I still have to write-up part 3 of the Spoz and Gary mic technique workshop (part 1 HERE and part 2 HERE) but, meanwhile, I shall mention wot-I-did-last-Saturday which was a jolly good workshop with Jo Bell and Martin Malone at Avebury in Wiltshire.
In a previous life Jo was an archaeologist so she’s a handy poet to have around when visiting the largest prehistoric stone circle in Europe. (Please note: any inaccuracies in my report here are entirely mine – mainly because I was taking photos instead of notes. Tut.)
Mercifully, myriad coach loads of tourists go to gawp at Stonehenge while Avebury is remarkably peaceful, despite village and roads being partially inside the circle itself.
I love the way the circle, village and surrounding landscape sit together.
Excavations have shown that the henge(ditch) was nine metres deep and almost vertically sided. As Jo said, considering the entire population of the country was perhaps half a million people, and considering they had no metal tools – all construction being done with flint, wood, antler picks, leather buckets and nettle (or other plant fibre) ropes – the site is awe-inspiring.
It seems possible that one enormous stone was there in situ and others were moved to form the circles (there are two smaller circles within the main circle). At least the stones are all from the immediate area, not shipped from far off, like the Welsh bluestones used at (the much later built) Stonehenge.
An almost total dearth of day-to-day items – pots, pins, flint scrapers etc – suggests that, for well over a thousand years Avebury was something very important, probably for “ritual purposes” (that catch-all for ancient archaeology, as Jo grumbled).
After our chilly walk in the flat, drear February light (complains the photographer in me) we congregated in the National Trust’s classroom for a lively workshop with Jo and Martin. I think it was my third with Jo and my second with the two of them leading – yes, I enjoy their workshops and wholeheartedly recommend them.
We started by thinking of words specific to our “heartland”: somewhere we feel we belong; it might be where we grew up, where we dream, or even somewhere completely imaginary. My heartland would be Somerset, where I was born and lived till I was eighteen but I struggled for a moment to think of specific words then they tumbled into my mind – lias (the blue building stone of the area); withy (willows for weaving); turf (our name for peat on the levels) and so on. One of my friends, who is as determinedly city as I am rural, chose “concrete” as one of her words and that was the key to the exercise – using very concrete things to define our places, not airy-fairy concepts like “eternal” or “beautiful”.
We read other poems and examined their use of concrete details and how they could then move from those to the big – eternal! – concepts. We looked at circularity. We paired-up and started dialogues based on the idea of contrasts (from the thin stone – squat stone pairings around Avebury – what could they represent? man-woman (or more basic elements thereof); day-night; earth-heavens; and so on) – I was “sea” to my partner’s “river” as we asked each other questions.
After lunch at the National Trust café (excellent parsnip and ginger soup) some of us ventured to Stonehenge, by which time the sun had finally broken through giving us the authentic new-agey experience: ace.
The roads around Stonehenge are intrusive.
And there are lots of visitors.
And the armed forces use Salisbury Plain.
But locals are unconcerned. (Jackdaws.)