Loughrigg Fell

This week I climbed Loughrigg Fell – twice. First at sunset on a clear day with Jennifer Essex, and again with the poet Matt Bryden in a long shower of rain which occluded much of what we saw in mist. It’s a beautiful fell and a regular walk for Dorothy and William Wordsworth. Dorothy records it several times in her journal. Here are some of her observations:

I went forward round the lake at the
foot of Loughrigg Fell. I was much amused with the busyness of a pair of
stone-chats; their restless voices as they skimmed along the water,
following each other, their shadows under them, and their returning back
to the stones on the shore, chirping with the same unwearied voice.
Could not cross the water, so I went round by the stepping-stones…


A very fine warm evening. Upon the side
of Loughrigg my heart dissolved in what I saw: when I was not startled,
but called from my reverie by a noise as of a child paddling without
shoes. I looked up, and saw a lamb close to me. It approached nearer and
nearer, as if to examine me, and stood a long time. I did not move. At
last, it ran past me, and went bleating along the pathway, seeming to be
seeking its mother. I saw a hare on the high road…


After tea we rowed
down to Loughrigg Fell, visited the white foxglove, gathered wild
strawberries, and walked up to view Rydale. We lay a long time looking
at the lake; the shores all dim with the scorching sun. The ferns were
turning yellow, that is, here and there one was quite turned.


When the sun had got low enough, we
went to the Rock Shade. Oh, the overwhelming beauty of the vale below,
greener than green! Two ravens flew high, high in the sky, and the sun
shone upon their bellies and their wings, long after there was none of
his light to be seen but a little space on the top of Loughrigg Fell.

Ascent during heavy, misty rain with Matt Bryden and his dog, Mabel


Ascent of Loughrigg Fell at sunset with Jennifer Essex


Personable Outgoing

Daylight is precious in Grasmere. Today, for example, the sun will rise at 8:24am and then set at 3:46pm. This gives me seven hours and twenty-two minutes of daylight. Visibility is also quite low, especially today, when this is the view from my front door:


So it’s a good idea to awkwardly unfold and flatten the map by torchlight and plan your adventures. One of the advantages of the shorter days are the Ambleside Christmas lights. Between Kendal, Keswick, Ambleside and Grasmere, the switching on of the Christmas lights are staggered so that with a bit of luck anyone living locally can make each event. They are a cause for celebration, with a lantern procession through Ambleside with children and adults alike carrying aloft various rocketship and star-shaped lanterns through the streets in a festival atmosphere with market stalls, live music, spinning LED pinwheels and light-up swords.



Will Smith, lecturer in Canadian Studies and the poet Polly Atkin took me from Grasmere to Ambleside to the fireworks to soak up the atmosphere. Polly’s academic work is focussed on Dove Cottage and literary geographies, and she has two pamphlets out from Seren with a first collection Basic Nest Architecture in the works from Seren too, which will be – if her two other pamphlets are anything to go by – a stellar outing. As fellow university lecturers and engaged in academic research and creative output, there’s a strong kinship there for the highs and lows of working far from home and those we love, caring for and encouraging and inspiring students and our shared passion for our respective work and our subject.


Over the past few weeks, a question that comes up often from pupils is “What is it like to be a poet?” It’s hard to succinctly articulate the fact that much of it is taken up with crashing between the dimensions – on any given day you will need to be both a project manager, a teacher, a performer, a librarian, a technology whizz-kid, an academic, an accountant and a writer. If we tack on a few extras such as chef, scout leader, medical practitioner, safety expert, laundrette supervisor, detective, needlecraft wizard and driver, we’re probably getting close to the skills required for another key part of the human journey: parenthood.


Fireworks with their bursting lights and ricocheting crackles interrupting the icy-quiet night are analagous to 21st Century living. We get these furious, fire-lit burning moments of vision, love and awe in amongst all attempts to lead a normal life. So today I’m working on a poem on the subject of fireworks. Meanwhile, enjoy some of the sounds.

