Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Best Thing 2012

Trying to decide what's The Best Thing I've seen this year.  It's very tempting to say Leonard Cohen.  After all, I'd waited nearly 36 and a half years for the miracle to come.  But I feel there has to be an element of serendipity to what ever occupies the Number 1 slot which is erased by the purchase of a ticket.  Plus, I'm seeing Him again in 2013. (Have I mentioned that at all?)

Last year's Best Thing was encountering two badgers in the middle of Parry's Lane.  I'd only ever seen dead ones before.  It was the sort of moment that imprints itself on the inside of your eyelids. And so was this - the swathing of the Vale of Avalon in mist with Glastonbury Tor poking out of the top as I came down off the Mendips, headed for this year's Wells Festival of Literature. 






Thursday, 27 December 2012

Remembering Dennis O'Driscoll

So sad to hear yesterday of the death of Dennis O'Driscoll.  I was fortunate to hear him read some of his intelligent, witty and humane poems on a couple of occasions, as well as give a talk about Stepping Stones, his book of interviews with Seamus Heaney, and I hate the thought that he'll never come to Bristol, a city he professed to love, again.


But what I'll remember most is his generosity.  The way he would write a personal message in large letters alongside his signature in the book you'd just bought. How, in that moment, it was you who was the person of interest, not him.  How, upon encountering him at the door of the Arnolfini bookshop last September, he was more anxious to stay and chat to me and my companion, Pameli Benham, than go back to his hotel room to rest in preparation for the evening's reading.  How, when we each gave him a copy of our poetry collections, he said he would go back and read them - and did.  And sought us out later to comment on them.  

We didn't have him long enough. 




Monday, 24 December 2012

TED HAS HIS OWN CHRISTMAS CARD!

This is a direct steal from Dru Marland's blog, Upside Down in Cloud, which is always worth visiting but never more than right now, because ...



TED HAS HIS VERY OWN CHRISTMAS CARD!!!  

Yes, a sneak preview of next year's card starring an unusually still and attentive Ted. (How on earth he held that pose long enough for Dru to paint him, I shall never know!)

On the back of the card, one of my favourite Christmas poems by Thomas Hardy:

THE OXEN

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
   'Now they are all on their knees,'
An elder said as we sat in a flock
   By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
   They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
  To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
   In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
   'Come; see the oxen kneel,

'In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
   Our childhood used to know,'
I should go with him in the gloom,
   Hoping it might be so.

So, no need to dash to the sales to get next year's cards - just stay at home, put your feet up and eat the rest of the pickled onions, safe in the knowledge that you can buy a few packets of these from Dru's Etsy page next autumn.



Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Look of Innocence

Ted, caught red-pawed having eaten my dinner, 17th May 2012 ...



'What foot? Oh, that one over there? ... nothing to do with me, Guv!'


Ted caught using my bed as a nice clean towel, 22nd December 2012 ...




'It was the cats what dunnit ... I'll get them for you if you like ... '


I think he's getting better at it.



Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Et in Arcadia Ego

I am in receipt of the final final final set of proofs for my novel, Dart.  Which is scary because I used to proofread professionally back in the days of galley proofs and Tippex and learnt then that the only thing more certain than the small error that escaped your red Bic is the fact that some bastard will gleefully point it out to you.  

Although that hasn't been the case with my poetry collection, Communion.  It was a while before I could even open it after it was published.  When I did manage it, I saw one very minor thing I wished I'd noticed and changed at proofing stage, but no one else has ever said anything and now I can't remember what it was.

That said, I'm really not keen on the idea of living down a novel with a hideous error half way down page 73 (or anywhere else) so I'll be proofing carefully between now and the New Year.  Never mind Christmas, it's publication day that's looming.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of the Valley of the West Dart, where my story is set.


The West Dart at Huccaby



Glittering innocence



Over the stone stile


Longaford Tor, Higher White Tor and Bellever Tor from Hexworthy


Stepping Stones at Sherberton Firs













My novel, Dart, will be published by Tamar Books (an imprint of Indigo Dreams) on 4th February 2012.  More details here, and here.

You might be avoiding Amazon on account of their (tax) avoidance, but fret not, my poetry collection, Communion, is also available from Indigo Dreams for £6.99.



