Featured Poet from the Sarah Maguire Translation Prize: Yang Lian

I am delighted to be featuring a poem from one of the shortlisted poets, now that the results have been announced. This poem is very beautiful and includes lots of tactile and sensuous language. It is wonderful to be able to see it in both languages, as I always think this adds a brilliant dimension to translated works. One can get an idea of the shape of the poem as it was first written, and sense the dance between the translator, Brian Holton, and the original poem in the process. Translating a poem is a delicate balancing act between giving us the literal and creating a sense of the poem as poem.

维罗纳的雨声 

每一滴小小的透明的心形 都会碎 与朱丽叶无关的碎 每块粉红色大理石 插着箭 诺言湿漉漉降了半旗 

游客懒洋洋的 午餐也是 叉尖上一小片肉对称于 脚下的流水 伞像枝眉笔 扫着云 在维罗纳谁不会忧郁? 

谁没被初恋洗得醉醺醺? 雨声的叠字让成对的身体 更粘 叠韵再发明一个吻 广场上淅淅沥沥的叠句 

把你放在我对面 那儿 就是阳台 天空的铁梯子 有命运的慌乱 鱼骨听你说 来呀 发白呀 我们这只梨 

总是刚从影子里剥出的 也只把最有味儿的爱给影子 诗在我对面 比但丁高一点 某裙裾正晕眩地抽出雨丝 

比石雕的鹰眼高出一点
某纤巧 某粉红 微露着脚趾 声音的玻璃鞋毁灭般轻盈 从一滴飞踩上另外一滴 

雨声是雨的影子 只一瞥 这场雨就得永远下 这首诗 就得像一笔债用毕生偿还 当我里面的空 渴望着加倍 

The Voice of Rain in Verona 

each drop of tiny transparent heart shapes
will shatter fragments that have nothing to do with Juliet every bit of pink marble arrow-pierced
a promise that falls dripping to half-mast 

tourists are lethargic so is lunch
a little bit of meat on the tines of a fork symmetrical with running water underfoot umbrellas like eyebrow pencils sweep the clouds who wouldn’t be melancholy in Verona? 

who hasn’t been washed clean of drunkenness by first love? reduplicated syllables of rain make paired bodies
stickier still as rhyme invents a kiss again
a pitter-patter refrain in the square 

puts you in front of me there
it’s the balcony the iron ladder of the sky preordained panic fish bones hear you say oh come oh turn pale we are a pear 

always new-peeled from shadow
and always giving the tastiest love to shadows the poem in front of me loftier than Dante some skirt dizzily pulling out the drizzling rain 

higher than the carved stone eagle’s eye
a certain delicacy a certain pink toes hardly shown glass slipper of voices elegant as destruction
tread in flight on one drop and another 

the voice of rain is rain’s shadow just one glimpse this shower must be forever falling this poem must seem a debt repaid for a lifetime
as the void in me longs to be double 

你就被丢在爱情中间 一只铜乳房任男孩们放肆地 扪弄 一个快门烧焦的 天堂的现在不进行时 

用尽了鲜艳 却还鲜艳着 雨中的但丁中学生似的痴迷 被罂粟花小小的器官逼着
爱 上 温柔的缺陷的知识 

缺陷引领一首诗 向上 那不会完美的 驱策你完美 雨声 教我聆听不在的 维罗纳 人都是开采殆尽的? 

唱过 吻过 死过 写过 在一座舞台上叠入彼此 背诵的时代 当台词包扎起 伤口 无视缺陷 哪来诗? 

爱剥出一个难忍的陌生的 我 光束下石头会呼吸 你的眼神滑过 云纹 在我肉里发苦 我已是 

几乎制成的 接到那口信 某流去流入某场音乐会 碎着血色素细细摆放的碎 没有退路 迎着你升起 

then you are left in the midst of love a bronze breast lets boys wantonly stroke a heavenly present tense charred by the camera shutters 

bright beauty used up but brightly hued still
Dante in the rain fascinated like a high school student forced by the poppy’s tiny viscera
to fall in love with knowledge of gentle flaws 

flaws guide a poem upwards
it won’t be perfect impelling you to perfection
rain’s voice teaches me to listen closely to what isn’t there in Verona has everyone else been totally exploited? 

sung kissed killed written
folded into each other on stage
an age of recitation as actors’ lines bandage wounds ignore flaws where is poetry from? 

love peels an unendurable unfamiliar me stones will breathe in rays of light 

your gaze has slid over turns bitter in my flesh 

almost manufactured
a certain outward flow in a certain concert of music shattering plainly-arranged fragments of haemoglobin no way back facing your rise 

moiré clouds I’m now 

got the message 

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Review of The Abyss Within

I agreed to be part of this launch of this book by featuring it on my blog. The thirteen stories included are by Frederick Pangbourne, Jim Tritten, Jerod S. Smelker, J. T. Lozano, Rebecca Rowland, Tabitha Potts, Jacek Wilkos, Chris Tattersall, Lisa Shea, Kerri Spellar, Jeni Lawes, Cassandra Jones. It is published by Smashbear Books and is a charity anthology in support of Women’s Aid. Smashbear will be donating all profits to this worthy cause. I agreed with some trepidation, as I tend to be over-imaginative, and I carefully read this book in the daylight hours. However, I would say it is more entertaining than terrifying, and there is a helpful list of potential triggers at the back, arranged via story content.

