Tag Archives: Edward Thomas

Walking with Thomas

The sun used to shine while we two walked
Slowly together, paused and started
Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked
As either pleased, and cheerfully parted

                                                                                  The Sun Used to Shine, Edward Thomas

 

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Near Dymock, K. Manwaring, 2017

On the 100th anniversary of the death of Edward Thomas, poet, who died at the Battle of Arras, Easter Monday, 9th April 1917, after only two months in France, my friend Anthony Nanson (writer, editor and cousin of  the Edwardian editor and critic Edward Garnett) and I undertook a memorial walk around Dymock, Gloucestershire, where he lived for a brief while with his family at Oldfields, just over the field from his fellow adventurer in verse, Robert Frost.

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Setting off on the Poets Path, K. Manwaring 2017

It was a glorious Spring morning when we set off from opposite the Beauchamp Arms (where Frost and Thomas liked to sink a pint or two), the sun was shining as it did upon their famous ‘walks-talking’ (‘The Sun Used to Shine’), the sky was a freshly-scrubbed blue, and the fields were brimming with wild daffodils, daisies, anemones and bluebells.

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Reading by the Old Nail Shop, A. Nanson, 2017

We walked an indulgent ten hours, from 10am-8pm, at an ambling pace – stopping intermittently to read poems in situ – on a 13.5 mile route that took us around the old stomping ground of the Dymock Poets, as they became known (close to Frost and Thomas lived Wilfrid Gibson and Lascelles Abercrombie, who along with John Drinkwater and Rupert Brooke, formed the loose band of bardic brothers). We followed some of the Poets Paths (2 routes which take in the key sites, although in a poorly-signposted and badly-maintained way), but quickly struck out on our own way, a road less travelled, taking us via the Greenway crossroads, site of the Old Nail Shop (Gibson’s former residence) through Brooms Green and Bromesberrow, before striking out on the ridge up to southern tip of the Malvern Hills and our destination for the day, Ragged Stone Hill, another Dymock ‘hot spot’ (as marked by Gibson’s eponymous poem).

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The view from Ragged Stone Hill, looking backward towards Dymock, May Hill in the distance, K. Manwaring 2017

It turned out to be a hot day, so we took it easy, finding frequent excuses to stop, stand and stare (as advocated in ‘Leisure’ by WH Davies, a visitor to the Dymocks). Supertramp Davies was not only an epic walker (even with a wooden leg, having lost one while freight-car hopping in America) but also an animal lover (see his poem, ‘The Dumb World’), and he would have enjoyed the many encounters we had today – splendid pedigree horses; a whole colony of pigs, the sows feeding their litters of lively piglets; proud ewes with their sprightly lambs; frisky young bulls (a herd seeking to harangue us from one end of the field to the next until I waved them off). There must have been something in the air, because the livestock seemed to get increasingly frisky towards evening. At one point I had to fend off the challenge of a feisty black bullock with my walking stick.

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One Man and his Stick, Kevan on Chase End Hill, A. Nanson, 2017

Along the way we talked about many things – the writer’s life, lecturing (we both teach in universities), cabbages and kings and everything under the sun. We read out poems by Thomas and the Dymocks along the way – I choosing mine at random, Anthony selecting his from the contents page. Here’s what we shared:

Early one morning – ET (KM)

The Lane – ET (AN)

The Old Nail Shop – WG (KM)

May 23 – ET (KM)

The Bridge – ET (AN)

The Ragged Stone  – WG (KM)

Iris by Night – RF (KM)

Celandines – ET (AN)

But These Things Also ET (KM)

The Poets: ET – Edward Thomas; RF – Robert Frost; WG – Wilfrid Gibson
Readers: AN – Anthony Nanson; KM – Kevan Manwaring

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Anthony reads The Bridge, K. Manwaring, 2017

The views from the ridge were magnificent, looking back across the Dymock vale – May Hill in the hazy distance (another favourite jaunt of Frost and Thomas) – the vibrant shades of green upon the trees, the meadows festooned with flowers, every detail picked out by the golden afternoon sun. This part of England, where Gloucestershire meets Herefordshire, is so quintessential it is positively Arcadian (at one point we strolled through a handsome country estate where lambs hopped, skipped and raced about by the shores of a royal blue lake, a pastoral idyll that just needed a shepherdess to complete the picture). To connect the flat fields of Dymock with the dramatic peaks (or rather ‘Marilyns’) of the Malverns was satisfying – a transition that Frost and Thomas would have enjoyed, heading for the hills to get a perspective on their lives, away, for a day’s meandering, from families, bills, deadlines and looming war.

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Light and shadow co-exist in Thomas’ poetry. K. Manwaring 2017

The flanks of Ragged Stone hill have a Faerie quality to them – alive with Earth energy. Perhaps this is not surprising as it is said to be a nexus of ley-lines, as initially discovered the original ley-hunter, Alfred Watkins (who described his theories in The Old Straight Track). Next to it is the Whiteleaved Oak, said to be the site of one of the Three Perpetual Choirs (as cited in the Welsh Triads), along with Glastonbury and Ely. The harmony of the land was maintained by the choirs there, and to this day the Three Choirs Festival takes place in the area. In a way, perhaps the Dymock Poets, with their songs of verse, were also maintaining the land’s equilibrium. I really do believe that for a brief while they created, with their inspiring creative fellowship, a Little Eden in a quiet corner of England. And whenever kindred spirits gather together to share their stories, songs, verse, laughter and love, it can happen again.

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A well-earned rest on Ragged Stone Hill, only 4 hours back to the car! K. Manwaring 2017

As the sun set, the trees silhouetted by its evanescent golden after-glow, the ink of shadows oozing from the earth, we made it, foot-weary but happy, to the Beauchamp Arms, were we raised a pint in memory of Edward Thomas.  In Steep and Aldestrop there had been memorial events also on that day, but here in Dymock, Anthony and I, in our modest little way, had perpetuated the choir of the Dymock Poets with our walks-talking, in the spirit of Frost and Thomas.

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Elected Friends, Edward Thomas (left) & Robert Frost.

 

The Road Not Taken

 

Wellow Lane

”Two roads diverged in a wood, And I – I took the one less travelled by…’ Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken, Photograph by Kevan Manwaring 2017

On the anniversary of the death of the poet Edward Thomas on Easter Monday, 9th April 1917, at the Battle of Arras,  I wanted to share a screenplay I co-wrote with a fellow Dymock Poets enthusiast, Terence James back in 2010-2011, ‘Little Edens’ (or The Road Not Taken). It hasn’t been produced, but it has been performed in a script-in-hand read-thru the ‘Spaniel in the Works’ theatre company in Stroud. I share it memory of Edward Thomas and Robert Frost and the special friendship they enjoyed. I am an avid believer in  creative community and in celebrating the ‘little edens’ of the everyday – the golden moments shared with friends, loved ones, animals, nature, and the spirit of place.

‘Little Edens’ – A Writer’s Statement

I want to develop this project because I am a poet and a lover of the British countryside, and this story celebrates both. I am interested in the period (Edwardian-Georgian-Twenties) having set my first novel, The Long Woman, in it (in its celebration of the English landscape and the Lost Generation, my book echoes some of the concerns of the screenplay). I am haunted by the artistic response in times of conflict – how can we ‘justify’ such rarefied activities as writing poetry in the face of conflict? – and I think the story of the Dymock Poets mirrors our own times and predicament, a hundred years on. Against the shadow of war, there is a brief, bright flowering of creativity in a small corner of the Gloucestershire countryside. This would be precious enough in its own right (one of the ‘little Edens’ of the film) but the fact that this convergence of poets and their muses produced some of the most memorable poetry in the English language shows that ‘something special’ occurred. Thomas might not have been able to ‘write a poem to save his life’, as he so poignantly said to his devoted friend, Eleanor Farjeon, but his poems have given him a kind of immortality – through them he lives on.

