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IN THE FOREST’S HEARTWOOD Aly Stoneman

Now, Robin Hood can’t scarper
over castle walls – and away –
into the greenwood,
which only persists today
in Nottingham’s place names
– Forest Fields, Forest Rec –
and the city’s football team.

Twenty miles north
in Sherwood Forest’s heart,
a thousand ancient English Oaks
make homes for hairstreak butterflies,
nuthatches, beetles, bees,
jackdaws, jays.

And when sunlight splashes,
counterchanging
dark on light on dark,
we may imagine
an outlaw stepping, soft-footed,
through leaf litter, arrow nocked –

or imitating birdsong
from a perch inside the Major Oak,
the whistling of a merry tune,
minder of the people of the forest,
wood and heathland,
hares and fallow deer

but wolf, boar and bear
are all long gone
with thousands of trees used
for timber and ships
(five thousand oaks to build the Victory)
or cleared for farming and industry
(for ‘field’ read ‘felled’).

Leaf through our poems, our tales
and find the forest there, from Robin Hood
to narratives budding right now.
Speak of how to meet the world
in this well-known, well-loved wood.
Voice how, underground,
bacteria, fungi, roots
all interconnect and share:
a wood wide web.

We’re talking too, communicating
our concerns through networks,
pushing sapling-ideas up through tarmac:
how Nottingham will be re-joined
to Sherwood Forest, oak by oak –
our story worth telling.

 

With special thanks to Becky Cullen, Matt Turpin, Andrew West, Luna, Samantha Bird, Tim Hannigan and the staff and volunteers at Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre for your time, help and encouragement!

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Writing a Poem for World Poetry Day/ International Day of Forests

Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature invited me to write a poem IN THE FOREST’S HEARTWOOD inspired by Sherwood Forest to mark World Poetry Day and International Day of Forests, which both fell on 21st of March this year, linking with other cities of literature around the world. As NUCoL notes, ‘Nottingham is a city of poets and Nottinghamshire is a county of forests – not only does the local football club and the county council both use trees as their emblems, we are graced with perhaps the most legendary forest in the world, Sherwood’.

Matt Turpin and I went to do some research at Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre in north Notts (before the current restrictions on meetings and travel), meeting RSPB staff who manage the centre and nature reserve. Visitor Experience Officer Andrew West guided us on a trail that took in several of Sherwood Forest’s thousand ancient oaks, including The Major Oak, said to be 800-1000 years old and often cited as Britain’s favourite tree. The oak and birch forest that remains today looks much as it would have in the medieval period linked to the well-known Robin Hood tales. Early spring sunshine filtered through budding branches as Andrew explained to us how ancient oaks are important habitats for many organisms and creatures including lichens, mosses, beetles, spiders, moths, bats and birds. For instance, oaks often hollow out – a natural process that usually doesn’t affect the health of the tree – and many creatures live, nest or roost in the rotting heartwood or hollow trunk. We also discussed how research has shown that beneath every forest and wood there is a complex underground web of roots, fungi and bacteria helping to connect trees and plants to one another and share nutrients, which has become known as the Wood Wide Web. Our walk in Sherwood Forest invited reflection not only on interconnectedness and the wonder and complexity of the natural world, but also on what has been lost and how we can protect this amazing habitat for future generations.

Back at the Visitor Centre, we also met some of the volunteers who help to bring stories of the forest alive for thousands of visitors each year. One regular group – Heather, Valerie, Vivienne and Linda – were recreating a medieval coverlet in royal red and blue woollen fabric. I found the traditional sewing techniques they were using really interesting and I included one word – counterchanging ­– in my poem, relating it to ideas both of patterning and exchange.

IN THE FOREST’S HEARTWOOD aims to celebrate Sherwood Forest’s rich heritage as a place of stories and its importance as a wildlife habitat, and to raise awareness of the importance of protecting forests, which are home to 80% of Earth’s biodiversity. It is also inspired by The People’s Forest project, led by NOSF trustee and Nottingham-based artist Sarah Manton, which plans to plant sapling oaks re-connecting Nottingham City with Sherwood Forest.

NUCoL filmed the poem read by myself and RSPB staff and volunteers, celebrating poetry as a shared mode of communication that can help to affirm “our common humanity and our shared values”. Even when forced apart by circumstance, much connects us. My poem celebrates that.

I’d like to thank Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature Team and the staff and volunteers at Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre for all their help and for making us welcome including Andrew, Sam, Gemma, Helen, Ross, Samantha, Karen, Claire, Kate, Luna, Heather, Valerie, Vivienne and Linda.

IN THE FOREST’S HEARTWOOD

Now, Robin Hood can’t scarper
over castle walls – and away –
into the greenwood,
which only persists today
in Nottingham’s place names
– Forest Fields, Forest Rec –
and the city’s football team.

