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Candlemas comes round again

January 7, 2022

Opus Anglicanum‘s Candlemas promenade concert in Wells Cathedral will be rather different this year.

Saturday 22nd January

19:00 – 21:00

‘Adorna’: ethereal Gregorian plainchant for the feast of Candlemas meets with unique, spontaneous piano improvisations in this striking collaboration between Opus Anglicanum and jazz pianist Jason Rebello.

Candlemas is the winter day that all the Church’s candles for the year were blessed, and a festival of the first stirring of spring. In ‘Adorna’, the ancient monastic chants, as sung annually over the centuries in cathedrals and abbeys to mark Candlemas, blend with Jason’s piano – a magical new interpretation of light dispelling darkness.

(Wells Cathedral website)

Tickets are available here. My poem about the 2013 concert can be read here.

Shortest day

December 21, 2021

Sunrise and sunset, from the Shetland webcams.

Midwinter in Shetland

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

ABCD December 2021

December 11, 2021

Nine members of Artists’ Book Club Dove met on Zoom (thank you, Thalia) on December 4th, a week after Storm Arwen rampaged across the land. Some had been to Plymouth to see the hugely inspiring exhibition Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters.

Here are two views of Carol’s folded book, made that morning. “A frantic 2 and a half hours of folding, sticking and stiching with Anna Yevtukh-Squire to produce a complicated structure.”

Pat showed us an extraordinary piece of wood sculpted by insects. We discussed various ways of making an image from it; the best was probably to take a rubbing on thin paper with graphite or black wax.
Pat writes: here it is front and back (nonsense as it is any way you look!) of a termite-reconstructed bit of a tree after they have chewed it and glued it together with termite saliva! 

Bron experienced a localised tornado at the Dove. A marquee was lifted from its moorings, damaging a chimney and leaping over a hedge before being deposited, complete with all its poles, two fields away, almost in Barton St David. She has nevertheless made a springback book of botanical prints. This is a structure that springs open when dropped: a performing book! The instructions for it are in Keith Smith’s manual Books Without Paste or Glue.

Judith has assembled two sets of pages of botanical prints, one for the tree nursery where she volunteers, and one to keep. Her sewn-board binding is beautifully made and opens out flat. Tutorial here. Here are some of the pages before binding.

Judy is still excited about her adventures in unorthodox calligraphy and its connection with walking and mapping. She showed us some striking images made using scrunched paper dipped in ink.

Caroline has started a book on the topic of migration, using people-drawings on brown wrapping-paper and bird-drawings printed on acetate.

Her wildlife pond now has a house for the moorhens.

Clare has two ponds! And some very early primulas. And a Kaffe Fasset-inspired jumper in the making; what glorious colours!

Thalia, inspired by the Plymouth exhibition and by the changing light, is making mokuhanga prints and allowing the process to create its own narrative. A leap into the dark.

Jane was unable to be with us, but she has sent images of a sculptural book. “A celebration of the silver birch I planted 9 years ago.” It looks to me like mokuhanga prints.

Ama. My latest book is a pamphlet-stitched small edition, 15x15cm, a fragmentary autobiography in 50 tercets. The cover photo was taken in 1979 at the Liverpool commune where I lived for 8 years. The house is now a very smart gated community of apartments: photo here.

I am a ghost in The Old Swan/ I embrace my string bass/ and sing high tenor harmonies

Dates of the next few meetings (probably all on Zoom) are January 15th, February 12th and March 12th.
A happy midwinter to all our readers!
Here are some notes I made during the meeting.

December Dove-droppings

finding more light
folding bits of paper
you get trapped in it

our lifespans are not enough
brilliant but difficult
eaten by termites

flying trampolines
and a forty-foot Christmas tree
blown across two fields

painting is dreaming
it is a language
knitted together

silk button gall moths
hatched an idea
gathering mushrooms

just keep wrapping
with a ferrous blanket
things will grow

a house on stilts
dipped in ink
an eagle’s eye view

it’s always the sea
the way the light dims
like birds calling

ABCD November 2021

November 16, 2021

Eight members of Artists’ Book Club Dove met on Zoom last Saturday: Judith, Caroline, Thalia, Bron, Judy, Janine, Ama, Kate. Some had suggestions as how to proceed with our meetings.

