Over the Fields in The Countryman magazine

 

I am delighted to report that Over the Fields, my new poetry map, was featured in the February edition of The Countryman magazine, as part of the Editor’s Diary: “…a fascinating ‘poetry map’, Over the Fields, containing evocative poems and prose fragments, which can also be read in situ, allowing people to read and respond to the poems…”

Alongside the feature they have published a poem from the map, Hogsmill Tiddlers.

If you would like a map click here.

 

Never Pounce on a Porcupine #Imbolc #NatureWords

???????????????????????????????“Never pounce on a porcupine!” was my son’s conversation opener this morning- wise advice, nice use of alliteration- and the perfect way to start this post, my first of 2015.

The word alliteration has been added to the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary- however porcupine has been removed. Can you pounce on ‘a rodent with a coat of sharp spines, or quills’? Probably- although you would be foolish to do so- and the alliteration does not exist without the word porcupine. How much meaning is being lost in removing this one word, which tells us, rather delightfully,  all we need to know about this creature? The same goes for the word piglet – it is no longer in the Oxford Junior Dictionary- it has been removed. Where would Winnie the Pooh be without Piglet? Piglet’s favourite food is acorns– or as he refers to them, “haycorns” – another word which has been deemed irrelevant to children’s vocabulary in the 21st century. Alliteratively (and poetically): Pink Piglet- yes…Pink Baby Pig- No….

Acorn comes from the Middle English- it is a very old word which we have been using for hundreds of years- but will children now refer to acorns as ‘fruit of an oak, consisting of a single-seeded, thick-walled nut set in a woody, cuplike base’? No- because, according to the Oxford University Press, who publish the Oxford Junior Dictionary, these words have been removed to make way for words which are more suitable and relevant to the indoor and technology-focused lifestyles of children now.
DSC03191

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

primrose is another word to have gone from the OJD

This erasure of nature-based words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary is not a new situation- but has received more press coverage again recently. Religious and magical words (bishop, goblin, elf, sin) removed in 2007, have been added to with words such as catkin and even conker, in the 2012 edition. Words that in my opinion are still intrinsic to childhood itself, and to our relationship, education about, and understanding of the natural world around us.

The Guardian ran a piece on this in January, and many writers including Margaret Atwood and Michael Morpurgo have written to the OUP regarding this worrying state of affairs.

As a poet and a writer who writes about place, and as a mother of a seven year old, I felt determined to do something to raise awareness about this but until this weekend I wasn’t sure what that would be.

But…this weekend I went to Glastonbury to meet up with dear friends and celebrate Imbolc with them, also known as Brigid. Brigid or Bridie is the Goddess of Inspiration, Blacksmiths, Fire and also Poetry. This is a celebration of the First Stirrings- where the begins of growth are apparent: in snowdrops, the first lambing, and green shorts daring to peek out in the freezing weather.DSC02656

???????????????????????????????

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the celebration at the White Spring, we came out into the bright, watery-sun morning and gathered in a circle across Well House Lane, between the White Spring and the Red Spring at Chalice Well. There was an open invitation for people to share their thoughts, inspiration, songs and poetry. This is an event I always try to get to, as it is a great way to begin the year proper, and is a joyful meeting of like minds and community, in the best place to be.

DSC02647 DSC02650

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some amazing poetry was performed and read, a wonderful guided visualisation was offered, inspirational stories were told, and the ever-joyful Hemp man was there to impress the gathered throng with the benefits of hemp consumption and production.

I had chosen two poems to read, and thought I had neatly folded them into my bag, but on arrival realised I had left them behind. I was disappointed for a moment but instead I found the printed list list of nature words which have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary lurking unexpectedly in my rucksack. It was after Lisa Goodwin performed her fantastic poem, which included the repeated line What would Bridie Do? that I knew I had to do it.

She asked if anyone else would like to contribute and I stepped into the circle and explained that the Oxford Junior Dictionary had removed a significant amount of nature words, and that as this was a day for poets, language and inspiration, that this seemed the right place to say some of them, and would everyone repeat them as I spoke them?

