Archive for July, 2014


There is a farmhouse in my village, with a plaque dating its construction to 1365. It was supposedly visited by Edward of Woodstock, The Black Prince. It that was so, it must have been in those last furious years before he died, in June 1376, aged 45.

BPplaque (2)

What was he doing around here, on the edge of the Peak District? It must have been all to do with Royal Forests – the local town was based on one, and we have this:

 “On his deathbed, Edward did an extraordinary thing,” says Booth, honorary senior research fellow at Keele University. “He issued a charter disafforesting Wirral in Cheshire, which had been under his rule as earl of Chester. The inhabitants were subjected to hardship and corruption under the forest system, and the pressures of war meant Edward often turned a blind eye to these excesses.

But still, what was he doing so far from the coast?

When we look at the farmhouse in the village we can see it was in those days quite a large size – these obviously were not your regular farmers. The village is almost equidistant between two other long settled communities.

BPplaque (1)

The photo is off-centre – that is because the house is still very much lived-in, and I did not want to intrude too obviously onto their property!

In Prestbury, now an affluent commuter town, we have a Norman chapel; in fact Domesday records do not show a community existed there: there were no living inhabitants. Pre-Christian pottery has been found in the vicinity, though. Speculation has it that that the community must have resisted the new Norman overlords, and paid the price: death. By the 14th Century the community was once again well-established around the chapel and new church of St Stephen. Prestbury, the name has been suggested derived from ‘priest’s enclosure’.

At the other side of this farmhouse is the village of Pott Shrigley, now an isolated community. It does have an old established church, and Shrigley Hall, once owned by the Downes family for 500 years until early 19th Century. Another interesting aspect of Pott Shrigley, and to give some indication of its importance to the region is that when Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army entered the local town, his army swollen with volunteers from Manchester, the Mayor of the town could not do his duty to the King and give them hospitality. Rather than confront them, he left the town to them – they were, records show, very courteous and well behaved. Their return journey was a different story. Shrigley Hall became a Salesian college for a period. Here we have perhaps indication of an old and long-standing Catholic family surviving in private and out-of-the-way parts of Cheshire.

So, where did the Mayor go? Pott Shrigley, of course. The church is the sister church of St Stephen’s in Prestbury.

It could well have been Pott Shrigley that Edward was on his way to visit from the local Royal Forest. From there possibly on to Stockport; Stockport is supposed to be the home of the author of both Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and The Pearl poem around this period. By the time of authorship though it is speculated the writer was most likely part of the royal or county retinue. Sir Gawain was part of the alliterative revival of Chaucer’s period, which coincided with the period of the Black Prince. Edward of Woodstock died before Chaucer had got fully into his stride as a writer. The Green Chapel itself is generally said to be based on Lud’s Church:


a few miles south of the main town and on the edge of the Royal Forest.


Edward of Woodstock was the eldest son of English King Edward III. He married his cousin Joan, ‘the fair maid of Kent’, with the Pope’s dispensation. His legitimate child Richard became king Richard II, following Edward III’s death. The Black Prince died the year before; missed out completely.

Why the ‘Black’ Prince? It seems we have Froissart to thank for that. In his Chronicles he relates the tale of the massacre of Limoges in 1370:

In late summer 1370, the Bishop of Limoges, Johan de Cross – a friend of Edward’s and godfather to his son – betrayed the prince and defected to the French. He welcomed a garrison into part of the town, and held it against the English.

According to the chronicler Jean Froissart, Edward was incensed at the news and stormed it. A massacre followed, says Froissart.

“It was a most melancholy business – for all ranks, ages and sexes cast themselves on their knees before the prince, begging for mercy; but he was so inflamed with passion and revenge that he listened to none, but all were put to the sword. Upwards of 3,000 men, women and children were put to death that day.”

Like most things, events, people in history there is always leeway for other interpretations.

“Edward of Woodstock was probably not virtue personified, but based on the testimonies I’ve seen, I would say he was probably more virtuous than the average princes of his time,” says Pepin.

Edward was struck down with diseases from his Spanish campaign in 1369. His health just got worse and worse, so much so that he had to be carried into Limoges in 1770 on a litter.

He never got better. He returned to England, his home base at Berkhamsted. In 1371 he attempted another foray into France but it was a failure; both he and the King his father were forced to call it off by bad weather.

This leaves a narrow window of time for us to plot this journey to the farmhouse.

It could well be, times coinciding, that this journey that took in the farmhouse, was one his few in the area and also his last. His destination, in all probability was Peveril Castle, Castleton in Derbyshire. Peveril Castle was his younger brother’s acquistion: it belonged to John of Gaunt.

