Friday 29 May 2009

Nature Notes (1): Painted Ladies in Profusion

The first thing we buy on arrival at the Guardian Hay Festival site is a copy of The Guardian, complete with cotton shoulder bag for any book purchases we may make later in the day. I was delighted to open the g2 supplement of the paper for 25th May and find a feature by Patrick Barkham on the (welcome) invasion of the Painted Lady. 18000 butterflies (give or take a few) were recorded in the Scolt Head region alone. These creatures had flown in from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. The next generation will leave their thistles and their caterpillar bodies behind when they spread their painterly wings as adults in August.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Culture Corner (3): Guardian Hay Festival

(a) Caroline with fellow poet and blogger, Susan Richardson
(waiting for Lavinia Greenlaw's Housman Society Lecture to begin)
(b) A day for Wellies of all shapes and sizes
(c) A quiet corner
(d) David 'flying the flag'
(e) It never rains...

It was a good day at Hay, though you could have been mistaken for thinking that it was October rather than May. We met up with friends for tea, did a spot of book-shopping in the Poetry Bookshop (a favourite haunt) and visited the CADW and academi stands.

We had tickets for John Toman on Kilvert's Diary - a very appropriate subject for Hay - and for the Housman Society Lecture. Lavinia Greenlaw (author of 'Minsk') gave a sparkling and erudite paper on the effect of poetry upon poet and reader, of which more soon.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Culture Corner (2): Great North Museum (a)

Newcastle upon Tyne
Top: Outside the Great North Museum: Hancock
Middle: On the way to the Great North Museum: Hatton
Bottom: Poster for the museum at West Jesmond Metro Station
(we used to live 100 metres from here!)

We have just returned from Tyneside, where there has been a huge buzz of excitement. We thoroughly enjoyed a preview of The Great North Museum, which had its official opening last Saturday. Members of the public and university students can now enjoy the magnificent displays in their stately state-of-the-art setting.

I remember my first encounter with the vibrant city of Newcastle upon Tyne, when I arrived as a university 'Fresher' from 'down south' in the late 1970s. It was a truly wonderful place to be in those days, but it has certainly had a facelift since then.

There are some more photographs of my trip down Memory Lane in the previous post (or next post, depending on how you view this). When we returned to Newcastle in the late 1980s, the influence of Catherine Cookson as a philanthropic benefactor to the city was much in evidence.

While I was job-seeking, I attended my first Creative Writing Class on Tyneside, under the auspices of the WEA, and led by Margaret Wilkinson. I loved every minute of the course.

Culture Corner (1): Great North Museum (b)

The Opening of the Great North Museum,
Newcastle upon Tyne, May 2009

(a) The Great North Museum: Hancock
(b) David outside the Great North Museum: Hatton
(c) and (d) Inside the GNM
(e) 1982: Outside the - old - Hatton Gallery:
Homer's bust in the Quadrangle, University of Newcastle, Rag Day 1982!
[We took it in turns to recite bits of Homer in Greek]

There was a great buzz in the air when we touched down in Newcastle Airport last Thursday to attend an opening evening at the Great North Museum. I had first arrived in the city by train as a university 'Fresher' in 1979: what a lot has changed since then. The city has always been vibrant, but it has definitely had a 21st century facelift. Additions like the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and The Sage have breathed new life into the area.

The Great North Museum brings together a number of Newcastle collections in a stately, state of the art museum. Gone are the days when museums were dusty and quaint cabinets of curiosity. The Great North Museum - a joint initiative between the City Council and the University - is a centre for education, enjoyment - and environmental concern. You can read, for example, about the Eye Project, in which young people have been playing a key role in recording the wildlife and landscape of the North East. The data has been fed into the Great North Museum: Hancock, so that the displays could reflect the current situation. There have been two databases: one for local recordings of wildlife sightings, and another, the North East Environmental Data Hub, for the recording of wildlife and habitat information by organisations and experts in the field. Both databases will help to inform the conservation needs of local species.