The stories are set in America, and this is a modern twist on the popular trope that horror stories are often set in exotic locations. USA with its wide open spaces and large rural areas lends itself very well to the genre. Several stories drew particularly on this setting, for example ‘Vermin’ by Kerri Spellar, set most of the story at night, the protagonist driving through deserted country lanes, being terrified by glimpses of humans wearing rabbit masks made of real rabbits. Atmosphere is carefully built up, and good use is made of varying the tension, a technique which leaves the reader relaxing only to be horrified all over again. ‘Baba Nooa’ by Jeni Lawes features a spooky forest, as does ‘Stone Hollow’ by Jerrod S. Smelter, in which a strange village has been built in the middle of a forest which is situated in land formerly owned by the indigenous population, who had superstitions regarding it. ‘When The Dead Walk’ by Cassandra Jones shares a remote location, within a small community. It’s worth noting, too, that Americanisms feature in the writing: lexical choices such as ‘candy’ for sweets, and American grammar. These things helped to create the setting in the reader’s mind.

Metamorphosis is a recurrent theme. In ‘Stone Hollow’, a mysterious Creature feared by all turns out to be… no spoilers though, but the character clearly has the ability to change, and not for the better. ‘The Mask’ by Jim Tritten is based on the idea that a mask can become one with the flesh of the person who wears it, and the wearer can assume the personality of the original wearer. The mask’s back story is fascinating, and includes an even more exotic setting, that of Zacatecas in Mexico, and a strange tale from the past, an ancient serial killer. ‘Masquerade’ by Tabitha Potts has the domestic abuse victim turn into the predator, but the reader’s sympathy is with the protagonist, who has been pushed so hard they can only respond in kind but more cleverly. ‘Tea For Two’ by Frederick Pangbourne, is a clever transformation from one role to another, and from apparent human to supernatural being. The reader does kind of see it coming, but in a way that is prepared for subtly, so that it would have been disappointed had it not turned out to be the case. ‘When The Dead Walk’ is a zombie story, but it has a few little twists to keep the interest going.

Another thread is in the time setting. As expected, Hallowe’en is a horror writer’s favourite date on the calendar. It features heavily in only two of the stories, ‘Stone Hollow’ and ‘Tea For Two’, but several of the other stories could have happened around that time of year, and have a Hallowe’en atmosphere, particularly the opening story, ‘Vermin’. This would certainly be a good selection of stories to be reading around this time of year. There are 13 of them, drawing on what some consider an unlucky number.

One of the stories, ‘Crow Girl’ reminded me of Angela Carter’s stories from The Bloody Chamber collection: a feral child with close connections to animals or birds, is taken in by a community, mistreated by them and eventually thrown out, but survives better without them. It is plainly told, like the stories of this type by Angela Carter. This was one of my favourite stories in the book, though I wouldn’t describe it as horror, more adult fairy tale. The girl suffers some abuse, so it links to ‘Masquerade’, however, the latter is in a realistic setting and is very different in tone. Several of the stories feature a strong female character. Even the female characters who come to grief exhibit bravery and resourcefulness, such as Karen in ‘Vermin’, who manages to save herself many times until it is her own kindness which brings about her ensnarement. Gwen, in ‘When The Dead Walk’ shows leadership qualities. Not all these strong female leads are good people though. In the first person narrative of ‘Voodoo Doll’ by Lisa Shea, the speaker is vengeful and hates to see anyone else happy. This naturally rebounds on her.

A story which does not link to any other, but includes some haunting visual images akin to those in ‘Vermin’, albeit very different. ‘Come Play With Me’ by J T. Lonzano, is set on a scuba diving holiday. It includes a prophetic dream, which is of course ignored by his girlfriend. The open boat trip is a haunted one, and the group would have done well to heed his warning. The ending is signalled by the dream, and the reassurance of the scuba company whose representative says “We’ve been doing this for several years and have never lost anyone.” There are other warning too, in the anxiety of the narrator. Scuba diving can be pretty scary, as I know from experience, so it’s already a stressful situation. The story focuses on another motif common to horror, a little girl. Small girls pull at our heartstrings and make us feel protective, so when they turn out to be dangerous, it really scares us. Take for example the flesh-eating half alien half human child in a Ray Bradbury story, or the little girl twins in the film and book The Shining. ‘Vermin’ too, includes a dangerous female child. ‘The Munchies’ by Rebecca Rowland centres on a woman who turns into a self cannibal when she is pregnant, but because she can’t bear to touch her own feet, instead chews her husband’s. It is a very weird story and has some touches of humour, as neither one of the main characters treats it seriously.

Overall, this book is an interesting read, with insights into the human imagination shown throughout. I’ve not commented on every story, so as to leave something for the reader to discover.


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Early Signs of Spring: #Snowdrops

I love snowdrops. Our first child was born at snowdrop time, at the start of February. I’d already written about them, and a poem ‘Three Ways of Snowdrops’ was published in my 2011 collection I Sing of Bricks (Salt Publishing), but I had stumbled on the Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival competition and wanted to enter.

I did a bit of research and pretty soon (lucky me) a poem started to whisper to me. That’s how poems often start for me, a kind of aural gift.

