At Blake's, Sept 16 2017

At Blake's, Sept 16 2017

At Blake's, Sept 16 2017

What a perfectly wonderful weekend of art, poetry and song, the BlakeFest weekend proved to be. As BlakeFest’s Poet in Residence (PiR), I came prepared on both days with a notebook and writing implements. One of my roles within my PiR role was to facilitate community event poetry. That means speaking to event-goers one by one, taking their names, should they be willing to provide them and outlining my intention to use their words and ideas within a group poem, or poems. Crediting all contributors happy to be credited. Some prefer to be listed as ‘Anon’, or under another alias when participating in community poetry.

I often ask specific questions as a prompt if necessary - for example, in terms of BlakeFest: “What does this exhibition’s theme and title ‘Dandelion Visions’ mean to you?” “What do you make of the art installation you’ve just experienced?” Either I take notes from what they’re saying, or allow them to write if they prefer. I then read their words back to them to check I’ve got the record straight and to see if there’s anything they’d like to add or amend.

One objective in doing this is in forming a live public reading of the collected text to be delivered at a certain point during, and as part of, the current event. For me, or, alternatively, any particularly keen and persuasive volunteer, to read out. I will have adapted and re-ordered the text as poetically as possible within the available time-scale, before then. Sometimes such a reading, if timetabled early on, will encourage more event-goers to contribute; sometimes the reading will come at, or towards, the end, as part of the event’s closure and as a celebration of the event. Sometimes I give repeat readings at one event, perhaps in different parts of the venue; sometimes at a related event, afterwards; depending on what’s required.

The subsequent objective after all that – post-event – is for me to secretarially transcribe all the text, and then work on it, and any part-formed poems, further, to produce a poem, or poems, as part of the event’s legacy and evaluation. In my next blog, I’ll publish my transcription of the BlakeFest weekend notes, with some context, before finalising my own responses to the text harvest, as poetry. Thank you to everybody who chipped in with word-contributions at BlakeFest. They are much appreciated.

As well as bringing my notebook to the lovely BlakeFest – along with myself, Stella Bahin, my ears, eyes, pilgrim feet, and heart, etc. – I also brought community poems produced in two BlakeFest poetry workshops I facilitated the previous weekend, and a prepared, flexible, set of my own poems for me to read and recite. That was another of my roles within the BlakeFest PiR role: to perform as a poet.

A poet friend from our home town, Portsmouth, who’d bought tickets for the BlakeFest weekend messaged me during the Exhibition Opening to ask when I was on. The scheduling had been somewhat organic and changeable; plans were being altered on the spot; for example, Niall McDevitt’s excellent guided walk had been advertised as beginning in Hotham Park but he’d just announced, in the library, would now be skipping the park and starting there in the library, instead. “I’ll be on at Blake’s Cottage, I think.” I messaged my friend back, cautiously.

What I’d thought was the most up-to-date flier had me billed as appearing at Blake’s Cottage, I thought, but I was open to going with whatever the current flow transpired to be. All my friend needed to do was find us, and join in.

And then, there we were in the gorgeous Blake’s Cottage garden and I was ready for action, grounded. My friend who’d messaged wasn’t there. Yet. I was all ‘wait for it’; listening to the various speakers but alert for my introduction, or nod, any moment, that would be my cue to say what I planned to say, and what I had rehearsed: ‘you’re on!’

Thank you, Niall McDevitt for your expert, jolly, sure-footed and most entertaining trail guidance.

Thank you, Mikey Georgeson for your inspirational ideas and for your installation about non-bifurcation and epiphany and for your exhibition curation and for your song, at the exhibition’s opening. I say this emphatically, seriously, referring to that very song’s refrain, and title; right back at you: ‘YOU shine a light.’ You do.

Thank you, Stephen Micalef, for imparting your knowledge of, and clear devotion to, Blake and for your Blake-based poetry thus far, and for the similar poetry to come. Thank you too, Stephen, for your handmade, handwritten, BlakeFest badges, which – with a touch of the synchronicity and serendipity Mikey mentioned earlier being fond of, as I am too – SEE how I lucky-dipped THIS badge of yours which reads: ‘Behold! Divine Vision thru Broken GATES’ pinned to the bandage that is on my hand because of a broken finger…

A finger I broke via a broken G-A-I-T gait, and is for me, a G-A-T-E gate, a broken stride, a falling; that is, on a linear level – a pain – but on a non-linear, non-bifurcated level, epiphanic… Please see my BlakeFest blog called ‘A Break’ for further information on that, I add somewhat cryptically for the not-that-bothered, but hopefully, for the curious; helpfully… thank you for ALL our badges, and everything.

Thank you, Peter, for opening the gates to the garden and the doors to the house to us all; for your hospitality.

