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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

1st January 2021

January 1, 2021

First poem of the new year:

My new coffee cup
said rise and shine, wake up!

I woke up lazily
and smelled the sovereignty. 

Bitter as stewed tea,
it sickened me.

I rose not, neither did I shine 
till well past nine.

In other news, I’ve been pursuing the “100 rejections in a year” mirage. In 2020 I sent off 103 individual poems and 11 collections or sequences. Seventy rejections so far, and 33 still waiting for a result, so in my mind I’ve already ticked the box.
Two collections were short-listed. Six poems were published or are forthcoming in print, two appeared online and one was awarded a £50 h/comm prize.
I need a change of direction this year. No goals. Just write for the pleasure of it, and occasionally make beautiful small editions for family and friends. These, after all, are the kind of books I most like to buy.

What I’ve missed most in 2020 has been dancing. I’ve walked much more than usual, and it has certainly lifted my spirits, but not in the way that dancing does. Of the dozen or so folk-dance clubs we used to go to, I wonder how many will survive.

A daily source of joy has been the Shetland Webcams, which I check usually first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Birds, seals, sky, sea, ships, sun, moon, stars, Northern Lights. My cup runneth over. Usually onto the kitchen floor.

I wish you, my dear reader, all you wish for in 2021, and may your targets be achievable. I’m starting with a sensible resolution to wash the kitchen floor. And maybe clean a few windows. Let some light in.

ABCD December 2020

December 6, 2020

Thirteen of a possible 14 of us met via Zoom (thanks to Thalia for hosting) yesterday afternoon. The only one missing was Nina, who was busy with Christmas shoppers in the gallery she manages in Somerton. Some of us were feeling more festive than others! We started with a short demonstration by Carol of folding five-pointed stars from a standard origami sheet 15cm square. I got a bit lost along the way, but was able to catch up thanks to Cambridge Imprint.

Carol’s stars (above) and Thalia’s (below)

Jane is currently our star member. Her indigo book The Blue Whale, sold to Robert Bolick some years ago, came up on his marvellous “Books on Books” site. Follow the link for full details.

A couple of Jane’s recent mokuhanga prints are shown below. I do love her use of colour and repeated shapes.

It was good to see Pat again. Last time, having just moved house, she had no internet connection. She has been busy teaching an online field course in lichenology, and is still trying to unpack boxes, so she didn’t find anything to show.

Both Judy and I (Ama) have been participating in a 5-day course with the amazing Laurie Doctor. If we were a little yawny it was because our last session was on Friday at midnight, 7pm Kentucky time. Well worth staying up for! Judy’s work below, then mine. It was great to be liberated from legibility. We used a wide variety of writing tools, including found objects, pens, brushes and white chinagraph pencil over-painted with watercolour.

Judy Warbey: I Miss the Sea

Caroline enjoyed the Hay Festival weekend, especially Robert Macfarlane’s The Lost Spells. She has been reading her travel diaries from the 60s and 70s. Like her, I travelled in India in the 70s and 80s, and can relate to these collage-and-oil paintings. For me too, smells are most evocative! And the memory of heat so intense one seemed to be walking out of an aeroplane into an oven. The talk of smells led us to discuss ways of preserving smells.

Caroline Mornement Jodhpur
Caroline Mornement Jaipur
Caroline Mornement Jaisalmer
Caroline Mornement start of bird/Blake drawing

Thalia has been studying Mantra Science and the Devanagari alphabet, and making mysterious misty mokuhanga prints.

Bron has been sourcing 450 trees in order to plant an entire new wood at the Dove. We shall have a chance to join in with the planting. The wood will include a circle of hawthorns and another Celtic tree circle.

Some of us had watched a BBC documentary made to celebrate John Berger’s 90th birthday. Judith tracked down Berger’s notes after having cataracts removed. Recommended viewing/reading. Judith also told us about short, affordable online workshops at Dartington College, and a Japanese olfactory artist.

Judith does a daily walk near Totnes and is using it as her focus for Alice Fox’s online course Place-making. I too am doing this course, which is spread over several months. I’m foraging for materials in the local wood. Both our walks are seriously muddy.

Judith Staines, from left to right: seaweed, oak gall, acorn cap with iron, spindle fruit, avocado, pink flowers, seaweed. Black lines drawn with foraged charcoal
Judith Staines, ink made from acorn cups, found charcoal. Below: eco-prints from liquidambar and ginkgo leaves.

Carol, inspired by elephant hawk-moths in her garden, has made three coptic-sewn books.

Carol Wood, Elephants in my Garden

Clare is filling up her swimming journal with drawings and observations. She swims every morning in the brook, and the local kingfisher now ignores her and happily shares the pool with her. Wild swimming, she told us, makes everything seem more manageable. We could all do with some of that! Clare has a new wool-holding pot, and has knitted a pair of mittens.

Janine has made another box, and a series of little books from last year’s cyanotypes: big sheets cut into small pages. They look delicious but I long to hold them.

Janine Barchard, machine-embroidered box
Janine Barchard, cyanotype books

Pauline has been making colourful books without words, using up bits from the studio.

Pauline Pearce, woodcuts

Kate writes:  I have been rather consumed with delving into my ancestors back in London in the 19th century with coachmen, grooms, farriers and dressmakers. Honest working class roots.  Research took me to old 1890s film of astonishlingly mad horse drawn traffic in London … working lives of coachmen  and farriers … harsh lives of Victorian seamstresses working from home, and sizes of families. Generally as I looked at not  just my ancestors on censuses but those all living in same street with so many children, many over 20 still at home and working at low paid jobs…… then I got distracted by sanitation and The Great Stink. Having been to Curry’s today for something and noticed the gargantuan  televisions I rather thought I was in a dystopian nightmare coming from the Victorian lives I have been reimagining. 

I am happy to report that we have been mentioned in Matthew Stewart’s Rogue Strands blog. Thank you, Matthew.

Our next meeting will be on 2nd January 2021. Happy Christmas everyone! And special love to those who will be spending it alone and would prefer to have company.

Finally, here are the random quotes from my notebook.

December Dove-droppings

it’s not a proper hat
I wouldn’t go out in it
I feel like the Ice Queen

still got the fat one to do
fold it underneath
it can be done

it spins beautifully
a shadow scatters the stars
after the second pentagon

I’ve lost everybody
everything is a problem
there’s writing everywhere

a museum of smells
making scents/making sense
of light and water

I’m a butterfly
walking through smells
in the Blue City

plant a hawthorn circle
in your heart
maybe the singing bird

farriers and bell-rope makers
a cat born in a bordello
in Covent Garden

keeping my head out of the mire
I’m becoming otter
I’ll sit on the router

making do with
Christmas on my own
as if I had a dog

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


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.