"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde
The great thing about friends, friends, is that you can acquire new ones without diminishing the value of the existing ones. Last week I made a brief foray from the bosom of my old, familiar writing community in the north, to the bosom of what I hope will be a new writing community in the south. More of the journey which connects them (oh, so much more) in coming weeks.
The foray in question was to the Swindon Festival of Literature for the launch of Domestic Cherry 2. This is the festival’s annual publication: I’m delighted to be in it with (amongst others) the great American poet Sharon Olds, and many others including Sarah Singleton, Simon Williams, Susan Taylor and Cristina Newton. The hostess was Hilda Sheehan, who connects all the writerly folk of that region together with great fun and generosity.
The whole event was brilliantly daft, but for me it was also rather moving. One of my very first poetry gigs was at this festival, around eight years ago. I performed with Elvis McGonagall, himself a fledgling in tartan feathers at the time – and afterwards we came back to Lower Shaw Farm, home to festival founder Matt Holland and his family. I found myself in a welcoming kitchen. Bowls of curry were passed around; the table was alive with laughter and poetry. This, I thought, is where I want to be. These are the people I want to be with. These, in fact, are the people I want to be. I went to bed late, and wrote a poem about Lower Shaw and its ethos. I sent the poem to Matt. Then I went away and became one of them…..
Last Saturday I found myself back in that same kitchen, reading the poem to Matt from the book it now appears in. And this summer, I’ll be moving my boat down to that part of the world, to enter the next phase of my poetry life with (I hope) a lot more to offer than last time. So here is the poem in question: for Matt, for Hilda and Mike and all who welcomed me to Swindon – and for those, I hope, who will keep a door open for me in the north too.
We all believe that one day we’ll keep chickens
When I get mine, I’ll put them in a place like this,
in slightly peeling hen-runs, roofed in time for rain.
Around them, lazy beds with kindling patches;
bees as earnest as librarians,
quietly browsing milkweed; a determined pig.
They’ll worship the dazzlingly polished cockerel,
proud as a bouncer; they’ll look up
to the Indian Runners hurrying like fools.
I’ll live beside them in a house
furnished with the careful absent-mindedness of love.
Flagstones clean of the worst, collecting thread and crumb.
A little ash on the hearth, the table not quite cleared,
the house never quite cold:
I keep it warm, I’ll say, by opening the doors.