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ABCD May 2021

May 9, 2021

Thanks to Thalia, ten of us met yesterday on Zoom, some already all but zoomed-out after a morning of mokuhanga with Robin Frood.

Bron and Judith have been on Les Bicknell’s online course, and have made bookish objects in response to ‘A place you love: no words, no images’. Here is Bron’s treehouse library book. Stripped willow wands from the trees below, khadi paper and Hedi Kyle’s piano hinge binding. A collaboration with light.

Judith placed hers in her allotment. Two are made from paper pulp, one just pasted papier mache style. Reminiscent of moths, tepees, fungi … work intimately connected to place.

Judith shared images of work done on Dave Armes’s course in low-tech printmaking, using carbon paper, corrugated cardboard and inked shapes cut from greyboard.

Bron, Jane, Carol and Judy have been on Guy Begbie‘s online workshop. Below is Bron’s book, extended, then folded.

Judy has finished making her “Hellward” sculptural book. It can be looked at from both sides with different openings.

Carol‘s book incorporates some of her insect prints.

Judy has been on another online calligraphy course, this time with Carry Wouters.

Janine showed us embroidered designs for a title panel on the cover, Kate has designed the endpapers, and Judy has been working on lettering for the title page of our collaborative book, Grand Women.
Clare showed us a delightful letter-cum-envelope (designed by Rachel Hazell) made for her by her sister, celebrating sisterhood. Thalia is busy getting ready to start teaching yoga again.

And I have been slowly working on another quilt about Park Wood in winter. Trees in cross-section, the space between them criscrossed with mycelial strands. Cotton cloth and silk thread, all dyed in a variety of botanical brews, some modified with iron-water. The circular patches are where I tied found beer-caps in. Some had rusted at the edge, giving a nice dark line. The bigger dark patches are where I tied in lumps of rusty iron from a bicycle half-buried in the wood.

We have dates for our next three meetings before the summer break: May 22nd, June 19th and July 10th. We hope thay will be in-person meetings outdoors. Finally, a collage of lines from my notes on the meeting:

May Dove-Droppings

when you dive into
paper print stitching
shall we hum

oh Clare have you got flapjacks
no it’s gingerbread
you’ve frozen

what I’ve been missing is
stepping out
smelling human beings

everything has to be planned
Kate from two angles
diluted some ink and wrote it small

it will be something else
stitched on velvet
dropped into a window

a dialogue with time
in the facsimile world
made by George Washington’s mother

the book emerges
with its own aesthetic
swearing in Cyrillic

it opens here
that comes up this falls out
a staircase in the middle

an evolving book
the red line takes you through
a secret communist workshop

Posted by Ama Bolton on 9th May.


May 7, 2021

“A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.”

“Parking near the beach, the sun began to creep above the horizon.”

Have dangling modifiers ceased to matter? I seem to be bumping into them more frequently than ever. Perhaps I am the only one who cares. Unlike split infinitives, it’s not a matter of mere etiquette: the words do not convey the meaning the author intended.

Today’s Daily Poem from The Paris Review includes one. I heard one last week at the zoom-launch of a recently-published anthology, and read one this week in a respectable poetry blog. I recognised the otherwise excellent poem and I remembered mentioning it to the poet during a workshop. I don’t think she knew what I was talking about.

A recent issue of a long-established literary journal featured several dangling modifiers in the same long poem – a poem that had been translated by one of the editors of said literary journal.

Perhaps I’m just a grumpy old fart with nothing better to do than criticise writers more successful than I am. Who cares about dangling modifiers? Do you, dear reader? If you have light to shed, please shed it now!

Slightly henpecked and loving it

May 2, 2021

A poem doesn’t need much content to survive. Its bones are hollow, like a bird’s. That’s what allows them to fly.

John Glenday

Pindar says the poet must guard the apples of the Muses 
like a dragon, but …

if anything, we need a hen,
the creature that hatches the egg of verses:
white for the void, yellow for the words.

Antonella Anedda, tr. Patrizio Ceccagnoli & Susan Stewart

These two old birds have earned their treats. Over the hill, due for the chop at 18 months, they have laid fourteen eggs between them in the past seven days. And what in the world is more perfect than an egg?

They really want to come indoors. Sometimes I relent and let them in. Can old hens be housetrained?

