Poetry Workshop: Old Buttons and a Donkey’s Arse

In perfect June sunshine, we enjoyed a Poetry Workshop at Acton Scott today! This group was a treat to work with, and kept providing me with evidence of their observant poetic eye. Poems were developing about the brick kiln, butter-making, piglets, old buttons stored in jamjars, Dusty the donkey (‘arse to the visitor’) and more.  I’m looking forward to receiving them…Poetry Workshop best mr

Then Nina swopped with me, so I’m on this one:

Poetry Workshop plus me mr

The Bodger Goes For A Turn

09.08.30 Acton Scott Farm 033 David Falkner

Ian, bodger at Acton Scott (photo credit David Falkner)

Yesterday I managed at last to spend an hour with Ian Wall, who is Acton Scott’s long-standing bodger.  He works in a stockaded yard filled with pole lathes.  Everywhere wood is stacked and leaned, in varying stages of craftsmanship.

I even had a go, and was quite exhilarated to see the chisel smooth out a ring in the stool leg.  Emboldened, I tried using a wire wound onto wooden handles (“What do you call that Ian?”  “A wire on wooden handles”) to make decorative dark lining onto the leg.  When Ian does it it smokes as the friction burns blackly into the wood.  When I did it, I burnt my finger.

However, I have the beginning of some words that might make a poem.

The bodger whacks the lathe
with a billet, shifts the centres;
he twists the rope
around the wood, tucks it in. 
He says, once
the little poppets
are in bed, then I
shall go for a turn.


(The little poppets are two big lumps of wood that can be adjusted to take the length of wood that is to be turned.  When they’re knocked into the right place, they’re in the ‘bed’ of the lathe).

This is Ian’s notice he puts up when he needs a cup of tea.
Bodger Emergency Notice

A Day for Honey

At lunchtime I sat on a simple oak bench under the warmest wall in the farmyard.  I read a bit, closed my eyes in the strong sunshine a bit, and noticed the steady humming of bees all around me.

Rob the bailiff joined me and explained that every summer as the old brick walls heat up, the mason bees arrive and creep into the wall to nest.  As the bricks were hand-made some 200 years ago from clay dug out of Brick Field, and shaped and fired on the Farm, they are rich in variation.  As we watched, the mason bees hovered, hummed and delved into the wall.  I could not resist a draft:

the mason bees prospect
this warm red wall
bee-buzz the same in all  
the summers since
this clay was dug

into toasted crevices
and cracks of firing
they sing then vanish

Janet reviving a bee

Janet revives a bumblebee

Strangely, minutes later, as I retrieved my abandoned woolly jumper from yet another bench, I met Janet (who works in the farmhouse) carefully teaspooning sugar-water onto a leaf in front of an exhausted bumblebee.  Even as we watched, it moved more strongly, sucking up the reviving liquid.  Janet thoughtfully sheltered it with a green branch of Sweet Cicely while it gathered strength.

Malcolm cutting off wax from frame

Malcolm cutting wax caps off the cells

Within the hour I was watching Malcolm extracting honey from the combs in his beehives in the corner of Lawn Field.  Together with an wonderfully interested family I listened and asked questions. Here’s an extract from my notes, which include a lot of what Malcolm actually said:

to the hives for honeycombs, the combs glisten with honey… this is an old comb, and the oil seed rape honey granulates so quickly…we’ll spin it, see what comes…this one, it’s not worth spinning that, I’ll give it them back… .the spring flowers have just finished, next come the summer flowers, the brambles and the clovers are just starting, that’s your second extraction… heather honey is hard work, it has to be stirred in the cells...

I am conscious of how much very good poetry has been written about bees in the last few years… but today I could only see how hard it is to resist.



Piglets black/ as rainclouds

Olivia & Danielle piglet poem

Olivia and Danielle with their new piglets poem

Bank Holiday Monday has brought nine new piglets into the world at Acton Scott!  And the piglets sent Olivia and Danielle into the Shepherd Poet’s Hut to write a poem.  They went home with the copy on the Acton Scott Poetry Postcard, but here’s some of it, written up later from my notebook and hung up in the Hut.  And fortunately, the black rainclouds were yesterday’s.  Today the sun shone.
piglets poem Olivia & Danielle

