Wednesday 25 March 2009

Beautiful Birds(3): RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 30 results

The RSPB has published its results from the 30th annual Big Garden Birdwatch. The main surprise is that the Long-Tailed Tit has made it to the Top Ten for the first time in the survey's history.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Creative Corner (3): Seth's Bundle Project

Top: I thought rather than 'do nothing', I would have a go at the craft of bundle-making.
Middle: I gathered a few 'lost treasures' together.
Bottom: My back garden bundle (in its subtle state of khaki camouflage?)

The Weaver of Grass told us about an art installation project being coordinated by Seth Apter. She encouraged me to have a go at creating my personal bundle as part of the project - so here it is! It does not look very impressive, but perhaps the artistic process was as important as the aesthetics of the finished result! You can read about the purpose of this project over at Seth's blog. It will be interesting to see how my bundle weathers, and whether it disintegrates in the process or gets blown away on the prevailing south-westerly wind.

We hear so much about 'footprints' these days, that I was keen to keep my bundle as eco-friendly as possible. The 'string' constitutes a couple of palm fronds. The mottled colouring is due to my 'dye' of diluted turmeric powder. It is the start of moulting season, so I included a little shed pet hair, inspired by Crafty Green Poet and her lovely (re)use of rabbit wool. The other bits and pieces - a snail shell, a block of wood, a twig, some lavender heads and bits of pruning etc. - came from my garden, with the exception of a few choice news cuttings. I thought it would be fun to 'banish' some negative or pet-hate words, so I cut out a few and wrapped them up, too. You will find the words 'statistics', 'a problem', 'risk' and 'diet' in my bundle! Oh, and the 'bark' of my bundle is the inside of a kitchen roll.

I look forward to seeing what happens next, both in terms of the weathering process and in terms of Stage 2 of the project. How long will you keep us waiting, Seth?

Saturday 21 March 2009

Wonderful Words (3): Banned Words!

Who likes jargon? Take a look at this piece on the BBC site about 200 pet-hate words that council members are being told to avoid. The word list is on the right of the BBC page. Do take a look. You could then follow the link to nominate your own pet-hate words, and try your hand at the jargon quiz! Perhaps you could tell yesterday's story (see post) in jargonese!

Friday 20 March 2009

Calendar Corner (2): World Story Telling Day

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin: once upon a time ...
Yes, today is apparently the day: what story will you tell?

Creature Feature (4): Otters under threat from eco-development

This seems a strange and contradictory scenario. You can read this story from Scarborough through the eyes of a concerned fifteen year old.

A bit closer to home, and on a more positive note, there is good news for a section of the All Wales Coastal Path.

Thursday 19 March 2009

Beautiful Birds(2): Wild Birds on our Farms

The Telegraph has a feature on the ecology of wild birds on farmland: Farmlife is for the Birds.

Poetic People (5): Seamus Heaney

The Guardian announced yesterday that Seamus Heaney has won the £40,000 David Cohen Prize for Literature. You can read about the two poems he chose to read as representative of his oevre.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Poetic People (4): Brian Turner

'My subject is ... the pity of War'
Wilfred Owen

I enjoy the challenge presented by unusual writing opportunities, and today I joined a stimulating workshop led by Brian Turner. Brian has served abroad with the US forces, and his poetry book, Here, Bullet (Bloodaxe 2007) was awarded the Beatrice Hawley Award.

I disregarded war poetry for many years, preferring environmental, topographical and historical themes, until I discovered the craft of Owen and the way in which Edward Thomas used his experiences of the natural world (e.g. his encounter with an owl) as a springboard for speaking about conflict. Today's fascinating workshop was my first encounter with a contemporary war poet. I have come away with a notebook full of poetry ideas on topics as diverse as the sea and the Antipodes. Thank you, Brian.

Poetic People (3): Derek Walcott

Nobel poet from St Lucia, Derek Walcott, is now on the list of those being considered for the Poetry Professorship at Oxford University.

Creature Feature (3): Barry, the giant worm ...

... and you can read about his devastating antics here.

