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ABCD February meeting

February 11, 2019

Ten of us met at the Dove on Saturday. We all missed Clare’s flapjacks, but Pauline brought a jar of Birch-sap caramel, which we passed round and sampled … it was rather like a very soft fudge with an unusual after-taste.

Pauline has been visiting a downy birch on Exmoor (Betula pubescens, one of our two native birch species), and has produced some beautiful drawings, prints, embossings and monoprints, and a delicious little chunky book of lino prints, with a wrap-around hard cover fastened with a birch-twig. She returned from Cuba only a fortnight ago but has been very producive since then!

Thalia has been studying, photographing and drawing alder trees. She is planning a book based on an Iron-age life-size alder-wood carving from Scotland.

Janine has made a second model for her hazel tunnel-book, and a stitched landscape to use as a book-cover.

Judith has been to a letterpress workshop at Double Elephant in Exeter and a paste-paper workshop with Nesta Davies. She’s also been dyeing with plant materials, and brought a gorgeous little library of dyeing experiments. Since we last met she’s been travelling. In India she saw 17th century printing presses, and bought two lovely Tara Books and a book of block-printed fabric samples. From the Jan Van Eyck Academy in Maastricht she brought examples of Riso printing.  From Riga she brought Roots by Eva Saukane; hauntingly mysterious images from a mould-damaged photographic film processed after 20 years in her grandfather’s camera.

Judy has made a set of Ogham sticks and some more book-models. Her research into her tree, the Guelder Rose or Water-elder (Viburnum opulus) has turned up some interesting material. Coincidentally, Pauline also brought some Ogham sticks.

Judy model and ogham sticks

Karen has added to her willow book and has made a back-to-back double accordion book with pamphlets sewn in the folds – an intriguingly flexible structure. She also made a scroll from a photocopy of a Bath Journal from 1771. It’s a good read!

Carol brought two versions of an interlocking accordion structure for her rowan book.

Carol model

Bron was the only one of us who successfully made a block (MDF) to print Caroline’s design for an ABCD logo in Ogham letters.

Bron ogham

It was good to have Pat back with us after some months’ absence on her botanical travels and work. She has taken on the task of making a book of the elder tree. She told us about a project that she has initiated and invited us all to join. It involves studying a short stretch of hedgerow close to home over the course of a year, recording the plant species, the wildlife and the seasonal changes, and making art – not necessarily a book.

I have been doing much writing and little art. I did find a photo of a collage that I made some years ago of two species of oak leaf on handmade papers, one of which was made from the soft rotten heart of an oak tree I used to know.

Two oaks small

We stopped for a rather late but very delicious lunch but NO PUDDING due to Jane’s absence.

In March and April we have two bookbinding weekends at the Dove taught by Tom O’Reilly and our next ABCD meeting is on 16th March.

PS: If you’re interested in paste-papers and Japanese papers, this lovely post from Elissa Campbell (Blue Roof Designs) is well worth a look.

Lastly, a selection of eavesdroppings from my notebook.

February Dove-droppings

in the absence of flapjacks
a bitter after-taste
can I have a spoonful

quite musical
a previously invisible tree
it turns orange and bleeds red

women in the woods with axes
found by dowsing
where the axe fell

a tree theatre
stitched on bonded silk
haptic is the word of the day

old presses in India
the first Tamil bible
Riso printing in Riga

embroiled in book-boiling
the hawthorn was already green
the tincture balances the heart

indicators of ancient woodland
guardians of the five provinces
hyssop and amber

willow warbler
willow ptarmigan
the bird of Alaska

protector of the house
rowan was the first woman
to read the words through the holes

books in calico bags
all gone before Christmas
what does the hedge say

Ama Bolton



poetry on film

February 6, 2019

A lovely film via The Poetry Department

The Poetry Department . . . aka The Boynton Blog

Though the short film “Bat Eyes” was made in 2012, it’s only come to our attention now. Made in Australia and directed by Damien Power with screenwriter Jessica Bellamy, the film uses the text of the poem “When You Are Old” by William Butler Yeats to tell a spare and poignant story. It’s worth 11 minutes of your time. Watch it here.

