Where Poppies Blow

18 January 2017 // Books

Where Poppies Blow: The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War by John Lewis-Stempel

(Orion, hardback, 400 pages. Out now.)

Review by John Andrews

“The magpies in Picardy
Are more than I can tell.
They flicker down the dusty roads
And cast a magic spell
On the men who march through Picardy,
Through Picardy to hell.”

‘Magpies in Picardy’
Lt. T.P. Cameron Wilson, Sherwood Foresters


Where Poppies Blow – The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War by John Lewis-Stempel marries all of the themes that have dominated his eleven books to date: soldiering, farming and more broadly, nature. The dust jacket, a jaunty clash of digitised eau de nils, purples and reds, would not look out of place on the ‘nature tables’ of high street book shops, an innocuous presence at first glance, but in the hand it is like a piece of unexploded ordnance freshly turned up by a farmer on the Somme; a deadly shell of a book packed with diary entries, lists, quotations, descriptions, addenda and statistics. Once read it is life altering, its pages shattering like pieces of shrapnel in the consciousness. Lewis-Stempel makes it clear – in 1914 men did not go to fight solely for King, they also went for country:

Whether from countryside or city, love of nature was the British condition, which manifested itself in everything from the national hobby of gardening to the folk-influenced music of classical composers such as George Butterworth and Ralph Vaughan Williams. The British led the world in the keeping of pets, animal welfare legislation and a regard for birds so marked by 1910 that Punch declared their feeding to be a national pastime, with the dockers and clerks of London included….. the people of Britain in 1914 were connected to nature wherever they dwelt. Nature was not ‘other’, separate, a thing apart. (more…)

Richard Carter at Machpelah Mill

17 January 2017 // Photography

‘Our town of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire takes its name from the picturesque sixteenth-century packhorse bridge crossing Hebden Water in the centre of town. The locals are justifiably proud of it. But there are many other photogenic bridges in the area. So, in 2014, I embarked on a project to photograph the other local bridges: Hebden’s non-eponymous bridges, so to speak.’

So says Richard Carter of his photo-project ‘Hebden’s Other Bridges’ – select prints of which will adorn the walls of Machpelah Mill during our afternoon of poetry and prose this Saturday. (more…)

WAKE UP: A review of Jacob Polley’s ‘Jackself’

16 January 2017 // Poetry

Jackself by Jacob Polley (Picador, paperback, 80 pages. Out now and available here.)

Review by Martha Sprackland

who’s at the door of the door of the door

who else but Jackself, the folktale hero of this ‘fictionalised autobiography’. In the fourth collection from Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award-winning Jacob Polley, myth and nightmare are glimpsed through the loose-held narrative of a childhood in the wild old spaces of imagined Lamanby, somewhere on the Cumbrian border, where the poet is from. This alternate universe is announced at the end of the spectacular opening poem ‘The House that Jack Built’, a rattling prologue in sped-up footage, like a zoom-through of the distant and recent past. ‘[T]he first trees were felled’, and centuries later ‘ripped up by a legion’s engineers’; in another age they were ‘half-buried, grown-over, still hot / were stumbled upon / by navigators’, are lock-gates, ship-timbers, monuments, firewood, house. (more…)

Over The Border

16 January 2017 // Over The Border

Following her triumphant return to these pages at the end of last year, Jude Rogers continues to chronicle her move to Wales:

A year and four months ago, a day after a day of peculiarly wild and relentless summer rain – the kind that bathes your coat, sinks the cotton of your sleeves, drowns your soft, summer skin, channels water to the hard, icy white of your bones – we decided, this is right. This feels right. The deluge had gone a day later, and we knew it’d be back, but there was something about this place that just took us – an idea of light, of space, and of silence. There was also a lightness, and a spaciousness, to the idea of starting again, of running away. A peace cutting through. It was something we both needed and wanted.

A year and three months later, in the heavy blue of early morning on the broken, pitted tarmac of the B4521, a curling river of a road that surges and crests between Abergavenny in Wales and St Owen’s Cross in England, under a canopy of towering trees just between Walson and Skenfrith, two deer flash out of nowhere in front of my car. I see their eyes first, bright white globes at full-beam. I take my foot off the accelerator and grip the steering wheel, turning it as firmly as I can under these new-for-me, giant, black Edward Gorey oaks, silhouettes which will turn silver and sanguine in the next hour of morning, but which for now loom like ghosts, their long fingers twisting, twisting out at me, from a peculiar dream. (more…)

Driftfish: A Zoomorphic Anthology

15 January 2017 // Books //On Nature //On Water

Danny Adcock reviews Driftfish – the new print anthology of essays, fiction and poetry from Zoomorphic:

We are living, apparently, in a ‘post-truth’ world; a world in which its most powerful country has elected as its next president a man who doesn’t believe climate change is real, and who has just appointed as his Secretary of Defence a man with the nickname ‘Mad Dog’; where, according to forestry groups, England is slipping into a state of deforestation for the first time in forty years because we are now felling more trees than we are planting; where the press is full of warnings of ecological and climatological ‘tipping points’ from which there is no going back; where temperatures in the Arctic are a staggering twenty degrees centigrade higher than expected; where recent political and cultural upheavals have exposed deep divisions in society. There is nothing ‘post-truth,’ about Driftfish: A Zoomorphic Anthology. The truths of these essays and poems, all concerning marine wildlife, are truths of loss, of connections and reconnections, of a search for meaning within our own increasingly complex lives through the ultimately uncomplicated ones lived by our kindred species. The first print offering from online magazine Zoomorphic, it continues the editors’ – poet, performer and educator Susan Richardson, and artist, designer and writer James Roberts – philosophy of publishing prose and poetry that nurtures our connections with nature, on both an intellectual and a physical level. (more…)