Tory the Shire mare harrows chickweed

Tory light harrow 2Yesterday I watched Simon work with Tory, the Shire mare.  She’s elderly, semi-retired, and all I’ve seen her do so far is stand patiently in the stable yard, her halter rope trailing, while small children are popped up on her back for a moment.  She didn’t move even when one regular small visitor embraced her foreleg, much as you might hug a tree.

But yesterday she was harnessed to a harrow, to do some light work ‘weeding’ between the flax crop and the potatoes.  She was a different horse, full of energy and far more highly strung than I expected.  I watched Simon manage her skillfully as she lunged at the job in hand, swinging off her line at a cracking pace.  He explained, as he stood her to calm down, how she throws herself too fiercely into the collar, and then, startled by the impact of the sudden weight, refuses.

Later I saw her do just that.  Simon took her back, set off again but with a lever lifted the harrow’s teeth so there was no friction. Tory pulled it successfully through the chickweed, he slowly turned her and just as swiftly dropped the teeth as she pulled it back.  As she was already moving steadily she had no problem towing it through the matted weeds.  “It’s just how she is,” he said, “Too late to teach her any different now”.

I have a poem developing, here’s the beginning –

sets off too fast, throws her weight too hard

into the collar and it’s no good.
The harrow yanks the chickweed and jams tight.
She stops, throws up her head.
Her forehooves brace.

He talks to her, she shines. I slap
a horse-fly on her crest and her red blood
runs in the palm of my hand.
At the back of the blinker her eye’s
a dark lake, and flickers.

A flax crop in Lawn Field

The flax crop in Lawn field is blossoming now.  Come and see it!  Flax is a very ancient crop, from which humans have made linseed oil and linen cloth.  This crop has been sown in association with Flaxmill Maltings in Shrewsbury, to create cloth.  In late July the flax will be pulled, then processed.  Meantime, I wrote a short poem.

Flax Acton Scott

Lawn Field


Electric-blue damselfly
flickers up like a switch
in a sway of narrow stems
and modest flowers,
on this breathing field,
this rolling film of flax.


The Shires and ‘a language/ of pressures and touch’

Thank you Chris Kinsey for this fine poem which she’s contributed to Acton Scott.  Here it is inside the Shepherd Poets’ Hut.

Poem for Hut Chris KinseyAfter I’d put it up, I met Andrew Fusek Peters, for a second session taking photographs of the farm.  I’m writing from his work – it’s turning into a hugely exciting collaboration – and we set off to find the Shires.  Our timing was perfect: Simon was harnessing the horses in the stable, and filing Joe’s hind hoof where he’d lost a shoe earlier in the day.
Simon filing Joe's hoofAndy took photos.  I love this one, of the old Shire mare, Tory, who is retired now, but so gentle she’s first pick for small children to handle and sit on.

Photo by Andrew Fusek Peters

Photo: Andrew Fusek Peters

Then we followed the horses to Hall Meadow and the mowing.  Andy took more photographs (of which more later) and I’m working on some words.
Mowing with Joe & Charlie 1

A Children’s Workshop at the Farm: ‘the no-ending of the horse’s eyes’

Curious and creative, here’s the home ed group who attended this morning’s poetry workshop at Acton Scott.

Home Ed workshop group at workI equipped everyone with one of my patent little folded books apiece, and we set off to explore the farm.  On the way we stopped and read Diana Hendry’s poem ‘What is the Pond Doing?’, and then Kit Wright’s poem ‘The Magic Box’.  The children were aged from 14 down to 7.   Here’s what we came back with.  I particularly liked Alanna’s ‘the no-ending of the horse’s eyes’; Loretta’s ‘their hooves are like furry rough stones on the hard earth’; Mollie’s cockerel that has ‘black eyes,so black, so brown’; and Jenna – ‘I love the butterfly’s beating wings’.

Then I invited them to send me poems for The Poetry Fence, my fingers are crossed…
Home Ed workshop Loretta's bookLittle book Mollie Home Ed workshop little book Jenna Home Ed workshop little book no ending horse's eyes Alanna Home Ed workshop Mollie's book 2 Home Ed workshop little book 2 Home Ed workshop Loretta's book2

Come to Poems for the Farm!

