Sunday, 26 May 2013

A SETTLING IN - NEW VENUE FOR CREATIVE WRITING WORKSHOPS: 'WALKING STORIES, LEAVING FOOTPRINTS'




A SETTLING IN …

Ten people came to yesterday’s creative writing workshop at the new venue, Jane's farm in the Dales nestling between Cumbria and North Yorkshire. After a long, hard winter and spring the day opened its blue and the sun shone.

It was a settling in as people made their way to her farm, which sits atop a slight rise among a maze of lanes with old drovers’ roads leading off the main road into the dales and the old Scotch Road – a bridleway now – keeps its history sealed beneath becks and turf.

Ten people graced the farmhouse kitchen laden with homemade lemon sponge cake, brownies and flapjacks and a warm welcome from Jane, a parcel of swallows click clicking their chat among eaves and porch swooping low the whole while we were at the table writing and sharing poems.

“Keep the outside door closed, so the swallows don’t come in!” One did, so we hurriedly closed the door! The day was warm so we agreed to go outside and walk as soon as we’d shared some feedback on writing the group had brought with them. Writing and news! I. told us she’d had her poem longlisted for the Fish prize. A poem she’d written on a previous “Walking Stories” workshop. B. told us of three poems accepted for Dawn Treader magazine and we agreed to share magazines we’d recommend.

We went round the table introducing ourselves, there were four new attendees and three apologies. This sharing of work, reading their poem or prose piece out loud, receiving feedback is an important part of the writing group. It gives confidence in reading work out loud; builds trust in sharing work from the heart with others and gives the rest of us a feel of a person’s writing style, subject matters, concerns of importance to them and also what motivates and influences them. 

If a person has no work to share, I suggest that s/he might like to bring with them a poem or short piece of prose by a writer who has influenced and inspired them and to say briefly why. This introduces us to new work, new writers; discussions of people’s work open our eyes to different ways of writing and also new information! For example, did you know that puffins are a delicacy in Iceland? No? Me neither! Until yesterday…

After group feedback we were eager to get outside and taste the sun. Jane led the way across the farmyard, pausing now and then to regale us with some story, familiar to her new to us – that’s the turkey that pretended it was ill and missed Christmas. He’s six now. The turkey stared down its blue nose at us, its massive scarlet dewlaps wattling, its face, to me, a Noh mask, not as handsome as a pheasant whose faces always remind me of Japanese Noh actors, but I could imagine a Noh mask like that ol’ turkey!

“Each day we went to it, prepared to take it away to be butched for Christmas. It was the first time we’d kept a turkey, someone asked us for a free range, organic one, so we thought we’d give it a try. Well, next day we went again. That turkey hung its head, lower and lower. Wouldn’t move. Next day the same. Come Boxing Day it came flying out of its pen, into the hen run!” We turned and looked at it. It stared back. Was it grinning, or was that a wink it gave us?



We walked across the track, often clarty but sun and strong winds had pretty much dried it. Past a small beck with a clump of marsh marigolds, and a smattering of Mayflowers, Ladies’ Smocks or Cuckoo Flowers, called because Cuckoos return in May when this delicate mauve flower blooms.

We walked, stopped, took photos, made jottings, all the while Jane pointing out something of interest to us. I took a photo of stone gate posts. Jane mused: “Look at the width between those two posts. Imagine you’d never get a tractor through them now. They were made for horse and carts, or horse and plough. That cottage down there, they kept six horses!” I take the photo, we walk on. “Kendal Roughs, those sheep with long noses, indigenous sheep, you don’t see many nowadays. They’re very placid sheep, very calm. Not like those! Swaledales up the fellside there. They’re barmy!”

It was a day of small groups talking quietly, stopping to lean on  drystone walls, pause, jot notes down or just stand and stare as W H Davies said in his poem, ‘Leisure’

WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,

And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

I had never heard of ‘hare holes’ before until Jane pointed them out, although they could barely be seen as the walls had dropped and the holes became closed over. They were made so that hares could run from one field to another when they were hunted. They’re not hunted now, in the fields and fells round Jane’s and “Do you have hares here?” was asked “Oh yes! We have a lot!” Collective sighs! P. told us later that the moon at present was a ‘super moon’, explaining that it was so many degrees closer to the earth and appeared larger than usual. There would be a super moon for three months. Super moons and lots of hares make me itch to be on the fells with hares and moon.

