LUCK’S WEIGHT: how a residency turned into an exhibition and a poetry pamphlet

My residency at Acton Scott was a real joy.  I met so many knowledgeable and wonderful people – those who worked there, and those who visited.  Over 100 poems were written about the farm during those four months.  Over 20 poets came back to the farm to perform their work to an audience of over 50 at the end of the project.  And we all had cream tea.

My collaboration with photographer Andrew Fusek Peters began by chance during the residency, but Luck's Weight Launch Andy & Jean bestdeveloped into the touring exhibition Luck’s Weight, which was available to the public throughout much of 2015 in The Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre, Craven Arms; Wenlock Poetry Festival; Ludlow Library; Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery; Oswestry Library.

We also published a poetry pamphlet, Luck’s Weight, the first print run of which has completely sold out, so we’ve just done another one (summer 2016) – contact me here if you’d like a copy!

Luck's Weight pamphlet

Hanging up the bunting for ‘Poems for the Farm’…

The New Barn is all ready for tomorrow’s final event!

The New Barn at Acton ScottAndrew Fusek Peters appeared with a huge box of photographs, and I set out my poems on boards next to them to make a preview of our exhibition ‘Luck’s Weight’, inspired by the Farm.

Setting up Poems for the Farm 10 best

Setting up our Exhibition: ‘Luck’s Weight’.

Setting up Poems for the Farm 4

Setting up our Exhibition: ‘Luck’s Weight’.

Setting up Poems for the Farm 3

Setting up our Exhibition: ‘Luck’s Weight’.

The cream teas are ordered: home-made scones, and strawberry jam made from strawberries ‘scuffled’ here on the Farm by none other than Dusty the donkey with his little harrow.

And I have a long list of 20 readers, each of whom has visited the Farm, actually or virtually, and written a poem for this special place.  Over 50 people tell me they’re coming!  I’m hugely looking forward to welcoming them.

 

 

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

Book for a Poetry Workshop on the Farm

Acton Scott 10th Apri new lamb in bowl mr

You never know what you might find on the farm

An unusual poetry workshop right in the middle of Acton Scott Historic Working Farm, led by Poet in Residence Jean Atkin on Sunday 1st June, 10.30am to 12.30pm.

Jean creates surprising, playful ways to explore  poetic creativity. She will help you find new writing in the place and rhythms of the working farm. You’ll find yourself exploring unexpected new worlds beneath your poetry’s topsoil…

Cost: £10. Everyone welcome, please contact Jean to book via jean [at] wordsparks dot co dot uk (desperate attempt to reduce spam). Places are limited – get in touch quick!

Bring warm clothes, strong footwear, a notebook and something to write with. There is an excellent café on the farm, with the most heartwarming counter-full of cakes.

 

 

 

 

Making Plans for Poetry

A glorious 1st April morning at Acton Scott!  Sunshine warmed my back as I was shown round the farm.  A Norfolk Black turkey cock gobbled at us and fanned his tail.  A small hen took a dustbath under a waggon.

Acton Scott Roadman's Poet Hut lr“Would it be alright if you worked in this?”  said Sal.
It really would.  Very alright.

You’re looking at the Shepherd Poet’s Hut.

From here poems will be read, written, shared and hugely enjoyed.

 

We Acton Scott dairyexplored the bailiff’s house, which contains a dairy whose years of cheese-making have permeated its cool walls, so that you breathe in a faint sour scent of milk just as the door opens.

Acton Scott schoolroom

 

 

Upstairs is a schoolroom, with single wooden desks and an authoritarian atmosphere.  This is the kind of place to write poems that require syllables counted (on the abacus?), or a very strict rhyme scheme…

We’ve got an outline now of the days I’ll be on site at the Farm – for more information just click here.

Making Poetry in an Extraordinary Place

Acton Scott Historic Working Farm is one of Britain’s leading working farm museums, an extraordinary survival.

A generation ago, Thomas Acton took steps to keep alive the 19th century farming practices he’d grown up with, and the idea of a historic working farm was born.  When you visit Acton Scott today, you’ll find practical demonstrations of historic farming using traditional skills and period horse-drawn machines. You’ll see farm life unfold on the land, around the farm yard and in the cottage.

Jean being Poet in Residence in 2013 at Logan Botanic Garden

Jean being Poet in Residence in 2013 at Logan Botanic Garden

I’m Jean Atkin, a poet new to Shropshire, having spent the last 12 years on a smallholding in Scotland.  I was lucky enough to grow up in Cumbria next door to a working farm, which if it didn’t still have working horses, did have a collapsing barn still filled with huge, dusty, rotting heavy horse harness.  I was hooked.

When I suggested to Acton Scott that a Poet in Residence might bring something new to the Farm, they were wonderfully enthusiastic, and with the help and expertise of Writing West Midlands, I put together a bid to Arts Council England, which was successful.  I have been part of Writing West Midlands’ Room 204 Writer Development Programme 2013, and would recommend it wholeheartedly as a great help, and great fun.

What I plan to do is to make poetry visible at Acton Scott.  I will talk with visitors, cajoling them to read and write poetry during their time on the Farm – much can be done in a mere 5 minutes!  (And even more in 20…).  I will publish the poems that people write, the poems we read together and enjoy, the stories of days making poetry on the Farm here on this blog and make poetry spring up all over the Farm too.

I’ll also be organising a Farm Poetry Workshop for regionally-based poets, published or unpublished, where you can turn up, be sparked into poetic experiment and enjoyment by your surroundings – and I will undertake to encourage, advise and enthuse over your work.

The Residency will start during the Easter holiday, and finish in mid July with a celebratory event at which those who’ve written an Acton Scott Poem will be offered an opportunity to read it before an audience, sustained, I hope, on tea and cake and sunshine…  So please follow this blog to keep up!