Also, here’s a quick plug for the Grasmere Players’ new production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ which is on December 15th – 17th at 7:30pm at the Village Hall in Grasmere.



Wordsworth’s Travel Advice

For one week during the residency I took a Wordsworthian adventure to mainland Europe, and, more specifically, Sweden.

This he said would be sufficient for a month’s travelling. Because I had to be away for a week, I thought I could try Wordsworth’s travel advice for myself…

Head curator Jeff Cowton has recently been involved in restoring Wordsworth’s old portmanteau and you can catch some of the action over on YouTube. Although it looks quite large here – in fact it’s so small in reality, that you would be hard pressed to fit much more than a pillow inside it.

The visit to Sweden was to take part in a collaborative poetry project called Enemies or ‘Fiender’ in Swedish. The concept is that two poets are paired up across languages and told to produce a piece of poetry collaboratively. My partner would be the poet Jonas Groen. Jonas has just released his second book of poems ‘Anthropocene’ – so named because mankind has so profoundly altered the surface of the planet, that many believe that we’ve entered a new geological era of our own making.

His poetry chimes with my own on themes of the ecological, and there’s a playfulness to his lines which have, rather than punctuation, added space which makes the eye hesitate between the words:

Animals From the
depths of aeons Here

All I hear
is rain and cars

You can’t help pausing between the lines too, the rhyming ‘Here’ and ‘hear’ which keeps us in the same position of considering the aeons and simultaneously being out in the rain, listening to the cars. For my money there’s also an echo of military cadences in the repetition. In army work songs, or ‘military cadences’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_cadence) men are encouraged to ‘Sound off’ in the style of a register, the typical response being ‘Here’. This is also commented upon in the popular science fiction show Battlestar Galactica in which a military greeting is, “What do you hear?” and the response, “Nothing but the rain.”

So came time to pack my bag. As you can see Wordsworth himself managed to slightly screw up the label on the inside, putting the H of ‘WORDSWORTH’ up slightly higher than the rest of his name…


First I had to select a suitcase which would broadly be about the same dimensions and age as Wordsworth’s portmanteau. Admittedly, I don’t have much that might fit the bill, however, one of the items rescued from my grandmother’s things before she passed away was an old suitcase.



When packing, Wordsworth said that all that you needed for a month was:

1 spare day shirt
1 spare night shirt
1 spare pair of socks
1 notepad
1 pencil

There seem to be a couple of missing items, namely a pair of trousers and some suitable shoes and/or boots and a pencil sharpener.



In general I would say the experiment was largely successful. I added in a scarf on the basis that I asked my friend’s cat, Komette, if one was needed and she agreed. Also there are other things a poet needs, a wash kit, some gloves, and it’s also helpful to have some reading material, preferably from the host country and a guide to the city, a dictionary and a phrasebook.


Wordsworth also used to take his passport with him, which was rather a different kind of affair to the biometric, RFID-ed modern UK equivalents. 

On the front of this document it includes a general description of Wordsworth’s appearance which sounds painfully matter of fact:


Age: 66

Hair: greying

Forehead: bald

Eyes: grey

Nose: medium

Face: oval


I’m not sure what a ‘medium’ nose is, but it does make you think: did they have a nose chart? It’s reassuring that even then passport ‘photographs’ were a source of embarrassment. 

My Heart Leaps Up

This week I visited Belle Vue Primary School in Carlisle and together we responded to Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Rainbow’, or ‘My Heart Leaps Up’. Dorothy wrote on Friday 26 March 1802, ‘While I was getting into bed [William] wrote the Rainbow.’ Both of them had been walking through White Moss, possibly on the way to Ambleside and Wordsworth had been struggling to finish another poem, Silver How, and instead this short poem appears to have arrived quickly and organically.

‘My Heart Leaps Up’

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is the father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.



