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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This as-yet-unpublished book has already been part of my life for some years.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!


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.


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!

Visible mending, continued

August 19, 2020

It’s been five years and five months since I embarked on a project that is far from being finished. The plain navy-blue cardigan is now highly colourful. I can see thin places that will soon need to be repaired. There are patches on patches and patches on darns. The button-band and the buttonhole-band and the ribbing at the bottom have been reinforced. The pockets are no longer usable. The owner is still wearing it, and wearing it out. I think there’s a moral here somewhere, but I’m darned if I can find it.

In other news, the dozen or so plants I grew from the seeds of a squishy tomato have been wonderfully productive. Yesterday I picked 33 ripe tomatoes of various shapes and sizes. They are small, but delicious. The sprouting potato I cut into five pieces has produced five healthy plants that are nearly in flower. And Hari is producing chicken-manure to feed next year’s crops.

Diagonally parked in a parallel universe, with a hen on my lap

August 9, 2020

As we come out of lockdown, I feel nostalgic for a sky free of vapour-trails and for air free of exhaust fumes. I resent the return of traffic noise from the relief road a couple of hundred yards away. I think fondly of the recent months when the no-through-road on which we live was not cluttered all day with the parked cars of shoppers and commuters. I can see local friends and meet my children and grandson, but I can’t hug or kiss them. As for more distant friends and relations – I wonder if I shall ever see them again.

I enjoy my long walks in the woods and fields, but I badly miss the dancing that was such a joyful and important part of life before lockdown. I have more time for writing, but a more insistent internal voice asks, “What’s the point?” I have a sense of being stuck in a broken-down train while the train I should have caught moves on into a different future.

A fellow-creature came into our lives on Thursday.

Hari Rama is a three-month-old Brahma hen, slightly disabled, socially isolated and very much at the bottom of a heartless pecking order. I have promised her that she will never be bullied again, and I shall do my best to give her a good life. She has the run (not that she can run!) of our small walled garden and is slowly beginning to find sunny and shady places to sit. Coincidentally a poem from The Paris Review appeared in my inbox the day we brought her home. I take this as a good sign.

From Pindar Says the Poet Must Guard the Apples of the Muses
by Antonella Anedda, tr. Patrizio Ceccagnoli & Susan Stewart

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.

ABCD August 2020

August 3, 2020

For this month, Bron came up with the idea of making collaborative Blizzard books (see “Art of the Fold” by Hedi Kyle) with 14 pockets. Each of us would make our own page of content, drawn from our lives during lockdown, and reproduce it fourteen times so that each of us would end up with a full set. Somehow this idea disappeared by the end of the meeting, but afterwards I felt disappointed and suggested we should each contribute a single page to a book (for which I would make the blizzard spine) for the Tree House Library.

Caroline shared this nice clear tutorial by the wonderful Paula Beardell Krieg. Paula’s blog, Playful Bookbinding and Paper Works, is full of papery wonders.

Judith has been folding blizzard books from eco-printed papers. She found that Cotinus coggygria (smoke-bush) leaves and flowers yield interesting colours.

Jane took a day-long online workshop on sculptural book processes with Guy Begbie. This is just one day’s work, an experiment, not yet a finished book. It all ingeniously folds up into a blue cover. Wow.

And here is Jane’s work in progress for Landscapes from Chalice Hill. The paper edges are stained with walnut ink. Again, not a finished book.

Judy is using poems for her content: one by Mary Oliver, one by Kitty O’Meara and one by her own grand-daughter. I love the calligraphy, and the colours she has used.

Caroline practiced with brown wrapping paper, then used plain wallpaper, painted. She has been drawing teenage moorhens.

Thalia has made a small blizzard book from gift-wrap from Oxfam.

Janine has made a small but perfectly-formed blizzard book.

Carol is still looking at moths. She was in transit and not able to join the meeting, but sent this photo of a Box Tree Moth. This beautiful species was first seen in UK in 2008 and is considered a pest as it destroys box hedges.

Kate was not with us either, but writes that she had a lovely time with Jane folding paper to come up with the blizzard construction. For her (as for most of us) content comes first so she’s cogitating. Still making drawings of practitioners of the old crafts, and singing with a little choir outdoors. The lovely Bright Morning Stars is a song she mentioned. (NB this performance is not the choir in question)

Pat has a lot going on and could not join us. She is still weaving, and looking forward to finishing this one and thinking about the next one. She has sent me these photos. What rich colours from her plant dyes!

Bron’s life is all tipsy-turbo (that’s predictive text for topsy-turvy) at present, but she did manage to join the meeting. She has been treating all her wooden buildings with a non-toxic wood preservative. For USA suppliers, see

She has put the Tree House library books back on the shelves.

Clare has been spending time painting in a field and enjoying close encounters with local wildlife: a hare, a roe deer and a family of kestrels. She recommended a 1950s book, The Pebbles on the Beach. The latest edition has a foreword by Robert MacFarlane.

