Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Postcard 59: The Holy Land

My thanks to David Gill for the use of his photographs.
Click on the image to enlarge.

Above: desert travellers...

Below: The Church of the Nativity, Manger Square, Bethlehem

'This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'
Luke 2:12

'We saw his star in the east...'
Matthew 2:2

Nadolig Llawen!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Postcard 58: Calum's Road on Raasay

I wonder if you are still trying to find that last minute gift or to secure a little holiday reading for yourself.

We are devastated that our Borders store is closing down, but back in the summer I stumbled across a book by Adam Nicolson called 'Sea Room'*, all about the Shiant Islands, with their wild and rugged beauty, their puffins and their rats. I loved some of Nicolson's descriptions, but did not feel on balance that the puffins had as good a press as I would have liked (but then I may be biased, as those of you who have read my puffin posts will have realised!).

However, this book prompted me to seek out other books about the wild corners of Scotland's highlands and islands. If you like out-of-the-way places where the sea meets the mountains, you might enjoy the following books, too.
I thought you might like to join us on our tour in the footsteps of Calum of the road...

We left Sconser and the Cuillin mountains on Skye in misty sunshine, and thoroughly enjoyed the short CalMac ferry ride to Raasay...

... where - wonder of wonders - we were greeted by White-tailed (Sea) Eagles.

We drove along the road, passing this glorious inland loch...

... until we reached the eastern shore, and the landmark of Brochel Castle. David ran down to explore while I got out my watercolours and did a quick sketch.

We had not realised that we were so close to the start of Calum's Road, which is marked by the sign above and the cairn below.

The inscription on the cairn explains that the footpath to Arnish, a distance of one and three-quarter miles, was 'widened to a single track road with passing places and prepared for surfacing by Malcolm Macleod B.E.M. (1911-1988)', (aka Calum), who carried out the road-building work over a period of ten years. It was an extraordinary feat.

I love pigs - and I love unusual 'wildlife' road signs. This really made me smile! We didn't see any pigs, though, except...

... this one on another Raasay road sign. (Click the picture for a close view of the spots!).

We got out at the point where the road became impassable to motor vehicles, and found this spade propped up against the rock face. We just wondered if it might have belonged to Calum...

Do let me know if you have any favourite books about wildlife or off-the beaten track destinations.

I would also love to know what unusual animal road signs you have encountered on your travels.

* The expression 'Sea Room' is a nautical term.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Postcard 57: International Magazines - and Thomas Hardy

Left: Contemporan Orizont Literar [C&LH] from Romania
Right: Metverse Muse from India

The woods near Thomas Hardy's Cottage in Dorset, England, UK

The memorial in Stinsford Church, Dorset
Hardy's heart is buried here.
His ashes rest in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey, London

I have had a very international delivery of literary magazines this week. It is always a thrill to receive the monthly journal, Contemporan Orizont Literar [C&LH] from Romania. It came in the same post as Metverse Muse, the annual poetry publication from Visakhapatnam in India.


Issue II, Nr. 8 (13) for September and October 2009 of C&LH is beautifully produced and largely bilingual. It has an arresting red cover and is packed with a mixture of features, poems and articles. Mihai Cantuniari is the Director of the publication, with Daniel Dragomirescu as the Editor-in-Chief. You have only to glance at the back cover to find that there are contributions from writers in all four corners of the globe: the USA, UK, India, Japan, Nepal, Israel and Belgium are all represented. Alina-Olimpia Miron is responsible for some of the translations in to English. I enjoyed the Haiku and Tanka from Victor P. Gendrano. His poem, 'Ode to the Banyan Tree', subtitled 'Captain Cook, Hawaii', is most poignant.

Western readers will be familiar with the work of Pascale Petit, who is the featured poet in this issue. Her poem, 'Chandelier Tree', is a fine complement to Gendrano's 'Ode to the Banyan Tree'. Petit's poems are often energised by wild and wonderful symbolic creatures, and this selection is no exception. We find the 'electric eel', the 'atlas moth' and the twelve 'frozen horses'.

This characteristically cosmopolitan edition ends with a fitting tribute to 'Pace' or 'Peace' by Abiola Olatunde from Nigeria. Thank you, Daniel and the team, for another great issue! If you would like to find out more or take out a subscription to C&LH, do visit the blog here.