Here are all of the words, with the ones I remember saying, shouting even, highlighted.

adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox,oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren. Acorn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry, blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran,bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip,crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender,leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow
???????????????????????????????
crocus- omitted from the OJD
I picked them out randomly, and in the moment but as I stood there and said them myself, and heard them come back at me, with the audible surprise and indignation in some people’s voices, I realised the power and meaning attached to these words, especially to people who feel spiritually connected to nature, to the earth, to the turning year, to the seasons….
??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
 I am very glad I did it, and afterwards, as we walked through the side gate into Chalice Well, and headed towards the warmth of the fire, and cups of coffee and ample blocks of delicious banana cake, a few people approached me to talk about it. So if a few more people know about this then these words will be fought for more fervently, as they should be.
  DSC03193  DSC03172
This is how we communicate our connection to nature, as well as claim our heritage and our traditions. For example think about what the word ‘conker’ conjures in you….
DSC03606
the words won’t die because they aren’t included in one children’s dictionary- but it is symbolic and symptomatic of the disconnection with nature that is not only happening but also apparently being accepted as ‘normal’ in many sections of society. George Monbiot wrote a great piece in The Guardian about children losing their connection to nature and the future implications of this, which is worth reading.
After my nature-word incanting at the weekend my aim is to explore some of these words with my son this year and post the results on here from time to time.
I hope that OUP reconsider their decision and send out a positive message by putting these words back into the next edition of their junior dictionary. For updates on the campaign to bring the words back, this is the place to go: http://www.naturemusicpoetry.com/campaigns.html
???????????????????????????????
To finish up, and as something to consider…here are some of the words that have taken the place of the words above…what do they mean to you?
Blog, broadband, MP3 player, voicemail, attachment, database, export, chatroom, bullet point, cut and
paste, analogue Celebrity, tolerant, vandalism, negotiate, interdependent, creep, citizenship, childhood, conflict, common sense, debate,EU, drought, brainy, boisterous, cautionary tale, bilingual, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, cope, democratic, allergic, biodegradable, emotion, dyslexic, donate,
endangered, Euro Apparatus, food chain, incisor, square number, trapezium, alliteration, colloquial, idiom, curriculum,
classify, chronological, block graph

 

 

 

Out-of-body-in-the-flesh: Seeing Coil Play Live 10 years ago

At the time I was still married, still living in Bristol, living a completely different life to the one I have now. Since 2002 I’d been on a path of re-discovery, of working out why I was feeling so out of sync with myself. There were lots of reasons…seeing Coil was another piece of the puzzle falling into place, if you’ll forgive the cliche.

I’m not sure when I first heard Coil- it was some time in the late eighties, and it was probably ‘S is for Sleep’ from The Elephant Table LP, which my boyfriend of the time had.

I remember him coming home with the Horse Rotovator LP and it changed everything, and profoundly influenced our own music-making and thinking. After that we bought all the Coil music we could. I still have my vinyl copies of Scatology, the Hellraiser themes and a signed copy of Windowpane, amongst other Coil goodies, all stashed in the loft, waiting for the time when I eventually have space for them again. I’m not a completist and apart from a few bits and bobs on cd I don’t have many of the recording they went on to make in the nineties and early noughties. Besides, my life changed and I was no longer making music, although I was still being creative in other ways from time to time.

Hearing Coil play live was something I never thought I would get the opportunity to do, to see them performing out-of-body-in-the-flesh.

The closest I got to meeting them was years before, when I wore my John Crancher shirt, emblazoned with gold devils, to a gig we were all at, maybe Meat Beat Manifesto, and they had joked that they wouldn’t release their next record until I gave it to them (I didn’t) …

They played the Ocean in Hackney, long since gone, on what I remember as a hot and dusty Sunday evening. Where my ex was desperate to leave by the end of the gig, I was desperate to stay to the very last, even after they’d finished, and ‘Feed the Birds’ from Mary Poppins was blaring out of the PA. I’m very thankful I got to see Jhonn and Sleazy play live- it was as beautiful, disconcerting and transporting as I had hoped it would be. RIP.

