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Week 2 of distancing

March 29, 2020


Monday: I went to the woods. Spring was there before me.

Ivy shadows small

Tuesday: This. In my own back yard.

Fungi small

Wednesday: New life on a dead willow.

In the Bishop's Eye

Thursday: Light enters the Bishop’s Eye.

3.26 Park Wood West

Friday: West Park Wood – mostly beech with a few oaks at the corners.

wild greens

Saturday: Wild greens for a pungent soup. That’ll help with distancing! We did our daily walk after dark and didn’t see another human being.

03-29 on track small

Sunday: British Summer Time began. The first bird I heard was a raven.

It’s been a week of cold clear fine weather, perfect for walking.
We have little flour or yeast, and there was none in the two shops I went to this week. I made a rather heavy loaf from rye flour and pasta flour, half and half. The next loaf was made by the man of the house.

teach me he said
I want to know how to make bread
‘when you’re dead’ left unsaid
so I did
the boy done good

Then I turned out the cupboards in the hope of finding more flour.

We have no bread

in the depths of a cupboard
I found a bag of flour
shelf-life expired

there’s mould on the outside
and I think something’s living
inside the bag

but we have oatmeal and ginger
treacle and dates
let us eat cake

The Verb on BBC Radio 3 is always worth listening to, and Ian McMillan is the perfect host. Ana Silvera’s song near the beginning a couple of weeks ago really got under my skin, and I’ve listened so often I now know all the words … I’m carrying those seeds, for planting when the time comes.

Week 1 of distancing

March 23, 2020

recent developments
this difficult time
uncharted waters

these uncertain times
the current crisis
When we face our own extinction it seems we can talk only in clichés.

town hall 1small

Monday: On a solitary walk I saw things I’ve walked past for years but not noticed before.

Crow and mistletoe

Tuesday: I heard the crow. I looked up.

Young birches

Wednesday: The birches that germinated last year in the wheel-arch of an abandoned taxi have put out fresh leaves, as if they believe in a future..


Thursday:  “Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers. Let me keep company always with those who say ‘’Look!’’ and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads. ” – Mary Oliver.
baby sycamores
Friday: The same taxi provides a nursery for baby sycamores.
Shadows on Yew small
Saturday: Embraceable Yew.
Sunday: Stickpiling.

Happy Leap Day!

February 29, 2020

Leap Year

I wrote this in February 2016 and have not wanted to change it since.
The book I had in mind? I finished writing it. It leaped across the Atlantic in December last year, probably straight into the publisher’s waste-paper basket, though I shall not know for a few months. But I’ll still come up laughing. There are far more important things in life than getting published.

And if celestial navigation is something you wonder about, try this.

ABCD: February 2020

February 23, 2020

Seven members of Artists’ Book Club Dove met yesterday. We are all beavering away at our own projects.

Bron is writing music for some of Shakespeare’s songs and incorporating the music into etchings.

Clare is keeping a notebook about the hedge she is documenting. It includes stories, watercolour drawings and new and old maps.

She has also been using material from the hedge to make some very beautiful eco-prints.

Clare prints

I (Ama) have made an eight-page leporello (what’s that? Judith found this lovely explanation) to house an erasure poem derived from this interview. The title is printed with some home-made stamps cut from memory-foam. I also used them to print the walls of the tunnel, cave or mine into which the poem descends.

Ama Downwords

Carol has made a square book of abstract images of her hedge. She brought some small books folded from very beautiful abstract prints she made on a recent course with Sue Brown in Cheltenham.

Carol books

Jane has been thwarted by the weather: grey skies, rain and more rain, mud underfoot and water everywhere. She has, however, found inspiration in a poem, Alcaic by Peter Levi, in the Common Ground anthology Trees be Company.

Peter Levi Alcaic

Pat has her loom set up and is spinning wool for a tapestry to represent her hedge, in the intervals between caring for ailing neighbours and doing botany in Sri Lanka and the Himalayas.