More poetry on film here.

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ABCD January meeting

January 18, 2019

Eight of us met last Saturday at Jane’s house to report on progress with our tree-circle books. Jane had been given some damaged books from an old library and generously shared them with us; mine was a 1783 edition of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, three volumes bound together but coming apart, in which a bookbinder is defined as “A man whose profession is to bind books”, whereas a boot-catcher is “The person whose business at an inn is to pull off the boots of passengers.”  Mere woman that I am, I can neither read nor write, kind sir, but pray permit me to remove your muddy boots!

I have bought a lovely book, recommended by Karen: The Glorious Life of the Oak. I also found a slender and rather mysterious volume on my own shelves – Trees; an Alphabet, very short poems by Philip Sharpe and prints by Andrew Judd, published by MKB Editions in 2007. I think I bought it at the Oxford Book Fair in 2008. I have been collecting oak-related English place-names and locating them on a map.

Karen brought Treelines, a book of poems about trees, and an exquisite little folded Christmas card/book decorated with prints made with Blu-tack (“a synthetic rubber compound without hazardous properties under normal conditions.”)  Karen’s own book, My Willow, a hard-cover accordion with pamphlets inserted, is shown below. All the photos in this post are by Bron Bradshaw.


Caroline has been researching Brambles for her book, which may or may not take the form of a triangular collection of triangular book-lets, and she has designed some Ogham logos for us to use in this project.

Nina has been dyeing paper with ivy leaves, stalks and berries.

Janine has made a maquette of a tunnel-book she intends to make – a walk through a hazel grove. Photo below.


Judy found a Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) at Mottisfont Abbey. She brought a few  models for her book, and we discussed possibilities for the development of this idea.


Clare has been drawing ash-trees and making rubber-stamps of their leaves, twigs and buds. She brought one of her sketch-books.


Jane’s tree is the holly, a winter tree. She lives close to, and has been communing with, a grove of ancient holly trees on Chalice Hill. Her book-model is in the form of a double concertina, folded up at the foot to give pockets.


Bron has been at work on the elder, looking at light and darkness. It blooms white and bright in mid-summer, and its berries are black and have been used for ink and for dyeing. Its month in the tree-calendar goes right up to the darkest time of year.

Jane made a lovely warming soup. We discussed making a joint book – one double-page each – to serve as a sort of catalogue for the project. Our next meeting will be on 9th February, when we will bring our individual means of reproducing Caroline’s Ogham designs.

Finally, here are the eavesdroppings:

January Dove-droppings

not window but willow
add in more pamphlets
to get the brambly feeling

dyeing with ivy berries
Black Heg is the European
triangular library

fiery fungus in the leaf-litter
strange ghostly growths
parasitic on the roots

a voice said why don’t you
walk through the hazels
and gallop up the motorway

thirteen triangular leaves
they overlap with elder
summer is two seasons

it was hard ground
and you skated over
printing with Blu-tack

trying and getting nowhere
looking through ash trees
at the turn of the year

a winter tree in a moonlit landscape
they burn fierce and hot
a fire festival on twelfth night

they were here before us
pollinated by flies
and you hear the owl

the hollow stems
blow fire and also music
but they have been demonised

dreaming in Ogham
in a leather kilt

it’s cables and rain
and I don’t want to be
doing that stuff in the dark

two lovely young men
music and dance
we have some planting to do


January 2, 2019

The signs are not good, but we may as well hope the new year will be a happy one, and do our best to make it so.

