Tuesday, 22 September 2015

brave new world

Hi blogsters.

Our beautiful baby, Gabriel, was born a week ago and he is a wonder. Sometimes impy, sometimes very old, sometimes just a tiny boy. Feeling very lucky to have him here safely in the world. And strange to think that less than a week ago he was still inside me and what a huge journey it is from being unborn, to born.  His umbilical stump is drying up hour by hour as he learns to live in his own body..

I also think a lot about the world he has been born in to, and what all the babies born now are inheriting from us. If he is lucky to have a long life, he will live to 2100.

All newborn babies are so precious and innocent. I think of those born into a world without a home, or a father, or safety, and how lucky we are to have our own beds, own front door, our freedoms.
Anyway I am writing this with one hand so will stop now but yes, a profound and moving experience to have him here sleeping in my arms, dreams running over his face in little mysteries and flickers..


Onto some poetry matters - I was delighted to have a poem painted up on a giant bill board on the corner of the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve as part of the Phytology project.

The billboard changes every few months, and there are some more details here -


My poem was inspired by St Jude - the Patron Saint of Lost Causes and the name of the church on the site which was bombed in the Second World War. There are still lumps of rubble and brick in the soil, which once were thick church walls. I must say it was loosely inspired by the structure of a poem by Mona Arshi, called You Are Not, from her collection Small Hands. I tried to write about the specific nature on the site - it's full of mushrooms and cyclamen at the moment, and i wanted it to be accessible for people passing by..

I've also got a poem going round Guernsey at the moment on the buses, which is fun. It's great to have some work 'out there'.
Back soon and thanks for reading

Monday, 7 September 2015

To the LIght of September

I love early Autumn, just as it turns. The light is slant and golden and there is a dampness in the mornings. At dawn, the windows are slick with dew and trees near our house are loaded with plums, pears and walnuts that have not fallen.

The nights come in, quietly with a grace to them. The air is more mineral and the light grainier,  rationed.

Another thing: the spiders, poised and present, between bins and branches and doors. 

There is a delicacy in these first weeks of Autumn, of leaves and seed heads holding on with a dignity of form. Teasel. Of outlines and structures and a falling away of dressings, ribbons and leaves.

Anyway, a time of beginnings and also reckonings; more so than January. 

I thought I'd share this beautiful poem that captures the qualities of this time of year -  I like the way it directly addresses September. Another lovely poem is Ted Hughes' October Dawn, but October seems far away..here's to September, walking away with her back to us, with skirts of trailing leaves.

To the Light of September

When you are already here
you appear to be only
a name that tells of you
whether you are present or not

and for now it seems as though
you are still summer
still the high familiar
endless summer
yet with a glint
of bronze in the chill mornings
and the late yellow petals
of the mullein fluttering
on the stalks that lean
over their broken
shadows across the cracked ground

but they all know
that you have come
the seed heads of the sage
the whispering birds
with nowhere to hide you
to keep you for later

who fly with them

you who are neither
before nor after
you who arrive
with blue plums
that have fallen through the night

perfect in the dew
Source: Poetry (September 2003).

Friday, 28 August 2015


Ah, I've missed this blog and somewhat neglected it this summer but it has been a busy time. 

So ... for fear for straying into more personal territory than I usually do,  it is less than three weeks until I am due to give birth to our son. 
As I type these rather plain words, I still can't quite believe it. But there is a focusing, a narrowing down of attention I can feel in myself as he gets ready to be born. I feel this as I wash and fold babygrows (which if people know me, is really quite uncharacteristic) and also become increasingly preoccupied with the world close by, and the certainties of home. 
(It would be interesting to research the behaviour of animals as they prepare to give birth).
I remember just before I had our daughter I went through a manic few hours down on my knees, weeding! This will be the third birth and I hope it will be powerful and strong. 
Yesterday I had a growth scan and the baby had his hands up over his face, like a dormouse. It all seems both remote and completely intimate...especially when I am waking up all night with his rolls and shifts. 
I like the idea there are two heart-beats in my body, beating at different speeds. 
I'm also going to ask to see my placenta, if possible, as I'd like to look at the organ that has sustained the baby for these months, and also think about the idea it is a genetic interloper. Both slightly sinister and incredibly rich, like a sort of benign second mother-lode..flesh that is not my flesh but I have grown.


Anyway, I have been writing as much as I can this month, as part of the residency for the phytology project at Bethnal Green Nature Reserve. Much of what I have been doing is, perhaps unsurprisingly, botanical, with some charms using herbs found at the site and based on Anglo Saxon translations. Someone recommended the Bosworth Toller dictionary which has been so useful. 
I like the AS riddles and charms best of all. Most exciting for me is when some of the language is directly linked to our speech and sentiments of today. There is also a lovely sense of rhythm and music as all these poems were meant to be spoken and heard, and were often performative charms. 