The route to White Moss would have probably been along the same path which leads from Dove Cottage to Ambleside, where Dorothy Wordsworth often walked to collect the post. After nightfall, I took Jennifer Essex with me and retraced their steps…


Fred Blick picks this up in his essay on the subject. In the poem Wordsworth pushes us through the present, the past and the future. When I arrived at Belle Vue, the pupils were working on tenses, and this raised the question of if we were to send a poem into the future, what would we put in it that would serve both as souvenir of our time on Earth now, and what we hope for the time when we grow up? Quickly humans with superpowers took hold, and the desire for time travelling cars, invisibility or winning a golden football boot all had their place in the poems.

Here’s Wordsworth’s original poem, and below, a playlist of our responses:


The Boat Stealing Caper

This week on the One Show, Arthur Smith travelled to Ullswater to re-create the boat-stealing episode from Wordsworth’s autobiographical epic, ‘The Prelude’. The story goes that Wordsworth aged around 10 years old sneaks out to the water’s edge one evening, his stomach tingling with butterflies. Where he finds, “A little boat tied to a willow tree / Within a rocky cove, its usual home.”







The young Wordsworth resolves to steal the boat and to row it steadily across Lake Windermere. The lake is calm and still, and he dips his oars into the clear, moon-reflecting water.


Straight I unloosed [the skiff’s] chain, and stepping in
Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
Leaving behind her still, on either side,
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light.




It is one of English literature’s most famous scenes. The visually arresting description of the lake, the round moon’s reflection turning to bootlaces as his oars enter the water. The silent power of Nature’s beauty quickly transforms Wordsworth’s initial awe at the size of a mountain’s shadow in the dark, with its broad silhouetted shoulders and bristling trees, into fear, as, in his young mind, he perceives the mountain’s shape as the embodiment of both a supernatural, parental power, and that of his better conscience. He gives a sense of scale, of the young boy he was, so small in comparison to the enormous – the overpoweringly enormous – size of the mountain:




a huge peak, black and huge,

As if with voluntary power instinct,

Upreared its head.


Here the shape – part-real, part-imagined – blots out the light from the stars, and appears to have a “purpose of its own, / And measured motion like a living thing.” For the Romantics this moment in the poem is an expression of the sublime; of beauty and terror becoming intermingled – a particular note on the scale of human sensations which was enormously fashionable and the Zoella’s recommendation of its day. This gave rise to expeditions to sublime hotspots around Europe including Fingal’s Cave where visitors, including Wordsworth himself, could experience the sublime in relative safety. Long after the Prelude was completed, Wordsworth made his visit and although disappointed by the “motley” crowds, he was once again over-awed by the scale of the place, saying that by “flashing to that structure’s topmost height, / Ocean has proved its strength.” (from Staffa the Island).


In The Prelude, the guilt of stealing the boat catches up with the young Wordsworth, and the whole incident of being pursued by the mountain Wordsworth takes as an object lesson in behaviour – the moral of the story is simple, don’t steal boats, but it comes from an encounter with the fantastical – the mountain that came alive.


That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.



Today I travelled to St Bees Village School to visit Year 6, to see if we couldn’t come up with some of our own boat adventures. The idea was to create an adventure of an entirely different kind. The fantastical elements would still be there, but rather than going out and stealing a boat, and being taught rather overtly, a moral lesson, we made some recipes instead. A recipe for a boat adventure.




The question we started with was quite simple: for our boat adventure what would we need in terms of ingredients? Very quickly we re-entered the realm of the fantastical. There were plenty of excellent young poets who felt that because there were no limitations whatsoever, why not have a cauldron that specifically melts other cauldrons? This is why, it could be argued, that including Mum on the trip specifically ‘so Mum can do the cooking’ is probably very wise, although there are plenty of other things that we agreed that Mum would also be good at if Dad did the cooking. Good idea. Or… or… can we have a book the size of Mars? And another important question, can I fit a mansion on a boat? Impressively smart and imaginative, St Bees Year 6 follow the saying of Robert Kennedy: “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Here are some of their excellent offerings, ingredients first, followed by *methods… 


