After our amazing dual-language launch event in Montalcino (where most of the poems were born), I'll be heading to Siena for a reading there on February 9th at Libreria Beccarelli. Watch this space for more details.
White roads, strade bianche, are everywhere in the part of Italy where I live, and I love to walk on them. They don't always join up like 'normal' roads. Sometimes they just lead to a forgotten shed, or the edge of a wood, or an eroded crevice, and then stop. They are a network of fine detail. In summer, white dust gets into the corners of my life, rather like sand after a visit to the beach. It redecorates my shoes, lines pockets. It creeps into poems too. So my new collection is named in honour of them.
While I was writing the book I met Silvana Biasutti, who lives in a small village near where I live in the Val D'Orcia. Silvana's beautiful drawings celebratre the landscapes and human traces that are everywhere in our part of Italy; I was more than delighted when she agreed to contribute some of her drawings to 'White Roads'.
I'll be reading some of the White Roads poems at the Poetry Café,
Betterton Street, London,
on Wednesday 18th July from 7.30 free entry
alongside two fabulous poets Rebecca Bilkau and Susan Castillo
I hope you'll come along for a free glass of wine and an evening of poetry.
They call them the white ways,
half-made roads unmarked on the map
or shown as hollow parallels that bound
across hills, falter to a trail of dots
beside a bare torrent-bed,
white-goods dump or ruined farm.
Everything in the reach of a white road
is white: trees, bushes, grasses wilt
under the weight of white. Wild boar
twitch with dust as they skulk
into the undergrowth. The air
is smoke, long after the tractor.
And dogs. Out of sight. I sense them,
wakeful, chained in midday heat,
passing the news of every traveller,
fortissimo. Signs on the track
define territory, quicken my steps:
a half-gnawed bone, towers of turds;
to walk the white road is to squint
over my shoulder, glance ahead,
to notice fine tracery, cloven tracks
around a hot spring. Mud sprayed milky,
not yet dry. Heart high as summer cloud,
white on white, I’ll follow.
I've been hard at work lately, making a box full of poem cards for Fifty Bees, an exhibition that links art, poetry and ecology, thanks to fifty different kinds of bee which can all be found in the UK. 'My' bee is Bombus Hypnorum, the Tree Bumblebee.
Here is Lydia Needle's gorgeous representation of the bee in wool, readly to fly to Swindon for the Fity Bees exhibition at the Richard Jefferies Museum.
I started by researching the bees' five eyes, how they gather information about colours, shapes and movements through both simple and compound eyes. I made cards with hexagonal windows to mirror the shape of the ommatidia, each one of which contains one of the many lenses of a compound eye,
I have written about the queen bees' winter sleep, and about some of the things the worker bees might look out for as they are born in spring to start a new cycle of life, exploring their surroundings, foraging and responding to the inviting patterns and colours of the plants they visit.
I've used materials in the colours of the bee: black, ginger and white. And I've experimented with hand-made translucent paper to create a sense of seeing differently. Now all i have to do is to get the finished work safely to Swindon, where the Fify Bees exhibition will be open from 2 - 24 June. It will be full of amazing bee-related artworks - do visit if you can.
It's almost spring here in Montalcino. On sunny mornings I've been slowly emerging from winter torpor, starting to try out some ideas for Lydia Needle's wonderful 50 Bees exhibition at the Richard Jefferies Museum, Swindon, June 2018. I've been thinking about the tree bumblebee's compound eye, a curved structure that looks almost quilted, made out of many hexagonal parts, the ommatidia. Each one is a lens that carries information to the bee's brain. Some things we can see, they can't. Some things they see, we can't. Somewhere in the middle, there's a kind of common ground.
One great thing about this project is how much more aware of bees it's making me. It's part of my morning happiness to notice a good number of bees congregating around the rosemary, which has never ceased flowering all through the hardest days of winter here. Even more joyful to count several different kinds of bee there. Still no Bombus Hypnorum so far though, but if I can I'll be patient.
Thanks to Lydia Needle and the chance to participate in the 2018 50 Bees project, I'm now on the lookout for 'my' bee, Bombus Hypnorum or the Tree Bumblebee. None so far here in italy, but today I spent a happy half hour watching these beauties - I think they are Bombus Terrestris, the Buff-tailed Bumblebee, often the earliest bees to emerge on warm February days. Even so I was amazed to see that these ones weren't put off by yesterday's snowstorm! They love purple flowers, and there's plenty of rosemary here for a quick winter merenda. I'll be watching and writing about tree bumblebees as the spring starts to arrive...hoping that some bumblebee poems will start stirring too. Hmmm...
