Friday, 14 December 2018

My Sheppey Highlights 2018

I'm still exploring Sheppey and mapping it with photos and poems - well, photos and some words that don't actually constitute poems as yet. The following photos were taken all across the island, including in my garden. They are some of my personal favourites of the year (and I've tweeted some of them previously, and made a calendar out of them), but they are just a few of many, and remind me just how much natural wonder can be found on this island (and indeed everywhere!)

I will also take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported me throughout the year - I really do appreciate it. Wishing you all happiness in 2019.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Climate change

Magma's Climate Change Issue is out now and has some stunning and thought-provoking pieces - looking not just at the possible impact of climate change, but the relationship between this and poetry. There are some remarkable poems here - David Tait's 'Beijing Parakeets', Yvonne Reddick's 'Brent Crude', Harry Man's 'Up in the Woods' and my particular favourite, Nan Craig's 'The loss of birds'. But there are so many I could list.

When the call for submissions to this issue of Magma came, I had just read an article in The Guardian about mass mortality events (MMEs). There are many causes of these, but they can be related to extreme temperature or temperature shifts. In one of the biggest of these MMEs, hundreds of millions of starfish along the coast from Mexico to Alaska were affected by sea star wasting disease and began to 'melt into white gloop'. White cuts appeared on their bodies and some ripped off their infected arms and tried to walk away. But for most the disease was deadly. Some of the species most affected were morning sun stars, giant pink stars, purple stars, sunflower stars and rainbow stars. 

Something about this particular case moved me. I wrote a poem and submitted it, but it didn't get accepted - which is fine (not least because it needs seven lines of introduction) - just look at the ones that did! But it still means something to me, so I thought I'd share it anyway (now it has got the intro):

Sea star MME

the sunflower
tore off its petals,
the rainbow
the pink and purple
cut to white,
the morning sun
and when night came
the stars
had lost their reflections 

And to be honest, anything that inspires us to think and to create, rather than destroy, has to be good - so thank you to Magma for prompting me to think more and for the brilliant issue.


Saturday, 29 September 2018


Sheppey celebrates its place in the history of aviation - open spaces are punctuated by sculptures that surprise - and flight is a key theme for the island - planes, birds, people.


it's a place of flight
to and from - a place to hide
to soar or to crash -
as the vapour trails vanish
so too all hope of escape

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Off track

I thought it a good idea - a happy, positive idea - to map the wonderful place I live - its nature and wildlife - in pictures and poetry. Thank you so much to those who encouraged me in the idea.

But Sheppey, where I live, is a complex place, both in itself, and for me. When I first arrived, around five years ago, I found myself in the odd position of both feeling at home, and a complete outsider. It has a mixed reputation. Birders, and many others, love the marshes, the sea and the open spaces - it is a haven for waders and raptors in the cooler months. In the summer they are overtaken by flocks of holidaymakers. People come here to live and to work. And people come here to escape and hide. It is not just one place - it is a lot of small places linked and yet strangely separate. There is not just one landscape, there are myriads. And sometimes they overlap. It is a strange place.

I've spent time over the last few weeks - as I have done ever since I came to the island - walking, looking, taking pictures. There is a great deal of beauty on the island, even in unexpected places, but when I come to write, there appears to me to be an underlying sadness, or sense of loss, which is both real and imagined. And not what I hoped this project would be about. But that happens.To me, anyway.

I've looked back at pictures and poems and notes I've built up over my time here, and found this, which I scribbled about four years ago, coincidentally (!) sitting outside the local caff.

The Outsider

She lived down by the sea, they knew,
and she was always on her own,
but she would smile at passers-by.
That worried them.

Her hair was long and grey and loose,
and round her neck she often had
a camera and snapped away.
That worried them.

She'd sit outside the caff most days
and write things in a little book,
then tuck it safely in her coat.
That worried them.

She'd stand down by the sea and watch
the tide, the sand, the birds, the sky.
The weather didn't bother her.
That worried them.

They didn't know where she'd come from
or what she'd done before she came,
or where she went - just that she'd gone.
That worried them -
but not for long. 

All of which is a very long-winded way of saying I've gone a bit off track with my new project. But I have some interesting pics and I'll be tweeting them, and possibly blogging them, sometimes with words, sometimes not, and I'll keep scribbling and see what happens.

Let me know what you think.

Monday, 23 July 2018


I've reached a point - having stood back and looked again at what I was doing, and why - where my 'collection' of poems has resolved itself into a pamphlet, which, if not perfect - could it ever be? - is at least what I intend it to be - and may even venture out into the world.

