Poem a Month – August 2016

As we celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of 18th century landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown this month’s poem has a gardening theme.  Although there are several poems which have been written about Brown I have chosen Digging by Edward Thomas.  I’m sure a lot of hard work and digging was required to create Brown’s gardens and I like to think that those gardeners employed to bring his plans to fruition would appreciate this poem.  As a keen gardener myself I love the way Thomas uses descriptions of smell, it’s perfect. – Ali


Today I think
Only with scents, – scents dead leaves yield,
And bracken, and wild carrot’s seed,
And the square mustard field;

Odours that rise
When the spade wounds the roots of tree,
Rose, currant, raspberry, or goutweed,
Rhubarb or celery;

The smoke’s smell, too,
Flowing from where a bonfire burns
The dead, the waste, the dangerous,
And all to sweetness turns.

It is enough
To smell, to crumble the dark earth,
While the robin sings over again
Sad songs of Autumn mirth.


by Edward Thomas


Edward Thomas was born in 1878.  He wrote all his poetry between 1914, when he wrote his first poem and 1917, when he was killed on Easter Monday, 1917, on the first day of the Arras Offensive. This poem was written in March – April 1915 shortly before he enlisted in July 2015. The poem is featured in Poems for Gardeners edited by Germaine Greer, published by Virago, 2004. To find out more about Edward Thomas visit the Poetry Archive website.

The Capability Brown Festival is a celebration of the extraordinary life, work and legacy of 18th Century landscape architect Capability Brown. It brings together a huge range of events, openings and exhibitions. Visit the Festival website to find out more.
Events include a major series of more than 40 exhibitions by the Embroiderers’ Guild celebrating the works of Capability Brown and the nation’s landscapes. The series of exhibitions will run throughout 2016 and includes work by members of the Derbyshire Branches of the Guild.


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Poem a Month – July 2016

Over the last 12 months young people aged 16-30 have taken part in the
Courage of Conscience project to research the lives of Derbyshire’s World War One conscientious objectors.  Working with River Wolton they have created fictional pieces of creative writing in the ‘imagined voices’ of these individuals, their communities and families.

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Somme these voices present a different perspective on war, from the point of view of those who resisted conscription.  Conscription came into force in March 1916, the first time there had been compulsory military service in Britain.

Richard Barry (1890-1949) a lace maker from Long Eaton, refused to be conscripted and was imprisoned at Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire in July 1916. Three lines that he wrote on the cell walls inspired the young writers’ poem below. After Richmond he was moved to several other prisons before his eventual release in April 1919. – Ali

Richard Barry

After Richard Barry

It was called ‘the war to end wars’ but –
you might as well dig a hole by chucking dirt in it
stop a fire by shovelling wood on it
get clean by bedding down with swine
stay sober by swigging jugs of wine
black your boots by coating them in mud
stay alive by losing all your blood
learn maths by going for a swim
wrap parcels by cutting up the string
cook your tea by throwing it down pit
clean dishes by smashing them to bits –
and …
you might just as well try to
dry a floor by throwing water on it
as try to end this war by fighting.

by Sara Moon, Katherine Robinson and Matthew Knighton

Courage of Conscience is a project of Pro Peace Chesterfield, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to discover the stories of Derbyshire conscientious objectors. To find out more about the project visit the Courage of Conscience website.  The Courage of Conscience exhibition gives more information about conscientious objectors in Derbyshire, and features some individual stories. The exhibition is currently on display at Chesterfield Library, on the upper level next to the Local Studies section, until 27th July.

The pieces written by the young writers have also been published as an anthology, Courage of Conscience: Imagined Voices of Derbyshire’s WW1 Conscientious Objectors, edited by River Wolton.  The book will soon be available to borrow from Derbyshire Libraries.

Several of the young writers who took part in the project are members of the Chesterfield Write Here group for 16-40 year olds, which meets fortnightly at Chesterfield Library. If you are interested in joining the group visit their website for more information.

Richmond Castle recently received Heritage Lottery funding to preserve the graffiti written by conscientious objectors who were imprisoned there.  Visit their website for further information.

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Poem a Month – June 2016

As it’s Priscilla’s last month with us she has chosen a poem about the joy of sharing books and reading.  This poem was written by Matt Black during his time as Derbyshire Poet Laureate . Matt created the poem from all the wonderful entries we received for our Book Chat writing competition when reading groups were asked to tell us what was special to them about their group. – Ali

The poem sums up many of the best experiences I’ve shared with Derbyshire readers over the last 16 years. It reminds me of the importance of reading in my own life and that of countless others. Working with the Derbyshire Poets Laureate has always been a highlight so this poem seems a particularly apt way to say goodbye. – Priscilla

Bookchat Villanelle

We always air our views with real zest.
In sitting-rooms and libraries, readers on the rampage –
wine, cake, conversation, and winter nights are best.

