For ‘Where I’m Coming From’ we ask poets about the landscapes that inspire them.
Stewart Carswell, poet/guitarist, whose pamphlet Knots and Branches is published by Eyewear Publishing, says his poems are shaped by the Forest of Dean.
“The Forest of Dean is, as Dennis Potter described it, a “place between two rivers”: separated from Wales by the River Wye, and from the rest of the West Country by the River Severn. It is a unique and particular place, with a sense of isolation and enclosure that is enhanced by the afforested nature of the landscape. It’s where I grew up, and I return there often – it’s difficult to leave it for long.
Poetry for me is formed from connections and juxtapositions of images, and the Forest lends itself well to poetry because of the many layers of it that you can use and combine within a poem. There’s the rich industrial heritage, including mining, timber, and charcoal production; there’s the visible landscape of the Forest; and there’s the contemporary, human element, including my own memories and experiences of the place. Blending all of these together is where the poems come from.
Some of my poems, while not directly about the Forest, are still influenced by it, in tune with the Forest’s character and atmosphere. The poems are layered with secrets and mystery, poems that can only occur because of the landscape within which they are set.
A poem to illustrate my use of the Forest is Red Hart. This poem forms part of a longer sequence, creating a journey into the Forest, through its history, and towards my own personal future.
Red Hart is the start of the journey, beginning with the beginnings of industry – iron ore mining in the Iron Age. The iron ore was mined by excavating the veins close to the surface. The remaining hollows are called ‘scowles’, a strange rocky landscape of exposed stone pillars and deep narrow clefts and caves, now covered by mosses, ferns, and ancient yew trees.”
Born out of this:
the great earth cracked
in the Forest,
with that initial chisel hit,
the hammer strike
into the veins
richer and deeper
and thicker than blood
beneath the crags
where yew trees reach
out their twisted roots
like the hand of a guide
towards the fire
that smelts, purifies,
toughens the ground:
forge a tool,
leave your mark.
This poem was first published in Envoi.
Stewart will be reading from Knots and Branches at Bristol Poetry Festival 2016 on Thursday 13th October.
Full details of the festival line up can be found on the Poetry Can website. www.poetrycan.co.uk/bristol-poetry-festival -2016