We were particularly interested to see how the collection of the old Hancock Museum fitted in alongside the university collections of The Shefton Museum (of Greek Antiquities), The Museum of Antiquities (from Hadrian's Wall) and the Hatton Gallery (of Art). It is an impressive start, but it is early days. I really hope that the respective - and sometimes overlapping - needs of 'town and gown' will be served successfully under this single starry flagship.
  • Recollections by Maureen Almond (Flambard Press). Do take a look at this link. Recollections is a very special book for it celebrates Roman items from the old Museum of Antiquities, which is now part of the Great North Museum. Photographer, Glyn Goodrick's glossy photographs are the perfect complement to Maureen's poems. The poems and photographs were commissioned by Lindsay Allason-Jones, Director of Archaeological Museums for Newcastle University. The poetry collection contains a variety of forms, including examples of sonnets and haiku. Favourite poems include Erase (with an epigraph from Horace's Satires) and Aemilia and the Ring. You can click the link to Maureen's site.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Poetry People (2): Susan Richardson at Chelsea

Do listen on the 'BBC Listen Again' facility (Episode 5, part way through and again near the end of the programme) to Cardiff-based fellow poet and blogger, Susan Richardson, as she fulfils her horticultural duties with great panache as Poet-in-Residence at the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show.

Congratulations, Susan, on a star-studded performance among the Silver-gilt medals, trellis and mulch!

P.S. I loved your witty ditty, too!

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Poetic Places (2): Dylan's Laugharne

Photo: Copyright David Gill

I stumbled across this article about an ice cream magnate and the Dylan Thomas Boathouse at Laugharne.

Poetic People (11): your turn to vote

As part of the BBC Poetry Season, we have the (somewhat limited) opportunity to vote for a favourite poet on the BBC site. Why not cast a vote now. You might also like to look at the television listings for the Poetry Season: there are some good programmes coming up

Saturday 16 May 2009

Poetic People (10): Ruth Padel

Ruth Padel is the new Poetry Professor for Oxford University, and the first woman to hold the chair. Professor David Morley has a good posting on the subject.

Poetry Matters (9): The Poetry Archive

We have just listened to the excellent BBC Radio 4 programme on the Poetry Archive. Andrew Motion may be handing over the Laureate torch to Carol Ann Duffy, but the Archive remains as a wonderful, accessible and lasting legacy to his tenure.

Highlights for me were hearing the very different voices of Tennyson, Yeats and Causley - perhaps especially Charles Causley. I believe the programme is due to be repeated on the radio (FM only) on Monday. You can see the site (with iPlayer etc.) here. Sound producer, Richard Carrington, told us a few 'behind the scenes' tales of the actual recordings, and the programme gave a fascinating insight into this wide-ranging and international resource.

The Archive has a good glossary of poetic terms and a description of forms (e.g. 'pantoum', as highlighted on the programme). I would hope that in the future - and where applicable - it might be possible to access the Archive's poems by form - and possibly by subject or key words.

Friday 15 May 2009

Poetry Matters (8): Swansea Poetry Event

THE SEVENTH QUARRY Swansea Poetry Magazine,

edited by Swansea poet Peter Thabit Jones,

presents a


with America's Kristine Doll and Catalonia's August Bover

at the Dylan Thomas Centre

Saturday, 20th June, 2009

10 a.m. to 12 noon

Fee: £10 on the door.

I would like to commend this event to anyone within reach of the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea. Check out other events organised by The Seventh Quarry at this link to MySpace.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Book Corner (1): Troy Town by Matt Merritt

Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Stratford, viewed from the Willow Cabin Arbour
(the maze is to the left, along the path and out of sight)

'Never too late to learn to trust the path
like rustics running the shepherd's race

at May Eve...'

Troy Town, Matt Merritt

'The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green,
For lack of tread, are indistinguishable.'

