Sunday, 3 May 2015


English translation: to write

Take a group of disparate writers, give them a pen and paper and a bit of encouragement and the result is a ferment of creative writing (thank you, everyone!).  Last week I was on a poetry masterclass at Tŷ Newydd, the National Writers’ Centre of Wales.  The tutors were Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales, and Maura Dooley, Reader in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths College.  During the week Tŷ Newydd celebrated 25 years of writing courses and it was a privilege to be at the al fresco celebration in the garden with bubbly, cupcakes decorated in silver and white, and balloons.   Guests associated with the house (including David Lloyd George’s great niece) and with Literature Wales attended.  Gillian Clarke wrote and recited a specially commissioned poem.  I’m hoping all this literary magic will transfer to my own creativity!

This week, my writing batteries recharged, I am filling my notebook with observations, ideas, draft poems while staying on the Llŷn peninsula.  Every field is bordered with white and gold from blackthorn blossom and gorse flowers.  Marsh marigolds and primroses flourish along the valleys.  Thrift's pink buttons stud the cliffs.  Bluebells cast their vivid haze along grass verges and under trees, growing so thickly in Nanhoron Farm wood that they are a vivid blue lake.

I spend a long time watching a small group of choughs, two of which are prospecting an abandoned mine shaft near the shore.  Stonechats pop up on gorse bushes and chack pebbles together.  Wheatears flit from stone to stone on open moorland.  It’s been good to see song thrushes again in gardens and fields, once commonplace birds whose numbers have declined back home in Cumbria (warranting a mention in the results of the Big Garden Birdwatch).

But there are two noticeable avian absences, the cuckoo and the curlew.  Plenty of cuckoo’s boots (the bluebell – see previous post) but no cuckoo.  A farmer told me he hadn’t heard a cuckoo on the Llŷn for several years.  Have the curlews gone too?  Twenty years ago Llŷn fields were full of their flute-like music in spring.  I mourn their silence.  I hope there are still some around on the peninsula – maybe it’s because I’ve been doing more coastal walking this week that I’ve not heard them.

Each day I walk down to Porth Ysgo.  It’s where I watched the choughs and it’s the setting for my poem “Seal”.


We skitter
past derelict mine workings,
scratch through gorse –
its yellow flowers
spicing the spring air –
and leap the last stone steps
to the shore.

They’re ahead of me,
tearing off clothes,
printing the soft sand
with their feet
gasping and shrieking
as their winter skin
hits the nacreous sea.

They swim
with youth’s easy grace.
The cove’s gentle arms
enclose them.
A black float
off the headland
marks where men drown
their pots each night.

A dark head glistens –
they are joined
by another.  No one
sees or hears him arrive.
They tread water and watch
a whiskered face
shining fur
heavy shoulders
the plectrum eyes of an old man.

Weeks later, walking
past uncut oats and kale,
I hear seals out on the skerries
half a mile away.
Ghostly, amelodic,
their voices
not a lament or cry
but a cantata

of abstract sound.
The music
of sea caves and tide race,
singing for the days
we hide inland.
I think of storms
and my two sons asleep
sailing on a sea of dreams.

from The Art of Gardening (Flambard Press) © Mary Robinson 2010

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