‘After The Party’ is a new print I’ve just finished for ‘MAKE’, the Devon Guild of Craftsmen Christmas Show. It’s also available from here. Carrying sleeping children home after parties was such a common thing a few years ago…often past the stares of local foxes.
I made the print as a companion to ‘We Talk About Our Childhoods’, below. I think the two prints make a nice couple! The prints celebrate different moments in a relationship. ‘We Talk…’ is about the beginning, ‘After The Party’ is about when a child is the centre of the couple’s world. But the swan is still there…magic is always close.
I delivered several successfully Covid-safe workshops for children over the Summer. It can be done! I’m itching to get back to doing creative days in schools. Please check out what I get up to below. 🙂
I recently discovered the poems Rilke wrote in French towards the end of his life. I don’t think are as well known as lots of his work but I’ve connected with them in a big way. feel like I’ve discovered bured treasure! They are short, incredibly rich in ideas and have a kind of really open, spontaneous feel. I’ve put the first poem in the ‘Orchards’ book to music. It hasn’t got a title but that line ‘Tonight My Heart Makes Angels Sing’ is just wonderful.
I’ve used a translation by A.Poulin Jr but mis-remembered slightly when I sang it: ‘drawn’ should be ‘lured’.
I’ve used images of fires, paths and twilight for the film that goes with the poem. These seem to fit…quite universal images that might suggest revery. Also features my son controlling the fire and sea…which seems to fit the idea of having an influence on cosmic forces which I hear in the line ‘Tonight my Heart Makes Angels Sing’. Saying that, I’m not really a film maker…maybe just listen.
One of the reasons I like the poem so much is that I relate it to being an artist. Artists should be trying to make the angels sing rather than worrying about likes and shares!
I’ve just added lots of videos I’ve been making over Lockdown to my youtube channel. I made this film of ‘My Walk To School Friends’ for my local library service, as part of the online East Sussex Children’s Book Awards Ceremony. The poem is from my book Me and My Alien Friend.
‘The Month of May’ is a poem by an unknown poet from the 9th Century. I found it in a brilliant book “The Wise and Foolish Tongue, Celtic Stories and Poems” by Robin Williamson. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the myths, poems, and stories of Celtic Britain.
This poem and activity are for adults and older children who would like a really rewarding writing challenge.
Here’s the full poem, with my scribbles:
The poem makes a day in May in rural Ireland 1100 years ago feel as fresh and alive as this day in May 2020.
I think it’s a great poem for anyone to use as inspiration for writing about nature. It shows how simply describing the world can make a brilliant poem if words are very carefully chosen.
So…let’s do a writing experiment. Try writing a poem that sticks to some rules based on ‘The Month of May’ poem. These are the rules:
Your poem must be about NOW. It must be about your experiences of nature at the moment, in May 2020. It could be about your daily exercise-walk, or nature in your garden or out your window. You can include things you’ve noticed over the past few days but not from long ago or even last year. It’s not about imagining a day in May somewhere else. It’s about your experience of nature in May 2020.
You must NOT have “I saw… or “I feel” or “I think..”etc. The writer desribes what they experience without once saying ‘I’. We don’t see the writer in ‘Month of May’, we see what they see. The writer is a window we look through and see The Month of May.
Describe something new on each line. You’re not writing a whole poem about a bird or a tree or the sea. You’re writing a poem with a lot of images. Each line is a different picture. The main challenge is to make each picture as vivid and alive as you can. Use every syllable to paint the best picture you can. This is what makes ‘The Month of May’ so good. Try and write lines that are as short and brilliantly descriptive as “Hedge green bristle the branching boughs” or “haze upon the brimming lake” or “harp of the trees hums and soothes”
No rhyming, no upper-case letters, and keep punctuation to a minimum.
So, starting from today I’m going to post a creative activity every day on my website at 9:00 AM. I will also share the link every day on here and twitter.
The activities will be principally aimed at primary aged children but hopefully might be enjoyable for anyone. It’s all based on tried and tested things that have worked in schools. There will be a weekly theme and each activity will be broken down into simple instructions and should fill two low stress hours.
There will be no special materials needed- but if you like the sound of joining in you’ll need pencils, biros, plain paper, scissors, some kind of paper glue and masking tape.