Bedazzled by sun and wind, tales and rich history and stories we picnic-lunched on one of the lawns, cushions, blankets, garden chairs, food, cakes, drinks… a panting dogs and chat.

“I read something somewhere lately that a flock of lapwings was called a deceit.” “A deceit of lapwings?!” “Yes, and a murder of crows, a leap of hares.” We pondered. At the time I commented it seemed unfair of the lapwings, (pee-wits, plovers) to be referred to as a deceit. But, sitting typing this, ping! I realised! Of course, it made sense! Lapwings (as their name suggests) drop their wing, pretending that it’s broken, as they lead a perceived threat to their nests and chicks away by feigning injury. Yes. A ‘deceit’ of lapwings.

We idly mused between munched mouthfuls of what else we could name, making playful suggestions, juxtaposing sometimes inappropriate words: a recommendation of rabbits, a tumult of turkeys, a playground of lambs… We discussed the rookery, listening to them call and caw, chuckle and mutter. “If there’s twa it’s a rook, if there’s yan it’s a crow” – two ‘o’s’ in rook, one in crow. Simple!

Lunch over, we went to visit ‘Geraldine’ the Jacob ewe and her lamb, ‘Banjo.’ Jane first had to go into the field adjacent to the picnic lawn on her own, pick up Banjo and lead mum and lamb to a small enclosure, with another sheep and two lambs ‘Jenny Wren’ and twins. I held Banjo, others stoked him, his short tight woolly chocolate brown and white body, mum looked on but son was content and put his face close to mine and sniffed!



We went indoors for a couple of writing exercises. The first one was asking them to think of a pair of hands and describe them. This exercise is in Peter Sansom’s excellent book “Writing Poetry” (Bloodaxe Books). First, simple describe the hands in detail, then imagine them doing a task, lighting a fire, knitting, diggings spuds, changing oil in the car… each person read out what they’d written, or said ‘pass.’ It’s the variety of responses that never fails to amaze and delight me – some responding by describing a pair of hands, some their own hands being  and doing or taking it off into realms of the surreal; using refrains, repetition, a list poem or dividing it into two sections to convey a couple’s relationship…

I used a poem by Michael Laskey for the next exercise, titled ‘A Tray of Eggs’, asking the group to write a four stanza poem, seven lines to each stanza, as in Laskey’s poem, starting each line with the words from his poem and substituting a different word for ‘hens’

I invited one of the group to read it out, one person commenting on the fact that even saying ‘their daft, deft pecking’ makes you feel you ARE a hen, the words mimic a hen's movements as they nod their heads and peck at food:

‘It’s not the (blank) that matter/s’
‘Nor is it the’
‘Not even the’
‘But what counts more’


A Tray of Eggs

It's not the hens that matter,
scratching among the nettle
roots at the orchard's edge,
though much might be made of their red
foppish cockscombs, their speckled
feathers overlapping and the stutter
of their daft, deft pecking.

Nor is it the road pedalled 
by heart to the farm, the known 
fields never the same,
turning from a greenness to grain,
revolving, resolving into rows
of straight seedlings, stubble
burnt or interred under furrows.

Not even the ride shared
with my two-year-old child, astride
the crossbar, breathing the blown
scents he's making his own
unknowingly, being alive
to vibrations of place this admired
Ford tractor amplifies.

But what counts more than these small
pleasures are the eggs we bring home
in boxes and softly transpose
into the bevelled holes
in the cardboard tray, the domes
of these thirty shells
that will break like the days to come.


Michael Laskey
from Being Alive (ed. Neil Astley, Bloodaxe)

The sun still shone and we were pulled outside again – couldn’t stay in to long in this weather! Replenished by drinks and cakes I gave the group a ‘kicker’ line from three poems and a prose piece, inviting four people to read out each piece, which were ‘Book Ends’ by Tony Harrison, ‘May’ by Aldo Leopold from his book “A Sand County Almanac”, ‘Lies’ by Jo Shapcott and ‘Hurt Hawks’ by Robinson Jeffers.

