Lurgy, Climate Change and Hobbitses

 

Last Sunday me, my son and my dad went for our first proper walk Over the Fields this year. We have all been poorly and the weather has been rubbish but I was desperate to get out and have a walk over there in time for Imbolc/ Candlemas. This is the traditional time of year for sighting the first snowdrops, and maybe to see buds and Blackthorn blossom. With such a mild Winter there was plenty of new green shoots to see, trees in full blossomy bloom, new nettles and dock leaves, hawthorn leaves unfurling… I wrote about the walk for local ecologist Alison Fure’s excellent blog, and you can read what I wrote here.

On Monday afternoon I finally gave up battling with the lurgy I’ve had on and off since mid-December, and went to bed. I’ve been there ever since, apart from a trip to the doctor on Friday. Eye infection, throat infection, chest virus, acute exacerbation of asthma…I’ve been fighting it for ages but finally it got the better of me. This has resulted in a week of cancelled teaching. Not great when you are a self-employed single parent… but…mustn’t grumble eh… my son is being looked after by my amazing dad, and I am safe and warm, if feeling particularly grim.

The silver lining is that being stuck in bed means I have watched a few films. Most affecting of these is This Changes Everything, narrated by Naomi Klein and based on her book of the same name. I need to watch it again and I would recommend that you need to watch it too. So should everyone. It is tough to watch in places but breathtakingly filmed and well put together. A mixture of environmental disaster and tragedy, and the heartening, brave protests of people on the front line, whose land and lives are being profoundly affected by the atrocities of fossil fuel companies and big business. The message is clear and simple. Capitalism vs the Climate- if we don’t fight it we are doomed. Now I need to read the book.

I also watched all of the Hobbit film trilogy- and been for the most part pleasantly surprised; I saw and enjoyed the first one at the flicks, missed the second and third, and was put off watching them by a couple of friends who said the story was poorly handled, there was far too much emphasis on spiders, and that the book had been done a total disservice by the drawing out of the plot to nearly 9 hours of film…I loved the LOTR films but was, like many people, rather surprised and slightly cynical at the announcement that the Hobbit would be made as a three-part series of prequels.

So…slightly late to the party…I watched the final two parts this week. Yes, the story is drawn out but I think it’s ok, if a bit baggy . I find the use of CGI action scenes which look like computer games (and *are* constructed for the computer games market- I know, the biggest part of the film business these days) distracting and annoying- formulaic and jammed into the action of the films- but, otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies- and I would happily watch them again.

After watching This Changes Everything, The Hobbit trilogy of films became a metaphor for the rampaging greed of capitalism destroying nature, Power Over instead of Power With.

I am also re-reading Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking- a fascinating, wonderful read and, as this year I am especially committed to developing my walking/writing/making practice, a necessary one too. Once again, in light of what Klein says at the start of This Changes Everything, about the idea promulgated during the Enlightenment, of Nature as something to be conquered and used for ‘our’ benefit- the history of walking ties in, in some ways, with this view of what Nature is and is not…thought-provoking stuff and I will be returning to it again and again no doubt.

The Launch of clew

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On Saturday 18th April, at the Duke of York pub in St Werburghs in Bristol my first pamphlet, clew, published by Hesterglock Press, was launched. This was along with Sarer Scotthorne’s first pamphlet, The Blood House, and Paul Hawkins’s first full length collection from Erbacce press, Contumacy

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l-r: Sheer Zed, Sarer Scotthorne, me, Paul Hawkins

As part of the Bristol Spring Poetry Festival this was a wonderful evening of us three poets coming together to read our work, and celebrate. Sheer Zed, a  fantastic multi-talented electronic musician, provided soundscapes to some of the poems, and a great set of his own work.

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It was a pleasure to be back at this lovely pub in a corner of the city that I spent time in occasionally when I lived in  Bristol many years ago. Strange and synchronistic to be back reading poetry and launching my first collection here, after ten years to the month of leaving. Also, to be supported by dear friends living there, who I have stayed in touch with, and amazingly, to have four brilliant mates from Wales drive across for the evening! And to meet and chat with new people in this friendly, vibrant place

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Sarer and Paul gave superb readings, hugely talented performers, and unique voices in poetry individually, as well as the partnership behind Hesterglock Press, which also publishes the vital Boscombe Revolution / Bosc:Rev magazine. I was chuffed to finally meet with Sheer Zed too, who I have been communicating with on social media for a while.

