Verse Aid : Poems for the Earth

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.

The monies raised went to two amazing charities:

Founded in 1993, Bees for Development was the first organisation to articulate the reasons why beekeeping is such a useful tool for alleviating poverty while helping to retain biodiversity. http://www.beesfordevelopment.org

International Environmental Charity Earthwatch brings together world-class scientists and individuals from all works of life to work for the good of the planet.

I also took part in the Poem-A-Thon, reading from Sward, and raised money again for Bees for Development – and thanks to everyone who sponsored and supported me!

 

Sward

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.

 

The Moon Over Tolworth

Harvest Moon by Samuel Palmer (1905-1881)

In the mundane modern

semi-detached suburbs

slippers, gravel, teatime tables

GCSE revision

the Moon guides me home

welcomes me to this season

with its golden corona

moonflower harvest sky

 

The Moon ~O~

 

I speed down the A3 toward

Tolworth

Tower

follow the curve of the road

there it is again on the right

above the cleared MAFF site

behind the bowling alley

 

The Moon ~O~

 

The Moon is over the fields

Giving it the full Samuel Palmer

Richard Jefferies is walking out

late to see the moonlit silver

gold of the harvest under this

crystal studded Prussian blue sky

almost cold and glowing

 

The Moon ~O~

 

I want to stop the car and see the fields

in this Autumn moonlight

but life like a kite pulls me on

a different journey

I hope darkness prevails in the fields

so I can see them like this next year

 

Walking in Richard Jefferies’ Footsteps, Monday May 7th 2018

 

The Plaque at RJ’s house in Ewell Road, Tolworth

Outside Richard Jefferies’ House, Ewell Road

Outside Richard Jefferies’ Home – pic by Paul Atkinson

“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.”

Richard Jefferies takes a walk down Tolworth Broadway

“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

And we follow him…

 “In the mind all things are written in pictures.” Richard Jefferies in Looker

Richard Jefferies navigates the greenway, across the Tolworth Roundabout

“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

And we follow him…

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

Crossing over by Tolworth Station. Pic by Paul Atkinson

(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?

Richard Jefferies walks towards the railway bridge…
Reading Ewell Road Footprint at Tolworth Railway Bridge. Pic by Paul Atkinson

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

Richard Jefferies shares a joke with Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum 😉 Pic by Paul Atkinson

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.

Past Tolworth Station, the air becomes heavy with the scent of blossom

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

Walking down the Kingston Road. It’s so green and leafy! Puc by Paul Atkinson

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,

On the path… Pic by Paul Atkinson

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.

…and traffic and roundabouts…

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 home reading and bumping into lamp posts…

and subways and traffic and subways roundabouts

and traffic and green buses and bus shelters…

And (in the Toby Jug) Ziggy played Guitar

 

“A fresh footpath, a fresh flower, a fresh delight.” Richard Jefferies in Looker

The Kingston Road (A240) Bridge over the Hogsmill

Alison showing everyone the vintage photos of the area, including Tolworth Hall Bridge. Pic by Paul Atkinson

Extract from: What Famous Writers Know About Walking – (full feature here)

“Writing is one way of making the world our own, and… walking is another,” wrote Geoff Nicholson in The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, and Literature of Pedestrianism.

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

Alison speaking at the edge of Tolworth Court Farm Fields

I read Hogsmill Tiddlers from my Over The Fields poetry map – more about that here.

Tolworth Court Moated Manor

“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

Walking across Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor. Pic by Paul Atkinson

The Barn (extract) by Edmund Blunden

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.

Old Kingston Road. Pic by Paul Atkinson

“The forest is gone; but the spirit of nature stays,

and can be found by those who search for it.”

Richard Jefferies in Looker

 

Please read Alison Fure’s fantastic write up of this walk for the natural history and literature underpinning this exploration into the Tolworth that Richard Jefferies knew. It is compelling- especially as we can still recognise much of it today.

~Tolworth Treasure!~

Thanks to Alison as well for suggesting I read Edmund Blunden’s The Barn.

Thanks to Paul Atkinson for letting me use some of his wonderful pics from the walk here.

A massive thank you to Ben Henderson, who became the embodiment of Mr Jefferies, and for bringing his footsteps to life in such a magical fashion!

Thanks to Gill and everyone at Court Farm Cafe for looking after us, and thanks to everyone who came!

Back to Court Farm Cafe for refreshments, conversation and writing.
Perfect

The walk was also recorded for radio and will be broadcast later in the year…more information on that at a later date.

The majority of the quotes here come from Samuel J Looker’s book The Worthing Cavalcade: Richard Jefferies – A Tribute. Published in 1946.

We will be walking again over the summer- more information on the facebook page here: www.facebook.com/tolworthtreasure