*There was a certain amount of confusion surrounding how WiFi works, which became a strangely beautiful experimental motif…


ingredients-2 ingredients-3 ingredients-4 ingredients-5 ingredients-7 ingredients-8 ingredients-9 ingredients-10  ingredients-11ingredients-12



method-24 method-23 method-21 method-20 method-19 method-18 method-17 method-16 method-15 method-14 method-13 method-12 method-11 method-10 method-8 method-7 method-6 method-5 method-4 method-3 method-2 method method-24 method-23

The Site of the Evening Star

One of Wordsworth’s most famous poems, ‘Michael’ opens with a set of directions:

“If from the public way you turn your steps
Up the tumultuous brook of Greenhead Ghyll,
You will suppose that with an upright path
Your feet must struggle; in such bold ascent
The pastoral mountains front you, face to face.
But, courage!”


So today’s challenge: what happens if we follow these instructions?


To give us a proper bearing, a Romantic poet could have carried one of these…


A chronometer
…a fairly bulky travelling chronometer. This will give you a decent latitude and longitude reading. All the internet can tell me is that we’re headed for 54.49 latitude -2.99 longitude…




Tumultuous rating: 3    |   Reading Michael along Greenhead Gill, outside, in a light-breeze kind of tumult.


‘Michael – A Pastoral Poem’ was not in the original volume of the Lyrical Ballads from 1798, but was introduced into the back of the 1800 edition. The poem is a kind of prodigal son story in which the eponymous Michael, a shepherd and his wife, Isabel have made their home in a small, idyllic hillside cottage called ‘Evening Star’. They’ve fallen on hard times and Michael owes a debt he cannot repay. Although he is loathe to do so, he asks his son Luke to go to the city to work for a merchant and make some money. Luke can then come back, bail the family out, and take up the shepherd’s crook and cloak and continue the family farming tradition…


“Of remedies and of a cheerful hope.
Our Luke shall leave us, Isabel; the land
Shall not go from us, and it shall be free;
He shall possess it, free as is the wind
That passes over it.”




Inside the Wordsworth Museum there is a re-creation and a small layout to give you a sense of what Michael’s life might have been like: 


Tumultuous rating: 0   |    A diagram of future tumult


But [spoiler alert] the poem then takes a darker turn as Luke leaves for the great city, then loses it all, and Michael and his wife, ruined, die. The cottage falls into disrepair and is swept away, and all that remains are a few ‘unhewn’ stones and an oak tree beside a tumultuous brook. In today’s climate of food banks and austerity measures, the theme of ‘Michael’  strikes a familiar chord.


In a letter to leader of the Whigs (the equivalent to the Liberal Democrats) Charles James Fox in 1801, Wordsworth explains some of his reasoning:


It appears to me that the most calamitous effect which has followed the measures which have lately been pursued in this country, is, a rapid decay of the domestic affections among the lower orders of society. This effect the present rulers of this country are not conscious of, or they disregard it. For many years past, the tendency of society, amongst almost all the nations of Europe, has been to produce it ; but recently, by the spreading of manufactures through every part of the country, by the heavy taxes upon postage, by workhouses, houses of industry, and the invention of soup-shops, &c., super-added to the increasing disproportion between the price of labour and that of the necessaries of life, the bonds of domestic feeling among the poor, as far as the influence of these things has extended, have been weakened, and in innumerable instances entirely destroyed.





Tumultuous rating: 5   |    Not crashing water, but the prospect of it.


In the process of composition, on the morning of the 11th October 1800, Dorothy and William Wordsworth set off in search of Greenhead Gill, the very real place of the poem’s setting. Dorothy describes it in her journal as “a fine October morning”.


Find ‘the public way’. Today the public way is probably the A591 leading out of Grasmere. Next, ‘turn your steps’ to head ‘Up the tumultuous brook of Greenhead Ghyll’.