Magick moments.

(The Quietus wrote a great piece on Coil in 2011 to honour the first anniversary of Peter Christopherson’s (aka Sleazy) passing. Find it here)

 

 

 

The Big Fun Run for Gingerbread

A couple of months ago, in the midst of writing the MFA dissertation, I registered to run 5km around Crystal Palace Park, to raise money for Gingerbread. At the time it seemed like a good idea – running has become a necessary cog in my writing process, allowing me some head space and providing a regular dose of physical exercise to combat the hunched-in-front-of-screen posture I am otherwise prone to develop. If I’m going to run anyway I might as well do some good with it- and raising a bit of money for a very good cause by running around a park seems like a fine way to do it.

funrun1 (1)Last year I ran the 5km Treeathlon for Trees In Cities, trotting around the leafy environs of Battersea Park on a glorious September Sunday. A day where, after the run was complete, my good friend Liz, her daughter and my son, spent a few pleasant hours in the park, taking advantage of the activities put on by Trees In Cities. The kids also had a great time playing in the adventure playground, which has since been closed down by the Tories. This was one of the last staffed and subsidised community adventure playgrounds left since the those halcyon 70s days when places like it seemed to be a normal occurrence, not some kind of Small Persons Shangri-La…now it has gone.

I thought we could repeat our lovely day out in Crystal Palace Park, which is massive, and where I last spent time in 1990, to see The Cure play a gig. I wanted to show my son and my friend’s daughter the dinosaurs (there is talk of the park being ‘regenerated’ and the dinosaurs going) and to have a nice afternoon hanging out with my mate and the kids. However, on the day itself, it rained. When I say rained, I mean it poured relentlessly in a particularly wet and doggedly persistent manner. Friends and family had generously sponsored me to the tune of nearly £150 and I didn’t want to let them down, and I am fairly doggedly persistent myself when it comes down to achieving goals these days, so we got on with it.

The stairs at Crystal Palace railway station were having their own Niagra moment as we climbed up them, which did not bode well for what lay ahead…the park was grey, drenched and running with water. Liz and the kids camped out in the cafe while I found the start of the race, left my bags in the marquee, and tried to shelter from the driving rain along with the other runners, some seasoned, some in gaggles, dressed in superhero outfits, onesies, tutus and other bedraggled fancy dress. Everyone was smiling and during the three minute warm up there were hollers and whoops and ‘COME ON!’s to gee everyone into action.

funrun1 (2)The run itself was two laps around a designated route in the park, up hill and down rivulet-filled dale, some of it surprisingly steep. I am not a fast runner at the best of times but I kept my pace and finished one minute slower than my time for the Treeathlon. Not a bad result in all that rain. Liz and the kids were there at the end, cheering me on and taking photos. Then it was time to get changed and run for the train…the picnic and dinosaurs can wait for a sunny day…

Without Liz I couldn’t have taken part in the run at all, and so I need to say a huge thank you to her, for looking after my son while I ran, and for being such a supportive friend. And that’s also why I chose to raise money for Gingerbread, which offers vital support, especially now, for single parents. Being a single parent is hard work and we are all doing our best to raise confident, happy, healthy and well-rounded children on our own.

My son hardly ever sees his father, and although my own father is the most fantastic and supportive father to me, and grandad to his grandson, it does mean we don’t have that invisible mesh that seems to exist between families with two parents. The support net is different, and requires other people’s love and goodwill to take a turn at keeping an end taut from time to time. Friends are important, and I am lucky to have some amazing friends.

Thanks Liz

This was the last goal I set myself and now it is complete. The studying is done, and I have spent the last couple of weeks feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to with myself, wondering how on earth I translate this five years of determined effort and academic study into paid employment. And how to balance this with being a mum and bringing up my son. One step at a time…one race at a time…