Sunday, 9 December 2012

Friday, 7 December 2012

Arthur Writus Gets His Feet Under The Table

No sign of the flare up of osteoarthritis that has plagued me for the last four weeks abating. It's everywhere, from my neck down to my big toes. That's both joints of both big toes, although it's worst in my shoulders, with pain running down my arms and into my stiff hands and fingers. I'm off work because I can't sit at a desk and type without pain. I also have problems getting comfortable enough to sleep. I can't settle on either side and if I doze off on my back, my head gets stuck to one side and when I wake up (panicked), I can't move it unless I do so manually. I usually arrange a sequence of bolsters about me so that I can lie half on my back, half on my side.  I feel like a dog in a manger or a pig in a poke or something, while Arthur grins and pushes his feet further under my table.

Ibuprofen, Paracetomol, Co-codamol, an injection of cortisone straight into my shoulder joint - none of them seem to be having an effect.  The fleecy wheat bag I bought off eBay does provide some relief but it's only shortlived.  A friend has lent me a mini electric blanket she bought in Lidl, at considerable cost to herself as her flat has no central heating.  The Keen sandals I got second hand off eBay are much more comfortable on my poor heels (with spurs so big I swear I could ice skate on them) than any others I own, but they are sandals and it is December.  I'm waiting for more second hand ones to arrive from America.  When they do arrive, I am hopeful that they will tide me over until my appointment with Orthotics comes through.  Apparently they have a huge backlog. Boo.

There have been some good moments also.  Let's see:

The workshop I ran last week while the usual tutor was away was well received, and it was good to pop my cherry as I need to add strings to a bow that is even balder than Seth Lakeman's after he's played Kitty Jay.  


In a similar vein, I have been confirmed as the judge of the Chipping Sodbury Festival Poetry Competition next year.  

It was lovely spending time with Daughter Number 2 yesterday, even though the occasion was sad, namely the funeral of her friend's mother.  I felt encouraged, however, to see how resilient all of the young people who stayed over at my house were. I just wish they could all find the work they want and need.

After today's Can Openers - the last at the Bristol Old Vic - John Terry, Alana Farrell and I spent some time at the dock at Sea Mills, formerly the Roman port of  Portus Abonae.  It was bleak and muddy and beautiful, and I'm ashamed to say I'd never been there before.  When/if my pain subsides, I'll be taking Ted down there for a proper walk.  

And I've won first place in the Pre-Raphaelite Society Poetry Competition with my poem about William Morris called 'This Serviceable Ghost', which is printed in my poetry collection, Communion.  In fact, it was a successful competition all round for my publishers, Indigo Dreams, as Caroline Gill, another poet on their list, is also having her poem published in the anthology.  

Final good realisation: if cider vinegar is recommended for lessening the symptoms of arthritis, so must cider be, right?  Time for a controlled experiment, I think ... 



Thursday, 6 December 2012

Make Good Art



You can tell I'm confined to base, apart from going to funerals and petrol stations ...



You can listen to the entire speech here.


Tuesday, 4 December 2012

How To Speak Poetry with Leonard Cohen

I've been to quite a few poetry readings lately, as well as participating in several. I don't consider myself a performance poet - I have a horrible feeling that as soon as I stood in front of a mic without a piece of paper or a book in my hand, my brain would head for the exit - but I'm not averse to a bit of arm waving and breast beating from those who are.  

But the one thing I really can't stand is when people read intensely and v-e-r-y  v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y, pausing after every three words to let their significance sink in, even if they are only by way of or he took a, or - if you are reading Billy Collin's 'Paradelle for Susan' was my into ... it was with ... to to.

Let's hear it for Leonard Cohen who tells us exactly how we should speak poetry in this piece called ... erm ... 'How to Speak Poetry'. 




Sunday, 18 November 2012

A Riot of Biblical Proportions


It was our annual family murmuration yesterday, a time to catch up on news from various far-flung outposts in a non-funereal context.  And there was some good gossip on offer, like my cousin Hayley delivering her own grandchild because the midwife insisted the baby (a little girl called Millie, 8lbs 6oz, since you ask) wouldn't be born till morning.  But there was something more unusual from my cousin Pam, who'd been helping her mother sort through papers following my Uncle Meric's death. 



My photos are rather hurried - my cousin was en route to Bristol's newest museum, the M Shed, where the pages will now be housed - but the pages (from 2 Kings Chapter 11, it would seem) are inscribed with the following in copperplate handwriting:

This was part of a bible which was plundered from the dwelling houses in Queen Square, Bristol, on the ever memorable Sunday the 30th day of October when the dreadful Riot and burning of that place was perpetrated by an infuriate and lawless mob.  



Which poses all sorts of questions.  How did my great-grandmother (for it was she who gave it to my uncle) come by such a thing?  What on earth was a rioter doing looting a bible?  Was the bible the then equivalent of a flat-screen TV as far as entertainment was concerned?   And perhaps most pressingly of all, where's the d from the end of infuriate?


