As part of the 2021 Stamford Poetry Festival, Ellis Hall and Bridget Somekh held two workshops on the theme of “Echoing John Clare in the Twenty-First Century”. The following poems arose directly from work done at those workshops, and we are grateful to the poets who attended for allowing us to publish them here.
A muted landscape in earthly hues,
from sighted afar, different views.
Wispy clouds collide and glide away,
where yesteryear’s youth anima lay.
When magnolias arise and smile,
no crime, to reminisce awhile.
Though snowdrop petals hang like tears,
of fears, wasteful, in months, years.
Undulating seasons come to pass.
The exuberant calendulas
did not last. Once a sight so entwined,
now faded and blowing on the mind.
The roads we take and the doors we choose,
lead here cried the celestial muse.
So now it is too late to ask why.
If only, echoed around the sky.
The Felled Oak
Torn, forlorn and gnarled on the ground,
lumber slumbering on grassy down –
A brutal battle searing, sawing.
The ‘True Yeoman’ defeated, fallen –
And the bloom perfumed glebe, left bereft.
Gone now: swooning kisses, lovers’ trysts,
names engraved, babies raised or God’s ‘gifts’.
Hear no cantabiles, chimes, church chatter
or lively farmyard banter, clatter
passing through for grazing pastures new.
The west wind whistles no more over,
green curvaceous canopy clover.
Calls, responses and sweet scented sounds –
Roostless, silent, faltering around.
No wisdom reaped, Athena weeps.
Thursday lunchtime between meetings and teaching
Homeschooling and homeworking
We take a quick walk through the greening copse
Along the field edge spreckled with celandines
Surprise two boxing hares on serried field harrows
The colour of lionsmane as the land dries after Spring rain
Filmed on a ubiquitous iPhone
Pinged on whatsapp to family in Brighton and Brisbane
We share the surprise and blessing
This sudden visitation of the wild.
Back at my desk I pinch the picture larger
Two hares slightly out of focus
Jab and skelter, parry and veer
Bounce and twist and jink
Like disobedient children
Told to jump one at a time
On a lockdown trampoline
Fling themselves together
Large as leaping deer
Spring up for sheer joy.
Waiting for Release
The heath today is March bare,
Waiting release from winter’s vice.
Last Summer the flowers and grassy slopes
Flickered with wings of butterflies
Ringlets and Skippers and Chalkhill Blues
Like azure scraps of fallen sky.
Today a haze of dry beige grass
And skeletal heads of ghost flowers
Sussurate in the shifting breeze
And whisper how things used to be.
In Foxhollow Covert cradled in leafmold
Mid silver roots of ancient beeches
the rare white helleborines crouch
Waiting to bloom in the golden-green light
That sifts through the lace of unfurling leaves.
By the edge of the golf-course the strange brown broomrape
Like the scaled phallus of some slumbering giant
Broods among Bronze Age bones
Roman sandals and ancient fables
Waiting its time to be known.
Soon the Western slope of the chalk escarpment
Will be clothed with bells of the Easter Pasque-flower,
Purple-mauve with golden bosses
That hum with the hubbub of early bees
Where we scattered your ashes one April morning.
In the Garden
In the garden, alone, but not alone.
Seeking solace from the silence of lockdown
And the comfort of green…hedge, shrub
And the feel of soil in my hands
Walking up and down, up and down
Between the yellow primroses
Slowly appearing between cracks in the silver pavers.
Alone, but not alone
A flutter to my left, then back
Almost too slight to be seen…
And then, here he is…
Bold as brass, small yet brave
His tiny twig legs holding him firmly to the fence.
Challenging my presence in his garden
So close to her feathered nest, their precious eggs
My boots lie beside the door, muddied and crumpled
Soles clinging to the scruffy uppers
But still my stout companions.
We’ve walked together for a thousand miles
Since the first, shattering spring
That shocking blend of life and death.
We’ve tramped on soggy paths by swollen streams,
Crossed brown, skylark singing fields
Along cowslipped banks
And through the garlic-scented woods.
We’ve crossed the freedom of the blowing sands,
To find the comfort of the sunlit sea.
We’ve followed trods, dared unknown paths
Splashed through brooks and clung to mud
Kicked cankering leaves into dusty swirls.
