A chance for celebrations on 25th April – 20 years of Common Ground.
The equinox has passed and we look for signs of spring.
Today is World Wetlands Day (2nd February 2018) and Waveney & Blyth Arts is pleased to launch its spring conference – A River Runs Through It, taking place on Wednesday 25th April 2018. Organiser, Melinda Appleby, shares some thoughts on the inspiration of rivers.
“I live on a small inconsequential Suffolk river – the Dove. I like the fact that it moves quietly and unobserved through the landscape, a channel hiding among field boundaries. It was not always so; rivers brought people from the North Sea, exploring, looking for food, clean water and shelter. Their map of the countryside would be like the tree, spreading out from a central spine and feeling its way into places, branching and sub-dividing.
Today our maps are focussed on transport corridors of train and car. We cross and recross rivers, often unnoticed until they flood. From the road, the Dove is almost invisible as it disappears into a poplar wood, then through a dense tangle of hedge. I have seen water voles here – plump potterers by the stream side, chewing on mint leaves and making their burrows just above riverline. Once, where the river slips behind the gardens, creeping through a tangle of alder and hazel, we saw a vole swimming with two young beside her.
After the heavy rains of recent weeks, the river now roars over the concrete lip of the water splash and plunges down past the allotments, passing the last of winter’s bulrushes, tugged untidily by the wind. The Dove builds in volume, crossing the A140 unseen, until it emerges in Eye. From there it passes through Hoxne, and under the bridge where King Edmund reputedly hid from the Danish invaders, being betrayed by the glint of the sun on his spurs and so brutally slaughtered. A last mile or two and the Dove slips into the river Waveney, the borderland river that rises in Redgrave Fen and flows east to the North Sea.
The river’s curve reshapes man’s linear landscape, it draws us in, provides a moment of reflection, tempts and betrays, lures and overwhelms us.”
All this and more will be explored at our conference.
River landscapes are the focus for Waveney & Blyth Arts; the two river valleys define our micro-region and are the location for our programme of walks and workshops, and for a network of arts venues, festivals and individual arts practitioners.
What better subject for a spring conference than the inspiration provided by our rivers?
One of our keynote speakers, writer Charles Rangeley-Wilson, sums it up in his Forward to the Little Toller reprint of H.E. Bates book, Down the River (2014):
Rivers lend themselves to being thought and written about. Thought flows like a river. As does language. The river, memory and the impulse to write, the sounds and rhythms of words and water, these things merge time and again across the centuries to become the poetry and prose of rivers, flowing from Babylon to Devon. But so much fine writing is impelled not just because of a sympathy between the forms and expressions of thought and water. A river speaks, too. It has character. And a river is the most animate part of a landscape.”
The conference on Wednesday 25th April 2018 will be held at the Ivy House Country Hotel, Oulton Broad NR33 8HY. More details of the programme and booking information will be posted on our website – see Conferences under the Activities tab.
BUT if you can’t wait and want to be inspired by the river check out this video on our Facebook page – amazing photos of the river Waveney from Bungay Camera Club with a soundtrack by Mike Challis from his sound hide at our Sculpture Trail a few years ago.
Over 50 organisations were represented by around 70 delegates at Waveney & Blyth Arts first workshop-conference exploring how we can work together at grass-roots to promote, support and grow arts in this region.
We overcame adversity right from the start by battling through Storm Georgina to reach Halesworth and our venue, The Cut. Further adversity when we discovered there was no power but, as with all opportunities created by challenges, we held the meeting in the foyer which was more intimate and perhaps enabled more interaction than the theatre style seating in the auditorium.
So what was it all about? Waveney & Blyth Arts recognised that cutbacks in arts organisations and less available cash for our customers, create challenges for arts activities within the region. But, as an entirely volunteer led group, we have never turned away from challenge and resource constraints. We believe that by working together, sharing ideas, practice, knowledge of funding sources and audience reach, we can weather the storm.
We called first of all on key arts representatives to outline the current situation. Claudia West, from the Arts Council, reflected on the specific needs of rural and coastal arts provision. Jayne Knight, Suffolk County Council’s Arts Development Manager, explained the regional ‘Culture for Growth’ strategy. To end the keynote session, a double act of Genine Sumner, from StartEast and Mary Muir, from Norfolk County Council, talked about opportunities for regional collaboration.
Then it was over to the grassroots organisations for a full and lively discussion about what needs to change, what resources would help and how can we grow forward.