Twenty miles north
in Sherwood Forest’s heart,
a thousand ancient English Oaks
make homes for hairstreak butterflies,
nuthatches, beetles, bees,
jackdaws, jays.

And when sunlight splashes,
counterchanging
dark on light on dark,
we may imagine
an outlaw stepping, soft-footed,
through leaf litter, arrow nocked –

or imitating birdsong
from a perch inside the Major Oak,
the whistling of a merry tune,
minder of the people of the forest,
wood and heathland,
hares and fallow deer

but wolf, boar and bear
are all long gone
with thousands of trees used
for timber and ships
(five thousand oaks to build the Victory)
or cleared for farming and industry
(for ‘field’ read ‘felled’).

Leaf through our poems, our tales
and find the forest there, from Robin Hood
to narratives budding right now.
Speak of how to meet the world
in this well-known, well-loved wood.
Voice how, underground,
bacteria, fungi, roots
all interconnect and share:
a wood wide web.

We’re talking too, communicating
our concerns through networks,
pushing sapling-ideas up through tarmac:
how Nottingham will be re-joined
to Sherwood Forest, oak by oak –
our story worth telling.

With special thanks to Becky Cullen, Matt Turpin, Andrew West, Luna, Samantha Bird, Tim Hannigan and the staff and volunteers at Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre for your time, help and encouragement!

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Disasters and Poetry

I joined my friend Ksenia Chmutina and her colleague Jason Von Meding on Disasters: Deconstructed podcast to discuss poetry as a medium for communicating about environmental change and society and read some poems…
Full episode at https://disastersdecon.podbean.com/e/s2e7-poetry/

 

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YoungVoices Writing Project with Nottingham City of Lit

 Nottingham City of Literature Blog

I’ve been working with two fantastic primary schools in Hyson Green and Mansfield for the MyVoice Young Voices programme, which aims to help Year 6 pupils develop their confidence and creative writing skills ahead of transition to secondary school. I’ve also mentored a member of staff at each school to help develop and encourage their own creative writing.

During my five sessions working with the children, we have read poems on a broad range of topics, using the poems and resulting discussions to spark collaborative and individual writing. Working with a small group of eight pupils and a TA or teacher allowed us to sit around a table and write together, creating a buzzy and communal atmosphere where, as the participants put it, ‘it’s easier to focus, be heard, and get more done’.

For this project, writers used lesson plans developed by Becky Cullen at Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. One of the workshops I delivered mid-way through the programme focused on ‘How to’ poems, using writing instructions as a way of building self-confidence. We read ‘How to Hang Washing’ and ‘Instructions for Writing Poetry’, and talked about poetic techniques, unfamiliar vocabulary, and what the children liked best about the poems – such as the lines ‘now those little/words are sprouting/poetry/inside your head’. They visualised words as seeds from which something beautiful might grow and flourish. Interestingly, the groups objected to the idea of instructions for writing poetry – they felt it should flow instinctively, although they agreed that they sometimes struggle to think of topics to write about. I reassured them that many writers feel the same! This led into a discussion around writing strategies to get their ideas down onto paper, creative processes, and taking inspiration from everyday activities and hobbies as well as from our imaginations.

After reading the two poems again, with everyone reading a few lines or a stanza each, we moved on to listing things the children can do well, or would like to do, writing ideas up on a whiteboard. Here, the groups diverged a bit. My Mansfield group were particularly interested in sports such as basketball, as well as gaming and ‘How to bake a cake’, while in Hyson Green, topics included ‘How to make a Patronus’ (by a big fan of the Harry Potter books) and ‘how to keep your glasses safe’. After creating a quick collaborative poem on the board, to try out ideas and provide some scaffolding, the children did some individual writing, creating wonderful titles including ‘how to daydream’ and ‘how to detect bad presents’ – take note, gift-givers: if it isn’t special or nice, it’s a bad present! Pupils also addressed big topics such as ‘how to face your fears’ and ‘how to live’; ‘how to stay calm’ was a popular subject with both groups. As usual, during individual writing time, I offered advice, prompts and plenty of encouragement, referring them back to the poems we read for inspiration and structure. At the end of the session, everyone read their poems out and we discussed whether we would follow each other’s instructions!

It was important to bear in mind that English is an additional language for some of the participants, and the sessions seemed to really help the children to build confidence in their self-expression, expand their vocabulary and develop their writing skills. It was great to see them enthusiastically sharing their poems with the rest of the group in workshops and also with teachers and friends. They are looking forward to seeing their poems published in a book, as NUCoL is printing anthologies for each school.

The groups said they felt sad that our poetry sessions were coming to an end, and I will also miss our chats about favourite books, pets, and dreams for the future. I hope they all keep on writing! The teachers that I mentored are interested in continuing a culture of creative writing in school as a legacy of the project, which would be fantastic. However, we’ll all meet up again at the MyVoice celebration event in March at Nottingham Council House, so the fun’s not over yet!