So I wrote this poem, and was fortunate to be Highly commended, which gave me a place in the anthology, which includes several poets I know personally, such as Estelle Price, Mark Totterdell and Bethany Rivers. There were different age categories, so there are poems by younger poets and fledgling poets of 11 and under. It’s always refreshing to read poems by young poets: they are unafraid and open, not bound by conventions, and incredibly creative. I never fail to come away from working with young people at workshops without catching some of their enthusiasm and delight.

So I thought I would share this poem of mine today, because now I have snowdrops coming in my garden, and am starting to feel 2021 might be a better year, as the vaccine rollout means we might be able to hope for the end of the Covid crisis and a tentative return to better days.

 
 
 
 
 The Great Snowdrop Orchestra
  
 The great snowdrop orchestra
 begins its tuning up, in secret
 then pushes out strong notes, 
 sharp and flat at first
 but growing to a harmony. 
 As earth warms, each small group
 prepares to play its part. 
 Soon Gerard Parker taps the music stand,
 raises his baton. Each tepal is lifted, 
 alert, ready to enchant. 
  
 Lord Monosticus leads the bass section.
 His deep notes underpin the melody
 as silver-throated Ophelia soars above,
 her grace notes embroidering the air,
 improbably high. The open quavers
 of Magnet counterpoint, dancing 
 up and down the scale effortlessly,
 the wind’s harp. Full-throated,
 Beatrix Stanley bubbles her clarinet.
  
 Viridapice manages percussion
 from tangly triangle to deep drum. 
 There is no music like it, the sonatas
 and symphonies of snowdrops
 played all over the world. 
 One day, if scientists continue
 their important work in this field, 
 we may even come to hear it. 
   

Angela Topping

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Poetry in Translation: Sarah Maguire Prize

I am a big fan of poetry in translation. I struggle with languages other than my own, and only have a working knowledge of Latin enough to translate from it – and there are far greater scholars than me to do that, so I cannot read poetry in its original language unless it’s in English. Translation is of course collaboration between the original poet and the translator poet, aiming to bring poetry they love to a wider audience. It is therefore two challenges in one!

I was very pleased to be asked to share the news of a new prize for poetry in translation. This is its first year and the shortlist has just been announced this morning. The following article is their press release:

The Poetry Translation Centre is pleased to announce the shortlist for the inaugural Sarah Maguire Prize for  Poetry in Translation. 

The Poetry Translation Centre (PTC) launched the Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation to recognise  the best book of poetry by a living poet from Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Middle East published in  English translation and to champion the art of poetry in translation. 

In its first year the prize has been judged by the poets and translators Alireza Abiz, Ida Hadjivayanis and  Leo Boix.  

The shortlist features books translated from Japanese, Arabic, Korean, Spanish and Chinese. The selection  celebrates both the best of modern poetry from across the globe and showcases a range of different  translation methodologies highlighting excellence in literary translation. In choosing their shortlist the  judges looked for books which speak to UK audiences, but which maintained the unique spark of their  original texts. The shortlisted books are: 

Factory Girls by Takako Arai 

Translated from Japanese by Jeffrey Angles, Jen Crawford, Carol Hayes, Rina Kikuchi, You Nakai and  Sawako Nakayasu. (Published by Action Books, 2019) 

A Boat to Lesbos and other poems by Nouri Al-Jarrah 

Translated from Arabic by Camilo Gómez-Rivas and Allison Blecker. (Published by Banipal Books, 2018) Incomprehensible Lesson by Fawzi Karim 

In versions by Anthony Howell after translations from the Arabic made by the author. (Published by  Carcanet Press Ltd, 2019) 

Hysteria by Kim Yideum 

Translated from Korean by Jake Levine, Soeun Seo & Hedgie Choi. (Published by Action Books, 2019) Tiawanaku: Poems from the Mother Coqa by Judith Santopietro 

Translated from Spanish by Ilana Luna. (Published by Orca Libros, 2019) 

Anniversary Snow by Yang Lian 

Translated from Chinese by Brian Holton with further translations by WN Herbert, L. Leigh, Pascale Petit,  Fiona Sampson, George Szirtes and Joshua Weiner. (Published by Shearsman Books, 2019) 

Alireza Abiz, poet and chair of judges, said: “Translation of poetry is a labour of love. Translating poetry  from other cultures, especially from those less represented in the anglophone world, not only gives  translated poets more exposure, it also enriches English poetry.”  

Media contact 

If you would like further information, or to arrange an interview with the PTC or one of the judges, please  contact Vicki Berwick at vicki@vickiberwickpr.com. 

Images of the shortlisted books, poets and translators as well as the judges and Sarah Maguire are  available for press use here:  

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/17mCCImYoe3w76EG8ikEoVExo22Ppefit?usp=sharing Notes to Editors 

‘The PTC will publish The Sarah Maguire Prize 2020 Anthology to accompany the prize showcasing the five  shortlisted poets and their translators, with selected poems from each of the nominated publications. The  prize anthology will be published on the 2nd February. 

The winning poets and translators will share a £3,000 prize fund. 

