Review: Creatures by Greg Hill

Creatures by Greg HillGreg Hill lives in Wales. He was editor of The Anglo-Welsh Review and contributes regularly to Welsh literary magazines. I’ve followed his blog for a while and was delighted when I heard about the release of his first full length collection of poetry in print; Creatures.

The title alone creates intrigue. What kind of creatures? The epigraph replies; ‘All creaturely things… Plants growing, / Roads running, / Rivers flowing, / Places that sing.’ It is clear from the outset this collection is about an animate landscape where every being is a creature, alive and sentient.

The first ekphrastic poem is based on the picture on the cover; Fidelma Massey’s sculpture, ‘Water Mother,’ who dreams thoughts of water into being. Here, the ‘cosmic ebb and flow’ of thought and water is contained in the poem. Analogies between living water and perception recur throughout the book. In ‘Cwm Eleri’ the poem’s tight structure fails to contain the river, which slips from grasp like time. In ‘Myddleton’s River’ water-ways link London, Wales and the underworld, forming a conduit for complicated alchemical processes of mental and physical transformation.

The contrast between our immediate perception of creatures and those aspects of their being impossible to grasp is central. A jackdaw sitting happily in the hearth becomes ‘an image… a token of wildness… like a jigsaw piece from another puzzle;’ a homely and familiar event made strange. Greg writes that as a heron dips out of sight ‘a part of me fell out of the sky with it,’ lost ‘except that something / settles in the flow of these words.’ We can never completely grasp our perceptions. Only through words can they find permanent representation.

Several poems present roads, paths and boundaries as living entities and how our understanding of them shifts once they are crossed and they slip into memory. If we try to return, the roads are ‘dull,’ ‘dusty,’ ‘empty.’ Our former selves are shadows, unfamiliar reflections. ‘Strange border guards’ usher us ‘from what / we neither know nor recognise.’ These haunting and complex poems demonstrate how choices shape our relationship with the landscape and hence our memories.

The mysteries of the Bardic Tradition and its creatures are explored in novel ways. ‘Awen’ depicts a shepherd lad inspired to speak poetry by a spirit ‘like a forest god’ who is elusive as the words he inspires. Four episodes from the Mabinogion are covered. I was fascinated by ‘A Scaffold for a Mouse,’ which depicts ‘Manawydan living in a dream / landscape with the life / conjured out of it like a flat plane.’ Through his ‘firm grip’ on the mouse, ‘a small thing / for a great purpose,’ he breaks the ‘powerful magic’ of Llwyd, awakening ‘form to its true nature’ thus freeing Rhiannon, Pryderi and Cigfa.

This collection depicts a relationship with the creaturely world that is on the surface simple and direct yet beneath mysterious and disconcerting. Each time I return to these poems I discover new meanings and thematic relationships within the whole. I’d recommend this book to anybody who likes poetry with lots of depth and has a love for nature, myth and creatures.

Creatures can be purchased through Lulu here: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/greghillpoetry

Greg Hill’s poetry site is here: http://greghill.weebly.com/
Greg’s blog, Hill’s Chroicle can be found here: http://hills-chronicle.blogspot.co.uk/

Completion of Penwortham By-pass

A couple of weeks ago I found out about the plans to build a new stretch of by-pass between Broad Oak Roundabout and the A59 in my home town of Penwortham (1). In The Central Lancashire Highways and Transport Masterplan this is referred to as ‘Completion of Penwortham By-pass’ (2). Since then I have walked the accessible parts of the route on the map in order to see first hand where it will go and visualise its impact.

Beginning at Broak Oak Roundabout

Beginning at Broad Oak Roundabout, courtesy of South Ribble Borough Council

The new stretch of by-pass will begin to the south west of Broak Oak Roundabout.

Broad Oak RoundaboutIt looks like the entrance road may be hereEntrance Road?and the exit road here.

Exit Road?It willl then head across this scrubby field of oak saplings, thistle and dock, over which I saw a buzzard circling today.