Yes, Marigold, you are the fairest of them all.

I’ll never forget Hari, my first and best-beloved hen. But these two have become very dear to us. They always greet us when they see us. They are a constant source of entertainment. And, it seems, of eggs.

ABCD March 2021

April 4, 2021

We zoomed on the 27th with a strict agenda. Having chosen a female forebear born in the Victorian era, each of us had already completed a single album page and sent a photo of it to Thalia, who showed them to us in a Powerpoint presentation. Each of us had a few minutes to introduce our ancestress. Then came the serious business of agreeing on a title. This was achieved by a Quakerish/Greenham-Common-ish process of arriving at a consensus without leaving a disgruntled minority.

I haven’t many photos to share this time. Here’s Judith’s “Granny Buttons” in Chaplinesque mode.

Jane has chosen her Bloomsbury playwright grandmother Laura Pendred, but this is a photo of “My great grandmother, born in 1856. Widowed in her 20s with 6 very young children she emigrated to Vancouver in 1900 and later to California. She sent this photo of herself to my grandmother in the 1940s. On the back she has written “Just home from snake hunting, 2 snake skins over my arm”! She died just before her 100th birthday, a daunting lady to the last.”
Note the Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia) in the background – possibly more poisonous than the snakes!

Here is my own grandmother Phyllis Cundell, born in December 1894 about 50km SE of Moscow, with her older sister and their grandmother (born in Manchester in 1835.) See this post for Phyllis’s letters.

On my album page I have hinged a poem printed on tracing paper over my grandparents’ wedding photo, obscuring my missing grandfather. I confess to being influenced by the unforgettable last line of a poem about a saw by Dave Bonta.

In my grandfather Freddie’s defence I will say that he was not yet two years old when his mother died. By the age of 8 he was already at boarding school (’nuff said.) He survived the horrors of a war in which his step-brother was killed at Ypres. His father had shot himself in 1915, and Freddie and his stepmother didn’t get on. Since he was living in Canada before the war, it seems unlikely that he would have met Phyllis until he came back to England after the war. He was captured in Guyencourt in northern France 27 May 1918 and taken to a PoW camp in a fortress in Graudenz (now Grudziądz in Poland – on the river Vistula), about 1500 km away, getting there six weeks later, via Karlsruhe. The camp was evacuated at midnight on 13 December 1918. This gives only a few months before their wedding in April 1919 and suggests a whirlwind romance.

Next meeting: May 8th (postponed from May 1st.) I hope there will be more photos and stories to share. Meanwhile, here are the sweepings from memory’s floor, aka my notebook.

March Dove-droppings

the flying botanist
discovered the truth
a ring and a basket

fifteen children
not allowed to be christened
died on the kitchen table

prospecting in the Yukon
he ran off with a barmaid
it was love at first

things that are half-lost
stories in a box
disable you

on the first of May
a long time ago
I was ritually sacrificed

Posted by Ama Bolton on 4th April 2021

“Heart of a Man”

March 29, 2021

From both sides of the Atlantic there has been news of horrific acts of violence by men against women. Bystanders of both sexes are shocked, hurt and angry; many women are incandescent with rage. It has become impossible to ignore the fault line between the sexes. I believe this rift to be a product more of learned attitudes than of chromosomes. And it damages men as well as women.

How timely then is the arrival of this rich and thoughtful anthology, which seeks to foster peace and understanding between the sexes. I read it and was granted unexpected insights into the lives of the other half of humanity. But it’s not for women only. Men I know have read it and thought deeply about the quality of the fathering they recieved and gave. The way we bring up our children, and the examples we set them, are vitally important – potentially a matter of life and death.

As a lover of books as aesthetic objects, I am delighted by the quality of the paper, the print, the layout and typographic choices, and the idyllic illustrations. The writing itself is as varied as you’d expect; the best of it is strikingly good and transparently honest. You can dip in and spend five minutes with a story, or an evening with one of the themed sections, each of which is introduced with humour and sensitivity by the editor. It’s not a difficult read but it will raise some difficult questions. Some of these stories will have you laughing out loud. Some could make you cry.

You can buy it from Vineyards Press. Or, if you must, from Or, if you’re local, borrow it from me!

