Friday, 15 April 2022

THE BIG WEEK

In Welsh Holy Week is Yr Wythnos Fawr - The Big Week. Palm Sunday is Sul y Blodau, Flower Sunday. Four years ago I was in Lebanon for Palm Sunday and the churches celebrated with palm leaves and olive branches. This time of year is important for other faiths too, and even for those without an adherence to any organised religion Easter seems to mark a celebration of spring. Last week I walked with a friend down the valley of Nant Gadwen to Porth Ysgo. There were primroses beside the stream and a lizard skittered away from the water-worn stones at the foot of the long flight of wooden steps to the shore. The old manganese workings and tramway, still visible after almost eight decades of abandonment, are softened by the spring vegetation. This week the bluebells are starting to come out in contrast with the vivid chrome yellow gorse flowers. Blue and yellow, the colours of Ukraine. They are echoed in a display in Hefina's haberdasher's shop in Pwllheli (yes, a real haberdasher's shop), in the crocheted decorations on the top of a Criccieth post box, in the blue and yellow flags flying in the streets. Today is Good Friday. Marianne Burton's poem,'3pm: the Ninth Hour: Calvary' repeats the words 'Love shining' four times and ends with the words: 'For those who have marked in their diary/the hour when, for them, a heart stopped.'

Thursday, 17 March 2022

POEMS ABOUT NORTH WALES

I'm delighted to have had three of my poems accepted by Kathy Miles for publication in the next issue of Artemis Poetry. The poems are all based on my local area. 'Levels' explores Porthmadog and the slate industry, 'Quarrywoman' describes one of the women whose husbands came to work in the granite quarries near Nefyn and finally 'Saethon' is set in the Penllyn hills I can see from my back garden. Artemis Poetry is due out in May this year.

Saturday, 18 December 2021

ALMOST THE WINTER SOLSTICE

A white grass frost under the light of a full moon, everything silvery like Walter de la Mare's poem. Then the sunrise and the mountains etched across the horizon - Garn Boduan, Yr Eifl, Bwlch Mawr, the Nantlle ridge, Yr Wyddfa, Moel Hebog, the Rhinogs, Cadair Idris, Carneddol, Garn Saethon, Garn Fadryn. It's too good a day to stay indoors, especially after the grey overcast days of this last week, so it's on with my boots and out for a morning walk from the house. The low clear sun gives a golden tint to the land and all its sculpted slopes and valleys. There's a pheasant shoot going on nearby. The corvids vocalise their discontent. The bright sunshine and crisp air is invigorating and uplifting. Every so often a buzzard lifts off an electricity pole and languidly flies out of sight. Is it three different birds or the same bird I see three times? Last Monday was St Lucy's Day. Before the calendar was changed in 1752 the saint's day coincided with the winter solstice. I remember the line from John Donne's 'A Nocturnal upon St Lucy's Day': 'The world's whole sap is sunk' and so it seems today: the trees are bare, the bracken's rich autumnal rust has faded and its dead stems have been flattened by Storms Arwen and Barra. The autumn berries have gone, stripped by blackbirds and fieldfares. And then I see a violet, a dot of bright colour amongst the dead grasses, and a little further on another. They are flowering on a sheltered south-facing field bank. Even on this cold morning I can feel a little warmth on my back from the sun. Nature has its chancers and the violet must be one of them. Maybe the circumstances will be good and the flowers will set seed, or maybe not, but it's worth a try. To me the violets are a symbol of hope. Ever since March 2020 there have been posters and placards appearing here in Wales with the proverb 'Daw eto haul ar fryn' and a rainbow - literally 'the sun will again come on the hill' but translated as 'things will get better'. By the time I get back it's time for lunch. I turn on the radio and hear Thomas Tallis's glorious masterpiece 'Spem in Alium'. 'Spem' - the Latin for hope. The musician Robin O' Neill (a suitably Christmassy name!) describes how Tallis's polyphonic music is scored for 40 voices (8 choirs each with 5 parts). The music swoops down and up, he says, and 'the printed score looks like a flock of starlings'. I listen to the music continually changing, the way a murmuration of starlings is constantly on the move, each individual bird a part of the whole. To all my readers I send best wishes for Christmas and a hopeful New Year.