We’ve trudged down snow-filled holloways
Cracked the surface of frozen ponds
Crunched the frost on winter fields
And sought the shelter of a church’s porch.
Now we’ve reached this second spring
You’re moulded to my feet,
And share the memoranda of the earth
From this forgotten year.
The girl with shining hair
Lays the scarlet flowers,
So carefully wrapped in cellophane,
And shields the tea light candle
From the twilight breeze.
A life, unknown to her,
Was cruelly taken away
And anger flutters in her heart,
A certain sense that justice must be done
That changes must be made.
Silently a reverent crowd
Now grows, makes an altar
In this public space
Of prayers and quiet voices:
A shared, indignant grief.
But jarring megaphones
And clumsy, scribbled placards
Articulate more violent thoughts
And underline her fear
Of this unsettled world.
After John Clare
That first summer, we became suburban hedgers.
Wore hats to protect our scalps but little else
in the way of safety gear. The holly hedge
got the better of us, scratched our limbs.
When it was trimmed, we could see
the old woman’s handywork.
How she had trained greenwood
to align with horizon; woven into wattle
like the perfect willow baskets, with sky-high
price tags in St. George’s Market.
We wondered if, long ago, those glossy
poisonous leaves were blotched with her blood too.
After John Clare
I’d abandoned it so quickly, forgetting the hidden
Thornton’s toffee. Only ‘membered when wrapping
the rest of Dad’s Christmas presents.
Hopped from house to caravan thru a skiff of snow
with much less grace than the local hares;
inside, icicles hung from beauty-board pelmet.
Crannied open the wardrobe door
and several pink and wrinkled bodies
launched straight at my gaping mouth
from their top shelf toilet-paper nest.
I ran but took the time to seal the gap,
between floor and door, with a towel.
Brought the terrier in to do her job –
never again did I see her looking so proud.
Veronica Emma Peters
Sometimes for ill
To the park I went to stroll
enjoy fresh air uplift my soul
sky above so clear – so blue
memories stumbling— reminiscing on you
Westie walkies whatever the weather
you and I were always together
peacefully sitting by lily-pond reading
or chasing a stick—legs blurred–speeding
But time moved on and always will
sometimes for good sometimes for ill
two vets agreed it was for the best
one injection laid you to rest
Tilly westie white ball of fluff
one life with you — never enough.
The Spring squall
His evening field escape,
sky full smudged
by sooted cloud:
threatening a storm.
Rumpling wind erupts
Spring hedges tossed;
wiry, emerald sprigs
whipped, split, frayed.
The walker held by fiercest gust
pricked by pin-sharp rain,
seeks shelter by the ivy tump
where Pettichap halts its song.
Full as soon the rushing wind is all upon,
but gone to nought but idling breeze.
Sharp of needling rain now softer drifts
of paler sheets agen the deviling storm.
Sun full beams and blanks the scene,
as if a thief to steal all colour from
greensward, blossom, celandine
all thrown in bands to arc across the sky.
Skittering bumblebee makes once more
to blossomed blackthorn twig.
Sheltered walker steps out to hear
the Pettichap’s song renewed.
On walks close to home
On well trod path I hesitate
to gaze upon this changing scene
where brightening days now dominate
uncertain times of nightmare and dream.
Ancient limbs of tight plashed hedge
renewed by growth less loosely bound
they guide my eye with binding pledge
to graceful ash – its branches bowed.
The fields sillion face, sunshine warmed,
refreshed by rain, scents lift from soil-
perfume to twine with wilder thorn
which sweeter makes the farmers toil.
In the copse anemones slip to snake
beneath bare trees in playful light
and silvered streams combine to make
a flood of blooms for heart’s delight.
In woods where scrabbling oaks finger the light
I tarry along rides shorn close by deer
where cowslaps crowd in drifts so bright
and the Willow Wren’s song runs so clear.
Glossy back of midnight blue,
a flitting dart, straight and true.
Ruby throat, streaming tail,
bird of barn and travelling tale.
On inky wings so sharp and spry
you write your name across the sky.
Things you’ve seen, I’ll never see:
desert blast, incessant sea.
But now you’re back – journey’s end.
Welcome home my pretty friend.