Abegail Morley and what is brewing this Autumn

The new Featured Writer is Abegail Morley whose haunting first poetry collection was short-listed for the Forward Prize and who runs a poetry website called The Poetry Shed.  I recommend her wonderful work to you.

Dartmoor skies have slowly emptied of swallows. Later this year than last. What do the swallows know? Since the last week of September I kept muttering that it was high time they left but they hung on as if reluctant to leave despite the wind and the rain. They must know much more about the weather than our forecasters whose dire predictions didn’t quite materialise in Devon anyway. Maybe those weather fronts were discharging their contents elsewhere because the swallows hung on and hung on. Just when I thought they’d gone, one would come skimming low over the fading heather and vanish like a black star. I saw them near Princetown, one of the higher points on the moors, criss-crossing over the West Dart River valley only a few days ago.  The forecasted storm did break over our heads that night and I prayed the last flock had headed away over the Channel that evening, far from these shores.  I always feel sad to my bones when they have left.  Knowing that they have to go, think of their tiny bodies on their incredible migration and think of them having to do the same again next spring.  What might they see on their journeying?

A comma butterfly – bright orange speckled with brownish dots, the edges of its wings elegantly frilled – sat with its wings wide open on an ivy flower. It was surrounded by a few bees and hoverflies. The flowering ivy was a hum of busyness. When its wings are closed the comma butterfly looks like a dead leaf. It is one of the only butterflies not to hibernate in chrysalis form and remains itself. Its camouflage lies in the closed wings that looks, with its tattered wing edge, exactly like a dead leaf. Its punctuation mark name is in the bright white comma on the underside.  Its way of life is to resemble a leaf for even the caterpillar resembles a piece of black twig.

In Devon this is not a mast year. Maest is the Old English word for the fruits and nuts of woodland trees, such as beech and oak. Their nuts were once useful for feeding pigs so, when the trees seemed to magically synchronise to grow a lot of nuts, it became known as a mast year. This autumn the acorns are conspicuous by their absence which is bad for jays that squirrel thousands away each autumn in larders under the ground. And bad for oak trees, of course. It is also bad for rodents who will have less to eat and therefore bad for the birds of prey who eat them. Little things have a such a wide-reaching effect.  I think of John Ashberry’s poem Some Trees where he writes ‘you and I/Are suddenly what the trees try/To tell us we are’.


About Rebecca Gethin

Rebecca Gethin is a poet and a novelist. Cinnamon Press published her third collection, All the Time in the World in 2017. Another pamphlet is forthcoming with Three Drops Press. Her second novel, What the horses heard, was published by Cinnamon Press in May 2014. Her second poetry collection - A Handful of Water - was published by Cinnamon in 2013. Her first - River is the Plural of Rain - was published by Oversteps Books in 2009. Her novel Liar Dice won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award in 2010 and was published in 2011. She lives on Dartmoor and writes occasional pieces about wildlife and nature. Her poems appear in a variety of poetry magazines and in several anthologies.
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3 Responses to Abegail Morley and what is brewing this Autumn

  1. E.E. Nobbs says:

    I love your description of swallows as black stars. Where do your swallows spend the winter? I just checked the migration map for our North American barn swallows and am amazed that some go as far as South America!! http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barn_Swallow/lifehistory AND now I must go find a picture of your comma butterfly. What a wonderful description you gave us – in a bit of serendipity I noticed a mottled cherry leaf falling unto an aster flower last week – and at first glance thought it was a butterfly!!

    • Elly, I think our swallows go to Southern Africa. Easily as far as yours. Most bizarrely, a flock has just wheeled right over our house for 5 mins and vanished again! So, they are not all gone! Sometimes, they stop off her from the North of the country before slipping off on their journey towards Spain and on to Africa. Thanks for your inputs! Love Becky x


  2. E.E. Nobbs says:

    Great to see Abi and her fine poem featured as your Featured Writer. I’m a fan of her poetry and her blog “The Poetry Shed”.

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