Can we encourage you to join Adrian and Geoff on a series of guided walks to celebrate the publication of Rural Reading and inspire you to notice the abundance of nature on our doorstep? Please note the BOOK LAUNCH on Saturday 22nd June, with cake and elderflower cordial at the walk’s end at Kennetmouth (2nd event above).
The following poem came out of a workshop with Robin Thomas, Lesley Saunders and Adrian Blamires, with theme of Reading Abbey.
Wulf maketh preparation for his journey
then he made up his mind
to visit the Abbey, leaving
his own dear Besse to twist
the flax and gather the bones.
First he made his way
to the water’s edge, thick as it was
with vetches, lillies and herbs
and there summoned
Blood-eye, the blind
terms agreed with the bote maker
boat maker who lived there
among the glittering frogs
and tail-less adders
‘Maken me an bote’ Wulf said
‘of herb and wasp nests
fastened with eye of fish
and Royal pitch’.
‘Master I will,’ he said,
like a wrought sword, like
a glottal tree.
‘What must I render?’
said Wulf, ‘three golden pins,
two stones from the shore, a dace
and nine withers.’
Night after night laboured
Blood-eye in his earth-sodden
byre to make and to finish
and by the day of the waif
its shape could be seen.
it glowed like a fleeing eel.
Then did Wulf seek out
and with Edgemon, sword-maker
Edgemon, the deft, deaf
maker of blades
in his dark cavern
under the yearning cliffs.
‘A blade shall ye maken for me’,
‘so I will, master, for you, for
payment of prayer for my father
and his, a noggin of pith and
a basin of scrawl.’
‘Those you shall have’, said Wulf,
on proof of its strength
and lightness of hold’.
he setteth forth on the streyme
Then went forth Wulf, in his boat
on the stream, leaving all
he had known, trusting his boat
to convey him with safety.
Thus was his journey:
first, he encountered the
watery wolves. These
he dispatched with his
new-finished blade, then
did he find the teeth in the river,
their insidious grin, the dark
of their threats, but prayer
made them shudder and sink,
But grimmest of all were the serpents
which swam, under the waves,
in their silvery sheen, but these
he ignored, trusting the will of his boat.
his journey continueth
And so he continued, by night
and by day, past monsters
and witches and tygers
and men in their fearsome
accouters, their accurate
spears in their hands, under
weather of lead or scorched
by the sun as if through a lens.
Now, as the boat
rounds a curve in the stream,
a vision of majesty
a vision of majesty, great
but which words cannot win
into verse. There,
he reacheth his destination
Wulf ended his journey.
Sue Leigh is a poet and writer who lives and works in the valley of the River Windrush in Oxfordshire. Her collection Chosen Hill is published by Two Rivers Press. Sue reflects here on what poetry means for her.
How and why did you become a poet?
I loved poetry as a child, I knew somehow it was important. It was the sound of it I liked, its strangeness. I started writing as a teenager – just a few poems. It didn’t occur to me at the time that they might be for anyone else. Writing felt private, real and liberating.
I continued to read poetry as I raised a family and worked in publishing – it sustained me at some deep level. But I wrote nothing during those years. Later, a space opened up and I found I had the solitude and quiet I needed to write. Since then poetry has become the touchstone of my life.
What are your interests?
I write about the deep past – what we might learn from it, what of ourselves we leave behind. I want to look at the past in today’s light. From my window I can see a small Norman church (built on the site of a Roman villa) and what is left of a deserted medieval village, and beyond, the river that flows on. The past is so close.
I find myself returning to questions of how we might live, how we might respond creatively to being alive. I am interested in the lives and work of other artists – how they express the subtleties and complexities of experience.
I write about the natural world from a place of reverence but also concern.
I cannot say where poems come from except from noticing, paying attention, a kind of intense listening. It is difficult to talk about process. In the end there are the poems and they must speak for themselves. And it is of course all provisional. There are times of writing, there are fallow periods.
Which writers have influenced you?
I have been inspired by many writers but John Clare and Edward Thomas have been important – poets whose vision is often connected to an English landscape with a sense of the local and particular.
I also read what might be called ‘nature writing’ (although I am not entirely happy with the term) by writers such as Nan Shepherd and Annie Dillard.
What is the future of poetry? Does poetry matter?
Poetry won’t stop the worst things happening but poetry can help, by naming things and by focusing on the particular. Language can so easily become debased but poetry uses words charged with their utmost meaning. Poetry is inherently truthful.
Poetry also renews and deepens the imagination and that is as essential to public life as it is to private life. Imagination is close to compassion and that surely is the greatest virtue of all.
However the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland leaves the European Union, if it does, the long and deep-rooted connections between the poetic cultures of these islands and those of continental Europe will continue to be, and need to be, sustained.
As a celebration of these continuities, whose existence has, if anything, been made more urgently manifest by the current political crisis in which the countries of the British archipelago find themselves, the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading and Two Rivers Press, the town’s most prominent publisher, hosted an evening of readings featuring poems and translations from or about experiences of Europe.
This event also served to launch two new volumes on these and related themes, Ravishing Europa by Peter Robinson (published by Worple Press) and A Part of the Main by Philip Gross and Lesley Saunders (publish by Mulffran Press). Jane Draycott, reading from Storms under the Skin, her translations of Henri Michaux (Two Rivers Press), a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation in 2017, joined them; and the evening, hosted by Steven Matthews, included guest appearances by other poets published by Two Rivers Press in 2019, including Kate Behrens, James Peake and Conor Carville.
The event took place in the foyer café at the Museum of English Rural Life, Redlands Road, Reading, on Tuesday 12 March 2019.
This event was supported by a grant to the Department of English Literature from the Endowment Fund of the University of Reading and by gifts in kind from Two Rivers Press.
a glassy frostwork morning
and I heard a sneeze, dainty as a duchess
and turned and saw no one
but her, slender and coy
from A Thames Bestiary, by Peter Hay and Geoff Sawers