So she’d put on her veil/ before she went

Margaret & Corn Mouse in kitchen

Margaret and the Mouse

Margaret works in the farmhouse at Acton Scott.  She can make bread in the bread oven, cooked on the ashes; she can make the most delicious griddle cakes on the kitchen range; she can make corn dollies – and corn mice – deftly while she tells you stories…

I have pages of notes of what-Margaret-told-me, some of which are already finding their way into new poems.  But today she told me about her great-grandmother, and we made a poem.  Later, we read this poem out to several groups of people, with a minor health warning about its last word.  But as Margaret pointed out, it was just a commonplace, once.
Poem Great grandmother by Margaret



We could/ sue them now but they’re dead

Here are Sue and Stan Davies, from near Whitchurch in north Shropshire.  We had a long conversation about the Farm, read some poems and then I persuaded Sue to talk about her rural childhood.  What lovely people!  I wrote down what she said, and then we made a poem together.

Sue & Stan Davies & Poem





Here it is.  Sue’s title – and what an ending.
Poem Back Door Trot Sue&Stan


Two Views from the Top of a Shire

Charlie & Joe at work CropToday I was so privileged to witness two very young children’s responses in words to the rare experience of being placed up on the back of Charlie, a Shire horse.  Charlie is on the left in this photo.

So here below is Huxley’s poem, and Huxley himself, 3 years old, who told me all about it.  I wrote down his words and made a poem for him and his family.  It was, and is, a delight.     Poem Charlie by Huxley


Poem Charlie &  Huxley

Huxley and his poem

Just a little later Lucy and her mum arrived in the Shepherd Poet’s Hut, and it was so lovely to hear her talk about Charlie too.  Her experience was so fresh in her memory she gave me some wonderful words:
They let me go under the chain.
The man lifted me
onto the Charlie horse.
I went as high as a kite…

Poem Lucy on steps

Lucy and her poem

Here’s Lucy, with her poem to take home with her, and her Mum, in the doorway of the Shepherd Poet’s Hut.




Haikus and Hens

Megan Roisin & poemBank Holiday Sunday veered between watery sunshine and very wet rain – but was filled with poetry.

Here are sisters Megan (9 years old) and her sister Roisin (5 years) holding an Acton Scott Poetry Postcard on which Megan has written and decorated her Haiku for Hens.  A group of lovely Leghorns were actually climbing into the Shepherd Poet’s Hut as we worked.

With almost no input from me except enthusiasm and an interesting discussion on the colour of eggs, Megan wrote:

Leghorns ginger brown
scratching on the dusty ground.
Their eggs not quite white.




Working with Andrew Fusek Peters

Goose Eye © Andrew Fusek Peters

Goose Eye © Andrew Fusek Peters

‘…and then the first goose
rouses, behind their gate in the wall –
she calls, yammers, and like fires

they catch and cackle.  They wake
the very stones.  They fluff
their feathers, unbend their necks…’

Last week I drove up to Acton Scott on empty roads to meet photographer poet Andrew Fusek Peters at 7am.  The early morning birdsong was the loudest thing in the landscape as we walked onto the farm before anyone else arrived.

The idea was that Andrew would take photographs while I wrote, and that we’ll collaborate on whatever we produce.

The still loveliness of Acton Scott on an early summer morning was marvellous.  Low sun lit the soft brick of the 18th century farmyard.

Acton S early morning 029

The cade lambs calling for their breakfasts

We woke the geese as we walked into the yard – Merle (the stockwoman) told me they’ve always been kept at night in a stone-lined space deep in the wall, and right by the gate in all likelihood as deliberate early warning of intruders.  They set up a huge racket, right on cue, and Andrew took the wonderful photo above.  I’m working on a poem (extract above).

He took lots more photos, and I’m working on lots more poems.  We plan an exhibition!

Acton S early morning Andrew FP at work

Andrew Fusek Peters at work

Lots of poetry this week!

The Poetry Fence, and a hen not reading.

The Poetry Fence, and a hen not reading.

I’m looking forward to coming into Acton Scott Historic Working Farm several times over the coming week!  I’ve got new poems to put up, sent in to me by poets from near and far.

I’ll be ‘in residence’ on Sunday 25th, Monday 26th, Thursday 29th May and Sunday 1st June.

On Sunday 1st June I’m running a Poetry Workshop, open to poets at every stage in their careers, and offering the chance to write in the wonderful surroundings of the Farm.  There are still a few places left, so for more information, and to book, please follow this link.