Two people read ‘Hurt Hawks’ in a duet:

During this writing session Jane said, the cows will be let out in a moment, there’ll be much kicking of heels and excitement!” “Is this the first time they’ll have been out?” “Yes, they’ve been in all winter, they’re in calf – watch!”

Her sister and brother-in-law opened the gate and sure enough out came the cows into the brilliance of daylight and greenery… heels kicked, tails flicking, before coming dow to earth, to graze sweet, new grass. “The hills are alive!” I yodeled. “With the sound of moooo-sic!” answered B.




“There’s only a strand of barbed wire between us and Siberia!”

Yes, it was an enchanting day of sunshine , writing and laughing - but how different these fells and dales can be in winter, or spring as it was this year, snowed-in facing severe weather, heading out to check the stock, a sheep caught in barbed wire, torn and bloody; a difficult calving; repairing walls and fences in Arctic conditions as the Jet Stream lowers and blasts from the Arctic become more common, come hurtling into your face, stinging skin, eyes watering, head bent you struggle in the snow even to cross the yard to get to hens to feed them, in-lambs yows in sheds and barns, at all hours you check their condition.

A livelihood that turns on you, could bite and beat you, but you love it so continue the struggle amid all the joy and beauty, pain and bleeding. Because you’re part of this land, it song, its fabric. Its story is your story and in turn you share this story with us, guests alighting on your farm like swallows, for one brief moment.

Four thirty and finishing time.

A wander round the farm, introduction to Albert, Sam-lamb and Boris watching them feed; into the hen house to collect eggs and feed the hens, Reginald the glossy Wellsomer cockerel following us… and off we went to our various destinations.

‘Til next time, when we meet again at Jane’s farm on August 17th for another creative writing workshop, with guest tutor New York poet George Wallace, writer-in-residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace, Long Island and editor of Poetry Bay www.poetrybay.com

Date for your diary:

August 17th
“Walking Stories, Leaving Footprints”
10.30am-4.30pm,
Jane’s farm near Kirkby Lonsdale with guest poet George Wallace
£30 incl. refreshments.

Please bring your own lunch and suitable footwear and clothing


HURT HAWKS

I

The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days: cat nor coyote
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.
He stands under the oak-bush and waits
The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom
And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.
He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
The curs of the day come and torment him   
At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,
The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.
You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him.

II

I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk; but the great redtail
Had nothing left but unable misery
From the bones too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.
We had fed him for six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance. I gave him the lead gift in the twilight. What fell was relaxed,
Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.


Robinson Jeffers, "Hurt Hawks" from The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, edited by Tim Hunt.  Copyright © 1938 by Robinson Jeffers, renewed 1966 and ©  Jeffers Literary Properties.  With the permission of Stanford University Press, www.sup.org.

Source: The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (Stanford University Press, 1988)

Saturday, 11 May 2013

FOLLOWING THE HARE'S PATH




FOLLOWING THE HARE’S PATH

I was driving back from a visit to a friend’s last week, along a narrow, single-track road in North Cumbria. The day had been one of those days, weather-wise, that makes you simultaneously want to hunker down inside, or go outside, fling your arms wide and say ‘blow wind, crack your cheeks!’ – Lear-like.

Well, I did both. Ate soup and soaked up conversation with my friends, spoke of the exquisite joy that age can bring of seeing things almost afresh, so that even the simple act of feeding the birds and seeing them feed brings a quiet joy, or sharing an anecdote of a red squirrel’s antics in the deep snow we had back in March. How it tried to climb the bird-table pole, kept slipping, chittered to itself, fell off into soft, piled up snow and how my friend took a photo of it. You could see the frustration and humph! in that red squirrel’s face, a clear expression of disgust in its scrunched-up nose.

When I walked Roy after lunch, I met a couple of walkers who had set off along the Cumbrian-way, which starts in the Gill, Ulverston, where I live in South Cumbria. They told me they didn’t bother going over Skiddaw as the wind was bad enough on the top of High Pike, blowing over 70 mph. One of them pointed to Roy, who’s a Border Collie and said, we saw a shepherd with a few of those up on the tops, just think! all the miles those dogs run, gathering up the sheep in all weather! We looked at Roy, eager in the rain and high wind to get going again, down the lane.