He could not have been a good house-guest – his temper, never pleasant was made worse by illness. It could well be he and his retinue called in the farmhouse due to illness.

Was this journey, that took in this farmhouse, a journey of self-discovery of how his neglect of the Royal Forests caused much misery and poverty amongst the populace of these regions?


Judith Herzberg was one of the group of Dutch writers who appeared in print in the 1960s. After the experimental ‘50s there emerged a plainer style. She writes accessible poetry in a language and style many find easier to understand and warm to. Along with Rutger Kopland they found a ready audience.

Her English translations occur in two main sources: BUT WHAT: Selected Poems, translated by Shirley Kaufman, Oberlin College Press, Field Translation Series 13, 1988. And excerpts in the Seren Books collection IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT, Fourteen Contemporary Dutch-language Poets, 2002. There is also a good selection of her translated poetry on Poetry International’s Netherlands page

Born in Amsterdam, she has made her home both there and in Tel Aviv for much of her adult life.
She has since branched out into plays/theater, children’s books, film.


One of her earlier poems was On The Death of Sylvia Plath, from her 1964 book Zeepost/ Sea-mail. This shows a precocious awareness: even the English poetry world were not fully aware of Sylvia Plath’s writing until later. Her identity was being mapped out in this first book: we have May Fourth:

Just when he was about to say:
but everyone provides himself with problems
not so large he can’t see past them
to an unattainable, better life,
it was time for the two-minute silence…..

May 4th is the Dutch day for commemorating the dead of WW2.

Later in the same book we have Bad Zwischenahn, 1964:

The bride hobbles out church on too-high heels,
and smiles her chafed smile under top-heavy hair


Now the pastor can explain
the old altar-piece to us.
The man beating Jesus must keep roaming,
he is the Jewish people, the wandering Jew


I swallow and ask him in this warm and stifling Germany
why his church honours the heroes of the First War
not those of the Second with a plaque.
He speaks to himself, me, god,
the photographer, the dead:
It doesn’t come easy for any of us
to fit into ourselves and go on.

As enigmatic a comment as any could have been uttered there, at that time. Here is a fully realised image of the pastor ‘s equivocations, unable to look anyone in  the face, looking fully everywhere but at the narrator.

The poem opens with a classic image of stilettos, beehive hairdo – wedding photo from the early to mid ’60s bang on!

Immediately before this poem in BUT WHAT we have Yiddish. It begins:

My father sang the songs
his mother used to sing,
to me, who half understood.

And already we have three vital points: the father who sang reminds us of those wonderful cantors in the synagogue; the mother who passed on the songs, is the mother who passes down the religion; and then there is the break-away post-war generation.

She later ends the poem:

Sad intimate language
I’m sorry you withered
in this head.
It no longer needs you
but it misses you.

The tenderness and toughness of the ending cannot help but warm us, no matter what religious or secular beliefs we hold to.

Her poetry seems wholly modern; her titles tell their commitment to the experiences of our lives: The Day-After Pill, Political Consciousness, Sneakers, Pain Killers. She can catch transient moments effortlessly: Between

Between your shoulder and your ear
I see the grey underside of the ping-pong table.
suggest the true difference between ah! and gone.

IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT contains poems from all books, as well as new poems (up to 2002). Here she shows her range: page poet and performance poet. Her wonderful The Waiting at the Bus Stop is printed here. It is a nearly three-page witty and droll rumination recognisable to all who have ‘spent time’ waiting at bus stops:

The seeing of a taxi.
The thinking: not yet. I’ve only just got here.
The noticing someone else arrive.
The sizing up of him/her.
The pretending I’m not looking at him/her.
The not pretending I’m not looking at him/her.
The looking past him,/her into the distance as if to see if bus is coming.


And ending on that agonised and self-blaming cursing for not having got the taxi, then being so wrapped in this as to nearly miss the bus.

Let me end with Disturbing the Peace:

The raging next door has no end…


When I ask: why don’t you leave?
she’d say if she were honest, but she isn’t
she says, so I don’t ask.


The she could say oh meaning
that’s what you’d like, and I could say no
and think yes and not be able to explain.

This poem deserves to be better known, deserves its place amongst those uncomfortable but essential life-saving poems. Its impact lies in how it breaks open our sureties and complacencies. There is a toughness here combined with sensitivity that is really quite admirable.


2014-07-05 07.23.44

There are many and conflicting theories about the origin of Well Dressing.

The most touching I heard was that it was a kind of blessing and thanks for God’s mercy for sparing villages from the plague. Once villagers’ showed symptoms, it was said, the whole village took it upon themselves to isolate themselves from surrounding villages to not to spread the contagion further. Any food or necessities were left at the village boundary and no contact whatsoever was to take place. It is recorded that every member of some families died; even the village the priest died. No one was there to bury the dead. Terrible times. The few who remained afterwards blessed the well – maybe thought to be the one fount of clean water.

