Back in January I was honoured to be invited by Poets for the Planet to run two workshops at their launch event at the Society Of Authors in London.
“Poets for the Planet is a community of kindred poets, performers, artists and creative activists raising their voices to engage with climate and ecological emergency through poetry in all its forms.”
This took place on Saturday February 8th, and was a fantastically busy day with a Poem-A-Thon taking place throughout the day, alongside other workshops from Jan Heritage, Grace Pengelly, Dom Bury, Philip Gross and Clare Pollard.
In the evening there was a gala reading featuring Imtiaz Dharker, winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, alongside acclaimed poets Mona Arshi, Hannah Lowe and Jacqueline Saphra.
My workshops, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, were based around my latest chapbook and walking project, Sward : Skin of the Earth, and aimed to get people thinking about their local green and wild spaces, how to write about them and how to value them.
Here’s the blurb from eventbrite:
Skin of the earth: Walking and Ecopoetry
Exploring family memories of and connections to local wild spaces through walking and writing about them. We will look at the writings of Victorian author and naturalist Richard Jefferies and think about the concept of deep topography.
I was delighted that both workshops were well attended and each was very different in flavour! The morning workshop was mostly a talking / thinking / exchanging ideas workshop, and the afternoon workshop was a heads-down writing workshop. As each workshop was only 30 minutes long, a ‘micro-workshop’, I prepared a handout for people to take away with them too.
Meaning “sod, turf” developed from the notion of the “skin” of the earth (compare Old Norse grassvörðr, Danish grønsvær “greensward”).
Walking the central reservation of the A240 Kingston Road, from Tolworth Roundabout to the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames boundary with the Borough of Epsom and Ewell.
The project is called ‘Sward’ after reading Richard Jefferies’ works, and seeing his frequent use of it. I am walking while considering Jefferies’ writing, his prolific walking of the local area. I am also doing this in the context of the present threat of development to the precious and unique green spaces nearby – and possibly to part of the central reservation itself.
“Jefferies left school at fifteen and at first continued his habits of solitary wanderings about the local countryside. He dressed carelessly and allowed his hair to grow down to his collar. This, with his “bent form and long, rapid stride made him an object of wonder in the town of Swindon. But he was perfectly unconscious of this, or indifferent to it.”
“Later, after becoming ill in the 1867-1868 “My legs are as thin as a grasshopper’s”, he wrote to his aunt. Illness also prompted some reconsideration of his own character: he was going to be “not swell but stylish” in future, since people set so much store by appearance.”
“Open your eyes and see those things which are around us at this hour. If any imagine they shall find thoughts in many books, certainly they will be disappointed. Thought dwells by the stream and sea, by the hill and in the woodland, in the sunlight and free wind, where the wild dove haunts.” Richard Jefferies in Looker
“In the mind all things are written in pictures.” Richard Jefferies in Looker
“Though we have been so many thousands of years upon the earth, we do not seem to have done any more as yet than walk along beaten footpaths.” Richard Jefferies
At Tolworth Station, Under the railway bridge
“It is but a strip of sward, but it is as wild as if in the midst of a forest. A pleasure to everyone- therefore destroy it.” Richard Jefferies in Looker
(As it was in Jefferies day, so it is now.Surveyors and roadmen make sure that the delightful green strips that once surrounded many sign-posts at lonely lane ends are well covered with disfiguring gravel or lime heaps.)
Samuel J Looker writing in 1946 – what would they think now?
EWELL ROAD FOOTPRINT
Sun glaring off the pavement, off the bitumen
smell of dust and petrol- the suburbs in the summer
the smell of the spiky checquered upholstery
on the 281 bus, stuck in the traffic backed-up
along the Ewell Road.
Police Station, Red Lion pub
the last wooden bus shelter in London, removed – no longer the haunt
of crafty school-age smokers on the way home from school.
Bryants men’s outfitters opposite the church,
the church on hot days of May, a rosary month
where we would pray the beads at lunchtime
sometimes hide in the confessional.
Father Kirby with his Dot Cotton fag on
Leading the school mascot and pet goat, Olly.
fainting at the front of the church
holding a flag dressed in Guide uniform
that would be the incense.
My Uncle Bern fixing cars in the Blue Star garage
when Tesco was a twinkle in the cash register.
Buying my first single in Woolworths,
watching my Gran with the Greenshield stamps in the co-op,
ice cream floats and squeezy tomatoes in the Wimpy,
Verity’s with its never-changing ladies fashions.
Slippery subway steps under the Broadway.
Bells camping shop for my first sleeping bag,
Lorimers, and Superfish- still the same.
Standing outside Fine Fare on blustery days
on one of the Brutalist fountains,
holding my umbrella, hoping for Mary Poppins action,
spending pocket money in the supermarket on Lucozade and Dairy Milk
Collecting my copy of Jinty from Mouldy’s, opposite Raeburn,
Walking is also known to relieve depression and stress, freeing the mind to explore imaginary worlds. A 2012 study found that participants with clinical depression who took a walk in nature experienced improved memory, while an earlier 2008 study found that healthy adults experienced a mental boost after walking for an hour in the park.
Said Charles Dickens: “The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy.”
The White Cycle Bridge over the confluence of the Hogsmill and The Bonesgate Stream and a peek at Tolworth Court Farm Fields
“The meadow glows with buttercups in spring, the hedges are green, the woods lovely; but these are not to be enjoyed in their full significance unless you have traversed the same places when bare, and have watched the slow fulfilment of the flowers.” Richard Jefferies in Looker
RAIN-SUNKEN roof, grown green and thin
For sparrows’ nests and starlings’ nests;
Dishevelled eaves; unwieldy doors,
Cracked rusty pump, and oaken floors,
And idly-pencilled names and jests
Upon the posts within.
The light pales at the spider’s lust,
The wind tangs through the shattered pane:
An empty hop-poke spreads across
The gaping frame to mend the loss
And keeps out sun as well as rain,
Mildewed with clammy dust.
The smell of apples stored in hay
And homely cattle-cake is there.
Use and disuse have come to terms,
The walls are hollowed out by worms,
But men’s feet keep the mid-floor bare
And free from worse decay.
All merry noise of hens astir
Or sparrows squabbling on the roof
Comes to the barn’s broad open door;
You hear upon the stable floor
Old hungry Dapple strike his hoof,
And the blue fan-tail’s whirr.
The barn is old, and very old,
But not a place of spectral fear.
Cobwebs and dust and speckling sun
Come to old buildings every one.
Long since they made their dwelling here,
And here you may behold
Nothing but simple wane and change;
Your tread will wake no ghost, your voice
Will fall on silence undeterred.
No phantom wailing will be heard,
Only the farm’s blithe cheerful noise;
The barn is old, not strange.
“The forest is gone; but the spirit of nature stays,