The prize will be announced in an online event with the judging panel on Thursday 25 March – reserve a  place here to watch live: https://sarahmaguireprize2020.eventbrite.com 

A public online event Translating Poetries – The Sarah Maguire Prize Shortlist, will be held at the StAnza  Poetry Festival – 19:30, Monday, 8 March 2021: stanzapoetry.org/festival/events/translating-poetries 

The Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation is supported by the Estate of Sarah Maguire, the British  Council, the Garrick Charitable Trust, and the kind donations of the friends of Sarah Maguire. 

The Poetry Translation Centre gives the best poems from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East  a new life in the English language; to better understand and celebrate the diverse communities who have  made their home in the UK; and to enrich the English poetic tradition through translation. 

The poet Sarah Maguire (1957-2017) was a champion of international poetry. In the mid-1990s, Sarah was  approached by the British Council to be the first writer they sent on outreach trips to Palestine (1996) and  Yemen (1998). It was on these visits, encountering Arabic poetry, that Maguire developed her passion for  poetry translation. In 2004 she established the Poetry Translation Centre and remained its director until  shortly before her death. 

The Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation was established with the support of Sarah’s family and  friends to showcase the very best contemporary poetry from around the world, and to champion the art  of poetry translation. The prize will be held biennially and awarded to the best book of poetry by a living  poet in English translation published in the last two years. The inaugural 2020 prize was open to entries  from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. From 2020 on, the prize will be open to poets from  anywhere beyond Europe. The books may be published anywhere in the world. 

The Judges 

The Chair of our judges is Alireza Abiz, an Iranian poet, literary critic and award-winning translator. He  has translated leading English language poets including W.B. Yeats, Ted Hughes and Allen Ginsberg into  Persian. Abiz has written extensively on Persian contemporary literature and culture and published five  collections of poetry. His sixth collection, The Desert Monitor, is forthcoming.  

Ida Hadjivayanis is a translator originally from Zanzibar. She has lived in Dar es Salaam, Paris, Maseru,  Conakry, Khartoum and Rome. She studied at the National University of Lesotho, Middlesex University and  SOAS. Hadjivayanis is the author of Alisi ndani ya nchi ya ajabu, a Swahili translation of Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s  Adventures in Wonderland. She is currently involved in the production of the first anthology of Swahili  translations.  

Leo Boix is a Latino British poet, translator and journalist based in the UK. He has published two collections  in Spanish, Un lugarpropio and Mar de noche, and has been included in many anthologies, such as Ten:  Poets of the New Generation and Why Poetry?. His English poems have appeared in Poetry, The Poetry  Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, PN Review and elsewhere. Boix is a fellow of The Complete Works  program and co-director of ‘Invisible Presence’, a scheme to nurture Latino poets in the UK.

The Shortlisted Books 

Factory Girls by Takako Arai 

Translated from Japanese by Jeffrey Angles, Jen Crawford, Carol Hayes, Rina Kikuchi, You Nakai and  Sawako Nakayasu. (Published by Action Books, 2019) 

Factory Girls is a vivid depiction of the world of women workers in Japan’s textile industry. The poet herself  grew up in and around a small silk weaving factory her father owned and many of the poems in this  collection are about the lives of the women workers she had known growing up. 

A Boat to Lesbos and other poems by Nouri Al-Jarrah 

Translated from Arabic by Camilo Gómez-Rivas and Allison Blecker (Published by Banipal Books, 2018) 

A Boat to Lesbos and other poems invites the reader to experience the most unbearable agony of  hopelessness in the face of the most brutal events happening in our time. From the first line, the poem  calls upon us to see what we have tried so hard to look away from: ‘Suffering Syrians, beautiful Syrians,  Syrian brothers fleeing death’. 

Incomprehensible Lesson by Fawzi Karim 

In versions by Anthony Howell after translations from the Arabic made by the author. (Published by  Carcanet Press Ltd, 2019) 

Fawzi Karim writes about the homeland, exile and the sense of belonging. He reveals conflicting sentiments  toward his Iraqi homeland and his Arabic poetry tradition. His relationship with his homeland is not that of  a loving nostalgia, as in the case of many exiled poets. It is agonising, painful and hurt. 

Hysteria by Kim Yideum 

Translated from Korean by Jake Levine, Soeun Seo and Hedgie Choi. (Published by Action Books, 2019) 

Hysteria is lively, confrontational, energetic and down to earth language best serves the dark sense of  humour and the narrative quality of most of the poems. Yideum writes with an exceptional ease about a  wide range of everyday topics and different sentiments moving from fury to laughter, humorous to tragic  in a single poem. 

Tiawanaku: Poems from the Mother Coqa by Judith Santopietro 

Translated from Spanish by Ilana Luna. (Published by Orca Libros, 2019) 

Tiawanaku, Poems from the Mother Coqa is a journey into the geography and history of indigenous  Andean territories and a reimagination of ancient Latin American cultures, languages and spiritualities. It is  a fascinating representation of indigenous people and their relationship with their environment. 

Anniversary Snow by Yang Lian 

Translated from Chinese by Brian Holton with further translations by WN Herbert, L. Leigh, Pascale Petit,  Fiona Sampson, George Szirtes and Joshua Weiner. (Published by Shearsman Books, 2019) 

This collection is grounded to the historical roots of Chinese culture, poetry and art, but goes beyond it,  reinterpreting with poise and intelligence the very essence of our existence, from the changing landscape  that surrounds us, the appeal of the natural world and the inner beauty of language, its political force and  its philosophical teachings.

