And She Was by Sarah Corbett, A Graph Review

And She Was                                      A Graph Review,  Overall average points: 70

A verse-novel.   By Sarah Corbettgraph Rev., average 70

Publisher:  Liverpool University Press

2015.     Paperback.       978 178381793

and she was coverIf you like your poetry simple or as compartmentalised reading and entertainment then beware this book.  We have here a verse-novel of  77 pages that rush you helter-skelter through a series of superb poems that sets off with the musical title of ‘Nocturne in Three Movements’.  So begins a tale that weaves as mysteriously as a dream, an hallucination in words and images that tease you into almost knowing   …….  always feeling.

Part of the blurb says ‘time and narrative bend’ so they do, in a love story.  Such an all-consuming love and loss.  There is an intriguing blurring of characters, maybe dreams or memories,  conversations  and activities that flow through the poems.   Poems that twist or shove you through to the next that subtly changes style as the theme switches.

Whet the appetite with the following;  a first verse excerpt from the opening  trio of a poem:  second ‘part’ of  Nocturne in three parts:

(C Major)

and it was midsummer and they took off north

to the coast, the train running them through

the night like wolves trailing the scent of deer

in a forest of dreams until morning, a song

of sun and blackbird edging around the blinds.

The sea was a gold dress flung across the arm

Throughout  the book you catch the repetition that links you back to a former verse maybe  a word that is an echo or a hook at the depth of passion and/or loss time and again.  Perhaps a little understanding and comfort may be taken from the last poem as it offers a sense of resolution.

Two people intertwined, paralleled, a man and a woman and a vision of their journey into loss.  Or through the eyes/minds of the lost, stories of love, of loss.  Snapshots but of what? Poems, capsules, beautifully constructed to mesmerise the reader into re-visiting for the sake of the characters and the imagery of the verse as well as charting a story.

The individual poems are free-verse, varied in their stanza lengths but in the first half are often four line verses tailored in layout to give a more current outline.  Frequently other poems are varied in layout which helpsthe sense of movement and sudden change during reading.  This variation in design is an integral part of the  novel and works well in keeping the readers eye.    Not in original ‘concrete’ (bar one, if you want to use that term.   Other designations are available but I can’t recall or find them at present!!)  but taking on an array of line formats.  Perhaps I should have offered an excerpt from the very first poem but that would have been the start of a  typesetter’ nightmare.

A reconstruction, a re-engineering of a timeless theme that deserves a prize.

The blurb offers comparison to David Lynch’s Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, to Atom Egoyan and Haruki Murakami.  All of which I heartily agree with.  You might even conjure with the works of the likes of Fellini and Dali.

It would be unfair tohighlight particular poems as they are all integral to the book.  The notes do say that versions of  several ‘Esther’ poems had previously been published in New Welsh Review but here we now have a total of 34 poems that make a whole.




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Sunny Days

Sunny Days                                                JJS.    8.aug2016


Every morning this summer, surprisingly

sunny and hot

for several weeks

Except for that twentyfour hours of

fine drizzle

and that final night-time burst of

torrential rain.


Every morning in that surprise of heat

inclined to frizzle

the finest leaves of fuchsia or

raspberry cane

I would tap my foot on a paving slab by

A waterbutt

then pause to bend a hand to a watering can.


A frog slid out

from under

the lip and sat on a brick an inch away

and refused to look at me.


I bent a little lower, as much as I could,

to study the smooth green skin with its fuzzed

brown spots

while it never moved or blinked or

even twitched.


Every morning frog played sleeping lions, refusing to see,


ignoring me

as I studied the sleek leg and long blobbed toes.

Frog rested



ignoring my existence while the sun shimmered over its back

and green skinned bellows.


Until I move a boot an inch, so I can reach the can.

Frog jumps

flat foot and splayed upon the chicken wire,

shrunken body, legs akimbo in dissection mode,


We both hesitate again,

frog in the shade

while the sun still sweats on my neck.