Thank you, Rachel Searle, for your exorbitant amount of work and for your beautiful enthusiasm; for being The Driving Force that’s made it all possible, with some help and support from your thus-inspired friends and family.

Not having had a chance to prepare this text I’ve gathered, more formally, here are some highlights, straight from the book… Please do come and tell me your comments, if you haven’t contributed already, and if you have commented, thank you, but do feel free to add anything else you might think of. [I read some of the comments including Sedge Seymour’s, below.]

‘It’s clear today the seeds have spread and the natural order has succeeded once more.’

I look around the garden and ponder over what plant-life might be here that was here when William and Catherine lived here; or, what progeny, seed to seed? I now introduce a poem I wrote that’s set in a garden, a sonnet. Explaining that it’s about a widower and a divorcee who live next door to one another and tend their respective gardens side by side. Friendly. The divorcee is drawn to the widower, and he to her, yet she fears breaking the linearity of the world she knows by daring to love again, love more, love better, post-divorces. She knows the paperwork and red tape if it fails.

He is pragmatic, patient and resigned to fate: ‘Let it go as it may.’ The paperwork is the least of it to him, he lost his wife; red tape is no more to endure than taking a daily shower to necessarily refresh his active body is. His acceptance of reality, with a helpless, but self-aware openness through his knowledge of, and bargains with, true grief, about life’s mutating, and regenerating forces – they are both acquainted with the soil and bountifulness of gardens - is what gives him the magnetic charge she experiences.

I say how, for me and quite possibly for Blake, with his Kate, the in-love state is one gateway to being able to perceive ‘a Heaven in a Wild Flower’.


In This World

There’s a world between them pulling her like the tides,
that she resists. She tells herself she’s had her fill
of hope and is too old besides, and keeps her mind
on this world with its earthworms, borders, and walls.
And plenty of it, she thinks, with one more briar
to snip. Her heart may be a compass, sending her
only to him, but what about the daily papers?
What about her filing cabinet? Fancy a cuppa?
she asks him, glad of the mud beneath her feet
and the sky above their heads, staying her eyes from his:
Better to be an animal in this world than a creature of that,
where mud is not enough and the sky is overwhelming.
But he shakes off a glove to take her cup and his hand is a contour map,
and their world is less than a touch away when she sees there’s no way

I introduce a poem I began on Facebook, adding to it, bit by bit, as it progressed, specifically for BlakeFest 2017. Initially, hoping to encourage interest in the festival, but also intending to read it while the festival was on, like now!


BlakeFest! BlakeFest! Celebrate!
BlakeFest, Bognor: it’s a date!
Roll up festive, no mistake –
what made us made William Blake.

Here Blake’s ‘Tyger!’ stays ablaze,
here his warmer ‘Lamb’ yet plays,
here his cottage-castle stands,
here his ‘green and pleasant’ lands.

Seize Blake’s marvel at what mind
could instate such diverse kind –
one so fearsome, one so frail –
trace Blake’s vision through Earth’s veil.

Find Blake’s ‘World’ behind its scenes,
see his ‘Heaven’ this world screens,
tell the timeless with a ‘Flower’,
hold the ever of ‘an hour’.

Dandelion, bulldog, man,
whether science or God’s plan,
as Blake kenned: all rose from far,
made, or wished, upon a star…

BlakeFest! BlakeFest! Celebrate!
BlakeFest, Bognor: it’s a date!
Roll up festive, no mistake –
what made us made William ‘Blake’.

Obviously influenced by Blake’s ‘The Tyger’! As was this next one, too. I wrote it over a decade ago, about my younger son who used to like to play in my shadow when he was little, when I held still long enough. Nattering to other mums, for example. Parental love; a different sort of love, yet also, perhaps, a gateway to perceiving the world in a non-bifurcated, non-linear, epiphanic, way.


Into My Shadow

My child stepped into my shadow in play
on an afternoon so sun-lifted, the cracks
between pavement slabs were ominous.

I checked my watch - I just had time to stop
and hold my shadow still enough
for him to tuck his own away inside it.

Gone! he said, when his shadow was gone.

We admired the shapes on the path
of our neat mum-silhouette and its big
sunshine-surround, and then he danced

in the outline, not spilling a speckle,
twirling to laugh up at me with his face
impossibly bright for a face in shade.

Burning. I checked my watch again.
Come on! I said and he stepped on out
simple. But seeing his shadow rising
from mine, I wondered how we had hidden it.

While his appeared, inky, mine looked pale.

Last weekend a group of us got together and wrote some Blake Fest Poetry at Bognor Regis Library. The first is about the dandelion, which is a ruderal, that is, a plant with the type of seed that’s first to colonise disrupted ground. Sometimes the dandelion’s clocks are known as dandelion ruderals.



The wind is blowing the seeds are flying,
they’re not caring where they’re going.

Bognor’s town clocks have stopped.
Are wrong. Or gone.

