Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The vanished flowers

Winter squash seedlings
The day before I was leaving for the Wenlock Poetry Festival I was up at the allotment watering the seedlings and hoping it wasn't going to be a sizzling weekend because I'd taken the risk that they'd survive with a long soaking.
The cucumbers are taking a long time to germinate and might be a bad batch, the squash are looking good though, and I am going to have to risk putting the runner beans in today because like an adolescent, they're getting lanky.
Lettuce and runner bean seedlings

As VG Lee's Facebook posts illustrate, the allotment community is one of the best reasons for spending time with seedlings, other than growing food.
Just before Venice, Dave Swann and Angie were wandering by with a wheelbarrow to collect manure from stables up the road. Fellow local poets Janet Sutherland and Lee Harwood both have allotments and the founder of Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Michael Laskey's a keen grower of veg.
It's hardly surprising that poets of the past wrote about gardens - they ate from them or were healed by them. Long before Emily Dickinson was published she sent poems to friends in bunches of flowers. She, too, was a real gardener and had learned her craft since she was a child.
Killing time yesterday before the RLF reading group I run (we read an essay on peacocks by Flannery O'Connor and poems by Dickinson and Alison Brackenbury), I was browsing a permaculture magazine and fantasising as I often do about a place in the sun with land where I could have goats and grow aubergines.
But every time I think about moving away I'm drawn back to the allotment - the apple tree and fruit bushes I've planted, the compost and manure I've dug in for the soil, the herb garden, the sheds, the great generous clumps of rhubarb and hedge of blackberries, the four plots of raspberries that go into the freezer, or jam, or raspberry vodka, the winter soups, basket of onions…..even the jerusalem artichokes.
Spring pickings - purple sprouting broccoli, chard, sorrel
and rocket
This is the original urban gardening, a wartime solution to food shortages. My allotment, on Tenantry Down, is a short walk up the hill from my house. Further up the hill, on the ridge by the phone masts are more, on the edge of the racecourse are the Whitehawk allotments. There are 37 sites across Brighton and Hove.
I tell Mrisi and Giya - learn how to grow stuff, you might need to know one day. I think of that cow swapped for a bean and I think of Cardiff City Farm, set up by my cousin years ago and now closed but with other city farms, a forerunner of this great need.
The cost of food, availability of food, mental health, diet, exercise, thinking, quality of life - all these things...
The sixties represent a radicalism I still honour - the courage of voter registration campaigns in the deep south of the USA, great movements for change, anti-war demonstrations, the drive to live differently, a dislike and mistrust of consumerism, whole foods and self-sufficiency.
Many of those baby boomers still practice those principles. Many of the second wave of baby boomers, born in the 1950s are too. And some of the children of the baby boomers are brilliant, creative people as a result of their alternative upbringing.
Knowing how to grow food, how to stay alive, is the collective wisdom of the world's women.
I sometimes wonder what would make me give up poetry. It would be the allotment. Only this. But one feeds the other, so there's no risk - as long as I do one, the other will be safe, like Tagore's "memories of the vanished flowers of an hundred years before." (see Poetry Foundation)
Between the elder and bay
looking down at the plum
Brighton and Hove Allotment Federation:
Urban farming:
Vertical farming:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The three Janes

There are three Janes: Guildford Jane was the first, then Ludlow Jane, then Portslade Jane.
In the space of a week, I've seen them all.
I met Guildford Jane at my first job on the Surrey Daily Advertiser. She was on the village desk with Ann Dent. I was a newcomer, dispatched almost straight away to the Godalming office where I'd stay for what seemed like too long when all the parties were happening in Guildford. I found my way around Surrey's sunken roads and through the Hog's Back fog on my moped, sometimes mistaken for a boy. One morning Guildford Jane turned up at the door of the house where I was lodging with Mandy and Nigel. I'd been at her party the night before. She was with Rebecca, also on the Surrey Ad and an old school friend. Both looked unhappy.
That good looking man I'd been with was Jane's boyfriend. I naively never imagined that he could have been anyone's boyfriend. We became friends. She's still in touch with him too. He has many children.
In a week, Jane's off to a new job. She chucked journalism for cooking on boats and is off to Oban.
I met Ludlow Jane at a party somewhere in Godalming and we re-met again when I moved to Brighton. On my first night in my new flat, I wandered up to Hanover from Campbell Road. The rain was torrential. Ellen and Jane were waiting with wine. Jane and I, both single, hit Brighton's clubs together. We somehow carried a cast iron fireplace into my front room, we bemoaned being single, we had children.
This weekend, Jane and I listened to poetry together in Much Wenlock and on Sunday walked in the woods near Ludlow with her dogs.
Portslade Jane and I went to the Avignon Festival with Fabrica Gallery years ago and that was the start of our collaboration and friendship that often involves many steepings of tea, eating and vinho verde. I'll see Jane today at a reading group in the gallery after the life class she runs.
A young woman at the poetry festival asked, after my reading, what I thought the future was like for young poets. I answered but afterwards wished I'd said that each generation finds its own solutions and keeps on doing that.
Do we mistake poetry for a being with its own mind? Poems come from the life I share with my friends, my family. Big questions about the art seem so far away from why those cucumber seeds haven't germinated and what I talk about with the three Janes.
Make friends, I wish I'd said. But she knows that.