Frogs don’t only sit or jump,

they manoeuvre

to slip front legs then head through the circle,

a too small circle,

then contract the bellows, the chest and ooze into

and through the wire noose

and flick

those wicket-keepers legs without a thought

to land like a tumbler and with a kick retreat

to ground-elder leaves and disappear.


The frog never looks at me face to face.

Why should it?

We play our little game, have no need to kiss,

both have chores to live.

I hope tomorrow will be the same.

frog lounge 2


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A Splinter of Glass by (Charles) Mike Doyle, Review

A Splinter of Glass,    Poems 1951-55

Charles Doyle

The Pegasus Press, New Zealand. 1956

From a signed copy, with the words:    “‘One end of a business deal!’   Mike Doyle.”

Note: the authors name on the title page is as Charles Doyle but he is more regularly published as Mike Doyle.

This is his first published book, a collection of 23 poems, the title one ‘ A Splinter of Glass’ is divided into seven sections.

The flap states he is Irish but other notes say he was born of Irish parents, in Birmingham, England.     Born 1928, served in the Royal Navy 1946 to 1954. Visited New Zealand in 1951 settled there after the Navy and became a school teacher.  Co- founded, co -edited ‘Numbers’.    The poem Splinter of Glass was granted the Jessie MacKay Memorial Award in 1955.

He settled in New Zealand for a few years then moved to Canada and remained there.  Now retired from his university in Victoria B.C..    He has had several books published on poetics as well as collections of poems, none as far as I can find published in the U.K..   All seem to be out of print currently.  This is a shame as I would like to set my hands on his ‘Collected Poems 1951 – 2009’  by Ekstasis in which he selected about a third of his then extant work for publication. There have been a couple of collections listed since then but again seem difficult to find at a price I can cope with, especially as they reside in Canada or the USA.

Poetry is massively written, massively read but not easily (economically) published throughout the English Speaking World as the purchasing public is so small.  As in fiction, only a small number of authors get published and an even smaller percentage become popular and have any sensible income.  Of course, as in all aspects of the Arts, or just Life, there are stellar successes which seem impossible.   Almost hidden from view may be as many good or better artists.  The trust and the hope is that those hidden gems will at some time see the light of day and find their space in that good old ‘firmament’.

I diverge, sorry, bad habit.

See Malahat Review website for review of collected poems by Mike Doyle

Winter Beach, the first poem moves from the rose-tint of summer memory as unreality.  Halfway through prods at the harshness of winter before relenting briefly, like an ‘Indian Summer’ before revealing the explosion of a winter storm.    Here is description with several layers for peeling and picking.      A Sea Change is the next poem.  The two are connected by the sea but here we immediately have a different style, rhythm and tone with little punctuation and elements of dislocation.  Ninth line before a punctuation stop where the explanation is found as to why images are solid though yet a little blurred.   If you look you find a little rhyme and some half-rhymes and numerous other poetic nuances but save that for later. Reading is the important element.   Here is a short poem written by a man in his mid-twenties, published sixty years ago, that catches emotion and story in a poem that re-reads again and again.     The poem in question:

A Sea Change

In the estuary as the trawlers sail

their salt fish up to the scuppers laden

the wharves black wet in the brawling winter gale

all that land but the heart’s acres hidden

in hangdog weather the cuff of the sea’s sleeve

ruffled and the waves hands plucking

greedily at the sand the squat sheds grieving

silent as empty churches and the wreck

two days now fast in the shadowy fathoms.

Only the divers simple messages come up

monotonous, moving, final as a requiem,

and the tides take hope out surely on the ebb.


This poet, in his first collection shows a great depth of artistry and storytelling.  This  suggests a passion, restlessness of mind and an overall melancholia that seems to accompany him.  Eight years in the Royal Navy must have given him the time and experiences to develop his poetic style and self.  He said he started writing poetry at about the age of thirteen but only at twenty three to feel some satisfaction with his work.  This first collection gives confirmation to his belief of himself and his poetry.

Reading through this book you might feel the touches of other poets echoing into your mind, for me it was often Dylan Thomas.   Whether they are your own bias in echoes of other poets or Doyle’s is moot.  What is important is the overall tales that slice through the series of images, often one that is unusual, as the circumstance of the pictures are powerful yet stated factually.

