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On collaborations

November 23, 2020

I’ve been to two physical launches of issues of Magma poetry magazine. Both involved exhausting, expensive and time-consuming journeys from Somerset to London and back. Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending a virtual Magma launch without travelling or expense. It was warm and intimate, with magnificent readings and the usual Zoomy glitches. Not by any means to be confused with gloomy Zitches. (Which, since you asked, is Urdu for “stalemates”.)
Magma 78 is mostly about collaborations. It is a rewarding and exciting read.

It got me thinking about other collaborations. I’ve been involved in a few, one of which was “Waterwoven”, a half-hour performance of poems about water. A sound-collage for six voices and rain-stick. Forty-two poems by six poets were cut up and rearranged to form a sequence for performance, beginning with the first drops of rain and ending with the vastness of the Atlantic. Solid blocks of blank verse were whittled down to slender elliptical stanzas. Sonnets and villanelles were ruthlessly dismembered. Many opening lines and first stanzas were discarded. Choruses emerged. We had the first draft of a script. Through four weeks of rehearsal it was refined bit by bit by all of us. Another week of rehearsal might have yielded further changes. We performed it in Bath Poetry Cafe and at Bristol Poetry Festival … and in the Literature tent at Priddy Folk Festival. The neighbouring tent was the venue for a programme of rousing sea shanties. I do love a rousing sea shanty, but …

Other collaborations I’ve enjoyed in recent years include LZRD, from Indigo Dreams. It’s a captivating, playful and mysterious sequence of poems from the Lizard peninsula by Alyson Hallett and Penelope Shuttle. One can only guess who wrote what!

Aloneness is a Many-Headed Bird was published by the Hedgehog Press last Monday and arrived through my letterbox the next day. A sequence of touchingly honest responses to ageing and the state we and the world are in, by Rosie Jackson and Dawn Gorman. Their poems, presented alternately, complement each other perfectly. Swell Amazon’s bulging coffers if you really must, but you can get a signed copy here.

Two Girls and a Beehive is a beautiful collection from Two Rivers Press by Rosie Jackson and Graham Burchell: a meditation on the art and the complicated life and loves of Stanley Spencer.

And today, thanks to an email from StAnza, I discovered this. THIS! Another glorious collaboration. A choose-your-own adventure. Do have a look.

Written by Ama Bolton on 23rd November 2020

ABCD November 2020

November 14, 2020

Back to lockdown. Back to Zoom, which enabled us to meet last Saturday. Thank goodness for Zoom!

We started with a mini-workshop from Judith on making origami seed-packets as used (allegedly) by Linnaeus himself. I could not find instructions online for this particular folding, which Judith found on a Dutch bookbinder’s website, but plenty of other versions are available.

Here is mine, made rather clumsily in a few minutes on the mouse-shelf of my computer desk.

Judith has made a couple of day-trips to Cornwall to see this exhibition. It will be shown in Moretonhampstead, Devon, next spring. Exquisite mezzotints and silverpoint drawings. While in Cornwall Judith picked up seaweed and made some eco-prints.

Janine has been doing more cooking than booking. “It’s getting the content to work the way I see it in my head” … yes, we all know that feeling!

Caroline has been writing about her travels. “Delving into old diaries is like eavesdropping on someone else,” she said. Here is her Christmas card design. Moorhens again!

Clare has made another sketckbook journal recording two separate weeks in Wales. Clare swims every morning in her local brook; in Wales she swam in the sea, a lake, a river and a beaver pond. She says it helps arthritic aches and pains, and claims that getting in is easier than getting out.

Here are some of Thalia’s mokuhanga prints of undergrowth and bees.

And her blizzard book of hieroglyphs.

Judy has been on a calligraphy course, Vivacious Versals. Here is some of her work. I think many of us would agree with the sentiment in the first example! At the end of November, both Judy and I will be taking a week-long course with Laurie Doctor.

Pauline, along with the rest of us, has enjoyed the hugely inspiring BBC4 series The Secret History of Writing. Now available on Youtube for those who, like me, don’t have a TV and can’t legally access the BBC i-player. Here are some of Pauline’s recent mokuhanga prints, and a block. “I just love cutting circular shapes in wood,” she said, “It’s the sensation of cutting that I love, probably more than the end result.”