Was it a blessing to the local naiad; then Christianised and dedicated to a Saint connected with the local parish church? Or was it indeed a later attempt to introduce local colour and custom? It is  also claimed the Tissington well in Derbyshire was the first to bless its well, after a 14th Century plague.

Wikipedia has it the ceremony was started in the Nineteenth Century, at the instigation of local wealthy landowners

The ceremony takes place now throughout Derbyshire as well places in Staffordshire, Cheshire, South Yorkshire, Shropshire. There has even been a ceremony in Kent.

The practice is the same in each location:

a large wooden frame is constructed and plastered with wet clay. This has to be kept very wet, and dunking in a local river or stream becomes part of the ceremony. The design for the year is then traced onto the clay and filled out with flower petals. Originally these must have been the plentiful local field flowers. Modern farming methods have all-but eradicated those, so presumably garden flowers are used, supplemented no doubt by Garden Centre hybrids and exotics.

The design of the board shape need not be standard, either. There have been boards with staggered recesses giving a sense of moving into or through a local scene. There have been triptychs, and boards shaped like Romanesque church vaults. Most Dressings now commemorate some local view, activity, religious date, or event.

Not all Dressings commemorate such serious events. In 2012 the town of Bollington in Cheshire produced this board:

Bollington Well Dressing 2011 054

It shows media personality and astronomer Professor Brian Cox, before the Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope.

The Dressing is then installed, usually covering the local water source. This installation ceremony may be accompanied with Morris Dancing, or ceilidh music, religious readings, to the theme of the Dressing.

The ceremonies take place between May and September in various places; sometimes more than one in a village. The Dressing is kept in place for a week or two, depending on the atmospheric humidity and the dry-out rate of the clay.

2014 Bollington, Cheshire, Well Dressing commemorates the local brass band. The two half side panels show a player performing, the central board a variety of brass instruments in lovely gold petals; and the bottom board the commemorative plaque in petals.

2014-07-05 07.22.43

There are two smaller off side panels in white. Those are local doctors John and Jean Coope. They helped set up many cultural events for the local community. John Coope received the MBE medal for his activities; Dr Jean Coope did wonderful work, and also deserved much recognition for her work in the areas of women’s health.

2014-07-05 07.20.10

from my kindle book, Parameters:


from ALPHABET (1981) Bloodaxe Books:



10 June nights exist, June nights exist,


chiming of insects and dew, and no one in this gossamer summer,

no one comprehends that early fall exists, aftertaste, afterthought;


never the zinc-white nights so white, so defensively dissolved,

gently ionised and white, never the limit of invisibility so nearly


a drift of galactic seed between earth so earthly and sky so heavenly,


translated by Susan Nield The whole 14 sections of ALPHABET are constructed on the Fibonacci numerical system:  (1), 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 etc constantly adding the last two figures together; in effect adding the new to the whole. The implications of this to society and a sense of community are very apposite. That these were Inger Christensen’s concerns also is fully evident in her earlier book, It (1969), as well as in Alphabet. The idea of a ‘soft city’ from It became an impactful concept for Scandinavian architects and sociological workers: a city able to adjust, grow organically, change shape and structure as need demands, as populations and ethnologies alter. In section 10 we see stanzas of 5, 8, 13 lines, then instead of 21 and 35, we have 13 again. Then it starts again at 1, 1 then 2, 2, 2, 2; 3, 3, 3, 3; 5, 5, 5, 5 = 42. Altogether section 10 has 89 lines. Fib These structures, as well ass her range of references save her work from being solely gendered: the zinc-white also and majorly references the periodic table than night and skin creams. As a chemical element it can be’ read’, it is a part of the construction that constitutes all our experience of the world and ourselves. In the excerpt she references natural history, the old term that combined botany, chemistry, science and art. I remember having to draw freehand the plant cells seen through a microscope, and marvelling at the genre-breaking of science and art involved in this one act. The continual refrain through the whole book, of what ‘exists’, also occurs in this excerpt, and marks change of tone, and variation. Theme and variation suggest a musical superstructure. Messien figures on a large scale behind It, and his serialist structures are also here present. ‘Watersteps’, her 1982 poem piece collected in Butterfly Valley: A Requiem, (New Directions, 2004) displays another rich development of ‘system poetry’. That it is alive and well still, can be seen in the first two books of Matthew Welton. Inger Christensen is a source of endless admiration, wonder and enjoyment. She was a true pioneer and visionary. IC