Sunday 15 March 2009

Beautiful Birds(1): Tree Creeper and Woodpecker

There were so many welcome signs of Spring this weekend after the long hard winter. The celandines were out in the banks, there were bumblebees on the crocuses, clumps of primrose in the hedge and green shoots that will eventually produce bluebells. It was lovely to watch the tree creeper going about its business at Aberglasney, home of John Dyer, 'Bard of the Fleece'. The Great Spotted Woodpecker was joining a band of chaffinches for a snack at Dryslwyn Castle.

Thursday 12 March 2009

Creature Feature (2): Enormous Eyes

Above: shells, skates' eggs and cuttlefish (composite picture courtesy of Photoshop!)
Below: Llansteffan Castle, through the mist

I was on the beach at Llansteffan last Saturday, doing a spot of 'beach-combing'. I did not collect any of the items I came across, but it was good to look along the tidelines and to see what I could see. I was amazed at the colours - blue, black, pink, white, silver, orange and grey - of the shells. I also found a few clusters of skates' eggs and a couple of pieces of cuttlefish in among the pieces of seaweed, fishing net and driftwood. Cuttlefish are cephalopods, and as such, close relatives of the squid. A giant squid was found recently: its record-breaking eyes were almost as long as a 30cm ruler! My favourite cephalopod poem is The Paper Nautilus by Marianne Moore. You can read a commentary (or several) here. I love the imagery of the Pentelic marble sculptures of the white horses on the Parthenon.

Archaeological Avenues (1): Stunning Photography from Aberdeen

You can see the Finalists' Gallery of a recent photographic competition organised by the Department of Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen. I wish I had found this site sooner!

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Wonderful Words (2): Save the Words

'I wandered lonely as a cloud'
(words worth saving)

I have just 'adopted' this word through the Save the Words site. Will you rescue a word, too? If so, why not visit the Language: unpacked site to share it.

Magazine Moment (2): A Parcel from India

This interesting package dropped through my door a couple of days ago, all the way from India. It contained a copy of Metverse Muse, edited by Dr H. Tulsi. The March issue is, in fact, the Silver Jubilee number, and it is packed with poems, articles and reviews. The contributors come from places as diverse as Kazakhstan, Japan and Nigeria; India, Ireland and the USA; Australia, Russia and Brazil. I wonder if I am the only contributor from Wales. There is a feature on the Virelai: no prizes for guessing which form I may try next! You can read a reverse-Davidian by Dr Tulsi on PoemHunter. The Davidian form was invented by Wendy Webb of Norfolk Poets and Writers.

Surprise Subjects (4): Hay Fever

Florida poets in Tampa Bay are being invited to write Haiku about their seasonal pollen infestation. No chance of hay fever in Britain today!

Window on Wildlife (2): While Flocks Last

How many birds can you name on the UK red list? A new book is coming out called 'While Flocks Last', charting the exploits of Charlie Elder, reporter-turned-birder, and his quest to spot Britain's rarest birds in their natural habitats.

On the subject of birds that are dwindling in numbers, I have been writing about the cuckoo. How's this for a novel cuckoo clock-watch? And on the subject of endangered species, there is a current debate as to whether green turtles should be on the red list. You might like to look at the 60th anniversary celebrations for the sighting of Oscar the turtle in a lake in Indiana. Michael Rosen has a new book out about bird poems, 'The Cuckoo's Haiku'.

You might be interested in Built by Animals by Mike Hansell, and endorsed by UK naturalist, Mark Cocker.

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Language & Linguistics (2): Conversations in Caves?

If you were making casual conversation as you painted your cave, what would you be saying? The Times has a bizarre feature on Stone Age small-talk.

Do take a look at Professor David Morley's blog, in response to an article in The Times concerning poetry and the origins of civilization. There is a link to the article at the top of the posting.

You may be interested in this overview of the beginnings of English literature from The Yemen Times.

While I am on the subject of linguistics, I would like to mention an article I read about the fact that Shakespeare worked without a dictionary to hand. It is quite a sobering thought. I will give another plug to the truly amazing Save-the-Words site.