Judith is another of our great travellers, but since breaking a wrist she has been limited to cultural trips to Exeter and London. She recommended Indian Masters at the Wallace Collection, Ed Ruscha at Tate Modern, and everything at the Wellcome Collection, not forgetting the library and cafe upstairs. Judith has made a large-format book of mokuhanga and other prints – known affectionately as boju-hanga – using indigo and kakishibu – fermented persimmon juice – for colouring the cover. The book is put together with a very delicate-looking Japanese stitching (not a stab-binding) that I’ve attempted only on small light-weight books.

After lunch we all made Blizzard books, using the instructions in Art of the Fold, along with Bron’s inspired notes on dimensions. Paula Beardell Krieg’s blog posts on this structure are really helpful. Our next meeting, which I shall miss, unfortunately, will be on Saturday 28 March. Clare has volunteered to collect the March dove-droppings. Hellebores and snowdrops were in full bloom in Bron’s garden.

Conversation was wide-ranging and fascinating, as you may guess from the longer than usual February Dove-droppings.

she sat in a Perspex box
conducting imaginary orchestras
listening to the night

a proper baby carriage
wheeling unfired pots
where the bee sucks

she takes one out and pops it back in
ooh what a lovely thing
but it’s about the genocide

remind ourselves of stitchings
which reminded me of
a recording of ice cracking

the book has a QR code
but I don’t have a smart-phone
do you read music though

a parish map from 1886
iridescent turquoise beetles
and a ladybird in the floodwater

I tried to knit with dried grass
wrap it round a rusty can
and boil it for an hour

the next day I went to the hedge
for ink beyond the oak gall
the golden glow of the first rust

after the sofa disaster
I did go up to Paradise Lane
incredibly muddy positively dangerous

the water was right up to the railway line
and more rain coming
the elvers can migrate across the fields

nothing’s finished or even really started
it’s the endless drizzle
it’s hibernation and gestation

compromise and process
some of it is a bit mokuhanga
I’ll have the argument later

wacky tea and chocolate for altitude
I didn’t mind about the gruelling
but I’m not good above 5000 metres

they sell lichens by the ton
it put us in a taxonomic situation
I’ll ask the entomologists


New and Selected

January 31, 2020

A Glyphic House
I was thrilled to receive this new collection from my good friend and collaborator, San Francisco poet Beau Beausoleil. The sympathetic cover and interior illustrations are by the artist Andrea Hassiba, the poet’s wife, to whom the volume is dedicated. I had the privilege of writing the preface:

“This collection includes poems published over the last forty-three years, and significant new work from a long-established writer who is still breaking new ground and producing breathtaking poems.

As a poet my job is to introduce the dead to one another: the work of a lifelong poet is one of the themes running through these pages. These days bleed through my tongue and pen.

Another theme is that of light and darkness, and how close they are to each other: the light is fatal to itself, observes the poet, the sun burns itself up for light, and it is only wonder that takes me past each darkness. There is a sense of loss and complicity (we are both ruined cities carrying the fingerprints of the missing) and of horrors that, once seen, we cannot unsee (That woman cut from her skin/ That man turned out of his mind).

Beausoleil is a master of detail, finding emotional depth in everyday sights (the cracked asphalt wearing through the word STOP) and situations (in the line for stamps at the Post Office … I stand weeping for you).

On a walk to the bus stop the poet passes a group of girls with a jump-rope and sees that they are ancient storytellers never at rest. He admires their craft, their unselfconscious street-theatre: how much like poetry this is. The poet finds himself waiting for the beat that I could step into/ the arc of moving words …

This is his great skill, to enter the arc of a moment and illuminate it with the unflinching light of his small poems of blood and salt.”

– Ama Bolton 2019



More planting

January 27, 2020

I helped my son to plant 297 poplar rods one afternoon last week. Including strimming and measuring and marking out, the job was done within three hours. Fortunately the weather was milder that day; for the previous few days the ground had been frozen.

The cultivar is Oudenburg (Populus deltoides x Populus nigra), for short-rotation coppice for fuel. The carbon calculation is simple: the wood absorbs carbon while it grows, and releases the same amount when burnt. The trees after coppicing keep on growing and absorbing more carbon.

Today my legs are beginning to feel as if they belong to me. Perhaps two hours of dancing fast American squares and contras immediately after 297 squats wasn’t a great idea!

the first 120 poplars

The hedge on the left is a two-year-old wind-break of Alder and Elaeagnus, aligned north/south.