ABCD February 2021

March 8, 2021

Eleven members of Artists’ Book Club Dove met in the land of Zoom on 27th February. Thanks to Thalia for hosting us. Those of us who live close enough have been socially-distantly planting trees at the Dove. 494 trees have been planted so far in the field called Wild Lea, formerly a ryegrass monoculture. All planted with love and mycorrhizal powder. It will be many years before the fungal network is fully established, but the powder will get it off to a good start.

L-R Ama, Caroline, Janine, Jane
Here I’m planting a pin oak, Quercus palustris
Bron’s map of the planting at Wild Lea

Bron, Judith and I have been taking Alice Fox’s brilliant online course “Place-making: Winter”. Below is my quilt-map of a local wood I’ve been walking in for 41 years. The squares are roughly 2″. Fabrics are a pre-war damask table-napkin complete with laundry-mark, an old pillow-case, a green-and-white striped linen tea-towel and dressmaking off-cuts of white cotton and silk, all dyed with foraged materials. The second picture is of two small pieces worked with dyed yarns on scraps of dyed woollen blanket. The lichens are crocheted. I found the rusty chain in the wood, entangled with ivy stems. The ring-pulls were from a cache of empty cans in the wood.

And here is a letter I wrote with Quink and a cola pen. I folded it and left it on my pet hen’s grave in the garden for a week, lightly covered with some oak leaves I’d used for dyeing.

Carol and Judith are taking an online course with Les Bicknell. Here are some of Judith’s constructions.

And some of Carol’s work. The third photo shows paper prepared for use in Guy Begbie’s book construction course later in March.

Clare has been making books with Rachel Hazell, The Travelling Bookbinder.

Pauline has just completed a year-long book based on our title ‘Strange Times.’ It is a concertina, with a double page spread for each month from March 2020 to February 2021. Drawing, lino cut, letterpress and collage. ‘Strange Times: a year like no other.’

Caroline is taking a course with Newlyn School of Art. Here are her beach collage and a page from her sketchbook.

Thalia, Bron, Jane and Judy are still making mokuhanga prints with Robin Frood. Some of us have taken advantage of the amazing free resources offered by Book Paper Thread. All of us are gathering information and illustrations for our collective book about our foremothers. The pages will be finished and ready to bind by the time of our next meeting, Saturday 27th March. Finally, a little heap of eavesdroppings.

February Dove-droppings

orange flies on the sheep-poo
butterflies on snowdrops
brimstones on crocus

a ladybird in my bed all winter
all over my duvet oh dear
disdained by the family

Arthur the Aardvark
took on another life
he tells me nothing

a troll made of lichen
dreaming of elsewhere
goldcrests in his hair

married the man next door
older than her father
to sew banners for the freemasons

the sun travelling round Somerset
can spell but just can’t write
letters from Burma

a brushmaker near Bruton
coconut in an ash handle
no therapy for that

a mysterious box
strip poker in the kitchen
but that’s another story

disowned by both families
one had an ear-trumpet
and sent 2/6 postal orders

grandfather walked with his cow
from Wales to London
three Scots pines were a sign

I think it’s a fact
the women knitted as they walked
and famously never talked


February 28, 2021

There are days in the circle of the year that carry an emotional weight. Children’s birthdays, parents’ death-days, anniversaries of weddings and disasters. I didn’t know the reason for my heavy heart last Sunday until I remembered that it was the day my father died 41 years ago, much younger than I am now.

On Monday, Lawrence Ferlinghetti died aged 101. One of the most influential poets of his generation. I saw his spellbinding performance at the International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall in London. June 11th 1965. Keele to London and back the same night by thumb. Does anyone hitch-hike nowadays? 

John Keats died 200 years ago on Tuesday, aged 25. His poetry is still resonant and memorable, still popular, still on the GCSE curriculum, still being learnt by heart as I did many years ago.

By heart

Imagine – I am sixteen
and suffering my first heartbreak.
English homework this week:

learn a stanza from Keats’s
Ode to a Nightingale. In class
Miss Wilson asks me to recite.

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
to cease upon the midnight with no pain …
Someone giggles. Someone guffaws.

To thy high requiem become a sod.
An explosion of mirth.
Miss Wilson tries to hide a smile.

