A plot of land in the bend of Fish House Brook,
tell me, my gods, is this my allotted place?
A place to dig, to sow, to watch life grow,
leaving the battlefield and the ravens behind me
like the servicemen returning from the First World War?
Is it time to leave the heroes to be pecked apart
and join, instead, with the labouring poor?
To set aside the books of heroic poetry –
the verses on shattered shields and clashing spears,
the blood and bones to the soil return with spade
and hoe to feed the future generations?
Tell me, my gods, is this my allotted place?
A plot of land in the bend of Fish House Brook
my Bremetennacum Veteranorum as I enter my later years?
As you might have guessed, after a year’s wait, I am finally the proud tenant of an allotment. This has come about after a difficult year during which I’ve felt like I’ve been kicked in the teeth by the universe in many ways, one of them being the landslide on Castle Hill cutting off my access to the yew tree where I dedicated myself to Gwyn on Fairy Lane.
I now feel my gods have gifted me with an alternative. It is happily within a bend of Fish House Brook, which begins near my house and runs through Greencroft Valley, where I run a friends group, before joining the Ribble at Fish House Bridge on the other side of the allotments. In this I see the guiding hand of Belisama, goddess of the Ribble, along with the land spirits and Gwyn and his ‘family’ – the Tylwyth Teg or ‘fairies’.
Whereas I had been considering moving away to find a job in conservation this has led me to decide to remain rooted in Penwortham, even if it means a longish commute. I am beginning a month of cotton grass planting on Little Woolden Moss near Manchester next week, which will be my first paid contract, and a couple of paid traineeships have come up in Bolton, so possibilities are opening up.
Having spent the last decade working with the heroic poetry of the Old North, not least in my latest collection ‘Co(r)vid Moon’ whose main characters are battlefield ravens, I’m sensing a shift away from the medieval courts, where I never belonged with the Taliesins, toward a poetry of the land, to where I belong, alongside other labouring poets.*
Although I’m far from retirement age I see this as a step in maturing and and stepping up to take responsibility for leading a sustainable life as I head toward the big 40 this November.
Since I took this photograph I have been clearing the paths, weeding, digging and putting manure on the beds, and chitting my first early potatoes.
I can now call myself an allotmenteer 🙂
*For example Ted Hughes and Alice Oswald whose work is based on their lived experience of working the land. (Although, of course, I do not claim to be as good!).