Sunday, 27 August 2017

A purple shimmer with peacocks

A purple shimmer of Blue John,
a peacock flare hidden in crystal :
the Unfinished Poems project at
Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Dig and chisel and quarry and flake,

Polish black or shimmer blue,

Of languid tale or unslumbering wake,

Minerals glinting with a different hue,

Of rock and earth for sorrow or mirth,

For times gone by and of memories new.

(Laura Huxford)

The Collections of the Artists project is reaching its final stages now. Exciting pieces of work are poised to appear among the treasures of the Wonders of the Peak gallery in Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

this landscape offers a lot
I have been writing poems and stories inspired by the collection. There have been earlier pieces here (links at foot of page). One of the latest pieces I have been working on is not a single bit of writing but is rather a set of unfinished poems: 2 lines that might provoke a response relating to different aspects of the collection. There are 8 of these poems, printed on postcards with a picture to colour in and some possibly useful words scattered around, inviting people to complete the poems as they explore, colour in the picture and send the postcard to a friend (but hoping they will send us the poems as well!)

The first poems are coming in now so I thought I would post these and invite readers of the blog to add their own responses to the opening lines. You may never have seen our Galleries but then you might have your own history of over-enthusiastic diggers, beautiful stone and prehistoric tool makers…

There are 8 Poems in the set: I’ll do the 3 here that we’ve had responses to and post others over the next couple of weeks
(uncredited poems are ones handed in by visitors with no name attached)

If you do write your own completed poem: send it to
I can’t promise to use everything but will try to

Ashford Black Marble with inlaid decoration


Starting points here are the Ashford Black Marble pieces and our Blue John carvings and window

these are the line drawings visitors have been colouring in

2. Dig and chisel and quarry and flake,
Polish black or shimmer blue,
In everything I seek,
None can compare
To the Wonders of the Peak

Unfinished poem:
Dig and chisel and quarry and flake,
Polish black or shimmer blue

Useful words: new, wake, make, bake, flew, blew


those cairns didn't stand much chance
A lot of our collection grew from the efforts of those Victorian enthusiasts who went out across and under the Peaks

3. Shovels and spades dig piles of earth
Burrowing into the ancient mound
Where my ancestor lies undisturbed
Until I pull him out.

 4. Shovels and spades dig piles of earth
Burrowing into the ancient mound
A spade is a spade by no other name
So, it is plain to say, just shovel away

Unfinished poem:
Shovels and spades dig piles of earth
Burrowing into the ancient mound

Useful words: worth, hearth, treasures, found, ground

And largely as a result of those Victorians above, we have a large collection of prehistoric tools including delicate Mesolithic flints that lie like notes on the staves of their display cards. There are careful arrowheads, polished stone axes and more…
mesolithic flints
5. A hammer blow splits flint from stone,
A firebow wakes embers from the wood,
A knife splits flesh from the bone,
The echoes sound throughout the wood.

6. A hammer blow splits flint from stone,
A firebow wakes embers from the wood,
The branch bends, the sinew sings,
That flint on an arrow
Brings the goose to the fire
And the family rests.
(Creeping Toad)

Unfinished poem:

A hammer blow splits flint from stone,
A firebow wakes embers from the wood,

Useful words: moan, groan, alone, bone, good, food

With many thanks to the writers, known and unknown, of our finished poems!  

Blogs connected to this proejct:

Sunday, 13 August 2017

A dark necklace

A dark necklace…

Telling Toads, 2:

poems and stories for the Year of the Toad

The poems are still slipping in. Slowly, carefully, toad-hopping rather than frog-leaping, possibly even salamander-crawling, but I am hoping to share a new set of words every month and here are the offerings from July

A Haiku special is brewing and a set of photos to give you something to think about is coming in the next few days

I put out a request on facebook for some extra photos to accompany poems and stories and am now wading through an amphibian tidal wave of images. It does, however, give me some rich images to choose from…

If you'd like to find out more about this project, visit the blog post here: Telling Toads

Thanks you, Jane Millum
1. Friend Frog
Tessa Strickland

Friend Frog, your eyes are water jewels.
   Looking at you, I see orbs
of liquid mineral looking back.

You are as inscrutable as a Buddha,
    and I wonder, what is it that you see
gazing out of your frog world

at this bulky, shadowed being-thing
    which has arms and legs, like you,
a heart, like you, but a breathing  apparatus

that can no longer live amphibiously,
    a body that can no longer leap
between river and hill.