Thalia said she would like a practical element to the Zoom sessions. This could be sitting and sewing/folding together, either individual work or something we agreed on together.

Bron added an idea to this: could someone volunteer to teach a structure? Judith pointed out that this would take a great deal of preparation and also experience.

There wasn’t huge enthusiasm for a ‘topic’, though a few were put forward: migration, unruly, and leaf. We agreed that it was up to individuals if they wanted to pursue any of these.

Going round the circle, one theme that kept emerging was that of walking/roads.

Thalia is doing research on two of her great-grandmothers who were teachers in the 1890s. She enthused about the current exhibition of Eric Ravilious at the Devizes museum; the white winding roads seen from the air featured in his work. He was working on a Puffin book for children about the chalk downlands when war broke out. The book was never finished, but this one was published in 2019.


Bron has been making contact prints from leaves (front and back view shown below) and using botanical inks to draw her multitasking ancestresses, knitting as they walked their cattle to London from Wales.

Judith is working on a book of leaf contact prints for the tree nursery where she volunteers. She mentioned a big exhibition from Australia, about to go on world tour, starting in Plymouth.

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters | The Box Plymouth

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters

Caroline expressed her interest in the theme of Migration, which is the one she suggested as a topic. She is working on a book about the house from which her family recently migrated, and following the surprise appearance of a teasel in her garden she is making a book about teasels. And she shared a photo of a gloriously autumnal tree at Westonbirt Arboretum.

Judy is taking online lettering courses with Ewan Clayton and Carry Wouters. She reminded us that during the October Zoom we had discussed the themes of ‘Being Here’, ‘From Here’, ‘Getting There’ etc.

Kate is still working on her book documenting thirty craftspeople – two years’ work so far. She has a new project in mind, continuing the ancestress theme.

Janine has made a concertina book about a grandmother, and has sewn strings of birds from scraps of fabric and beads.

Clare was busy coppicing her wood while we were zooming. She has recently suffered a wild-swimming injury. She writes: Partly because of this, and sitting around with my leg up, I’ve been researching river sewage and signing up to monitor river flies (caddis, and May flies, that sort of thing) as an indicator of river health.  Also reading a great deal of environmental stuff – Chris Packham; Kate Bradbury; Dave Goulson’s ‘Silent Earth – averting the insect apocalypse’; and trying to make changes, at very least on a personal level.  That’s where my focus is, and that’s the direction that would interest me if making books. 

Ama. I am working on a collaboration. Not much to show yet, but watch this space!

Lots of ideas came up, some of which are related. All of which are interesting.We agreed that for the next Zoom on December 4th we would use that date as a deadline and come up with SOMETHING to show, even if only at the ‘few pages’ stage. Fingers crossed for successful screen-sharing!

Meanwhile, here are the eavesdroppings from my notebook.

November Dove-droppings

a Spanish dancer
interprets letter-forms
adrift in a vacuum

shapes of printed paper
delusions visions waking dreams
shifted to different rooms

fat little birds on strings
knit their way home
from one horizon to the other

take the floorboards up
starting at the bottom
it took three weeks

with dandelion stems
black walnut husks
and a cedar pod

And here’s a photo of Jane, me, Bron and Judith at Two Rivers Paper, on our recent visit to East Quay at Watchet. Recommended! Read about it in The Guardian.

May be an image of one or more people, people standing and indoor

Desire Lines, continued

October 20, 2021

Still pursuing desire lines, five artists and poets went to Fyne Court in the Quantocks on a sunny Sunday.
It was the home of Andrew Crosse, an early experimenter with electricity.
The house was destroyed in a fire. The L-shaped bench in the photo below shows the location of one corner of the house. Only outbuildings remain, and unobtrusively managed parkland.

