Sunday, 27 July 2014

Within Chester's Walls

In the workshop earlier this month in Chester, (see previous post) 

we looked at the poetry of William Stafford, and considered 

themes of journey, remembered or imagined, returning, and being 


I included David Subacchi's evocative poems in the previous post. 

This time, there is work from Marigold Roy, Maureen Weldon and 

Kemal Houghton. (I've chosen my own pictures to illustrate 



The rhythm almost

Lulls me to sleep.

Trees glinting gold flash by,

Tilled fields rich with autumn

In a divided sky

A sparrowhawk hovers,


Searching for prey

Weak sun surrenders to drenching rain

Stick figures scurry

Umbrellas unfurled

Through rain swept streets.

On a street corner

A small child


And the landscape changes

Unfolds as we pass

Dips and undulates

With secret valleys and gentle hills

Wrapped in a benevolent sky

I think of children's toys

And long forgotten promises

And wine

Like tears or blood

And the air changes, steals through me,

Sharp and clean,


And I breathe it in deep,

As I near the land of my birth

Marigold Roy

Marigold's poem, a bit like David Subacchi's in 

the earlier post, depicts what is seen in a landscape one moves 

through quickly. But here the history is personal and not revealed. 

Marigold is skilled at seeing inner moods or feelings projected on 

or reflected in – whichever way you like to think of it – the 

external world. We enjoy the sparrowhawk's expansive flight. But 

the 'divided sky', the child crying on a street corner, and the 'wine

like blood or tears' suggests there is more to this returning than the 

'benevolent sky'.


As I loiter, the corner

Curls its lip and

Shrugs a shoulder

The pavement slouches

To the next turn-off

Where it stops abruptly

In a flurry of old stones

I lean against a lamppost

That pushes back

With its own fighting weight

I rub my head

Where it’s started to ache

And hoist up my bag

Before it anchors to the ground

The school gates loom before me

High with disapproval


Sweep me inside

Marigold Roy

School is a masterful depiction of the moods and attitudes of 

a so-called inanimate world, lamp-posts, walls and pavements all 

acquiring characteristics. Seen from a child's perspective, 

everything is vividly alive, the outside world is peopled by one's 

own feelings, and benevolence and hostility juggle in our 

pre-conceptual and pre-judgemental world.

Maureen Weldon's Returning needs to be read slowly so we can

soak in the atmosphere. We enter through the gate – in other 

words, we cross a threshold – so where are we now, what portal 

have we really passed through? It all seems very benign, happy, a 

pastoral idyll you could say. But where is it really? 'Can you really

remember me?' And the final line throws it wide open, leaving the 

possibilities to percolate in our minds.


I walk the busy road, stop at an old wrought iron gate, it squeaks and is open.

Oh how I love these trees, this stony path.

Being early Summer bees are singing and the sweet smell of honeysuckle delights me.

I approach the house. Rose-tinted creeper hides old orange bricks. Bright fuchsias slouch on either side of a green wooden hall-door.

“Blacky, is this you? My darling little Blacky-cat. Can you really remember me?”

I hear a whistling, a sound so familiar. My Dad is approaching from the back of the house. (Will I hide)?

From the kitchen a lovely soft contralto voice hums.

“Mary, is supper nearly ready?” “No Harry, it will take at least another half an hour.”

I am not sure whether to use the old key I have kept so safely all these last ten years?

Maureen Weldon

Lost gives us a completely different mood, humorous and jaunty. 

Maureen is good at pinpointing life's sometimes absurd situations,

catching the flow and scatter of our minds as we look for 

something lost. We all recognize this - and laugh!


I have lost them,
I could swear I had them last night;

I didn’t need them – then.
But there again – I thought

you’d given me your email address?
Your name?

Tom, Dick, Harry?
Oh go suck your lolly.

Right now, I would like a lolly,
iced, cold from the freezer.

Where did I put the darn things?
I knew I needed them – when

I saw a cow,
which was in fact, a horse.

Maureen Weldon

Perhaps it was the dog that borrowed the glasses?

Chester to Bebington

This teeming July heat
brings on the Chester crowds
welling for the races,
pushing down the pavements
towards, who knows what.

And I swim like a salmon,
lost in some murky canal,
searching for the river
and home. The car park
bustles as I fumble the keys
to sit where my space
welds around me. Music

drowns the diesel clatter
as I nose way through.
Traffic streams in all directions,
whirlpools round the ring-road
and I am swimming again.

On the road out I ease back,
let the flow push me along
past fields and houses,
small town suburbia,
to the interchange, foot down
into the faster flow
leading to home. Once more
eddying in the stop-start
of traffic lights that strew
the last round-a-bout.

Time to relax, smell
the coffee of my brain.
The last left, the final right
to the welcome trees
and the worn speed-humps
where waiting, fresh-faced
is home with its old
familiar cat.

