A surprising event

Most of my blog posts this year have been book reviews. As a change (and because I have less time in Advent for reading – apart from my Quiet time and preparations for our Ladies’ Bible study group) I have decided to share some poetry news.

I was invited to join the eco-church team and have attended a few meetings. We staged an exhibition in the church after gaining our bronze award from A Rocha. One of my contributions to the exhibition was a printout of a poem about trees, which I had written for an online poetry group.

Later a volunteer climate change champion was organising an art exhibition to raise awareness of climate change. The eco-team leader suggested that I could enter my poem with some conker artwork. I hadn’t done any art for a few years, having my time filled in with writing, reading, knitting and music as well as activities outside my home. It was half term week, when many activities in this village take a break, so I found time to create a piece of amateur artwork around my poem.

A villanelle is a form of poem I learned about from Linda Kruschke’s paint chip prompts. I wrote one for a challenge last year.

I have included the text of the poem as well as a photo of my artwork.

A piece of watercolour paper hanging by string from a recycled garden stake with a second stake hanging below. The text of the poem in blue ink and a painting of two conkers in lower right-hand corner.
An eco-friendly way of displaying a picture

On Trees – A Villanelle

A conker is a great big seed
And yet it was a child’s plaything.
Trees make the oxygen we need.

Cutting down trees is due to greed.
Conkers may swing on lengths of string –
A conker is a great big seed.

Trees produce many sorts of seed
From fertilised flowers in spring.
Trees make the oxygen we need.

Trees mature at a slower speed
Than you and I and our offspring.
(A conker is a great big seed.)

To all the trees we must pay heed.
(To a strong branch attach a swing!)
Trees make the oxygen we need.

Respect for trees is what I plead;
Oneness with nature’s the best thing.
A conker is a great big seed.
Trees make the oxygen we need.

© Susan Sanderson 27 July 2021

Book review: On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester

I spotted On Gallows Down: Place, Protest and Belonging by Nicola Chester in the local library on a day when I already had too much to carry. Fortunately, it was still there the following week; I had forgotten to reserve it.

Cover of On Gallows Down

Although I follow Nicola Chester on Twitter, I had not appreciated where in the country (of England) Gallows Down is. It is close to the area made famous by Richard Adams’ book Watership Down, which I read in 1974 about two years after it was published. Watership Down is one of the books Nicola Chester mentions in On Gallows Down. One of my favourite children’s books is also mentioned – The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. I have to admit that I haven’t read all the books or poems she mentions. I didn’t enjoy one or two of the others – notably Tess of the D’Urbevilles. I find Thomas Hardy’s novels depressing, although I have enjoyed some of his poems.

On Gallows Down is a prize-winning book by an author, who combines a love and knowledge of the countryside with a love of and qualifications in the English Language. Other writers with similar preferences include Robert Macfarlane* (who endorsed this book) and Jennifer Ackermann.

Like many of my favourite books On Gallows Down includes a sketch-map. This is very helpful in locating the places mentioned. There is historical background to many events I have been vaguely aware of from the news. Greenham Common has an unusual history described by Nicola Chester, who was an eyewitness to many events around the area.

The natural world is the focus with the author’s experience and observation of it as a real countrywoman. I read it from cover to cover in a few days, sharing her anguish as trees were felled in instances where this did not seem necessary.

Nicola Chester’s own story is threaded through the landscape of this book. It is a fascinating read. I found it more relatable than many nature books I have read, probably because the author writes from the perspective of a mother. The writing is almost poetic in places.

There is so much information in it that I found a single reading was insufficient to take in everything in this book.

Reading it for the second time I listed poems/poets to read.

On Gallows Down was the winner of the Richard Jefferies Award 2021 for Nature Writing and Highly commended for the James Cropper Wainwright Prize 2022.

For a list of other books about nature and climate change, please visit my page, where there are links to reviews I have written.

*Links to reviews of books by Robert Macfarlane, which I have read, appear on the page of nature and climate change books.

Book review: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I began reading Braiding Sweetgrass shortly after I was lent the paperback book in September 2021. The subheading is Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Being divided into chapters, all beautifully written with much food for thought, it was easy to put this book aside and pick it up later. I finished reading it towards the end of March.

Although the plants in the book all grow in North America I cannot recommend Braiding Sweetgrass highly enough, no matter where you live. Robin Wall Kimmerer combines her people’s traditions with the knowledge she has gained through her scientific training. There are stories about places and people, traditional tales and warnings about taking creation for granted.

The world would be a better place if we all regarded the good things of the earth as gifts, respecting living things and not making monetary gain and material possessions our priority.