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Wulf’s Journey

The following poem came out of a workshop with Robin Thomas, Lesley Saunders and Adrian Blamires, with theme of Reading Abbey.

Wulf’s  journey

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,

straightening himself

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

the boat

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

divers adversities

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

to behold

but which words cannot win

into verse.  There,

he reacheth his destination

Wulf ended his journey.

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Sue Leigh and her approach to poetry

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.

Chosen Hill book cover

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.