"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde
England; small enough to know, large enough to love.
Last year, my boat Tinker and I travelled down 250 miles of it, from Cheshire to Wiltshire. The view from my window is wide and humbling. There are broad, gentle slopes bright with yellow rape. The lanes, fizzy with cow parsley, run between Bronze Age hillforts and thatched villages. Overseeing it all are the White Horses of Wiltshire. It’s like a Ravilious painting full of grandeur and simplicity, rich with birds and beasts. Its poets and creative people have welcomed me – they are too numerous to mention but Hilda Sheehan, Matt Holland, Isadora Vibes, Josephine Corcoran and James Aldridge are amongst them. I have new friends, too, all along the linear village that is the Kennet & Avon canal, especially here at Moonraker Boats. It’s a glorious, ancient landscape and I am glad to know it.
But friends, it is not my landscape. The relationship that brought me here is over…. which is sad, but in itself is no reason to leave. It’s something quite apart from that. Recently, visiting the Midlands and North West, I have felt a great pull to head back in that direction. There have been lively get-togethers with my kith and kin, and events like Ann Atkinson’s memorial/ celebration event which brought together a deeply loving poetry clan. There have been days of poetry at the Lyric Festival and the Sheffield Poetry Festival; and days of walking and companionship in Hathersage and Macclesfield. Well, as a result, I have a mild case of what the Welsh call hiraeth – a craving for the land that you belong to, and which belongs to you. In short, I know my place at last.
So Wiltshire – with thanks for your beauty and your many kindnesses, with thanks for the opportunity to know you – I will take my leave in the next few weeks. I won’t be too far away, on my new mooring in the Midlands. I will still be working in the SW on several projects; and the remarkable people I’ve met down here will not be left behind. I’m only going to be two hours away by road – and I wouldn’t take this to mean that I am settling anywhere. I’ve had a little epiphany, not a character transplant.
By boat, of course, it’s a little more than two hours. A little while ago I sat in a pub lamenting my predicament. To go back north, I whined, would mean going back the way I came. Thirty days of boating down the Macclesfield, the Trent and Mersey, the Grand Union, the North Oxford, the Thames, the K&A. With gaps for rest and work and other things, that’s two months of moving. I can’t spare such a long period again; I have work to do, I said.
Ah, said my companion in the pub – a seafaring man. But you could always go the other way. Ten days at most.
The other way?
Ah. You mean this way?
Hold your nerve, Jo Bell. Hold your nerve. And the rest of you – watch this space.