Here’s a frosty little poem that appeared in the latest (and last, alas) issue of Far Off Places, a rather wonderful journal edited by Annie Rutherford. On the verso there’s a breathtaking poem by Finola Scott. I’m not sure if the print version is still available, but you can buy a digital download here.


found poem: a trove

December 31, 2018

A beautiful found poem from Chocolate is a Verb, to celebrate the transition to a new year. Thank you j.i.k!

chocolate is a verb

found poem © j.i. kleinberg ~ a trove
found poem © j.i. kleinberg

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ABCD: the Circle of Trees

December 3, 2018

Bron’s writing and Jane’s photos:

Well, that was a pretty intoxicating meeting! So many ideas, experiments, directions. My head is still whirling, but I’ll try and make sense of my notes.
3 trees weren’t here: Birch, Alder, Oak, but we went round the room in the order of the trees that were present. So….
Rowan – Carol has linocuts in mind, and has researched the myths and facts associated with the Rowan. For instance, the berries represent drops of blood that fell to earth when Hebe lost her chalice of youth to demons, and an eagle was dispatched to get it back, shedding some feathers in the process, giving the Rowan its many fingered leaves. So drops of blood may feature in her book (especially as she is giving blood next week, just to get in the mood…) But she doesn’t want her book to be too reliant on mythology.
Carol Rowan
Ash – Clare envisages a hardback book with covered spine, possibly with ash poems and images. She has already made several books on the subject of the ash, and parts of them may feature in this one. She has also been drawing some ancient coppiced ash trees in the railway embankment in her valley, and noting the number of birds that occupy them. Photo below shows old work on Ash and also stone textures, as a starting-point for new work.
Clare Ash
Willow – Karen says the willow is linked with the hawk, with water and air, and the moon. She has looked at the many species – 400 or more – and made some paintings/stitchings of the coloured ones: the red ‘Flanders Red’ willow, the purple ‘Purpurea’ etc, and on one of them she incorporated a handful of willow dust ‘stolen’ from the heart of the willow in the tree circle, and fixed it there with gauze. She may use this image as an end paper, or frontispiece, to her book. She would like some words in the book, and the group strongly encouraged her to try using her own words which may not be ‘poetry’, but which are very poetic. Photo below shows willow tree embroidery, bark photo and waxed leaf.
Karen Willow
Hawthorn – Judith has been working from ‘How to Boil a Book‘, and has already produced half a library of lovely little books using each experimental piece, rather than just leaving it lying around. She too has been using her own phrases to sum up each experiment, also very poetic. She used dyes and different mordants to achieve the results, and one in particular turned, overnight, into gold. Alchemy … Judith’s photo is below.
Judith hawthorn print
Holly – Jane has been photographing the old holly trees on Chalice hill, and also looking at the mythology associated with holly. For instance, holly and ivy used to fight: holly was the boy and ivy the girl, and ‘of all the trees in the wood, the holly bears the crown…’. Also the holly takes over from the oak at Summer Solstice till the winter Solstice when roles are reversed. A fact that intrigues her is that the upper leaves of the holly (no prickles) are fed to stock animals. She is experimenting with holly shaped books.
Holly 2 JaneJane Holly
Hazel – Janine has been thinking of textures to do with hazel, and experimenting with massaging brown paper with baby oil, wax and other substances. The resulting papers are soft and textured; some just like vellum (second photo, below.) She also made a small fold book with hazel leaf prints using acrylic ink.
Janine HazelJanine Hazel 2
Bramble – Caroline has been looking at the many different types of blackberry, and carving the peeled stems which incidentally, are 5 sided. She is also interested in the myriad birds animals and insects that inhabit or are sustained by brambles, and also by the way the vines re-root themselves across the ground – in a looping fashion. She mentioned a solitary bee that inhabits the stems and turns them into brood cells. Photo below shows a section of peeled stem marked with the Ogham sign for Muin (bramble).
Caroline bramble
Ivy – Nina wants to do some dyeing with ivy, and experiment with different parts of the plant. She quoted David Haskell: nature weaves the warp thread of individual organisms and the weft thread of relationships into the fabric of life. Ivy ‘binds’, and can be made into rope.
Guelder Rose – Judy wasn’t at the last ABCD and so, although she took on the guelder rose in spite of the fact it doesn’t grow in Hampshire at all, she wasn’t sure what the brief was, so made a mock up of a tree circle in cardboard, which could be quite useful as a reference tool.
Tree circle Judy
Elder – Bron – this tree was offered to Pat, but in the event, and because Pat wasn’t sure whether she could take it on, and won’t be with us till February, Bron rather enthusiastically took it on, and did some rapid research. About the superstitions surrounding the elder – never to be brought into the house but to be planted at the door to keep away the devil, and not to be burnt either which would upset the ‘Elder Mother’ who lives in the branches. She is looking at the recipes using elder, for wine, champagne, cordial, fritters etc and may make a Elder Mother cookery book. Or not.
What shone through all this research was a huge delight in undertaking it, and in the discoveries it leads to. So we have decided to spend another month developing our ideas and updating the group at the next meeting on January 12th. People appreciated the more in-depth aspect of this approach, and the fact that there is more time to produce the book. We also imagine that there will be a lot of spin offs from the research which may well lead to further books.
A couple of other links that are worth following:
Thoreau on Nature as Prayer, and David Haskell’s poetic prose from his book “The Songs of Trees”, both of them via Maria Popova’s wonderful Brain-pickings Newsletter,