Monday 9 March 2009

John Buchan Stories (3): Oxford Listing

It was good to find Buchan (number 18) in good company (Aristotle, Austen, Burns ...) in the Oxford listing of favourite quotations from the Oxford Book of Quotations. I assume the list is in order of popularity.

Friday 6 March 2009

A Mix of Media (2): BBC Costume Drama

The Guardian reports that the BBC plans to spend less money on period drama productions. Little Dorrit failed, apparently, to pull in the punters. From Larkrise to Candleford, however, is due to run for a third series. The Diary of Anne Frank and the Penry Jones 'version' of The Thirty Nine Steps had high ratings and will set the trend for future adaptations. I, for one, would be very sad to think that there were not going to be many more productions of classic literature. I would love to see dramatisations of Buchan on television ... but only if the screen writers stick to the original storylines.

Just for Fun? (1): Cornish Pasty and Crisps?

The Zennor Mermaid
(as seen on Britain's Best Drives BBC4 last night)

You may like your pasty and chips, but have you tried the Cornish Pasty-flavoured crisps? Lusty Pirate crisp packets are adorned with literary legends such as King Arthur, the Giant of St Michael's Mount and the Zennor Mermaid!

On a serious note, you can read about the composer-poet, Ivor Gurney, and his travels around Zennor on Philip Lancaster's blog.

Thursday 5 March 2009

Wonderful Words (1): Save the Words

A colleague of my husband's has just sent a link to this extraordinary site. You can learn new words and help to 'adopt' old ones. A real Aladdin's Cave (unless you are of the belief that words live for a season and then die, in which case you may like to read this entry on Ronnie Knox).

A parcel of secondhand books arrived at my door wrapped up in pages from The Guardian, 9 February 2009. I unravelled the newspaper and was particularly interested in the Country Diary feature by Mark Cocker. It was about Claxton, a small village on the Yare in Norfolk, a few miles up-river from Bramerton, where I spent my teenage years. I can still smell the beautiful scent of the rush matting in St Andrew's Church in Claxton!

As readers of this blog will know, I was captivated by Cocker's Crow Country, which you can buy via my Amazon widget to the right of this page. In the Guardian column, Cocker ponders the origin of the name, godwit, and offers the evocative local alternate, yarwhelp.

Poetic Persona (2): Seamus Heaney

Dennis O'Driscoll's book, Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney, was published recently. A fascinating interview can be read here. I was particularly struck by Heaney's comment about poetry and the path of a tank.

Wednesday 4 March 2009

Window on Wildlife (1): Ladybirds, Hoopoes ... and a Pink Dolphin

I was very taken with a news story in The Telegraph about a pink dolphin. I had to look twice at the photograph, and yes, it really is a pink (albino) dolphin.

The Telegraph also ran a story on the exotic birds, like the hoopoe, from Europe, Africa and Asia that will soon be making a home in the UK. It seems strange to me that our shores are not only attracting birds from the frozen north like the snowy owl seen in Cornwall, but also a number of visitors from warmer countries. Climate change can be very confusing at times! Fellow blogger, Mistlethrush, has just seen a crossbill. You can read about the species here.

On the subject of wildlife, I am rather intrigued by ladybirds at the moment; and was delighted to discover in a posting on LiveJournal that the collective term for the species is 'a loveliness of ladybirds'. Do you have a favourite collective noun? How would you feel about inventing one?

Sunday 1 March 2009

Calendar Corner (1): Daffodils for St David's Day

Above: Daffodils at Middleton, The National Botanic Garden of Wales
Below: The Alfred Wallace Garden, Middleton

1 March is St David's Day here in Wales. The National Botanic Garden celebrated with daffodils, national costumes - and a live Service of Sunday Worship on BBC Radio 4. The theme was 'Journey into Seeing: Observing Lent through the Senses'. The preacher was Dr Anne Richards and Cor Caerfyrddin provided the music.

The Wallace Garden has always intrigued me. It looks a bit bare at this time of year, but I chose this photograph because, unlike my summer views with lots of flower and foliage, you can see the intertwining structure of the double helix DNA path.