A Splinter of Glass, the title poem, in seven parts, seems a personal story of moving to and meeting with  ‘New World’ of New Zealand.

The main theme is surely the sea and distance, with the seasons weighed heavily by ‘black winter’ and loss/ death.

The poems, Old Maid and The Tower fill,the part of ‘simplest’  and more formal  than many while  A Window in the World and the last poem, Empirical History, both dip a toe into the metaphysical: of the Universe, its origins and Man’s place.

A Splinter of Glass is poetry of its day but fulfills its role still.  As a first collection it is assured and a voice with plenty to say.  My favourite poems have been picked out in the text above. I look forward to getting my hands on more of Mike Doyle’s work.

And for those keen to see the years roll by and a poet still enjoying life, just go to You Tube and type in:  Mike Doyle’s book launch part 5  

Book launch parts 1 to 6 are also available.

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Three Poems by Charles Hamilton Sorley

Charles Hamilton Sorley   1895 – 1915 (13th Oct)

He was on walking tour in Germany before taking up a scholarship to Oxford University. War declared whilst there; briefly arrested before able to return to England.  The morning after arriving home he applied for a commission. In France (Suffolk Regiment) in May 1915, made up to Captain by September, killed 13th Oct.   A brief life cut short by a sniper at the Battle of Loos.

link to war poets website:  war poets


I believe Edmund Blunden considered Sorley to be already a consummate poet and a great loss in potential at the hands of  The Great War.  I have not found many but these three ( four if you take the Two-Sonnets as two, I dont).  The ‘Letter‘ seems a very fine poem to my mind

A Letter From The Trenches To A School Friend

I have not brought my Odyssey
With me here across the sea;
But you’ll remember, when I say
How, when they went down Sparta way,
To sandy Sparta, long ere dawn
Horses were harnessed, rations drawn,
Equipment polished sparkling bright,
And breakfasts swallowed (as the white
Of eastern heavens turned to gold) –
The dogs barked, swift farewells were told.
The sun springs up, the horses neigh,
Crackles the whip thrice-then away!
From sun-go-up to sun-go-down
All day across the sandy down
The gallant horses galloped, till
The wind across the downs more chill
Blew, the sun sank and all the road
Was darkened, that it only showed
Right at the end the town’s red light
And twilight glimmering into night.

The horses never slackened till
They reached the doorway and stood still.
Then came the knock, the unlading; then
The honey-sweet converse of men,
The splendid bath, the change of dress,
Then – oh the grandeur of their Mess,
The henchmen, the prim stewardess!
And oh the breaking of old ground,
The tales, after the port went round!
(The wondrous wiles of old Odysseus,
Old Agamemnon and his misuse
Of his command, and that young chit
Paris – who didn’t care a bit
For Helen – only to annoy her
He did it really, K.T.A.)
But soon they led amidst the din
The honey-sweet – in,
Whose eyes were blind, whose soul had sight,
Who knew the fame of men in fight –
Bard of white hair and trembling foot,
Who sang whatever God might put
Into his heart.
And there he sung,
Those war-worn veterans among,
Tales of great war and strong hearts wrung,
Of clash of arms, of council’s brawl,
Of beauty that must early fall,
Of battle hate and battle joy
By the old windy walls of Troy.
They felt that they were unreal then,
Visions and shadow-forms, not men.
But those the Bard did sing and say
(Some were their comrades, some were they)
Took shape and loomed and strengthened more
Greatly than they had guessed of yore.
And now the fight begins again,
The old war-joy, the old war-pain.
Sons of one school across the sea
We have no fear to fight –

And soon, oh soon, I do not doubt it,
With the body or without it,
We shall all come tumbling down
To our old wrinkled red-capped town.
Perhaps the road up llsley way,
The old ridge-track, will be my way.
High up among the sheep and sky,
Look down on Wantage, passing by,
And see the smoke from Swindon town;
And then full left at Liddington,
Where the four winds of heaven meet
The earth-blest traveller to greet.
And then my face is toward the south,
There is a singing on my mouth
Away to rightward I descry
My Barbury ensconced in sky,
Far underneath the Ogbourne twins,
And at my feet the thyme and whins,
The grasses with their little crowns
Of gold, the lovely Aldbourne downs,
And that old signpost (well I knew
That crazy signpost, arms askew,
Old mother of the four grass ways).
And then my mouth is dumb with praise,
For, past the wood and chalkpit tiny,
A glimpse of Marlborough -!
So I descend beneath the rail
To warmth and welcome and wassail.