Next two meetings: Jan 12th and Feb 9th.

PS Oak – I (Ama) was unable at the last moment to get to Saturday’s meeting, but have been doing botanical and folklore research, writing oak poems and eco-printing oak leaves.
oak prints

Finally here are the December dove-droppings, this time written by Clare. I could not persuade WordPress to reproduce the spaces between the stanzas, so I have indented alternate ones.

this will be brief
a requiem
the corks popping
       screwed up again
       massaging maps
       a green woodpecker flew in
adventures in book boiling
before the turnips
reside in the wastepaper basket
       vegetarian vellum
       leave it in a bucket
       with a brick on it
the national tree of Ukraine
tears when wet
transforms into this
       Obsidian Thorny
       Karaka Black
       alchemy had happened
jungle animals dyed with berries
holly blue
some gold
       stolen heart of the willow
       burns really bright
       giving blood later
make it hollow
tempt with elder
keep the witches out
       make it personal
       great swathes of it
       brood cells all the way through

Reading in Bath and in London

November 30, 2018

Last Saturday I took part in an unrehearsed reading by ten readers (one of them also a singer) of Sue Boyle’s sonnet sequence, The Letters from Mexico, at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. Everyone took their role seriously and read clearly and with feeling. The sonnets are densely-written and full of poignancy. Not a word is wasted.

The audience was wildly appreciative. It was a real privilege to be part of the performance. For details, see

Mexico Letters

It was lovely too to meet the illustrator/artist Jude Wisdom, whose drawings add so much to the published version of the sonnets, and to hear something of the way she works. Jude is a talented, original and refreshingly unpretentious artist.

And yesterday I read at the London launch of Magma #72, the Climate Change issue. It was a great (and not too grand!) event with a full audience and a programme of readings from, among others, Jemma Borg, Leo Boix, Mario Petrucci, Maya Choudhry and the brilliant Shetland poet Jen Hadfield.

I felt old and provincial and insignificant in such company, but everyone I met was friendly and welcoming. Thanks to Peter, my minder and navigator, we found our way safely there and back. One of my many shortcomings is that I have very little sense of direction and shockingly poor map-reading skills. A bad combination!

My poem is below. The layout was not an easy task for the magazine’s design team, but they did a great job. Note: an extremophile is a micro-organism that thrives in what we humans consider to be extreme conditions. Our earliest ancestor was one such, and doubtless the last surviving life-form on earth will be another.

I was human once