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Wigan Pier

When our children were small, we used to love taking them to museums that were interactive and interesting to them. Wigan Pier was one of our favourites. It was a wonderful place teaching us about working class life in Victorian times and more recent. I loved it because it was so relevant to our own parents and grandparents. Sadly it closed in 2007, due to lack of visitors. It was housed in beautiful ex-industrial buildings on the Leeds /Liverpool Canal. It was almost all interactive, from a lively holiday scene on entry, to a school in which visitors could experience school life in bygone times. There were buttons to press, reconstructed terraced houses to go inside, and working machinery, as well as cases of clothing, such as home made dresses, servants’ uniforms and armed forces uniforms.
I was so moved by it, I wrote a poem about it, which was in my debut collection back in 1988, Dandelions for Mother’s Day, published by Stride Books. The very best thing about the museum was listening to the comments of older visitors reminiscing. I’d love to have taken my mum there. It would have jogged many memories for her.

I thought I would share the poem again, since it has not seen the light of day for many years.

The Way We Were in 1900
(Wigan Pier)

‘Roll up, roll up, all the fun of the fair!
See the fat lady, cross the gypsy’s palm!
Don’t be shy now, smile, it’s Wakes Week!
Stroll the tarted pier, just smell that air!

Round a corner there’s a grimy street,
a mine where dirt-streaked dummies toil.
At each half-hour in a two-up-two-down
an actor squares up to his ‘old man’s’ death.
“He ‘ad the black spit, so he ‘anged hissel’.”

A child clunks a dolly peg, someone mutters
“They think it’s a thing to play with.”
Off to tea and cakes in the ‘George Orwell’ rooms,
over her shoulder she adds
“It was bloody ‘ard work, luv.”

One floor down, a queue becomes Class Four
drilled into school under arches marked
“Girls, Boys.” They wriggle on benches,
stammer out Mental Arithmetic, Read Aloud.
Hands are rapped for jewellery, or dirty nails.

Now it’s handkerchief inspection! At the held
pointing cane, grandmas tremble, faces drop.
Eyeing Miss, one sneaks a Kleenex to each friend.

Everywhere, groups of them bend
permed heads, pick over half-familiar things
that gobbled up their youth.

The book was illustrated by the artist Tony Snowball, who did the colour cover and three black and white full page drawings.

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Green Unpleasant Land by Corinne Fowler

Corinne Fowler is doing some important work, with great sensitivity and care. She references Blake’s poem, ‘Jerusalem’ in her title, which I believe some people think it is about something entirely different to the poet’s intention. William Blake was very much opposed to slavery, as can be seen in his poem ‘A Little Black Boy’ from Songs of Experience. The innocent child believes that he is under a cloud because he is black, and only when he dies will he be loved by the white man, and the God he thinks is white. This heart-breaking poem (I have seen A level students cry over it), is exactly why Fowler is doing this vital work. The child believes the white privilege he can see around him means he is not loved by God, when of course he is! Fowler opens our eyes to the colonialism which devastated all the places we invaded to strip their assets and murder their people. In order to deal with our past, we need to learn from it. Slavery was an appalling thing. People were ripped away from their families, put with people who did not speak the same language, transported like cattle, in ship’s holds, beaten, sold individually, forced to work until they died on the job. They were property. The sad fact is, many of the landowners made their money through slavery. Some of these great houses and gardens are now held by the National Trust, of which I am a member. A good while ago, the NT started making visitors aware of the working class people, the servants and gardeners who worked for the great houses, and that was very welcome to people like me, since I am working class origin, and my own mother was a maid in a great house. The logical next step is to investigate the colonial past, so that we can understand and pay homage to the lives of the people who helped, albeit against their will, to build these places and create their parks and gardens. Fowler is doing brilliant work to bring this secret history to life, and it is not being done to ‘denigrate’ as some people think. It’s is historical truth. We should never have tried to ‘rule the waves’ or create an Empire. Every empire is created through violence.
Children are involved in this project, because they are the next generation. That is where education starts. I welcome this book. It is fresh and readable, and is enhancing my understanding of the past, which brings the present to life. The creativity of the responses helps the reader engage with the impact of the research in a more emotive and reader-friendly way. Children are well able to handle such topics, provided they are given the information in the most appropriate manner. Once the National Trust houses reopen, I look forward to seeing the exhibitions, and learning more about the places referred to in this book.

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Poems Under the Microscope

is the title of another blog I run, in which I look at single poems in detail. It’s all about ‘articulating the wow’ as my friend Matt Simpson used to say.
Where copyright allows, I post the poem, then my commentary. If a poem is still in copyright, I may only post a link to it. The commentary is my own, my honest personal practical criticism commentary, in which I will discuss how technique supports content.
It is a site popular with students, but it will also appeal to the general reader, one perhaps who feels they missed out on poetry, or would like to expand their knowledge and understanding of the art of poetry.
Please do have a look, if you are interested. Today I discusses a Thomas Hardy poem called ‘Snow in the Suburbs’, to suit the time of year.

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Time for Hygge?