The seeds are spinning.
The seeds are winning.

Winning the lawns and the greens,
winning their manicured teeth,

winning their fluffy spikes,
winning their tigery stripes.

The seeds are winning their dew,
spending time upside downy.

I say how I tinkered with that one a bit after the workshop, but how the next one is exactly as we made it together, untouched. How we used a lot of cut n paste, to describe an ordinary journey, to somewhere maybe not so ordinary, we suggest…


Bognor Regis: All Change, All Change

It’s stopped raining. “Help yourself.”
There’s a room of furniture in the street.
Broken clock, lamp, porcelain dog.
Check the time, check for keys,
consider the apology.
Take a left, straight on
past the smoking man.
Hadn’t been to the library in years.
Dad was very loud. Shh!
Electric barriers? The STAFF ONLY door?
Would love to look at the books.
Tide’s in. Blue sea.
They came in boats.

Back to the seed image, I say, asking for audience participation with this, a villanelle, during the ‘no gloves, no safety hat’ repeats, which we rehearse.



Because loving like this means loving like that:
Like a seed in the wind, speeding to earth, or stone,
The heart blowing bare - no gloves, no safety hat.

It’s a recommendation, and caveat:
Those nearest to us show how far we’re alone.
Because loving like this means loving like that:

You, weighty in my arms as a gold cat
And as yielding as bait, me, still on my own,
The heart blowing bare - no gloves, no safety hat.

Words shiver with meaning, even idle chat
Brings whisperings of angels, hushings of bones,
Because loving like this means loving like that:

Singing a fanfare, like a requiescat,
The flight on course, the destination unknown,
The heart blowing bare - no gloves, no safety hat.

If I looked down, fears could run my mind like rats.
But, wherever I’m going, at least I’ve flown…
Because loving like this means loving like that:
The heart, blowing bare! No gloves, no safety hat!


I ask how I’m doing for time, and end with this next one, moving over to the pond of Blake’s Cottage to recite it:

Zanita Zizoum

Zanita Zizoum, far
way from her house -
wherever she’s a cat is her home.
Ah, Zanita Zizoum.

Emperor Sing-To-The-Moon,
he own a good home.
In garden of his palace - a pond.

Silt at bottom of pond -
amber sapphire and bone,
diamond and gold,

ground up into a dust,
a dust that he let me touch.
The day was warm the water
was the heat of my blood.
Dust - weighty and soft.
Dust - weighty and soft.

The dust I disturb
make water twinkle and shine
with speck and speck and speck and speck
of amber and gold,
diamond, sapphire and bone.

I take out my hand,
speck speck fill up the air.
Pretty pretty the air.

The only other thing I ever touch
again in my life
siltily soft
Zanita Zizoum.

Ah. You touch her once
your life it is no longer your own.
Belong Zanita Zizoum.
Uh huh, Zanita Zizoum.

Well, that’s what I had in mind, or had stored on my phone among my Windows Live documents. Plus a few extra poems, and a little song, just in case. None of the above, from the words ‘you’re on’, actually happened at Blake’s Cottage or at any time at all during the festival weekend. As it transpired, time, and a packed programme, precluded any public poetry performance, any public reading of the harvested community text, and any public speaking, by me. To have actively inserted myself into the proceedings un-cued would have made me feel like a spanner in the works. A most awkward implement to begin spouting from – if it ain’t broken, what’s the tool for? – was my feeling about stepping forward. Plus, it might have looked like gate-crashing, when I was a guest, albeit a passed over one. Respect to gates. And, this was understandable, considering the extent of the programme. So, in lieu, I’m saying it and offering it here. Blog-shape, gentle.

Although, I did read a comment or so, from my notebook, to Mikey Georgeson, at the gate of Blake’s Cottage before we all left the premises. Pictured. About his installation, which there’s still time to see, as well as the rest of the excellent ‘Dandelion Visions’ exhibition, for free, at Bognor Regis Library, which exhibition doesn’t close until October 5 2017. Well worth a visit.

Sadly, my messaging friend never arrived.

Encore? OK, if there’s time… This poem is influenced by the C19th American poet Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, who was, in turn, deeply influenced by Blake. The image is of a grass seed, beneath a pathway, forced by circumstances, and by its nature, to grow…


I knew myself and where I was beneath
the concrete. Complete. A being. A seed.
The tug of mud and suck of filtered heat
have ruptured me. Now all I know is need.
I mustn’t fear my passage through the grit,
unlike the monk who vanished by a wall,
his bones discovered later in the bricks,
but keep my answer YES! go with the pull
of dark and shine that tells me there is green
and point in me. I must ignore the graze,
deny the weight, stretch out until it seems
I’ve reached my tips. Perhaps, I’ll be a blade
that cut a path. Or something else. Or nothing.
I barely care. What matters, is becoming.