Sustained by the Cut’s hearty soup and chocolate cake, the meeting continued in a series of workshops designed to build bridges and reach new audiences. Three key themes focused the debate: The Role of Heritage – providing arts spaces and advancing heritage knowledge and participation; Tourism – how can the arts be used to grow tourism in this region, and Sense of Place – how we can create a cultural identity and explore, practically, the landscape in this micro-region.
Powered by the return of electricity, an energetic Ideas Buzz networked people from different backgrounds and localities and, hopefully, led to some synergies, new partnerships and ideas for action.
W&BA has been enormously encouraged by the response to the conference and will be looking at how we move forward. All participants will receive a report of the event.
Huge thanks to Arts in Adversity originator and compere, Simon Raven, to Nicky Stainton for all the organisation, and to Kasia Posen for the flyer graphics and of course to all who spoke, contributed or provided the excellent food.
18 January 2018, The Cut, Halesworth.
Photo: Simon Raven
The Waveney & Blyth Arts writing competition culminated in a poetry reading at the Ferini Art Gallery, host to the ‘Murder of Crows’ Art exhibition. Twenty people gathered to share a meal, view the exhibition and hear the three short-listed poems. From 70 entries it had been difficult to choose only three but finally we made our choice. They were three very different poems but all had impressed us with their technical ability, the images they created in our minds, and some of the phrases they had used.
Rooks, crows and ravens were represented in the short list and writers drew inspiration from nature itself, from paintings and from literature.
The winner was chosen by public vote and the result was very close but Rooks: Where the Yew Tree Shadows Fall by James Knox Whittet, just pipped the post.
Thank you to everyone who entered and congratulations to our three short-listed poets and to James, our winner.
Thanks must also go to Michaela Barber at the Ferini Art Gallery for hosting and curating the crows art exhibition, [The exhibition ends on 24 September] and for hosting the Arts & Eats lunch. Thanks also to Beth Soule, of Suffolk Poetry Society, who ran an inspirational writing workshop at the Gallery using and reflecting some of the works of art.
We are almost at the end of our 2017 Celebrate programme but don’t forget our AGM on 21st October when we hope to showcase our Crow poems and artworks as we reflect on another successful year for Waveney & Blyth Arts and look forward to new events in 2018.
Here are the three short listed poems:
Rooks: Where The Yew Tree Shadows Fall
Your raucous voices have always been there
from childhood to age as you rise as one
to greet dawn or explode in winter air
when the last rays from the low sun have gone.
You would have called from high, arched beech branches
when baptismal water flowed from my head
and perfumed winds made the dewed bluebells dance
as watered light across the bare fields spread.
You joined in choruses of wedding hymns
that September evening when church bells rang,
leaves, like palms, rustled with your restless wings
and the sea loch mirrored the moonlight’s ring.
You’ll be there where the yew tree shadow falls
when I can’t be awakened by your calls.
James Knox Whittet
How to Dance with Death.
Take a lesson from Crow –
he knows all about it,
delights in it,
devours it for a living.
Death gives him strength
with which to comfort you.
Crow stabs at the heart of death,
pins it down under his kindly claws.
Crow can tell you how to embrace death,
how to make a good life
from its grisly lumps and strands.
Listen to the rattle of his shiny quills.
He will mantle you with his satin feathers.
See the gleam in his leather-trimmed eye –
a tear like a blackened pearl slides down.
Smell the sweet ooze of carrion as it slips
from his metal beak.
Crow will watch your back.
At the time of mourning he dresses for a ball.
Wrapped in a black down cloak,
he waits to hop the danse macabre
with you, his chosen partner.
A Pantoum for Nevermore
After ‘Nevermore’ by Paul Gaugin (1897) and ‘The Raven’, Edgar Alan Poe (1845)
Hungry for the forest’s treasure, burn, destroy, in equal measure.
Claws outstretch, first break the surface, forcing further, gaining purchase
where she, like a mango forming, green and glossy, knew sun’s warming
rays fall on her, innocently. Nevermore to ripen gently.
Claws outstretch to break the surface, forcing further, gaining purchase,
spreading wide ‘til nevermore the dappled leaves can let the ochre
rays fall on her, innocently. Never more to ripen gently,
lying on her side she listens; gossips prattle. Silent raven
spreads its wings ‘til nevermore the dappled leaves let in the ochre
beams primeval. Wings fold closer, body stiffens thinking of her.
Lying on her side she listens; gossips prattle. Silent raven,
hooded eyes, presentment telling, evermore its needs compelling,
screams. Primeval wings fold closer, body stiffens, thinking over
where she, like a mango forming, green and glossy, knew sun’s warming.