I am also fascinated by the influential friendship between the two poets, Robert Frost and Edward Thomas. When they first met, in October 1913, the former was yet to establish his literary reputation and the latter had yet to turn to poetry. Through their friendship, they inspired and encouraged each other. Thomas wrote favourable reviews of Frost’s early work, helping to launch his career, and Frost encouraged Thomas to try his hand at poetry, which he did from the end of 1914 – the year the film is set – up until his death in April 1917, in the battle of Arras. During this time he wrote the 150 poems that made his career. Frost returned to America with a burgeoning literary reputation – he went on to become a four-time Pulitzer Prize winning ‘grand old man of American poetry’. This trans-Atlantic friendship is the heart of the film – in microcosm, it mirrors the wider circle of the Dymock Poets and their wives. I find their fellowship heartening, especially in the face of war – and the community they share, the coterie at Dymock, a model for creative living. For a brief while they created and shared something golden.
The Dymock Poets (and the wider clique of the Georgian Poets, to whom they mostly
belonged) have fallen in and out of fashion over the years, but the astonishing convergence of talent (Frost, Thomas and the ‘Adonis’ of the Bloomsbury Set, Rupert Brooke) at such a poignant time deserves to be more widely-known. I picture ‘Little Edens’ as being a deeply beautiful and moving film – with many of the scenes filled with wide shots of lush English landscape; sleepy hamlets; faces a-glow around the hearth; evenings of poetry, cider and fellowship; the embryonic lines of classic poems; the colloquy of poets out on their rambles; contrasting with the harsher scenes of war and its consequences. Imagine elements of ‘Bright Star’; ‘Regeneration’; ‘A Month in the Country’; ‘Hedd Wyn’; and ‘The Edge of Love’.

A logline might be something like: ‘For one brief summer they found paradise — until the world found them.’

Kevan Manwaring Copyright © 27 August 2010

Here it is:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B65FARK-P4_HeXlYSmMwTEtHU0k/view?usp=sharing

Let me know what you think. Film producers and directors especially welcome!

 

 

The Golden Room

Contributors to The Golden Room gather on the steps of the Stroud Subscription Rooms, 26 July 2014 by Ray Cranham

Contributors to The Golden Room gather on the steps of the Stroud Subscription Rooms, 26 July 2014 by Ray Cranham

On the 24th June, 1914, two days before the birth of Laurie Lee, a famous literary gathering took place in Gloucestershire. Just outside the village of Dymock, a group of friends met at The Old Nail Shop – the home of Wilfrid Gibson and his wife. Also present were fellow writers Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas, and Robert Frost. There they shared their poetry, their words, their wit and wisdom and dreams. They went on to inspire each other to write some of the best-loved poems in the English language (‘Adlestrop’, ‘The Road Not Taken’, ‘The Soldier’ among others), many of which first saw light in their self-published anthology, New Numbers. They became known, years later, as The Dymock Poets. That first night was immortalised by Gibson in his poem ‘The Golden Room’ and on Saturday modern writers (many of them from Stroud and Gloucestershire) gathered in the Subscription Rooms to celebrate their legacy.

The day was co-organised by Stroud-based poets Kevan Manwaring and Jay Ramsay, with the former arranging the daytime programme of speakers and presentations, and the latter, the evening showcase of poetry and music.

The day started with a keynote speech from Chair of the Friends of the Dymock Poets, Jeff Cooper, who had come all the way down from his native Lancashire to introduce the Dymocks. As he is the grandson of their founder, Lascelles Abercrombie, this was especially resonant.

Next we had Anglophile American Linda Harte (a long-term resident of Malvern), the author of Once They Lived in Gloucestershire, to give a more detailed survey of the Dymocks, focusing on her fellow compatriot Robert Frost. She brought with her rare editions of Georgian Poetry (the movement-defining anthology of the era) and a complete set of New Numbers.

After the break we had the first of two short films by Scott Anthony and Geoff Poole – evocative interpretations of the works of Edward Thomas in music and image, and a welcome break to overheating left-brains.

There followed an engaging presentation on editor and critic Edward Garnett by Anthony Nanson, related to Garnett through his grandmother Barbara Newstead-Garnett. This once key figure, who mentored major literary figures of the early Twentieth Century (DH Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, HE Bates, WH Hudson, and Edward Thomas among others) was justly brought into the limelight at last. Nanson emphasised not only Garnett’s perspicacity as a critic, but also his conviction that literary worth should be the chief criteria for publication, not commercial potential. This, and his championing of writing with environmental sensibilities, makes him an avant-garde and topical figure.

After lunch we were shown a film about composer and First World War poet, Ivor Gurney, entitled ‘Severn and Somme’, named after his iconic collection. This was made by Bristol-based film-maker Diana Taylor, who showed up just in time to answer questions about her self-funded, and moving portrait of the impact and tragedy of war.

Richard Carder, a composer and poet from Bath (Chair of the English Song and Poetry Society) followed this up with a presentation on Gurney and his music, giving several examples of his pieces – settings of the works of Thomas, himself and others – some of which Carder himself plays on in the recordings selected. Musicality and awareness of musical genres (folk, classical, music hall) run through much of the Dymocks’ work so this was a welcome addition to the day.

The final paper of the day was by Kirsty Hartsiotis, Curator of Decorative arts and Designated Collections at the Wilson Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum. She talked to us about ‘Cotswold Characters’ – focusing on Dymock poet John Drinkwater and his connection with the Arts and Crafts Movement in the Cotswolds in a fascinating and well-illustrated presentation which unearthed many treasures – some of which can be found in the Wilson!

The daytime programme concluded with a plenary discussion about the themes of the day. Creative fellowship is the main thread that underpins not only the Dymock Poets story, but also the very special Stroud scene, which this was largely the fruit of (and which the evening showcase especially illustrated). An environmental sensiblity (what Nanson, Manwaring, Hartsiotis & Metcalfe term ‘ecobardic’) and a strong anti-war sentiment were also perennial themes that the works of the Dymock poets convey to us across the century, making their legacy more relevant than ever.

The evening showcase, hosted gracefully by Jay Ramsay, kicked off with the hypnotic sound of the HangHang Duo – Barry Mason and Lina Lotto playing the Swiss hang drum. There followed an exemplary succession of strong Stroud voices: Adam Horovitz, Marion Fawlk, Steve Morris, Gabriel Millar, Jay himself, followed after the break by Rick Vick, Jehanne Mehta, Karen Eberhardt-Shelton, Polly Howell, and Anna Saunders (from Cheltenham Poetry Festival). Each poet took at least one of the poems of the Dymocks and responded to it in their own way – conducting a conversation across a hundred years. These creative responses critically brought the focus of the event into the present day – for these are (some of) the Gloucestershire writers living and working in the county today, and, each in their way, carry on the work of the Dymock Poets, especially through the spirit of creative fellowship which pervades in this remarkable town.

This long, hot day of poetry and colloquy celebrated a special gathering and in doing so created its own ‘golden room’ – and whenever kindred spirits and creative souls gather together and share their awen, that golden room lives on.

Soundbites:

For Kevan Manwaring, co-writer (with Terence James) of the Dymock Poets screenplay, The Road Not Taken, this event was the culmination of several years’ interest. His ‘Dymock fever’ brought him to the county and he hopes that he and his fellow contributors managed to pass it on to the audience by the end of the day!

 
‘I feel inspired by the ethos and imaginative vision of the night and feel Stroud has a lot to teach Cheltenham. I’ve written two new poems since the event and feel that many of the poems I heard, have now influenced my own aesthetics.’ Anna Saunders, Director, Cheltenham Poetry Festival

Tales from the Marches, Tunes for the Road

On Friday we had another fine Stroud Story Supper – this time Kirsty Hartsiotis was on hosting duties, and the Newent Club were the guests (Newent meet in each others’ houses – so this was a rare chance to see them all perform in public). Glenn started with his version of ‘Canonbie Dick’, a classic tale about a sleeping King Arthur being disturbed by a greedy fool – this one from the Scottish Borders (I mention it in a recent paper I gave at Falmouth). Next up Val did a spine-tingling rendition of her Beltane Hare story. David shared his tale from the Welsh Marches of the Crusader who has to prove his wife loves him to his captor Sultan. And finally, Austin rounded the first half off with his epic bardic retelling of the arrival of the Milesians. It was great to hear their fine stories, and there were many other good contributions as well: after the break we had the latest instalment from Jim of his Icelandic saga, complete with doll; I did my version of ‘the Ogre of Etin Hall’, also from the Scottish Borders; Chanty kept to the High Road with ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’; Anthony offered his great version of Simonides of Ceos and the Palace of Memory (an apt meta-narrative about the storyteller’s art); and Fiona finished off with an abbreviated version of her Theseus and the Gorgon. A great night!