The trees are a mix of native and imported. Fungi were busy at the vital work of creating life out of death.

The delightful mediaeval parish church is a short distance away. The East window was made in William Morris’s workshop. Stained glass is difficult to photograph well. Or so I tell myself when my photos don’t turn out as I’d hoped. I had better luck with a side-view of a side window. The C16 bench-ends were carved by Simon Werman. The modern kneelers depict details from the bench-ends. A corner of Andrew Crosse’s laboratrory table is just visible on the right in the last bench-end photo. The yew tree is said to be the third-largest in Somerset.

Broomfield, October                

And we came by deep lanes chequered with light
to the place where a house had burned to the ground
the home of the Thunder and Lightning Man
the Wizard of Broomfield who conjured life from rock
with a quickening shock of electrons 

And we five walked on a fallen tree
whose grain was twisted as a worsted yarn
even I the oldest the most unsteady
stood tall on the shoulder of that giant 

And we wandered among great yews and beeches
oaks and young rowans and birches
and life was there in abundance springing
from spores in the leaf litter springing
from branch to branch in the sunlit canopy

And we lay under a circle of sky with our backs pressed
to dry land to rock and root and teeming soil
our backs pressed to thrumming networks of mycelium
clouds passed and birds passed and a little time passed
while the trees held conversation that went over our heads
and into our hearts and we knew ourselves blest

And we struck wood and played the song of October  
and we held no thoughts but only the xylophone tones
ringing ringing ringing into our singing bones
into the forest into the earth into the blue for ever and ever

And we walked on hallowed ground around Saint Mary
and All Saints where the living hollow shell of a yew tree
and ancient lichen-painted gravestones
and the obelisk of the Thunder and Lightning Man
reminded us that life individual is brief
and life eternal is shared with stone and tree
with the smallest of crawling things under a fallen leaf 

And we came home with pockets packed with seeds
prickly chestnut hulls leaves and stones
a sliver of slate and the shell of a stripey snail
grains of Quantock soil under our nails
and the day was round and perfect as an egg
and contentment ran like a robin’s song in our veins

Ama Bolton 2021-10-10

ABCD October 2021

October 15, 2021

There were nine of us at the zoom meeting of Artists’ Book Club Dove on 9th October. Our thanks to Thalia for the use of her account.

Here is our book “Grand Women” on display at Two Rivers Paper in the new Arts Centre in Watchet.

Photo by Judith Staines

Judith has been rather more productive than some of us.

Concertina book of Mokuhanga prints by Judith Staines

“Cotinus blues and other leaves” – Judith. The method is a closely-guarded secret! For online courses, see here.

“My concertina book of dipped handmade papers is on its way to Japan for IAPMA exhibition in Toyota paper museum. Sadly I cannot go too!” -Judith.

“A hairy book for India Flint course” – Judith.

Clare showeed us her Scilly camping sketchbook. The last picture shows the bold exploits of a nocturnal oil-thief. She has also completed another two swimming sketchbooks.

Jane has started a lift-the-flap book of masks, seen here held together with paperclips.

Jane Paterson work in progress

Pauline has found a tin of old photos, including this one of her lost grandmother..

She has been experimenting with botanical inks. Lovely colours and shapes.

Judy is excited about words! Every stroke is a meditation.

Janine has completed her page for our Blizzard book “Strange Times”, visual and verbal snapshots of 2020.

Carol could not be with us, but she has made a flower-fold book from her recent experiments in printing one ink on top of another.

Caroline too was missing. She has sent a photo of a couple of pages from her diary of her new house, Bales, a house of straw.