Metverse Muse is edited by Dr H. Tulsi. It contains about 600 poems from nearly 60 countries, so is equally international in approach. The issue contains work by some familiar UK names - Wendy Webb (of Norfolk Poets and Writers), Claire Knight (recent winner of the Haiku section of the New Zealand International Poetry Competition), Bernard Jackson (Metverse Muse Literary Adviser), Les Merton (editor of Poetry Cornwall/Bardhonyeth Kernow and featuring in my Echo blog), Norman Bissett, Diane Simkin and others. This issue contains a workshop entitled 'Key into the Interlocking Rubaiyat' by Bernard M. Jackson, with hints on executing a successful poem in this form. It had not occurred to me previously to consider how closely Frost's masterpiece 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening' resonates with the Rubaiyat form. There are differences, of course: metre, for instance, as Jackson explains.

Dr Tulsi has included my sonnet on p.92, 'Hardy's Cottage', in which I try to capture a flavour of the wooded landscape around the poet's delightful cottage in rural Dorset. The cottage garden flowers in the hebaceous border, however, give a deceptively tame impression of this out-of-the-way place where wild creatures roam. You can read about the snake here.

The photograph above shows the woodland route to the cottage. We were there in early Spring, before the leaves had grown back on the branches. The Hardy graves in Stinsford Churchyard are worth a visit. Do look in the church, too, for the stained glass windows are magnificent.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Postcard 56: A Sunset for the Guy

Cuillin sunset, Skye, Scotland

Strumble Head, Pembrokeshire, Wales

Narnia in a Lamp?
Tree reflections in the lamp, the Cathedral Close, St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales
(Can't you just imagine Mr Tumnus appearing through the trees and meeting Lucy?)

The Weaver of Grass has celebrated Bonfire Night (aka as Guy Fawkes Night) with a wonderful blend of sunset photography and poetry. Do follow this link HERE to her site.

I decided that I had a few sunset photographs of my own that I could post. I hope you like the ones I have chosen, taken in different months, years and geographical locations. If you have a favourite sunset photograph, why not post it on your blog, and let us know.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is one of my all time favourite books. You will remember Mr Tumnus the faun, with his 'strange but pleasant little face' and his cloven hooves. Later on, of course, he is turned into a stone statue by the White Witch. But can Aslan the lion come to the rescue...?

The wardrobe is on display in the Wade Center in Wheaton College, USA.

Speaking of the USA and returning to 5 November, do take a look at Steven's blog post for today. It was good to be reminded of the (rather gruesome) tale of our Parliament. I wonder how many of you saw the Guy Fawkes lantern on display in the revamped Ashmolean Museum on 'The Culture Show' this evening on BBC2, with Andrew-Graham Dixon. There was also feature on Keats - with Andrew Motion alluding to the new film, 'Bright Star', with Ben Whishaw in the lead role.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Postcard 55: Of Bards and Birdboxes

Female Pied Flycatcher
(Above and immediately below)

Male Pied Flycatcher

(Below - at least I assume it is a Pied Flycatcher!)

I wonder whether you have been taking part in the RSPB Feed the Birds Day this weekend. There have been over 100 events across the UK.

I took these photos earlier this year in one of our favourite areas of woodland in Carmarthenshire. I'm afraid the quality of the pictures is not very good, but the birds were so fast that it was hard to click quickly without jolting ther camera. We did not like to go too close.

We received a note from out local branch of the RSPB yesterday, telling us the good news that the two nestboxes we sponsored in Cwm Clydach RSPB Reserve had both been used successfully.

One of the boxes had been taken over by a pair of Pied Flycatchers. The nest building was underway on 20 April 2009. The first egg was laid on 6 May 2009 and a total of 4 eggs hatched on 26 May 2009. Alas, there was one casualty - but three of the four young fledged successfully.

The second box was used by a Blue Tit family. The nest was built around 16 April 2009, and the first egg was laid on 30 April. This time 8 eggs hatched on 19 May and all the chicks fledged. Great news!

You may be wondering what this has to do with literature. Well, I was reading the current RSPB magazine, Birds (November 2009), and was delighted to find a reference to a letter by Professor David Morley of the University of Warwick. Professor Morley has developed what he calls Bard Box poems. These poems - which often resemble the call or movement of the bird in the box, or the shape of its nest - are painted on to the outside of the nestbox and allowed to weather, so that the young 'nest in a poem and the fledglings then emerge from within a poem'. Humans enjoy the spectacle of these Bard Box examples of public art, so it is not only our feathered friends who benefit.

N.B. Professor Morley issues a word of warning to budding Bard Box artists, 'I have a patent pending on this idea so hands off, eco-capitalists!' ...

That said, do take a look at Professor Morley's Strid and Sessile blog entry to find out more about this fascinating project.

I wonder how you celebrated Feed the Birds Day. Let me know if you did anything interesting.

