The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog

"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde

But hark….

….’tis the song of the Lesser Spotted Sucker, in search of punishment. Here’s the thing: Ledbury Poetry Festival programme is approaching completion, National Poetry Day planning gathering pace and my Winning Words online course about to begin (please sign up, we think it’s going to be something special). In a few days I start an Arvon course, and then I go straight on to the first week of Three Women in a Boat. So naturally, what I need is…. another project.

I know, I know. It’s Matt Merritt‘s fault. He encouraged me. You might remember my participation in Somethingeveryday during February (today SED welcomes Ruskin Gammon for his residency through April). It was hard work but thoroughly worthwhile. I got up early, I stayed up late and I wrote. So now I hear that it’s NaPoWriMo, and Matt is taking part. If he can do it…. Well, we shall see. We really shall see, because in theory I’ll be posting a new piece here on my blog every day through April. Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye…. and be patient, as these will inevitably be first drafts.

The NaPoWriMo balloon goes up...

This is a worked-up version of one I started last week in Anglesey: it’s based on this extract from the famous diary of eighteenth century naturalist, Gilbert White. Like us, he enjoyed ‘two sultry days’ in late March:

Selborne
‘March 26th and 27th 1777. Two sultry days: Mrs Snooke’s tortoise came forth out of the ground.’

Within his calendar of beetles, swallows,
cucumbers and small astonishments,
two sultry days. His neighbour’s tortoise comes out
like an old man from a weather clock.
Swallows play, and then withdraw.
Green finches pull off blossoms by the handful
though they have no hands. He chronicles
experiments with cold frames, candle flames and dung
and keeps account of every creeper;
noticing, and noticing.

Around our own two sultry days
the brick walls gather heat.
Poets come out from their hibernaculum
and spread their notebooks on the lawn.
Bumblebees head out on scented flight paths.
Pheasants nonchalantly shag between the daffodils.

The diarist stations small boys in the meadows
to watch for Mr Blanchard’s air balloon
whose slow trajectory should bring it here.
They skulk between the cowslips, but at three o’clock
it shows against the London smoke; and dangles
like a tea-urn over Selborne’s steeple,
Blanchard tiny as a miracle beneath it.

On this side of the fence we look up,
put the clocks forward;
pick up our pens again.
Waddling away towards the fields,
Mrs Snooke’s tortoise is a gentle relic
in unlikely heat, his shadow lengthening.

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2 comments on “But hark….

  1. Lisa Rossetti
    April 1, 2011

    I got the sense that you wrote this with a fine nib and black ink on cream parchment, whilst watching dust motes rise & fall, and the curled cat stirring.

    Enough of that! When are you coming back to Chester?

    And did you know there’s now a monthly Sunday Open Mic evening for stories & poems at the Commercial Hotel? I think the university’s Literature students organise it???? Send a tweet to @annakabana, she will know.

  2. Jo Bell
    April 1, 2011

    I wrote it on vellum actually, parchment is a bit newfangled for me. Not planning to come back to Chester for a little while as it’s a bit of a trek but will bear it in mind!

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This entry was posted on April 1, 2011 by in Writing exercises.
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