Our featured publication for October is How Time is in Fields by Jean Atkin, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing.
‘How Time is in Fields’ explores the way place contains all times, as well as traces of our recognisable predecessors. There’s a lot of walking in this book, and an alertness to our shared space – with other lives, other creatures, other centuries. The round of the year is divided into the Old English months, reflecting shifts of folklore, season and state of mind.
‘‘How rife they are in the lost places’, writes Jean Atkin of nettles. How rife is Atkin’s sharpened imagination in this intelligent, alert and brilliantly-wrought collection, in which the lost and invisible places of human history and the natural world are brought to teeming life.’ David Morley
‘Jean Atkin reminds us we are all ‘anchored to the land’s grasp.’ Yet, this is not a collection motivated by tranquillity. ‘A wren like a dead leaf’ conjures up the mystical and transformative qualities of nature, where air smells of ‘dung,’ ‘dead stock’ and ‘gunshot.’’ Elisabeth Sennitt Clough
The snow years
For fifty years it snowed and no-one thought to ask why.
They were so used to it, they became like seals
and laid down fat. Like bears
they grew a pelt on forearms and faces.
Their fashions involved the intricate plaiting of long hair
to insulate necks and ears.
The regular creak of snow was a man walking.
The flump of snow falling from porches
was a woman humming inside a drift.
In their stories, trees leafed.
The not seen sea
Under cliff, under white chalk, Under Hooken
we walk down the throat of the harts tongue
and talk. Our boots are glossed with clever ivy.
Overgrown, overhead and soft under old man’s beard,
bosomy June leans down on us, up close
to cyclical drift, centimetre shift of earth.
While, sunk in its cage of feathers, a blackbird rots,
deflates into the flint step down to the beach.
Shingle rumbles in our ears. It hisses, passes, as we
wind the path between the cliffs, and only now
and then we catch the hill-high lurch of chalk in mist.
Keen in the nose, the salt and fret of sea.
All the while we twist a flint descent by rungs
of ivy root, and all the while a thrush repeats
repeats its song to coil to coil inside our ears.
And another blackbird sings, so blackbird answers it
in audible waves. By our feet a chasm of ash and fog.
Low in our bones, not visible, churrs the sea.
……………………….1 nettle of the edgelands
So, the nettle dare – will you grip that hairy leaf?
…….Stand still and rigid for this ordeal
………….while they wait in a circle and watch your face?
……………………..2 nettle of the dens
Sharp flare of weals rising white on your skin,
…….a dapple of pain you soothe to a green smear
………….of dockens. Scrub-leaf. In dock, out nettle.
……………………..3 nettle of the beds
Older, gloved and kneeling, you hang and draw the soil
…….for them, their creamy guts, the hoary coil and pack of them.
…………..Them snapping, whipping back to test you.
……………….……4 nettle of the gone
O how the nettles do grow behind us, markers
……for our wiped-out villages, abandoned farms.
…………How rife they are in the lost places.
Jean Atkin is a poet whose work maps memory, work, loss, and place. Her poetry has been commissioned for Radio 4, and featured on ‘Best Scottish Poems’ by the Scottish Poetry Library. Last year’s National Poetry Day saw her become the first ever Troubadour of the Hills, thanks to Ledbury Poetry Festival, and she featured in March 2019 on BBC Radio 4’s Ramblings programme, ‘Walking a Poem on the Malverns’, presented by Clare Balding. Jean has also been working with Shropshire-based eclectic folk band Whalebone, writing a group of poems to explore the new lore of the county – the stories just within – and just out of – living memory. Whalebone have composed music to weave through the poems. This Arts Council supported performance project is ‘Understories’. Jean works as a poet in education and community projects. She is currently poet in residence for Hargate Primary School and is also working on a long-term project, Creative Conversations, funded by Arts Council Celebrating Age. She creates lively, inventive workshops for schools, writers’ groups, hospitals, care homes, libraries and museums. She tutors for Arvon’s school groups and is an occasional tutor for The Poetry School. She often works in collaboration to develop projects and residencies with different organisations and partners. www.jeanatkin.com
How Time is in Fields is available from the Indigo Dreams Publishing website.