Hooded eyes, presentment telling, evermore its needs compelling,
hungry for the forest’s treasure, burns, destroys, in equal measure.
There are only two weeks before entry to our Crow Writing competition closes and entries are flying in. But there is still time to be inspired by one or more of the crow family. Eight species* of crow breed in the British Isles – which one will you choose? Although all part of the same Corvid family, they are very different in character. Most are black or pied apart from the colourful, but shy, jay.
They are intelligent, adaptable birds, opportunists and collectors. Crows have been with us for thousands of years, birds of myth and omen, often associated with death and funerals. We even have collective nouns for their gatherings: a murder of crows, a train of jackdaws, a scold of jays, a tiding of magpies, a parliament of rooks and an unkindness of ravens.
You cannot be unaware of them – their noisy chatter and scolding, the harsh croak that welcomes the dawn, the black tide of roosting rooks that inspired Mark Cocker’s Crow Country. It seems they touch something in all of us for our suggestion of a Crow themed art exhibition had an enthusiastic response. At the Ferini Art Gallery in Pakefield, artists share with us their response to crows. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 1 and 24 September the gallery will be showing a fascinating mixed exhibition of two and three-dimensional work inspired by crows under the title: A Murder of Crows. It will feature work by a wide range of East Anglian artists including Mark Ward, Ruth Wharrier, Kate Batchelor, Paul Lacey, Lucy Beevor, Sally James, Hatty Leith, Chris Mound and other Waveney & Blyth Arts members,
Make an early visit to the Gallery and find writing inspiration in the artworks. Still stuck for ideas? Join a writing workshop at the Gallery, led by Suffolk Poetry Society member Beth Soule, on Wednesday 6 September. Still a few places left and we are holding the competition open for poems written during this workshop.
Just a reminder: the writing competition is for poems of no more than 30 lines and flash fiction of no more than 100 words – all on the theme of crows. Open until 9am 12 September 2017 – please note 9am! We cannot acceot entries after this time. Cost: £3 per entry or £5 for two.
Details and competition rules elsewhere on this website.
*Carrion crow, hooded crow, chough, rook, magpie, jay, raven, jackdaw.
Following Beth Soule’s very successful Labyrinth writing workshop in July, participants share three more of their poems created on, or inspired by, the day. Beth’s preparation for workshops and provision of supportive material is always appreciated and stimulates a surprising amount of work in a short day.
Join her in Pakefield on 6th September to learn about the crow family in myth and life, explore the crow themed exhibition at the Ferini Art Gallery, and write crow inspired poetry (still a few places left). And don’t forget we are leaving the crow writing competition open so you just have time to submit an entry after joining Beth’s workshop (but entry to the competition isn’t conditional on attending the workshop or the exhibition).
See our Events pages for more on the workshop, art exhibition and competition.
If only I could bottle
the sun warming my legs,
wind whispering in my ear,
the scent of cut grass.
A solitary shining face
looks up from the meadow,
brimful of gold.
Will it still show I love butter
if I place it under my chin?
We made daisy chains
threading pink and white heads
through slits in the stalks,
picked dandelion clocks,
to blow in the breeze.
How many puffs would it take
to measure the years?
We hunted for charms,
the four leaf luck
of red and white clover,
whistled through grass
pressed tight between
If I close my eyes
I am transported back –
the powerful pull of place.
© Sue Wallace-Shaddad 2017
Walking with the Hare: The Walk
Come walk with me, my muse.
Sacred one at the dawn of Alban Eiler,
the goddess, Eostre, loves you.
At dusk on Alban Eluad
you are the last sheaf of corn.
I need your lightness.
Your discernment: Your passion
leads to the magic of love, and I am lost.
Knowing how fragile and easily broken
my heart is, please walk with me.
Let’s leave the daisies and the hedgerow,
leave the field, the dolmen,
the lapwing’s nest, with eggs,
and the parsley and clover.
Caper and box with me, dear Corn spirit
of the two equinoxes, do not sit
in your Hare’s parliament circle,
travel with me, under glimmering moon.
Show me the way.
The shell in my hand
supports my thumb.
I will not use it for rebuke,
to insult, nor for harm,
it is still. Quiet. Firm.
My memory of your wisdom is this shell.
Come walk beside me, please
don’t run so fast, keen-eyed friend
alert to nature’s callings,
the quiver of ears and twitch of nose
mirror my nervousness.