Our next meetings will be on November 13th and December 11th, either in the print Studio or on Zoom. Meanwhile, here are the

October Dove-droppings

dark and even darker
a locked book
they’ll have to break in

art in a bottle
mosquitos in front
eclipsed by a cat

sealed and half-burnt
in Boudicca mode
a dead deer in the river

I fell into all three
longhorn caddis flies
the purple something

experiments with iron
liberating the colours
a mad book of masks

Penelope Circe Ariadne
alive in spite of everything
my missing grandmother

the word was made song
wayfaring lines
stop and look

a tidal island
dark brown and ancient
the pink elephant moth

weeding and mulching
preparing the ground
everything changes

After The Rime

October 2, 2021

A week after the event, some of us met on Zoom today to review the first post-lockdown meeting of Bath Writers and Artists in Widcombe Social Club, and to think about our future direction.

It had been good, and energising, to be physically together again. We all loved the venue – the big rooms full of light, the balcony with its view of tranquil water, the endlessly helpful staff, and the buffet lunch.

The morning writing workshop was sensitively chaired by Graeme, and participants have said how useful they found it.    

The very brief rehearsal of The Rime was an object-lesson in how to coax surprisingly good results from non-performers and improved results from seasoned performers. Our official understudy stepped into the space left by one who was at short notice unable to come. The performance itself was far from perfect; how could it be? But I hope we were convincing, and I certainly enjoyed taking part. All twelve of us will be better performers for having done it, thanks to Graeme. He is an inspirational drama coach. It was great to have a few spare minutes for a Q&A afterwards. We learned that The Rime had started life as a collaboration between Coleridge and Wordsworth. William wrote one line, scrapped it and left the job to Samuel. Coleridge revised the text many times over the years.

The two-part concert followed. We began with June’s intriguing appetiser from her newly published novel Foolish Heroines. The journey continued from seashore and shallows to the awe-inspiring deep. Graeme slipped seamlessly into another gap, in the reading of Eileen’s pamphlet Growl Purr Hiss Spit, about the illegal destruction of coral reefs. Verona, rising to the challenge of a lost script, delivered a riveting piece of storytelling. I have seldom seen such a spellbound audience. The performance of a 20th century sea-shanty, with Lagerphone accompaniment, rounded off the concert rousingly.

Illustrated by GustaveDore, and Mervyn Peake

The version of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner that we performed last week was pruned by me to give a running time of 25 minutes and to omit the more sentimental or repetitive passages. For no particular reason I have continued the pruning, revealing four sonnet-like poems hidden in The Rime’s more than 600 lines. My rule is to use words or part-words in the same order in which they occur in the original. On this occasion I abandoned my other rule of erasure, which is that it should tell a different story from that in the original.

There was a Ship
(an erasure of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


It is the bride; and next, the guests, the feast.
There was a ship. His hand, his glittering eye!
His skinny hand! The sun came up, went down.
The loud bassoon! The merry minstrelsy!

But hear that ancient man: The storm-blast came.
Pursued with yell and blow, southward we fled.
At length – an albatross! A good south wind.
The albatross every day in mist or cloud…

Fiends that plague! I shot the albatross!
The sun now rose in mist, the glorious sun,
the bloody sun, day after day. The rot!
Slimy things crawl on slimy sea, and some
in dreams were plagued. We could not speak. We choked.
The albatross about my neck was hung.


A weary time. A something in the sky.
A speck – a mist – a shape – a water-sprite!
Unslaked we stood and cried, A sail! A sail!
Hither without a breeze, without a tide,

that strange shape drove. How fast she nears and nears!
And is that Woman? Is that Death? The night-
mare Life-in-Death? “The game is done! I’ve won!”
Fear at my heart. The steersman’s face gleamed white.

Each turned and cursed me. Four times fifty men,
heavy, lifeless, dropped down one by one.
“I fear thee!” Fear not, Wedding Guest. Alone
my soul lived on. I looked, and tried to pray.
The dead were at my feet; I could not die.
The water-snakes I blessed. And I could pray.