Carol has been doing work inspired by the elephant hawk moths in her garden: pages of prints, and a pop-up.

Jane is still making frequent visits to Chalice Hill, finding autumn colours, parasol mushrooms and a circle of giant puffballs.

Bron has been carving woodblocks at her computer desk on Robin’s mokuhanga course, there being no wifi in the studio. The unavailability of trees, and the impossibility of assembling a volunteer workforce in a lockdown, have for the moment halted the Dove tree-planting effort.

Kate was celebrating a grand-daughter’s birthday, but she sent some images of work in progress.

I, Ama, have been taking a month-long bird-themed writing workshop with Anne-Marie Fyfe. I thoroughly recommend her as a tutor. I now have a 36-page book almost ready to print. The other thing I’ve made is this, a container for sorrow. These downy feathers are all that remain of my dear little hen. Her disability, it seems, was terminal. I miss her horribly.

At our next meeting, on Saturday 5th December, Carol will show us how to make five-pointed stars from squares of paper. Come wearing a hat and have some decorations in the background!

November Dove-droppings

moody lighting
who’s missing?
wake up!

it’s in my head
but it’s harder
to remember who I was

blindly sleepwalking
into the next episode
on the thousandth of March

what’s behind you
men in camouflage
with giant appendages

Siberian labyrinths
between tea and porridge
chilled in every respect

diving into mokuhanga
I freeze when the telephone rings
and fling on some warm things

it doesn’t have to be bullet-proof
nothing’s the same
he’s gone

a humiliating experience
see my legs on Countryfile
we have to stay ridiculous

Murmuration

October 14, 2020
Rare sighting of a Waxwing in Wells, 20th January 2011

I do love a collaboration!
About the time of the Summer Solstice, Linda France invited poets to contribute a few lines to a collaborative work called Murmuration. There were 500 responses. Linda skilfully edited them into a long poem in two parts, which formed the basis of a beautiful film that was premiered last night at the Durham Book Festival. You can watch it, read about the making of it, and read the complete text here. I have a line in part one and a line in part two.

My life seems to be all about birds just now. Partly because I’m taking an online poetry course, The Avian Eye, with Anne-Marie Fyfe, and partly because I have a Significant Hen. Anne-Marie is a great workshop leader, generous with ideas and well-chosen course materials.

I missed last night’s premiere because it clashed with a Zoom workshop with six other members of Bath Writers and Artists, facilitated by Graeme Ryan. Birds featured in all seven pieces of writing: in some they played fly-on bit-parts, and in others they held centre stage. Even an otherwise bird-free mixed-genre memoir included a poem called “Ducks in Space”!

I made this little collage in 2014 from hand-dyed fabrics and a steel washer.

August Postcards

October 10, 2020

Here is the latest small edition from Barley Books: a new chapbook of marvellous poems from San Francisco poet and activist Beau Beausoleil. Fourteen very recent (August 2020) poems, plus a specially designed postcard.

Subject matter includes a reading by Sylvia Plath, the catastrophc August 4th explosion in Beirut, the murder of George Floyd, corrupt bureaucracy, the role of poets in a burning world, love, exile, rage, loss and, always and everywhere, beauty and hope.

Beau’s poems are pared back to their essence, slender and strong as steel cable, personal expressions of emotions all can share.

As always, it has been a privilege to collaborate with this remarkable writer.

This is an A5 (148x210mm) pamphlet, 20 pages with an insert inspired by Australian Piano-hinge Binding.
Text pages, flyleaf, postcard and cover are different weights of recycled paper from the Frogmore paper mill.
Edition of fifty numbered copies.

The first consignment has arrived in San Francisco! Signed copies can be ordered from Beau and shipped to anywhere in the U.S. and Canada for 20 U.S. dollars. Please write to Beau at overlandbooks(at)earthlink(dot)net.

In UK and Europe it is available, unsigned, from me, Ama: barleybooks(at)hotmail(dot)co(dot)uk for £13 plus postage (UK £1.40, Europe £4.50.) Please pay by Paypal if you can. You don’t need a Paypal account.

ABCD October 2020

October 6, 2020

Artists Book Club Dove Zoomed on Saturday afternoon. Several members had taken part in Robin Frood’s three-hour Zoom mokuhanga workshop that morning – full marks to them for turning up in the afternoon as well!
It was a day to stay indoors, a day of endless rain. That’s been October, so far.

