Category Archives: Travel

The Old Olive Press

Below is a picture of that olive press. Christopher and Marisa North opened The Old Olive Press, which is their house, as well as a cultural centre, in 2002. The press is located on the ground floor which has a sitting area and a large table seating a dozen. The first floor is at street level and houses the library of close to 4,000 books. Writing retreats are available and the Almàssera Vella is also listed in Alisdair Sawdays’s Spain (Special Places to Stay).

The blue house is at the edge of Relleu, a village in the mountainous area of Alicante province, known as ‘Marina Baixa’. It is the perfect location for a writing retreat, just one hour from Alicante Airport, half an hour from Villajoyosa on the coast; the village is large enough to have a bank, pharmacy, several bars and local shops. The Romans established the village on its existing site at the end of the 1st century B.C.

olive presspool JL

bancal

The olive press, the pool, the terraces (bancals) with olive trees.

I’ve just come back from my seventh visit. I’ve attended workshops with poets Mimi Khalvati, Matthew Sweeney and, in recent years, with the incomparable Ann Sansom. A week there is a winning combination of writing in the morning, a buffet lunch, and plenty of free time to write, read, relax, swim in the pool, or walk. Below is a poem from last year.

Relleu, 2017

The church bells do not have twins.
Bells ring twice, so the men working
in the campo can count the second time.

We’re at Pepe’s on the village square,
seated in two long rows at a narrow table.
Down the cobbled street is the blue house
where a white dog barks into the valley.

Maggie is moving along the table reading
aloud lines from a poem written by all
of us on the edge of the paper cloths.

A little Navarra rosé is left in my glass.
The twins of that paper poem are ahead of us.

Refusal of a visit visa (3)

suleman 3

What Dreams May Come (2015) placed between After All It’s Always Somebody Else Who Dies (2017).

Adeela Suleman writes: My work is profoundly shaped by the way in which violence is performed, experienced and remembered. The more heinous the violence, the more beautiful its memorial.  In contemporary Pakistan death surrounds us, nameless, faceless and countless. In Karachi up to 12 people a day die in gangland and politically motivated murders.

The birds are dead. They make a pattern, a simple pattern that silently repeats itself. Silence haunts you, silence is disturbing. The delicate sparrow is a symbol and their shadow on the wall a reminder of the fragility of life.

After all it’s always somebody else who dies

The headless warrior still stands strong, holds his shield,
grips the tall lance, two narrow ribbons flutter.
Reeds, flowers and grasses part for his feet.
A memorial captured in carved wood stained green,
the colour that pleases the prophet.

Hand beaten and hand beaten from behind, through
chasing and repoussé, the stainless steel sparrows
that tumbled to their death. On the left 420 sparrows,
their beaks and feet touching, all held together.
On the right the same number of sparrows,
a shiny, shiny stillness.

My poem was a response to Suleman’s sculptures. It appeared in Building Bridges, an international anthology edited by Bob Beagrie and Andy Willoughby, published by Ek Zuban in 2017.

 

 

 

Refusal of a visit visa (2)

Recent Poetry School workshops have been held in the Manchester Art Gallery. So, we have been inspired by sample poems as well as the works on display. On the second floor there have been several interesting exhibitions of modern art. Dashing back downstairs I missed the display on the foyer wall – an enlarged copy of Home Office form OV51 Visit (NRA). On the first page the staff have given another reason for the refusal. They doubt that the artist has control over her bank account (the application was accompanied by bank statements, as required).

visa 2

Some personal details have been blacked out prior to posting, but the applicant is born in Pakistan and the work in the gallery is by Adeela Suleman, a sculptor and artist and Associate Professor and Head of the Fine Art Department of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi.

My short “found” poem:

Refusal of a visit visa

Date of refusal decision: 13 September 2017

Furthermore, you have stated that you are single
with no dependents.

