25 May 2014

Spring Song

’Twas coal black, the sky, over valley and hill,
trees, grasses, shrubs shaking in northerly chill,
birds glad to keep shelter in feathery beds,
and leaf buds contented to hide their green heads.

Then sudden, the wind died, all’s quiet as a tomb,
’til bells jingled merrily out through the gloom,
and twilight illumined the source of this sound,
the Happenstance Border folk, dancing a round.

High summit, their staging, close by to the clouds,
which draped Gloucester county in purple pink shrouds,
and while the folk flurried, away swept the dawn,
as slowly the sun rose to welcome the morn.

And then, the whole shireland lay gleaming in gold,
from rivers to fields to the top of the wold,
the fish in the Isbourne, the pigs in their sty,
the flecked running rabbits, the larks pealing high.

Jack saw and smiled widely within his grand bower,
and all of his hawthorns burst into full flower,
some white, others crimson, delightful display,
to celebrate spring on the first day of May.

* * *

Very early on Thursday 1 May, Happenstance welcomed in the May on the top of Cleeve Hill.

Alas, the P-i-R was unable to attend, once again for reasons of ill-health. However, physical absence need not prevent a poem, as Mrs T. was able to describe the morning. Unfortunately, it had rained. Yet mere inclemency need not heed the poet’s progress either, as the rain of the natural world yields to the reign of imagination. (P-i-R adjusts an imaginary crown.)

Thus this song, another ‘waltzer’. Whereas in ‘Rocket Dance’ the first beat to be stressed is the third of each line, here it is the second. The form that resembles this sequence most closely is the dactyl – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dactyl_(poetry) – though here we have an unstressed first beat and a silent beat at the end of each line, to make four beats in total: ~ — ~ ~ — ~ ~ — ~ ~ — (~)

I researched May Day online, particularly for reading on Jack in the Green (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_in_the_Green). I’m interested in folklore, if that’s the correct expression! And Spring is such an exuberant season, as nature bursts into bloom.


Upton Sticks

Full uniformed, six stand and scowl,
   contesting threats with grimmer growl,
wild weaponry awaiting shout
   to thrust both sides to raucous rout;
the signal sounds and all advance
   on fearless feet in potent prance,
encircling enemies awhile,
   with fiery eyes and scornful smile;
and then – thwack-thwack! – the stalwart six
   wage Cotswold war of striking sticks,
weave right left, windmill all around
   the entertaining battle ground;
ragged reports in echoes tell
   of flooded fields where fighters fell,
accompanied by rising wails
   as steam train passes ghostly trails;
yet this is not a dance to death,
   to end exhaling broken breath,
instead all fight off gleefully
   in time of camaraderie.

* * *

This poem was inspired by watching Happenstance perform their last set at Wartime in the Cotswolds. This was at Toddington Station, during the late afternoon of Sunday 27 April. Alas, P-i-R was a little late to the event due to ill-health, a common scenario.

The piece is performed in iambic tetrameter and it has five verses. I use semi-colons to divide the verses, rather than a full stop and a blank line, to recall the relentless rhythm of the train as it travels through the Cotswolds. The rhyme scheme overall is AABBCCDDEEFFGGHHIIJJ.

The dance ‘Upton Sticks’ seemed a good fit with the theme of war, as some of its elements are pretty fierce! I include the train itself for hints of ghostliness, the steam and the whistle, and the flooded fields as a nod to Flanders, or any fighting grounds.

I muse often on war, not only WWI and WWII, but all conflicts to the present day. However, Wartime in the Cotswolds aimed to present ‘a lighter look at wartime life’ (http://www.gwsr.com/news/latest-news/a-75-year-journey-back-in-time-on-the-gwr.aspx), so my poem ends in the same spirit.

Requiescat in pace,

A Garland for Happenstance

How still, past customs lie in crumbling tombs
   where memory comes seldom to adorn
the greying graves with spring’s vivacious blooms
   whose scents and colours charm fresh calls to mourn;
for swathes of haze screen signs to culture mounds,
   each pathway spinning thickets to dissuade
the traveller from remembering the grounds
   of former fame, their mappings thus mislaid;
yet persevere, to track the treasure trails
   to yester realm, pass under old oak limbs
and raise tradition high in shining sails
   of greenest garlands, as forgetting dims.
Such monuments so tended may endure
and ancient arts revive for evermore.

* * *

I wrote this poem to present to Cressida at the GWSR event Wartime in the Cotswolds. This event ‘mark[ed] the official inauguration’ of the P-i-R (http://www.gwsr.com/news/latest-news/happenstance-border-morris-at-war-in-the-cotswolds.aspx), so it seemed courteous that the P-i-R mark this too. And many thanks to Brian for reading; it was a real treat to hear the ‘Garland’ in such pleasant and resonant tones <(:-)

It’s a sonnet! Huzzah! The English sonnet is my favourite poetic form, familiar from studying Shakespeare during the A-level years. It’s structured as three quatrains (a quatrain is a verse of four lines) and a final couplet, with the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG. The third quatrain tends to introduce a turn (known in the original Italian sonnet as the ‘volta’) towards resolution in the last two lines.