I have 4 weeks, Monday to Friday roughly planned: week 1: Sea Voyages theme.
Hopefully helpful for some people, if not at least good exercise for my brain!
The book is an anthology of poems old and new all about our moon. It’s our moon to avoid any confusion about which moon was being referred to- after all there are countless billions of moons out there in the universe! It’s also our moon because we all share that amazing globe. It fits that there are poets from many different countries in the book, all of whom looked out at the same moon for inspiration. It’s also lovely to think that Yeats and Shelley- also included in the book- were inspired by the same moon 150 or so years ago. Our Moon.
One of my favourite poems in the book comes from the furthest away- Mooncalf by Kate O’Neil in Australia. It is a surreal story-poem about the birth of a ‘mooncalf made of light’ that still haunts the dreams of cows today. This feels like an old classic and I was surprised to read it’s a new poem. It’s a lovely poem to use in schools- tidy, comfortable, learnable rhythm and rhyme present a wonderfully surreal idea. I used soft charcoal pencil to illustrate this that I later digitally turned negative so glistening white marks show on a dark background. I used the same technique for ‘A Goodnight Moon’ by David Harmer- another timeless poem that feels like it’s been around forever.
I used quite a few techniques to do the illustrations- lots of soft pencil, ink washes, collage, dip pen, photoshop and lino print. Lino print is a time-consuming technique so I chose just a few poems to do in this technique. I think my favourite illustration in the book is the double page that illustrates the title poem and ‘The Moon’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. For me, the image of the walker in the moonlight with his staff is a timeless archetype of freedom and romanticism, wandering through time, space and dreams.
I developed a technique for printing the linoprints in this book that went back to my college days. I printed them on thin but high quality ‘imitation Japanese paper’ that enables me to get absolutely consistent prints that pick up every subtlety on the block. I then glue the print onto heavyweight paper. I saturate the print with high quality clear PVA so the print is glued ‘into’ the paper rather than just on it. It’s a delightfully playful and reliable technique that allows for a lot of flexibility. It’s also comparably fast for lino printing, which is useful for meeting deadlines. I highly recommend this technique for anyone who finds lino printing frustrating.
I’m an illustrator with a very serious commitment to poetry. Writing and reading poetry is hugely important to me. My favourite poets are quite diverse: Yeats, Rilke, Mary Oliver and Billy Childish. I really hope this love gives the illustrations something special.
One of my favourite poetry books is ‘The Puffin Book of Magic Verse’, edited by Charles Causley. It’s a wonderful collection of beautifully illustrated poems you can read and read again- a book to daydream with. It is the perfect rainy holiday book. I had my tatty copy on my desk the whole time I did Moonstruck. I wanted Moonstruck to be even more visual than ‘Magic Verse’, and chose to illustrate every poem in the book. I really hope you feel we succeeded in making a book that is as treasurable as Magic Verse. I hope it’s someone’s perfect rainy holiday book!
Hope you had as lovely a Jack in the Green as I did.
It’s a 900 year old poem from Ireland that Robin Williamson discovered and translated. I edited it down and put it to music a few years ago with Tim Hoyte. I’m playing Tim’s part on this- not as well as he would!
I worked with year 4 children at Rye Primary Academy at the exhibition. I asked them to simply begin by copying one of the drawings and then add their own ideas to complete the picture. They could invent a name, add the character’s home, pets, thoughts, speech, and to perhaps imagine the moment before and after the moment in the image.
The children loved the art and the activity and could have done the activity for hours but we had a short 90 minute session with lots of other things to do.
I think the exhibition works so well because Blake’s images are immediately approachable but leave masses of space- both pictorial and imaginative- for the children’s own daydreams.
The children made a fantastic storehouse of ideas for poems, stories and further art work. A complete delight!
It made me think that specifically child-friendly exhibitions are a great idea.
Head along to the exhibition until January- and perhaps take a look at my mural outside the studio at the gallery!
Here’s a little performance I made of it in my studio at home:
…and here’s the spread of the poem in the book:
The poem has been going down really well on my visits to schools.
The chorus lends itself to call-and-response really well- we do this with increasingly silly voices as the poem proceeds! I also encourage the children to do lots of sounds and actions through the poem. It works really nicely for all ages at primary school.
