Monthly Archives: December 2021

Adopt a Christmas tree

Adopteer een Kerstboom

This week I saw a feature on tv about various adoption schemes here in The Netherlands. One of those, Adopteer een Kerstboom, now has 3,000 people who have adopted a Christmas tree. There is a waiting list: it takes five years for a tree to be tall and big enough for adoption. Each tree carries a metal tag with a number, so that the adopters know it’s their tree. Many people have given their tree a name. They pay a small deposit on collection in November from one of 13 locations, and trees are returned in January when they are planted back in their slot. The fee goes up a little each year the taller the trees get.

I think it’s a great scheme! Season’s Greetings to you all. Thank you for following my blog and for your comments. A short seasonal poem:

I’ve never been to that desert island
though the removal firm sends me
a bill each month for the books I left there.
I’ve never been to Iceland for that green light,
nor Lapland for those dogs and sledges,
but I have kissed Father Christmas.

W G Sebald – poem

This week it is 20 years since the writer W G (Max) Sebald died, aged 57.
Propolis, the publishing arm of Norwich-based The Book Hive, published Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W G Sebald (2014). This memoir was written by Philippa Comber. She met Sebald in 1981 in Norwich where they both lived. They hit it off and became friends.

Philippa and I met in Manchester late 2004 at a series of poetry workshops and we hit it off too: both practising psychotherapists with several shared interests. I remember Philippa telling me she was planning a visit to the German museum dedicated to Sebald to read the letters that she had sent him over the years.

Sebald died in a road-traffic accident near Norwich. According to the coroner’s report, he had died of a heart attack before colliding with a lorry. Memory, loss of memory, decay, exile are the main themes of his books with their unique blend of fact, recollection, and fiction.

Knowing and not knowing

I know I mustn’t eat grapefruit as it interferes
with the effect of the medication. I don’t need to know
the Table of Chemical Elements, though I do know
that a few elements have recently been added and
Rutherfordium is one of them.

I know and remember the view of the Wash and the silver
ribbon of the Broads as the plane turns. I don’t know
the names of narrowboats and yachts, but I do know
that the beach huts in Wells-next-the-Sea are on stilts.

I know someone who was a good friend of W G Sebald
and that her letters to Max are archived in a museum
near Stuttgart. I know where I was when I heard on
the radio that Sebald had died: the A17 heading for Norwich,
just before a round-about.

Speak to the Earth – poem

I am delighted to introduce this month’s poet: Jean Stevens. We have met several times over the last two years on writing workshops – all on Zoom.

Jean Stevens’ poems have been widely published in magazines and newspapers and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4. She is a past winner of Leeds Libraries Writing Prize and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2020. Her most recent poetry collections are Speak to the Earth (Naked Eye 2019) and Nothing But Words (Naked Eye 2020). Her forthcoming collection Always Too Many Miles will be published in 1922, also by Naked Eye.

Jean has worked as a professional actress and dramatist and her stand-up comedy script won the Polo Prize at London’s Comedy Store.

The collection Speak to the Earth is in five sections and I have chosen one poem from each.

Night safari

At the Singapore Night Safari, animals roam freely in moonlight
in environments replicating their lives in the wild. Visitors and animals
are separated only by the slimmest of man-made divides.

I walked the rainforest’s moonlit trail
and found myself among leopards.

They were lean, honed by hunting
and hunger and, as flesh and muscle
ebbed and flowed, I saw
down to the beat of blood
and the almost liquid bone.

Their skin was a print of their own
dark paws walking on sand,
their flanks were brandy and treacle,
brown ale held to the light.

I knelt by the narrow divide
and a leopard lay opposite,
mirrored light in his midnight eyes.

He didn’t blink and I was held
till he stretched and showed his claws.
I turned to the man who stood next to me.
We’re nothing he said.

Hefted : accustomed and attached to an area of upland pasture.

It’s cloistered in the depths of the valley
inside this old house, where cellos
have left echoes in the stone,
poets’ words are carved in the beams,
and the bones of cattle lie under slate

but one day I will follow the hefted sheep
out of here through clear northern light
to climb the far hills and beyond to where
there are no buildings, no roads, no noise
except the battering of the wind.

Drama school

Drama schools are fond of sending students
to the zoo to study the behaviour of beasts.
It’s what people laugh at when they speak about
the ‘luvvies’: be a cat, be a dog, be a bloody giraffe.

But look, Lear’s on his knees and clawing Cordelia.
His hands are paws and he’s mauling her body
round the stage, frantic to revive her.

He’s done the mad scene in the storm
railed against every roof
cried: Never, never, never, never, never.

Now he makes us see what we all are
at heart: animals learning to grieve.

Gagudju man
Remembering Bill Neidjie (‘I’m telling you this while you’ve got time’)

This was the man who shared
the long-held secrets of his world.
I met him in Alice Springs, sat with him
in the aboriginal silence, knowing
his closeness to every living thing.

He felt trees in his body,
their trunks and leaves pumping water
as human hearts pump blood,
thought that no matter what kind –
kangaroo, eagle, echidna –
animals pulse in our flesh,

said, if you harm what is sacred,
you might get a cyclone or flood,
or kill someone in another place,
told us we must hang on to the land,
the trees, the soil, because of the day
when we become the earth.


I wake to bed linen strewn
around like manic laundry
and can’t get out of my head
the creatures I dreamt of
who eat only fruit and leaves

and gaze at the beings
who hack down trees, ravage
land, sea and air, blast their kind
off the earth, and bring silence,
the silence of the animals.

On my way to meet the morning
I’m desperate to hear the bleating
of sheep, the trill of blackbirds,
a dog barking after a stick,
but nothing moves, nothing speaks.

St Nikolaas

Credit: RvT 1625, via Pixabay

Tomorrow will be his birthday. Traditionally, children were allowed to put a shoe (with a carrot for the horse) by the fire on the night of the 5th. Over time, it has become tradition to celebrate the evening of the 5th. And over time, children put out their shoe earlier and earlier …

Somewhere in a photo album there is a small black-and-white picture, somewhere in a box in storage. Here is the poem, anyway, from my debut collection Another life, Oversteps Books Ltd, 2016.

St Nikolaas, 5 December 1957

We’re crowded in our dining room.
Grandmother has closed her face.
There’s me in pyjamas, smiling.
I’m next to my father’s father.
His heart will give out soon.
I’ve just been given a book:
animal stories with illustrations.

My brother too smiles, because
our mother isn’t there.
She may be in the kitchen
or upstairs, ill, thinking
about walking out on us.
My father has taken this photo.
He too will have closed his face.