Poetry Workshop plus me mrEveryone is invited to Poems for the Farm to celebrate the conclusion of Acton Scott’s 2014 Poet in Residence project with Jean Atkin (supported by Arts Council England and Shropshire County Council).  Poems for the Farm is on Saturday 19 July at 3pm at Acton Scott Historic Working Farm SY6 6QN.

Poets who contributed to the project will also be reading, plus a chance to see some of Andrew Fusek Peters‘ beautiful photographs.  If you’ve been to Acton Scott recently, and written a poem with Jean, or for the project – then please do get in touch.  We would love to see you on the 19th – and if you like you can read your poem out too.

 The event is free (hooray!) but please book your place (to be on the list for a free cream tea! To book sign up to this FB event or contact Jean.

Come and hear poetry from many voices!

Charlie was as dusty/ as a June field

I came upon a group of children from Moffats school this morning. Strikingly, eight of them were yoked to a plough.  They were taking part in a demonstration of just how challenging it is to plough a straight furrow (even in grass, not earth).

Later a lovely group of them visited me in the Shepherd Poet’s Hut, and we wrote a poem together.  Thank you Tom, Harriet, Daisy, Joshua, Clara, Avril – and Kate, their teacher.  Here they are, in front of the pigsty later, proudly holding their Acton Scott Farm Poem.
Moffats school & poetry postcard Wed 11 JuneHere’s the first part of their poem:

Moffats school poem1 Wed 11 JuneAnd here’s the end of the poem…

Moffats school poem2 Wed 11 June

Hungry Lambs and New Poems

The cade lambs at Acton Scott have to be fed twice during the visitors’ day.  Maisie and Lucy wielded the bottle and then raced back to the Shepherd Poet’s Hut to write another poem.

Maisie, Lucy lamb poemIn a quieter moment I went out to add more poems to The Poetry Fence (see them here) and added some longer poems to those which decorate the inside of the Shepherd Poet’s Hut.  Thank you Deborah Gaudin and Nadia Kingsley.

The Sudden Start D Gaudin 2 poems by D Gaudin Dusty by Nadia K

‘Rattling, battling, bumpy ride/ in the donkey cart’

I’d no sooner laid out my table with tempting activities than Maisie (5) blew into the Shepherd Poet’s Hut with Lucy – who is her grandma, but that doesn’t look possible.  Maisie had been to see the piglets, now a fortnight old.  Poet table & Poem Inside envelopesShe told me all about what she thought about them, and we made a poem.  Maisie got me to write down the poem on the green paper which goes inside the little ‘Poem Inside’ envelopes, and then she autographed it on the back, and drew a fairy on the front.

8 June Maisie's Poem 8 June Maisie with Poem Inside

Meantime, Acton Scott was humming with the rare sound of petrol engines: the Midland Oil Engine Club had set up on the ‘Park’, a green space by the Schoolroom Cafe.  After waving Maisie and Lucy off, I went up to chat to them, and take notes about these curious early generators that came into use on farms in the early 20th century.  They were great labour-savers, and were put to work alongside horsepower over the following 50 years.  I found one labelled: ‘Purchased from a gent in Malvern’.  I have a few lines in my notebook that may be the start of a poem…
‘rhythmic cough of The Lister Junior/ smoking on the beat/ belts spinning easy/ suck, squeeze, bang, blow, this engine/ will freewheel without firing…’

Back in the Shepherd Poet’s Hut I met a big family picnicking among the Golden Leghorns.  They’d brought together three batches of cousins, and much poetry writing began.  Eva, nearly 11, and Dylan, 7, wrote about their ride in the donkey cart behind Dusty.

Dylan & donkey cart poem

‘Rattling, battling, bumpy ride/ on the lovely donkey cart./ No-one cried’ By Dylan, 7.

Eva & donkey cart poem

‘…Velvety ears stick up/ in our path/ grey hair blusters/ the air around’. Eva, nearly 11.

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