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Shapwick Heath on Easter Sunday

April 26, 2019

The sky was clear from horizon to horizon. Bitterns boomed. Lots of little birds twittered invisibly in the reeds. Swans, ducks, herons and a little egret were visible. Two geese flew overhead, conducting a loud and animated conversation. Men strode past with seriously big telephoto lenses on their backs. Cyclists whizzed along the track with such a loud crunching of gravel that I doubt if they could hear the birds. The oak trees were suddenly looking properly green.

birchesmustardoak reflectedoaksstripes

Caution: deep water


Bristol Artists’ Book Event 2019

April 25, 2019

This treat happens for two days every two years at the Arnolfini on the waterfront in Bristol. I managed to get there for two half-days. As always, there was little time and much to do and see.

Mike Clements’s flat-pack 3D structures caught my eye. Unlike some politicians I could name, they are strong and stable. He used some of them to support a bookshelf. Now that’s a good idea …
I bought a calendar for next year.

Mike Clementscalendar instructionscalendar

I went to Jeremy Dixon’s reading from his pamphlet In Retail, a sequence of numbered, untitled poems resulting from his time working in a well-known pharmacy chain. “Most of the poems,” writes Jeremy in his introduction, “began life as hurried lines scribbled on the back of a length of till-roll in the lull between sales. As staff members were not allowed to carry any personal items while on the shop-floor, I hid these scraplets in my sock and prayed that today wasn’t the surprise-spot-search-in-the-store-cupboard day.” Now, that is what I want to read! Urgent poems that demand to be written. Poems smuggled out of a hostile environment.

The design of the book (by Cherry Potts at Arachne Press) deserves mention for its meticulous attention to the spirit and origin of the poems. The head and foot of each page carry mirror-text in a faded grey utilitarian font: very much like what one might see showing through the flimsy paper of a till-receipt. Moreover, the text at he foot of each page can be read in either direction as a found poem running through the sequence.

Jeremy is a book-artist. His own Hazard Press produces books, micro-books (from a single A4 sheet), badges, and postcards hand-printed on an Adana press. I bought Tarmac, a little stab-bound book of laconic environmental poetry. The cover of this particular copy is made from an old postcard of Bath Abbey.

In RetailTarmac

Another very enjoyable but sparsely-attended reading I went to was by Stephen Boyce and Mark Rutter. I later found Mark’s stall and bought his Flarestack pamphlet Basho in Acadia (that’s not a typo: Acadia is a National Park on an island off the coast of Maine.) These poems are not haiku, but are written with a haiku master’s engaged detachment and eye for detail.

I also came home with one of Mark’s broadsides and a clutch of his delightfully semi-legible postcards. I do love hand-lettering.

Basho in AcadiaMark Rutter printMark Rutter postcards

From my dear friend Pauline Lamont-Fisher I bought I marched 23 march 2019, a quickly-produced, but (as ever) beautifully-designed, souvenir of the day. The last illustration shows the banner she made the evening before the march.

I Marched

Other books I bought included a little popup-book of ampersands from Corinne Welch

Boggerland, a mysterious and compelling little glimpse into the future of the wetland ecosystem, from Chloe Ashley and George Harding (I didn’t spill my coffee on it- that’s reflection on the shiny cover!)


Winter (in her)) by Irena Frantal: poetic words and poetic photos of winter trees. A little gem. The first photo shows the translucent book-band, and the last shows the back and front cover with a 6″ ruler for scale.

And, finally, The Liszts, a delightful illustrated story-book about an unexpected guest. The story is told in hand-drawn lettering , and there are lots of lists. A lovely book. Actually I think I bought this one in the Arnolfini bookshop on my way out.

The Lizsts

So, big thanks to Sarah Bodman and her team at UWE for this wonderful event.



ABCD 6th April

April 18, 2019

Artists’ Book Club Dove met on 6th April. We are making progress with our books for the Circle of Trees.

Caroline has been making blackberry ink and drawing with it.


Clare is well on the way, with minimalist prints and text, paintings, and collage.

Clare 1Clare 3aClare 4Clare 5Clare 7

Carol has re-made her lino-print and cut-out book, and a second book with cut-out pages only.

Pauline 1Pauline 2Pauline 3Pauline 4

Pauline has made some beautiful Celtic-style hand-cut type.Pauline 5

Jane is struggling with her Holly-themed book’s tendency to look like a Christmas card.
Janine is making small books on Celtic themes.
I have made several more photo-poems.

Bron made delicious nettle soup and served it in her own hand-made dishes. So beautiful!

Nettle soup

I think these willows at the Dove are offering ideas for masks.