I dreamed: I thought I was a blessèd ghost.
The rain! The lightning! The loud wind! The dead
men groaned. They stirred. A ghastly crew!
“I fear
thee, Mariner!” Be calm. Those souls that fled

came again a troop of spirits blest.
I heard an angel’s song. We quietly moved
onward. I heard voices in the air:
“The Spirit himself loved the bird that loved

the man who shot him.” O his great bright eye!
Calm night. Moon. The dead men stood on deck.
Their stony eyes! The curse! I could not pray.
The frightful fiend breathed on me. See: the kirk!
Is this my country? Let me sleep alway!
Crimson colours! Crimson on the deck!


I heard oars. I heard the pilot’s cheer.
I saw a boat, the pilot, and the boy.
The hermit I heard talk: ‘Why, this is strange!’
‘A fiendish look,’ the pilot made reply.

The boat came close. The ship went down like lead,
and like one drowned, my body lay afloat.
The hermit prayed. The boy laughed loud and long.
Now the hermit stepped forth from the boat.

‘Shrieve me, holy man!’ ‘Say quick,’ quoth he,
‘what manner of man art thou?’ Which forced me to
begin my tale, and then it left me free.
Since then, that agony returns. I know
the man that must hear me.
The Guest, alone,
is gone from the bridegroom’s door like one forlorn.


Posted by Ama Bolton on 2nd October 2021

A new programme from Bath Writers and Artists

September 10, 2021

The Sea, The Sea!

2-4.45pm Saturday 25 September 2021

A free afternoon celebrating all things marine and maritime, including a dramatic reading of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and a wealth of original writing about the sea.

Venue: Waterfront Arts Bar, Widcombe Social Club, Lower Widcombe Hill, Bath BA2 6AA.

This programme, curated by Graeme Ryan of Fire River Poets and me, with help from Verona Bass, is the first physical meeting of Bath Writers and Artists for nineteen months, and the first meeting in our new venue, The Widcombe Social Club. It will include a rehearsed reading of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, followed after a short break by a concert of readings and songs. If you’d like to join us beforehand for lunch, let me know by 16 September at the latest – all diets can be catered for. Write to amabolton(at)hotmail(dot)com. Otherwise, just turn up before 2pm. The Waterfront bar can seat 100; it will not be crowded!
There will also be art on display, including this image, one of my experiments with botanical inks.

The venue is in Lower Widcombe Hill, a short walk from the bus and train stations.

Desire Lines

August 5, 2021

I’m enjoying taking part in this wide-ranging project. So far I’ve been on two expeditions. The first was to Nether Stowey and the beach at Kilve on 20th June, a day of mixed weather.

Poets and artists in the garden of Coleridge Cottage in Nether Stowey

Some photos from Kilve:

Desire Lines 1

Hydrangea petiolaris
climbs a wall
behind the pub

nice view of Hinkley Point!
lunch here?
let’s go on

thatched cottages in Holford
Alfoxton foxgloves
the road winds through woodland

not the grotty layby the other one
so this is the loaves and fishes
back to the 1950s

picnic in the car
in a layby
in the rain

there goes the exhaust
Kilve Kilve Kilve
down to the roaring beach

mullein teasel hedge-mustard agrimony
blue lias boulders
bladderwrack and scribbled pebbles

brown water grey headland
litter of shattered shale
wave lines slant to the shore

junction 23 roundabout
a mass of moon daisies
horses up to their knees in buttercups

I have the right
to be absolutely

The next day I dyed some thick rag-paper with the bladder-wrack I’d collected on the beach. I like the subtle results.

Our second expedition took us to Bridgwater and Steart Point on 3rd August, a perfect summer day. In Bridgwater we visited the delightful Somerset Brick and Tile Museum beside the River Parrett. Clay was dug in situ from the river bank and fired in bottle-kilns heated by coal and coke from South Wales, just across the Bristol Channel. The last remaining kiln has been preserved.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the wild wetlands of the Steart Peninsula. The marshes, rich with wildflowers and insect life, provide flood defence and are a haven for water-birds. We saw no litter, and maybe half a dozen other people all afternoon. It was a perfect day out in good company.