A Midsummer Night's Dream, II:II, Shakespeare

Troy Town by Matt Merritt, Arrowhead Press 2008, ISBN 978-1-904852-19-3

I wonder what images dance in your mind in response to Matt's evocative title, Troy Town. I have just finished reading this sparkling new collection and felt it would be good to share a few thoughts. Matt, a fellow blogger (at Polyolbion) and fellow graduate of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, has woven his thread, Theseus fashion, through the labyrinthine paths of landscape, love and loss.

Those who know Matt will not be surprised to encounter a barn owl buoyant on his tide of silence ('Skylarking'), the blackbird wrestling a worm out of the lawn ('Paradise Tanager') or Calidris canutus, king's men all, commanding the waves to turn back ('Knots') along the way; but birdsong is only one of many tunes - or half-remembered songs - that echo through and take flight from the pages of this book.

The volume has been beautifully produced, with a hard cover sporting a glossy photograph of the turf maze at Wing in Rutland on the dust jacket. Troy Town is prefaced with a quotation from A Midsummer Night's Dream (see above); and Matt's poem that lends its title to the whole collection suggests to this reader at least, that the essence of the work revolves, maze-fashion, around a movement from one place to another. This progression - in accordance with the nature of propulsion through a maze - is seldom linear. The quest takes the poet and his fellow travellers on what seems, perhaps, to be more of a metaphysical than a metaphorical journey, since all mental maps are redundant and all thoughts are put aside. We do not usually associate mazes with unfolding vistas of revelation, but Alison Brackenbury made the astute observation that somehow this work 'opens new horizons'.

This reader views the essence of Matt's poetry against the backcloth of his association with Poly-Olbion, the meandering epic of the landscape by Michael Drayton (1563-1631). Drayton's lines lead us along the highways and byways of a very different England. Drayton is long dead, but poetry - Matt's poetry - refuses to be moulded into dark places or squeezed into the cul-de-sacs of a maze.

Buy a copy to experience for yourself that canvas where moments fray to a fine thread, that place where the past is startled into a sudden eloquence so that nothing need follow.

Suggested reading:
Making the Most of the Light by Matt Merritt, HappenStance 2005

Monday 11 May 2009

Poetic People (9): Doreen Hinchliffe

Doreen Hinchliffe (left)
2008 Winner of the General Section of the Petra Kenney Poetry Competition, Friday 8 May 2009
Canada House, Trafalgar Square, London
Photo: David Gill 2009

We attended the final Awards Day for the Petra Kenney Poetry Competition last Friday 8 May. It was good to renew acquaintance with Doreen (winner of the 2007 Comic Poem category), and to congratulate her on her winning poem, 'Eternal Triangle'. I see from the web that Doreen had already come 1st and 3rd in the 2008 Grace Dieu Poetry Competition.

Molly Yeomans, who has organised the Canadian side of the competition, paid tribute to Morgan Kenney in a wonderful speech. It was a marvellous occasion, with poems written in Morgan's honour by Alison Chisholm, Alan Brownjohn, Ian Blake, John Whitworth and Leah Fritz.

Dannie Abse read from his brand new collection, New Selected Poems 1949-2009 (Hutchinson, published 7 May 2009). I enjoyed meeting up with Martin Holroyd (editor of Poetry Monthly) and Geoff Stevens (editor of Purple Patch) again.

Poems on the Web (2): Jigsaw Poem on PWB

I have a jigsaw poem, 2009: a Gleam of Hope, on the Poets Who Blog site. The given words were:

  • lone
  • gleam
  • snow (my choice)
  • syringe
  • toast
  • fantastic
  • broken
  • belated
  • bite
  • seven

Saturday 9 May 2009

Poetic People (8): Poetic Portraits

Poets have been much in the news recently, and are likely to be again on Saturday, when the new Oxford Professor of Poetry will be elected.