©Kemal Houghton – 12th July 2014

Kemal Houghton's Chester to Bebington uses watery images to 

convey a journey home, appropriate as Chester has many 

waterways – canals and the river – and we feel the slippery nature 

of the journey.

Home is both familiar and supportive – the 'old familiar cat' - and 

'fresh-faced' – full of trees and space, having come out of the 

crowded streets and roads.

Riverside Walk plays with the idea of lostness, the way marked 

paths can lead us astray, bring us face to face with places we most 

definitely do not want to go in, yet the problems it brings us up 

against are not insuperable, only irritating. When Kemal read this 

out in the workshop we all laughed at the absurdity, we recognised 

this situation. But reading it again on the page – and this is always 

an interesting exercise – the difference between hearing words 

spoken and reading them on the page – I notice something else. 

Just as when you listen to an orchestra play a familiar theme, you 

might notice an individual instrument, playing a subtle melody or 

bass line.

For though the walkers have been led astray, still, there is this 

feeling that in this walk, there is something undeniably strong and 

secure, something not named, yet you feel this inner something is 

far sturdier than waymarkers and even ways, that will always 

support these walkers wherever they go.

Riverside Walk (Eastham to Nowhere)

You can’t get lost
on the riverside walk;
keep the river to your right
and your feet dry.

And we are not lost,
two miles across the estuary’s mud
lies Garston, from this bank
I can see the three graces
of Pier Head. You and I
can never be lost.

We follow this wooded path
with its stiff metal fence
to the left, keeping us out
of the lithium works,
later a steep bank takes us
in sight of the road
but there are more metal fences,
then quicksand and destruction.

You follow me out onto the concrete yard
of some fallen industrial pile.

We stare through the locked gates
onto the road that we know
would lead us home.
We are not lost, though we retrace
our steps back the half mile
we have come, keeping the river
to our left, our feet stung
by nettles. We can never be lost
on this our long walk home.

©Kemal Houghton – 12th July 2014

No locked gates here - the Welsh side of the estuary, at low tide

Monday, 14 July 2014

Poetical Chester

All smiles after the hard work - photo credit Maureen Weldon

I was delighted to be asked to give a workshop with

Chester Poets, such a friendly and talented group of people! It was 

held in the Friends' Meeting House, set amid the city's truly 

arresting architecture. 


This was particularly appropriate as I'd chosen to introduce the 

work of William Stafford, who was a Quaker, and to look at both 

his poetry and his prose writings on the process and the teaching of 


When I first read him, a year ago now, his words had an immediate 

and inspiring effect. The quotes below are from two of his books –  

Crossing Unmarked Snow and You Must Revise your Life.

A writer is not so much someone who has something to say 

as...someone who has found a process that will bring about new 

things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say 


“My morning writing would begin for me by getting up about four 

o'clock. ...I lie down on the living room couch in front of a 

big...picture window which looks out on our quiet neighbourhood. 

The giant fir trees, ...rhododendrons and so on outside. I'm lying 

there relaxed, I have a blank sheet in front of me. I put the date on 

top, and I start letting whatever swims into my attention get 

written down on the page....I welcome anything that comes along.  

I don't have any standards.......I am not trying to contend for a 

place in magazines or in books. I'm just letting my attention flow 

where it wants to flow. And the relaxation of it is part of the charm 

for me.”

Among his themes are

the linking of inner and outer – the world of actual events located 

in time and place, and the world of the imagination, the river of the 

inner life.
Writing as exploration & journey. In this journey there are no maps 

but you are accompanied by your own inner compass and guidance.
The importance of being authentic, rather than 'good'.
The necessity of making mistakes/the value of getting lost and of 

developing total trust and belief in your own processes.

I used one of his writing exercises as a starting point. The road to 

your home or town or to an imagined home where you would like 

to live.

The day was humid and sultry, the windows of the room were 

open, but it was hot inside, and silent, just the sound of 

concentration, (yes, it has its own sound, like the faintest hum of 

distant bees) notebook pages flicking over, people lifting bottles of 

water and replacing them, heads bent over pages, people wrote 

quickly, without editing their thoughts first, immersed in the 

present, going where their inner river took them. Faint murmur of 

voices from people sitting outside in the garden.

When people read out their work, there was a childhood memory 

of coming home from school with 'rooks rioting overhead'. More 

than one person followed a path or came to a gate or doorway 

where a threshold was crossed, marking a boundary into another 

world, only subtly different from this one.

