Monday, 18 September 2017

AUTUMN FORAGING

At the beginning of this month the swallows were getting fidgety and lining up on the overhead wires.  Now the skies are bereft.  They left early this year – does this mean they sensed bad weather coming (Storm Aileen) or had the older adults (who tend to leave later) not survived the Welsh summer?

I noticed today the dark red of a hawthorn tree against a rare deep blue sky.  Flocks of rooks are gathering in the fields.  Beyond my garden several acres of late spring-sown barley has turned a pale straw yellow but has yet to be harvested.  My next door neighbour has had a bonfire going all afternoon.

Like the squirrels (grey on the peninsula, though Anglesey has reds) I’ve been doing some autumn foraging.  Here are some of my gatherings:

The Scottish Poetry Library has honoured its founder, Tessa Ransford, with a blue plaque.

She founded the Callum MacDonald Memorial awards.  The publishers’ section was won this year by the tiny Dumfries-based Roncadora Press (for Sheep by Hugh Bryden and Hugh McMillan).  I’ve been to two of Hugh Bryden’s workshops on handmade poetry pamphlets – they are inspirational.

Dave Coates (on his blog Dave’s Poems) has researched poetry reviews.  He concludes: “Even a preliminary study of British and Irish poetry magazines and prizes shows how ingrained is the culture of structural racism and misogyny.”  I would add that the paucity of poetry reviews in mainstream print publications is abysmal. 

But it was good to see a Kenneth Stevens’ poem as the Guardian on-line poem of the week recently. It was taken from his version of the Irish legend of Deirdre of the Sorrows.  Stevens writes in a way not unlike George Mackay Brown.  His work is rooted in the Scottish countryside and Celtic tradition.

I recently had a conversation with a man who writes Welsh poetry.  He told me he was composing an englyn.  I did a quick google and discovered an intricate verse form of rhyme and cynghnnedd.  Each language is different.  It would be hard to do in English (perhaps Hopkins and Dylan Thomas have come nearest) without seeming forced and artificial.  But it works in the musicality and flexibility of the Welsh language.  Don’t get me started on the way Italian (an inflected language) has influenced the use of rhyme in English.

Enitharmon Press have announced the autumn publication of The Heart’s Granary, an anthology to mark the 50th anniversary of the press.   “This momentous publication marks the end of a much cherished poetry list”.  I fear the worst.

Carcanet covers are changing.  I’m used to glossy colourful covers usually with a large contemporary painting.  I’ve just read Sinéad Morrissey’s On Balance and I have Gillian Clarke’s Zoology and Thomas A Clarke’s The Farm by the Shore on my teetering To Read pile.  What they all have in common is a pale matt cover with a simple understated image and folded-in “wings” front and back (like a dust cover).  They look remarkably like a Cape poetry publication!


The large barley field next to my garden was the swallows’ insect-hunting space.  How I miss their purposeful curving flight.  I’m conscious of the approaching equinox when day and night are poised equally and the surise and sunset are aligned due east and west.  Then the balance of light will shift and autumn will have arrived. 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

SURPRISE AND DELIGHT

I'm delighted to have won first prize in the Second Light 2017 poetry competition (short poem category) with my poem 'Six Studies of Pillows' based on a Durer pen and ink drawing.

My poem 'Clustog Fair' was placed in the commended section.

One of those buses moments.

Monday, 28 August 2017

MARKET FOLLOW UP

After my taste of rye bread in my previous post -

Black bread

 On the shelf at Aldi rye bread schwartzbrot
bread that will keep in wooden chests for weeks
bread you can eat at dawn and do a day’s labour.

The sour-sweet taste of it – a snatched lunch when
we biked through July cornfields to the coast
on old Third Reich tracks, concrete white in the heat.

An ear of corn split with my thumbnail, flour
soft on my tongue.  Wind turbines flailed the air.
The A of a granary’s great brick gable,

tented with rye brown thatch, swept the ground.
A peg-mill, redeemed from fire, the whole mill-house
dancing to catch the eye of the wind.

