spinalonga (from her narrative); so it will be interesting to see whether the 'real' island matches the one in my mind. As someone who writes poetry, I am always fascinated by the reception of art. The viewer or the reader brings so much to the painting or the poem.

I have enormous respect for the work of The Leprosy Mission. It is amazing to think that leprosy can be cured with modern medication. It is awful, though, to think that there are still many with the disease who lose sensation - and the vital warning signal of pain - in their lower limbs, and consequently develop ulcerous and infected wounds from accidents. The Leprosy Mission has developed special footwear to help these patients.

Postscript: I have just come across the ILEP site ('working for a world without leprosy'), which is well worth visiting. It comprises 14 non-governmental 'donor agencies', including TLM.

Monday 4 August 2008

Olympian Poetry?

Olympia, Greece: a Judas tree in the Palaestra, 1978
(I remember
what fun it was, all those years ago on my school trip,
crouching on the starting line in the stadium)

The Times investigates whether there would be a place for poetry in the modern Olympic Games. The Greeks included poetry and rhetoric: how could we (& should we) find a modern blend of word and action?

Friday 1 August 2008

Which poem will leap FORWARD?

The Forward Prize shortlist has been published in The Guardian.

Thursday 31 July 2008

Pigeon Post

Poetry on a pigeon: but what do the pigeons make of the Red Room Company's idea?

Peter Piper

It's official: alliteration is good for the brain! Information thanks to Newindpress - Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.

Small Stones (& Poetry Pebbles)

Fiona Robyn is collecting 'small stones'. Take a look and see if you can 'find' any.

Children in Alexandria, Louisiana at the Tree House Children's Museum are being asked to make 'poetry pebbles' ...

Wednesday 30 July 2008

Official ID: a burying beetle

I am very grateful to representatives of Wicken Fen and Buglife (The Invertebrate Conservation Trust) who have helped me to find out about this beetle. Sadly, perhaps, it is not the rare Crucifix Ground Beetle. It seems instead to be the Necrophorus vespilloides, a member of the Silphidae family or burying beetle.

Matt Shadlow of Buglife replied to me with the following message:

Dear Caroline

Unfortunately this is not a Crucifix beetle (Panagaeus cruxmajor).
There is a certain resemblance, but the photo is a much bigger species,
a type of burying beetle. While the Crucifix beetle (Panagaeus
cruxmajor) and its close relative Panagaeus bipustulatus (which is
commoner but still very rarely encountered) are predators of small
insects or snails, the beetle you have seen is associated with dead
animals, most commonly mice. A male and female burying beetle will meet
up at a carcass and form a bond, they then defend the mouse from rivals
as they dig out the soil form underneath the animal so that it sinks
underground. At the same time the beetles allies the little mites that
they carry around jump off and eat any fly eggs that have been laid on
the body. Once it is underground the beetles create a chamber on top of
the mouse and the female lays her eggs. When the larvae hatch out they
sit in a 'nest' and beg for food. The male and female beetles help
their young by partially digesting the mouse and feeding it to their
offspring. Eventually the larvae pupate and the parents leave.
These are four species of burying beetle (Nicrophorus spp.) with colour
patterns like this and we would need to see the colour of the antennae
and the shape of the legs to know which it is.

You are not the first person to get excited by potentially finding the
Crucifix beetle.

I hope this is useful, if you would like to support our work conserving
populations of endangered invertebrates please go to

Matt Shardlow

Buglife - The Invertebrate Conservation Trust
170A Park Road
Peterborough PE1 2UF

01733 201210
079 21 700151
Conserving the small things that run the world.

Matt thought I would be interested to hear about Darwin's encounter with a TRUE Crucifix Ground Beetle in 1846. You can read the 'unsavoury' account in Letter 109 on the Darwin Correspondence Project site.

STOP PRESS: a message from Sean McHugh, Communications Officer of Wales Biodiversity Partnership (published here with his permission):


Thank you for your recent email. I submitted the details to two experts
and here is their conclusion:

'I believe it is a sexton beetle, Nicrophorus humator, similar markings
to the Crucifix ground beetle Panagaeus crux-major, but the latter is a
saltmarsh/fen specialist, only known in Wales from either side of the
Burry Inlet, and not recorded on the Gower side since 1912'.

'Sexton Beetle. Although the elytra markings are similar there is also a
white stripe on the thorax (the thorax is also a different shape) and
there's a dead mouse there'.

A key observation is the dead mouse; Nicrophorus humator lays eggs
beside corpses of small mammals and birds which she buries.

However, it's a great field observation & we need more insect
observations to be reported. Take a look at the Local record Centre
sites, for the Swansea area it is covered by Sewbrec
( where you can submit online records and
find out more about recording & training. Also, take a look at our
website ( to see how you can become
involved in Welsh Wildlife.



Sean McHugh
WBP Communications Officer
Wales Biodiversity Partnership
c/o Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales, Fountain Road, Tondu, Bridgend, CF32 0EH

So the picture has changed, and I can no longer say that I discovered a Crucifix Ground Beetle, but at least I now know more about it. Incidentally, I thought the name 'burying beetle' rang a bell from somewhere. Those who know me will be familiar with my passion for 'things Cornish'. It suddenly dawned on me that there is a delightful book, set in St Ives, called 'The Burying Beetle'. My posting has come full circle - and has rotated around to literature once more!

