Vanishings and how it happened

Posting this after so long an absence causes me great trepidation!  I have even had to re-log in and remember how to use the site!  I stopped posting blogs because our personal circumstances became a bit overwhelming but then I didn’t get started again as I felt a need to find the blog a new direction. I couldn’t think of a better one, however, as it was always really very good for me to comment on other people’s writing as I’d found it instructive, if hard work. But a new year has begun and still a new direction hasn’t presented itself … until now. (And I may yet go back to the old type blog!)

So here goes, are you sitting comfortably…. (small cough, cough) ….  My next pamphlet is to be published by Palewell Press and will be called Vanishings as it is about endangered and vulnerable creatures.  As my self-imposed rule was that I must see or hear the creature I wrote about I limited it to the UK.  (When I looked at the planet I realised it would be a life-time work to tackle all that’s endangered and I couldn’t travel everywhere).  As I have quite a lot to say beyond what will be in the book I thought it could spill-over here.   So you can read it if you want to, or not! If you hate spiders, don’t!  (although they are extremely tiny)

When I started thinking about Vanishings two years ago I soon realised that most wild creatures are vulnerable in this country.  It breaks my heart to think of how little our society and culture values them.  Successive governments pay conservation lip service but nothing much gets changed at a national level.  I read that more people in the UK are members of environmental/conservation groups but we still have one of the most depleted natural environments in the EU.  hate

This time last year John Walters, who is a well-known local entomologist, took me to see the Horrid Ground Weaving Spider whose only known habitat is in the limestone quarry area on the eastern end of Plymouth.  (There might be another colony in Spain.  Might be.)  He told me where to meet him and I was surprised it was beside an industrial unit on the edge of a huge housing development with quarries close by, all fenced off with CCTV cameras etc.  Beside the busy road was an old railway line and we nipped in there among the trees.  He told me a new cycle track had been diverted from the disused railway line as that is one place where they now seem to live, among the detritus on the edge of a city: a sort of dog shitting area, I thought.

They’re only called Horrid because horridus is bristly in Latin and they make intricate webs on the ground to catch their minuscule prey: (Nothophantes horridus). Its size represented everything to me that’s going wrong…we need the smallest creatures to survive because obviously bigger creatures rely on them. They keep the world ticking on.  But because they are so small no-one much notices them except for John Walters and Buglife.

HGWS nest from John W


If you like spiders even a little bit here is a short video

John lifted up a piece of old carpet left on a stone and hidden beneath we found one: I felt very privileged to see one at all and in fact it was only the 87th ever recorded!      

How to write about it was my problem.  I decided to write in longish lines with spaces between because…

They live in the hollows     and creases                  

              hidden in their money spider-size     two amber globules

                            each one intricate as a gold tear

 Perhaps it wasn’t the right decision because this poem has never been accepted for publication! My whole idea about Vanishings is tinged with the risk of giving too much information. I sometimes get really caught up in a creature’s wonderfulness and want to tell people about it but I have continually had to watch myself on this!   So maybe that is this poem’s fault, not my choice of crevices between words!

Under the same rock we spotted an equally rare Hedgehog Harvestman who often lives near the Horrid one. The connection is not understood.  But they too only live in Plymouth.  Harvestman are not true spiders as they don’t have spinnerets to make webs.  I thought it beautiful.  Its legs are like stilts and it walks just like that, lifting itself up and stalking.

This very small poem has never found a home either but, in case you are interested, it ends like this:

Its droplet of body is black and gold,

spiny, intent on chance and cold.



Next time:  probably something cuter!



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Messages in Liverpool

Last month, much to my delight, poems in my limited-edition pamphlet Messages took flight in Liverpool. It was a winner in the first ever Coast to Coast to Coast single author pamphlet competition. My thanks and admiration go to Maria Isakova Bennett and Michael Brown who invented this innovative publishing venture.   Here is Messages:


Messages is a series of bird poems and is dedicated to my grandchildren in the hope that they will still be able to see and hear these birds in years to come.  My prize was twenty copies and I shall treasure this forever.  To have your own words in hand-stitched covers is a great honour.  In case any more grandchildren arrive (other than Maisie)  I had better keep some back!  Maria seems to have just a few left for sale and you can find them here.  Her journals are veritably works of art.

After I had read some of the bird poems an amazing young saxophonist called Nick Brant improvised bird music for at least ten minutes and nearly blew my socks off.  At first I thought I was imagining it but the person sitting in front of me turned round just afterwards and asked me what I thought about THAT?  Spine- tingling and truly awesome.    I do so wish it had been recorded so you could hear it!

And here is the winner, Jane Lovell’s wonderful journal of poems called Forbidden:



on the same link.   Jane was the Featured Writer on this blog last month too with her pamphlet, Metastasis.

The launch was wonderfully organised in the lovely new Open Eye gallery and I met several people, like serial-poetry-comp-winner Jane Lovell as well as Elizabeth Brooks from Foxglove.  And not forgetting the inimitable Michael Brown.

On the same evening the latest issue of the journal was being launched and eight of the poets had come to read their journal poem and a bit more so it was great to hear new voices and briefly catch up with John Foggin and Carole Bromley. I enjoyed all the readings from them and from  Penny Sharman, Jennie Owen, Janet Hatherley, Sandra Burnett, Laura Potts, Oliver Comins, Laura Potts.

Every three -four months or so Coast to Coast to Coast publish a new journal and the poems are selected by Maria and Michael. Every journal is individually designed and hand-stitched by Maria. You can find them here  – such a beautiful website.

Last summer Maria commissioned all poets who had been previously published in a journal to contribute 2/3 lines to a collaborative piece about the sea which was eventually exhibited at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival where Maria and Michael ran an excellent workshop. And I was privileged to read on behalf of C to C.



They are looking for new places to take the exhibition and the workshops.   This is a really innovative collaboration and I look forward to their next call-out and commend it to Festivals.

Meanwhile, poets reading this can find out about Coast to Coast to Coast’s next events and submission window here.

It was a really great adventure for me going all the way to Liverpool, with a long train journey from the middle of Devon, nerve-wracking because of split minute timing. ( I’d got the time of the event wrong when I booked the tickets, leaving myself only a leeway of thirty minutes to play with on arrival after a 5-6 hour journey from home.  But it was on time and I found my way to Open Eye gallery which was basically follow the sunset!)  Liverpool turned out to be a friendly and accepting city and despite having no-one to go out with afterwards (everyone had trains to catch) I enjoyed the following morning on a foggy Merseyside, visiting Tate Liverpool where I took in an exhibition featuring Fernand Leger and explored the dockside area.  All the buildings seemed huge to me but the wharves were human-size and the many statues were very appealing.  On every corner there were buskers attracting crowds of people. A vibrant place. Will be back some day!

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