There was much excitement about the BBC TV series “The Secret History of Writing”. I’m looking forward to catching up on it with Jane this week.

Jane has discovered a blog on the British Library website about The Launderers, an arty group in 1920s London. Her grandmother, a playwright, was one of them. Below is a poster for one of her plays.

Judy has finished her cascading blizzard book of thirteen cantos, inspired by a new translation of Dante.

Janine is still making embroidered boxes.

Pauline has been foraging for ink-making materials.

Bron has been making Guelder-rose jelly, and taking part in a exhibition “A Crowded Room”

Carol was thrilled to find a rare moth, Clifden nonpareil, in her garden.
She has bought some wonderful papers from Cambridge Imprint, pattern-makers.

Inspired by Pat’s woven hedge, Caroline has woven an accordion book from her drawings and photos of the hedge she’s been studying. Coincidentally it echoes the colours in the photo above. Those are juvenile moorhens scampering along the bottom.

I (Ama) have completed the Australian Reverse Piano-hinge variation I showed last month, made from pages cut from a Gudrun Sjoden catalogue and coloured with wax crayons. It features birds and an obtrusive shape I see at night whether my eyes are open or closed; fortunately it does not interfere with my sight during the day. The book started as an exercise using waste paper. If I made it again I would make it differently!

Dates of next two Zoom meetings: 7 November and 5 December.

Finally, here are my collected and edited eavesdroppings

October Dove-droppings

the mouse is on the floor
so they started using vellum
it’s the dark ages again

a morning of mokuhanga
are you inky-fingered
the cats are taking over

I cleared the labyrinth
I don’t know what we’re doing
stuck in the centre

a gem from the past
they had amazing parties
it was against the law

the inevitable rainbow
a Lyrid and a fox
in a black blizzard

cut-throat competition
cantos cascading
I’ve recorded their bottoms

bats in the loft
or the Blue Underwing
bashing around with machinery

to see the sea
it’s the smell of the sea
it’s the sound it’s the rhythm

reflecting on the past
obsessed with moths
none of them finished of course

all this lovely paper
turned up in my moth-trap
not the newt

an experimental pillar
the cows have their turn
Dido and Aeneas in a hay-barn

a face appeared at a hole
it tastes like nothing else
hauling plates out of storage

squirrels in the roof
sloe gin in my cupboard
the most terrible quarrels

a cull of the poets
we are drowning
in the quagmire of online art

weathering it
feeling wintry
but Christmas isn’t happening

It’s National Poetry Day

October 1, 2020

… and this gurt lush book is published today.

The Poetry Society, in association with the University of Exeter and Oneworld Publications, presents the Places of Poetry anthology, a volume of selected verse from around England and Wales from last year’s hugely popular Places of Poetry project, an interactive map that poets could pin their poetry to. It attracted 7,500 poems from over 3000 people. The map can still be found here. The project was launched by Paul Farley and Andrew McRae. PLACES OF POETRY: MAPPING THE NATION IN VERSE is an anthology of 200 of the best of these poems.

For eight months from October 2016 I was visiting a much-loved aunt in a care home. I made the sixteen-mile round trip by bus almost every day. My poem ‘Hartlake’ began life in the black notebook I carried in my pocket. It tells something of these journeys, always through the same familiar landscape, but different every time.

The poem was published first in “Obsessed with Pipework”, then it formed part of my pamphlet “These Last Months”, and now it is in this splendid anthology. I could not be more pleased.

I have not yet received my copy, and apart from some well-known names I don’t know whose work has been chosen. You can hear me reading my poem on the bank of the Hartlake River (yes, that’s Glastonbury Tor on the horizon) here:

ABCD September 2020

September 13, 2020

What a delight it was to be actually at the Dove again yesterday, in the meadow, in perfect weather. Eleven of us. Who knows when we shall be able to do that again?