I am not satisfied that you have demonstrated ties
to Pakistan that would give you reason to return
there.

a simple pattern that silently repeats itself
               silence haunts you
                                       silence is disturbing

 

Text in italics by Adeela Suleman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Refusal of a visit visa (1)

I’m flying out on Saturday, so can’t take part in one of the women’s processions that are being held in the four political capitals: London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh on Sunday. Those taking part will be given a sash in one of the suffragette’s colours – white (purity), green (hope) and violet/purple (loyalty and dignity). Manchester is the birthplace of the suffragette movement. The Pankhurst Centre is just a few miles from where I live.

processions-2018_-courtesy-of-artichoke

Suffragette Procession, courtesy of Artichoke

Yesterday I realised that this top, bought in Holland, is in the suffragette colours! Okay, the green is turquoise.

Pankhurst jacket

The Pankhurst Centre published a booklet – essays, memories – to celebrate its tenth anniversary in 1997. The one poem included was mine: a sonnet of sorts.

A line to Mrs Pankhurst

Leaving space for dreams between
the cooking and the dressing of the tree
Purple White and Green

Counting wrinkles on baubles I flee
to caress the turkey and knock
about the choice: dead or free.

Skimming fat off steaming stock
to start afresh, to say seems equal folly
Purple White and Green I fill my sock.

With another drink I might feel jolly.
Outside fairy lights among a flurry of snow.
I shudder when he pulls me under the holly

and Purple White and Green I know
that maybe next year I will go.

 

Tulips

During my recent trip to the Netherlands I joined my sister and brother-in-law for a visit to the Keukenhof. It was a clear dry day, with a slight breeze and a some sun in the afternoon.

The Keukenhof is one of the world’s largest flower gardens incorporating different gardens and styles on a 79-acre site. It’s situated on 15th century hunting grounds and there are beech trees which are centuries old. The original park was designed in the 1830s and the Keukenhof (Kitchen garden) first opened in 1949. Each year some seven million bulbs are planted up.

17 purple tulips

I vaguely recalled the Sylvia Plath poem about tulips, so I looked it up. It was written in 1961 and consists of nine 7-line stanzas. It starts: The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here. The poem is based on Plath’s experience of recovering in hospital from an operation: I am learning peacefulness, I am lying by myself quietly/ In the following stanzas the tulips are not experienced as benign: The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me. The vivid tulips eat my oxygen. The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;

I have one poem about tulips (in the Building Bridges anthology published by Ek Zuban last year). It has a very different feel from the fabulous Keukenhof tulips and is more at the Sylvia Plath end of the continuum. The title of the poem is the title of a watercolour painting donated by the (anonymous) artist to Manchester Art Gallery.

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

They’ve not yet reached one of the tulips,
the central one of this display.
You can imagine a window, if you like.
Five parrot tulips lean towards the light.
Degrees of purpling. The ants appear
half-way up the bulb-shaped vase.
I’ve left the thin pencil lines
indicating a flat surface.
Look closely and you’ll see this vase
should tumble, fall or slip.
Three fingers’ width, water level
in the glass. Greying water extracted.
The tulips were a present.
You can count the ants, if you like.

 

 

 

Light After Light

In Halifax last night my friend Victoria Gatehouse read at the Corner Bookshop to launch her debut pamphlet published by Valley Press. Their representative made us all welcome. It was a packed house. Vicky read alongside Wendy Pratt and Jo Brandon.

Vicky is a clinical researcher by day and in this “beautifully balanced and sure-footed debut” there are poems about science, such as Recording the Phlebotomist, Burning Mouth Syndrome, Phosphorescence, as well as poems set firmly in their locale (The Geese of Sowerby Bridge, In Praise of Pylons) and some which are, like folk tales “on the threshold of mystery”. I particularly enjoyed these and the poems which are inspired by art work made by Susie MacMurray: Pillion, Velvet Shells, Widow.

The bookshop is based in the Piece Hall, which recently has been renovated to a very high standard. I walked across this large open space to the sound of trickling water, marvelling at the lights against the last light of the day.

Vicky’s book is now on the shelves, between Rosie Garland and Kahlil Gibran. She keeps very good company, that’s for sure!