I find it’s a good poem to use as a starting point for talking about how important personal and particular experience is as inspiration for writing: the whole poem is based on an experience my son and I had on the way to school every day.
The poem is the starting point for lots of activities in class. There’s lots of possibilities for writing back stories for the cats in the poem and developing writing based on the seemingly ordinary experiences children have every day.Once we transformed a class into the streets where the cats live with cardboard boxes, masking tape and drawing materials. Children added the things they notice on the way to school. This is a nice playful creative 3D way to begin writing- a kind of big 3D whole class brainstorm!
It can also be a starting point for specifically writing about animal encounters. I often like to get children to write a letter to an imaginary friend about an animal encounter- this is a nice way of generating ideas, images and effective language before starting on a finished poem. I always use other poems with ‘My Walk To School Friends’ as a starting point for animal encounter poems. In the poem we meet the cats very briefly and it rhymes throughout. In contrast, I like to include a poem that doesn’t have a solid rhyme pattern and describes a relationship with one animal in more detail:
Me and My Alien Friend can be purchased below for £7.99, or is available from Amazon or to order from your local bookshop!
This is a longer version of an article that should be in The Hastings Independent soon.
My wife introduced me to Rufus Wainwright’s music about 10 years ago. It was the start of an obsession that’s still going strong, so I was over the moon to hear he was coming to The De La Warr.
The first song of Rufus’ I heard was ‘Nobody’s Off The Hook’. It was love at first listen. It’s a friendship-love song with an impossibly pretty melody and string quartet arrangement. He didn’t play it at The De La Warr: I’ve seen him four times and he doesn’t ever play quite the right songs. It’s almost as if he doesn’t plan his gigs just for me!
Let’s put this selfish complaint aside: it was a fabulous night.
He played on his own with piano and guitar. I’ve never seen him play a whole gig like this before and it was lovely, intimate and natural. He started by telling us about his swim in the Bexhill sea, having fish and chips and dozing off. He was warm and funny throughout.
His voice has got better and better over the years. No one sings like Rufus. He’s got a breathless superhuman soaring voice but he does not make it look effortless like opera singers often do. It’s a bit uncomfortable to watch on some of the high ones- like he’s going to burst a vein.
Third song in and I was hopeful it might be my fantasy-Rufus-gig after all as he did ‘Memphis Skyline’. I’ve never heard him play it live before. It’s a long, slow, decadent, hypnagogic dream-song about his friend Jeff Buckley. It’s got 3 or 4 musical sections with no chorus. It’s not going to make the radio 1 breakfast show any time soon! It takes you to some distant moonlit place where Rufus finds flickering cinematic memories of his lost friend. It’s full of sad longing and sounds as deep as the ocean.
The recorded version has lots of layers and is very produced. It’s incredible how he gets all the drama of songs like ‘Memphis Skyline’ across just with voice and piano. I love the ambitious orchestration on his studio recordings but the performance left me feeling he could have saved a lot of money and recorded a lot of songs just with piano. I think I’m only the millionth person to say this.
He’s not so good on guitar and he plays it in a weird way where he strums really hard with his fingers rather than with a pick. It looks really painful. I do worry about the state of his finger tips. I feel like he’s developed all the elements of his music in idiosyncratic ways separate from everyone else. He’s really not shy but I reckon he creates everything from hours and hours of introverted working alone. Of course he plays guitar in an odd way.
Slightly disappointingly, after ‘Memphis Skyline’ he went on to do a pretty familiar set list – including Art Teacher, Gay Messiah, Going To A Town, Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk. All fabulous but I would have liked a few more surprises! Saying that, the filthy anti-Trump rap was a perfectly timed surprise in the middle of the set.
He played some new songs from his next pop album, due next year. It all sounds very good. There was an intense song about a hangover, a beautiful love song for his husband Jorn, and a vocally stunning slow song about needing ‘Alone Time’. I think my favourite new one was a quietly anthemic song celebrating ‘Only The People Who Love’.
It was a warm and lovely evening from a completely unique writer and performer. I’m sure he’ll come back, after all he said how much he liked ‘darling little’ Bexhill about 3 times. If he does, I’m writing the set list!