This from the battered trenches – rough,
Jingling and tedious enough.
And so I sign myself to you:
One, who some crooked pathways knew
Round Bedwyn: who could scarcely leave
The Downs on a December eve:
Was at his happiest in shorts,
And got – not many good reports!
Small skill of rhyming in his hand –
But you’ll forgive – you’ll understand.



There where the rusty iron lies,
The rooks are cawing all the day.
Perhaps no man, until he dies,
Will understand them, what they say.

The evening makes the sky like clay.
The slow wind waits for night to rise.
The world is half content. But they

Still trouble all the trees with cries,
That know, and cannot put away,
The yearning to the soul that flies
From day to night, from night to day.

            Two Sonnets


Saints have adored the lofty soul of you.
Poets have whitened at your high renown.
We stand among the many millions who
Do hourly wait to pass your pathway down.
You, so familiar, once were strange: we tried
To live as of your presence unaware.
But now in every road on every side
We see your straight and steadfast signpost there.

I think it like that signpost in my land
Hoary and tall, which pointed me to go
Upward, into the hills, on the right hand,
Where the mists swim and the winds shriek and blow,
A homeless land and friendless, but a land
I did not know and that I wished to know.


Such, such is Death: no triumph: no defeat:
Only an empty pail, a slate rubbed clean,
A merciful putting away of what has been.

And this we know: Death is not Life, effete,
Life crushed, the broken pail. We who have seen
So marvellous things know well the end not yet.

Victor and vanquished are a-one in death:
Coward and brave: friend, foe. Ghosts do not say,
“Come, what was your record when you drew breath?”
But a big blot has hid each yesterday
So poor, so manifestly incomplete.
And your bright Promise, withered long and sped,
Is touched, stirs, rises, opens and grows sweet
And blossoms and is you, when you are dead.


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visiting Milton’s Cottage

Well, last weekend I was visiting Clare’s Cottage at Helpston and five days later I visited Milton’s Cottage in Chalfont St Giles.

Two cottages, two poets, almost two centuries apart but each has a cottage they lived in preserved for today’s visitors.    And that word ‘cottage’ is as near as their worlds ever get, the buildings themselves are almost as far apart as the language and content of their poetry.

milt cott1So, to my visit to Milton’s world  where for two years he was keeping well away from the plague in London, accompanied by his daughter and third wife.

Not a time for biography here but knowing how I wander no doubt it will out!

The cottage is just off the town centre, an easy walk through the main street into Deanway and partway up the hill is the cottage, well signed as both his cottage and a Milton Museum. Just passed the house is a small track up the hill,  just wide enough for cars and at the top a small flattened area enough for about nine cars.  All easy to get into as long as you don’t miss the turning and there is space to park. If not then turning round may be a nuisance.

However, for me it was a beautiful day and  plenty of space to park.

Rang the bell-pull and two delightful ladies took me in, apologised for taking my entrance fee and explained it went towards upkeep of the cottage trust.    I was the lone visitor at the time so I was shown round the rooms of the ground floor that composed the museum. The great man’s actual chair was the first prized possession to be seen and the chat continued as we wandered round the rooms.  Typical style as you would see or imagine from experiences of pictures of the period or researched historical dramas.    ‘When did you last see your Father’ sprang to mind though that picture was of a much larger room.  The rooms had leaded windows and dark furniture so quite dim except where the sun shone in directly.  However they were pleasantly cooler than in the road.

