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Tag: Matthew Francis

Moor art and poetry

We spent last weekend savouring two of the lesser-known delights of the South West moors. We started on Friday on Dartmoor and then moved on to Bodmin Moor that evening.

H at DelamoreDelamore House is on the edge of Dartmoor, and is of special interest to us because it used to be owned by the same family as lived in the house that now contains our apartment. Although it is considerably grander (our house was the family’s ‘summer house’), there were similarities and common features, including a tholos, or cromlech. tholos


‘Brick chair’ by Amy Cooper 

Every year, for the whole of May, Delamore House hosts an art and sculpture exhibition, and we just managed to get there before the end of the month. Both the ground floor of the house, and a stable block across the meadow, were full of paintings; and everywhere we went in the garden we found fascinating sculptures. Peacock, Dot Kuzniar

‘Peacock’, by Dot Kuzniar


‘Dancing meadow’ by Nicola Crocker

Dancing meadow, Nicola Crocker figure


I really liked this head sculpture, and its companion piece which was a sadder face. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to discover who the sculptor was, so if any of you know, please send me a message.


As one might expect with so many exhibits, they were not all of the same high quality, but in general the standard was good, and some works were excellent.

‘Floating glass sphere’ by Sue Smith
Sue Smith, Floating glass sphere

Quite apart from the art, the gardens were exquisite – and this is probably one reason why the month of May is chosen for the exhibition.

burning bush




more beauty

The reason for our visit to Bodmin Moor was that I was reading at the Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival. David Woolley and Ann Gray have been running this excellent festival for the last four years, and have created a very special atmosphere with a stunning line-up of poets. On the Friday evening we had a launch party, then settled down for the first reading, which in terms of quality and excitement set the tone for the whole weekend. The two poets this first evening were Sinead Morrissey and David Harsent, the latest two winners of the prestigious T S Eliot prize, and the festival could not possibly have got off to a better start.

Sinead MorrisseySinead led a very good workshop the next morning. The event sparkled from start to finish, both because of Sinead’s stimulating input on abstract and concrete writing, and also because the fifteen participants all had intelligent, sensitive and lucid contributions to make.

My reading came next, shared with two lovely Oversteps poets: Elisabeth Rowe and Mark Totterdell. We were in a conservatory room at this stage, and the sun was beating down; but both we and the audience stayed awake and everyone was ‘warm'(!) and appreciative.

Logo_BMPFThis was followed by readings by Matthew Francis and Anthony Wilson, which I very much enjoyed. I knew both of these poets a little, but had not heard them read before; so it was a great pleasure. Unfortunately I had to leave after this, as I had another appointment the next morning. I therefore missed a number of other treats. If the programme is anything like as good next year, I recommend that poetry-lovers make the journey to this corner of England, as Bodmin Moor is a festival that is well-worth attending. I shall have to hope that I get another invitation!

The venue for the festival is the Sterts Theatre at Upton Cross, and the theatre itself is a large amphitheatre covered by a giant awning. As the temperature at night was still a little low front coverfor the time of year, we were relieved to discover that the poetry festival actually takes place in adjacent buildings, complete with walls and roof.

We, of course, spent the night in our camper van, where we were both snug and peaceful. As I included some poems from my latest book (Notes from a Camper Van) in my reading, this was appropriate.

Congratulations to Ann and David on a wonderful festival.


Under the microscope

Micrographia workshop in Exeter Cathedral Library

I don’t often get the chance to attend someone else’s workshop, but when I saw this one advertised I jumped in fast. What a treat to be given the opportunity to learn more about science and the natural world, and to hear, write and share poetry.

The workshop took place this morning at Exeter Cathedral Library, where we started by looking  at and learning about Robert Hooke’s ‘Micrographia’ of 1665, and playing with lots of microscopes, before settling down to write some poetry. There was room for only ten people, so I was glad I booked early.

Robert Hooke was an amazing polymath: natural philosopher, botanist, inventor, architect, astronomer and much more. We owe him (among other things) Hooke’s Law and the term ‘cell’ for describing biological organisms.

open bookBut today our interest in him was predominantly for his magnum opus, ‘Micrographia’, which was on display for us to inspect and handle.

To the King






Felicity Henderson of Exeter University co-ordinated the event; and Mark Ramsdale and Katie Solomon from the university’s Biosciences Department kindly brought along a dozen or so microscopes of different ages and magnifications for our use. These ranged from a replica of Hooke’s original instrument (the actual one being in an American library) to very modern all-singing-all-dancing models.

We also had access to scores of tiny 19th century glass plates, all labelled in copperplate writing. Inside these plates were imprisoned the plant, animal and insect specimens that we then studied under the microscopes, delighting in our access to such a miniature fairy-tale world.

There were plenty of ticks, fleas, lice and other such delights; but my four favourite slides were the following:
A humming bird’s feathers illuminated in vibrant colours of puce, lime and purple;
Dragonfly wings which under the microscope were revealed to be made up of fine tracery, with tiny ‘stained glass windows’ at the edges;
Mould, which when magnified many times looked for all the world like a pleasant summer garden
Hooke_mold_1665_dar12506and (perhaps best of all)

nettle 1


nettle stings with their fine hairs and mini syringes to pump poison into our skin.

The ropes across the page below the nettle leaf in this slide are the beards of a wild oat.

Having subjected a full stop to his microscopic investigation, Hooke described what he saw as ‘like a great splotch of London dirt’. I think that image will stay with me for a while, and add interest to the normal procedures of punctuation.

The second part of the morning was given over to a couple of writing exercises, introduced by the poet Matthew Francis. The first exercise he gave us was to experiment with syllabic poetry, and he set us the pattern of syllables <13, 10, 7, 6, 5, 4>, which is a pattern he has used successfully for all the poems in his recent collection, ‘Whereabouts’. The other exercise used some extracts from Micrographia to inspire our own work.

It is always a joy to hear what other poets come up with in response to prompts and challenges, and although I didn’t feel that my first effort at syllabic poetry was particularly impressive, it has inspired me to experiment a little with this form. It was interesting that when Matthew joined us in writing to the prompt, the poem he came up with was far more balanced and polished – which rather suggests that once one gets accustomed to the form, it can flow as easily as any other style of writing.

microscope 3