Friend Frog, you who can
    hear the earth talk, who can sense
the shifting tremors of the underworld

with your small, exquisite body,
    you who can see and hear and interpret
the elements in ways that are lost to me,

Forgive me, Friend Frog,
   for the way I trample through your domain
in heavy boots.

one of Rob's Axolotls
2. Axolotl
Rob Bounds
In the 1980’s I had one of these amphibians – one of a number of waifs and strays pets adopted alongside gerbils, hamsters and an ill-tempered rabbit.  Said creature came into my possession after its previous owner thought it would make an interesting additional to his fish tank, resulting in his aquarium ending up goldfishless!

30 or so years later I now have another one of these fascinating “walking fish” – alongside a collection of other waif and stray pets…..

When people see this Mexican marvel they frequently say….

“What is that…?”
Some say he’s ugly, some say he is cute.
With his feathery gills he looks like a newt.
He’s not a frog and he’s not a toad,
you won’t see him in a pond or crossing the road.

He’s incredibly rare and can’t be found in the wild.
He never grows up – he’s a perpetual child.
He’s the Water Dog god the Aztecs called Xolotl
Meet my amphibian friend the Axolotl.

3. Haikode to the beginnings of Toad
By WeeVee left as a comment on an earlier post

Elegant toadspawn
Festooned from weed like bunting
Aristocrat toads

Frogs lay globulous
Blobs discombobulous
Toads think 'how common'

3 Pond thoughts
Gordon MacLellan
Some experiments here with a  fib poem (follows a Fibonacci sequence in its lines) and two cinquains (a set sequence of syllables). I then got caught in a personal discussion about whether "wriggling" is two syllables or three

And again,
And tadpoles squirming
Into a wriggling explosion
Fill a pond with life and hope and dreams of transformation.

A string of pearls,
Dark necklace for green weeds,
A gift of wriggling cheerfulness,
With hops.

Legs on a lump
Of knobbled mud, turning slow,
Blinking golden eyes, gulps a fly,
And stops.

With many thanks to our poets and photographers

What's going on? background to this project: Telling Toads 

First poems and pictures are publsihed here:  The First Elegant Hops

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The Flamingo's Beak

The Flamingo’s Beak

and other stories

Visual Stories Project

Newark Library


A walnut tree drops green-husked nuts on the pavement outside Newark Library and squirrels busily chew their way into those tender centres. I wonder if any get a chance to ripen fully before our summer ends - or the squirrels take them all, but that is another story

We had enough stories of our own inside the library on Monday 7th August. New stories: not written into books or spoken onto disc, just stories growing over the afternoon, adding faces and feathers, settling into written words for some, staying fluid and shifting and verbal for others.

Koala mask and story-card
We heard about the sunlight and shadows that painted stripes on the zebra and the tiger that was hunting her. We met the koala reduced to wearing a furry grey onsie when the parrots stole his colourful feathers. There was a flamingo who dipped her beak in an inkwell and has been black-tipped ever since (but who makes some pocket-money writing postcards for all the other animals who can’t). Then there was the beautiful alicorn, adventurous mice, a cat, an owl, a dolphin and a seal.
My fellow artist in this workshop was Jessica Kemp who was getting the mask-making going. More of Jess' work can be viewed here

Goyle of Notre Dame
Goyle perched on his pedestal, his deep red eyes observing the world below. The chattering people were like ants - chittering constantly. Sometimes there was destruction but Goyle knew he was safe on the top of Notre Dame. As he padded along the stone columns and was about to lift his wings when he heard a crow.

“Dead things! Everything I eat, everything humans eat are dead things!”

Curiously, Goyle asked, “What about chocolate?”

The crow jumped up, “Eek! Ya scared me, son, but I will answer your question. Chocolate is dead coco beans like bread is dead wheat!”

When Goyle told his family they were so shocked they all turned to stone! So next time you scare your friends, make sure you do not scare them like the crow.

My apologies to the young man who wrote Goyle's Story: I didn't catch your name! if you see this post, let me know and I'll add it. Well done! What a neat, vivid tale.

This was my last workshop for the Visual Stories project but there are more library sessions (in Nottinghamshire) to come during the holidays. Visit the website here to find out where and when

To see about some of our other adventures in this project, visit this post:  As black as two top hats
The Unicat's Garden
an elegant Alicorn

Saturday, 5 August 2017

as black as two top hats

As black and as smart as two Top Hats

The Visual Stories Project,


Summer 2017

a watchful cheetah

a bird not be trifled with
In July and August I have been one of the artists involved in the Visual Stories Project* for Nottinghamshire’s Inspire organisation

Here, storytellers and visual artists (mostly mask makers) have been working with children from West Bridgford and Mattersey Primary Schools and other children in libraries during the school holidays to blend storytelling with mask-making and then shaping new stories either as individuals or as whole companies.