From a distance the outside and design is of an established cottage or small farmhouse, red bricked and tiled. It looks both substantial (relatively) and cosy.  When inside the age is undeniable. Low door lintels and ceilings with a few beams visible, some inglenook fireplaces in beautiful condition though you would have to be small to fit in the nook.  Is that right?

Many fine editions of his writings were visible in cabinets and samples of pamphlets and books on display, including prints of his mss.  Around the walls were portraits of him as a young man through to his last years and blind. There is a bust in the garden.  Assorted prints of events through his life whether personal or in his work as a ‘civil servant’.  Being more specific he was Secretary for Foreign Tongues in Cromwell’s government.  He had finished at Cambridge University and was touring Europe when news of the political unrest in England drew him back.  His preference for poetry was dropped as he became involved in the growing turmoil and events of the Civil War. He supported the Republican Cause and used his powers of language in writing and became the chief polemicist for Cromwells’s Commonwealth, issuing many pamphlets and writings of political, theological and historical subjects for the day.  Much of this is available still and a relevant study.   I suppose through all this time he was a Radical Media Man  and working for the Cromwellian Government ensured his writings were published and so historically secure. Following the collapse of the Commonwealth  and the reinstallation of Charles II to the monarchy in 1660 Milton’s position was far from secure.  His life likely hung in the balance at this change of events and time was spent in the Tower of London, now blind, poor and seriously out of favour.

Maybe his way with words, as a poet and his blindness saved him as well as old friends, especially Andrew Marvell. In the Tower he was back to writing poetry, or rather dictating to aides.  He had started Paradise Lost in 1658 and finished it at this cottage in Chalfont St Giles in 1664, when the first edition was published.

The Great Plague raging in London, his withdrawal to the country (as many did) and the Fire of London were all events towards the end of his life.  Being blind at this time was no milt bust1hindrance to his poetry as he would dictate, his mind was still hugely active   His family remained at the Cottage for two years and returned to live quietly again in London.  He died in 1674.

He led a life almost at the of one of the most tumultuous and important periods of English History.  His poetry was written in language that today maybe harder to understand literally but it ever was.  You need a depth of background to come close to realising the allegorical stories of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained (written after a suggestion at Milton’s Cottage by a friend and visitor) or plenty of time. It helps by reading the volumes of Longman Annotated English Poets on Milton’s Longer Poems and the other on Shorter Poems.    However if you persevere in reading just some of the (original) former out loud you might find yourself caught up by the sheer eloquence and grandeur of the language as well as the assault on the senses it seems to give.  Perhaps searching for the political meanings and interpretation within the text can be left for others of a more historical or linguistic bent.

You can wander into the cottage garden. I am not sure how it relates to his days there but it is pleasant enough today. Steeply terraced in the most part though a small flat lawn beside the house is an easy place to sit and view the cottage garden effect of the planting as it moves up the hillside.

milt back 1In the garden, looking at the nicely ragged flowers and overhanging trees, small twisting routes up the layered garden, I felt a calming that reflected being outside rather than peering at the old prints and leather books, interesting as they were.  The little water fountain that spattered down onto a gravelled base was attracting attention.  The sun glittered into it and on the white stoned face embedded in it where the water rippled the surface.  A small plaque had a line from Lycidas as a memorial to a University friend who had drowned.

Milton may have been the most educated, knowledgable English poet ever, combining as a high attaining Cambridge graduate plus his additional years of self-study and experience travelling round Europe. His writing distinguishes him as such.   But in that garden, the simplicity of it, I fell back to thinking of dear old John Clare and his struggle for life and poetry. How his poetry may well have a wider, greater audience today, even influence in this Eco-pointing world.

Four more visitors arrived as I left.  Milton’s Cottage is well worth a visit as a national interest, if you are inclined to following poetry timelines and places.  And when you leave the Cottage, just across the road is the Milton’s Indian Restaraunt, where I suspect John didnt visit.  Or maybe he did?