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I’m so grateful to Zed for composing soundtracks for some of my work. As someone who started off many years ago by singing in a band and making experimental music, it was really exciting to ‘out’ my frustrated vocalist and have that additional musical dimension to my work. I hope we get to work together again.

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There are plans to do a similar event in London but not sure when- keep an eye on the blog for details.

In the meantime Sarer and Paul’s work can be found via Hesterglock Press and Paul’s web site- I wrote a brief review of The Blood House, and have since spent more time with it and I would recommend you do so too. Here is Andie Berryman’s review of it. I have also read and re-read Contumacy, and it contains my favourite poem from last year which I return to over and over. Steve Willey wrote a great piece about it here.

Back on the 21st March, Sarer and Paul appeared on Jude Cowan Montague’s radio show, The News Agents on Resonance FM. Sarer beautifully read my poem, The Cleaning Cupboard, which was published in issue 3 of Boscombe Revolution. It’s a great programme with Jude and co-host Alice Foster discussing Hesterglock Press, and talking with Paul and Sarer about their work, including Paul’s up and coming publication, Place/Waste/Dissent, which is going to be published by Influx Press in October 2015. Listen in here!

Submissions to Bosc:Rev are open for the next issue- more info here.

Listen to some of Sheer Zed’s amazing remixes of poems by Sarer, Paul and me here.

You can buy my pamphlet clew here.

“Read ‘clew’ for a window on our times and a reminder of how poetry remains a resistant art.”Siobhán Campbell; poet

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The Blood House, Sarer Scotthorne

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This is Sarer Scotthorne’s first collection, published by Hesterglock Press in January, a ruby which dropped into my palms at the Bristol launch of Boscombe Revolution 3.
These poems demand to be read in one go; the pages are bursting with movement, quaking with emotion and physicality, fighting to break free of their constraints.
They wrangle with the stuff of life, of our closest relationships: grief and anguish; disappointment and despair; longing and desire. There is no holding back – the language is forceful, honest to the point of brutality, making for a challenging but visceral one-sitting read.
Scotthorne negotiates the loss of her father, the shock of the grief, invoking the myth of Oedipus in in her sequence, Poison
“down the lead pipes, rattling the fragments left in shattered windows.
A token from his once industrial; I bound a shard of glass and searched
The urine-scented halls until found his sleeping body on a shock of Ragwort.”
From Scene 1. Alone
Imagery juxtaposes machinery and corporeality, combined with inner city landscape; the decay of industry, concrete images of the mix of human detritus from sweat to beer cans, with perennial weeds- nature’s creeping into the liminal spaces we barely notice but recognise as part of our environment in contemporary urban life. Places of transformation.
Saraswati Murmurs, which is beautifully scored on the page, offers respite from the aftershocks of grief and seems to be a point of letting go:
“step                        onto soft mud
and slipped        under the water         I wanted         turned
water     my      body…”
Blood runs through this collection as the red thread of life. Cold metal and warm blood. Blood as a signifier for wounding and loss, of fear; blood as a threat; blood as heat; blood as contamination; blood as life; blood as acknowledgment of a beating heart, of reawakened desire; as life giver and as revival.
The Blood House is a courageous journey, pulsing with truth. Read it.

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.
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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

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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.

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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
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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….
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 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.
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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….
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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
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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)

 

 

 

Cross Bones Graveyard, Southwark

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“… a pauper’s burial ground, with a legend going back to medieval times…”

But that’s not the half of it- not even the beginning… more on this to come in another post. Please click the link above to find out more about this place, in the heart of South London, just off Borough High Street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIP Maya Angelou #StillIRise

Aren’t we lucky to have had Maya Angelou in our midst, blessing us with her poetry, her life…what a trove she leaves us with.