On Saturday my partner and I wended our way our way down to the Mendips – stopping for a windy walk at Priddy Nine Barrows (and a hearty repaste in the Queen Victoria, a Jamaica Inn of a pub, out in the sticks, with its low beams, inglenooks, cauldrons and cast of local ‘characters’) enroute to the Pedal Folk house concert. Pedal Folk are a trio following in the cycle-tracks of the late great poet Edward Thomas*, who cycled from London to the Quantocks in Spring 1913 – a journey he recorded in exquisite detail in his book, In Pursuit of Spring (a favourite of mine). The dedicated folk-cyclists have been recreating his journey – cycling to each venue with all their kit, averaging 30 odd miles a day, negotiating some serious hills, in all weather. Tonight they were appearing as guests of a pair of most generous hosts who opened up their splendid house to around 30 or 40 people – providing a magnificent spread of food and drink. Pedal Folk (the talented troubadours Tim Graham and Robin Grey alternating on guitar and guitarlele, and the exquisitely skilled Canadian Chance Kellner on violin) performed two sets blending new songs inspired by Thomas’ ride, with songs associated with the places he passed through or stopped, reels and airs, and the odd contemporary song from Robin. It was all very engaging and the trio had a relaxed bonhomie on ‘stage’ – showing the kind of rapport that comes from sharing a journey together (both physical and creative). What was played of the Thomas material sounded fantastic and I can’t wait to hear the full album (a demo was available on the night). The show felt like a work-in-progress that will no doubt be fine-tuned and added to over the coming months. What gave the whole endeavour authenticity was the fact these lovely folk were cycling all the way. Such an environmentally-friendly initiative deserves to be applauded. I wish them well on their journey – and hope they enjoy a well-earned rest afterwards!

* I’ve been a massive Edward Thomas fan for a while now – having co-authored a feature-length screenplay about his friendship with Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken (with Terence James). I was drawn to Gloucestershire partly because of the inspiring tale of the Dymock Poets – a group of writer-friends who gathered in the Glos. village before the First World War – and this year I have co-organised a centenary symposium, The Golden Room (Sat 26 July, Stroud Subscripton Rooms) with my partner-in-rhyme, fellow poet Jay Ramsay. Read my article on Creative Fellowship here.

The Golden Room – Inspiration

The White Horse or 'The Inn with No Name', Hampshire, where Edward Thomas composed his first poem, 'Up in the Wind'.

And still, whenever men and women gather
for talk and laughter on a summer night, 

shall not that lamp rekindle; and the room 

glow once again alive with light and laughter;

and, like a singing star in time’s abyss,

burn golden-hearted through oblivion?

Wilfrid Gibson, The Golden Room

In the summer of 1914 a group of friends gathered in the village of Dymock, Gloucestershire to write and share poetry, drink cider, go on long inspiring walks, and support one other in their creative journeys. This brief flowering of fellowship was captured in Wilfrid Gibson’s poem, ‘The Golden Room’, long after the tragedy of the so-called Great War had scattered them, exactly a deadly toll.

2014 is the centenary of the start of the First World War – when there will be a plethora of events exploring this devastating conflict. It is also the centenary of when the Dymock Poets gathered together in the eponymous Gloucestershire village – moving there with their families, to write and share poems, publish, go on ‘walks-talking’ rambles of the area, and enjoy the bonhomie of a brief, but important creative fellowship. From out of this coterie of six poets, comprising Lascelles Abercrombie, Wilfrid Gibson, John Drinkwater, Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, and Rupert Brooke, came some of the most loved poems of the English language (e.g. Adlestrop; The Soldier; The Road Not Taken, etc). Thomas and Brooke were to die tragically young in the First World War, while Robert Frost was eventually to become the grand old man of American poetry, living into his 80s and winning the Pulitzer Prize four times. He always talked about the special friendship he had with Thomas (‘The most important creative friendship I ever had’). The Golden Room celebrates the legacy of the Dymock Poets and creative fellowship of all kinds.

See you in The Golden Room

See you in The Golden Room

Later this summer I will be co-hosting a celebration of the Dymock Poets (26 July Subscription Rooms) with my friend Jay Ramsay. There will be talks, performances, film, art and discussion about their legacy – and, critically, an acknowledgment of writers living and working in Gloucestershires in the present day, who continue the Tradition.

Whenever a creative gathering takes place – when artistic kindred spirits break bread and share ideas, enthusiasm and inspiration – I believe a ‘Golden Room’ is created. Developing this notion, I have created a radio show of the same name – inviting writers into the studio to share their words and dreams. It was planned as a series of six monthly programmes – each one with a theme. The first one (‘Inspiration’) was due to be broadcast on Tuesday 25th February at 4pm – it was pre-recorded and edited – then last week I was notified the station (Stroud FM) was shutting down unexpectedly. It had gone bankrupt! As they had only green-lighted my show a couple of weeks before this seems like catastrophically bad planning.  However annoying and frustrating this set-back (the challenges of running a community radio station on a shoe-string…) I decided to keep going with my Golden Room project as a podcast (for now) – so here it is!

See you in The Golden Room…

Listen to The Golden Room Podcast # 1 here

THE GOLDEN ROOM O1: INSPIRATION

TRACK LISTINGS

DJ: Kevan Manwaring

  • La Celtie et L’infini, Alan Stivell/Intro – KM
  • Chanty’s Welcome (song)
  • Yirdbards – Tramp Song/Why is Stroud inspiring?
  • Nobody’s Business/A Tale of New York – Tim Bannon Poetry
  • Poor Boy – Nick Drake
  • Robin Collins – Woven in Stroud/Time Raft
  • Black Bird – Rachel Unthank and the Winterset
  • In My Craft or Sullen Art – Dylan Thomas (read by Peter Adams)
  • Featured Writer – Denis Gould, Letterhead Press Studio, Cycling Haiku
  • Up on the Ridgeway – Ridgeriders
  • Poetry – Pablo Neruda (read by Gabriel Millar)
  • Caroline Herring – Black Mountain Lullaby
  • Pitchcombe House – Gabriel Millar
  • Bees Wing – Mad Dog McCrea
  • WB Yeats – The Song of Wandering Aengus (read by Tim Bannon)
  • White Birds – The Waterboys
  • HSL, La Zag/Diary – KM
  • Uffington – Chantelle Smith
  • Thought Fox – Robin Collins
  • Featured Writer interview – Denis Gould
  • May You Never – John Martyn/Farewell – KM

Let me know what you think,

and look out for future Golden Room podcasts…

You never know, a radio station might pick it up!

My Garden Universe

A garden universe in Stroud

A garden universe in Stroud

 

My garden universe, on the cusp of autumn – I walk up it at the beginning and end of the day, natural diurnal punctuation, the parenthesis in which my life fits. The various fruit trees this neck of the woods is graced with are like sephiroth on a Tree of Life – or one of the nine worlds of Norse mythology… Appleheim, plumheim, pearheim… I pick blackberries in the rain, and my fingertips turn pink. I return to the hyperabundance of the orchard and pick a bagful of different varieties (and some plump toms).  Then, one more time for kindling. Thank you, bountiful garden. Now I have a crumble in the oven and firewood ready for burning. Its lashing down on my conservatory, but my heart feels blessed.