Scrubby FieldThen it will bear west and straight to the A59.

New Stretch of Penwortham By-pass, courtesy of South Ribble Borough Council

New Stretch of Penwortham By-pass, courtesy of South Ribble Borough Council

The beginning of the route will cut through a wooded footpath that begins as a track at Nutter’s Platt and runs alongside Mill Brook (pictured south of the by-pass). One part bears left to join Lindle Lane, the other right to join Howick Moor Lane. The trees include oak, beech and hawthorn. The plentiful brambles are covered in blackberries. This path is a frequent throughfare for long tailed tits.

Penwortham By-pass, Freshers Fayre 017The by-pass will then run across a series of fields, which are divided by trees and hedegrows (important wildlife corridors) and currently used for pasture.

PasturePenwortham By-pass, Freshers Fayre 018Penwortham By-pass, Freshers Fayre 020It will finally run through the playing fields of All Hallows Catholic High School. They have been offered compensatory land closer to the school.

All Hallows Playing Fields

All Hallows Playing Fields

It will end with the Proposed Roundabout, between Blackhurst cottages and Howick CE Primary School.

Proposed Roundabout, courtesy of South Ribble Borough Council

Proposed Roundabout, courtesy of South Ribble Borough Council

A59

Admittedly, this route is preferable to the rescinded route, which would have brought about the destruction of much more land and five houses.

However I can’t help feeling angry about the way the value of the economic growth and development of human society has come to win out against the value of the living landscape and its inhabitants. That whilst the human community has been consulted nobody has thought to consider that the birds and wildlife may not wish to leave their homes even if they are provided with others, that the planting of more trees is no real compensation to the trees cut down, that the land itself might not want to be dug up and subjected to the turbulence of another road.

What’s more, a later part of the plan is to link this stretch of by-pass to a new bridge over the river Ribble and a valuable piece of salt marsh. The issues surrounding this will be explored in a later post.

(1) https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/penwortham-by-pass-and-the-city-deal/
(2) http://new.lancashire.gov.uk/media/234524/Central-Lancashire-Highways-and-Transport-Masterplan.pdf

Gwyn Portrait, April’s End

The huntsman has ridden all night, following the brilliance of the spirit roads- the shining tracks that criss-cross the island of Britain. Instead of returning home he remains here for dawn, listening to the idiosyncrasies of each bird’s song, watching dew form on blades of grass, on petals of hawthorn blossoms and may flowers.

He is and is not the mist, riding through damp meadows over hills, mountains and moors on a pale horse accompanied by a hound of the same complexion. He is and is not each sun-lit cloud he travels with, the touch and whisper of the wind.

He cannot stay here long, for this world we see as the land of the living is not his. He must return home to Annwn, the Otherworld, to prepare for a battle that cannot be won. To fight for a maiden he shouldn’t have loved, shouldn’t still love… in bluebells and forget-me-nots, emerging greens and white and yellow flowers he sees her colours.

For a moment he is possessed by memories of their passion, and the crimes it drove him to. A glimpse of his blacked face in a reed strewn pool shows no amount of war paint can mask his guilt, which he must live with for as long as there are people to sing his songs.

He searches for a sign. What is Judgement Day? When is it? Although he knows the language of the trees and plants, the tracks of every wild creature and the flight of birds, these questions are beyond his power to divine. When the worlds end, will Creiddylad and I be together again?

May Flower, Penwortham

Mary of the Marsh

Enduring years of disconnection,
incredulity of stars,
anger beneath the heavens,
she scathed the priests and walked alone,
drifting among chapels, knowing she didn’t belong,
her robes of night fell on soft rushes.

They say she walked along the marsh.
They say she walked out to the river.
They say she looked out to the sea.

In the damp, dark parishes
paradise was never hers,
she walked amongst the outcasts and the sick
healing wounds that should never open,
seeing what shouldn’t be seen,
her robes of night fell on troubled waters.

Mary of the lepers,
Mary of the marsh,
I saw you running to the river,
I saw you running to the sea.
How you longed to sail away…