The lane runs at a higher level to the one I drove along later in the day. It’s a clarty old farm-track with flooded puddles of water at the start of it and in the middle, but the views over to the west, north west, and of the long, lane climbing out of the village, soon to be lined with egg-yolk-coloured gorse, is one engraved on my retina, or maybe the eyes of my heart.

It’s a track of the badgers that inhabit this fellside. I’ve seen them late at night when taking a variety of dogs for pee-poo walks down the lane; seen them stop and pause at the corner where the beech tree marks the joining of track and lane. Seen them coming up the road, black and silver creatures of moon and shadow.

Driving home the other evening it was a hare I saw, as I drove slowly down the narrow road. A hare that bounded nonchalantly right in front of my car, from the hedgerow on the left and into the field on the right; long-legged creature of domed head and large eyes, animal of myth and moon, a hare that crossed the lane, one side to the other, with a bright, quick-eyed glance. Then paused to look before elegantly loping up the fellside.

And it struck me. It was a similar feeling to one I've had when driving on a motorway and you see, slowly ambling across a bridge above you, cows going to and from milking. Sometimes they pause in their swinging tails and heavy udders, stop and look at the whizz-bang thunder of traffic below them. The cows, like the hare, in their own rhythm, in harmony with nature. The hare more so than the cows, because of the cows’ domesticity, but still a different rhythm, aligned with the rhythm of land and seasons...

... thought: we're out of kilter in our fast, metal-boxed enclosure of cars, locked out of smell and taste, panic and fear, sun and wind, joy of spring, death in winter, of other creatures.  I recalled two poets. One in whose workshop I wrote of the scratchy, horizontal noise of traffic across the sky, in contrast with the vertical drop of melodic birdsong. And the other poet whose poetry helps nudge me back into the more natural, fluid alignment of the hare, whose path I hope to follow in my own life and poetry.



Geraldine Green 11.5.2013
pic of a wolf moon I took earlier this year, 


Thursday, 2 May 2013

REVIEW OF 'THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BRIDGE' IN SOUTH MAGAZINE ISSUE 47





REVIEW OF ‘THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BRIDGE’ – GERALDINE GREEN
BY PATRICK B OSADA, ISSUE 47 OF SOUTH MAGAZINE:

Indigo Dreams Publishing £7.99 (ISBN 978-1-907401-86-2)

Geraldine Green is a poet who is not afraid to experiment with poetic structure. Her most effective poems benefit from a close marriage of content with form, her subject matter vivified through a judicious use of language, rhythm, musicality and line-break.

Much of ‘The Other Side of the Bridge’ documents the poet’s travels in Europe and North America. However, it is of her native Cumbria that Geraldine writes most affectingly. L.P. Hartley famously wrote … the past is a foreign country and it is Geraldine’s travels to the Whitehaven of her grandparents and scenes from her own youth that, for me, are most memorable. Here she captures the breathless exuberance of juvenescence:

            “legs swinging and us licking ice creams
            on the submarine dock our platform shoes
            cool and wonderful and the men whistling
            and shouting hey love gi’e us a lick!”

                                                            (‘me and janine’)

Writing about her grandmother, Geraldine reverts to a more “traditional” form:

“This was her Whitehaven, she said, with its sugar tun and docks.
That’s where she gathered coal from the beach
Hands red and gnarled with washing for twenty kids.”

                                                (“Over there was Grandma’s house”)

In the same poem, her eye for detail brings the past vividly alive:

                        “… That stone was where
Granda’d knock dottle from his pipe …”

However, Geraldine’s experiments with form occasionally produce less convincing poetry, particularly when she uses the page as a kind of canvas for the spatial arrangement of words, phrases and lines … When this happens, structure takes over to the detriment of meaning …

            “If I     stand here
                        hearing           only

            the      wind
                        blown in
            on the
                        back
            of the
                        green

                                    Irish Sea.”

(‘Poem of a mole catcher’s daughter’)

Despite this reservation, there is much to recommend this thoughtful and diverse collection – a book that can only enhance Green’s growing reputation.”

