lamenting, gnarled and buried
A mountainous crown
compressing, cloaks of divots
Happiest Woman in the World
It is unbearable to think about the snow
or unopened books.
It is unbearable to think alone
grit enclosing, I urge my eyes to run.
It is unbearable to think at all
muffled between desk and door.
People gather in Palmer Park.
I slump at the window, and repeat –
Kitty Hawkins received two awards for her undergraduate poetry collection, Acoustics, at the University of Reading. In 2022 she won the ‘Magdalena Young Poets’ award, and her work can be found on https://www.seedlingpoets.com/. Kitty is currently completing an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London.
We were saddened to hear of the death of Robert Gillmor last week, an artist, author and ornithologist that we will always feel immensely grateful for having worked with. It all started, for us, back in 2010 when Elaine Blake, Curator at Reading Museum, asked if we’d be interested in publishing a book to accompany an exhibition she was putting on of artwork commissioned from Robert by the Royal Mail for a series of stamps (Birds, Blocks and Stamps: Post & Go Birds of Britain). We jumped at the opportunity, though with some trepidation as we’d never published an art book before and it was a little daring to start with one by such a well known artist.
From the first meeting, which took place at Robert and Sue’s home in Cley, Norfolk, we knew the project was going to be a delight to work on as well as a success. Working with Robert turned out to be an invitation into his home – meeting Sue, enjoying home-made soup in their conservatory before clearing the crumbs away to pore over the most astounding linocut prints, marveling at the workmanship and receiving a demonstration of his trusted 1864 Albion Press in his studio. A subsequent meeting to discuss a second book (Cover Birds, the story of Robert’s formative bird-watching and print-making years, illustrated with the covers he designed for the Berkshire Ornithological Club’s annual bird report from 1949 – when he was just 13 years old – onwards) took place at a cousin’s house as a half-way point and also included a delicious home-made lunch, by which time we felt like family friends. This privilege extended over more than a decade as we got to know Emily their daughter, also an accomplished artist, and were included on Christmas card lists (always one of Robert’s wonderful birds) and newsletter mailings.
I struggle to find a word to describe this generosity of spirit. ‘Hospitality’ is part of it, but it’s something more, encompassing a sense of easy naturalness in a relationship based on accepting people for who they are. It strikes me that this same ability to see and accept the essence of a person is what makes Robert’s work so appealing. In his designs, he endowed all his avian subjects with what ornithologists call ‘the jizz’ – the very character and personality of the bird. Something in Robert recognised and drew out the joy in an animal, and he did the same with people. It’s our turn now, to commemorate the joy in him.
Since The Shady Side of Town was published five years ago, it’s a sad fact that several of the trees depicted in it have been lost. The Betchworth Oak was felled, as was the Caversham court Bhutan pine, and one of the Lime trees there. The Coley meadows willow pollard got burnt. The George St Lombardy poplars were hit by storms and worst of all the mighty Black Poplar in the Coley meadows snapped during Storm Ciara in February 2020. With Ash die back and building development around town hundreds of other trees have gone or may go soon. We need to pay attention and do what we can to keep Reading green!
The author of Shady Side, Adrian Lawson, and illustrator Geoff Sawers are both strong advocates for the protection and enhancement of our urban green spaces and royalties from the book have been given to the Ethical Reading Trees for Reading scheme, which works with local businesses to fund the planting of new trees in town. We were delighted to learn that this money has now been used to plant a Walnut tree at County Lock. It’s a magnificent specimen already and work to put a stone plaque marking it is underway.
If you are involved with a local business, please do consider getting your company to contribute to the Trees for Reading scheme. And if you are interested in volunteering, maybe you could help with the work of the Reading Tree Wardens which is another fantastic local group.
Poetry is often inspired by art, and poems inspire art in turn. This series of posts celebrates this special connection in the words of artists and poets who have been published by Two Rivers Press.
The germ of this sonnet came from an anecdote about Picasso. In 1939 he was walking in Paris in with Gertrude Stein when they saw a camouflaged truck for the first time, and were amazed by it visually. After it had passed Picasso is said to have turned to his friend and fellow modernist and said: ‘we did that’.
I suppose he saw some kind of relation between the flat fragmented forms of both his Cubism and her prose on the one hand, and the new techniques of war on the other. That got me going, and as I tried to describe the moment two other modernist paintings came to mind: Kasimir Malevich’s White Cross on a White ground, and le Douanier Rousseau’s ‘Tiger in a Tropical Storm’. Suddenly I had a poem!
Conor Carville is a poet and critic from Armagh, N. Ireland. Camouflage appears in his collection English Martyrs, published by Two Rivers Press in 2019. He lives in South London with his wife and daughter.