This new lockdown is starting to bite. Unlike the one that began in March, we can no longer have visits to our gardens, and in any case, the weather is not conducive to that. So what can we do to keep ourselves going?
A few years ago, I ran a feature on this blog, of poems drawing on the notion of hygge, with photographs submitted by the poets or selected by me. This feature is still live. Follow the tags and have a good read of all the fabulous poems by contributors. Hygge is about trying to brighten up the long dark days, with togetherness, kindness and cosiness.

Simple things to stay cheerful
1) Take time for a bit of pampering, doing all those things you rarely have time for, such as face packs, long baths, self-massage and foot soaks.
2) Have one day a week, or more if you like, to dress up a little, put on some special clothes, jewellery, perfume, even make up if you wear it.
3) Learn a new skill or revive an old one, for example, I have gone back to machine sewing, which I had to abandon when I was teaching full time.
4) You might not be able to garden or do outside projects easily, but now is a good time of year to peruse seed catalogues and start planning. Or plan some walks you’d like to do when lockdown lifts. Maps are always fun to look at.
5) I’ve been coping with missing holidays and days out by watching things like Escape to the Country on YouTube. I like seeing parts of the UK I either know or don’t know, as well as seeing lots of interesting houses. This is a good time to indulge those guilty pleasures.
6) Try reading those books that may have languished on your shelves for a while. Slip any you won’t re-read into a bag to pass on to others, or even leave outside with a note saying FREE, please take one, though that does have the added work of bringing it in at night. Or maybe you have a book swap telephone box locally?
7) If you have to work from home, clock on and off and do not let it spill out into your own time or your comfort space.
8) Now can be a good time to plan some craft activities, or journalling, painting or writing. It’s relaxing, and it feels good to play without any pressure.
9) Plan nourishing, inexpensive meals that can be slow-cooked. Nothing says hygge like a big pan of home-made soup to dip into, especially with warm bread. Bake your own, or buy a mix, or get those part-baked rolls.
10) Ring or email or message a friend for a chat. Or even write them a letter. Everyone likes to get post.

January is not the cheeriest of months, but looking for signs of spring can bring hope. New buds on trees, bulbs pushing up, birdsong (make sure you are putting out food for the birds if you want to see and hear them), and the gradual lengthening of days. Things will improve.

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A Green Hallowe’en

I’ve always loved Hallowe’en. When I was a child, the children took care of it. It was all about playing out, telling spooky stories and trying to scare each other in the early evening dark after tea. I remember one year cadging a turnip from a farmer so we could make a turnip lantern. I regretted it because the thing was so hard to carve and smelled disgusting when we lit a candle in it. The flesh we’d hollowed out was given to my dad for making soup. He always hated turnip, having eaten so much of it as a child.

When my own children were small, we’d bake Hallowe’en biscuits for anyone who came to the door. There was dressing up, stories, maybe apple-bobbing. I didn’t take my children out to knock on doors, but we sometimes had a party. The most we ever bought for it was maybe hats, and paper plates. One year we were away and the children were staying with the grandparents, so they took Hallowe’en to them by taking their costumes and doing all the stuff we’d do at home. The grandparents had never experienced such a thing before. They talked about it for years.

Then in the last twenty years or so, American Hallowe’en arrived here. There has been a strange explosion of glitter, black plastic decorations like bats, grave stones, spiders and so on. what doesn’t sell before 31st October, is greatly reduced for a week or so, then it all goes into landfill to make way for the Christmas tat. So if you want to have a greener Hallowe’en, buy carefully, store and reuse for a few years, thus avoiding single use plastic. Black plastic cannot be recycled. But better still, make your own decorations. Use crepe paper, DAS clay, which is air-dry and then painted, cardboard painted, and other things easily made from common ingredients. Use face paints instead of masks, or make cardboard masks and attach with elastic. All children really want is quality time with parents, so you can craft away with them at the kitchen table while you are doing little jobs, or watch a film while crafting, or listen to an audio book or a playlist of spooky music..

Trick or treat turned into an excuse for bad behaviour for a misguided minority. Pumpkins took over turnips -probably easier to carve, and just as biodegradable, and a lot prettier. This is because Irish immigrants to American swapped from turnips because pumpkins were cheaper. If you do carve a pumpkin, remember the flesh inside is edible, so great for cooking.

I enjoy having children come to my door dressed up, and giving them sweets, though in 2020, there are dangers around this, and it may be unwise, unless you can do it safely. It is an echo from the Celtic Festival of Samhain, the start of winter. They would lay out food to share and set some aside for their ancestors’ spirits in case they came calling. It’s not necessary to go asking at houses for sweets, which echoes another old custom called wassailing, when poor people would sing souling songs at the rich people’s houses, to be given food and drink, with no suggestion of anything nasty if they didn’t. ” A soul a soul a soul cake /please good missus a soul cake /a plum or a pear, apple of cherry, any good thing to make us merry” is one example. But instead, you could make biscuits or cakes with your children. It’s the icing that makes the difference. Use normal icing sugar with a little colouring added, red and yellow and orange and black, and leave the rest to your children’s creativity. You could always leave a plate in the porch or out front on a table, in case you do get any visitors wanting sweets. Provide paper bags so children can take them home.

On the actual evening, there are lots of fun things you can do at home.