 

Richard Grochowski
Berridge Primary School

“I want to thank you for the work that you did with our pupils. They all thoroughly enjoyed the creative writing and working with you; they are all very excited about seeing their published work! I feel that it has been a rewarding and engaging project that they have taken a lot from. It has also been rewarding for me in writing creatively for pretty much the first time since school. I cannot promise anything, but I intend to put pen to paper in the future should the inspiration arise!”

Sarah Austin
Asquith Primary School

“Many thanks for the hard work you’ve put into the workshops. The children have really enjoyed a different approach to writing.”

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Time For Change

One of Raphael Daden’s stunning illuminated cubes from ‘Time for Change’ featuring a line from my poem ‘Danger Signs’. The cubes were on display at Nottingham Contemporary (on the terrace) 7th and 8th Feb for Nottingham Light Night.

Time For Change

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POETIC SPURN: A Celebration

Easington CofE Primary Academy pupils, local residents and poets came together for an evening of poetry and lemon drizzle cake at Spurn Discovery Centre on Wednesday 20th November. Pupils joined Julie Corbett, Liz Holt, Dave Osgerby, Shane Blades, Kathryn and Andy Rogers, and guest poet Richard Harries from Withernsea, to share poems about Spurn and the Holderness coast; Kathryn and Andy Rogers were inspired to put pen to paper after their children brought their National Poetry Day poems home from school!

The event was both a celebration of the writing produced during the project and also a preview of the POETIC SPURN exhibition, which will run at Spurn Lighthouse until March 2020 (Weekends 11am-3pm, depending on tide times), as covered on Billboard TV (starts 2:40 mins). The show includes a short film and a display of poems by project participants, including Clint Wastling, Gina Hobbs and Glynis Charlton. In addition, military historian and Spurn volunteer Simon Davies has sourced poems by soldiers that offer an insight into what it was like to be stationed at Spurn during wartime. Visitors to the exhibition can also read the POETIC SPURN postcards written by visitors, staff and volunteers, and are invited to write their own ‘poetic postcards’. It is exciting to see the exhibition come together in printed and digital format, and installed in Spurn’s Lighthouse – what a great venue for an exhibition. I hope people will enjoy reading the poems and gazing out over the ever-changing estuarine habitat that inspired them.

This brings my project with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust at Spurn to a close. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported and participated in the project. I have included both the film and digital galley below, giving an overview of the project and also an opportunity to read some of the poems. This was a pilot project, scoping the potential for YWT to run more creative writing events at Spurn in future. I hope to return before too long. I’m already missing my shoreline walks, and Spurn’s big open skies.

 

Poetic Spurn Gallery

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Poetic Spurn: Celebration and Exhibition Preview, Wednesday 20th November

There’s only a few days to go until our Poetic Spurn celebration event and exhibition launch…
Poetic Spurn Celebration Event

POETIC SPURN: REWILDING OUR WRITING – Exhibition Launch and Project Celebration
4-6pm, Wednesday 20th November, Spurn Discovery Centre, Spurn Road, Kilnsea, Hull HU12 0UH. 01964 650144.

POETIC SPURN: REWILDING OUR WRITING is an exhibition of poems inspired by the landscapes and wildlife of Spurn. It is an outcome of the pilot mini-programme of creative writing events that took place over the autumn. The project aimed at unlocking and sharing the power of language to inspire an emotional and enduring connection with the natural world, broadening and encouraging public engagement with Spurn, and encouraging participants and visitors to develop their skills, confidence and enjoyment in writing creatively about nature. Spurn is a unique and special place, which is reflected in these wonderful poems.

Presented by Spurn’s poet-in-residence Aly Stoneman (Nottingham Trent University) and Spurn Heritage Officer Andrew Mason (Yorkshire Wildlife Trust), the early evening celebration event in The Discovery Centre Cafe will feature a preview of printed poems and digital material from the POETIC SPURN: REWILDING OUR WRITING exhibition, and readings from POETIC SPURN participants, including poets Julie Corbett (whose writing has been commissioned by the BBC Contains Strong Language Festival), Clint Wastling, Liz Holt, David Osgerby, Shane Blades, and Easington CofE Primary Academy pupils.

POETIC SPURN: REWILDING OUR WRITING exhibition of work opens Saturday 23rd November in Spurn Lighthouse, and runs until the end of March 2020 (open 11am-3pm Saturday and Sunday). For details, please call Spurn Discovery Centre on 01964 650144.

The project was supported by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, The Arts and Humanities Research Council, Midlands4Cities Doctoral Training Partnership, and Nottingham Trent University.

Free parking in the YWT public carpark opposite the centre after 3.45pm that day. Refreshments will be available.

For more information and to RSVP, please contact:
Andy Mason –  andrew.mason (at) ywt.org.uk 01964 650144
Aly Stoneman –  alyson.stoneman2007 (at) my.ntu.ac.uk

 

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