ABCD: January 2020

January 19, 2020

Eleven of us met yesterday, just as thick fog was dispersing and the sun was beginning to show through.

Caroline showed us some ideas for her hedge book. One uses stick-calligraphy, the other, collage. She mentioned Vintage Papers of Stromness, Orkney, as a source of papers and tools, a gorgeous horn bone-folder in particular.

Caroline hedge 1
Caroline hedge 2

Judy has taken the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem Inversnaid as her text and is using overlapping calligraphy on different scales. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo.

Jane brought two books, one a large Japanese-style binding of lightweight rust-dyed Nepalese papers, and a sort of flag-book from an example in Art of the Fold.

Jane rust 3

Jane rust 1

Jane rust 2

Jane flag 1

Jane flag 2

Kate is deep into a long project about local trades, and has made a story-book (for the Fifty Bees exhibition at the Black Swan in Frome, opening on 8th February) about the habitat  and rather nasty habits of the Black-thighed Cuckoo Bee.

Carol has an ambitious plan to make a book every week this year. The first is a long, colourful fold-book with fifty-two pockets to contain a library-catalogue card for each book. The second is called The naming of Cats.


Nina has used paper from the late Brian Dix’s studio for a book about her hedge, using Chinese ink and oak-gall ink from Feral Inks in an abstract calligraphic style.

Thalia is working on material for a book inspired by the local birdwatching hides, to be illustrated with Mokuhanga prints.

Bron has been planting trees, 500 of them, with help from 60 volunteers. Here are some photos of her large-scale album documenting the project. More pages will be added as the plantation progresses.

Bron 1

Bron 2

Bron 3

Judith was back with us for the first time after an accident in which she broke a wrist. In spite of which she managed to make some paper swatches in time for the deadline for inclusion in the 2019 Handmade Paper Swatch Yearbook – a remarkable publication with spiral binding and a wrap-around handmade paper cover.
She told us of an exhibition at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen:

Curated by Nick Hand and The Letterpress Collective, this exhibition brings together a collection of photography, film, letterpress prints, and the words of makers who dedicate their life to a particular craft or passion. All gathered by one man on an epic 6,500 mile bicycle journey from Land’s End to John O’ Groats, and around the coast of Britain and Ireland with a printing press on the back of his bike.

Nick trained as typographer and now works as a designer, photographer and letterpress printer. He is Director at The Department of Small Works. At The Letterpress Collective, Nick works with printer Ellen Bills to keep the art of letterpress printing alive by running workshops, collaborating with artists and writers as well as printing their own work.

Journeyman-Nick-Hand-and-his-bicycle-by-Jonathan-Cherry(photo by Jonathan Cherry from the Devon Guild website)

Pauline has been busy with a bee book. She brought a little fold book she’d made from instructions in Art of the Fold. She recommended allowing more paper than prescribed for attaching the cover securely. The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram is her text for inspiration.



I (Ama) brought a couple of new books – one is this blog-post in book form, and the other is my third collaboration with my grandson Leonard, now aged 6, a fluent reader and story-teller. The book I’ve chosen as inspiration for this year is Underland by the wonderful Robert Macfarlane. With a little prompting I succeeded in being given a copy for Christmas.


Ama BtG

January Dove-droppings

hedge-talk full of birds
blackbirds in the fog
rustling and doodling

poem for a bird-hide
think of it as a shape
a dance of words and images

a grid-reference
and a plan of the land
what three words

a bee-revival kit
fleeting emblems
vintage paper

who is it for?
ah! a man!
and a long Japanese

it sinks to the bottom
I’ve parked the hedgerow
where the bees might be

can’t find the way into my book
I don’t know where it will take me
it’s quite fugitive

oak-gall ink
copper pomegranate and avocado
I’ve never wanted to do this

the Red Dress is coming next weekend
a kitten is arriving on March 1st
I can’t stop drawing trees

I’ve had a few obstacles
still in rehab
another visit to Japan

wristories of broken wrists
the black-thighed cuckoo-bee
on a bicycle with an Adana press