Incidentally, we were just having lunch yesterday when a large male Sparrowhawk perched on our fence. We sometimes get a TITTERING, a TIDING, a GULP, a MURDER or a CHARM of Magpies, but this was the first time I have seen a Sparrowhawk in our neck of the (town) 'woods'. Is there a collective noun for Sparrowhawks, I wonder?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Postcard 44: Dylan Thomas Festival, Swansea, 2009

The Dylan Thomas Centre,
Swansea, Wales

The 12th Dylan Thomas Festival (26 October-9 November 2009) is about to begin in the Dylan Thomas Centre, with supporting events taking place around the city.

I have only just realised that the dates coincide - give or take a day - with the anniversaries of the poet's birth (27 October 1914 at Number 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea) and death (9 November 1953).

A rather unseasonal photo of Cwmdonkin Park...

... with its drinking fountain where the young Dylan sailed his ship.
Sadly the chained tin cup is no longer there...

The festival takes its name from Dylan's work, 'In Country Sleep'. It is dedicated to the memory of poet and writer, Aeronwy, daughter of Dylan and Caitlin, who died on 27 July this year. Dannie Abse, Stevie Davies, Owen Sheers, Fflur Dafydd, Byron Beynon, Kathryn Gray and many others will be taking part.

The events are being organised by David Woolley, Jo Furber, Jeff Towns and others. The festival aims to celebrate the 'power of the creative word', using Dylan's work as a springboard for contemporary art that has an eye to the future.

'Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn,

what makes my toenails twinkle,
what makes me want to do this or that or nothing.'
Dylan Thomas

(Source for quotation: Encyclopedia Britannica)

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Postcard 43: Dreams of Skye

Boat ride back to Elgol from the brooding waters of Loch Coruisk

The foreshore, Elgol

Cuillin Sunset

Skye Collage
Click to enlarge.
('Here's one I made earlier' - after our trip in 2008)

I seem to have had a lot of deadlines recently, and am only just catching up with myself since we returned from our week on Skye last month. However, the Misty Isle continues to live in my mind, and I felt it was about time I mentioned it on this blog.

To my great delight, I have just been given a secondhand copy of A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland: the Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by those great traveller-diarists, Johnson and Boswell. The book has been edited by R.W. Chapman and is an Oxford Paperback. The Folio Society have also produced a (magnificent) edition.

Since our return I have had a Skye poem accepted for publication in a winter anthology. It refers in passing to the mournful, heart-rending Pibroch laments, played on the bagpipes. Speaking of music that tugs at the heart-strings (and in some cases, the harp-strings), we bought a most evocative CD, 'Skye the Island', from the Aros Centre in Portree (the lochside town with the coloured houses in the collage above). We have been driving around, enjoying the music of Blair Douglas and friends. We have also been entranced by the Gaelic music of Maeve Mackinnon. This is the link to her official site: here. You can even catch a snatch of her music: enjoy a breath of island air!

  • Seals: we saw lots of seals on Skye. Closer to home, there are also a few around the Pembrokeshire coast. Click here to see my post from last weekend with movie clip of a mother and pup.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Postcard 42: Reach Poetry 133 and Dozmary Pool

Dozmary Pool, Cornwall

Jamaica Inn, Cornwall


I never cease to be amazed at the influence of the Arthurian legends. Dozmary Pool plays a prominent role in the stories, so it was interesting to view this remote and evocative stretch of water on Bodmin Moor. Needless to say, there was no sign of Excalibur!

My poem resulting from this visit has just been published in Reach Poetry, issue 133, (Indigo Dreams Press, edited by Ronnie Goodyer and Dawn Bauling). In Cornish mythology the return of the Chough is said to herald the return of King Arthur.

Dozmary Pool was surprisingly hard to find; but geographically speaking, it is not far at all from another famous Cornish landmark, Jamaica Inn, where there is a small exhibition about the work of Daphne du Maurier.

  • Do you have a favourite Daphne du Maurier line? If so, why not share it here. The well known, well loved opening sentence of Rebecca does not count, apparently, for this purpose.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Postcard 41: 'The Seventh Quarry' magazine (& Ystrad Fflur)

The Abbey of Ystrad Fflur
aka Strata Florida
with David Gill
(whose poem about the Kerameikos in Athens appears on p.34)

Red Kite

Base of the ancient yew tree in the Strata Florida churchyard,
associated with the 14th century poet,
Dafydd ap Gwilym

I was delighted to receive my copy of the latest edition (issue 10) of The Seventh Quarry, edited by Peter Thabit Jones, with assistance from Vince Clemente, the Consultant Editor in America (and creator of the beautiful poem on p.9, 'And I think of Roses'). The issue maintains its Welsh roots - the poet in profile is Swansea's Malcolm Parr - but has a truly cosmopolitan feel. It features poets from Wales, England, Scotland, America, Israel, Serbia, Japan, Australia and Canada.