On the corner of the A591 there’s a pub, a payphone and a postbox which mark the turn…



Tumultuous rating: 4   |    A man smooths his eyebrows, another rests his pint of beer, the sound of finished work being pulled up.


At the end of a pristine tarmac driveway, there is the beautifully clear Greenhead Gill tumbling over the rocks. The view, the sound, the isolation, the breath of the air is elemental, meditative… From that same instinct of ‘Wherever I lay my head is home’ there is a kind of physical tuning in.


“But soon as Luke, full ten years old, could stand
Against the mountain blasts; and to the heights,
Not fearing toil, nor length of weary ways,
He with his Father daily went, and they
Were as companions, why should I relate
That objects which the Shepherd loved before
Were dearer now? that from the Boy there came
Feelings and emanations—things which were
Light to the sun and music to the wind;”



You quickly get a richer understanding of the effect, bodily, of being in such close contact with this landscape, reaching with the tips of your fingers for a handhold in the part-scarlet bracken which comes away, more fragile than you’d imagined.

Through the gate…



Tumultuous rating: 8   |    Far off water becoming its own descendant.



“For, as it chanced,
Their cottage on a plot of rising ground
Stood single, with large prospect, north and south,
High into Easedale, up to Dunmail-Raise,
And westward to the village near the lake;
And from this constant light, so regular
And so far seen, the House itself, by all
Who dwelt within the limits of the vale,
Both old and young, was named The Evening Star.”



…and open up Google Maps…




‘Re-centre-ing’ is not much help when your immediate area is a monochrome green. Time to head back to the poem for a bit of Wordsworthian SatNav advice… “The pastoral mountains front you, face to face…”



Tumultuous rating: 9   |    Loud enough to overpower the sound of a doorbell, the bark of a dog, or the slam of a book.


“Of an unusual strength; his mind was keen
Intense and frugal, apt for all affairs,”



Tumultuous rating: 10   |    A car backfires, you hear nothing. A tornado jet crosses the valley, you keep climbing.


The sound of Greenhead Gill:



“Near the tumultuous brook of Greenhead Ghyll,
In that deep valley, Michael had designed
To build a Sheepfold; and, before he heard
The tidings of his melancholy loss,
For this same purpose he had gathered up
A heap of stones, which by the streamlet’s edge
Lay thrown together, ready for the work.”



As you head upward, you unlock a rusty gate which lets out a chewed confession of its age and at a ledge you come to a bit of a dead end…


Tumultuous rating: 9   |    From under the bridge a bird darts through, the water tongues its falling echoes.


You abandon the path, hold low branches, each as thick as a piece of chalk, and where it glazes, clamber across the rush, and then into a steep climb, mud, dark mud, black mud, and on it sheep wool, a tuft. You may not be able to get back down, so you watch for the split in the cloud for the sun, if it winks out behind the opposite peak, that’s it, all dark, just your phone and torch and wherewithal to get you home. It may be necessary to memorise the shapes of trees, their crowns, whether the nests look lived in. 


“Fields, where with cheerful spirits he had breathed
The common air; hills, which with vigorous step
He had so often climbed; which had impressed
So many incidents upon his mind
Of hardship, skill or courage, joy or fear;”



Then, ahead, you see this picnicker, someone’s dog perhaps, imagine the clack clack of tupperware, or the slow ‘haltch’ of someone biting into an apple…



Tumultuous rating: 2   |    Something in your pillow beating, or your heart, or the heating.


Then, suddenly, suddenly, suddenly, suddenly, in the face of the hill… it was as if the hill had been struck by the spade of a colossus…



Tumultuous rating: 3   |    An empty suburban row of houses, the question of a bicycle, the answer, instead, of the postman pushing her red, reflectored trolley.