Monday, 12 November 2012

Remembering: Gloucester Part II

Can't possibly leave Gloucester Cathedral without exploring a few more places and sighing over the artefacts therein, like the Lancaut Font in the Lady Chapel.  

I have a soft spot for the remote, ruined church at Lancaut on the banks of the Wye.  I first saw it from the Welsh side of the river years ago and longed to get a closer look.  Then, newly single and in possession of a car, I discovered a walk in a book, the route of which took me and Ted right past it.  Inside there was a grave slab with a heart etched on it.  

So it was especially lovely to see the font from the old church here. It is made of lead and dates from c1120-40.  Can't help wondering how many children have been baptised in it, and what were their lives like.



Also, in deference to my father, I must needs mention the fan vaulting, which is spectacular and not just in the Cloisters.  

Also seen here is some rather lovely turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts stained glass by Christopher Whall.  

And, of course, the stupendous Great East Window which boasts the second largest expanse of mediaeval glass in the country and which completely defeated my feeble skill with the camera, so here's a photo I pinched from gloucestercathedral.org.uk.

And lest we forget, the usual soaring vistas of butter-coloured stone which do so much to lighten wintry spirits.
 Wooden parclose screen and Tower



Struts supporting the arches which support the Tower


The Romanesque nave built in the final years of the 11th century


Stained glass stone ... 


The 15th century Tower and South Transept


The South Porch built at the beginning of the 15th century


As the Treasury is closed on Sundays and the Tower and Crypt were closed for winter, I reluctantly left, squeezing my way past men in khaki and women in black who were filing in for the next Remembrance Service.  The City Museum and Folk Museum were also closed, so I hobbled down to the docks on my poorly feet to make the most of the sun on water.

















Taking a short cut back to the Leisure Centre to wait for Son the Elder, I found myself trundling down a road that looked disquietingly familiar, given that I barely know Gloucester at all.  Then the penny dropped: I was walking down Cromwell Street.  Where so many women were murdered, there is now a tarmac walk way with a sign post pointing to the city centre.  I would defy anyone to wander down that street without feeling a sense of foreboding, athough of course it's impossible for anyone old enough to remember those terrible discoveries in 1994 to be at all objective.  

May those victims be remembered too. 




Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Box of Delights: Gloucester Part I

And so to Gloucester for the next round of Roamin' Robots, at the behest of Son the Elder.  I suppose I could have returned to Bristol after dropping him at the GL1 Leisure Centre, as it's only 30 miles away, but it was a beautifully clear and sunny day and anyway, why run the risk of having to do some housework when you can jaunt?

The last time I'd been to Gloucester, as opposed to through it, was as a small child on the bus with my mother and sister.  My mum told me off for reading a book on the way because I'd get sick but I didn't.  We went to the Cathedral - my father had explained to me what fan vaulting was in advance - and the livestock market where the pigs were bleeding from having holes punched in their ears.  I came back with a model animal for my farm, which was my favourite toy.


I decided, therefore, that a return visit to the Cathedral was almost certainly long overdue, but before I even got there, there was an amuse-bouche positively smothered in childhood and tied up with a big pink bow of literary interest.  Look, the Tailor of Gloucester's House!  

Through the arch was the Cathedral, and after the dark brick of Chester, how lovely it was to set eyes on buttery West Country stone.  The main morning service was still in progress when I arrived, so I took a wander around the Cloisters.  


Now, you might well recognise these and so you should because great tranches of the Harry Potter films were shot here.  I remembered how when I was teaching a class of German high school students during my year abroad, they had scoffed to see Gloucester Cathedral described in their textbook as world-famous.  Well, it is now.  

I was particularly pleased to spot this late Morris and Co window, c1920, and the watery-themed Victorian stained glass in the lavatorium.  
Oh, but the stone!  I wonder if the monks, copying scriptures with numb fingers, took solace in the staggering beauty of it, or did they become inured? 

After a coffee in the Cathedral café, the Remembrance Day service was over and the godless could roam.  And what a box of delights was in store.   There was more glorious glass for a start, these windows having been installed in the South Ambulatory Chapel in 1989 to mark the 900th anniversary celebrations of the current building on this site. 




And this lovely work of art was installed in the Lady Chapel in 1992 to commemorate the Gloucestershire composer of English Church Music, Herbert Howells.  


In fact, Gloucester Cathedral is as good at commemorating the dead as Chester is at wood carving.  Here's a few of my favourite tombs and memorials.  