Did I get it wrong?
No, says Miss Wilson,
you said it as if you meant it.

Next Friday will be the fourteenth anniversary of the car-bombing of the booksellers’ quarter in Baghdad. Commemorative readings have been held around the world every year since then.
Here is the title poem from my book “What is a Book?” made for the Al-Mutanabbi Street Project in an edition of 26. One is in the Jaffe Collection at Florida Atlantic University and one is in the Library of Alexandria in Egypt.

Posted by Ama Bolton 28 February 2021

ABCD late January 2021

February 13, 2021
The new Circle of Trees at the Dove
Scots Pines with oak-gall ink background – a richly evocative print by Bron for a book about planting trees at the Dove.

We met via Thalia’s Zoom account on 30th January. We’ve all been doing different stuff, and some of us are working on contributions to a collaborative book about our female ancestors. The deadline for returning our individual pages to Bron for binding in an album is 27th March.

Pauline’s linocut representing an ancestress of whom no photo exists.
Pauline has finished a book about microbes and a book of paper weavings.

Above: Judith’s work resulting from an online course combining handmade paper making, image dipping/printing and book making with images embedded in pulp.

Judith’s watercolour experiments.

Above: Carol has joined Bristol Urban Sketchers who meet every fortnight and ‘go’ somewhere different, last weekend it was Rio di Janeiro. On zoom for about 2 hrs and sketch from photo before the show and tell. Here are Carol’s 2 sketches. First one from Guardian photo of first 2 people to get the jab in Rio.

Above: Caroline has completed the first two volumes of her Indian travel journals. I love her quick expressive pen sketches.

Above: Clare is immersed (literally) hobnobbing daily with otters and kingfishers in the Cam Brook, and (figuratively) in the lovely Rachel Hazell’s Booklove e-course. What gorgeous summery colours to brighten this deep midwinter.

Above: my Winter books, with seasonal photos from the Shetland webcams and a short poem.

November 28th, 60 degrees North, through the eye of the webcam

this painted morning
a fulmar rides the wind
cloud-dragons linger above a gilded sea

this watercolour afternoon
surf churns between slick black rocks –
punctuations in ocean’s long argument with land

this blue-washed evening
lighthouse beams sweep the sky clean
again and again and again

this translucent night
the Great Bear floats in a bowl of clouds
clouds float moonlit on the horizon

Judy is still working on her Dante calligraphy pages. It’s extraordinary how much distance can be implied in a single page!

Current and former ABCD members may remember our exhibition in Wells Museum with John Rowlands-Pritchard. John has collaborated with James Roose-Evans on a beautiful book of 52 visual meditations. Behold the Word is available here.

Our next two meetings will be on 27 February and 27 March. Meanwhile, here are some random jottings made on the day.

Late January Dove-droppings

infinite nightmare storage system
to make space in my life
for the ancestor

cola-pen calligraphy
tiny little pamphlet books
close to our hearts

sixteen precious things
somewhere below my knees
an Xray of someone’s foot

the name for swift means crossbow
with a hedge-layer
a cubit between stakes

exuberant ways of using
materials banned in the UK
intoxicated with Mrs Delaney

hunting my ancestor
walking into the mountains
to visit baby monks

a non-person in my life
a negative image
putting it through the press

blue lias on the beach
writing in the stones
to finish the microbe book

library of exile
hooked on tree-planting 
for instant joy

the women who built
a new vaccine made by moths
dropping out and coming back in

Posted (two weeks late) by Ama Bolton on the Eve of St Valentine

Meeting the Muse

January 24, 2021

This beautiful book has just arrived by airmail. Beausoleil’s latest volume of poetry is published this month by Intermittent Press, San Francisco, in a stylish edition of fifty, hand-stitched in red, with black flyleaves. I am the proud and happy guardian of number 4.
Contact: intermittentpress(at)gmail(dot)com.