Here are just a few words..
Beaorn is child, flaed is beauty, frith, peace and weald power. Leof - beloved, wifcild (girl child) and fugol (fowl) with finc, cocc and nigtegale. Then there is meoluc (milk), and litmus (litr) is dye and moss. 
I've also been reading a bit of herbal folklore with remedies, often known as a 'purgative spew drink' for people with whom 'the devil has intercourse' for example.  Some of the folklore is pretty - if a girl washes her face in the dew from the hawthorn tree she will always be beautiful. 
And some are downright bawdy - "for a woman that has great breasts - anoint her paps with the juice of succory - it will make them round and hard.
"If they be hanging or bagging, it will draw them together, whereby they shall seem like the paps of a maid." 
Better than a dodgy silicone implant. 
That's from a book called Hatfield's Herbal, found here - 


I have also been reading a lovely Picador anthology somewhat soppily titled 'All the poems you need to say hello' and edited by Kate Clanchy. It's full of an eclectic range of poems about making life and this is one of my favourites so far, by Paul Muldoon, which captures something of the chatter and beauty and multiplicity of the world a child comes into.  I particularly like the banality and briskness of the ending which somehow both deflates any pomposity yet celebrates birth (and humanity).  Sorry about the picture quality!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Voiced project

Hi there... I'm delighted to be one of five writers/songwriters to be given a writing residency at the Bethnal Green Nature Reserve this August and September.

The work is part of the phytology project, which brings artists and botanists together to explore the medicinal properties of plants common to derelict urban environments.
Thirty-two species of wild plants – usually regarded as weeds – have been sown on a site that was once meadow and pasture, and occupied by a medieval nursery and market gardens. Ranging from Black Mustard, Common Nettle and Feverwort, to Wild Garlic, Marsh Mallow and Sweet Woodruff, the plants have been selected for their continued use in phytotherapy and traditional medicine. Visitors to the Reserve are encouraged to learn how to safely identify, harvest and use the plants for medicinal and nutritional purposes.
Phytology aims to challenge ideas of use, value, resilience and the function of wildness within our urban ecosystem. If you read this blog, you probably know I love to poke around physically and mentally in the spaces and places where human and non-human intersect and mingle. I'm also fascinated by the wild in us and our increasingly tenuous connections with the earth and all its richness, including an ancient knowledge of nature. Sometimes London feels totally alien if there is not a single living thing in sight. But if you look hard, there always is something growing or thriving or surviving - a pigeon, a plant, even moss on walls. 
There is a real sense of history at the site - in 1839 the Bishop of London called it one of 'the most desolate parishes' and built a church, St Judes (named after the patron saint of lost causes) which could seat a congregation of 1,000. Little remains of it after it was bombed in the Second World War, but there are lumps of bricks and masonry littering the site, like glacial erratics..

Below are some pictures of this magical place from Saturday, when I got to walk around and soak it up and jot down a few notes. I'm not sure what I will be writing yet, but I am starting to read up on and think about plants and their properties and their rich folklore and language. I'm also interested in the idea of lost causes and usage, and the nature of weeds, and hypocrisy.
In Anglo Saxon times, weod (weed) was a name given to any small plant. I sometimes tell my children a weed is just our conception of a plant in the 'wrong' place. 

Rubble from St Jude's church

Writers' shed

Family fox hole

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Just a quickie..

Hello there, happy high summer all. 

I'm looking forward to reading at the launch of Magma 62, which is on the theme of violence, at the London Review Bookshop on July 31st. It is free but you are advised to book tickets here - 

The LRB shop looks like a wonderfully atmospheric place to read, amid shelves of books, with their distinctive smell and weight...and is sure to be a varied and interesting night with lots of different poetic voices.
One of my poems coming up in magma is a ballad inspired by these beautiful lines, and tone..

In other news, a unique project combining artists, botany, weeds and wildflowers is coming together and I am delighted to be involved in it. Looking forward to writing about it here very soon - watch this space.

Thanks for reading...

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Oswald and RA summer show

Hi there, I don't like to to leave my blog this long, but it's been a busy time recently. So thanks if you're reading and/or vaguely interested!

It's been an interesting week with two highlights I wanted to briefly write about.
Firstly, was a wonderful talk/lecture/reading by the poet Alice Oswald, inspired by Milton's Paradise Lost. She talked openly about the travails of writing to commission, especially in homage to an epic such as Paradise Lost, and how many of her ambitious ideas, and certainties, fell by the wayside.
In the end, she created a relatively short poem, Shadow, that she recanted for the first time to a hushed audience. It managed to capture both the cosmic space-scale and the tiny, quirky exactitudes that make up observed truth - and I don't like to paraphrase but here are two lines that I will now think of when I notice certain shadows -

'it's as if I've interrupted something
that was falling in a straight line from the eye of God'

The poem is printed by The Letter Press and it is inlaid with faint lines of Milton's epic and presented as beautiful folded up letter-poems in an A5 envelope. I am reliably informed they should be available for purchase through the Poetry Society website soon. But it's the words and music that matter (matter being the literal word) and if ever Oswald is reading again I would urge people to take the chance to hear her..
P.S this is probably only relevant to me but I liked the way she had ungroomed hair and no make-up and left her own reading seconds after uttering her last lines (in the pomp of Buckingham Palace no less) to catch her train while everyone else mingled afterwards drinking wine.

