Monday, 1 January 2018

The Poet's Bridge, Rotherhithe

On Tuesday 5 December, the footbridge over Salter Road was named ‘The Poet’s Bridge’ in a short ceremony which also involved the unveiling of twin weathering steel plaques at its centre. The specific poet for whom the bridge has been named is David Jones, whose epic war poem ‘In Parenthesis’ was described by TS Eliot as “a work of genius” and by WH Auden as “a masterpiece”. It is a quote from this poem that now decorates the bridge:

“The returning sun climbed over the hill, to lessen the shadows of small and great things”

Jones was a visual artist as well as a wordsmith. These words are rendered in the shape of Jones’ calligraphic script and accompanied by a reproduction of his woodcut ‘Holy Ghost as Dove’. The panels were designed by the artist Parm Rai and finished at the workshop in Deptford. The work was funded by Southwark Council through the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe community council.
Plaque with shadows
The local area is significant in Jones’ life and in his writing. A section in his other great written work, ‘The Anathemata’, is titled ‘REDRIFF’; and this features the voice of Eb Bradshaw. In real life Eb was Jones’ grandfather – he was parish clerk of St Mary the Virgin in Rotherhithe, and a maker of masts and sails in the Surrey Docks. Furthermore, a character in ‘In Parenthesis’ is given no name but simply referred to as ‘the man from Rotherhithe’. Before the naming ceremony, Anne Price of the David Jones Society speculated that this character might stand for the author himself. It is therefore very appropriate that David Jones should be commemorated here.
The new name for the bridge, though, can also stand for all poets, and the bridge already has a lyrical history going back to the start of this millennium. Every spring half term for the last seventeen years, the staff of the nearby Rotherhithe Primary School have taken to the bridge to read poems aloud. Headmaster Mickey Kelly – who conceived of and organised the naming of ‘Poet’s Bridge’ with assistance from the ‘Cleaner, Greener, Safer’ fund – describes “letting the words hang in the Rotherhithe air”.
The lines quoted from ‘In Parenthesis’ refer to the minutes before the ‘zero hour’ of the battle of the Somme – the moment when the whistle would trigger the attack in the battle of the Somme – when “the world falls apart at last to siren screech”, as the poem has it. Whilst harking forever back to this moment, the words find new meaning on the bridge, where light shines through the stencilled iron and casts shadows where we walk.

Sign, looking over bridge

Friday, 14 July 2017

The Poet

Once I sat down and told myself,
‘Just write what comes. Don't make it happen -
let it.’
The Awen is meant to be breath
or flow,
couldn't I let it breathe through me?
Couldn't I let it flow through my pen?

I went out to check the traps of my imagination-garden,
To see what had caught there lately.
I wrote about checking the traps.
And in one of them was a leopard,
so I wrote about the leopard.
And the leopard was black with soot,
so I wrote that it was black with soot,
And he asked me to brush him,
so I wrote about brushing him.

I just did as I was told.
I just watched.

Who put the leopard there?

I wrote it.
Who was the poet?

Saturday, 19 March 2016

'Love Rules' - a verse for cross-border couples.

These few lines were composed for Stephen and Sandra Cole, members of the Bardic College of Ynys Witrin, on the occasion of their handfasting on the Fair Field at Glastonbury Tor today. They are pictured here 'jumping the broomstick' as part of the ceremony. Stephen is British and Sandra is from Mexico - by extension, this short verse is meant for everyone in a cross-border relationship.

This love has beaten national notions
This love has overcome the ocean
This love has defeated Theresa May
This love has conquered all, today.


