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Drop in by Stewart Carswell

Today it’s my privilege to welcome rising star, Stewart Carswell, to drop in to reflect upon his collection, Earthworks (Indigo Dreams, 2021).

Earthworks / Offa’s Dyke was first published in Under the Radar.

Throughout the book there are a number of poems that all share the Earthworks title, each one exploring a different historical earthwork in England.  This poem was the first of those to be written. 

I like exploring wild landscapes, and entering a new place will often kick-start a poem. In early 2019 I visited Offa’s Dyke in Gloucestershire and a few months later I was at Welshbury hill fort, exploring a similar set of ideas about ramparts, woodland, boundaries, and defences. I compressed my pages of notes about those two places into this one poem. The rest of those Earthworks poems came together pretty quickly later that summer, helped in part by walking the Great Stones Way in Wiltshire (home to Barbury Castle and the West Kennett long barrow).  I like to think of those poems as an ensemble, as there is no set sequential order to them, they’re just a group that comes together.

A lot of the poems in the book feature the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. This is where I grew up, and the place heavily influences my writing. The Forest is a unique and special place, and there are many images and ideas that it can offer to poetry.  The obvious contribution would be the natural landscape: the ancient oak woodland, the conifer plantations, the rivers either side of it, and the wildlife within it.  But hidden within the Forest, screened by the trees, is a rich industrial heritage dating back to the Iron Age of metal working, mining, and timber production. And of course there’s my own personal experiences and memories of the people and the place from growing up there. This juxtaposition of natural and industrial and human landscapes is best characterised by Cannop Ponds: originally constructed nearly 200 years ago to supply water to the furnaces at nearby Parkend, they are now a popular location where families come to picnic at the tranquil lakeside setting in the heart of the Forest, among the oak trees.

Offa’s Dyke passes along the edge of the Forest, on the hills above the River Wye. Elsewhere in the book we visit the Roman temple at Littledean, St. Anthony’s Well near Abenhall, and the ruined church at Lancaut. 

It’s fair to say that the book owes a heavy debt and influence to Seamus Heaney, especially his collection North.  The way he articulates a singular vision, expressed through the linking of historical acts and landscapes with contemporary politics.  And to the north of the Forest of Dean is the Black Country, exemplarily evoked in Liz Berry’s influential debut, another book that explores the industrial heritage and character of an area.

With Earthworks, I wanted to explore ideas of artificial division and boundaries, and the treatment of ‘others’. In the end, this is all we have: this is the world we have and it is our choice what world we make. This poem sits at the end of the book, which is fitting given the last line. Hopefully people will learn something from the book to carry with them to wherever it is we’re heading next.

Next week read my review of Earthworks.

Catch up with Poets Previously Featured: Chris Campbell

All Island No Sea explores the upheaval of a house move, humorous commentary on the passing of time and the effect on our bodies, the healing power of nature, arrival of a newborn and love for family which invigorates life. Former journalist Chris Campbell’s third book of poems, published by Alien Buddha Press, was written in Bristol and Nottingham and captures the essence of growing older, starting a family and everyday life in a different city.

‘In this buoyant collection about wading through life, people trudge in and out of houses, decorating them along the way. Growing older brings all kinds of paint splatters – some bright, some painful. These poems chart the identity crisis of a human island that has lost its ocean, leaving only a squawk and some wet socks. Perhaps, once all the wet socks are gathered, water can return. Campbell’s images unfold like a stepladder for us to climb.’  Beth Calverley, poet and founder of The Poetry Machine

‘Inventive and easy with nature these beautifully worded poems give you pause to reflect and become conscious of the present moment.’ Henry Normal, poet and producer.

All Island No Sea can be ordered via Amazon, here: https://amzn.to/3dTsjzV

AVAILABLE NOW ‘UNMUTED‘ by Nigel Kent!

Nigel Kent’s collection of ekphrastic poems, Unmuted (Hedgehog Poetry Press), is inspired by a gallery of famous works by artists from the present and the past. Each artwork acts as a frame in a storyboard which he unfreezes and unmutes to reveal the narrative he imagines lies behind it. Even for those who have no interest in art these direct, accessible and moving poems will stand alone and promise to engage with issues that truly matter.

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