Skiddaw sulked under its cap of cloud, but as I drove over Dunmail Raise the weatherscape changed. The late afternoon sun lit up the Vale of Grasmere and the slanting light chiselled each rock on the fellside into sharp relief. Every shade of autumn was visible - from the iron oxide brown of the dying bracken to the delicate gold foil of silver birch leaves.
I was in Grasmere to read at the launch of This Place I Know, the new anthology of Cumbrian Poetry edited by Kerry Darbyshire, Kim Moore and Liz Nuttall, and beautifully produced by Handstand Press of Dent. Lovely cover design by Angie Mitchell.
The Jerwood Centre was fully booked. After brief introductions including some opening words by Grevel Lindop (who wrote the foreword to the anthology) about 20 of us read in the sacred room lined with the Wordsworth Trust's collection of manuscripts and books. And (here's a first for me) - we were live-streamed on Facebook for anyone who couldn't get there to watch.
What a wonderful evening it proved to be - both for readers and the (very attentive) audience. I want to single out two readers in particular: Hannah Hodgson and Josephine Dickinson. Hannah read her brave poem 'The Fells Whispered Goodbye'. Hannah is one of the youngest poets in the anthology but, due to an incurable illness, she is no longer able to climb the fells and come home with 'earth clinging to my boots'. The last verse of her poem is very moving:
'The fell wrapped its arms
around my shoulders,
whispered "goodbye" in the wind
and let me go.'
Josephine Dickinson read her concrete poem 'Snow'. On the page the poem is a blizzard of small print with no spaces between the snow-words. Josephine read it in a fast whispered voice with occasional gradations in volume. Sometimes the words were recognisable but often not - it was a snowstorm of sound and we were captivated by the originality of the poem (or should I call it a poetic installation?).
This Place I Know throws its net wide. There are poems by 92 writers in the anthology (if I've counted correctly). The editors made the decisions on which poems to include and the book is not meant to be representative of the work of individual writers, rather it is meant to be representative of contemporary writing about Cumbria . In this it succeeds excellently, giving us an extraordinarily varied selection (you will not get bored reading it!).
The contents of the anthology give an answer to Robert MacFarlane's words (from The Old Ways) quoted on the opening page:
'What do I know when I am in this place that I can know nowhere else?'
This Place I Know costs £10
Go to the Wordsworth Trust's Facebook page and you should be able to find Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum's streaming of the event.
17 November at Maryport Literature Festival www.senhousemuseum.co.uk
18 November at Kendal Mountain Festival www.mountainfest.co.uk