The mention in the third line of this short verse, of the name of our current Home Secretary in the United Kingdom, Theresa May, has a particular relevance in this country and at this time - but I hope that Bards and others will feel able to recite these lines at all times and in all places to honour the additional challenges that couples in cross-border relationships must face. The name 'Theresa May' here stands for all national officials and bureaucracy, in all times and places, that stand in the way of love.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

MM Case

Sat in the court room
Where they were deciding
The immigration status of our distant family members,
All I could think was -
The animal carvings,
The stained glass windows,
The dignified procedure,
The grandeur of the court... I wished she was there to see it too.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Bardic and other dates for your diary

Saturday February 6th - National Libraries Day
Lots of things going on in Somerset Libraries and around the UK for National Libraries Day. As Bard of Glastonbury, I'll be reading poems from the books on the shelves in Glastonbury [Public] Library all day. Come and find me for a one-to-one reading (or one-to-several if I get a crowd). 10am - 4pm (but I'll take breaks when I feel like it!). Street Library is also launching a creative writing competition the same day, which I'm picking the poetry winner for.
From noon on the same day there is a fundraising tribute to David Bowie taking place in the shop window of Cancer Research UK on Glastonbury High Street. I'll be reading 'I Was Pianos' - my cut-up tribute to Bowie - as part of the event.

Wednesday February 24th - Read Aloud Day
I'm taking part in World Read Aloud Day for Library of Avalon. I'm not sure exactly what format this will take... but it will definitely involve me reading aloud...

Wednesday March 2nd - Library of Avalon Residency

Thursday March 10th - AvalonVox Poetry Slam
More details here. I've put my name down!

Sunday March 20th - Announcement of 2016 Bardic Theme
At Noon on the Vernal Equinox, it is the tradition for the Bard of Glastonbury to announce the theme of that year's contest at Glastonbury's Market Cross. All those who wish to 'contest the Chair' - and become the next Chaired Bard of Ynys Witrin - are then invited to write a piece to perform on that theme. This year, I'm the Bard so I have the honour of making the announcement.

Thursday May 19th - Glastonbury Bardic Finals
(Date of trials tbc)
This year's contenders for the title of 'Bard of Glastonbury' will be performing at the town's  Assembly Rooms, as happens every St Dunstan's Day... and the Chair, Robes, Branch and Book will move on to a new Bard...

Monday, 11 January 2016

I Was Pianos: a cut-up for David Bowie

“This is the way I do cut-ups - I don’t know if it’s like the way Brion Gysin does his, or Burroughs does his, I don’t know. But this is the way I do it” - David Bowie I Was Pianos (After W.H. Auden's 'Funeral Blues') Coffin, doves, black and dead, Cut off the wood, Pour away the mourners: Everyone's in gloves tonight And every dog's in love. Would the stars see me now? Pack up the traffic. Bring out the ocean. At noon I want a juicy rest With nothing overhead. Let the white necks of policemen Sing songs to my wrong. Stop the turning circle, Put out my telephone. Silence all the midnight, The midnight from my bone. Put crepe bows round the message: "Can Sunday come?" I was pianos. Let aeroplanes wear moaning, With a sky-working week. I thought: South, sun, Cotton, West, my East, Scribbling on the clocks, And my public He was good, and... With my muffled talk, Dismantle the moon. For now, prevent the last. Come North, barking, and drum for ever.
- Wes White, Chaired Bard of Ynys Witrin, 11th January 2016

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Library of Avalon Residency - exploring the Library. Part 1.

Back in September 2015, I launched my writing residency at Library of Avalon. Part of the idea of the residency was that I would report back on what I was doing... well, we're three sessions in, so long past due for an update.

At my first session proper (after a small workshop on the launch afternoon), on 23rd September, I was taken aback by the popularity of the event. I'd pictured myself sat quietly and more or less in solitude in a corner at the Library, taking my time to explore... in fact, I had a good half a dozen other people there with me - mostly for the whole three hours.

I was coming in with what I hoped was an open mind as to the possibility of what might happen - in fact, this is the approach I try to take each session. I don't go in with anything much of a plan. I go to see what I will find. And - I found these people. So, for most of the session, we chatted, introducing ourselves to each other and casually sharing thoughts about writing. At one point, one of our group mentioned a previous occasion when she had stopped in a gallery and simply written a description of whatever she could see in front of her. This member had the same text with her and read it to us - and it was very evocative in its simplicity. So - I thought, that's perfect, if what we want to do is explore this space, let's do that. See what we can see.