Run as from the folds of Boudicca’s dress,
show me Adraste’s victory.
Do I go on or do I let go?
You leap ahead. We twirl,
and dance together.
This journey is fun with you.
© Sue Benbow 2017
I spun a thread for you
and as you plunged into the dark
I looped it round my heart
to the light.
I felt each twitch and tug
as you trod deeper
into the labyrinth.
Each twist and tug
tore a little
from somewhere deep in me
but even worse were my imaginings
when, for a time, the thread went slack.
Were you lost?
Had I lost you?
What struggles were unfolding
far from the light,
what battles fought,
And then the steady, rhythmic
twist and tug
as you rewound the skein,
came back to me.
I thought that was the end
the happy end
but somewhere since
the thread between us has
you let it drop
and now I drift
© Beth Soule 2017
A July day after rain. Tide ebbing along the Blyth Estuary. We are here at Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Hen Reedbeds reserve in search of otters. It is seventeen years since this reserve was created as a haven for bitterns. We start at the Wolsey Bridge viewpoint looking out across the reedbeds,; four marsh harriers circling low; a hobby flashing behind across the heathy soil. Les Tarver, volunteer warden, explains just how special the site is, tells his own story about encountering a family of otters in broad daylight at the place where we are standing, (and shows us where the hairy legged mining bees are nesting in the car-park).
This is otter country. Secretly, stealthily, hunting across mudflats and through eel rich waters, the otter has adopted the Blyth Estuary. How do we know they are here? We will spend the morning in the company of Meg Amsden, who is recording signs of otter through footprints, slides, tunnels and spraints, and learn to read the landscape and find signs of otter.
First though, with Waveney & Blyth Arts focus on arts and landscape, we share readings about otters – Roger Deakin, writing in Waterlog about meeting an otter in the Waveney and Miriam Darlington, in Otter Country, recounting her countrywide search for the otter.
Meg explains the background to the otter surveys.
“I got up early one October morning two years ago to film the mist over the estuary, as the tide was going out. Seagulls and crows were making a din. I ignored them at first as I struggled in vain to capture the mist, then gave up and turned the camera, still running, towards the birds. Into frame, running from pool to pool, submerging, fishing, swimming, loping across the mud, came an otter. I watched it till it disappeared into the river. It felt like a moment outside time, like a gift, a message that had to be listened to. I sent the two and a half minute film to a friend who passed it on to Richard Woolnough, a local naturalist, who was waiting for the incentive to start a Blyth Valley otter survey group. Within 10 days we met up for the first time, and have continued to meet; to learn how to identify, collect, clean and analyse otter spraint, to look for other evidence of their presence, and to try to extrapolate from our research how they live.”
Walking through the reedbed towards the Wolsey Bridge we share otter stories. Around half the group have seen otters in the wild and later in the morning Meg records people’s memories and observations. But first, we straggle across the road and up onto the estuary wall.
Beneath us the mud glowers under a dull sky; redshank and curlew, pacing out on the receding water, whistle and call into the wind. We look at the doodlings of the early morning’s visitors – waders picking their way in search of food, a fox crossing from a tufted island towards the safety of land, and then the unmistakeable five toed trail of the otter, with an incised line where its tail has caught the mud. Here Meg points out a regular crossing point, up from the estuary, over the wall and down into the reedbeds and shallow pools behind us.
We walk immersed, in the sights and smells of the estuary, to a known otter crossing and here we find fresh spraint. Meg explains the intricacies of the otter’s diet and digestive system leading to these characteristic otter droppings, once smelled, never forgotten. It has been likened to jasmine tea. We read Roger Deakin’s account of his morning on an animal tracking session where he delighted in the ritual of handing round the otter ‘poo’ and wondered what an otter would think of forty humans “queuing to lie full-length on the bank and sniff small dollops of poo, making appreciative sounds.”
Meg passes round otter spraint in a magnifying jar so we can appreciate the exquisite small bones which are key to an understanding of otter diet. Walking onto the far curve of the estuary wall we look for further otter signs before back tracking to the road and a clear tunnel from the reeds which reveals the best otter spraint of the day.
We end the morning with a cup of tea and a stack of field guides, sharing thoughts about otters.