It opens up our minds, and every book’s a quest.
Down dark lanes with Dickens, and tales from every age,
we always air our views with real zest.

Fun, friendship, laughter, though sometimes we’re possessed –
we’ve argued over Shakespeare, IS all the world a stage?
Wine, cake, conversation, and winter nights are best.

It’s like therapy, a life-line, we get things off our chest.
We don’t like them all, we’ve been known to rant and rage –
we always air our views with real zest.

Horizons broadened, soul-food, stories from East and West,
we’re made to step outside our comfort zone, that cage.
Wine, cake, conversation, and winter nights are best.

A good old chat, smiles, open Julie’s next request,
slants of sunlight fall across the page.
If you haven’t read the book, it’s a night out and a rest.
Wine, cake, conversation, and winter nights are best.


by Matt Black
(Derbyshire Poet Laureate, 2011-2013)

A villanelle is a nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. If you’d like to find out more visit the Poetry Archive website or the Academy of American Poets website.

If you enjoy talking about books there are a few Book Cafe events coming up over the next few months including a Derbyshire themed discussion at South Normanton Library on Tuesday 7th June at 10.30am. No need to book – all welcome. Visit the Derbyshire Libraries events page for more details or checkout our Facebook page.

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Poem a Month – May 2016

This month we’re delighted to be sharing a beautiful poem , Missing My Mum, by Mimi.
Mimi is a refugee from Ethiopia who has lived in the UK since July 2015.
Along with 52 other poets she took part in the Sheffield Poemathon on 2nd April, which raised £14,000 for charities that support refugees and destitute asylum seekers.

Mimi writes: ‘I have been helped myself, and now I feel it is important to give something back. When I was in Ethiopia we would help people who needed clothes, food, shelter. It’s good to help other people and it feels satisfying.’
Mimi is studying English, writing more poems, and hopes to qualify as a nurse.

River is a former Derbyshire Poet Laureate, who volunteers with refugee groups.
She writes: ‘I don’t speak Amharic so relied very much on Mimi patiently explaining and discussing each word and sentence. In Amharic there is a two-word phrase (‘yenafikot engurguro’) which means something like ‘the song that people hum when they are missing someone.’ We rendered it into English as best we could, but the process of translation made me think yet again about the richness, uniqueness and complexity of language, and how this is one of the riches that those seeking sanctuary bring with them to the UK.’

We hope you enjoy the poem and have included a copy of the Amharic version below.
Ali & Priscilla

Missing My Mum

In the garden of my memories, the birds are calling
but I only hear the echo of my mother’s voice.
She sits in the shade of the apple tree
her soft voice crosses the mountains and the seas.

She sits alone, humming the song of loneliness.
All day she sits at home, her children far away.
I miss her too. I don’t want to lose her.

Live a long life Mum, and one day, God willing,
I will see you again.


Translated by River Wolton and MimiAmharic version


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Poem a Month – April 2016

As April 23rd marks both the birth and death of William Shakespeare we thought it fitting to celebrate his work this month. 2016 commemorates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and there are a host of events taking place nationally to celebrate his legacy.

This lovely poem by John Warren was originally published as a Commendatory poem to the 1640 publication of  Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  With many thanks to Matt Black, former Derbyshire Poet Laureate for suggesting it. We hope you enjoy it and that it inspires you to read, or re-read, some of Shakespeare’s work – Ali & Priscilla

Commendatory poem to 1640 version of the Sonnets

I like to think of Shakespeare, not as when
In our London of the spacious time
He took all amorous hearts with honeyed rhyme;
Or flung his jest at Burbage and at Ben;
Or speared the flying follies with his pen;
Or, in deep hour, made Juliet`s love sublime;
Or from Lear`s kndness and Iago`s crime
Caught tragic hint of heaven`s dark way with men.

These were great memories, but he laid them down.
And when, with brow composed and friendly tread,
He sought the little streets of Stratford town,
That knew his dreams and soon must hold him dead,
I like to think how Shakespeare pruned his rose,
And ate his pippin in his orchard close.

by John Warren

Shakespeare’s Sonnets was first published in 1609.
John Benson, a London publisher of the middle seventeenth century, published the Sonnets and miscellaneous poems of William Shakespeare in 1640, which included the Commendatory poem by John Warren.

