Move along

It’s been a strange six months since I last blogged. Apologies if you’ve missed my ramblings here. (Alternatively, apologies if you were delighted by my absence, bad luck: I’m back.)

In brief:

Ledbury Poetry Festival was, as always, wonderful. Look out for Hwaet, its 20th anniversary anthology. I loved stewarding and event-managing. Hereford Stanza produced a pamphlet and walk/reading In Plain Sight based on the ancient alleys of the town as part of the festival; my poems were inspired by Homend alleys Fox Lane (inevitably) and Common Ground.

 

My day job went more than a bit bonkers as my boss was absent injured for 4 months leaving me to fit 7 woman-work-days into a 5-day week and that was just for starters; it was a fun few months I hope never to reprise.

As all that was happening my term as Poet in Residence at Malvern’s eclectic little museum began in July. The local paper even took a nice photo of me. Not the best timing for my residency but injuries – and day jobs, with rare exceptions – do not respect creative plans. I shall be writing based on the residency until the end of June ’17. The museum is now closed for the winter but will reopen in March.

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In September, sick of my flat-out day job slog, I burned the candle at both ends starting to rewrite my first novel so it is now adult, no longer YA. It has to be one or the other and it’s been darker and deeper with each rewrite/edit since inception as a children’s sci fi story.

As an aside I’m very lucky to have two local groups where I can trial extracts (my local circle and Worcester’s 42). Apart from the discipline of abridging a passage so it’s all relevant (lots of red lines through sub-plots, extraneous characters etc; timing a reading to fit) it’s really useful to see what works and what confuses or bemuses. As another aside I recommend reading aloud (in private) any story (or poem): glitches that the eye skips make the tongue stumble; repetitions are audible when not necessarily visible. And some lines are just embarrassing; my last MS print-out was littered with scribbles including “WTF?” at frequent intervals – a phrase I might well also apply to 2016 world events.

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Mulberry Scion

 

I was asked for a poem for an event organised by The Friends of Malvern Springs and Wells for their event Two Malverns and a Mulberry Tree, held during Malvern Civic Week.

Brief background: George Bernard Shaw, Malvern Festival’s playwright of the 1930s, planted a mulberry tree in the gardens by the theatre in 1936 in celebration of his eightieth birthday. The tree blew down in 2000 but a cutting had been taken to Malvern in Melbourne, Australia in 1959 and has become a magnificent tree. On learning this, a complex project arose to bring a cutting back to its original site here, at the same time reviving old ties of friendship between the two Malverns. Last night Di Foster, a historian from Malvern (now Stonnington), Melbourne gave a talk on their Malvern and, somewhere in the proceedings, I had five minutes to introduce and read a poem.

Mulberry trees were imported in Shakespeare’s time because King James hoped to create an English silk industry. Unfortunately, most trees were the “wrong kind” of mulberry: black mulberries, not the white mulberries favoured by silk worms.

Shaw rather resented Shakespeare’s continuing hold on the British psyche. Why should some long-dead chap outrank living playwrights in the Nation’s love? If Shakespeare could have a mulberry tree, so could Shaw.

Shaw was writing in politically turbulent times and we’re in politically turbulent times again now. My poem was written a few weeks ago but I was thinking about recent changes in our state education system; the exam-marking emphasis on “right” vs “wrong” answers with no room for any discussion of grey areas; no room for learning critical interpretation and thinking skills – skills we will need to lift us out of the holes we dig ourselves in to – or that other people drag us in to.

The poem is a Shakespearean sonnet (cheeky). “Eclose” is the precise biological term for a chrysalis splitting to release its butterfly or moth.

 

 

Mulberry Scion

 

Common threads run through lives, through history.
Culture, memes, ideas weave through time
like silk worms’ strands wefted into tapestry
or prosaic language dancing into rhyme.
Some card, some spin, some dye their world in drab
or vivid hues foregrounding spring-born rills
or clouds or clods or falling leaves, those slabs
of granite quarried from the Malvern Hills.
As moths eclose, so unexpected yet
ordained, creativity is a seed
within each generation: nurture it
because it’s what our future hopes will need
to find answers in a world as yet unknown;
sure, wind their silk but let them fly, full grown.
 

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Paean to Katie Hopkins

What is the purpose of poetry? According to Poetry.org it’s “an art form in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content.”

 

For most of us, most of the time, that means some kind of rarefied condensation of elegant linguistics. Just occasionally it means the opposite. Sometimes there’s a bait and switch (Adrian Mitchell’s “Celia, Celia”, for example). However it works, the reader should find a new experience of something.

 

On which note, a response to recent media nonsense:

 

A paean to respected journalist1 Katie Hopkins upon the election of Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London, May 2016.

London eagerly anticipates your appearance
naked, sausage wedged up yer bum.
We’ll hang our best bunting
or – better – bright cunting
(gay panties on strings just for fun).

Here’s to our great British banger,
boldly going where your brain-waves are sourced;
artisan offal;
indelibly awful;
there’s a queue standing by with brown sauce.

1Donald Trump, 2015
 

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Whiteleaved Oak, Chase End and Raggedstone bluebells

Glorious Sunday morning spring sunshine and so I made the most of a chance to see the bluebells as they emerge here. I drove along the hills to the hamlet of Whiteleaved Oak, one of my favourite places tucked away under the hills.

 

Aside from mystical ley lines the locals have a good sense of humour, judging by the notice board.

 

I walked a good way up High Wood where wild daffodils (just past their best) and bluebells (just coming in to theirs) carpeted glades

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but some of the paths were a bit boggy.

 

Then up Chase End Hill, where the flowers were also lovely (more bluebells and daffs with patches of wood anemone).

 

A willow had fallen in winter storms. And there was yet more mud on the way back down into Whiteleaved Oak.

 

 

 

Finally I scrambled up Raggedstone Hill, not having climbed there before.

It’s steep but the view made the effort worthwhile.

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To gender or not to gender? (Thoughts prompted by the death of Zaha Hadid)

Thoughtful commentary on gendered language use.

language: a feminist guide

Last week, after Zaha Hadid’s death was announced, someone I know posted on Facebook: ‘It’s annoying that the coverage keeps referring to her as “the world’s most prominent female architect”. Why not “one of the world’s most prominent architects?”’

Most people who responded agreed that it was sexist to put Hadid into a subcategory of ‘female architects’ rather than acknowledging her status as one of the leading figures in contemporary architecture, period. But one person dissented, arguing that since it’s still harder for women to succeed in most professions, drawing attention to Hadid’s sex underlined rather than detracting from her achievements. This commenter also felt that highlighting women’s successes explicitly was important, because it helped to inspire other women and girls.

‘To gender or not to gender’ is a question that has also divided feminist linguists. Robin Lakoff, author of the influential early text Language andWoman’sPlace, is…

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Springish

Some recent pictures. (And not of any of the local springs.)

Sheep being moved on North Hill.

Primroses at Croome Court.

British Camp.

Waymarks.

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Paper birch (Betula papyrifera)? growing with silver birches.

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Auction aftermath

People In Motion will be able to help more families in the refugee camps thanks to all those who turned out on a foul February night for this. Thank you!

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We did it! Thanks to everyone who donated or turned up or bid or promoted or helped on the night. West Malvern Social Club was packed. We took almost £1000 on the night and there’s more to collect from those bidders who couldn’t be there at the close. The atmosphere was fabulous. Thank you all, again.

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