Written by Melinda Appleby & Meg Amsden
Suffolk Otter Group https://suffolkotters.wordpress.com/
Meg Amsden’s otter film: http://www.nutmegpuppet.co.uk/news/october-otter-2/
Otter books we read from:
The Otters’ Tale Simon Cooper Harper Collins 2017
Otter Country Miriam Darlington Granta 2012
Waterlog Roger Deakin Chatto & Windus 1999
The first walk of the Waveney & Blyth Arts 2017 summer season took place on 9 July around Redisham, near Beccles. Inspired by a found pamphlet of poems by girls in the Land Army, walk organiser Netta Swallow devised an afternoon to celebrate the role of the Land Army and to hear some of these poems. Coinciding with the open gardens at Redisham Hall, the walk followed field paths from the Hall to the tiny church of St Peters, Suffolk’s smallest.
The walk was led by Ivan Crane and, on the way, we heard from historian Chris Reeve, who explored themes about the land, including tales of farming during the war, based on the writings of Adrian Bell, and information about the conscientious objectors who were employed to work the land in this part of Suffolk.
Once at the Church of St Peters, the audience heard tales of Land Girls and their poetry, the Bloomsbury Set and Adrian Bell and how there were links between them. Oonagh Segrave-Daly read a very moving poem, “Let there be light” by Francis Heneage Burkitt, who was inspired to write the poem after reading an article about the plight of children in occupied Europe during WW2. Oonagh also read “Hedge Cutting” by Land Girl Alice Coates, a thoughtful poem about her concern for the environment.
The highlight of the afternoon was a reading from Angela Ottaway (pitctured) who is now 92 years old but was first based in the Land Army at a farm on Romney Marsh. It was not a good experience as she was employed by a woman who ran the farm and was a bully. Abusive towards Angela, she one night locked her out, leaving Angela to sleep in the barn. Angela became ill working there and eventually managed to secure a transfer to horticulture which she enjoyed very much. She is still a keen gardener today and involves herself in a handbell ringing group, the local museum team of volunteers and the local church. Her mother was in the Timber Corps in WW1.
Angela read the poem “War, which has brought to others fear” by Hebe Jerrold, Women’s Timber Corps.
Then back for tea at the beautiful grounds of Redisham Hall.
Many thanks to Netta, Ivan and Chris for organising and informing us, to Oonagh for reading and, of course, to Angela for joining us to share the poetry reading and her memories of the Land Army.
More memories of the Land Army can be found on a website being developed by Cherish Watton. She intends it to become the national online hub for information on the Land Girls and Lumber Jills – sharing original documents, magazines, photos and videos:
Participants on July’s Labyrinth writing workshop, led by Beth Soule of Suffolk Poetry Society, have kindly agreed to share their poems written on the day. Thank you to everyone who came on the workshop and Beth for her creative leadership.
We feature three of the poems below. Look out for more later in the summer.
Walking the Labyrinth
Walking the labyrinth with my fingers, sightless,
Years of use have battered the nerves,
worn down the skin, made fingertips clumsy.
I think of Africans who feel the path in the dark
with their feet
They do not need a torch
Their feet, bare and sensitive,
notice small differences in terrain.
Long years of wearing shoes
and walking hard pavements
have worn away this sensitivity
Long years of exposure to urban noise
deadens the ears to quiet sounds
of the night
Long years of street illumination
make people fearful of the dark
unable or unwilling to see their way
unlit after nightfall.
Not able to see, not able to feel the path,
Are we the losers?
© Rosemary Jones 2017
Mind hurries with scurrying insects
bends with wind-blown grass
weaves between leaf, stem, petal
stretches with reaching boughs
feet tread uneven ground
feel the shifting balance
sense the change from sun-crisped grass
to the soft crumbling of mole-earth
skin feels the brittle scratch of dried stems
the tickle and twitch of flying beasts
the easing heat of afternoon
the breeze breath
heart beats with the pace of walking
lifts with the wind
slows to the gentle hum of bees
opens to the bright of buttercup gold.
© Beth Soule 2017
The Labyrinth’s Question
What shall I do tomorrow?
Go home, little girl, at dawn,
with your shell and your flaxen hair.
Go home to your grandmother,
ask her. She knows, understands what it is you seek.
She knows your heart but does not bend with age.
This is the Wisdom of Hare.
Go home, do not stay away.
Do not stay away, with a shell in your hand,
a song in your heart – but no hearth.
Sit with her, hold her hand,
buy her milk and fill her days
with cake and laughter.
When it gets hard and your grandmother
shivers and moans, feel the shell
in your hand, remember
the days on the sea and
the hours on the beach, and do not call me
The hedgerow is not for you little girl
Go home and hug your grandmother.
© Sue Benbow – 2017