Burying Beetle sites:
Postscript: on the subject of burying creatures, I have just read the earthworm poem as part of the project on 'animal mask poems' at the Wild Rose Reader blog ...

Tuesday 29 July 2008

from the field book

Right: Chough in Pembrokeshire (taken with a zoom lens).
Copyright Caroline Gill 2008

How many of you enjoy poems about birds? For some of us, our acquaintance with birds in poetry began with Edward Lear's splendid, if distinctly unconventional, owl in the pea-green boat. More recently I have fallen in love with some of the poems by Edward Thomas: his owl poem is particularly poignant.

If like me, you enjoy the flutter of feathers as you turn the pages of a poetry volume, I would thoroughly recommend from the field book by Carol Thistlethwaite. The author speaks with authority when she writes about the 'slender hips' of the water rail and the 'straw-bent legs' of the avocet, for Carol has worked as a field teacher for the RSPB at the Ribble Discovery Centre.

from the field book is crammed, end to end, with the jizz on birds. Meadow pipits are to be found alongside the red-legged partridge, and pied wagtails perch opposite the wren. There are occasional illustrations: I particularly like the Common Tern, with its simplicity of line. This bird pops up again on the cover, but you will need to look carefully to spot it!

snipe is a concrete poem: it literally covers the page. black-headed gulls, another concrete poem, is playful in tone. Poems of all shapes and sizes flit across the pages and somehow manage to fit between the covers of this delightful volume.

The final poems encompass the theme of darkness: we encounter the striking image in Barn Owl of the 'phantom with the weight of life hooked in its claws'. This creature could hardly bear less resemblance to his benign cousin, the 'elegant fowl', who sang to his 'small guitar'!

If you would like to experience the jizz for yourself, you might like to buy the book!

On the nature of poetry ... and poetry huts (& sheds)

Definitions of poetry intrigue me. As soon as poetry is pinned down, it has a habit of slithering its way out of its straitjacket, or so it seems to me. I have decided that it would be revealing to blog links to articles that include some of these definitions. So here goes:
  1. Edward Arlington Robinson
  2. Carl Sandberg
  3. Mark Twain
  • I rather like Scott Naugle's poetry definition (or observation) in The Sun Herald.
  • I also like the Reverend Gideon Cecil's description in his letter about Martin Carter, National Poet of Guyana: 'One of the delights of Carter’s poetry is its rendering of profound philosophical thoughts locked in magnificent imagery.' From Letter to the Editor in the Stabrook News. Tues 5 Aug 2008.
  • There are some good 'poetry definition' nuggets in this piece of advice for poets in Africa from Anis Haffar. The writer refers to Albert Camus, the Nobel laureate, reminding us that we are “obliged to understand rather than to judge”.
  • Does poetry matter?
P.P.S. We often thinks of monks scribbling away in hermit cells, but poets like reclusive places, too. Here are some fascinating writing places ...

Animated Poetry

I read an article by Nigel Kendall in the Times Online, and went to the link at the end of it. See what you make of Ana Marie Uribe's 'anipoems' (aka animated poems) ...

What would the Reverend R.S. Hawker have made of these mermaids?

Monday 28 July 2008

A Crucifix Ground Beetle?

Photograph: Copyright David Gill 2008
(click photo to enlarge)

My husband, David, and I were out walking along a footpath in a wood near the Swansea Valley in South Wales, UK on a sunny Saturday afternoon, 26 August 2008 at about 4pm, when we came across this beetle. The beetle was 2-3 metres from the river bank, and was moving about among the dead leaves at the base of a tree. There were very small black insects scuttling about in the vicinity (and the photograph seems to show a dead mouse, which we had not noticed).

I would love to identify the beetle, and would be grateful for any expert assistance here: do drop me a post on the blog if you can help with the identification. When and where, I wonder, was the most recent sighting in Wales?

I looked on Google Images, and began to wonder whether it could be a Crucifix Ground Beetle. I gather that these have been found at Pembrey, South Wales, in the past; but that they are rare. I also looked on the excellent ARKive site.

See also:
(I apologise if this post has changed very slightly: I lost my original text while I was posting comments!).

For wildlife in Wales, see Wales Biodiversdity Partrnership.
For insects, see BugLife.
Jul 27 (2 days ago)

Wood Mouse has left a new comment on your post "A Crucifix Ground Beetle?":

Hi while I am not an expert, that sure does look like one to me. Also add to the visual record, your description of the habitat sounds right too. Not that there is that much known about the beetle, no one knows what its habitat requirements are but these are the same conditions that the National Trust Entomologist found for the population in Wicken Fen and are the same conditions here in Chopwell Wood.

It is likely that there are other populations out there, they dont think they are lost as they know where they are, its the Entomologists that have lost them.

Well personally I think its fantastic news and well done you for taking the time to look it up.

National Biodiversity Network Gateway website feedback (2 hours ago)


Thank you for your sighting and the accompanying information. I have
forwarded it to one of my colleagues who happens to be a beetle specialist.
We will get back to you as soon as possible.


Sent: 26 July 2008 23:16
Hi Caroline,
I've posted the link on Chorley & District Natural History Society's web
page. So hopefully they'll ID the beetle. Mistlethrush (from the field book).