Inspiration for the ‘Garland’ came from the Squire’s thoughts on ‘intangible heritage’, see via GWSR link. I googled and arrived at UNESCO (http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?lg=en&pg=00002). As I read, images came to mind of a burial ground for cultures, sparking the pictures I paint in the piece. However, each cultural form has potential for resurrection, for as long as it endures in living memory. I was musing also on Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, in which the former composer pays homage to the Baroque French keyboard suite while remembering friends killed during the First World War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_tombeau_de_Couperin).

I find I have many musings on intangible heritage, but this may suffice for now. The rhythm I hear is iambic pentameter, sustained throughout. There’s scope to mix things up with an extra-syllable feminine rhyme or trochaic foot (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonnet), but regularity comes naturally to the ears of the P-i-R, to the extent that irregularity makes me feel as though my head is falling off! That is not an enjoyable experience.


19 May 2014


Two partner two in people square,
four step to rouse a jingling sound,
while brandishing lean leg of chair.

Firm fists rise fast through winter air,
feet pummel pattered pavement ground,
two partner two in people square.

Green blue rags flurry with fine flair,
as all ring out and ring around,
while brandishing lean leg of chair.

Band blasting cues return to pair,
both sweeping sticks in punching pound,
two partner two in people square.

Game feathers gleam in sunshine stare,
and startle at each bending bound
while brandishing lean leg of chair.

Thus Peopleton at Cotswold fair,
a dance to charm and to astound:
two partner two in people square,
while brandishing lean leg of chair.

* * *

This is the final piece in my mini-series of poems inspired by Happenstance at the Cheltenham Folk Festival.

The form is known as a villanelle, or villanesque. I prefer ‘villanelle’ because of all the lllls. A villanelle consists of 19 lines, five verses of three lines each and a final verse of four lines. The first and third line of the first verse repeat throughout the poem, as the last line of subsequent verses of three lines, and as the last two lines of the last verse.

As with Isbourne, I hear this poem in iambic tetrameter. The rhyme scheme is ABA until the last verse, ABAA. I found it essential to pick words that have a lot of rhymes, so I didn’t run out of possibilities!

Wikipedia explains that ‘villanelle’ comes from Italian ‘villanella’, ‘a rustic song or dance’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villanelle). Of course, Peopleton is a town, but I nod to rustic matters with my ‘lean leg of chair’. I chose this form as the choreography of the dance reminds me of the choreography of the poem. I’m not sure whether I’m making sense at present, so please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of further assistance. (P-i-R has been working a little hard lately.)


Song of the Stones

Here we stand upon the plain
   in our weathered ring;
know the nature of our grain,
   hear the song we sing.

Millions of years ago
   on our native land,
steady sea and river flow
   layered silt and sand.

Onto silt-sand water poured,
   full of magic quartz,
formed a solid sarsen hoard
   fit for shielding forts.

Ice Age freeze and thaw swept Earth,
   cracked the sandstone store,
so we boulders had our birth
   as majestic tor.

On the southern downs we lay
   in our grassy bed,
until one New Stone Age day,
   Man came by and said:

‘We have built a healing place
   high on yonder mound;
now we ask, with goodly grace,
   come, protect our ground.’

We agreed and sledge was rolled,
   with five hundreds force,
sky turned purple, red and gold,
   as we took our course.

Then Man raised us with glad cries
   all round bluestones shrine,
stars shone countless wondrous eyes
   on our lofty line.

Thus began our watch to keep
   till the end of time,
when this world at last shall sleep,
   silencing our rhyme.

Here we stand upon the plain
   in our weathered ring;
know the nature of our grain,
   hear the song we sing.

* * *

This poem was inspired by watching Happenstance perform ‘Stones’ at the Festival. It’s another example of a piece that merges performance and imagination. I visited Stonehenge on the way back from a holiday in the New Forest in Autumn 2008 and I enjoyed revisiting the site through music and memories.

The rhythm of the Song takes it cue partly from the beat of the drum that contributes to the music. I hoped to muster the same strength in my writing; in performance, I start each line with a stressed syllable. This is not an iamb, but a trochee (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trochee), with the final word of each line held to make a total of four beats.

Sometimes a poem becomes a song in my head, as I listen to my words while writing them. This song makes for a bit of a spectacle too, as the stones sing of their birth, their journey to Salisbury Plain, and their purpose. I don’t know much about the history of the site, but I found a lot of useful information online (e.g. https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stonehenge/history-and-research/research/)

The notion that the large outer stones have a protective role, surrounding the smaller ‘bluestones shrine’, is my own, though there are a lot of theories concerning Stonehenge so it wouldn’t surprise me to unearth this via further e-foraging. I like the idea that the site was intended for healing.