Eighteen poems written over the course of half a century document the tumultuous relationship between a timeless elemental and a poet of our time.
The Muse is essentially capricious, erratic in her comings and goings, supremely undependable.
She wears red and black and always makes a dramatic entrance. She is glamorous and shabby, magnificent and pathetic, needy and generous with her random gifts. She has bad habits and an unhealthy lifestyle.
She stays away for months and turns up when least expected. She makes unreasonable demands, and gives unreliable advice. She’s superstitious, manipulative and amoral. She never apologises nor ever explains.
Commitment is not in her vocabulary, though she is fluent in all the languages humans have ever spoken.
She is maiden and crone but she’s nobody’s wife, nobody’s mother. She is Sibyl and Siren. Don’t call her a goddess; she is contemptuous of those who worship her. But she’s happy to sit on a bar-stool or on a river-bank and have a conversation with one who comes close to understanding her and will buy her a whisky or find her a cigarette.
She has come in many different guises, as the Muse of Homer, Sappho, Dante, Shakespeare and countless others. We can’t do the work of poetry without her.
These poems are bruising and uplifting, tender and harsh, down-to-earth and otherworldly; they are full of honesty and subtle wit. I love each one of them and it’s hard to choose one as an illustration. Here is the title poem.

ABCD January 2021

January 10, 2021

Twelve of the thirteen members of Artists’ Book Club Dove met for two hours in the Land of Zoom on 2nd January. Thanks to Thalia for the use of her account.
It’s taken me a week to lick my notes into shape and collect everyone’s photos.

There was a new energy in the air. In our separation we are meeting one another at a deeper level. Trees have been planted at the Dove. Some of us are taking online courses in a variety of different art-forms. Spaces are being cleared. We have rediscovered old diaries and commonplace books. We have been connecting, via stories and photos, with our foremothers. We spoke of the family stories behind many of our Christmas decorations. We are wondering how to pass our knowledge on to the next generations as a gift, not a burden.

Tree-planting in Wild Lea
Bron Bradshaw, mokuhanga print using oak-gall ink
Bron Bradshaw, inks from trees
Caroline Mornement has been adding to her commonplace book since 1962
Another page from Caroline’s commonplace book
Janine Barchard, blizzard book
Clare’s early morning swimming habit was interrupted by a flood
Clare Diprose, swimming sketchbook

Above: Clare’s decorations. Below: Carol Wood’s work on moths.

Below: Jane Paterson’s photos from her daily (and nightly) walks on Chalice Hill. All are worth clicking to see full-size. The moonlit view looks like a Samuel Palmer.

Janine Barchard has made a couple of blizzard books.

Judith Staines has made four photo-albums to commemorate a family wedding. The book-cloth is made from a bridesmaid’s dress.

Judith has been making inks and pressing seaweed,

and has inadvertently caused a spate of competitive wreath-making in her village.

Judith and I have been dyeing yarns with materials foraged on our regular walks. Judith walks along the river Dart and I walk in my local woodland (as well as raiding the compost-bin!) In the square photo, I’ve used ice from a watering can for a dyebath for bits of rusty metal wrapped in cotton cloth. Better than hard tap-water. Judith and Bron and I are taking part in Alice Fox’s course, “Place-making: Winter”.

Judy Warbey, mokuhanga reduction print
Judy Warbey, calligraphy in the style of Herman Kilian. Note the cool NTE ligature!

Pauline Pearce has been weaving with paper.

Thalia Brown has made blizzard books for learning the Sanskrit letters, and a map fold for random reading of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Kate Lynch’s cherub (made by Andrea Clark)

Long ago we had a theme … Midwinter. Here is one of the photos from my Midwinter book, courtesy of the Shetland webcams. Aurora Borealis and a shooting star!

This post is quite long enough already, so I won’t go into our new project about ancestresses just now. More next time. The dates of the next two meetings are 30th January and 27th February. And here are the eavesdroppings:

January Dove-droppings

old ones are best
nice and snuggly
it could be choir practice

they get burnt
they melt
brand you as well

on Leap Year Day
he usually wears a dress
he’s a good woman

full moon day
just last week
slows the drift

the circle is anticlockwise
extremely freeform
oak in the  north

it’s as long as you want
bigger but smaller
dogwood ivy and rosemary

snowflakes were falling
the river rising
I made a wreath

golden elder
alder-buckthorn for brimstone
wild pear and crab-apple

bonded with my hawthorn
like having grandchildren
easier than stars

in the new constellation
my little fallen angel
celebrated my birthday

six Scots pines
and boxes of slides
what to do with the photos

how to deal with the photos
across the floor
and out over the roof