Lycidas by John Milton                                  (only maybe 20% of the poem)

Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more,
Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere,
I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude,
And with forced fingers rude
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.
Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear,
Compels me to disturb your season due;
For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,
Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer.
Who would not sing for Lycidas? He knew
Himself to sing, and build the lofty rhyme.
He must not float upon his wat’ry bier
Unwept, and welter to the parching wind,
Without the meed of some melodious tear.
Begin then, Sisters of the sacred well,
That from beneath the seat of Jove doth spring,
Begin, and somewhat loudly sweep the string.
Hence with denial vain, and coy excuse,
So may some gentle Muse
With lucky words favour my destined urn,
And as he passes turn
And bid fair peace be to my sable shroud.
For we were nursed upon the selfsame hill,
Fed the same flock by fountain, shade, and rill.
Together both, ere the high lawns appeared
Under the opening eyelids of the morn,
We drove a-field, and both together heard
What time the gray-fly winds her sultry horn,
Batt’ning our flocks with the fresh dews of night,
Oft till the star that rose, at ev’ning, bright
Toward heav’n’s descent had sloped his
west’ring wheel.

first 32 lines

xxxxxxxx             last 31 lines

milt lycidasFor so to interpose a little ease,
Let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise.
Ay me! whilst thee the shores and sounding seas
Wash far away, where’er thy bones are hurled,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit’st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou, to our moist vows denied,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold.
Look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth;
And, O ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth.
Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
For Lycidas your sorrow is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the wat’ry floor.
So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high,
Through the dear might of Him that walked
the waves,
Where, other groves and other streams along,
With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves,
And hears the unexpressive nuptial song,
In the blest kingdoms meek of joy and love.
There entertain him all the saints above,
In solemn troops, and sweet societies,
That sing, and singing in their glory move,
And wipe the tears for ever from his eyes.



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Visiting the John Clare Festival 2016

At Helpston:

organised by the John Clare Society

The ‘Midsummer Cushion’ tradition is now continued the nearest weekend to Clare’s birthday when the John Clare Society hold their festival three-day weekend in his honour.

These days the ‘cushions are prepared by children from the local school and placed around clare midsummer cushionhis grave after which a small ceremony in the church and the announcement of the winning child for that year’s poem.  On the Friday evening there is a high old time of folk music and singing in the Blue Bell pub much used by John Clare.  He wrote a lot of songs that fitted the folk tunes of the day so these had a high priority for the night.

The Saturday is when even more society members and visitors arrive. Interesting in conversation to hear that there were some first-timers and a swathe of people of a few years but possibly greater numbers for the long haul and several that had been inaugural, or almost, members from 35 years ago.    It seems that once you become attached to Clare it is almost impossible to detach yourself.   I don’t know the numbers as they ebbed and flowed between a.g.m. and bookstalls and coffee shop and of course visiting the Cottage.

At the a.g.m. we listened to Carrie Akroyd’s (the new president) words; of her appreciation of Clare and his work and that his poetry inspired her art and determined her to promote his work beside her own exhibitions around the country.  The Wood is Sweet and  This Happy Place contain her superb linocuts next to selections of his poems.     In her speech she made the point that people can come to Clare’s poetry, and do, from many different directions.  The gist being:

His minute observation of flora and fauna is still critically acclaimed for its accuracy, his understanding of nature, the seasons and landscape. His love poetry, as social historian with a ground-level view or as a satirist that he knew would never be published in his lifetime. For his philosophy and learning that struggled up from his own strength of mind and determination to understand his personal world.  As a musician, a lover of tradition and collector of songs and likely a radical at least in the days of enclosure.  Indeed maybe just as a lover, and of course for his mental state as he aged; though his faculty for poetry, for writing natural history and letters, failed only slowly at the end of his life.

All these threads, once any one is found can lead you to a lasting appreciation of Clare.

Followed by a fine description of the out-going president, Ronald Blythe, by a long term friend and Clare enthusiast.  Blythe, the author of Akenfield and many fine books on landscape and Clare plus numerous contributions especially to the Church Times, is still busy writing but felt it time for another hand on the John Clare tiller and Carrie Akroyd fits the bill perfectly.