....after-life of trees, celandines, the sadness of thrushes, sphagnum moss and other wonders in the beautiful
Reliquiae Supplement 2017
(online from Corbel Stone press - click on the link above to download). I'm so pleased to have two poems there, alongside words from Gerard Manley Hopkins:Blunt buds of the ash. Pencil buds of the beech. Lobes of the trees. Cups of the eyes. Gathering back the lightly hinged eyelids. Bows
of the eyelids. Pencil of eyelashes. Juices of the eyeball. Eyelids like leaves, petals, caps, tufted hats, handkerchiefs, sleeves, gloves.
and many others. Reading through this morning sent me to a place of watchful waiting, good to visit just before the turn of the year.
A trip through wintery East London by train and bus to wonderful Paekakariki Press in Walthamstow has woken me up! Letterpress printing, an endangered method, is alive and well at this Walthamstow workshop, where the machinery is as beautiful as the poetry books they publish there. (Among others, I've been enjoying Chrissie Gittins' delightful collection 'Professor Hegel's' Daughter', and 'Patrick Bond's 'Signals on the Railway Land', poems celebrating a Sussex nature reserve.
This hulking beast is the Heidelberg KS Cylinder, brought from Coventry and now lovingly restored to good working order.
I spent an hour lost in the joys of 'The Printers Vocabulary' helpfully provided by Paekakariki: from 'Asses' (a term for compositors used by pressmen, in return for being called 'pigs' by the compositors), to the dreaded 'Balaaam box' (into which were thrown rejected manuscripts) and on to 'Xylonite' (nothing to do with the planet Xylon, it turns out) and Zincos (blocks used in producing engravings on zinc). Before I knew it, it was way past lunchtime and already getting dark. Back to hibernation then.
Watch this space for my new chapbook, 'White Roads', due out with Paekakariki in 2018.
After a dry, dry summer here in Montalcino, the drought continues. Beautiful turning leaves in orchards and vineyards, but still hardly any rain.
This mornng I'm at my desk, writing a review for London Grip of this lovely poetry pamphlet by Maria M McCarthy: 'There are Boats on the Orchard'. It's bringing the vanishing orchards of Kent into this Italian room, and i love it that it is also quietly promoting the work of the Kent Orchards for Everyone project to save and restore orchards in Kent and farther afield. Another small book to celebrate, with its subtle ironies and delicate line drawings by Sara Fletcher. Well worth seeking it out, I think; available at Cultured llama.
Not really! I got on the number 13 and went to the last two days of wonderful Swindon Poetry Festival. And wished I'd been there for more. I loved the Battered Moons prize-winning poems - stand-outs for me were the first prize poem 'If I Say, Flower' by Louise Grieg and Rachel Davies' irresistible commended woodlouse tribute, 'Chiggy Pig' (I've always been a huge woodlouse fan). I mean a very big fan, not a fan of huge woodlice. Although now I think of it... You can go to the linked site to read these two and other great winning poems.
This is me enjoying my first-ever festival performance, encouraged by the warm and responsive Swindon audience. Thanks to Cinnamon Press, I now have a cinnamon-red book to flick through with seeming nonchalance and read from in proper professional poet style. It was great going first in the set, so I could relax, calm down my blood-pressure, and listen properly to the amazing, brave and beautiful lines that came next from Daniel Sluman, followed by Julia Webb's darkly magical Bird Sisters.
Swindon's a very special place to perform your poems. Most of it happens inside the now-legendary Tent Palace of the Delicious Air. In addition to the starry night you can see here, the tent stretches back into an area with the audience lolling on cushions, Arabian desert-tent-style, or seated on chairs between walls with mandala-like panels, making it feel both intimate and limitless. And then there's Richard Jefferies, the Swindon naturalist who is celebrated at the museum where all this happens (he's the attentive little figure under the reading stand). I hope he liked my tree poems!
There were so many good people and great poems, it seems unfair to single any out. But look out for a show in development called Mad and Glow, from Jacqueline Saphra and Tania Hershman. I think it will be appearing at other events throughout the year. Be warned, both jam and Marmite are involved!
Altogether, Swindon was transformed for me during this weekend, thanks to the inimitable Hilda Sheehan and all who work so hard to make every aspect of the festival (including the late-night toast guzzling sessions!) so delicious.
I like what Franz Kafka said: