Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Tuesday Poem: Hunting Snake by Judith Wright

Sun-warmed in this late season’s grace
under the autumn’s gentlest sky
we walked, and froze half-through a pace.
The great black snake went reeling by.

 Head down, tongue flickering on the trail
he quested through the parting grass,
sun glazed his curves of diamond scale
and we lost breath to see him pass.

 What track he followed, what small food
fled living from his fierce intent,
we scarcely thought; still as we stood
our eyes went with him as he went.

Cold, dark and splendid he was gone
into the grass that hid his prey.
We took a deeper breath of day,
looked at each other, and went on.

© Judith Wright,
from Hunting Snake, 1964
Black Rat Snake
Judith Arundell Wright (31 May 1915 – 25 June 2000) was a leading Australian poet, environmentalist and campaigner for Aboriginal land rights. She was a founding member and, from 1964 to 1976, President, of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland. She was only  the second Australian to receive the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, in 1991.

Collections include:   The Moving Image, Woman to Man, The Gateway, The Two Fires, Birds, The Other Half, Magpies, Shadow, The Flame Tree, and Hunting Snake.  Her Collected Poems was published by Angus and Robertson in 1994 and can be bought from Amazon (kindle and pback) from £5.00 upwards.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Something tells me Autumn ...... is on the way

It's a glorious day today, Bank Holiday Monday, in the Lake District, but the weather has been unseasonally torrential recently.  And there is a definite chill in the air overnight during the past couple of days.  Just to confirm the onset of Autumn, in the garden there are signs that summer is at an end.  The river is reflecting the amount of rain we've had - it rises these days with frightening speed.

a big brown monster!
There are yellowing leaves on the trees and on the riverbank.

There are other signs too. The hips on my Chinese species rose, Moyesii, are beginning to redden

But the Fuchsia - the feral variety described as 'common or garden' - is still flowering with jewel-like colours even in the rain.

In the south of England, it's as hot as Mexico.  Here in the north, it's another country altogether.  Now I'm off to go for a walk in the cool hills, to get a glimpse of the sun before summer is finally over.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Moon, the Moon . . . .

I'm breaking my blog holiday to let you know about this event - if you're anywhere in Cumbria you might want to make it part of your Bank Holiday schedule!

As part of the Lakes Alive Festival the incredible illuminated moon created by Luke Jerram will be installed in Kendal - and three poets will be performing some moon-inspired poetry underneath it. Extremely excited and very happy to be sharing the space with the brilliant Hannah Hodgson and Harriet Fraser.

It's a free event with room for 250 so come along: August 27th, 6.30-7pm, St Thomas Church, Stricklandgate. Kathleen Jones, Harriet Fraser and Hannah Hodgson. Prepare to be bewitched!


I ♥ Lake District National Park

Friday, 19 August 2016

R.I.P. Heathcliff

Today, sadly, we all said goodbye to our beloved family cat, Heathcliff.  He was quite a character - deserving of the name. Unfortunately his cancer had spread and he was no longer eating or drinking,so the vet suggested the only kind thing. He has had a good life - at least 17 years of it, so no regrets. This is Heathcliff in his prime: -

He once belonged to another poet, William Scammell, and came to me when Bill died of cancer in 2000.  Bill wrote a poem about the cat who walked through the door out of a stormy winter night to take up residence in his house, sleeping on his bed and giving him comfort in his last days.  Heathcliff was a very special cat.

We have been adopted by a black cat
with a white bib and paws.
Almost a designer cat,
who pushes his affections
into your stomach as though
he was making bread.
He's come from nowhere,
the exact spot you yourself are headed for.

Poem copyright the Estate of William Scammell, 2000.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Gone AWOL - Normal service to be resumed soon

I'm on holiday - having a much needed break.  No beach, I'm afraid. This is a stay-cation with children and grandchildren coming to me for a big family party. So I won't be around much over the next couple of weeks.  Have a great summer holiday everyone!

Thanks to Julia Smith, librarian, at Cover to Cover for the pic - it's a great YA site from KeriKeri High School in New Zealand and has an E-book library.  Take a look!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Haida Gwaii and the Masters of the Pacific Coast

I've thoroughly enjoyed the BBC4 documentary programme on the First Nation people of the Pacific Coast of the US, Canada and Alaska.  The British Museum's Dr Jago Cooper made the same journey, both physical and historical, that I made last year in search of a people who have managed to survive for more than 10,000 years in the same environment without destroying it.   Very few other cultures have succeeded in doing that - most of them have been wiped out by Western 'incomers' who regarded their own cultures as 'advanced' and superior.  That's a viewpoint that has succeeded in polluting and exploiting the entire planet.
The Mortuary and Memorial poles of Ninstints, Haida Gwaii
Watching Jago Cooper canoeing round the coastal inlets and tramping through ancient woodlands made me very nostalgic for Haida Gwaii, Cormorant Island and the many other places I visited.  I longed to go back.  He met many of the people I met too - Haida artists and carvers, museum curators. But he stayed well clear of the politics.  The daily fight for their landrights against oil companies and forestry corporations was barely touched on.  But he did, in Programme 2, confront the genocide perpetrated by the government of British Columbia which left only 500 out of 30,000 people on Haida Gwaii alive.  It is a tribute to the strength of their culture that they survived.  As their declaration in the preamble to the Haida Constitution affirms:

'Our culture is born of respect and intimacy with the land and sea and the air around us.  Like the forest, the roots of our people are intertwined such that the greatest troubles cannot over come us.'

Jago Cooper
There's a very good review of the programme over at The Arts Desk.  I will be watching the repeats too, feeding my longing to return to the lands of the Haida Nation, the Tlingit and the Coastal Salish.  For anyone who wants to read more (with full colour illustrations) about the people of the Pacific Coast, my book, Travelling to the Edge of the World,  is available through Amazon and to be ordered from all good bookshops.  It can also be purchased by emailing thebookmill@ferberjones.com for £9.00 + P&P

Monday, 1 August 2016

Tuesday Poem: No News by Kathleen Jones

On this day
the sun shone on Eden
and the river gave back the light.

On this day
there were eight ducklings
instead of twelve; a feathered flotilla
under the willows where the hooked jaws
of the pike dapple in deep water.

On this day
a politician confessed
to falsifying his accounts and another
to being unfaithful to the electorate.
I have sinned, he said, it will never happen again.

On this day
a trillion dollars
found its way into a secret account
on a distant island where there are no politics
that are not to do with money.

On this day
six fighter jets, twenty tanks and
a hundred assault rifles were delivered
across an unmarked border.

On this day
two football teams escaped relegation
and a banker was cleared of corruption.
The real ale in the pub had the regulation amount of froth.

On this day
four hundred men, women and children drowned
in the Mediterranean, fleeing conflict.

On this day
the magnolia opened its white petals
for the first time and there is a wren nesting
above the door in the hole I drilled
for a lamp bracket.  I called my mother.
She was not at home.

Copyright Kathleen Jones, 2016

Every now and then I try to make sense of things - this contradictory, tragic, beautiful, upside-down world we live in.  I wrote this poem on one of those days - just an ordinary day.  Out shopping I overheard someone say there was 'no news today', meaning presumably that there was nothing new on the news that hadn't been on before.  It made me angry and set me thinking.  It's times like this I miss my mother - she and I would talk for hours on the phone about life and politics and how we felt and how could we deal with the kind of emotions aroused by the terrible scenes beamed into our living rooms by the media.  I still know her telephone number by heart and occasionally I give in to the temptation to ring it, though I know there is no-one there.  Anyone else do crazy things like this?

Climate Change and Katherine Mansfield

In 1907, more than a hundred years ago, Katherine Mansfield's father, Harold Beauchamp, bought what is called in New Zealand a 'bach' (pronounced batch) beside the sea.  It was a plain, wooden building without any creature comforts, described as having a 'small poverty stricken sitting room . . . A cabin-like bedroom fitted with bunks, and an outhouse with a bath, and wood cellar, coal cellar, complete.'  Behind it, oddly at the back of the original house, the sea lapped over the rocks, and at the front wild bush grew down to the narrow track that served as a road.

The bach is in a beautiful hamlet called Days Bay.  It's one of the inlets across the water from Wellington and you can visit it using the ferry that takes commuters and school children from village to city every day.  In 1907 it was more a summer retreat for weekends and the children's holidays. Katherine loved being there, and her story 'At The Bay' conveys the atmosphere of holiday, of being close to the wilderness, ocean and sky, and the influence of that release from the usual disciplines of polite behaviour on her characters. The opening of the story describes the place and the atmosphere, perfectly.

         ‘Very early morning. The sun was not yet risen, and the whole of Crescent Bay was hidden under a white sea mist. The big, bush-covered hills at the back were smothered.  You could not see where they ended and the paddocks and bungalows began. The sandy road was gone and the paddocks and bungalows the other side of it; there were no white dunes covered with reddish grass beyond them; there was nothing to mark which was beach and where was the sea.’

It was at Day's Bay, in the little chalet, that Katherine had what was possibly her first experience of female sexuality. She was staying there with an older woman, an artist, Edith Bendall, and Katherine was in love with her and hoped that it would be reciprocated.  'I cannot lie in my bed and not feel the magic of her body . . . She enthrals, enslaves me.'  Katherine suffered from night terrors and terrible dreams.  Outside the darkness and the bush beyond set her imagination racing 'until the very fence became terrible.'  The fence posts became 'hideous forms' gesticulating and taking on human appearance. Edith takes her into her bed to comfort her and then, Katherine writes, 'a thousand things which had been obscure' become plain.   It was her 'Oscar Wilde' moment. But Edith was unresponsive, perhaps aware that Katherine's parents were relying on her to look after the younger girl. Katherine was attracted by both men and women for the rest of her short life.

Wellington, despite being in a sheltered harbour, is famous for its storms, but Days Bay and the beach-side houses have always been safe. The worst storm in 117 years had only broken a window. But in 2013 a mega-storm wreaked unprecedented destruction. The little cottage, now altered for modern use, but still a site of pilgrimage for Mansfield readers, was almost completely destroyed.  The current owners described a night of terror. "My dad got up at about 12.45am after he heard a window smash. He went to the front door to get a piece of plywood and saw there was a lot of water building up around the house. He went back inside to get Mum, and a huge wave took out the dining room window, so they grabbed the dogs and made a run for it to the neighbours."  When they came back next morning, “pretty much everything had been washed out by the sea.” This is what it looked like.

For a long time it was thought that the cottage would just be bulldozed.  I visited in 2014 and it looked too damaged to be viable.  But there was a big campaign to raise money for one of Wellington's historic buildings to be rebuilt, and it has now been restored, though with an altered beach-front to help it withstand more big storms.

Despite that, there are a lot of people in Wellington who feel that, with the increasing frequency of mega-storms, the cottage remains vulnerable.  Climate change, and projected sea-level increase, could make such properties uninhabitable.

Katherine Mansfield's story 'At the Bay' (pdf)

If you like Katherine Mansfield you might also be interested in 'Katherine Mansfield - The Storyteller' by Kathleen Jones

The Katherine Mansfield Society has a wonderful website, full of photographs and information, well worth a visit.

My friend Gerri Kimber has a biography of Katherine Mansfield's early years in New Zealand coming out in October 2016.