The results of school workshops are on display in West Bridgford and Retford Libraries just now. An online resource arising from the project should develop by the autumn.

In my sessions, predictably, our stories wandered in many directions. In Mattersey we heard stories about a bold Pirate Frog sailing his plastic boat across the wide seas of grass and of a lonely hedgehog. 

The artist team included
Anna Roebuck, maker
Stephen John Mask-maker
Nicky Rafferty, storyteller 
Jess Kemp, maker

The Frog Pirate
There was a frog who wanted to be a pirate and go looking for treasure. He made a boat in a plastic box, with dry grass for a soft bed and a stick mast with a big leaf for a sail. He sailed across the seas of grass where the grass sharks swam and mud-whales appeared until he reached the pond. In the pond, he could see an island and he thought there must be treasure buried on that island! When he sailed his boat onto the pond, the water bubbled in through the holes in its bottom. The boat sank. But the frog could swim so he was safe. He found some treasure but he couldn’t take it anywhere so he stayed there on the island in the pond counting his gold.

a tiger mask and tiger story
In library workshops, drawing on this year’s Summer Reading Challenge theme of Animal Agents, we wandered again. We have heard unexpected stories: of a seagull and a butterfly, of the mouse who tickled the tiger’s nose (not always a good plan), of a beautiful bird from Hogwarts Academy (a firebird, not the same as a Phoenix)

Firebird story in development: we worked with pop-up sculptures

Animal masks grew from card with Stephen Jon Mask-maker or from recycled plastic bags where the deft use of iron by Anna Roebuck melted carrier bag collage into tough plastic forms

I’ll post pictures below with some of our poems and stories….

Mattersey PS
Find your way into a world of animals and stories:

Behind the tree where the owl sleeps,
Across the sky where the arrows shoot,
Beside the tree where the deer leaps,
Between the trees where the fox waits,
Over a bridge where a troll sleeps,
If you stand there
You will find baby hedgehogs

Foxes chase rabbits, chase deer
Through this bright sunny forest
And if you come here you will find butterflies dancing together in the sky.

Two crows

There were crows,

Two crows,

As black as darkness,

As black as night-time,

As black as black as black,

As black and as smart as two Top-hats.

Two crows

As naughty as owls,

As naughty as little sisters,

Even naughtier than pigeons

That pinch people’s bottoms.

Two crows, out looking for trouble…

building stories with models and scavenged objects

Once there was a hedgehog who had no friends. None of the other animals would talk to him because he was so prickly and they thought he would prickle them.
One day he curled up in his hedgehog house under the shed and dreamed of rainbows. He dreamed of sliding down rainbows. He dreamed of meeting the rabbits that live in the sky and making friends with them.
Then he woke up and he woke up feeling sad because he knew he would still be lonely. But when he woke up he saw that all his prickles were rainbow coloured and beside him was a rainbow rabbit. They were best friends forever.

Summer Holiday Library workshop stories

The Mouse's Food Swap
One normal day, a mouse went to get his usual food which was apples but when he got there all the apples had vanished. The mouse was very disappointed until he spotted three trees full of berries. The mouse scurried up the trees as quick as he could. And from that day onwards he always ate berries and as he ate the berries and needed to climb in the trees to get them his tail grew longer and could wrap itself round branches
(Sutton-in-Ashfield Library)

Rosetta the Cheetah Queen
Once upon a time, there was lived a beautiful cheetah called Rosetta who was the Queen of the Rainbow World. One day, she went on an adventure so she packed her bag of delicious rainbow trifle and rainbow fizz and then she set off. On her way, she saw a beautiful rainbow but then she came across a cheetah witch who was very bad and tried to kill her. But she didn’t. To be continued….
(Stapleford Library)

Rosetta (on the left) and a beaker of rainbow fizz, with straw

*Visual Stories is a county (Nottinghamshire) wide project inspired by the Summer Reading Challenge theme Animal Agents. Animal Agents is running in all Inspire libraries from 15 July to 10 September.  Find out more
Visual artists and story tellers have worked with schools to create wonderful exhibitions for two of Inspires library galleries this summer in West Bridgford and Retford.