Ama: I enjoyed this post from the British Library’s book conservation blog.

I folded a couple of practice blizzard books to refresh my memory, and have made a page of content, Khadi rag paper dip-dyed with red cabbage. The poem was inspired by one of Judy’s Dante calligraphies and by the June Dove-droppings. The font is 1942 report, printed on a lightweight jute paper from Bangladesh. The observant reader will note that my triangles were folded in the wrong direction before being corrected!

Pauline has been very productive. Blizzard books and Coptic-bound eco-prints and …This piece of bookcloth is recycling at the extreme. This is made from a piece of bed sheet (white) that I use to clean up after printing. As I always print with Hawthorn inks and use vegetable oil to clean up, I wash all my rags to enable me to continue using them for as long as possible. This is how this coloured piece was ‘created’. Too beautiful to use again for cleaning up, so it has become book cloth.”

Thanks once again to Thalia for hosting us on Zoom. We shall not be meeting for a few weeks, but we hope it will be possible to get together outdoors at the Dove on the second weekend of September. DV and WP.

Finally, here are the August Dove-droppings

coming from the black square
and a black Dante
multiply your errors

to end up with a short one
slice the bottom off
a handwritten Wordle

beginnings and ends
and words in between
the difficult folds

make a virtue of that
do not go gentle
– are you raging?

pages … I love pages
I went to rescue my neighbour
beauty as a beast

a rainbow in a yellow sky
a storm in the distance
a small blizzard

Hari Rama the Brahma hen
unable to tell right from left
take her home and love her

Meadow Brown, Marbled White, Comma
a three-mile walk and a river-swim
wildflowers and blue butterflies

a roe deer watching me
crossing the days off
looking out/staying in

all the windows open
I’ll lie on my table
a bit wobbly

the year has lost its shape
sleep until the spring
it’s storytelling

Poetry tips and birdy pics

August 1, 2020

Find the StAnza poets’ tips here. The first two are sound only, while the others are short films.

John Glenday advises, “Write less”. A poem is a conversation between poet and reader: leave room for the reader. If you listen to nothing else, please listen to these three and a half minutes!

Shehzar Doja: “Always carry a small notebook”. I can think of no better advice.

Gerry Cambridge remembers George Mackay Brown’s advice to practice writing in strict forms. Craftsmanship, Gerry says, leads to confidence – enjoy the process – don’t be afraid of making a mess – read widely; other poets are your signposts.

Anthony Anaxagorou too recommends keeping a notebook. And imagining impossibilities. And borrowing a line from another poet (but be sure to give it back!)

Jen Hadfield, in her beautiful film-poem, pleads for a balance between words and silence. Well worth a few minutes of your precious time.

Inspired by Jen, I made a little film and tried to put it on Vimeo. Vimeo insisted on editing all the meaning out of it. The sound-track was completely jumbled up and the poem made no sense at all. Can anyone offer tips to a complete beginner? I’ve watched some tutorials but they assume a level of knowledge far beyond what I possess.

Ditto the panic-inducing WordPress block editor. I’ve watched the help-video and it’s like trying to follow instructions given far too fast by a bright teenager. 

To calm me down, here are some photos from last weekend. Birdwatching near Flamborough with my daughter.

IMG-20200725-WA0024 smlIMG-20200727-WA0037 smlIMG-20200727-WA0019 smlIMG-20200727-WA0015 smlIMG-20200727-WA0026 sml

Bridgwater Quayside Festival now on You-tube

July 19, 2020

via Bridgwater Quayside Festival now on You-tube

… with poems by me and other Wells Fountain Poets.

When All This Is Over

July 14, 2020

When thist is all over

This nicely-produced little book arrived today from Bob Horne’s small press Calder Valley Poetry.

John Foggin’s invitation to submit poems based on the opening words of Eilean Ni Chuilleanain’s poem Swineherd (When all this is over …) brought nearly 100 responses from a multitude of poets speaking in the voices of a variety of occupations. Calder Valley Poetry asked the poet Kim Moore to choose one poem for each letter of the alphabet for an anthology.

Here you will find poems that are are witty, serious, surprising, imaginative, empathic, well researched and well polished.

My favourite is perhaps Wendy Klein’s Wonder Woman, who dreams of sensible clothes and a retirement in obscurity, when she will not have to try to bring /peace to bellicose men who say one thing/and mean another.

Or maybe it’s Julie Mellor’s Phrenologist, who longs for a simple self-sufficient life free from the troubling cartographies/of other people’s minds.

Or John Foggin’s Night Soil Man, who looks forward to smelling The essence of  a baby,/the blue pulse in her skull I’ll be allowed to kiss.

Or Sarah Miles’s Graphic Designer whose fate is to default to Comic Sans. It’s so hard to choose!

My own poem, below right, sprang from an interview I heard on the radio in the first week of April. BBC Radio 4, a constant source of inspiration! Thank you John, thank you Bob, and thank you Kim.