Since moving into my new place in August I’ve seen the fabulous garden (shared with my landlords) in its summer glory, and now laden with autumn riches. I am loving ‘tending the hearth’ (inside and out) and feel blessed to have such a space. This Sunday was a particularly idyllic day – I awoke in my bell-tent, where I had decided to spend the night, to the most perfect autumnal day, the trees emerging through the morning mist, slowly burning off in the light of the new sun. Richard Jefferies wrote that ‘the dawn makes a temple of the Earth’, and that’s how it felt that day. I made porridge on my stove in the tent, and picked blackberries from the bushes to go on it. I greeted the day with my ‘Sunrise Praise’ then set to picking apples – for today was ‘juicing day’. Our neighbour had made a hydraulic apple press, and everyone on the street was bringing their apples to press. Picking fruit is a soothing and satisfying thing to do. This is ‘hand-to-mouth’ living the way nature intended.

apples from the garden

apples from the garden

Ready to wash

Ready to wash

After getting washed and dressed, I helped wash the apples collected from our mini-orchard with the children. The youngest rescued ‘chucky pigs’ – her cute name for bugs – from the dunked apples. C turned up and when went for a spin on my motorbike to May Hill – walking in the footsteps of Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, exactly a hundred years on from when they first met and started to forge their creative friendship – supporting each other in their writing, while living a stone’s throw from each other near Dymock with their wives and children. They enjoyed long literary rambles, which they termed ‘walks-talking’, and visited May Hill on several occasions – a noticable landmark in this part of Gloucestershire. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we trekked up through the woods to the hilltop. Sitting on a bench we had our packed lunch whilst enjoying the stunning views over the Severn – which snaked like a silver serpent in the distance. We read out poems in situ – most notably ‘Words’, which was written on the summit.

Reading Edward Thomas' 'Words' on May Hill, on the 100th anniversary of Frost and Thomas meeting, 6 Oct 2013

Reading Edward Thomas’ ‘Words’ on May Hill, on the 100th anniversary of Frost and Thomas meeting, 6 Oct 2013

When we got back we chilled out a bit, listening to a Poetry Please special on Charles Causley, (well C knitted socks while I had a bardic siesta ;0) before taking down the bell-tent, which had been up for a couple of months – it felt like ‘rolling up summer’, or ‘bringing the hearth inside’, as C put it. By the time we had lugged everything inside, there were three bottles of apple juice awaiting us and a small jar of tomato chutney – what riches!

Improving your socks life - with C.

Improve your socks life – with C.

Apple juice from 'Chateau Richmond' - freshly pressed

Apple juice from ‘Chateau Richmond’ – freshly pressed

Autumn Riches - tomato chutney, cobnuts, acorns and mushrooms

Autumn Riches – tomato chutney, cobnuts, acorns and mushrooms

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden

With a bag of apples from the garden, we made a Dorset apple cake; and then I made a nut roast for our main course. Later, by a crackling fire we shared stories we had written – the perfect end to a perfect autumnal day.

A garden feast

A garden feast

Notes from the Garden…

(I’ve never been green-fingered, and normally like nothing more strenuous than hanging out in my hammock in the garden, but something about this new place inspires me to get ‘stuck in’ – there are raised beds, fruit trees, peace and space. It would be a crime not to make the most of it).

Fungal treasures on our autumn walk - best to check that mushroom guide!

Fungal treasures on our autumn walk – best to check that mushroom guide!

A local heaven

A local heaven

Tuesday 9 October

I pick apples from the espalier, near where the bees buzzed around the lavender only a few weeks ago. Logs are stacked from a tree (sadly) felled to make room for the conservatory – now my dining area. Clearing room for new growth is a part of the life-cycle of all things – if there is no break in the canopy, new trees cannot flourish. We all need some light, rain and soil, and deserve a place in the sun. In the summer, I sit by the woodstack, where windchimes spiral lazily in the breeze. Behind, a compost bin is like a seething cthulu city – its pungent loam rich, dark and warm. A yew tree shelters a cross-section of bikes – in ascending sizes, like a tree-ring of childhood. The hedgerows are neatly cut back – given a sensible short back and sides for winter. Leaves from the three plane trees planted by the owners, lie curled and brown on the lawn like screwed up of poems. The ash tree – a witches knot of trunk and branches – sits in the corner in its own realm, laden with bunches of ash-keys, wreathed in ivy, overshadowing the swings like a kindly old crone waiting for a visit. The brambles have lost most of their bounty now – the few remaining berries losing their sweetness daily. Leaves like tongues turn to flame – the colours so livid, as though they have been dipped in dye. There’s a brown patch where the tent was – the hole of summer. The tomato plants have so many red fruits – like a collection of clown noses. The apple trees, stripped of their casual treasure, have been pruned back. At the top of the garden, a secret realm – of hidden delights: a plum tree, a pear, a giant Scots Pine, guarding the border of our kingdom like some wizened sentinel. There’s a through-route for a family of foxes, their den nearby. One night I saw a trail of their burning eyes, caught in the beam of my headtorch. A pile of undersized apples moulders on a neighbour’s compost heap like unwanted metaphors – our windfalls are collected for Paul’s pigs. Standing amid the orchard is like suddenly stepping into a fairy tale – you are presented with a Goblin Market of choice. A grey cat appears – its fur like smoke. It sidles up and mewls like a baby, letting me stroke it. The walnut tree has been ransacked by Ratatosk – but I’m just as guilty, scrumping the toms, I carry a load back in the belly of my cardy like some marsupial papoose, hoarding autumn – the last blessings of summer.

The embers of summer

The embers of summer

Walking with Words

Sign for Laurie Lee Wood, opened this June by his widow, Kathy.

Sign for Laurie Lee Wood, opened this June by his widow, Kathy.

I have a series of literary rambles coming up – Walking with Words – as part of the Cotswold Word Centre programme which I’ve devised in conjunction with Hawkwood College. WWW combines two of my favourite things – literature and walking. Last week I walked each of the routes, and had an enjoyable time reading out poems in situ on Crickley Hill with my friend Anthony.

Anthony Nanson reads out some Ivor Gurney on Crickley Hill, KM

Anthony Nanson reads out some Ivor Gurney on Crickley Hill, KM

Here’s a poem I penned on Swift’s Hill in Slad Valley – made famous by Gloucestershire’s most famous writer, Laurie Lee.

ON SWIFT’S HILL

On Swift’s Hill I learn to be still.

A walk in silence

fills my head with murmorous voices.

I venture down the meandering backlines

and bywords of Laurie’s valley,

where a walk is a sentence as long as the day.

This strange familiar land

steeped in his words

like a rat in cider.

Long lost ghosts come alive

at the touch of his pen,

at the turn of a page.

The shadows lengthen,

the bramble bushes ripen,

black handgrenades of juice

waiting to ambush your tongue.

The trees are heavy with summer,

like cows slowly coming home,

In this wild heaven

the day takes as long

as it wants.

The busy world

is elsewhere.

The Severn is a silver slither

on the horizon.

Dark Wales, a frowning brow.

The golden Cotswold massif,

a broken off slab of toffee.

The barrowed hills of peace

where the dead keep mum.

Somewhere below,

my worries await,

but for now they can cool their heels.

I’m walking with Laurie

and there’s always time for a slow half

in the Woolpack’s hallowed snug.

 

Kevan Manwaring

2nd September 2013

On Swift's Hill, Slad Valley, KM

On Swift’s Hill, Slad Valley, KM

Check out this lovely programme about Laurie Lee’s Slad Valley – Laurie Lee Land on Radio 4’s Open Country –

featuring Stroud’s very own poetical son, Adam Horovitz, of the famous dynasty of verse (Michael & Frances Horovitz).

 

 

WALKING WITH WORDS

Kevan Sapperton walk with Jay 17 Feb '13
Throughout Autumn/Winter 2013-14 Kevan will be leading a series of literary rambles around Gloucestershire – in the footsteps of some of the great writers who have lived here: Laurie Lee, Edward Thomas, Ivor Gurney, WH Davies and John Drinkwater. Each walk will be 2-3 hours long, moderate, approx. 5 miles, and will include plenty of time to ‘stand and stare’, (or sit and write). A lovely Sunday roast lunch will be provided by Hawkwood College. Transport can arranged.