There is something profoundly vital about certain voices, and poets, and Oswald perhaps the most elemental of all I have heard read alive. She tends to recite from memory but it is more than that - she is almost oracular, a vehicle for the other, or elsewhere, to channel. She draws power from the wellspring of earth, from a great teeming taproot of existence which sometimes Ted Hughes seemed to do. It's as if she is one ear and listens. I don't know how to define it further..


On another, very different note I went to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy yesterday. I am very proud of my mother who is part of a collective of five print-makers, named Pine Feroda (I don't know why) - and they have a print at the exhibition. You can find out more about them here - and it was wonderful to recognise my mum's 'hand' in the beautiful galleries, in much the same way you might recognise a poet's voice.


I took some photos of art that inspired me. I love the scratchy edge-of-whimsy of Tracey Emin - it just appeals to my sensibility, I guess. I also enjoyed very much some of the sculpture (see pics below) which captured the heft of this bull head's corporeality, and the gothic qualities of a bird shape. And again the almost-prissiness of embroidery/cross-stitch detailing anatomy. I think the pieces I responded to best were the ones that crossed or transgressed categories.. for example a jerkin woven from a woman's own hair. You could see the little globed hair follicles woven through it like moth eggs..

A wonderful show. I couldn't take in the rooms of paintings by the end as my brain was full but again highly recommended. Here are some pictures of some inspiring things. I also felt inspired (and to some extent tenderness) towards the range of human inventiveness and resourcefulness. How each piece was the product of hours of thought and emotion and craft, and all wonderful multiplicity of creation..how humans will always make things in order to say something..

Me, (with bump)  in front of Pine Feroda's 'Looking South' - the rather luminous sea-rock-scape

Emin  - Bird and Fox

Not sure how I feel about this - pity?

Monday, 1 June 2015


I've been reading some inspiring new books recently. They help me along with my own writing endeavours and enrich me as a reader, and human. I can't imagine a life without reading...and how diminished it would be.

Kim Moore's The Art of Falling (Seren) was just a joy - a tough, tender book packed with a variety of forms and emotional clout.
The middle section, How I Abandoned My Body To His Keeping, is particularly strong. Moore writes of domestic violence and the perils of attachment and entrapment. Every poem in this section takes an oblique, surprising and often redemptive note.
This was a collection I dipped into with glee because the poems give so much to the reader in imagery, music and a generosity of spirit. They are emotionally open, yet also musical and peppered with surprising metaphors ('my heart was a field').
Moore sometimes writes quite long, almost breathless phrases using repetition of clauses that are woven through the text. A Psalm for the Scaffolders, for example, contains the phrase 'a psalm for' 11 times.  (Incidentally, she is a brass teacher and I wonder if the experience of playing long sections of musical notation is reflected in this form)?
Because she is such a deft poet, these clauses are expertly crafted into the body of the poem, making them even stronger pieces of work. Scaffolded if you like with a sort of invisible wiry strength.
This is one of those rare books that I feel I could give to any non-poetry reader with the aim of converting them to poetry's undeniable charms.


Jacqueline Gabbitas' book Small Grass (Stonewood Press)http://www.stonewoodpress.co.uk/product/small-grass/ is another collection that does something extraordinary with language. This small and ambitious book takes on the voice of grass in many guises, and is both timeless and particular. As grass is.
The poems wear their biology lightly - there are rhizomes and algae and ice core samples, but they are also quite clearly art in themselves.
This exquisite short poem, Grass eavesdrops at a church window, is worth quoting in its entirety - it just expresses that sense of starchy humming you can almost hear in bright sun when plants are photosynthesising..

'If man would put his ear to this glass
he'd hear my voice - my colossal reed

singing to my stems, my roots, amassing
my flower-heads, broadcasting seeds.'

Another strength is the author's subtle engagement with environmental peril, without becoming didactic. She writes beautifully in the delicate, shifting space between human and nature.


Another author who writes within this territory is Helen McDonald, author of H is for Hawk, a memoir, I suppose, of her time training a goshawk in the time after her father's death. It weaves the story of fellow authorT.H White with personal experience and quite learned academic reference and is sharply self-aware and reflexive with a quality of attention that mirrors the extraordinary hawk eye. I'm planning to write more about it at length later. The descriptions of Mabel, her goshawk, are so fresh and exact -

'...the more I sit with her, the more I marvel at how reptilian she is. The lucency of her pale, round eyes. The waxy yellow skin around her Bakelite-black beak. The way she snakes her small head from side to side to focus on distant objects. Half the time she seems alien as a snake, a thing hammered of metal and scales and glass. But then I see ineffably birdlike things about her, familiar qualities that turn her into something loving and close. She scratches her fluffy chin with one awkward, taloned foot; sneezes when bits of errant down get up her nose. And when I look again, she seems neither bird nor reptile, but a creature shaped by millions of years of evolution for a life she's not yet lived.'

Did you know that the stiff, tiny feather spikes around a hawk's beak and eye are called crines? They have evolved to catch blood so it dries and flakes away. I suppose that is why vulture faces are almost bald..
H is for Hawk is English nature-writing at its very finest. Truly special and worth your time.