Ode on Belas Knap

Long mound, by day, reclines in winter sun
   and stretches sleepily its turfy back
stacked neat on dry bone membrane, steelblade spun,
   four chambers nestling underneath stone rack.
Along grass flanks, three eyes survey the wold,
   the south is blind, but fifth, the northern orb,
      sits twixt stout horns to transport phantoms through;
this sees no Earth, no leaf buds to unfold,
   no steep wood shade where nature starts to daub
      a springtime carpet, of a greening hue.

Chill tomb, by night, releases spectral cries
   to haunt barn owl, who shudders though he wield
his hunting claws, while moonlit silver skies
   cast eerie flickers over hilltop field.
Crack-crack! A fire ignites atop the knoll
   and from the spirit portal souls emerge
      to circle and to leap the ghosts of flames;
shapes round the ring, a stocky mare and foal,
   a chortling boar, as underground streams surge
      in sheer delight to witness ancient games.

* * *

This is the second poem of the Festival series, with a slightly alternative approach to previous pieces! Whereas the pantoum, fourteener and waltzer take inspiration principally from Happenstance performances, this poem merges performance and imagination. (I sought approval from the Squire for this endeavour; ’twas generously bestowed.)

The ode form is familiar to me, as I studied English Lit. as one of my A-levels and Keats featured quite a lot. Classes didn’t include writing poetry, however, so when I came to compose my first ode a couple of years ago, I googled ‘how to write an ode’, to find out how many lines and how many stresses an ode requires, in addition to refreshing my memory concerning the rhyme scheme.

My odes tend to consist of just two verses, as I prefer to write shorter poems. And my experience as a member of an online poetry group is that people prefer to read shorter poems! The famous odes are longer; examples may be accessed via Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ode

I follow the common rhyme scheme of an English ode (ABABCDECDE) and I write with iambic pentameter in my ears simply because I feel it fits the form well. There’s more on iambic pentameter at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iambic_pentameter

I enjoyed writing this poem, recalling both the Morris performance and trips to Belas Knap, and discussing the geography of the area with Mrs T., who told me about Liz Poraj-Wilczynska and some of her findings. I read a bit of archaeology too and I liked especially the suggestion that the false entrance is a ‘spirit door’ (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/belas-knap-long-barrow/history-and-research/).

The spirit sequence itself, however, complete with chortling boar, is mine… all mine! (P-i-R laughs wildly.)


Rocket Dance

All long night, rains lashed lands made grey plains of despair,
from sheep fields to town streets, howls and shrieks filled the air,
tired trees creaking sore limbs fractured close to split free,
yet come day, calmer skies above Gloucestershire sea.

So a clearing is readied beside beechwood place,
for two rockets to launch into star-speckled space,
filled with fuels mixing shapes taught by engineer Roy,
blue green rows and rotations learned fit to deploy.

Chambers crackle and thwack from propelling note sets,
fire weaves red orange yellow in billowing jets,
rocketeers basket tight and prepare to go zoom,
ten nine eight seven six five four three two one BOOM!

* * *

This is my first poem inspired by Happenstance at the Cheltenham Folk Festival earlier this year.

This poem is what I like to call a ‘waltzer’, as the rhythm takes triple time. However, online searching reveals that the correct term is ‘anapaest’, consisting of ‘two short syllables followed by a long one’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anapaest). I chose this rhythm as I wanted the final line to be the countdown of the dance, to capture some of the exuberance of the performance. As usual, I have the listening experience, more than the reading experience, in mind.

I include the weather conditions in mid-February to enhance the theme of rocketing and to situate the poem after the winter storms of 2013/14. For many people, it was an exceptionally hard winter, so the milder weather permitting the launch of the rockets comes as a bit of a celebration. Huzzah!

I researched Roy Dommett too and I enjoyed this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkWBZ1lU36g


08 May 2014

The Winchcombe Morris side of yore

The Silk Mill Lane twins uptown streets in straight and north-east flow,
along the Isbourne as she streams by tall trees in a row,
and daisies sunning on moss banks whence country gardens grow,
whose rose-scent breezes bear the tunes of blackbird, robin, crow.

Yet listen closer as ye pass twixt town and river trails,
for something stirs from yesteryear beneath the way to Hailes,
the whirr of weaving, warning cries, a young girl’s screams and wails,
then louder still, the Morris men, a noise to scatter quails.

Cart House Below, the build of old to host this splendid thrum,
with Major on melodeon and Andrews on the drum,
then Randall on the triangle while others clap and hum,
in readiness for summer, when the finest dancers come.