Sunday 22nd September

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF LAURIE LEE (part of ‘Walking With Words’)

On the eve of Laurie Lee’s centenary year, walk in the footsteps of the great Gloucestershire writer through his beloved Slad Valley – finding inspiration en route for your own writing. There will be plenty of opportunities to ‘stand and stare’ on this gentle bardic amble. We’ll visit the orchard Laurie Lee saved, donated by his family to the Wildlife Trust. After paying our respects at his grave, a drink in his local, The Woolpack, (be it Rosie cider or a cup of coffee) will slake your thirst before returning to Hawkwood College for lunch. Led by local writer and keen walker Kevan Manwaring.

email: info@hawkwoodcollege.co.uk

or telephone: 01453 759034

Sunday 29th September

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF WH DAVIES (part of ‘Walking With Words’@ Hawkwood College)

WH Davies (Author of ‘Autobiography of a Supertramp’) died in Nailsworth on 26th September, 1940. He is best remembered for his much-loved poem, ‘Leisure’. In this walk we visit the cottage Davies resided in, and explore his old stomping ground, finding inspiration along the way. Lifts to be arranged from Hawkwood College, where we’ll return for a delicious lunch.
Booking: info@hawkwoodcollege.co.uk

or telephone: 01453 759034

 

Sunday 6th October

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF EDWARD THOMAS & ROBERT FROST (part of ‘Walking With Words’)

On the 100th Anniversary of the first meeting between poets Edward Thomas and Robert Frost we follow in the footsteps of one of their famous ‘walks-talking’ bardic rambles, up May Hill where Thomas wrote ‘Words’. Lifts to be arranged from Hawkwood College, where we’ll return for a delicious lunch.

email: info@hawkwoodcollege.co.uk

or telephone: 01453 759034


Sunday 3rd November

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF IVOR GURNEY (part of ‘Walking With Words’)

On Remembrance Sunday we remember the First World War Poet, Ivor Gurney, who loved Gloucestershire. We’ll visit the Beak at Birdlip and read his work as we go, finding inspiration for our own writing along the way. Lifts to be arranged from Hawkwood College, where we’ll return for a delicious lunch. (‘Strange the large difference of up-Cotswold ways;/Birdlip climbs bold and treeless to a bend,
Portway to dim wood-lengths without end,/And Crickley goes to cliffs that are the crown of days.’ Cotswold Ways, Ivor Gurney)

email: info@hawkwoodcollege.co.uk

or telephone: 01453 759034
Sunday 6th April

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF JOHN DRINKWATER (part of ‘Walking With Words’)

On this walk we follow in the footsteps of Dymock Poet, John Drinkwater, who memorably wrote of ‘Cotswold Love’ in April (‘When April comes to Amberley/With skies of April blue/And Cotswold girls are briding/With slyly tilted shoe.). We’ll travel up to Rodborough Common and walk to the Black Horse in Amberley – writing and reciting as we go. Lifts to be arranged from Hawkwood College, where we’ll return for a delicious lunch.

email: info@hawkwoodcollege.co.uk

or telephone: 01453 759034

Elected Friends

Dymock Poets Dinner Party

6th October

Dymock Poets Dinner Party at Daisybank, 6 October 2011

Last night seven of us gathered at Daisybank to celebrate a special friendship. On the 6th October 1913, the poets Robert Frost and (then prose-writer) Edward Thomas met for the first time. I decided this was an auspicious anniversary to have the first read-thru of the screenplay I have co-written with ex-ITV news editor Terry James about the lives of the Dymock Poets (a mutual passion of ours – Terry wrote a play about Thomas and his wife thirty years ago). Having the initial flash of inspiration in Spring 2010 after a discussion with Terry about another project, we began work in earnest late last summer – I drafted the initial treatment while on Skyros, running my first Writers’ Lab course. This was an evocative place to work on it – being the ‘corner of a foreign field that is forever England’ (Rupert Brooke, one of the Dymocks, is buried there). Having the village in Gloucestershire where it all started on my doorstep helped to bring it alive also, and I’ve spent several weekends on writers’ retreat there – staying at a lovely place in Redmarley D’abitot, walking in the footsteps of Frost, Thomas et al along the Poets’ Walks in the area. Talks and walks organised by the Friends of the Dymock Poets also helped to stir the cauldron (most recently, last Saturday – with excellent talks about Marsh and the War Poets). The recent wave of media interest in Thomas was an uncanny coda to my own ‘Dymock Fever’ I’ve been experiencing this last year and a half (to the point I even moved to Gloucestershire last December).

Kevan Manwaring - co-screenwriter of the Dymock Poets story

I invited 6 people to my soiree – the dress code was ‘Edwardian/Georgian’ and everyone made a real effort. I provided a roast dinner and there were contributions of pears from Herefordshire (from David’s garden), home-made cake, Wisset’s Pink from Suffolk, and other tasties. After the meal we read out some of the Dymocks poems – beginning with ‘The Sun Used to Shine’ by Thomas, about the ‘walk-talking’ rambles he used to enjoy with Frost in and around Dymock.

Then we repaired to the ‘lounge’, where a fire was roaring – not for port and cigars – but for a read-thru of the screenplay. Roles were allocated and the casting seemed to be spot on as the respective thesps rose to the occasion – Jay carried off a good American accent for Frost; Anthony was perfect for Thomas; as his partner Kirsty was for Farjeon; Gabriel played Helen (& the barmaid!); Ola, Brooke; David, Marsh (& Bott). The other parts were played by ‘members of the cast’, as they say. I read out the scene descriptions and filled in where necessary. The dialogue flowed well and the group held the focus for over two hours – with no one breaking the spell for a loo break, etc. At times, with the fire crackling in the grate, the atmosphere was powerful. And once again I found the Dymock story deeply moving.

Afterwards, there was cake and crit – although some had to depart due to the lateness of the hour. Finally, the guests left (except Ola, the Bonn-Bath migrant, who had to crash over), and I went to bed feeling replete – a perfect night, made so by exceptional friends, all talented writers, storytellers and poets. The Dymock Poets story has such a pull for me, because I find the way those poets (their wives; close friends; & muses) inspired and supported each other very inspiring.

Here’s to creative fellowship!

Ola, Jay, Anthony & Gabriel - creative fellowship

April Tricks & Easter Fools

April Tricks & Easter Fools

1-5 April

Tricks & Fools at the Garden of Awen, Easter Sunday

The lead up to Easter has been a busy time, with the completion of teaching commitments and publishing projects and the tying up of loose ends. Good Friday serves as a severe deadline – the hiatus of Easter is imposed on us, whether we like it or not, as everything shuts down for at least the Easter weekend, although the holiday can stretch over one or two weeks. As with Christmas, it has become a national time to ‘down tools’ and after the hectic Spring term it comes as a blessed relief – thank God (or maybe we should thank the Romans, that ‘great civilisation’, for nailing a 33 year old from Bethlehem to a cross).

The Little Mermaid April Fool Copyright AFP 2010

The morning of April Fools Day has become a time to take everything with a pinch of salt, for it is the customary time for pranks, practical jokes, hoaxes and general foolery. The media ran there usual brace of dubious ‘news’ items – the Circle Line is to be used as a substitute for the Large Hadron Collider; ferrets are to be used to deliver broadband cables; AA men will use jetpacks to beat the traffic jams; Shakespeare was French; England didn’t win the World Cup in 1966… My favourite was in Denmark – recently the famous Little Mermaid statue had been removed to be displayed in the World Expo in Shanghai, leaving her rock bare – someone had replaced it with a mermaid skeleton.

David Lassman - The Art of Self-publicity

We joined in the spirit of this by announcing the launch of The Art of Self-publicity in the Bath Chronicle (‘Hungry for Self-publicity? Then this is the book for you’). In the Editor’s column, (‘Spotted our April Fool yet?’) Sam Holliday asked: ‘…perhaps you are convinced that our April Fool joke this year is that we have given publicity to a man who has written a book about … how to get publicity’. Actually, the book is genuine (the latest title from my small press – under the imprint, Writers Workshop – the first in a series of practical guides) and we decided to use April Fools to gain some publicity – and it worked! It was due to be launched on Easter Sunday and we wanted to let people know about the event in advance – part of my Garden of Awen. Typically, we were on tenterhooks about the books arriving on time (no matter how well-planned our new books are this always seems to happen). Yet by Thursday I had the first batch arrive from Stroud Print – phew!

We weren’t the only ones launching a book that day – controversially, Philip Pullman was in town talking about his new book at Topping & Company: ‘The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ’.