Some of us went to BABE, the (Brilliant) Bristol Artists’ Book Event, at the end of last month, and my next post will be about that. Meanwhile, here is a link to Bob Bolick’s post. I do recommend this really excellent blog.

Also a link, as requested, to Anna Raven’s blog-post about saving bugs (and, by implication, us etc) from extinction. Anna’s posts are infrequent and always worth reading.

Finally, here are my rather lengthy eavesdroppings.

April Dove-droppings

it’s building an empire
entering the territory again
taking no prisoners

make it bleed
scramble across both pages
ok do what you want fine

there are stragglers
slow books
quirky in the quercus

batology is not the study of bats
they nest in the hollow stems
waiting for time

blackberry ink from Waitrose
a triangular idea
I’ve done it both sides

I do a whole thing on witches
insect life transformed
too much like a Christmas

to bleed or not to bleed
I redid the blind drawing
with a birchwood fastening

not too literal
foliage and a hospital bed
stages of growth and death

god told me not to
I am a deadline person
making it up as I go along

I know beetroot isn’t a tree
I had a tequila moment in a tent
I discovered a hidden talent

my fascinator had gathered
a couple of little umbrellas
a gin and a bit o’lemon

a whinchat has eyebrows
it’s got legs
there was a feather somewhere

would it look wrong
inappropriate and rubbish
we nearly talked about it


Posted by Ama Bolton on 18th April 2019

Of Trees and Tygers and Catastrophe

March 25, 2019

Blackthorn and barbed wire

What an inspiring day! The March meeting of Bath Writers and Artists was co-chaired by Sue Boyle and Peter Reason. Sue began the morning workshop by reading a thoughtful and passionate essay by Chrissy Banks, “The Place of Poetry in a Time of Catastrophe”. Are we fiddling, she asks, while real people burn?

Peter introduced the Climate Lens Playbook, a tool for writers and performers, to help us effectively tackle this difficult subject. We heard four very different pieces of work from members of the group, and discussed them in the light of some of the precepts of the Climate Lens. Claire Coleman read Edwin Muir’s “The Horses“. We then performed, entirely without rehearsal or even reading in advance, three longer pieces. I had the pleasure of hearing, for the first time, part of a script I’m currently writing about the Circle of Trees at the Dove, read beautifully by nine volunteers. Eileen Cameron and five others read her compelling sequence “Giant Clam”, which I’d love to see in print as a mini-pamphlet. Lastly we heard “The Building of Kelston Barn”, a lovely collaborative poem, some of whose authors were present.

Peter rounded off the morning with two poems he had set to music.


The afternoon session was open to the public, who turned up in satisfyingly large numbers to fill the Elwin Room at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute. The first speaker was Conor Whelan, current occupier of the Bardic Chair of Bath. Conor began with a recitation of Blake’s poem (above) and continued with stories and photos from his four months of teaching in a village school within Ranthambore Wildlife Sanctuary. I was left with the feeling that the slaughter of tigers by poachers will stop only when the demand for tiger body-parts ceases. The education of local children may help to ensure that they grow up with more in the way of career options than subsistence farming and poaching.

The afternoon programme was punctuated with songs from Miranda Pender.

Peter Reason introduced a showing of the film “Rise” a powerful collaboration between two poets affected differently by the effects of climate change, in Greenland and the Marshall Islands. This is the work that we hope will prompt new writing to bring to the 20th July meet-up.

Two short presentations followed, in which Ali Bacon introduced her novel “In the Blink of an Eye”, and Ann Cullis gave a slide-show with readings showing how the city of Bath has changed over the last few centuries.

Conor then performed his poem “Forget the Universe”, which led us into new ways of seeing the whole in its smallest part.

This was followed by Flory Wisdom and friends reading from her sequence of poems “The Weep of a City”, a stellar debut from a very young and very talented poet.

Lastly, Susan Jane Sims, known to us as the woman behind Poetry Space, read from her pamphlet “Splitting Sunlight“, written during her son Mark’s remarkable journey through terminal illness at a heartbreakingly early stage in his career as a doctor. I think we were just too choked-up to join in with Miranda’s reprise of “Where have all the Flowers Gone”.

I came home with an altered (less anthropocentric, I hope) perspective and a heightened awareness of “hyper-objects”: things that are everywhere but too big to see — like anthropocentricity and other habits of thinking and feeling that lead, not deliberately but inevitably, to disaster. I think I have already demonstrated that I can morph into a fictional post-apocalyptic unicellular extremophile, but it’s time to face the apocalypse head-on and do something about it. The expression it’s not the end of the world has gained a horrible new relevance.