                                                              And
the tracks ran on, resolute, determined,
as if the crew-cut stubble had no choice.
At Schönberg the Baltic hazed the horizon,

little whispy waves nibbled white sand
drifting against breakwaters (nicht betreten).
The drift of things: rye grains carried in carts,

in desperate sacks, in pockets, across
the settlers’ ocean to turf roofed dugouts

to rise as prairie sourdough. 


© Mary Robinson 2010, 2017

from The Art of Gardening (Flambard 2010)

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

NOTHING STAYS PUT

The exotic is everywhere, it comes to us
before there is a yen or a need for it

wrote Amy Clampitt in one of the best ever shopping poems (‘Nothing stays put’).     

Last weekend I was down in Bath visiting family for the weekend.  On Saturday morning we went to Green Park market which is next to a big Sainsbury’s.   We had a divide and conquer approach and while one member of the family did the weekly supermarket shop the rest of us browsed round the market.

Green Park station is a grade 2 listed building.  It was once an important railway terminus but now the market is held under the arched glass roof of the old station.  It’s spacious and there’s a relaxed atmosphere about the market.  People walk slowly, looking and chatting.   There are small children and dogs and no one seems stressed.   We sat and drank our coffees at the market café.   Music from the LP shop in a waiting room of the old station spilled over into the market.   There was a stall selling knick-knacks of vintage silver plate – items which one’s great granny might have possessed, such as sugar tongs (remember sugar lumps?).  Little time-capsules of curios.   Nearby was a stall selling home-made soap – beautifully scented from flowers in the stall-holders’ garden. 

But most of the stalls were selling food, home-grown and, in some cases, home-cooked.  As a child of self-sufficiency parents (John Seymour’s book was frequently consulted in our house) I greatly enjoyed visiting this small-producers’ market.  On the list were strawberries and jam (from the same stall) – lovely sweet juicy berries in all shapes and sizes.  A giant punnet and a jar of jam for under a fiver.   We resisted the wild meat man (will [grey] squirrel ever catch on?) but treated ourselves to some dry-cured smoked bacon (from Gloucester old spot pigs).  Such bacon was to us haute cuisine (we had bacon butties that night with a glass of red wine).

It was impossible to rush round the market because the producers were so enthusiastic.  There were lots of free samples and the stall holders needed no prompting to talk passionately about their food.  The bread was particularly good – we tasted the rye bread (from locally grown rye).  It was as good as anything I have had in Germany.

My daughter-in-law had requested some flowers.  We found a local grower’s stall selling dahlias – confident pompoms and mop-heads in mother-of-the bride colours – lilac, orange, peach, white tinged with mauve, lemon yellow with golden centres – not a curl out of place (like something out of Philip Larkin’s ‘The Whitsun Weddings’).  Freshly picked that morning, two bunches for five pounds.

 Dahlias, native to Mexico, eaten by the Aztecs, grown in Somerset.

Nothing stays put.  The world is a wheel.
all that we know, that we’re

made of, is motion.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

MOUNTAINS AND SEA

A perfect combination.

Today I walk the dog along the cliff path from Morfa Nefyn.  Yachts shelter in the curving bay of Porth Dinllaen.  The sea is a deep azure blue.  It is a day of Auden’s “leaping light”.  A window on the coastguard look-out tower flashes back the sunlight.  Waves gather, white crests glisten until the final stumble onto the beach.   To the north-west the hills of Yr Eifl are a shadowed grey – natural ramparts forcing the traveller inland.  Across the sea to the north Anglesey’s long low sandy shoreline ends in the submarine shape of Holyhead, the port for Ireland (Porth Dinllaen was once proposed as the Irish port – how different this beautiful coast would have been if the project had gone ahead).

The cliff path is dotted with late summer flowers – montbretia, ragwort, Himalayan balsam (all invaders) and the diminutive harebell which seems so fragile but isn’t.

Montbretia
orange as the gleed of a winter fire
     under the summer sun

Ragwort
each flower a thousand score of sun-kings
     heading straight for the battlefield

Himalayan balsam
popping up in all the plashy places
     painting her pouting lips pink

Harebells
that first syllable of breath
     trembling in the azure wind


© Mary Robinson 2017

Monday, 31 July 2017

50 METRES ABOVE SEA LEVEL

Is not very high but it’s enough for me to see the circle of mountains and hills which surround my new house. 