Friday, 3 December 2021

RECENTLY PUBLISHED

My poem 'October' is published in the November edition of ARTEMIS POETRY (issue 27). Yes, I know, but be fair - the magazine only comes out twice a year! Artemis is published by the hugely encouraging poetry organisation, Second Light. See www.secondlightlive.co.uk

Monday, 29 November 2021

BACK FROM THE EDGE

Storm Arwen has thrashed everything. The lane is littered with leaf debris, twigs and small branches. The battered gorse bushes release their scent which fills tha air. The landscape has changed - now that all the leaves have been stripped from bushes and trees I can see the mountains more clearly - the bold outlines of Garn Fadryn, Cadair Idris, Yr Wyddfa (the latter two with a scattering of snow). Bracken has died back to yellow and rust brown. Yet even on this late November day there are a few flowers on the grass verge: grubby-looking hogweed flowers yet to catch up with the sculptural umbelliferous seed heads of their summer counterparts. Red campion bravely showing some faded pink blooms. And the gorse - random bushes with vivid yellow flowers. Not a lot, but enough to lift the heart on a cold damp morning. Berries are emerging on ivy. A wren flits across my path and into a tangle of brambles. Blackbirds and fieldfares are flyting over the few remaining haws. The verges and the high banks (cloddiau) are a precarious refuge for nature, not given much of a chance in the adjacent fields. Nature driven to the edge. I walk for an hour and only see one other person - a farmer on a tractor, checking on livestock which he keeps in these fields a couple of miles from his house on the other side of the village. I've been reading Sheri Benning's new work, FIELD REQUIEM, a lament for the disappearance of family farms in Saskathchewan and a howl against intensive agriculture. The back cover reads: she 'bears witness to the violence inherent in the shift to industrialised farming in prairie Canada'. I'm thankful that we are not there yet, but .... I look over the valley and see the big fields, in one of which is a digger - idle for the weekend - waiting to drain a watery field. Part of nearby Cors Geirch is a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest ('Cors' is Welsh for a bog). But outside the reserve boundary the edges are being nibbled away by agriculture. When I was a child my family and I stayed for several years on a farm at Llangwnnadl. The farm consisted of small fields enclosed with high banks which were ablaze with wild flowers in spring. There was no mains electricity and the couple who rented the farm milked a few Welsh black cows by hand twice a day and left the milk in churns on a stand at the gate to await the lorry collection. Memories trapped in the time's amber. What a difference today! A farmer who has recently bought a large field (about 50 acres) opposite my house told me that his 400 milking cows will all be dried off soon and will all calve in February. The numbers are relatively small - at least one local dairy farm numbers their cows in four figures. James Rebanks in his second book ENGLISH PASTORAL makes a strong insider argument (he is a farmer) for a more environmentally sympathetic way of farming, avoiding the twin poles of re-wilding and industrialised agriculture. It is not difficult to catalogue the losses in the natural world but rather than dwelling on 'guilt and misery', as Jane Austen said, I am encouraged by a project to restore and expand the coastal strip of the peninsula where in a few decades nature has been driven to the edge. Our local wildlife film-maker and photographer, Ben Porter, has made a beautiful film about the coastal edge and the ongoing work to expand and restore it. Go to https://www.ecomuseumlive.eu/videos and click on Coastal Connectvity/Cysylltedd Arfordirol. Just 6 minutes of beauty and hope for the future.

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

NEWS

I'm very pleased to have been shortlisted in the Second Light Poetry Prize 2021 for my poem 'Beirut'. Hawk-eyed followers of my blog will have noticed that at the moment I'm having a wee bit of a problem with formatting (despite an updated browser and an updated virtually everything else - thanks, Alan). So in case you're wondering what I've been reading lately: KERRY HARDIE Where Now Begins (Bloodaxe 2020), GERRY CAMBRIDGE The Light Acknowledgers and other poems (Happenstance 2019), KAREN SOLIE The Caiplie Caves (Picador 2019), JOHN BURNSIDE Feast Days (Secker and Warburg 1992). I bought the early John Burnside from Oxfam, Keswick. They have a good bookshop with s separate poetry section. I also bought a couple of Les Murray's collections to give to a friend. Recommended browse!