  1. Draw the curtains, turn of the overhead lights and just use lamplight or even candles if you can do so safely.
  2. Story circle – each person adds a bit to an evolving story, which has to fit in with the previous part. Start with something like ‘One dark night in winter, two children were looking for ghosts. They went to an old churchyard and started to walk around, when suddenly… (and the next person takes over).
  3. Each person does a ‘turn’, reads out a spooky poem, sings a spooky song, or does a magic trick, whatever they can contribute. This may need some prep beforehand. Each family member should think of something to offer. I will share a couple of my poems below as a starting point.
  4. Watch an age-appropriate spooky film, cuddled up under blankets and with the lights off. Something like The Addams Family is always fun.
  5. Put some potatoes to bake in the oven, or a stew, and then go on a twilight walk with torches. Count pumpkins; hunt for bats; pick up treasures like autumn leaves and conkers; give everywhere you walk a spooky name based in its features. Come home to the smell of food cooking.
  6. Play hide and seek, but with all the house lights turned off, and everyone armed with a torch.
  7. Select some foods that are suitable for a touch and taste dare. Things like sliced cucumbers, cold baked beans, cold tinned spaghetti, button mushrooms, grated carrot, shelled hard-boiled eggs. Give them scary names on a card placed next to covered bowls, a set for each child. You could cover the bowls with a piece of paper on top with the name on it. You are only limited by your imagination. The rule is the child must first touch the food without seeing it, then taste it. Once they have tasted it, they are allowed to see it, then they can finish it off. No food should be wasted playing this game, and they might even discover they like a food they had not previously tried.
  8. Give each child and adult something they can make a noise with. You may have percussion instruments in the house like shakers and tambourines, but it’s easy to make simple instruments at home, or use something you already have to make sounds, for example, two glasses chinked together. To make your own shaker, but something hard and dry inside a lidded yoghurt pot or a box and seal it up. Some could make their own spooky noise. Whispering can work well. Now you can make your own spooky noises and mimic a haunted house. It works best in the dark, and with gaps left between. Everyone makes their noise in order, and the game goes round until everyone has had enough or someone starts giggling and breaks the atmosphere. If two people make their noise at the same time, the round starts from the beginning.
  9. Write your own spell or curse poems. These usually rhyme and have some repetition. You can make curses against homework, or anything else disliked (not people) or spells to accomplish things like making your toys tidy themselves, your pet able to speak, or anything you’d like to happen. Suit your language to the thing you want, for example if you want to be able to fly, use lots of light words. Share your poems at the end.
  10. Keep things local and find out about some local legends. Everywhere has some. Then share their stories with the family. One of my poems below is based on a local legend about Samuel Johnson, buried near Gawsworth Hall.

Poems to share:

Maggoty Johnson

In Maggoty Woods it’s dark and grim.
The worms crawl out and the worms crawl in.
Maggoty’s buried six feet deep.
He rests his eyes but he’s not asleep.

Maggoty Johnson loved to dance.
With his cap and bells, he used to prance
and caper up and down on stage.
Now he’s at the skeleton age.

In Maggoty Woods there’s no church near.
The ground’s unholy, it’s dark and drear.
Maggoty chose it specially
as the sort of place he’d like to be.

Maggoty Johnson was called Lord Flame.
Now he’s he goes by a different name.
He haunts these woods and he haunts them well.
Sooner or later you’ll be under his spell.

In Maggoty Woods it’s dark and grim.
The worms crawl out and the worms crawl in.
Maggoty’s buried six feet deep.
He rests his eyes but he’s not asleep.

Note: Samuel Johnson (1691-1773) was Britain’s last professional jester. He is buried in woodland near Gawsworth Hall, Cheshire, on Maggoty Lane.  A legend says that if you call his name 13 times on Hallowe’en, he will rise up and perform for you. Everything in this poem is true.
‘Maggoty Johnson’ was the only poem to be highly commended in the Cheshire Prize for Children’s Literature and was first published in Word Life (Chester University Press 2011)

Aunt Jane

My Auntie Jane is a funny old stick:
She’s been alive for ever.
She likes to wear a long black dress
a hat with a raven’s feather.

Her skin is pale like marble,
her teeth are gleaming white,
her eyes are hard to fathom
She’ll go out only at night.

She chooses crimson lipstick,
pointed shoes upon her feet,
her hair is swept up high.
I’ve never seen her eat.

I’m not allowed to visit her
without my mum and dad:
she has some quaint old habits:
my friends think she is mad.

Her house is quaintly spooky.
It’s old fashioned, dark and cold.
She hugs me very tightly,
I can’t escape her hold.

She always keeps the curtains drawn
and does not like the light,
there’s not a mirror to be seen
for she claims she looks a sight.

She tells me how she loves me
She’ll eat me up, she cries,
What pointed teeth my auntie has
What terrifying eyes!

My parents say it’s time to go
And wrap me in my coat
They take such special care to tie
my scarf around my throat.

They say Aunt Jane’s eccentric
and is better left alone
with her spooky castle of a house,
her bed carved out of stone.

This poem was included in my children’s poetry collection, The New Generation, (Salt 2010). I still have a few copies for sale.