And, then at last, turning around:



“…he learned the meaning of all winds,
Of blasts of every tone; and, oftentimes,
When others heeded not, he heard the South
Make subterraneous music, like the noise
Of bagpipers on distant Highland hills.
The Shepherd, at such warning, of his flock
Bethought him, and he to himself would say,
‘The winds are now devising work for me!’
And, truly, at all times, the storm, that drives
The traveller to a shelter, summoned him
Up to the mountains: he had been alone
Amid the heart of many thousand mists,
That came to him, and left him, on the heights.”


This is the sound of where Michael might have lived, the site of their cottage, the site of The Evening Star:



Extract from William Wordsworth’s ‘Michael’ from Harry Man on Vimeo.



Noun Then

To kick us off, today, I’ve been looking at oulipo. Both radical and experimental, it would seem to fit with Wordsworth’s ideals as set out in his preface to the Lyrical Ballads. These poems, Wordsworth said, “are to be considered experiments.”

(Georges Perec: Source)

OuLiPo stands for “Ouvroir de littérature potentielle”, which translates loosely as, “The opening up of potential literature”. There’s also a bit of nuance there, and you could just as easily read it as the opening of “literary possibilities”. As such it seems like the right point to start from – a place where anything is possible.


Oulipo was founded in November 1960 by a group of writers, artists and mathematicians including Raymond Queneau, Georges Perec, Marcel Duchamp (famous for ‘Fountain’ – a urinal which he called his own art and displayed publicly in France in 1917) and François Le Lionnais. 

The founders of OuLiPo created poems which would take 200 million years to read end to end, and a detective novel which contained no letter ‘e’ in all of its 325 pages. The group were profoundly interested in breaking the surface of the language and to question language as a means to convey imagined experience. Simultaneously they wanted to show that literary invention could stem from self-imposed constraints as much as from the more traditional view – the inspired artist.


Raymond Queneau's Cent mille milliards de poèmes or 'Hundred Thousand Billion Poems' comprising 11 sonnets, with each line cut horizontally, making them interchangeable. When asked how long it might take to read he said, "Maybe 200 million years."
Raymond Queneau’s Cent mille milliards de poèmes or ‘Hundred Thousand Billion Poems’ comprising 11 sonnets, with each line cut horizontally, making them interchangeable. When asked how long it might take to read every possible sonnet he said, “Maybe 200 million years.”


In the 1800 edition of the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth speaks of the need to use the language of “conversation” and that readers expecting conventional poetry might “frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness” in order to enjoy the poems. In OuLiPo a favourite technique was “S + 7” (also called ’N + 7’) in which poets used existing, well-known texts and replaced every noun with another noun found seven places further along in the dictionary.

Using one of Wordsworth’s most famous poems which begins, ‘I wandered lonely as a Cloud’ I fed the 1815 version of the poem into an N+7 machine I found online…



Highlights of potential opening lines included:



I wandered lonely as a Cloudburst



I wandered lonely as a Clove



I wandered lonely as a Clubhouse





I wandered lonely as a Coachman


Wordsworth first published the poem in 1804, before revising it in 1815. Here’s the second, the 1815 version in its entirety.



I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden Daffodils;
Beside the Lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:-
A Poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.





There’s a neat structural trick in ‘Daffodils’. Wordsworth plays with the idea of how much the experience of seeing daffodils is worth. The daffodils are ‘golden’ and from the exhilaration of seeing them for the first time, there is a lasting ‘wealth’. This we are told relatively directly, but the poem allows us the same experience. We arrive on the daffodils as they ‘flash upon that inward eye’ of the imagination, and are drawn back to Ullswater, to the sudden shock, against a grey sky of a bold, flash of yellow colour, to the consideration of the flowering of daffodils as ephemeral, as being like our own lives; short-lived and transient in comparison to the greater passage of time, for example says Wordsworth, think of the stars of the Milky Way.




