Monday, 18 September 2017


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. 

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