Posted by Ama Bolton 25th March 2019

Two poems for my father

March 23, 2019


March 23rd

no-one else remembers
this was his birthday

I know he’s dust in the earth
a spark in a web of neurons

but I woke today with a shock
he has forgotten me

JAA Lapwing Feb 45 small

Incident in the Barents Sea

he never told me
but I learned the story
from his oldest friend

my father was twenty-three
and I four months in the womb
when his ship exploded

the life-raft was full
but someone sat on his fingers
hooked over the edge

sixty-one sailors were picked up
and given other men’s clothes

thawing such agony
they wished they had drowned


HMS Lapwing, escorting Russian Convoy JW65, was sunk by a U-boat
on 20th March 1945 with the loss of 168 lives.

PS. My good friend Bill has chided me for not “owning” my poems. And thanks, Bill, for spotting the weak line.

In future I’ll try to remember to sign these posts!

Ama Bolton

Bookbinding with Tom O’Reilly

March 19, 2019

I’ve got out of step with my blog-posts. This brilliant weekend workshop happened over a week ago in the Print Room at the Dove. As well as being a master book-binder and teacher, Tom is a writer, illustrator and musician. Read about him here. And about his band here. On both days he drove back to Cornwall for a gig.

Eight of us from the book-art group ABCD achieved more than seemed possible in two days of Tom’s  teaching. Three books each! Two with hard covers and head-bands! One with a leather spine and raised bands! When people ask (they do, sometimes) what sort of books I made, I have always described myself as a coarse binder. Now I’ve had a brief taste of fine binding. I’m rather proud of my hand-dyed indigo book-cloth and end-papers, and the red glove-leather that clings to the spine like a tight-fitting evening gown.

Here are a few photos.

1 sewing frame

3 book-cloth

4 cover

5 applying PVA

6 scary moment

8 books under pressure

9 trimming leather

10 raised bands

12 heater and tools

13 my books

14 headband

Finally, I want to mention that Nina is collecting the items below for recycling through TerraCycle.


ABCD 16th March

March 18, 2019

We met at the Dove last Saturday to review progress with this year’s big project on the thirteen trees of the Ogham tree calendar in the Dove Meadow.

Karen has been mono-printing for end-papers, and dyeing and embroidering on slub silk for book-covers.


Jane is using the old carol “The Holly and the Ivy” as a theme for her book. Here are two pages from her sketchbook.

Jane 1Jane 2

Thalia has been closely observing and photographing Alder trees, and painting with inks derived from various parts of the alder.

Above: the colours of cut alder wood. Below: the life cycle of alder catkins.

Below left: lichens on alder trees. Right: birds among the catkins.

Below: painting with alder ink.
Thalia 7

I have finally settled on making a book of A4 black and white oak tree photos with short poems. Here are two. I have made thirteen so far.

Janine has made progress with the embroidered panels for her tunnel-book. This photo does not do them justice. When held at the right distance apart they make a hazel wood you could lose yourself in –- unless you followed the path! Wildlife and other details are still to be added.

Judy has been experimenting with folded and sewn structures.

Judith has just come back from Singapore and is finding the Hawthorn to be a tree of opposites and contradictions; she has ideas for an epic dystopian poem about Huath the Destroyer. Watch this space!

Bron is doing experimental work combining etching and paper-clay. Again, watch this space.

Books, exhibitions etc recommended during the meeting:
Ireland’s Trees
Sacred Trees of Ireland
Botanical Dyes on Wood by Rebecca Desnos
Sculpture exhibition at the RWA until 2nd June
Belgian Chocolate Cheesecake from Aldi
Rough Guide (forthcoming) to the Liberation Route in Europe
Salisbury Cathedral has an exhibition Bookbindings Ancient and Modern in partnership with the Wessex Guild 2nd – 11th April, with a Discovery Day on 6th April.
Cut and Fold Templates

Next Meeting is on April 6th, when we need to bring  a double-page spread for inclusion in our communal book, working title “Circle of Trees”.

March Dove-droppings

sculpted by the wind
the shadows are dancing
a sequence of decay

they cut down a whole wood
unlucky and protective
to build Salisbury cathedral

Penrith Marmalade Festival
totally unsuitable in my office
bend the tongue to get it in

the Bishop of Chichester
and in Bexhill-on-Sea
the Maharajah of Kooch-Behar

exactly like branding
gives off a poisonous gas
he’s not just the glue on the roller

not a footprint anywhere
I pulled up a beetroot
they often grow alone

do trees communicate in winter
a cemetery in the snow
defrost and eat

posted by Ama Bolton