I have just returned from Canada House in London, where Doreen Hinchliffe was awarded £1000 first prize (general section) at the Final Awards Ceremony of the Petra Kenney Poetry Competition. While I was in London, I had the opportunity of visiting the Faces of Poetry exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Alongside photographic portraits of (among others) Owen Sheers, Jo Shapcott and Gillian Allnutt, it was good to see painted portraits of Derek Walcott (by Ross Wilson) and Seamus Heaney (by Tai-Shan Schierenberg). If you are in the area, do take a look at this small but inspiring exhibition.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Window on Wildlife (4): The Red Bog of Tregaron

Cors Caron aka as the Red Bog of Tregaron is a most evocative place and a highly fragile environment. Sadly the light was a bit hazy when we were there on Saturday afternoon: the sun finally came out just as we reached the car! We saw about six red kites in the area (including a couple over Strata Florida) and heard the Willow Warblers in the willows.

I was most excited, on this occasion, to see my first Bog Rosemary or Andromeda Polifolia (Rhosmari'r gors, in Welsh). It is a tiny wetland plant with pink bell-shaped flowers and evergreen leaves.

I wonder why this little plant (along with others in the genus Pieris, which is also a member of Ericaceae) has been given the name Andromeda. Andromeda means 'leader of men'. In Greek mythology, Andromeda was the daughter of Cassiopeia. She was chained to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea monster until Perseus came to her rescue. Andromeda is also a northern constellation. The tragedy, Andromeda, by Euripides was first produced in 412 BC. The text is lost apart from a few fragments.

Friday 1 May 2009

Creative Corner (4): Seth's Bundle for May Day

1 May 2009: Reveal Time
Stage 2 in Seth's Bundle Project!
Above: two for the price of one ... my bundle has come adrift.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May...
Sonnet 18, Shakespeare

Welcome to my corner of Seth Apter's (Disintegration Art Project) DisCo - and if you would like to know more, do take a look at Seth's blog, The Altered Page.

Some weeks ago I read about an unusual project on Weaver's blog. I followed the link, and asked Seth if I could join in the fun. I followed his instructions, and set up a bundle of odds and ends in my garden. I went into 'Womble' mode, and tried to re-use 'eco-friendly' materials such as lavender and moulted animal hair. I decided to dilute some turmeric powder for a splash of colour, rather than paint, because it seemed more garden-friendly. I made two handles out of palm fronds, and hung the bundle on a branch of my hydrangea, and waited for the elements to do their worst (or perhaps I should say their best).

We have a prevailing south-westerly wind in South Wales; and sure enough, it was not long before my bundle was blown in two. We usually have heavy rain - and we have had a few heavy showers - but after a very cold winter, we have actually had a beautiful late spring. I now have two bundles instead of one, but other than that, there has not been as much disintegration as I had expected. The turmeric dye has turned from a cheerful hot-sun yellow to a dilute murky brown. The leaves, of course, have grown a lot on the hydrangea: when the dew is not so heavy, I will have to go exploring to see whether there are any earthworms, snails or woodlice under the part that has fallen to the ground.

When I was growing up in Kent (the Garden of England), we used to go to school in an excited frame of mind on May Day. Our teachers led us out to the flowering cherry tree, where we would wash our faces in the dew and dance round the Maypole (I don't think it was quite as long ago as the picture implies!). Speaking of Seth's (Disintegration Art Project) DisCo, I can assure you that our jaunty Maypole steps were a far cry from a student dance! Did you know that St Andrew Undershaft in the City of London is named after the maypole that was kept under its eaves? It was brought out each spring until the student riots of 1517.

At school on May Day we would recite that evocative poem about the loveliest of trees, 'The Cherry Tree' by A. E. Housman. The poem deals with the subject of growing old and the passing of time. Little did I imagine that two-score years later (as opposed to the three-score and ten of the poem), I would be celebrating 1 May with a disintegrating bundle of art! Thank you, Weaver, for the tip-off.

Poems on the Web (1): Thalatta! Thalatta!

You may like to look at my poem on Dr Marc Latham's Folding Mirror Poetry blog here. I am really excited by Marc's FM venture.

Dr Marc Latham's sites

Poetry Matters (7): Harvard Website

poetry@harvard is the new poetry website to watch!

Poetic People (7): New Poet Laureate

Carol Ann Duffy has been named as the new Poet Laureate. She is the first woman to hold the post .