Visit the Shakespeare 400 website for more information about events and projects taking place to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The celebrations include The BBC Shakespeare Festival will be led by a new series of The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses –  some of which was filmed on location in Derbyshire.

We’ll also be marking the 400th anniversary in Derbyshire Libraries. Look out for book promotions and displays in Libraries in April and for details of events and activities taking place later in the year.

Working with King’s College London, the Arden Shakespeare and the British Council, the Royal Society of Literature commissioned some of the country’s greatest poets to respond in verse to Shakespeare’s sonnets. An anthology fetauring the poems,  On Shakespeare’s Sonnets: A Poets’ Celebration,  has been published by Bloomsbury.

If you’re in Sheffield on Saturday why not pop in to the Sheffield Poem-a-Thon for Refugees and Asylum Seekers. Entry is free and the event takes place on Saturday 2nd April, 10am – 6pm at The Art House, Sheffield. It’s a relay poetry event featuring poets based in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire raising money for refugees and asylum seekers. 48 sponsored poets, including River Wolton, Sally Goldsmith, Matt Black, Helen Mort, Cora Greenhill, Katherine Towers and Linda Goulden to name a few, will each read for 8 minutes.

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Poem a Month – March 2016

This month’s poem is the final choice from our Made in Derbyshire writing competition. Thank you again to everyone who entered poems and to the writers whose words we’ve shared here over the past 15 months.  We’ve received lots of positive comments and new subscribers to the blog.

We thought Being a Woman by Parminder Kaur was a fitting finale and a brilliant way to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March. We enjoyed the lively language and spirited approach to both poetry and being a woman.- Ali & Priscilla 

This poem describes what it is like to be a modern woman in the twenty first century and celebrating this uniqueness with the world.- Parminder Kaur

Being a Woman

Being a woman in 2016
Can’t keep up with changing fashions
But do I care?
Log on to social media and compare?
I’m just being myself
And doing the best I can
You don’t have to be a fan
It’s alright to disagree
My aim is to be light and free
Happy and content
From the universe I was sent
But, now I’m relieved to say
That I’ve packed all my issues away
Because I’m being a woman
In my own unique way!

by Parminder Kaur

To find out more about International Women’s Day visit the website.

To find out more about  Made in Derbyshire  visit the website.

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Poem a Month – February 2016

As Valentine’s Day approaches and love is in the air we thought we’d share Mark Shaw’s poem Where to find my voice.  Sometimes it’s hard to express feelings out loud and to find your own way telling someone you love them.  It can be difficult to find your ‘voice’ as a writer but Mark has succeeded here with vivid language and imagery. – Ali & Priscilla

‘Last year I started an English functional skills class at the Glossop adult centre to improve my confidence in writing.  I have always written automatic poems and I’m fond of a group of poets called the Imagists, the pictures and feeling they conjure up for me take me to another place and this is where I try to write from.’Mark Shaw.

Where to find my voice

In the words of another,
From the mouths of babes,
Hidden in the scriptures,
A virtual haven text,
Teetering on your lips,
The black behind my eyes,
Through the grass whispering,
While you lay on your side,
Sometimes birds sing it,
Bees and butterfly too,
But where is my voice,
When I want to say,
I love you.

by Mark Shaw

Love is also in the air in Derbyshire Libraries during February look out for book displays and author events with a romantic theme.

Derbyshire writers Joanna Courtney and Tracy Bloom will be at Alfreton Library on Thursday 11th February, 7.00pm – 8.30pm. Join Tracy and Joanna as they battle over which is better: historical or contemporary fiction. Which do you prefer? Come along and join the debate. Tickets are £3 including refreshments available from Alfreton Library on 01773 833199. *Special ticket offer: buy 3 tickets and get a 4th ticket free*

Tracy Bloom will also be at Brimington Library on Friday 26th February, 2.00pm – 3.30pm. Writer of hilarious novels including her most recent ‘No-One Ever Has Sex in the Suburbs’ she will be talking about her books and how she got into writing. Free but please book places at Brimington Library on 01246 271547.

Why not come along to our Poetry Café with Helen Mort, former Derbyshire Poet Laureate at South Normanton Library on Tuesday 1st March, 10-30 – 11.30 am. Relax with tea and cake and listen to Helen read a selection of her poems many of which are inspired by Derbyshire places. Free, but please book places at South Normanton Library on 01629 535000.
Also on display in the library is ‘Re-versed’ – a fabulous exhibition of Helen’s poems illustrated with photos by Peak Gallery Photographers.

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