Tag Archives | poetry

Dove Cottage – creative writing inspired by place and objects

Did you know that writer William Wordsworth born on this day in 1770? It’s a date that’s lodged in my mind as it links to a creative project that I was part of, linked to the poet and his Lake District home of Dove Cottage.

I was one of 26 writers who took part in in a creative writing project inspired by postcodes. The letter and number combinations identified a place that we used as inspiration to write a piece of 62 words exactly – a form known as a sestude.

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Dove cottage

My postcode was for Dove Cottage in Grasmere – home to the famous poet William Wordsworth and his family from 1799 to 1808.

I immediately felt lucky to have such a place rich in writing history from which to draw inspiration, but also a little daunted. Although I knew of Wordworth’s work, and had studied some of his poetry, he wasn’t one of my favourites. I dismissed him as a bit safe and chocolate boxy.

But I was very wrong, as I learned when I visited the house and the exhibition space that now sits alongside it. Wordsworth was a great walker and adventurer. He visited France during the Revolution and had a relationship and a daughter there. His poetry reflects changing social and political landscapes, and together with his sister Dorothy and his family, they were a real part of the small community they lived in.

Taking inspiration from objects

I visited Dove Cottage on a bright, sunny day, perfect for the tourists that now flock there. In the museum and the house, I was fascinated by the objects that would have been familiar to Wordsworth and his family.

The page of Dorothy’s diary, open at the day they saw the daffodils, that inspired his most often quoted poem, shows how important her records are in shaping Wordsworth’s work.

Pens, a writing desk, a small suitcase – these told the story of a man who once travelled, but came to settle and write in this place.

And, displayed in a glass case, was the rich velvet coat he wore when he was presented to Queen Victoria as poet laureate. In all likelihood, the most expensive piece of clothing he ever wore. I imagined him feeling rather uncomfortable in it, being more at home in the tough boots that carried him miles in walks over the hills.

From scribbled words to published piece

I drank in so much information among the exhibits, and then went and sat, in the garden behind the house and wrote a  few words in my notebook.

Notebook and 26 Postcodes pamphletAfter many further scribblings and through many more pages of words,  I eventually condensed my thoughts down to the 62 that make up my sestude. It was  was published online and in a beautiful little pamplet along with other pieces that reflect places as diverse as Seamus Heaney’s football club to the Heinz factory.

Looking back, I can trace every thought and idea in those 62 words to my time at Dove Cottage.

“To introduce Wordsworth into one’s library is like letting a bear into a tulip garden,” said Thomas de Quincey. The quote illustrated on one of the displays made me smile, and painted a picture of a robust, and vigorous man, with a passion for books. It also gave me that key word ‘library’ – a good one to use in relation to a writer.

The coat appears, as does Dorothy’s diary, and the garden path that I took at the back of the house. And seeing the house in its context, I wanted to reflect a sense of the landscape that inspired the writer and me, with its distinctive fells and lakes. That gave me a structure for my poem.

I still have the notebook. The first words I wrote were: hill, lake, hearth, home. They remain in my finished sestude, as a tribute to the power of place to inspire. Here it is:

Your library, these rising hills

Your reflections, these sun-dappled lakes

Your muse, these dancing golden flowers

Your wistful words, whispers of valley voices

Your fine court coat, the mossy earth

Your eyes and ears, a sister’s diary

Your heart, the swaying sycamore green

Your wanderings stilled by slate paths

Your poetry etched by nature.

 

Hill, lake, earth, stone

Pen, ink, hearth, home.

0

Why be inspired to a greater love of words, in business and in life?

Why? It’s always a good question to ask when you’re trying to understand something. Why do words matter? Why are they worthy of love, thought and respect?

As a member of 26 I was asked to provide my answer, which is now included along with the thoughts, wisdom and humour of other 26 writers in ‘The Book of Because.’ Here’s my contribution:

Because words connect.

Photo of the Book of BecauseWords we love roll round our mouths like
ice cream on a hot day.

Because words conduct business.
Words on stone tablets saying “Pay this
soldier a pig and four sacks of grain”.

Words that fly through the ether to appear
on a screen.
Words link to our past and shape our future.

Because words can be as sharp as a blow or
as near as a whisper.

Words are a gift our bright blue planet
bestows on only one species.
Because, above all, words are human. 

 

Thanks to the editorial team at 26 Characters, Faye Sharpe, John Simmons and Neil Baker for bringing this project together and to Rodney Mylius for the elegant and tactile design.

0

Words are part of the landscape

Walter Scott quote: "Love will subsist on wonderfully little ope, but not altogether without it"

I have travel on my mind at the moment. Unlike many, I’m not planning on jetting off on a summer holiday soon, but I am planning a few day trips, including time in Edinburgh.