Even as we consider these ideas, we are also thinking of daffodils, which, as the poem has told are a kind of bliss. The meditation which might otherwise be a daunting and melancholic ride comes with a kind of safety harness. We can experience feelings of existential crisis, but it’s okay, there is plenty of beauty to be found in thinking about how quickly our own lives will pass, and better still, the idea of thinking about how short our own lives are is something that is blissful to do. For me this cosmic consideration of mortality fused with the more humble experience of seeing daffodils is where the poem’s ambition lies, and that’s almost certainly part of the reason why ‘Daffodils’ is still so loved today.


Meanwhile, I’ve been plugging away, and by hand, working through my oulipo constraint of N+ something… I have been using a portable electronic Concise Oxford English Dictionary, which I have in my room, and at around N + 20 I have come up with my replacement nouns. I have taken a couple of liberties here and there by exchanging verbs too, largely because the resulting poem isn’t too serious. The daffodils of existential contemplation have been thus transmogrified from ‘dancing’ into ‘dandruffing’ and our ‘wandering’ to ‘waterskiing’…



“I water-skied lonely as a clownfish”





I water-skied lonely as a clownfish
That flusters on hijackings o’er vanishing creams and hindsight,
When all at once I saxophoned to a crow’s nest,
A hot air balloon of golden daisy chains;
Beside the lollapalooza, beneath the tree of life,
Flyfishing and dandruffing in the bric-a-brac.

Continuous as the stars that show-and-tell
And two-step on the Milky Way,
They were strewn in newly-wed lingua franca
Along the marinated beachfront:
Ten thousand I saxophoned at a glassworks,
Tractor-beaming their headings in sprightly dandruff.

The waxed jackets beside them dandruffed; but they
Outperformed the spawning waxed jackets in glissandos:
A point-of-departure could be nothing but geeky
In such a johnny-come-lately compatability:
I gelatinized—and—gelatinized but little thought-transference
On what weather stations the shutdown to me had built-in:

For oft, when on my local councillor I lie
When vacuuming or pensive moonwalking,
They flight simulator upon that inward eyeshot
Which is the blockbuster of soluble antibodies;
And then my heat-exchanger with plesiosaurs fills,
And dandruffs with the daisy chains.






So, how was it done? As well as looking more directly at nouns, I also looked at verbs, and perhaps unsurprisingly there are a lot of nouns in the English language that can be easily converted into verbs, think of the ‘padlocked’ shed or when someone ‘radioed’ for help. The challenge then is to stick fairly meticulously to the verb + 20 verb-positions along in the dictionary. I flexed the rules here and there to be slightly safer to use in a classroom, let’s just say ‘saxophoned’ is a safer alternative and leave it at that.


My portable Concise Oxford English Dictionary – found underneath some hardback books in a charity shop in Tooting. Sadly no instructions are available in English, so until such a time as I learn to read Simplified Chinese, the meaning of the buttons along the top of this lovely little device will remain a mystery.


Wordsworth Sounding Begins!

 ‘Grasmere from Heron Pike’ above is by Alex Nail. You can find more of his work at http://www.alexnail.com


Descending down through the Postman Pat-like snaking lines of dry walls, and the high, intimidating ridges of wet green limestone, you turn a corner and Grasmere unfolds in front of you, giving the appearance of some primordial sound chamber. A place which, to mix a metaphor, is visually orchestral, with its rusted browns, and high, exalted peaks. Never mind the roadworks, which seems to be in aid of some kind of pipe-repair, or the occasional, and unavoidable slurring err of cars, this is a magical place.





So what are we doing here? In this blog, I will be looking at some of the poetry composed in and around Dove Cottage, both by the Romantic poet that made Dove Cottage his home, William Wordsworth, and by the other Romantics that came to Grasmere, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. Using elements of their poetry as a starting point, I will be conducting my own experiments, to craft poetry in response to the ideas that were around almost 220 years ago; a time of burgeoning environmentalism, radical politics, philosophical enlightenment, and new scientific discovery. The poetry on this blog is by community groups, local writing groups, teachers and pupils from across Cumbria, as well as some poems from me, Harry Man.