And so time to finish the business and mingle with the crowd amongst St Botolph’s church pews or outside between the lavender banks from the door.  Maybe a viewing of Clare’s grave with its recently placed memorial headstone repeating the words now almost illegible on the sloping sides of his tombstone.  Around which are the children’s mid-summer cushions.  Surrounding him on his birthday weekend for his and our delight.   A slow lunch for those who would walk the short distance to the village hall, maybe after visiting the specialist booksellers next to the Exeter Arms or the Society stall in West Street.

After lunch we heard from Margi Blunden on how her father, Edmund Blunden, discovered an early love of Clare’s poetry despite very little being published at that time. How a volume of Clare accompanied E.B. through his two years in WWI trenches (1916/18) and how his love of the poetry induced him to research for manuscripts and eventually led him to a treasure-chest (almost literally) of mss and personal scrapbooks and  book-plans belonging to John Clare.  A trail started and followed through his entire lifetime of researching and re-introducing Clare to the world.

This was followed by an hour of personal choice poetry by or of Clare spoken by visiting members and committee for the appreciation of the still quite large audience.

The first being written and read by Kelsey Thornton which was a thoughtful and joyous poem: For Peter Moyse,  a man of Helpston who spent  all his spare time enthusiastically photographing the present surroundings of Clare, promoting the man and the work and the poet.     Several of Clare poems followed, including a sonnet:  to Bloomfield on his death  (A poet neighbour he read and corresponded with but never met).  Numerous others and one recently found; recollections of an evening walk.

A break for tea and cakes or a trip to visit Swaddywell, one of Clare’s favourite spots, where oak trees had ben previously planted in memory of John Clare, Edmund Blunden and Peter Moyse.  Or maybe a beer at the Blue Bell before a well-worn stroll back to the church and the final event of the evening:

The Big Fiddle Band.

For this evening we had eleven members on violin (fiddles!) plus their leader Jenny Newman and a guitarist (Andy Glass) who joined with Jenny for a couple of tunes between manning the video camera.  Numerous tunes were played over the hour with interesting arrangements that allowed all the group to perform.   The assorted airs and jigs they played were performed superbly, faultlessly ( I am not a professional listener!)  and all the audience were delighted. Tunes offered were some of Clare’s period and ones he would have played, even written words for as well as some frequently played today at ceilidhs.  A particularly appreciated set after a reading of ‘Clover‘ by John Clare was The Sleeping Tune, Donald Willie and his Dog and, the Fall.

This was followed  by a jaunty 80 mile Waltz, written by Jenny herself.  The last to be played was written by a Northhants farmer…. Sorry, lost his name,……called the Sty at Night; starting as a slow counterbalance to the previous jogs and waltzes that burst into an almost classical arrangement of a jig that brought us into contemporary music for folk.

So for me that was the end of the evening.  Others also made their ways to home or maybeto that local pub for a couple of hours but I had a drive home.    Sunday I had to miss but john clare statuethere would be a family church service at St Botolph’s celebrating Clare followed by a gathering for wine or soft drinks to round off the Festival.  Yes, sorry to have missed that. Never mind, all the more reason for booking the diary for 2017.  So much more I could say but wouldn’t that be boring

Same again next year!

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John Clare: This Happy Spirit, A Graph Review

this happy spiritA Graph Review:              70 to 85 points   It hits all the high notes for quality of production, selection of poems and linocuts

John Clare       This Happy Spirit

Poems of Clare selected and edited by R.K.R. Thornton and Carry Akroyd.

Illustrated by Carry Akroyd

this happy spirit graph 70 to 80Published by  John Clare Society.  2013

£9.99.  Paperback     ISBN: 978 095641133 4

I tend to note down the poems I especially like  as I read a collection then re-read and whittle down to the ones that echo longest to suggest them for other readers.   I know I have read many of Clare’s poems and biographies over the last 50 years, admittedly with assorted gaps between then and now and found many I like.   So, as usual I start to note the poems as I like them in this collection:   some new to me, others welcome returns.  Here lies the problem; I could write them all down as potential recommendations…….

