A great evening reading alongside Merrie Williams, Ilias Tsagas (thanks for the photos Ilias!), Danuta Dagair, and other examples of Greenwich talent.
There is so much concern appearing in the media and elsewhere right now about damage to the environment and the extinction of species; having just read Ali Smith's wonderful 'Winter', I'm struck by her firey critique of the relationship between art and the possibility of real change. I wish that poetry could do more to make a difference. Perhaps at least it can remind people about all that might be lost if we don't make changes now.
Here in Italy I've been enjoying the energy of May as I always do; there's still so much exhuberant life all around at this time of year.
Buds open; out they come
yellow butterfly wings
impertinent spotted tongues
jittery space invaders
swarms of flying horses
pistil, anther, stamen
flame, keep on flaming,
bold as you like.
One more 'White Roads' post - I can't resist adding a link to Eleanor Shannon's very kind review of our poetry reading and wine tasting in Siena, on her blog, Uncorked in Italy. I've never read such a sensitive poetry review from a wine expert! Thanks, Eleanor, you helped to make it an unforgettable evening!
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.
I like what Franz Kafka said: