Laurus Nobilis

‘The laurel grows upon the hills

That looks across the Western Sea.

O winds, within the boughs be still,

O sun, shine tenderly.

And birds, sing soft about your nests:

I twine a wreath for other lands;

A grave! no wife nor child has blest

With touch of loving hands.’

  • Ina Donna Coolbrith, With a Wreath of Laurel

Laurus, latin. Given and worn as a badge of honour to heroes and soldiers returning from war. Also to poets, worn out from a battle with words, image and symbol. Wrestling forth figure from ground, image from imagination. Appointed officially as Poet Laureate, state sanctioned, permissible. Sneaking in the radical between the lines. The bacca laureus, a garland of leaves above the hospital door to greet and celebrate newly qualified doctors and surgeons, celebrated with bay upon graduation, hence baccalaureate, bacca laureus the laurel berry.

Sage: Salvia Officinalis

“If the sage tree thrives and grows,

The master’s not master, and that he knows.”

  • J.A. Langford, Warwickshire Folk-Lore and Supersitions, 1875.

Sage is most powerful when gifted by a friend. Purple stemmed with fractal veins running from centre to tip, increasingly dense, requiring the removal of reading glasses and squinting to count to infinity within a single leaf. Purple, the colour of kings. The King and Queen in the royal bath, Solutio est. Conjuntio in the Magnum Opus. The green lion devours the sun, the ruling principle dies in Mortificatio.

Watching a short film of Lucien Freud as distraction. He is walking the towpaths of Little Venice with a hawk perched upon his wrist. A kestrel for a knave. 2010, a few hundred yards from here. Elderly, rheumy eyes glistening in winter sunlight. Bare boughs empty of leaves. Low winter sun across the water. Oils dripping from the wall above the radiator. Pointed daggers of paint, just as a hawk’s beak to rend flesh from bone. In Egypt and the levant, Sage was brewed as a black tea. The desert dwellers would launch their hawks to hunt and spy. Falconry, the sport of Kings.

Places of Poetry

Inspired by Michael Drayton who published a 15,000-line epic of national description, called Poly-Olbion in the 16th century,  Places of Poetry is an interactive poetry map of England and Wales (no Scotland, Northern Ireland or Irish Republic sadly) that has been running since April 2019.  Over the Summer months, writers have been pinning up their poems of place and there are now over seven thousand dotted everywhere.

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I’ve enjoyed participating and exploring places familiar to me through the words of others.

This is one of my favourites. First Impressions by Alison Johnson.

Go have a wander

Edwin Drummond (1945 – 2019)

“Under Stanage, a Sunday in late September, 1985.  The air is kaleidoscopic with flies, sifted from the long, rain-bent grass, by sudden sunlight and a combing wind.  Through the car window the ash trees are flocks of hummingbird-green leaves: leaving. A white butterfly totters past, Icarus for a day” (Between the Lines).

He was a bit of a (anti) heroic figure to me.  He wrote his way into, out of, and all around the climbing experience and the life that goes along with it like no-one else has ever done.  I could go and on and on about just how good those stories and poems are.  I’ve been sat reading them again for the million-umpteenth time this evening at home.

Between the Lines, Frankenstein and Linda, A Grace Period, Child Woman Man, The Incubus Hills… and then the poems:

The Black Lake
(LLyn Du’r Arddu)

From the cliff
the lake waits in the cwm
for the crumbs of scree.

Holding back the monarchy of rock,
she gathers the caddis
in her lap, hikers on the skyline,
purple ravens’ wine.

She does the washing when it rains.
Hanging up the clouds for days,
swilling piss-yellow out of the peat,
pelting the sheep,
rinsing the mountains dusty feet.

Our local black hole, a bowl of plums
when the night wind comes

A choppy day: snappy
as a collie, running all over the place
splattering foam. My teeth chatter.
Skin and bone and stone and stars.

After sunset
she bites. The man in the moon
shivers all night.

The buttery look of the sun.
Lukecool by summer, there are Septembers
water won’t melt in her mouth.
Around November
– organpiping icicles –
she runs aground,
a thick, blue porthole
the rain rivets and the wind pounds…

The sun rusts
away. Days like icebergs

Whistling gleaming creaking
cracks, grass bending
wind winching
– a deep, blue roar –
reopening the colliery of the sky,
making the mountains soar

and tremble… Where I look down,
her wavy, young hair, blown
across his cold, bare stone.

(1975 – 1986)

And then there’s the all the groundbreaking first ascents and reckless expeditions up on high.

Wuthering, The Asp, Flute of Hope, Archangel, Banana Finger, Linden (controversially).  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Great Arete.  The Long Hope Route. The Arch Wall.  NA Wall (solo). T-Rex, The Strand, The Moon, and of course, a Dream of White Horses.

A Dream of White Horses

Palomino in the morning,
as the sun rose higher

they dashed, their manes on fire,
pounding their hooves on the rocks,

And smashed – we were climbing –
sank, broken, foaming…

The wind lashed them back,
combing their matted hair,

swollen green sea mares twenty hands high,
surrounded by herds

of nervous blue stallions,
snorting and champing and trampling

us under, given half the chance.
We stood by – a pitch apart –

watching the rein of our rope,
that led between the last grey overhang,

redden like a vein in the sinking sun,
And breathed again.

Their fire gone,
the black horses were drinking,

and we were thinking of a name…
Nothing had been forced – Then the tide

turned, they surged, rearing
– manes smoking white –

running, running
in the night towards us.



Yoko Ono, Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley

It was freezing queuing up last night and I was stood next to Evan Parker for half an hour but was too shy to say thanks for all his great music. Once inside we got a great place, half stood, half crouched by the front. It started with a short film on Yoko which was very moving.. She’s had such a difficult and challenging life. Some beautiful footage of her in love with John Lennon then tear jerking shots after he was killed and her accepting a Grammy on his behalf with Julian as a little boy.. Then she walks through the small audience, a tiny, sparrow like lady, smiling and shy.
Thurston Moore, towering above her taking a side place on the stage and Steve Shelley, big enough in girth behind a small drum kit.
Then an hours performance, a proper performance. Some improvised, some of Yoko’s songs. Very intimate, very real, very fun, very sweet, very good…
It finished with a short encore. Yoko strapping on a guitar, Thurston also and they did a very sweet, playful flirtation without touching the strings, just footsteps, stepping into the audience without a sound.. Faces drawing closers as if for a kiss then struck each other’s guitars with the necks, a wall of noise and applause, tears and goodwill. I was pretty choked…. Quite a performance and one I’ll remember for a long time.