Monday, 23 October 2017

Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk Part I: And there could I marvel my birthday away

The sky turned red and then stopped being red and the Poetry Festival ended with readings from Sarah Howe, Karen McCarthy Woolf and Rishi Dastidar; plus two poetry shows, The Venus Papers and the resonant and enthralling Leasungspell. I hadn't managed to get to every event, but still clocked up ten in a fortnight which is a lot for an introverted type much more at home wrapped up in a knitted blanket with a cup of tea.  It had been great ... but exhausting.

There was a birthday - mine - looming too, the observation of which I've always found a bit overwhelming. But the Northerner sets store by such markers, so I girded my lions and other big cats and we set off for Laugharne in Carmarthenshire ... 

... to Brown's Hotel, to be precise, which we'd visited earlier in the yearThis time we were staying the night. With the dog. Because in Brown's, dogs are welcome.  

After a settling-in drink, we set out on Dylan Thomas's Birthday Walk, which provides the grist for Poem in October ...  

... a long, lyrical excursion which is, I suspect, especially beloved of his fellow October-borns.   

Having visited Dylan and Caitlin's grave in May, we didn't feel the need to go back there so soon. Better to focus on the living word. 

As it was, the churchyard was rather more sombre than it had been in the lushness of May.

At the church door we encountered a woman who was just finishing the cleaning, so I asked her if I could pop in for a moment. 'Are your boots clean?' she asked. I looked down at my walking shoes which were still covered in a slip of grey Sussex chalk. Luckily they are grey anyway. 'Sort of,' I said.

She'd lived in Laugharne all her life, she said, and asked if we liked Dylan's poetry. 'He was never as bad as they make out,' she said. 'It was That New York that Did For Him.' 
She mentioned Augustus John, and when I said he'd been Caitlin's lover when Dylan and Caitlin met, she winced a little. 'You know, I think they only did what poetry told them to do,' I said, borrowing a useful line from Birthday Letters. 'Or ... art - you know - in the case of Augustus.'

10th century Celtic Cross

We continued our walk, which took us down a deep lane that eventually wound around to the coast. 


Field Maple

The good red mud of the West Country which had been overlain by the grey chalk slip of Sussex was now being covered by the good red mud of Carmarthenshire. 

Rhossili Down and Worms Head in the far distance

The Boathouse, decidedly less bustling than in May

We'd intended to continue our walk up over Sir John's Hill, but while we were wandering, the weather had turned around, as in the poem, and Storm Brian was blowing in. 

So we repaired to Brown's and Ted, who thinks everywhere we visit is potentially our new home, made himself at home. 

The Pelican, where Dylan's parents were tenants from 1949 to 1953 and where Dylan's wake was held

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Bristol Poetry Festival so far and a visit to Wells Festival of Literature 2017

The Bristol Poetry Festival is galloping into its final week. The last seven days have seen fantastic sets from Tara Bergin, Liz Berry, Helen Ivory, Lucy English, and Lois P Jones (the winner of this year's Bristol Poetry Prize), and Martin Figura's stylish and affecting new show about love, loss and poetry, Dr Zeeman's Catastrophe Machine, which I absolutely recommend. Plus a ground-breaking fusion of BSL poetry and poetry film, including translations into sung notation (an indequate way to describe it but the best I can do), with Paul Scott, Helen Dewbury, Chaucer Cameron, Victoria Punch and Kyra Love.  And last night a beautiful, beautiful launch for the anthology of poems by contemporary Georgian women poets, 'The House with No Doors', translated by Natalia Bukia-Peters and Victoria Field, with music from the Borjghali Choir which made me want to dance up and down the aisles of St Stephen's Church. (I desisted but it was a close thing.)  

Then there was Dru Marland's launch of her latest collection, Drawn Chorus, published by Gert Macky, which took place last Monday and which was A Roaring Success. Here are the guest poets!

Today it was off to Wells Festival of Literature for a bit of a change. I'd been asked to get the reception for this year's shortlisted poets in the poetry competition under way by reading my poem 'Mr Cowper's Hares', which won last year's Hilly Cansdale prize for local poets. And since it's always a pleasure to go to Wells, I was happy to oblige. 

And it all went ever so well. 

Here are a few of the City of Wells in Autumn photos such an occasion demands. 

St Cuthbert's

The view from the pub

Stained glass autumn ash with Cathedral backdrop
The ruined Great Hall of the Bishop's Palace

Stained glass from ruined French churches, post Revolution

Tudor fireplace


Not falling into the mediaeval conduit on the way back to the car

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

A Poem for World Mental Health Day 2017

William Cowper was an 18th century poet and hymn writer, born a generation or two before Blake, Coleridge, Clare and Keats, and like them, posthumously diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Of course, we can never really know what caused their mental illness and it seems rather prurient to conjecture about this aspect of their lives. In any event, what's more interesting about Cowper is the fact he kept three orphaned hares as pets and found some comfort in caring for them. 

Mr Cooper’s Hares

And so he sits without moving
holds them in his lap

not so tightly they’ll take fright
leap through the window
scream up the lane
outstripping every attempt to catch them
hurling themselves
from rock to moss to wild supposition
till they’ve gone beyond all returning
no longer know they have a home

and not so softly they’ll take fright
bolt down the passage
out through the door
dodging the grasp of passers-by
almost suicidal into tan pits
brought back half-drowned in a sack
caked with lime

and so he holds them without moving
pent between his hands

sees his reflection

in their mad amber eyes

©Deborah Harvey 2016

This poem won the Hilly Cansdale Prize for Local Poets at Wells Literature Festival last year, and I'll be reading it at the prize-giving ceremony for this year's shortlisted poets, this Sunday at 3.30pm in the Bishop's Palace. 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The things we do for poetry ...

Yesterday started with poetting in Weston-Super-Mare. It was a bit blustery down there, especially on the front. 

Then back to Bristol for the first big event of the Poetry Festival, the slam at the Arnolfini. As usual, I had a couple of minutes to while away in the car park before the evening tarif came into operation at 6pm. 

Hanging about is never a hardship on late afternoons like these. 

Slam hosts Claire Williamson and Elvis McGonagall

The standard of poets entered in the slam seems to get better year after year. I'm sure a lot of it is down to performance poetry being taken more seriously on creative writing courses. Anyway, last night's was the best yet. It was won by Shaun Hill, with Melanie Branton a close runner-up.

The Poetry Festival runs until 19th October. Here's a link to the events yet to come

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Seven Sisters on the Last Day of September

The annual summons for my daughter's birthday - which retains its importance even unto her 28th year - saw us on the south coast, at Seven Sisters.  

There must be studies on the significance of Seven Sisters in world mythology but I haven't found any. Maybe it comes from the Pleiades originally? In Bristol they are a group of pine trees up on the Downs, and in the eponymous Seven Sisters in north London there are stories of circles of trees through the ages. (The current ones are hornbeams.) 

Here, on the Sussex coast, they are surging white cliffs. 

Seaford Head and Hope Gap

We were at the mouth of the River Cuckmere, where it piles over pebbles into the sea. 

Just above the beach it meanders through chalk flood plains alongside the new cut made in 1846 to relieve flooding upstream.

It's a bleak, immersive landscape. 
Let's have a wander. 

The beach vegetation reminded me of my visit to Pagham Harbour, 50-odd miles to the west, but at the other end of the season. 

It's quite different from my usual landscape. Just look at the thin gruel of chalky Sussex mud obliterating the good red earth of the West Country! 

Glasswort. Probably. Maybe. 

It came on to rain a bit  ... 

... but briefly. 

And anyway, we were nearly back at the pub for a late lunch ... and home.