from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Saturday 8 October 2011

the wren's song and several poets

(No, I know this isn't a wren; it's a young starling that was bold enough as to fly onto our table this summer at Slapton.)

Today there's a wild and exhilarating wind. Around us there's a lot of ploughing going on - an iconic autumn thing in the rural year – and one field has a very clear belt of red soil in its middle, where the shilletty seam meets the red sandstone corridor from my childhood North Devon coast across to the East Devon coast. Here we're at the edge of the sandstone (and off my beloved granite of the moor).

A wheatear is flipped across the path in front of me. It's flocking season as well as ploughing season: finches, and some thrushes, probably migrants. (I suspect if I counted I'd find that a bird appears in most of my blogs, I realise.) The hedges are thick with berries, and with the cerise and orange spindle flower-berries. I gather some mazzards (bullaces) – they're like a cross between sloes and damsons – to put into a crumble with apples. The rest of the beans need to be harvested and frozen – a big job – but I'm having a day off today, and tomorrow I'm reading with Chris Tutton and Lawrence Sail in Exeter from Deborah Gaye's anthology Of Love and Hope in aid of breast cancer (3.30pm in the Central Library).

In the hedges there are a number of lilac and pink flowers still: herb robert, knapweed, campion, periwinkle (from which one of our foremost cancer drugs comes), crowsfoot. The yellowy-creamy ones are still here: honeysuckle, meadowsweet (like willow, it contains salicylic acid, or aspirin), white dead nettle (also medicinal), toadflax. Lesser stitchwort shows its little starry face, too. The meadow is sprinkled with yellow-orange fungi. I eat a number of wild mushrooms but am not sure what this one is.


I forgot, when I was blogging yesterday, what started off my cante jondo trail. It was a line by the wonderful Galway Kinnell from his poem 'Why Regret?': 'Think of the wren / and how little flesh is needed to make a song.' Isn't that beautiful? There's no song that is too small to be essential to the symphonic whole.

And speaking of poetry: I am so pleased that at last the Swedish poet and psychologist Tomas Transtromer has taken the Nobel for literature. He's long been a favourite poet of mine, and The Guardian yesterday reprinted my favourite of his poems 'March 1979' (a favourite anyway, but the more so because March 1979 is the month and year of my daughter's birth):

Weary of all who come with words, words but no language
I make my way to the snow-covered island.
The untamed has no words.
The unwritten pages spread out on every side!
I come upon the tracks of deer in the snow.
Language but no words.
(Translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton from New Collected Poems, translated by Robin Fulton (Bloodaxe Books, 2011)

Transtromer had a stroke 20 years ago, and although he continues to write, speaking isn't so easy. He intends to accept his award with a piano solo instead of a speech.

And at last John Burnside, one of Britain's very finest poets, has taken the Forward prize for the best collection. He's been shortlisted any number of times. His work is extraordinary and difficult to categorize. For me, the fact that he can speak of – or at least gesture at – the numinous in an original and unsentimental way makes him exceptional. I've already mentioned his Black Cat Bone, a new collection, in a recent blog. His work always hovers at the edge of light and dark; if you don't know him, I'd recommend starting with The Light Trap perhaps.

Best first collection at the Forward was Rachel Boast's Sidereal. I don't know her work; I do know she studied or studies at St Andrew's, where Burnside lectures.

And finally on poets: Dylan Thomas' exquisite 'Fern Hill' (a set poem on my correspondence course) will be on Poetry Please on BBC radio 4 tomorrow, Sunday, at 4.30pm. This will be worth hearing for the cadences, the sheer musicality, alone; apart from the fact that it also has two or three of the best DT lines in it.


  1. Very pleasing that John Burnside has picked up the Forward prize. Surely one of our (if we're doing British over Scottish) top five poets.

  2. Yes, isn't it, Dick - and yes isn't he one of the best? There is no one writing like him. Well- and long-deserved.


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