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Making the Most of Autumn

As we approach autumn, it looks like Covid-19 is still with us and more measures could be imposed soon to try to prevent its spread. Let’s hope it won’t be another full lockdown, so bad for mental health, with the lack of family and friends’ visits that made March through to June so difficult for many people. Most of us have already tried different methods of social interaction, from garden visits to online meets, but as winter approaches, the garden options may not be viable. A lockdown winter could be a hard one.
Here are a few things to think about while we still have good weather – though that is set to change soon. What kind of things can we do now to make winter easier to handle in the current circumstances? This is a personal list, and I am aware not everyone has an outside space or a garden, so I will include some alternatives where I can. I’ve never lived in a house without a garden, so I’m very lucky.

  1. Start feeding the wild birds now, then they will know where to come when harsher weather bites, and you will be entertained by bird-watching from your window. This can be done in a garden or back yard. You might also try your local park or any places near you where wildlife comes. Ducks often go hungry in the winter, so consider them too. Birds like to eat all sorts of things, not just commercial bird seeds. Bacon rind, scraps of fat from meat, fruit such as windfall apples, breadcrumbs. Ducks like sweetcorn and grain – so if you have nothing to give them but bread, choose granary. They get little nutrition from white sliced bread (and neither do we). If you are going to a park or wild space to feed them, you also get the benefit of a walk.
  2. If you can get to any woods where there are pine cones, go on a forage trip. We are lucky to have a pine tree in our garden, so I have been gathering there. Pine cones make great firelighters – for best results use up your left over candle stubs, melt in a double boiler, then dip the cones in once it’s starting to cool. Pine cones also make great seasonal decorations – but first you need to bake them in the oven for about an hour on a low heat, placing them on a foil-covered baking tray, to kill any insects hiding in there and to fully dry them. Then they can be painted, strung together, heaped in bowls, or made into miniature Christmas trees, whatever you like.
  3. I’m also harvesting windfall apples and freezing them down into stewed apple, which can be used in pies, crumbles and as an accompaniment to food. You may not have your own apple trees, but there may be some going free locally, or you may find some community apple trees. Ask around. People who have them often have more than they can handle and are glad to offload.
  4. If you have children, it’s fun to take a nature walk or treasure hunt this time of year. Acorn cups, beachnuts, sycamore wings, fallen leaves: there are many things around to collect for a temporary nature table. In the 1950s and 60s, it was common practice for schools to have a nature table, though the practice seems to have died out. It’s a great way to learn about nature, though washing your hands after handling these things is a good plan. It’s fun to look things up and write labels for them, and the display could be made permanent by taking photos.
  5. While charity shops are still open, do consider donating goods, but more importantly, purchase things. Charities have really felt the pinch, and you can help them AND yourself by buying winter reading, cosy blankets to spread around your living areas to save having heating on all day. It’s better for the planet to buy second hand clothes where possible, and prevent things from going into landfill by both donating and buying second hand.
  6. If you have sewing skills, unwanted garments can be reclaimed into fabric for new makes. Things like lavender bags only need scraps of fabric. Or start a patchwork quilt with your scraps and unused fat quarters.
  7. I’m starting to make Christmas gifts, and again charity shops can be a good source of goods to transform. I am thinking about small gifts like a hot chocolate kit. Buy a charity shop mug, make some chocolate spoons by melting chocolate into a shot glass or small jar, insert a pretty spoon (also from charity shops), slide out of the container when set and wrap in glassine or greaseproof paper. Put a couple of these in a mug with marshmallows and other treats, and wrap together. People who use foodbanks might like to have these too.
  8. I’m also knitting scarves, hats, fingerless gloves, small shawls and so on. These are fun to make and are great for using up yarn oddments. Knitting keeps you warm, and keeps your fingers agile. You could also consider knitting preemie hats and blankets for hospitals. I can’t crochet well but the same goes for crotchet.
  9. There are lots of easy one pot recipes for winter eating. Make casseroles with lots of veg, and some form of protein such as beans, or meat if you eat it ( we do). A little goes a long way, and stews and casseroles can have a suet crust or dumplings to make them truly one pot – or add potatoes to the mix. A nice recipe I make is red cabbage casserole. Chop the cabbage, red onions and a red pepper into a pan and sweat in a little oil, add chopped up apple and some walnuts, then bake in the oven, using veg stock or cider as the liquid. Serve with baked potatoes. Very satisfying. You don’t need recipes to make casseroles, just be inventive. Suet pastry or crust couldn’t be simpler. One ounce of flour per person, half the amount of vegetarian suet (because it’s nicer). Mix together with a knife add salt, pepper and any herbs you like (Thyme works well), mix into a stiff dough with water, and either roll into balls in floured hands and drop into the almost cooked casserole (while it’s still quite liquidy) and cook for a further 20 mins with the lid off, or roll out on to a floured surface and drape over the casserole contents and cook for 20 more mins without the lid.
  10. Cultivate the art of writing letters to loved ones you can’t actually see right now. Include photos, recipes they might like, quotes and poems you’ve found comforting. Little parcels can be really nice to get too. I’ve been sending my granddaughter little things, and will start this up again if we can’t see her. Things like colouring sheets, washi tape, and little home-made books and toys can bring a smile. I made paper dolls by enlarging a graphic from the internet and backing it with card before cutting it out. It’s lovely to receive real letters and parcels in the post. Perhaps time could be spent making Christmas cards to send this year, even just a few to special people, and having children make cards for the grandparents, aunts and uncles would keep them entertained on rainy weekends. Home-made cards are best kept simple.

collage art I made with an autumn thrush

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