In a couple of weeks’ time, I’ll be indulging myself at the Book Festival, and the Fringe. I have tickets for a few events and for the rest, will take the approach of turning up to see what I can get into.

I love spending time in Edinburgh. It’s far enough away to feel like an adventure, but not so far that I’m in danger of jet lag. There always feels like there’s lots to see, do and explore, no matter how many times I’ve visited. I generally walk my feet off getting from place to place.

I really enjoy the way the city wears its literature. It’s inescapable. From the Writer’s Museum to the Storytelling Centre; from the book festival to literary walking tours and pub crawls, you cannot avoid the fact that this is a Unesco City of Literature.

Many locations, street names and areas are familiar to me from reading. From Walter Scott to Alexander McCall Smith, Muriel Spark to JK Rowling, it’s been home and inspiration to many writers.

Decorative window poem in Edinburgh

When I step off the train at Waverley, I half imagine I’ll meet some of their characters as I explore. I swear one day, I’ll see Rebus somewhere about town.

Even if you were unaware of its literary connections, words pour out onto the streets. You’ll find them etched on buildings, woven into window frames and hidden among the street furniture. It’s like a secret code that speaks to readers like me. It makes me smile as I encounter a poem that others pass by and never notice.

My last visit there introduced me to a beautiful poem, November Night by Scottish writer Norman MacCaig, that I discovered on the side of a planter. In the height of a Scottish summer, it reminded me of the realities of its winter.

Here is the first verse, which I craned my neck to read on the street:

“The night tinkles like ice in glasses.
Leaves are glued to the pavement with frost.
The brown air fumes at the shop windows,
Tries the doors, and sidles past.”

I wish more cities did this kind of thing. Poetry as part of the landscape is far more appealing than when it’s stuffed into study books. It’s unlikely that I’d have found this verse and its companions if I hadn’t chanced upon it. And I feel richer for it.

As I visit again this summer, I’ll be on the look out for more words on the street.

0

The Trees

I came across this splendid poem by Philip Larkin today:

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Larkin’s poem struck me as absolutely perfect today. And it reminded me of something I wrote, inspired by my travels to Japan where I saw the spring cherry blossom or sakura.

Sakura

Joy explodes.
From swollen joints,
Pink and white petals boom
A reminder,
The ancient are still young at heart.
“Come enjoy!”
“Today there is life and beauty.”
“Is that not enough?”
Light-hearted blossoms have no cares
Except being
Living the moment.
Ichi-nichi issho
Within each day is a lifetime.

0

Recovery run

The wind, clear, cold and fresh. A warning.
A thin ache in my arch, like lumps in watered down milk.
I step out cautiously, willing it to clear.

Stepping through the motions, doing what I must.
Movement calms me
And breathe, relax.

Out along the edges, the wind pushes, challenges.
I welcome its resistance, encouraging slowness.
I run.

A minute flies and I’m earthbound again
Heading into the darkness for another turn
Resisting thoughts of other times, other daybreaks
Just being here, and now.

The path stretches far ahead
I turn back before it pulls me on.
Head over heart this time.

Pale streaks of brightness over the ink black sea.
Lifted.
Barely a murmur in the earliness. Just breath and feet.
And the swish of my hair against a bright nylon collar.

0

When poetry is perfect

A couple of weeks ago I wrote down some thoughts about running that came out as poetry. And the most excellent Barry Cornelius kindly sent me a comment with a link to ‘The Song of the Ungirt Runners

I hadn’t read it before, but thought some of you might like it too. I particularly like the second verse:

The waters of the seas
Are troubled as by storm
The tempest strips the trees
And does not leave them warm
Does the tearing tempest pause?
Do the tree-tops ask it why?
So we run without a cause
‘Neath the big bare sky.

At the moment those images of tempests and storm tossed seas resonate with the scenes we’ve witnessed in Japan.

Sometimes poetry is perfect, especially for the big events. Its heightened language speaks to us in ways that prose finds difficult, through rhythm, rhyme and precise language. Like the right word at the right time, it resonates deeply.

2

Today I ran

Today I ran
For the sound of the surf and the breath of the wind
To turn my back on the cares of the day
To unknot my shoulders
And give my eyes a broader landscape than a brightly lit screen.

Today I ran
Not so far or so fast
But because I can.
I ran for those who will no longer run
Poppies in Flanders’ fields
Dust in Camp Bastion.

And as I ran
In the desert under the sun
Through the woods in moonlight
Up through the fells and down through the scree
The trudgers, the plodders, the brave, the hardy
The crazy, the committed, the hopeful and the glad
Joined me.

And among our numbers were the gods
The fleet of foot and bright of smile
Who astonish us all with their flashes of brilliance
And breathe the same breath.

2