This is territory I am familiar with. While studying my Fine Art degree I got obsessed about the Fool archetype and made a film called ‘My Life as a God’, which had a main character who was part-fool/avatar/insane/even an ODed drug addict having a near death experience. Alot of it was filmed in guerrila style around the mean streets of Northampton. I remember one scene where my fool character dragged a ladder up the street as though he was carrying the cross up Golgotha. A black woman harangued me – probably justifiably. It wasn’t very subtle satire on religion – a low budget Life of Brian. Yet behind it was ideas influenced by my research into mythology and Jungian psychology. Cecil Collins’ book My Life as a God was particularly inspiring. This project culminated in a free May Day festival I launched called the Fools’ Fete in Abington Park – this I saw as the completion of the Fool’s Journey – from setting out like Chaucer’s pilgrims at the start of April, to becoming feted as king-for-a-day, Lord of Misrule. Thousands of people attended the Fools Fete, which ran for three years, with the help of the Umbrella Fayre people, who have since gone on to run the Green Fair which happens in September. Yet I started the ball rolling – I recall walking by the bandstand one day and thinking: ‘this would be a great venue for a festival’. I came up with the name and format of the first Fools Fete, booking the bands. All creativity starts like this – with an act of awareness. Blake said: ‘If the doors of perception are cleansed, man will see things as they truly are – infinite.’ Being a big fan of LA psychaedelic rock band The Doors at the time (who took their name from Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception, inspired by Blake) I identified with this, perhaps too closely!

Good Friday came along and I found myself munching on a hot cross bun, like alot of the population – a strange custom to remember a crucifixion. My friend, Kevin Williams, RNR officer, shared with me a wonderfully quirky custom which takes place on this day:

The History of Bun Day (as related by Kevin Williams to me in the beer tent of Mells Daffodil Fayre, Easter Monday 2010)

A young sailor went to fight in the Napoleonic Wars – wrote to his mother asking her to save him a hot cross bun for Easter, when he plans to be home. Alas, he fails to return – but the mother dutifully saves a bun for her son that year and every year since, until her death. The pub goes through various phases – from The Bun House to the Widow’s Son, named in honour of the woman. It is pulled down and rebuilt, burnt down and rebuilt, mirroring the resurrection connected with that time of year. Every year Navy personnel gather to honour the tradition with alot of drinking and singing (including the modern ‘tradition’ of karaoke) and the ‘hanging of the bun’ when a bun is ritually placed, by the youngest sailor present, in the net above the bar. The bar is in the east end of London, in the Stratford area – rough-and-ready locals and Navy guys mix together.

The following day, Easter Saturday, I loaded up the Triumph Legend and set off over the Cotswolds up to Northampton – to visit my Mum and sister, whom I haven’t seen since last summer (Winter isn’t the time for long bike rides). It was great to catch up with them and my friend Justin, that night down the Malt Shovel – we opted for a relatively quiet pub because we too had alot of catching up to do. Earlier that evening I had sat down with a meal cooked by my Mum (a rare treat) and watched the new Doctor Who – starring Northampton-born Matt Smith – it felt like being a child again! Watching Doctor Who Saturday teatime was a childhood ritual for many of my generation. Who would have thought it would become popular again? I can’t say I’m wildly keen about the new incarnation, but for one night it was heart-warming trip down memory lane.

The next day, after visiting the memorial tree planted in memory of Dad in Delapre Abbey with my sister and her toddler, (and enjoying a mighty Sunday lunch cooked by my dear Ma) I bid farewell and set off – roaring back over the Cotswolds. I decided to break the journey about halfway at a place of literary significance: Adlestrop, one of the soul-springs of England. Here, in June 1914, Edward Thomas, on a train (possibly to Dymock) paused and made some notes – later, when he started to write poetry, encouraged by his friend Robert Frost, he wrote ‘Adlestrop’ which has become a classic of English verse, much anthologised and imitated. It was very poignant to stop there, kill the engine and hear the birdsong he wrote about. I sat in the bus stop which has a large station sign and Thomas’ poem engraved on a brass plaque, and soaked up the peaceful ambience of this quintessentially English hamlet, a corner of England which motivated men like Thomas to go and fight – to live and die for.

Stopping at Adlestrop - one of the soul-springs of England

I returned home in time to listen to a Radio 4 feature on the Blakean poet Michael Horovitz, who has recently turned 75. Hearing his antics inspired me to make the Garden of Awen a lively ‘happening’ later that evening – after I had ‘regenerated’. Somehow I summoned a second wind and set off to the Chapel, bag bulging with books and goodies.

The theme of the evening I had chosen was ‘Tricks & Fools’ – this was probably tempting fate (in my intro I talked about the Fairy Tradition wisdom: Never test the Crew that Never Rest). The trickster was making his presence felt when I arrived to find the place locked up. We were told somebody would be there from 6pm – it was 6.30pm. David and Terry arrived – we sat over the road in the Lamb and Lion and anxiously waited. I had tried to ring the director, but he was away on holiday in Cornwall. He had left his team in charge… Fortunately the bar manager turned up at 7.15pm, and let us in. We hastily set up – doors opened at 7.30pm – and the evening kicked off. Phew! We had a good crowd – the place was packed – almost standing room only, until they got some more chairs. I had arranged some champagne (well, Prosecca) to toast David’s new book, and there was free chocolate on the tables. The atmosphere was great – there was a colourful crowd of creative types present, including a group of girls from Glastonbury all dressed up as Victorian harlots!

Victorian harlots at Garden of Awen!

I kicked the evening off with my mobile phone poem ‘Phone Tree’ (asking people to leave their phones on for the performance), then David gave a talk about his book – regaling us with Adventures in Media. There followed an open mic section – with some excellent contributions from the floor: poems and songs.

During the break David signed copies of his book. I put on Patti Smith’s classic ‘Horses’ (starts infamously with: ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine’). A friend of an older member of the audience asked me to turn it down because she had a hearing problem!

I welcomed people back by asking for forgiveness for playing the Devil’s music on the Lord’s day – save our souls! Then I asked for a moment of silence – as I recounted my visit to Adlestrop earlier in the day, before sharing my version of Thomas’ famous poem (with apologies). The second half formally started with a fabulous set from Crysse Morrison, poet from Frome. More open mic, including an improvised shambles from Ben and friends – Ben was going around Britain recording songs, a kind of British songline. It was a brave attempt at something experimental, which is what I love to see. Afterwards, I said: ‘Creativity is an act of folly – a leap of faith. You step off the cliff and hope for the best.’ I observed how many great artists and poets of history have been perceived as foolish, even mad in their day – and to emphasise this I shared my poem, ‘The Man from Porlock’, written in the voice of the personage who notoriously interrupted Coleridge while he was working on his poem Kubla Khan. Such people are always there to test your tenacity! A pox on doubters and critics! Blessed are the doers, the finishers.

We finished the evening with a sublime set from singer/songwriter/guitarist Ali George (whom I discovered one night in The Star – he was jamming in the corner with a friend, playing a Van Morrison cover). Ali treated us to new songs – he’s a talent to watch. This is exactly what I want the Garden, and Awen, to be for – a platform for up-and-coming talent. Grassroots genius – happening without the ‘filtering of the Fat Controllers’, as I put it – right here, right now. It was a great night – my folly had paid off for once!

Ali George plays at Garden of Awen

One of those attending (and contributing a poem) Lizzie, said afterwards: Congratulations on creating a lovely, fun evening at The Garden of Awen event last night. I am so glad to see this happening in the heart of the city at a community space.. It is what our city needs!’