All flocked to Abbey Terrace on the Whitsun holiday,
competing with near townsfolk in spectacular display,
bells pealing fit to blow the ears and make ye sing and sway,
the Winchcombe Morris side of yore that met down Silk Mill way.

* * *

This poem was my way of thanking Happenstance for the P-i-R invitation. I made a card and presented it to Cressida on 15th February at the Cheltenham Folk Festival 2014.

The poem’s subtitle is, ‘after Winchcombe Calvacade, by Eleanor Adlard’, and the subtitle of the Calvacade is, or sidelights on Winchcombe history. I don’t own a copy of the book, but I was able to access some useful information online, at http://www.folklife-west.co.uk/J3-winchc.pdf (page 2, ‘An Account of the Winchcombe Morris’). Unfortunately, the ‘excellent programme on Winchcombe Morris’ was unavailable. (Mr T. gets everywhere!)

The journal’s mention of Silk Mill Lane stirred memories of proofreading the script of ‘Steps Through Time’ in January 2013 (http://www.fostpw.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=9&Itemid=13) for (of course!) Mr T. In Act 2, Scene 3 two main characters discuss the mill, including the dangers involved in working there: ‘one little girl got caught in the wheels and was carried round the machinery’, hence the ‘screams and wails’ in my second verse.

‘The Winchcombe Morris side of yore’ is a fourteener, a poem in which each line contains 14 syllables. I didn’t know the proper term until just now, when I googled ‘fourteen syllable verse’! When I listen to my fourteeners, I hear a pause at the end of each line. That results in eight beats per line, which feels more musical to me. And, as with the previous poem, it's designed to be performed iambically, so to speak.

The voice that came to mind for this poem is a rich Gloucestershire accent, with a bit of a chuckle after quails.


07 May 2014


On Cotswold lawn, one afternoon,
a teeming river whirls around
with waves that shape a turning tune
through mellow flow to rowdy bound.

A teeming river whirls around
in ribbonry of blue, green, black
through mellow flow to rowdy bound
from singing streams to lightning crack!

In ribbonry of blue, green, black
while thunder threatens overhead
from singing streams to lightning crack!
banks burst, floods surge, rocks run rich red.

While thunder threatens overhead
swift currents churn, roar gleefully,
banks burst, floods surge, rocks run rich red
in splashing, dashing melody.

Swift currents churn, roar gleefully
with waves that shape a turning tune
in splashing, dashing melody
on Cotswold lawn, one afternoon.

* * *

This poem is called a pantoum. This pantoum is my first attempt at the form and I hope it’s as fun to read as it was to write!

In a pantoum, the second and fourth lines of each four-line verse are repeated as the first and third lines of the next verse, with the very first first-and-third popping up again as the fourth and second lines, respectively, of the last verse. It seems appropriate to describe a performance of so many turns itself! To remember the form, I use the following sequence:

A-B-C-D, B-E-D-F, E-G-F-H, G-I-H-J, I-A-J-C

However, there’s no limit to the number of verses in a pantoum and you don’t have to use a set rhythm. I've written with iambic tetrameter in mind for performance here, because I feel it suits the dance.

For more information on pantoum and iambic tetrameter, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantoum and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iambic_tetrameter

And here’s a great video of Happenstance’s performance at Sankey Marine, 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noA6QOIVbB8


PS: Mr T. just can’t get enough of the Isbourne! Here he is, signing the Way: http://www.gloucestershireecho.co.uk/Lace-boots-Winchcombe-Walking-Festival/story-21058529-detail/story.html


... to a whimsical wonderland amid the wilderness of the world wide web <(:-)

This is the official blog of 2014 Happenstance Border Morris Poet in Residence Felicity Teague (me).

Happenstance Border Morris is a mixed side, based in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire. For further info, do visit their website: http://www.happenstance-winchcombebordermorris.co.uk/homepage.htm

I was invited to be P-i-R by Cressida Pryor, 2014 Squire, after I sent her a poem describing Happenstance’s performance of ‘Isbourne’ at my own dear parents’ ruby wedding anniversary celebrations, in August 2012 (see next post). I enjoyed all the dances, but this one in particular had inspired me to write. Later I remembered that Mr T. himself had written the music! I posted the poem on my Facebook page as part of a Note in January this year and my friend Mary-Ann Johnson (daughter of talented Happenstance musicians Gwilym and Carol Davies) suggested that Happenstance might like it. And to my surprise and delight, they did!

I started writing poetry while recuperating from three weeks spent in hospital during February 2011. This stay in hospital had been unpleasant for a variety of reasons, but none more so than an incident involving a careless technician, massive machinery, and my right leg! As I’d had arthritis since 1990, I sustained a permanent knee injury, which is why I’m unable to walk.

Taking its cue from those dark days, my first theme for my poetry was Horrible Health. However, in time I moved on to cheerier topics, including Morris performance!

Happy reading!