The tomb of Thomas Machen and his wife, Christian, who died in 1614 and 1615 respectively and who both look pretty intimidating.  They had seven sons and six daughters, and their Latin inscription reads 'It comes down to this: we die.  Death is the final boundary of things'.  


Their near neighbours and contemporaries, John Bower (d 1615) and  Anne (d 1613) had nine sons and seven daughters, so there ...   



... whilst poor Elizabeth Williams died in childbirth in 1622 at the age of 17.  Her sister, Margery Clent, fared little better, dying the following year, also in childbirth, aged 21. Both women were daughters of Miles Smith, the then Bishop of Gloucester and one of the translators of the 1611 King James Bible. 

This is Abraham Blackleech lying next to his wife, Gertrude, who erected their monument in 1639.  We know that he was a gentleman and benefactor, and also that he had smelly feet.  How?  Look at the expression on the face of that bird of prey as it realises that it's stuck there propping them up for all eternity. 



Going back further in time, there are tombs of sundry Abbots, the Cathedral having been a Benedictine Monastery up until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, a 15th century effigy of Osric who founded the first religious house on that site in 679, and this rather dashing figure in painted bog oak of  Robert Shortstockings, the rebellious eldest son of William the Conqueror who seems to have been the butt of many practical jokes and who never did manage to claim the English throne. 

This is perhaps the most beautiful and famous of ancient tombs in the Cathedral, however - namely, that of King Edward II who was murdered at Berkeley Castle in 1327.  The guide book cites suffocation as cause of death.  I hope it was rather than the more horrific method traditionally given. 
An interesting bit of graffiti with serifs carved onto the tomb makes mention of Pearce Gaviston and Spencer [sic]. 
Two more modern memorials I loved were those of Douglas Tinling and Ivor Gurney, both in the Arts and Crafts idiom, although the latter's is a good deal later than Tinling's, who was a Canon of the Cathedral and died in 1897.    Poor Ivor, composer and poet of the Severn and the Somme, who never recovered from his experiences during the Great War.  It's fitting to remember him today, a casualty of war as much as any soldier fallen at the Somme.  


More about my jaunt to Gloucester anon.  










Saturday, 10 November 2012

A Poem for Remembrance Day 2012


Tobruk

for LRH

Silence,
not for two minutes
but sixty years.

Only then does he start to talk, 
not to his family but his brothers,
those soldiers in slippers,
with cemetery teeth,
their medals saucepan lids
pinned to punctured chests,
their stories shrapnel
lodged in matter
from a distant land called War.

Later, I gather rusted splinters,
their gist a desert expedition:
mirage of wire,
signs in barbed Gothic script,
hot metal surfacing
through oceanic sand, in front, behind. I panic,
turn to trace his steps,
a trail of breadcrumbs
swallowed up by circling dunes;

not knowing how this terror ends,
if my father will survive
to speak its name.




                       © Deborah Harvey 2011



This poem is from my collection, Communion, published by Indigo Dreams.  If you like, you can read some more here.




Sunday, 4 November 2012

Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty ...


Jonny by Ben Hughes

Having spent all week poorlified, I was a bit apprehensive about yesterday, which comprised a day of poetry workshops led by Sue Boyle and Sara-Jane Arbury, a reading, and an evening event of poems and art as part of the Faces {Bath} collaboration with poets from the Bath Poetry Cafe.   Plus the drive to Bath and back.   I'd been looking forward to it for ages and really didn't want to miss it.  But would I be able to snuffle and cough my way through a whole thirteen and a half hours away from Settee of Sickness?  I needn't have worried.  The poetic spirit is always willing, it seems, even when the flesh is weak.

And what a day it was.  Something clicked in the workshops and I emerged with enough material for several new poems.  I had a lovely lunch with Pameli Benham and the afternoon reading was convivial.  As for the evening, it ran beautifully smoothly to a packed Elwin Room in the BRLSI.  Such a privilege for my words to share a space with such talented artists and poets.  



It's a funny thing responding to a portrait of a person you've never met.  It feels very intrusive to imagine a whole new life for them.  Take, for instance, the two depictions of a student by R Scott Fraser.  As the eye focusses first on the earring(s), so did my poem.  I imagined it a family heirloom, which led to the family being in exile from a distant hot homeland.  So I had to laugh when I mentioned the earring to Scott and he replied 'Oh, that was just cheap rubbish. I had to work really hard to make it look that good.' Then the coup de grâce.  'She's just a girl working down the pub, you know.'




Portrait in Spring by R Scott Fraser

Of course, no one's ever 'just a girl working down a pub', but I take his point.  Hooray for art, beauty and the imagination.