-       Patrick B. Osada,


Thank you Patrick B. Osada, for a thoughtful and insightful review. I do enjoy, and I’m not afraid of, experimenting with poetic structure, for example when one is differentiating between the past and the present in a poem – how to convey that to a reader? After many experiments, such as indenting the past remembered voices or putting them in italics, I decided to slightly indent the present reflective voice of the speaker, using gaps in the text to denote the fragmentary nature of human memory.

In my poem 'In all that wide ocean' spaces between words were used to denote the speaker/poet's persona recalling a dream, the gaps in this instance mimicking the long pauses as one is attempting to recall elusive dream imagery and meaning.

One of the first reviews of my first pamphlet collection ‘The Skin’ (Flarestack Pubs. 2003) was by Giles Darvill of SOUTH magazine, Issue 29:

"THE SKIN is the volume for me. The Keswick poet approaches the same territory as is entered by mystics Rumi the Sufi and St John of the Cross - where the everyday world remains hard and baffling but transformed by dazzling darkness. I love its ambitious scope and absence of literary-ness (you won’t find Testament texts).

Geraldine Green has to invent her own language to express her wonder and pity for the wasted world and its oiled words. The word, like the person, must die to be reborn. Readers too must submit but also bring their own courage to share in creation.

The dark-light paradox is not resolved but faith prevails:

‘and I write this down because once we were the stones
and once we can be the cathedral
and once we are the two golden fish
rescued in a pelican’s beak

we will know what the shapes mean.’

I would like to hear Geraldine Green read that last line."

[note: Giles Darvill was quoting from my poem 'In all that wide ocean' which you can read at the end of this blog post]

Anne Stevenson also reviewed ‘The Skin’:

“My assignment was to review only three from the 20-odd small press publications sent to me, but before signing off, let me recommend a small blue booklet titled The Skin by Geraldine Green, from Flarestack Publishing in Birmingham. Green’s gift for poetry is na├»ve – or perhaps the right word is natural – in a way I would have thought impossible these days. Though she writes in free forms, her poems kept reminding me of WHDavies’. She writes a good deal about angels (a fashion these days) and about love and the land, but there’s a freshness about her work that brought tears to my eyes. Real tears, like a child’s.” -- Anne Stevenson, Mslexia OctNovDec 2003

With thanks to Professor Graham Mort and Dr. Lee Horsley my PhD supervisors at Lancaster University who thoroughly, patiently and rigorously read and re-read the poems in 'The Other Side of the Bridge'.

Thanks, too, to John Burnside and Tom Pow for being such attentive and encouraging PhD examiners who gave me exciting suggestions for my next collection.

‘The Other Side of the Bridge’ is available from Indigo Dreams Publications, weblink here:


My next collection, ‘Salt Road’, will be available later in 2013, by Indigo Dreams Pubs., ed. Ronnie Goodyear. For anyone with an interest in dialect poetry you can read extracts from 'Poems of a Mole Catcher's Daughter' on Professor Jerome Rothenberg's web page:

http://poemsandpoetics.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/geraldine-green-from-poems-of.html

Here's the poem in full that Giles Darvill quoted from:

In all that wide ocean

I

In all that wide ocean   arms were outstretched      to embrace
the stones we read        were polished black      oblong shapes were on them

we wanted to read them        the shapes         tried
so hard                               but                     couldn't

once,                   when stones had no shape                  and we had no shape
we could read                the oblong shapes                    on the stones

polished black stones      oblong shapes and we tried     so very hard

golden fish        large as dolphins swam   in the sea      that had no shape
when we had no shape               and the stones oblonged

a golden fish swam           rescued by a pelican      raised
by a pelican's beak            dropped into the wide   wide ocean

two golden fish swam      together              wove strange oblong shapes
into songs                         and we cried      together.

II

In the cathedral, the cathedral I visited last night in my dream,
in the cathedral it was dark.

I remember only the grounds that wandered with me in my dream.

Did I dream the grounds?
Did I dream the cathedral?

But the golden fish were real
and the stones             with the oblong shapes       polished black
at the edge of the wide ocean

and I write this down because once we were the stones
and once we can be the cathedral
and once we are the two golden fish
rescued in a pelican's beak

we will know what the shapes mean.