These were some of the results. For the most part, these are reproduced as written in the residency session on the day. Norman, who's a regular attender already, prefers to take notes home from the residency sessions and send me worked-on versions later, as here. My own results appear last. The authors retain copyright and work is reproduced here with their permission:


Through the Courtyard
Pauline Franks
Through the courtyard, past the dragon holding the world in his claw,
guarding the entrance to a world of wonder and knowledge,
Pan sits playing his flutes to inspire.
I lift the latch of the old oak door and pass through.
I'm met with the treasure of Avalon Library
An ordinary simple clock faces me on the wall - 3 o'clock - I have an hour to explore
where do I start
I follow my heart and my eyes fall on
'The Serpent Grail'
I open it and time ceases to exist


The Library
I want to see more
I want to see how
I want to know who, and why
Amongst the wealth of books on shelves
The unimaginable number of words, phrases and paragraphs
None give me the answer
As to how, why and who
built the arch
over the fireplace


La Magia
Hugo Valveroe

La magia, que decir de la magia... Llevamos conviviendo con ella el mismo tiempo que el universo fue creado, pues asi fue... magia. La creacion del universo fue magia. El amor es magia, mi vida y la tuya son magia. La hay en las estrellas, en el sol y en la luna, nos rodea, nos envuelve, forma parte de nosotros a cada instante.

Cada encuentro es magia, cada comida es magia, el arte es la magia que fluyo un dia de la mente y el corazon de un mago o maga.

Magia la que ansiamos y magia fabricamos, con cada aliento, con cada pensamiento. Creamos con el pensamiento y el corazon, que unidos forman la magia de la realidad. Asi pues la creacion fue la magia de la diosa que un buen dia decidio creer y crear.


He visto un gato
Blanca Gomez Sanchez

He visto un gato, una piedra brillante y luminosa, he visto vida en las cosas... la primera forma en la vida y un angel en el bosque que me mira... mi espiritu y mi ser superior me guian.

Aqui rodead de libros en esta magica libreria los colores de nuestras almas se unen en esta ceremonia en armonia y sintonia, angeles que despiertan que en complicidad se miran, alrededor de el fuego la llama ilumina el juego que empieza y nunca termina.


Solitude My Greatest Friend
Norman Webley

I live in Solitude just on my own
But never do I feel quite alone,
And even in the dead of night
A quiet still presence watches over me

St. Michael and Raphael greet me
From a beautiful print on the wall,
Uriel and Gabriel hold me in thrall:
Protection, Healing, Peace and Wisdom,
Here in the Library of Avalon
I am reminded of them all

The strange thing is in times of trouble
I reach outside my silent bubble
And seek the help of a Kindly Angel,
Often for something quite mundane
A parking space in a narrow lane,
Finding lost keys to get my home,
Waiting for a Loved One to phone

Is there an Angel of Creativity?
I wonder when I've lost my muse
But when I pause to ponder,
I'm sometimes given subtle clues

I feel their silent protection
When sleeping or travelling alone,
With help in unfortunate mishaps
Maybe even in Radar Traps
When driving in a restricted zone

But Stillness is my Spiritual Food
To lift me from a falling mood
And Solitude my Greatest Friend
When my mind is still, all troubles end!


Looking at the Library 
Wes White

Between the shelves, a stone mantle.
Worn. Weathered? Worn, anyway.
Worn and worn and worn.
And stained. And cracked.
On the stone, though, a clock
- a regular circle, in regular black -
keeps regular time
turning smoothly.

From a black beam
Hangs a red drape.
Elaborate, exotic.
What is behind
The red drape?


That seems like plenty of reading for one blog post, so I'll write further updates on the later sessions asap rather than trying to cram it all in here.

The next session is tomorrow (January 6th 2016), 1.30 to 4.30pm. If you're considering joining me, you don't have to come for the whole three hours or commit to coming to any further sessions - whenever suits you is fine. Donations are welcome, and are split between myself and the Library; please give generously according to your means. Library of Avalon volunteers should consider the sessions free to them.