I want to describe them from the north west, starting with Garn Boduan, a rather uninteresting hill to climb due to its dense covering of fir trees which gives its outline an unshaved stubbly look.  But it is of interest in that nearby is Bodfel Hall, birthplace of Hester Thrale, friend of Samuel Johnson who visited this area with her.  See Beryl Bainbridge’s excellent novel According to Queenie.

To the north are the elegant triple peaks of Yr Eifl, looking like extinct volcanoes (which they are).  On the seaward side there was extensive quarrying of granite setts, widely used for urban streets in the 19th and early 20th century.  A whole village was built for the workers at Nant Gwrtheyrn and later abandoned.  It has now been given a new lease of life as the National Language Centre of Wales.  On the most easterly peak is a well-survived iron age hill fort, Tre’r Ceiri, (the Town of the Giants) with high stone ramparts and hut circles – most atmospheric when the mist is swirling round the ramparts.

The quiet group of hills I call Bwlch Mawr after one of its summits lies behind the village of Clynnog Fawr, with its ancient church on the pilgrim route to Bardsey. 

If it’s clear enough the next most noticeable mountain to the north east is Snowdon, obviously higher than any surrounding hills.  In The Prelude Wordsworth described his ascent at night with a shepherd guide, the only excitement provided by
    
     The shepherd’s lurcher, who among the crags,
     Had do his joy unearthed a hedgehog, teased
     His coiled-up prey with barkings turbulent.

Then they climbed above the mist into moonlight –

     The Moon hung naked in a firmament
     Of azure without cloud, and at my feet
     Rested a silent sea of hoary mist.
     A hundred hills their dusky backs upheaved
     All over this still ocean; and beyond,
     Far, far beyond, the solid vapours stretched
     In headlands, tongues and promontory shapes.

Looking sunwise to the east there are more mountains, incuding Moel Hebog and the Rhinogs (loved by poet Lee Harwood and listed in Robert Graves’ poem “Letter to SS from Mametz Wood”).

Looking through the bushes along the boundary fence of the garden I can see the blue line of the sea of Cardigan Bay and to the south east the classic outline of Cadair Idris (Idris’s Chair – yes, Idris was a giant).

To the south west and nearer to my house are Moel y Felyn Wynt, Carneddol and Garn Saethon, insignificant hills of Pen Llŷn but they form the view from my living room.   Moel y Felyn Wynt has the stump of an old windmill on its summit.  Its Welsh name translates as Windmill Hill but locally it is known as the Jam Pot.  I asked someone working on my house what this nickname was in Welsh and was told that it was not very original – the Pot Jam. 

Garn Saethon is the hill I find most interesting, with its hill fort (“date unknown”), its nearby reminders of the Crimean War (Inkerman Bridge, Balaclava Road) and its long deserted stone church dedicated to the archangel Michael.  An 1851 a religious census recorded a congregation of 7 “owing to the inconvenient location of the church”.  The parish was abolished in 1934.

The OS maps’ gothic lettering of historical sites features on several of the hills – settlement, fort, field systems, hut circles – but this is not an exhaustive list.  I found this out by visiting the Bangor University dig at Meillionydd at Rhiw a few days ago.  The archaeologists are most enthusiastic about this site, not marked on any maps but shown up as two circles by aerial photography.  They have discovered that Meillionydd (named after a nearby farm) was occupied from the 13th century to the 8th century BC – from the late Bronze Age to the Iron Age.  I was fascinated to see a stone lamp which still had soot embedded in its shallow reservoir, spindle whorls (one of them decorated), glass beads, grinding stones and - the archaeologists were most excited about this one - a jet bracelet.

Visiting the dig has made me view the encircling hills differently.  The deserted summits were once occupied, fires would have flickered from the hills at night and below the soil must lie evidence of human habitation. 

For information about the dig

 meillionydd.bangor.ac.uk