The cover blurb states:  ‘this selection, a companion to The Wood is Sweet, presents less familiar poems of John Clare.  It emphasises Clare’s ability to use, in Wordsworth’s words, his ‘deep power of joy’ to ‘see into the life of things’.  This delight and intimacy with essentials is what makes Clare’s poetry alive, and this edition, with Carry Akroyd’s striking evocations of the flora and fauna he knew, will please those who know Clare’s work, and will bring new readers to the pleasures of his poetry.’

I need say no more, a blurb that states truly the quality of the poetry and artwork that matches superbly with those poems.  the book is divided into sections highlighted as:  The Poet in the Fields;  Flowers;  Forests,Woods and Trees;  Birds;    The Seasons; and   Village Life.

Clare had a unique ability to observe the smallest detail of his humble world not purely flora and fauna. This collection focuses on the natural world around him.  His genius was in writing that detail in such a  concise and descriptive way that even now readers can see the images he saw and feel his excitement at the wonder, the variety, of nature in all its flavours and seasons.

The selection keeps away (almost) from extracts of his longer poems though as many of these (longer poems) were written in chunks over periods of time it could have been an option, except that their tones of satire may have unbalanced this collection.

The sheer volume of his output means that there are subjects often repeated though always with a slightly altered perspective.  All aspects of his poetry show his commitment and love of being ‘at one’ with his natural, humble, habitats. Even his satirical long poem The Parish thrusts his written images into the mind of the reader with such immediacy that his passion shines through. Though in the Parish it is his anger that is uppermost in his passion of ‘place’. What is also obvious is his recognition and understanding of his surroundings.

This Happy Spirit  has a brief introduction to Clare’s life and a chronology, also a note on editors/artist and a three page glossary of words needing clarification.

Despite my stated problem of choosing my favourite poems I have noted a few.  Some because the linocuts add to the experience but would also promote all others, every single one:

Rural Scenes…..and full page linocut opposite

The Meadow Hay

The Ragwort


The Beans in Blossom……..with accompanying linocut

The Winter’s Spring………… With a full page linocut opposite

The Woodman Comes Home


May I quote one poem from the book:

Rural Scenes

I never saw a man in all my days –

One whom the calm of quietness pervades –

Who gave not woods and fields his hearty praise,

And felt a happiness in Summer shades.

There I meet common thoughts, that all may read

Who love the common fields: – I note them well,

Because they give me joy as I proceed,

And joy renewed, when I their beauties tell

In simple verse, and unambiguous songs,

That in some mossy cottage haply may

Be read, and win the praise of humble tongues

In the green shadows of some after-day.

For rural fame may likeliest rapture yield

To hearts, whose songs are gathered from the field.


John Clare may have claimed to be a simple poet, a simple peasant, for his publishing and readership but that takes no account that with his knowledge of poetry and poets of his day he seems to have chosen his own path of style and subject rather than imitate.  I suspect that he knew early that his strengths were clarity of eye and understanding of life around him and maybe a sense of genius (difference) despite the huge difficulties of his life.  Perhaps too frequently the poems selected start with ‘I love to’ or at least ‘I love’; which is no reflection on the individual poems but noticeable. Of course with Clare that is exactly what he ‘loved’ so why not say it?  Clare’s rhythm and rhyme-schemes are frequently easy and lilting but like his use of language there is also subtlety and skill in the construction around the world of the labourer he portrays.  The editors’ sympathetic addition of some punctuation adds overall whilst there is still freedom to enjoy the elements where words are allowed to run naturally.

With the good number of 77 poems the additional linocuts are a huge addition to the content-value of this little paperback.  The John Clare Society have produced a rare item of beauty where the quality far outweighs the very reasonable price of £9.99 ( my copy from Heffers in Cambridge) but also available from the John Clare Society and shop at Helpston.

This is a companion to the earlier: The Wood is Sweet also published by the John Clare Society.


‘This Happy Spirit’  is recommended reading for anyone interested in Natural History in all its forms as well as pure poetry of Clare and the beautiful relevance and precision of Carry Akroyd’s work.




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