And another idea, which has been in my mind for a while, is also taking shape. It has been helped on its way by discovering 'Mapping' by Mark Totterdell (Indigo Dreams Publishing). It includes some wonderful poems about birds - and I'm always fascinated by descriptions of birds:

'If the swifts knew how,
they'd build their nests in air,
of air, to float unanchored.'

And it also includes 'one individual's erratic journey with maps through Britain's landscapes'. These are snapshots of different places and the poet's response to them:

'From the motorway, he glimpsed a village,
saw his minstrel self stride into one much like it.
He dreamed of finding, between the sheets of maps,
whole lands free of blue roads, whole green realms of romance.'

And so do I. Recently I've been actively involved trying to preserve some of the 'green realms' near where I live. Others have their own plans of what to do with these areas and as fast as we fight off one destructive idea, they come up with another. The natural beauty and wildlife of the area are of no concern to them. This may be a long fight.

This area provides a backdrop to my poetry and often inspires it directly. It has helped me to map a life. It also features widely in my photographs. I am now looking at how I can celebrate it more fully in my new project - mapping this wonderful place I live and its amazing wildlife with photos, poems and art. 

Wish me luck!

Monday, 4 June 2018

Finding joy

Because I've not been sure where I'm going with things recently, I haven't been posting any blogs. This one is a bit random - illustrating my flitting between one thing and another - looking at the things which bring the most joy.

I've been to Leeds Castle again. I love it there - it makes me happy, there's so much to see and it makes me feel safe. It is one of the places (Oare, Dungeness and the seafront on Sheppey are notable others) where I can sit still, but can also walk and walk and see new things and familiar things - birds,butterflies, plants, water - beautiful things. It inspires me.

It's also a wonderful place to take pictures! Just for the fun of it.

What else? 

Springwatch is on - and I love that. 

Lev Parikian's book 'Why do Birds Suddenly Disappear?' leapfrogged up my list of books to read and I loved that. If you like birding, great writing and want a good laugh, let it leapfrog up your list too.
I've also gone back to some of my favourite poets. Wendy Cope's new collection 'Anecdotal Evidence' and Simon Armitage's 'Flit' are both as brilliant as I just knew they would be. Which is a joy.

I am still loving The Countryman magazine - I can even do the puzzles in it!

I've been exploring parts of Sheppey which I only half-knew, played Bowlingo (arcade bowling) and won, and played crazy golf and lost, but still loved it.

Can you sense a 'but' coming on? 

I said at the beginning that I've not been sure where I'm going with things. I don't mean those things which have to be done but aren't much fun - generally I'll just get on with those, though obviously muttering and cursing as I do. I mean that category of things which I thought I wanted to do, but which haven't been making me happy. And I'm torn between persisting with them and giving them up. Taking a break, which is what I've been doing, is fine, but... (oh there it is)

So I'm taking a different route. I'm looking closely at these things and I'm trying to put the joy back into them. And stepping back and seeing what really makes me happy has helped with that. One of these things is writing poetry. I can now see that I've got lost somewhere in other people's views on what poetry should be and its processes and its vanity/insecurity. And I'm going back to where I started, where I know for certain that I was enjoying it, and wasn't trying to fit in with others or please others and where actually it felt good - not easy, but good, and it actually did, incidentally, seem to please others as well as me. 

And I shall apply the same process to other things I want to do but have got lost in - so that I eliminate the 'shoulds' - suggested/inflicted by others or self-imposed - and try to rediscover the joy in them.

Friday, 11 May 2018

When a poetry reading really works

I've written in a previous blog that I can struggle with poetry readings - partly because I like the words in my hands.

Chrys Salt read some of her poetry from 'The Punkawallah's Rope' at the Indigo Dreams Showcase, part of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival. Chrys is an experienced and well-established poet, and that rare thing - a poet who can read her written poetry exceptionally well - in fact the best I've heard.

I didn't just understand what was being said - I could feel it. It came alive. Ironically, I had the words in my hands because I had just bought her book, but obviously I wasn't looking at them. But I could take the words away with me and not just read them now, but really hear them too.

The poetry itself - and I have got to know a lot more of it since the Showcase - is so well-observed, lightly drawn, with humour and humanity. It is touching and beautiful. It has that deceptive simplicity which is so hard to achieve. It tells stories and brings people and places to life. It '...puts its hand out and is understood.' ((for RM), from 'Grass')

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