Another successful Awen launch

The following day went to the Mells Daffodil Fayre with a couple of friends. Kevin drove us over in his 1985 Mercedes SL ‘panzer’ with Creem blasting out – very Withnail-like but not doing much good for my hangover. Still, it was a merry way to travel. Pulling into the carpark we were let in for a quid as a ‘classic car’. I got us all a hot drink and we took in the atmosphere – everyone and their dog was out, gorging on chips and beer, listening to the bands in the marquee, or elbowing their way down the packed narrow streets lined with stalls. I showed Kevin the grave of Seigfriend Sassoon, First World War poet and personal hero. Then I took them into the church to show them the Burne-Jones designed tapestry. Mells is such a charming, unspoilt village – preserved in a kind of time-warp: a perfect setting for a Hammer House of Horror episode (a couple lose their way in the fog…). Today, it couldn’t have been merrier, or more picturesque – the grassy banks glowing with daffodils. In previous years the daffs have often passed their prime by the time of the Fayre – but with the late Spring this year, they were in their glory. We supped beer, browsed the stalls, missed the Morris Dancing and checked out the lovely Manor House Gardens. As the afternoon progressed we become ‘daffed’ out – I offered ‘tea and buns’ back at mine, so off we set, finishing off the last of the hot cross buns. Agreeably bulging, I found it hard not to nod off on the sofa. The week/end had taken its toll, but it had been a memorable Easter. Thank Christ we don’t have to do it for another year!

In Pursuit of Spring

Dymock & Daffodils & Days of Song

27-28 March

Dymock Daffodils

Saturday I set off ‘in pursuit of Spring’, alluding to the classic book by First World War poet Edward Thomas, who in 1913 (21-28 March) recorded his literary pilgrimage from Clapham to the Quantocks – the home of Coleridge. My destination was Dymock, where, during a brief time leading up to that fateful conflict, a coterie of poets, their spouses and offspring, gathered: Lascelles Abercrombie; Wilfrid Gibson; John Drinkwater; Edward Thomas; Robert Frost; & Rupert Brooke – the Dymock Poets, as they became known afterwards. Their story, charged with poignancy in the shadow of war and the tragic death of two of their key members (Thomas and Brooke – who enlisted, and never returned), inspires and moves me. Nearly a hundred years on it seems more relevant than ever in the shadow of current conflict and the all-too-common reports of young men and women meeting their fate in a foreign theatre of war. Yet it was with joy I set off early on Saturday, having prepared the night before for a couple of days away. The forecast was good – the early reports were of heavy rain, but the nearer the time came, the more they improved, until I was fortunate to be blessed by a weekend of Spring sun. It made the ride up to just south of the Malverns a real pleasure. It was great to leave the city, and my week of toil, behind. When the sun is shining it is important to – seize the day! A sunny day is not to be squandered – they are ‘golden’, like the heart-breakingly brief days of bliss the Dymock poets shared together: the summer of 1914.

Twas in July
of nineteen-fourteen that we sat and talked:
Then August brought the war, and scattered us.

Wilfrid Gibson, The Golden Room

Following the precise directions to the wonderfully named village of Redmarley D’abitot, of Janice – whose writer’s retreat I had booked for the night – I soon arrived at Mellow Farm: a charming cluster of red-bricked and beamed style farm buildings distinctive of the area. Janice’s husband answered and didn’t seem to be aware she was running a writer’s retreat – but eventually Janice was able to pull herself away from her cooking and shown me my room, in Courtyard Lodge, which had lovely views towards Dymock Woods and May Hill – two numinous poetic ‘hotspots’. I was shown the meditation room, but not how to work the shower. Still it was a comfortable roomy place  – all to myself. The charming garden vibrated with daffodils and birches – similarly associated with the Dymock Poets. Sitting in the window seat later, enjoying the late afternoon sun, I wrote:

‘The Spring sunlight – the banks of daffodils – creates a ‘golden’ effect; dazzling after the gloom of winter. Now have the brighter days come!’

View from Courtyard Lodge, Mellow Farm, Redmarley D'abitot

Yet on my arrival, I didn’t have time to linger. Shedding my biker gear, I headed off to the village hall, where the Friends of the Dymock Poets were gathering for their annual Spring Day. The first item on the programme was a walk to Cobhill Rough, the location of the famous altercation between Robert Frost and a gamekeeper.

I entered the hall – which was brimming with Senior Citizens in walking gear, ‘warming up’ for the ramble, ie expelling hot air. Although it’s nice to be the youngest one present, it did feel a little odd. Still, I was warmly welcomed and signed up to the Society there and then. And off we set! The walk wasn’t very far – a couple of miles – but it took somewhat longer than it should have because the narrow track we took was ‘boggy’. This proved a navigational hazard for some and so it was requested the men present offered assistance. And so I found myself up to my ankles in mud, helping OAPs scrambled along the sides, offering encouragement and motivation – like some Assault Course for geriatric poet-lovers. This obstacle overcome with teamwork, we had ‘bonded in peril’ and carried on in affable, ambling manner to the site of the gamekeeper’s cottage in the corner of Cobhall Rough (a sign on the way in warned: PRIVATE SHOOTS Please keep to Rights of Way & Dogs Under Control). Here, Frost and Thomas, while out on one of their customary perambulations, was accosted by a bullish keeper called Bott. Frost didn’t take kindly to his manner and put his fists up in defiance. For a tense moment a kind of standoff took place – between the Old and New World – feudal know-your-place politics vs the Land of the Free. Until, that is, Bott pulled down his hunting gun from the wall. After that, they ‘moved off pretty sharpish’, according to an eye-witness. Frost’s blood was up, indignant and incredulous at such treatment. Thomas felt even worse – as though he had acted cowardly in some way – this, speculated our guide, might have influenced his decision to enlist soon after. The incident certainly ruffled feathers. Apparently Gibson was entitled to walk the lands owned by the Lord of the Manor, Beauchamp, but not his guests – this put Frost out somewhat and spoiled their friendship. Still, it was an iconic moment, echoed in his poetry, e.g. ‘Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening’:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

The whole incident was described memorably by our guide, Barbara Davis – who knew somebody who had witnessed the incident as a child, (a 10 year old boy, visiting a friend of his grandmother’s) all those years ago! A living link with literary history. We had a stirring rendition of a ‘Lincolnshire Poacher’ by Roy, which some joined in with (it is customary for the FDP to pepper their walks with ‘guerrila’ poetry recitals. After inspecting the ruins of the keeper’s cottage, we finished with a stirring reading of a poem by Wilfrid Gibson ‘To John Drinkwater’ – which was interrupted by a man on a quad bike, rattling along like a Gatling gun. The spell broken, we continued on our way. The temperature had dropped and so, woolly hat on, we walked up through Ryton Firs, the setting for another classic from the Dymock Poet cannon, this time by Abercrombie – the first to move to Dymock and the last to leave. Returning there, after the War, he discovered a favourite wood of his had been felled for pit props, leaving a scene reminiscent of the ruined landscapes of the Trenches:

Ryton Firs, like Europe, fell…

At the edge of the woods, before we turned back to the village, our guide speculated on the repercussions of the incident and Wynne read ‘The Road Not Taken’, which had extra resonance and meaning now. As I lingered, gazing at the track. The secretary, Cate Luck, said this could have been the very tracks Frost referred to. Certainly his phrase ‘the yellow woods’ could certainly describe the wood that day, brightened by daffodils and Spring sun. It was a tantalising thought.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken


Poets Path 1, edge of Cobhall Rough

We returned to the village hall, where people dispersed for lunch. I ate my sandwiches in the sun, then wandered to the local churchyard, fond a grassy gravestone, and promptly had a nap in the warm spring sun – a local cat curling around my legs. The early start – and my cold – had taken its toll. I was wiped out!
Yet my cat-nap got me through the rest of the Spring Day – the afternoon consisted of two talks – one about ‘Dymock Poets: Wives and Muses’ by Sue Houseago; and then ‘Swords and Ploughshares: rivals and reputations in pre-war poetry’ by Dr Lynn Parker. Both were interesting, but I started to flag towards the end – despite being shored up by tea and cake.
I left the hall and returned to my lodgings – running the gauntlet of some lively young bullocks, who insisted on seeing me off their muddy field, despite their scaring easily whenever I turned and waved my arms. The two little grey goats in the horse paddock were cuter – as were the two dogs belonging to the family who lived in the main house. I made some tea and sat in the sunny window seat, reading up on the Dymock Poets in Linda Hart’s book, Once They Lived in Gloucestershire – I was about to go to Ledbury to buy a copy when I found one on the shelf in my bedroom, inscribed by the author to the hosts. Gratefully, I curled up with it – recharging batteries for the evening jaunt.
‘Colour and Savour of Spring’ was an evening of ‘Dymock poets and friends in music and words’ at St Mary’s, Dymock. I set off in good time but hadn’t reckoned on the labyrinthine backroads and lack of signs for Dymock – there were signs for Ledbury, Gloucester, and Newent but not my destination. Taking May Hill as fix, I struck out along the most likely lane on my Triumph Legend. It was dusk – the trees silhouetted in the deepening sky. Bats flitted past my helmet – some looked huge! DH Lawrence’s poem came to mind – a visitor to the Dymock Poets:

