Background Reading on the theme of ‘Changing Landscapes’.
John Clare – Remembrances
John Clare (1793-1864) wrote about the Northamptonshire countryside and was deeply affected by the Enclosure Acts where traditional ‘common’ lands were enclosed for private use. In ‘Remembrances’ (1832) he records his dismay at villages, literally, disappearing under the plough with the villagers sent on their way. Clare often didn’t use punctuation etc in his writings. He was quite popular in the 1820s and described, by one of his publishers, as ‘the peasant poet’.
By Langley bush I roam but the bush hath left its hill
On cowper green I stray tis a desert strange and chill
And spreading lea close oak ere decay had penned its will
To the axe of the spoiler and self interest fell a prey
And cross berry way and old round oaks narrow lane
With its hollow trees like pulpits I shall never see again
Inclosure like a Buonaparte let not a thing remain
It levelled every bush and tree and levelled every hill
And hung the moles for traitors – though the brook is
It runs a naked brook cold and chill
Michael W. Thomas – Shrawley Cross
Worcestershire poet Michael W. Thomas writes about how the people in some villages simply drift away to the industrial towns for work and better lives. His perspective is more historical but nonetheless powerful.
They left just before you got there. That’s how
the air feels, calming down after the last
scritch of a cart-wheel, protest of a van
suitcased and mattress-laden. Some on foot,
switching a cow’s rump, kicking chubby-kneed
through rut water, or marching on alone
with careful, unmarried bearing, bedroll
beneath one arm, a patching-bag—the sum
of what they’ll offer to first light elsewhere.
The drudge and muscle of the years cleared out:
mock, forge-apron, sponsored high-vis whatnot.
Silence moves in on the crossroads, around
the bus-shelter, a chimney vague in trees.
It’s as though nature straightens for a while,
done with the need to pick up and shift over.
For the first time you hear how nothing breathes,
the song of nowhere birds from end to end
as the world carries on not passing through
and a day-moon only means itself, no more.
Published in his collection The Stations of the Day, Black Pear Press, 2019 and included in The Poetry of Worcestershire, Offa’s Press, 2019.
Claire Howland – Cannock Chase
Claire Howland writes of the Chase today, painting a celebratory picture of its multi-facetted background, its changing use, the wild life and deeper histories.
Brick remains hiding many secrets
Are blanketed by sun bleached grass,
And moss which acts as cushions underfoot.
Magical and mysterious landscapes beckon,
Pine forests standing erect like guards.
A silver stream tiptoes down the hill,
Taking memories off into the oak coppice.
The deserted army base, ruined and overgrown,
Is invaded by lichen-covered branches.
Silver birches, fungi and wildflowers
Take over where soldiers once stood.
A fighter-plane buzzard wheels overhead,
A woodpecker mocks the hammer of guns,
The sound of a cuckoo signals peace at last.
Hooves land with a soft thump on damp sedge
As a fallow deer takes a triumphant leap…
From The Poetry of Staffordshire, Offa’s Press, 2015
Cherry Doyle – Alive
Cherry Doyle’s poem, inspired by the off-hand comment by her nephew, examines the immediate sensory landscape of the deserted Brindley village and contemplates how nature carries on beyond human existence.
“I wish we were alive.” Elliott Robinson (age 4), 2018.
You could drown in the shadows here,
where branch meets root meets earth.
A step before the path constricts,
you hush to a whisper, push out a tiny palm
for the taking.
Perhaps you know some deeper truth
of slipping through evenings, soft as butter,
the wasted effort of a vicious word,
or how the trees fade and burst into green again
We’re just alive enough to see the sun
fall in angles through the rhododendrons,
to smell damp, fern-filtered summer,
to find the forest in a raindrop
suspended from a leaf.
Alive enough to feel the bones of the village
digging their graves beneath our feet.
To reach a hand into the darkness
and wait for someone to take it.
Published in September, Offa’s Press, 2019