Tag Archives: David Harsent

Moor art and poetry

We spent last weekend savouring two of the lesser-known delights of the South West moors. We started on Friday on Dartmoor and then moved on to Bodmin Moor that evening.

H at DelamoreDelamore House is on the edge of Dartmoor, and is of special interest to us because it used to be owned by the same family as lived in the house that now contains our apartment. Although it is considerably grander (our house was the family’s ‘summer house’), there were similarities and common features, including a tholos, or cromlech. tholos

 

‘Brick chair’ by Amy Cooper 

Every year, for the whole of May, Delamore House hosts an art and sculpture exhibition, and we just managed to get there before the end of the month. Both the ground floor of the house, and a stable block across the meadow, were full of paintings; and everywhere we went in the garden we found fascinating sculptures. Peacock, Dot Kuzniar

‘Peacock’, by Dot Kuzniar

 

‘Dancing meadow’ by Nicola Crocker

Dancing meadow, Nicola Crocker figure

 

I really liked this head sculpture, and its companion piece which was a sadder face. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to discover who the sculptor was, so if any of you know, please send me a message.

 

As one might expect with so many exhibits, they were not all of the same high quality, but in general the standard was good, and some works were excellent.

‘Floating glass sphere’ by Sue Smith
Sue Smith, Floating glass sphere

Quite apart from the art, the gardens were exquisite – and this is probably one reason why the month of May is chosen for the exhibition.

burning bush

 

 

 

more beauty

The reason for our visit to Bodmin Moor was that I was reading at the Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival. David Woolley and Ann Gray have been running this excellent festival for the last four years, and have created a very special atmosphere with a stunning line-up of poets. On the Friday evening we had a launch party, then settled down for the first reading, which in terms of quality and excitement set the tone for the whole weekend. The two poets this first evening were Sinead Morrissey and David Harsent, the latest two winners of the prestigious T S Eliot prize, and the festival could not possibly have got off to a better start.

Sinead MorrisseySinead led a very good workshop the next morning. The event sparkled from start to finish, both because of Sinead’s stimulating input on abstract and concrete writing, and also because the fifteen participants all had intelligent, sensitive and lucid contributions to make.

My reading came next, shared with two lovely Oversteps poets: Elisabeth Rowe and Mark Totterdell. We were in a conservatory room at this stage, and the sun was beating down; but both we and the audience stayed awake and everyone was ‘warm'(!) and appreciative.

Logo_BMPFThis was followed by readings by Matthew Francis and Anthony Wilson, which I very much enjoyed. I knew both of these poets a little, but had not heard them read before; so it was a great pleasure. Unfortunately I had to leave after this, as I had another appointment the next morning. I therefore missed a number of other treats. If the programme is anything like as good next year, I recommend that poetry-lovers make the journey to this corner of England, as Bodmin Moor is a festival that is well-worth attending. I shall have to hope that I get another invitation!

The venue for the festival is the Sterts Theatre at Upton Cross, and the theatre itself is a large amphitheatre covered by a giant awning. As the temperature at night was still a little low front coverfor the time of year, we were relieved to discover that the poetry festival actually takes place in adjacent buildings, complete with walls and roof.

We, of course, spent the night in our camper van, where we were both snug and peaceful. As I included some poems from my latest book (Notes from a Camper Van) in my reading, this was appropriate.

Congratulations to Ann and David on a wonderful festival.

Winchester blog 3: September

10 days header banner

The last month has seen more exciting challenges on the Winchester Poet in Residence front.
I had a message from the organisers asking if they could set up a trail of my poems round the cathedral, with a map showing where each one is situated. It was suggested that as it’s a 10 Day Festival, it would be appropriate to have a trail of ten poems. At that stage I had written only four, so I took a deep breath and started to write more and also to look through my files to see what existing poems I had that might be suitable. Last week I met Trish Bould, the Creative Director of the festival, in the cathedral to discuss where they should all go, and to plan the route for the trail. I have at least three more poems to produce, in response to some more of the artists, and will do my best to come up with something suitable. There are a couple of points in the Trail that will have more than one of my poems as part of the same installation.

Lisa in Barcelona '13My poems for the Fishermen’s Chapel are now finished and incorporated into the artwork by Lisa Earley (pictured left). This chapel contains the attractive altar shown below, and also a memorial to Izaak Walton, who wrote ‘The Complete Angler’. Both Lisa and I are concentrating on the working people who go to sea to catch fish for us to eat, rather than leisure anglers who sit beside rivers with fishing rods.

Lisa had already started working on my poem Those who go down to the sea when I last visited the cathedral. This poem was recently published in the anthology about the sea published by Grey Hen Press, ‘Running before the wind’, and it seemed a suitable choice for a chapel dedicated to those who work in the challenging conditions of sea fishing.

 Those who go down to the sea

They hardly ever cross my mind,
certainly never keep me awake
and tossing through the dark hours of the night

wondering if they’ll make it
or whether this time the fury of the open seas
will overwhelm the frailty of their vessel.

Even when I eat fresh fish,
the costly silver harvest
torn from the thundering waves,

I can continue a conversation
as if the delicacy placed before me
had been casually plucked from a bush

by a land-lubber
pausing in a cottage garden
on the way home for tea, unaware

of the raw flesh and watering eyes,
the constant taste of salt,
of fear.

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Lisa asked if I would write another poem for her, bringing in the ripples that figure in her installation, and also alluding to the fact that fisherfolk have for centuries made pilgrimages to this chapel in Winchester Cathedral. I therefore wrote a new poem entitled Ripples that will also be incorporated into Lisa’s work and displayed in the Fishermen’s Chapel. Lisa’s plans for the chapel sound really exciting, using textiles to suggest nets with fish that gradually morph into footsteps; and she’ll be using bits of my poems in the installation. I look forward to seeing the finished pieces.

img291ad1FINAL The next artist with whom I was invited to collaborate is Lucy Cass, a recent graduate from Winchester University College of Art. Lucy works with acrylic and resin to produce amazing pieces of sculpture such as this one. This piece will (all being well) be the inspiration for my next poem for the Poetry Trail. The Muse, however, can be remarkably fickle, especially when deadlines are approaching, with the result that all sorts of poems are now competing for my attention. One of the most recent, written at 4.00am on the morning after my visit, was a rather feminist poem inspired by Jane Austen’s tombstone in the cathedral; but as I’m limiting myself to 10, I don’t think that will make it into the final selection.

Lucy is also designing and producing four postcards that incorporate some of her images and some of my poems from the project, and these will be available at various venues in Winchester during the festival.

One of my commitments during the actual week of the festival is a poetry reading in the cathedral on the evening of Friday 1st November. As this event will start with a short performance by the musician June Boyce-Tillman, I had a meeting with her to discuss our plans for the event. After June’s piece, I’ll give my reading, and the evening will conclude with discussion with the poets with whom I’ve been collaborating about our experiences of the process. The Arts Adviser for the festival, Stephen Boyce, will chair this event.

I concluded my visit to Winchester last week by attending a poetry reading by four poets in the Winchester Discovery Centre. Three of the poets had been shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize recently: Annie Freud, David Harsent and Daljit Nagra; and they were joined by the aforementioned Stephen Boyce, as a representative of local Hampshire poets. All the poets gave good readings.

I’ve got more artists to meet and more poems to write, so there’s no time to waste. The dates of the 10 Day Festival are approaching fast: 25th October to 3rd November.