There were contrasts between urban 'whirlpools round the ringroad' 

and rural, 'trees [that] protect me' and there were train journeys, 

rain on windows and nostalgia, there was a character setting out 

into a completely unknown world, reminding me of Parsifal the 

innocent, about to enter life's theatre and learn, through the 

mistakes he will make, about the ways, customs and meanings of 

the world, how it differs from his own imaginings, how it will 

eventually, reconnect with the larger world, of the imagination, of 

metaphor, of soul and spirit.

'...if you're lost enough, then the experience of now is your guide 

to what comes next. None of us knows what comes the next second.'

'Let me plead, not for ignoring advice from wherever it comes, but 

for allowing in your own life the freedom to pay attention to your 

feelings while finding your way through language. ….........Into the 

unknown you must plunge, carrying your compass.....You must 

make 'mistakes'; that is, you must explore what has not been 

mapped out for you......Like Don Quixote must loosen the 

reins and go blundering into adventures that await any traveller 

in this multilevel world …..and like Don Quixote you must expect 

some disasters. You must write your bad poems and stories; for to 

write carefully as you rove forward is to guarantee that you will 

not find the unknown, the risky, the surprising. Art is an activity in 

which the actual feel of doing it must be your guide; hence the 

need for confidence, courage, independence.'

William Stafford

For the second exercise, since William Stafford stresses the 

importance of 'being lost' – a remembered or imagined lostness. 

One of the enjoyable things about using a fairly broad topic like 

this, is the different ways that people will interpret it. 

Being lost in some cases involved that powerful feeling of lines of 

connection, linking trails and sense impressions dissolving, being 

rubbed out, vanishing and mocking your sense of being part of 

anything beyond you, and the acute and sudden alienation that can 

bring. This usually involved being on mountains and in unknown 

terrain. The word panic came up a few times, reminding of the 

nature god Pan, at home in his terrain and challenging your 

presence there. Will you pass the test and be allowed to find your 

way out of the wood or down from the mountain?

There was a lost object, and the blurring of a visual sense, an ironic 

take on a 'riverside walk' where 'you can't get lost' if you keep the 

river on your right, but which actually went nowhere near the river, 

highlighting the strange logic of public signs! Another involved the 

loss of a moral compass, a 'man without maps' and there was an 

atmospheric description of a 'lost' building, eerily abandoned, but 

with its own individual sense of desolation.  

In David Subacchi's Journey, we get the sense of moving fast 

through landscape, one image coming into focus then falling away 

behind, Time here has rhythm and urgency, as we move through 

history as well as space.



Cardigan Bay at my back leaving screaming gulls
And postcard sunsets behind
Climbing afforested hills
Through grey ribbon villages
Past the long abandoned spaces
Of stone churches and Victorian school rooms

Up over Eisteddfa the moon landscape
Where in winter snow descends
Like a theatre fire curtain
Blocking passage to all
On, on eastwards by-passing Llanidloes
With its ancient market hall
Following a road that once was a railway
To industrial Newtown burial place of Robert Owen
And scene of Chartist riots
A place where labour was sold to factory and mill owner
Then forward to Welshpool’s agricultural wealth
Where dignity was sold to Lord Powys

North now in and out of England’s border
Rodney’s Pillar glaring down over Criggion’s quarry
To Oswestry more Welsh than English
Yet part of red soiled Shropshire
To arrive at Bersham where high above
The last relic of coal mining
Dominates the landscape for miles
Desperate attempts to grow trees
Failing miserably to disguise
That this is a slag heap

And so to Wrexham biggest town in North Wales
Border town, garrison town, once a mining
Brewing, brick and steel making town
Now a battered town
Scrambling for its dignity
Holding the line
Between survival
And obscurity.

David Subacchi
July 2014

And in his Empty Property, while it is the house that is 'lost', the 

powerful energy of abandonment that inhabits it seems to prowl 

like a wounded creature protecting its own space.


The front door was stiff
Requiring a kick to open
The sort of kick I imagine
Policemen or bailiffs deliver
When enforcing entry

As is normal when houses
Have been vacant
For some time
The smell of decay
Hung everywhere

With pen, paper and clipboard
I made cursory notes
More to prove I had inspected
Than to record anything
That might be worthwhile

A glance at every
Decaying room was enough
To satisfy me
That this was really
A bit of a dump

Turning to exit
The door resisted
Refusing to budge
As if showing contempt
For my disrespect

In panic I forced myself
Out the back way
Into an overgrown garden
Rusted hinges
Groaning in protest

Not looking back
I stepped over a garden wall
Into the alley way
Looking this way and that
Blushing with embarrassment

Behind me the empty house
Sneered in its loneliness
As I limped back to the car
My throat dry
Every muscle aching.

David Subacchi July 2014

(Both of these were written during the workshop, and are 

reproduced here with his permission)


Here you can read about David Feela's encounter with William 


And after the workshop, there was just time to walk along 

Chester's walls overlooking the racecourse, and watch the last race 

of the day!