Dark air-life looping
Yet missing the pure loop
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky,

Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.

from Bats by DH Lawrence

I eventually found Dymock – lost in its own becloaked timewarp – and pulled up opposite the church, from which a promising glow exuded. I jogged over to the doorway – it was 7.30pm – and burst in: to a packed congregation and a concert in progress. The ‘stage’ was right by the door, so everyone looked at me. There was no way around it – I had to walk passed the performers and down the middle of the aisle to find somewhere to sit. Rather than waiting for a suitable gap – which would have been the sensible and polite thing to do, I strode to the back, hoping to look like I knew what I was doing. A man accosted me halfway – Bob May – the organiser. I gave him a tenner and he handed me the change later. He found me a seat, bless him – a row of ladies had to shuffle up – and finally I ensconced my bardic behind on the hard church pew. The children of what sounded like ‘Am Dram School’ were in full song (turned out to be Ann Cam School) – but I’d only missed a couple of tunes – four seasonal songs by Eleanor Farjeon. This was a May Pole, of all things, set up in the middle of the church – and I surmised the evening must have started with a dance. There followed some cute poems by the pupils. Next up, a little skit on the Friendship of Eleanor Farjeon and the Dymock Poets; then something on a poorly-tuned cello (that’s how it sounded to me) by a lovely young lass; Heroes & Heroines by the St Mary Singers – again, lyrics by Farjeon – and this time accompanied by a ‘fancy dress’ parade of each of the respective historical figures: Devonshire Drake; Grace Darling; Wellington; Florence Nightingale. After an interval – when refreshments were served and I picked up copies of the Poets Walk maps – there was a presentation of prints. Then a reading by a local poet about daffodils – daffodil doggerel – and an extra contribution from another ‘local poet’ of similar quality.

Fortunately, the standard picked up again with a masterful recital of Brooke’s immortal poem, ‘The Soldier’ by actor Peter Thorpe. More tuneless cello. Then the reading of ‘The Golden Room’, once more by Thorpe – but this time he didn’t stand so close to the mike and the power wasn’t carried so well. When I had read this earlier that day I was deeply moved by the vision it presented – of a brief, fragile flowering of fellowship:

Was it all for nothing that the little room,

all golden in the lamplight, thrilled with golden

laughter from hearts of friends that summer night.

Wilfrid Gibson, The Golden Room

The penultimate act was a pleasant surprise – a whole bevvy of young lovelies got up (pupils of St Mary’s School, Worcester) and sang Brooke’s trio of sonnets entitled The Dead in haunting falsetto voices. Thorpe returned to the mike for his version of Edward Thomas’ ‘The Sun Also Shine’; and the evening ended with a singalong to ‘A Song for Gloucestershire, by Johnny Coppin. There followed lots of thank yous and the handing out of bouquets – the contributors getting well-deserved applause for their efforts: a fine community event.

Afterwards, I browsed the display at the back of the church about the Dymock Poets – deciding to return the following day to read it when I was more awake.

It had been a lovely evening of poetry, song and music – it was wonderful to see the Dymock Poets honoured in a such a way. They have clearly been taken to the heart of the locals and their words have become also liturgical in the way they mythologize and sanctify the local landscape. And quite rightly so – that is the true poet’s role.

I walked out into the night – taking in the sky full of stars, the moon shining merrily. The interior of the remarkable Norman church of St Mary’s reminded me of the abbey on Iona – and so to did this experience – from sacred space to Sacred Space: the cathedral of the Stella Maris. The change of scale, and interiority to exteriority, brings about an oceanic feeling of amplification. Looking up, it feels like you could fall forever – and be drowned in the night.

Before I floated off into infinity, I popped to the Beauchamp Arms next door for an ale – needing to ground myself and enjoy the atmosphere of human company before I struck out alone once more into the dark (‘Yes I have been acquainted with the night’, Frost).

I supped my pint and made some field notes.

And then off I went, fortunately finding it easier to get back – a needle in a haystack – to my dwellings. I gratefully fixed myself a hot drink and retired to bed with a book – not the liveliest of Saturday nights, but certainly fulfillingly wholesome. I felt like I had drank from a purer font – took a road not travelled (by many) – and that, I hope, makes all the difference.

on the Poets Path

The next day I  visited the various dwellings of the Dymock Poets, (Gallows Cottoage – Lascelles Abercrombie; The Old Nail Shop – Wilfrid Gibson; Little Iddens – Robert Frost; Old Fields Farm – Edward Thomas) which was particularly moving – from such humble, unassuming places came words of such power. No blue plaques adorned their walls – all were private residences – no tourist signs pointed snap-happy hordes to their doorsteps. At Old Fields Farm, Thomas’s residence, a woman came over to see what I ‘wanted’: ‘To pay my respects to Mr Thomas’, I said. She was friendly enough after that. I said they must get fed up of all the people traipsing by – some do think the footpath runs through their garden, which it doesn’t. But she replied that ‘surprisingly few’ walk in the area.

An English heaven - Old Fields Farm, with Little Iddens and Glyn Iddens in distance (homes of Thomas, Frost and Farjeon).

I made it to Dymock in time for the afternoon ‘Daffodil Walk’ – a permanent marked trail that has become an annual tradition – a way of seeing in the Spring. Dymock is very proud of its daffodils. At one time there used to be a special train between Gloucester and Ledbury called the Daffodil Line, which was popular with Spring spotters (local lads used to collect bunches of daffs – a bakers’ dozen in each posy – 39 would get a tanner). First I had stow my togs – I couldn’t walk in my leathers now, could I. I found a place to stash them in the church – my helmet, trouser,s and jacket – in the pulpit! I joined the group of two dozen tourists just as they set off from the lych-gate of St Mary’s. We went on a relaxing hour’s amble to simply … go and look at daffodils, as though we don’t see them anywhere else (they’re coming out in my garden). Folk took photos – and yes, I did too, caught up in the herd instinct and photo-frenzy.

Daffodils ... this way!

We bimbled in a long, lazy line back to the church. I went to get a cuppa at the village hall, where the Spring Fair was taking place – realizing my change was back in my bike trouser pockets I went back to the church, and found, to my surprise – a young waif curled up asleep on top of my togs. He drowsily awoke. ‘Sorry to disturb you,’ I said. ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Ryan.’ I gave him my hand and introduced myself. I asked him where his folks were. His mum was in the Spring Fair next door – good, he wasn’t homeless then! Perhaps still rumpled from his nap, he did look a bit of a ragamuffin: like Master Robin Goodfellow, in fact – the spirit of Spring himself – awakening from his winter’s sleep! I said I didn’t mind him using my things as bedding – the pilot jacket, with its thick fleece lining, would make comfortable bedding, as I know. I apologised by disrupting his siesta – his afternoon nap, I explained – and went on my way, charmed by this lovely encounter. How special!

St Mary's Church, Dymock

I got myself a drink from the pub – the thirsty walkers had all arrived and there was quite a queue – and sat in the sun, preparing for my journey home. It had been a very pleasant weekend and I felt very relaxed. Peaceful. Dymock had worked its magic on me – I had something of an epiphany of the hill overlooking Thomas’ place: I had a glimpse of an ‘English heaven’ – as Brooke put it; here was a little corner of England, to paraphrase his classic poem, that will be forever sanctified by the lives and words of the remarkable Dymock Poets. Briefly, during that last summer of peace, the sun did shine in the golden glow of friendship and inspiration.

The sun used to shine while we two walked
Slowly together, paused and started
Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked
As either pleased, and cheerfully parted

Edward Thomas, ‘The Sun used to Shine’