The Seventh Quarry
has recently become a cooperating partner with Cross-Cultural Communications Publishers in New York. The magazine is beautifully produced. It costs £3.50 a copy and comes out twice a year, in January and July.

The current issue includes two previously unpublished caricatures by Dylan's wife, Caitlin Thomas, courtesy of John Edwin Cowen. Sarah Petrak's poem, 'A Seashell Curved' on p.21, particularly caught my eye, with its unusual lure of the ocean. There are poems of loss ('Healing' by Annabelle Moseley, p.14, with its 'palette of new colors') and life ('Parhelia' on p. 12 by fellow poet and blogger, Susan Richardson, with its lively Sundog in the sky). There are a number of interesting Leitmotifs such as shadows and mirrors ('Plein Air' by John Dotson, p.13; 'Simplicity' by Robert L. Giron, p.16 - and 'Your Shadow', p.29, by Carole Ann Smith).

The issue contains two poems (Byron Beynon, p.41, and Caroline Gill, p.34) on the Welsh abbey of Ystrad Fflur - hence the photographs above. It is a wonderfully evocative spot. Red kites soar overhead and the hills resound with the ring of centuries of verse.

Closer to home, 'Mumbles Pier' by David Alun Williams, p.47, draws the reader into a world of 'bright-gartered gulls' and the double-edged intrigue of 'entangled lines'. You can find details of The Seventh Quarry on the website here, and also on MySpace.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Postcard 40: Swansea, Dylan Thomas and Salubrious Passage

Coastcard work-in-progress

Above and below: Salubrious Passage, Swansea

Above and Below: more Coastcard experiments

I am in the process of designing some greetings cards of Swansea, home town of Dylan Thomas. Last week I was looking at some of my photographs and experimenting with a design based on the famous alleyway, Salubrious Passage. I have been trying out different colour schemes, as you can see.

You will notice the stone tablets or open books, incised with words from Dylan's famous poem (and one of my favourites), 'Fern Hill'. You will also notice the cherub holding the strings (which look like reins).

Imagine my surprise when I visited Seth Apter's blog, The Altered Page, to see a rather similar image. ('Chinese Checkers', picture 3). It is not identical, but I cannot help wondering if there is some common influence. What do you think?

There are more cherubs in Swansea in the vicinity of the Grand Theatre. Dylan Thomas referred to this alley as 'Paradise Passage' in his ghost story, 'The Followers'.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Postcard 39: Oxwich, Gower and Wesley

'Is this picnic only for humans?'

We had a 'holiday-at-home' yesterday, when we packed a picnic lunch and headed for Gower. My heart lifts when we cross the cattlegrid at the start of Fairwood Common: I always feel at that point that the town is truly behind us. Our first port of call was the new Wildflower Centre. If you are in the area, do drop in for a cup of coffee. The Italian bread looked amazing. I have rarely seen such a splendid display of deep blue cornflowers.

We had our picnic on the edge of Cefn Bryn, before heading on to the south coast of the peninsula at Oxwich Bay.

Sadly the beach was full of wasps and looking very 'grey', but we were about to head off in a different direction. Oxwich is a pretty village, known for its wide stretch of sand and for the wildlife habitat of its extensive dunes. It is not widely known that the preacher and founder of Methodism, John Wesley, came to the village and stayed in one of the beautiful cottages in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Oxwich was once a haven for smugglers. Oxwich Castle, a ruined manor house, was built in 1541 and the delightful 12th century church of St Illtyd nestles in the trees on a rocky ledge above the sea.

Along the boardwalk
Eggs of some sort or a seed pod from something like a birch tree?

On this occasion, we were heading for a nature walk across the sand dunes and over the short marshy boardwalk. The area of reedbed and fen was once a saltmarsh. Thomas Mansel Talbot of Margam claimed it from the sea in the 18th century.

Burnet Moths

I.D. gratefully received!

Looking up from Oxwich to Cefn Bryn on Gower

Sadly, it was not a bright sunny afternoon, so it is not very surprising that we failed to find any lizards, grass snakes or adders on the dunes. We had a good time all the same: I hope you enjoy these photos of some of our sightings...
ID gratefully received!

The waymarked paths over the nature reserve are marked with white cockle shells. Cockles are a key part of the Gower scene.

Common Blue Butterfly - I think...

... and query Meadow Brown Butterfly

Red Admiral

To be identified!

Brown Lipped Snail?
(it looked very pink to us!)