Somerset Brick and Tile Museum

the overburden
from river silt
industry in terminal decline

boot with a blade to slice the clay

moulded and pressed
excess cut away
sprinkled with sand from Burnham

tiles stacked to dry
like books on shelves 
a dragon rampant on the roof


we need a map
where are the boundaries

with Chinese laundry money
and a jumped-upstart game-player

birds don’t
dragonflies don’t
recognise boundaries


in the wilderness
almost off the map
much further out than you think

under a clear sky
sliced by powerlines
we turn left for the marshes

what can that be
out beyond the power station
ventilation for Mary’s Minecraft tunnel

clink of shingle
round pebbles underfoot
smooth and speckled as harbour seals

high tide at 2.40
it’s too quiet to eat crisps
listen can you hear the curlew

agrimony chicory bindweed
yarrow mustard common reed
bedstraw nightshade hawkweed

bees and butterflies
and not an albatross
but a pair of little egrets

the hide in the distance
Baba Yaga’s house
striding across the saltmarsh

a sheep leaps away
lively as a young buck
we’ve missed the footpath

beehives in a row
alder and willow at Cox’s Farm
a gift of courgettes at the gate

river and  sea
nearby but inaccessible
the little church of St Andrew

flat fields
sheep and pylons
raggedy quickthorn hedges

so still
so quiet
so close to Hinkley Point

Note: Hinkley C nuclear power station, with Chinese finance and French reactors, is the largest construction site in Europe. EDF hired gaming experts to help with the design process. A machine called Mary is digging a tunnel nearly two miles out to sea to lay a pipeline to bring water in for cooling.

ABCD July 2021

July 17, 2021

Ten of the thirteen members of Artists’ Book Club Dove met in Dove Meadow on 10th July for a bookish tea-party. Books old and new were passed around the circle, or (in the case of Judith’s monumental book Microseasons of the Dart) displayed on a table. Bron had baked feather-light scones, Clare provided a tin of her famous flapjacks, and others brought cakes, strawberries, cream and jam. The rain stayed away and it was almost hot at times.

Here is Microseasons of the Dart, by Judith Staines. Summary of a year of walking by the river Dart and collecting plant and other materials. You can read about the 72 Japanese microseasons here. Front view of the book:

And back view. The cover is collaged from papers coloured with botanical inks.

Here is Bron’s book, The Turning Year, finished that morning! It includes mokuhanga prints and handwriting in botanical inks.

Clare brought her current wild-swimming journal, watery covers enclosing observations in words and watercolour. Coptic-sewn with four needles.

Journal, Clare Diprose

This is a family of small books folded from cyanotypes by Janine. The second photo is her colourful silk appliqué accordion book.

Cyanotype books, Janine Barchard
Silk applique accordion book, Janine Barchard

Pauline and Jane brought some of the fruits of a course with Kathryn John.

Botanical inks by Pauline Pearce

Some of Jane’s samples are shown below.

Those who did not see it last time were able to handle our great album of ancestresses, Grand Women, beautifully bound by Bron and Judith, with cover title embroidered by Janine, cover linings by Kate and title-page by Judy.

A few more pages were added to our pandemic blizzard book, Strange Times.

Next meeting, by zoom or in person (who knows?), 4th September. And here are this month’s eavesdroppings.

July Dove-Droppings

I had to buy more bottles
in the middle of nowhere
on the mineral railway line

what stitch is that
with no shoes on
a date with a bottle of gin

raining in Glastonbury
between the hills
wedding bells

what are your weeds
bindweed I hate it
it’s a beautiful strangler

not making hay
come and glean
a handful of something

the front is the back
waiting for pages
they will come

it seems a distant dream
no point stopping there
nobody is a problem