Between the pines
Some little folded books by Carol
Jane’s blizzard book of views from Chalice Hill
Jane’s “Covid Towers”
Jane’s glove puppet – the wicked witch Corona. Sculptural book in the background.
Pauline’s “Coming to our senses”
Book in a box, by Pauline
Pauline recommends this book
Pat’s weaving. Handspun wool dyed with lichen, elder, nettles, walnut, onion and turmeric.
Judy’s blizzard book
Some of Judith’s mokuhanga prints
One of my many practice blizzard books, and three reverse-piano-hinge books inspired by jac’s blog and Alisa Golden
On the way home, Jane and I picked sloes, with kind permission from The Lorax Patch

Our next (Zoom) meeting will be on October 3rd, and our next theme (after the as-yet-unfinished blizzard book “Strange Times”) will be “Midwinter”. Below are my collected fragments of conversation.

September Dove-droppings

home alone
I plaited my hair
but word got around

domestic science
I wish I’d done more
reweaving my life

we are stymied
silenced by the virus
hold fast to courage

a transgression
to sing to Rosie’s goats
whose bones are made of music

bombarded with statistics
I went back to the rainbow
to reconnect with my garden

I should have been in Japan
I feel a bit slumped
I sort of went mad

what was in the news
a tincture of time
stardust and moonrock

(ravens and buzzards overhead)

how language changes
apparently it’s a cocktail
it’s the nudge thing

stuff we never knew
was all part of the battle
they think we’re stupid

sent home from Sri Lanka
my bag’s locked in the museum
cooking and weaving upstairs

telling our stories round the fire
at the dark end of the year
I could do with a bit of misrule

(long-tailed tits in the pines)

bricked up
looking through bars
of the cheese-grater

slowly passing
crossing off the days
passing slowly

those days that went missing
we had time to notice
the wildness beyond

all the festivals
we can’t celebrate
they seemed pointless

eco-printing kept me sane
making kept me sane
walking kept me sane

(music in the next field)

Ama Bolton wrote this post.

Heart of a Man

September 8, 2020

This as-yet-unpublished book has already been part of my life for some years. I have read every story, poem and essay and all the editor’s introductions, some of them in many iterations. I have commented on the content and design. Shoals of emails went back and forth across the eight-hour time difference between Somerset and California, between me and an old friend I have not set eyes on since 1967.

In March 2001, Bill Amatneek guest-edited an issue of Storytelling Magazine. He called it The Men’s Issue and chose eleven true stories by men, about experiences that could only have happened to a man, and showing something of what it is to be a man.

The response was dramatic. The issue sold out, and a further 2000 copies were printed. It was women who were calling up to order extra copies as gifts, sometimes ten at a time.

Bill writes —

I knew as The Men’s Issue was coming together that if women embraced it, I would assemble an anthology of men’s writings.

Heart of a Man returns the embrace.

Its works are from the lives and creativity of writers with diverse takes on male life. Revealing themselves in story, poem and personal essay, they grant access to their lives. 

In showing the truths of these men, this book hopes to bring women and men closer together. 

All that remains is to raise enough money to print the first thousand copies.
I’m biassed of course, but I truly hope that will happen. This important book is an enjoyable and illuminating read.

You’ll find the Kickstarter here. It’s already off to a good start on the first day!

Coffee

September 6, 2020

I submitted a poem for this anthology on April Fool’s day last year. It was accepted on 6th June. On 27th July this year I remembered it and bought a copy of the anthology. It arrived on 2nd September. It is a nicely-produced pocket-size booklet with a coffee stain on every page.

My poem, shorn of its stanza-breaks, is above. I wrote it when my dearly-loved aunt was enduring her last weeks in a care-home and I was visiting daily. She died at the end of May 2016, not long after her 97th birthday.

Isabelle Kenyon’s much more cheerful poem is below.

Winged

August 23, 2020

Winged, by James Roberts, published by Night River Wood
 
“Written over the first 12 weeks of lockdown in Wales when birds were given
back their spaces for a time, when curlews circled the uplands, swans nested on pools and goshawks appeared for the first time in the wood I’ve been walking in for 2 decades.”

This was an impulse-buy. I saw the cover on Twitter and I had to have it. I was not disappointed. Everything about this book is beautiful. The paper is silk-smooth and perfectly opaque. The design is pure and uncluttered. Gorgeous ink drawings and fine writing face one another on each double-page spread. I’m not normally a fan of centred poems, but the layout works well here. Roberts is a meticulous observer with an uncommon ability to be drawn so completely into his subject that at times he almost disappears. Why have I not heard of him before? Why can I not find anything else by him? It’s a mystery!