Sleepers, a poem by Stewart Carswell

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A curtain of ferns
spreads at eye height
to a child, and parts
from the push of a hand

to expose
the shrinking clearing
and the treasure at its centre:
an ancient sleeper

laying like a sunken casket
and shrouded by a puzzle
of oak leaves. The specimen
ornamented with metalware:

rusted plates and bolts,
brooches carried by the dead
to the next station of life.
Close the curtains. Change the scene.

A figure stands at the end
of the platform, his face masked
by a flag. Steam
spirals around him,

a spire above rows of sleepers.
There is one line
drawn from childhood
through junctions to connections,

and the destination close
to definition.
I feel the platform vibrate
from something about to begin.

The figure sounds his whistle.
His flag drops
and it is my face unmasked
and time to leave this dream

and I see it now. The trackbed
has lost its track and I have lost
track of time. I get up
to check my phone

but there’s no signal
and my daughter is asleep,
habitually dreaming
of a better life to travel in

and I see it now.
The ancient sleeper
is a relic, an inherited burden,
second-hand history.

I step outside
and the first engine of the day
sets out light and I see it now:
I know what to do.

***

Stewart Carswell grew up in the Forest of Dean. He studied Physics at Southampton University, and has a PhD from the University of Bristol. He currently lives and works and writes in Cambridgeshire. His poems have recently been published in Envoi, The Lighthouse, The Poetry Shed, and Ink Sweat & Tears. His debut pamphlet, Knots and branches, is published by Eyewear Publishing (2016). Find out more on his website or on Twitter.

Spring In This Place – a poem by Will Burns

I choose the bee-flies for company today.
Sunlight on beech leaves,
cool sweat in the warm wood,
the blue flowers of the season.
Not numerology or some old painting
I think you might like.
Not a poem I hope you read for signs of life.
I fall hard for this place every day
the way we do for people we shouldn’t.

***

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As part of The People’s Forest project, the poet Will Burns is creating a series of new works inspired by Epping Forest. Over the year Burns is penning a collection of poems, one per season, in part reflecting on the unique nature of Epping intertwined with his own experience of the forest real and imagined – here we have had the pleasure and privilege to publish Will’s poem for spring.

The People's Forest

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We’ve been following The People’s Forest project with interest, rooted as it is in place and what it inspires. Co-curated by Kirsteen McNish and Luke Turner, The People’s Forest includes a programme of events, talks, gigs and artistic collaborations, and continues the history of great writers drawing inspiration from nature and the outdoors to present a literary programme designed to seek out new writing related to Epping Forest – London’s strange and wonderful woodland, and its unique history that has been shaped and maintained by man.

As part of the project,  Faber New Poet and Caught by the River poet-in-residence Will Burns will create a series of new works inspired by Epping Forest. Over the year Burns will pen a collection of poems, one per season, in part reflecting on the unique nature of Epping intertwined with his own experience of the forest real and imagined, and we are extremely pleased and proud to announce that we will be publishing one of the forthcoming poems here on the Elsewhere: A Journal of Place blog.

Burns has proposed a long walk from Wendover Woods to Epping Forest, revisiting the physical act that his mother made in her lifetime, and as a family unit twenty years ago. This journey will in part shape the latter part of the series and will revisit family history, memory and these two forests many miles apart. This journey will cross the rivers and chalk streams and hillsides of this odd and lost middle land between the capital and the bulk of the country. He will also be exploring what this strip of lush, wooded country means - this dividing line, in this divided time.

Will’s first poem “The Word For Wood” appeared in Caught By The River’s online journal in March that conjures up themes of isolation, crisis and crossroads:

The fertility symbols of other, older cultures
harass me through the cold wood.
The sounds of jackdaws going berserk
(though the sound is not their name…).
I might as well come clean—
all this is to impress somebody else
though they have long given up interest.
First I read they had left the conversation,
then I watched them leave the house,
finally I heard they left town

Speaking about the project and his connection to the location, Burns said:

“Epping Forest has loomed strange in my imagination since childhood. I grew up just outside its shadow, in Enfield, and my mother was born in Epping itself without ever knowing the place. Since moving out of London at 10, I have always loved woods – either 'my own’ out here in Wendover, or others that I’ve visited. They are places unlike any other in our imaginations and I feel as if there is a whole chapter of my memory linked to that part of London but somehow missing. I hope to recover it through a year of walking and thinking and writing in the forest.”

We are really excited to read more from Will as the project continues and we hope to bring more from The People’s Forest to our readers in the coming months. For the full programme of events taking place, click here.

Five Questions for... Will Burns

Photo: Wendover Woods, courtesy of Will Burns

Photo: Wendover Woods, courtesy of Will Burns

We are extremely pleased to welcome the poet Will Burns to Elsewhere: A Journal of Place for the next in our series of “Five Questions” interviewers with writers, artists, practitioners and indeed anyone for whom place is central to their work, whatever that may be. You might have spotted Will on these virtual pages recently as we reviewed the new album Chalk Hill Blue that he made with Hannah Peel, a thoughtful and thought-provoking collection of poetry and music rooted in the landscapes of Buckinghamshire where Will lives.

Named as one of the Faber & Faber New Poets for 2014 and the poet-in-residence at the wonderful Caught by the River, Will’s poetry evokes a strong sense of place and was praised by The Guardian for its “quiet intelligence and subtle ways of seeing”, a description that we can only wholeheartedly endorse. A regular live performer, Will has read at festivals around the UK including Port Eliot, Green Man and Glastonbury and you can catch him at a number of festivals this summer as he tours Chalk Hill Blue with Hannah Peel.

On with the interview...

What does home mean to you?

Like most people I suspect, ‘home’ is a bit of a complicated word for me. It definitely applies to Wendover, the village in Bucks where I live now and lived from the age of about ten until I left home. And even after I left I’ve always come back. Sometimes only for a few months or so, and sometimes out of necessity - but I suppose the point is it’s always there, which is a function of home I think. I have to say London too. I was born there, and  I’ve lived there, in various spots, almost as many years as Wendover, all told. But London’s such a big thing isn’t it? The little areas you get to know might feel like home for the period you know them, but change is so fast there that you leave and a year or so later it feels entirely alien.

Which place do you have a special connection to?

I’m going to say the Rough Trade shop on Talbot Rd. My Dad was one of the owners of the Rough Trade shops until about three years ago, and I grew up seeing him in that shop as a child. Then I ended up working there in my twenties. I was there a few days ago and I hadn’t been there for a couple of years, and I realised just how burned into my consciousness and imagination the place is. Some of the posters, the counter, the architecture, the smells of the place. What a strange contradiction a record shop is - it changes completely every week when a new batch of releases goes up on the walls, in the racks in the windows, and yet at the same time it’s not changed for thirty years.

What is beyond your front door?

The main high street in Wendover. Although that section is actually part of the Ridgeway, so you’re on an ancient path the moment you put a boot out the door. It’s a classic market town high street with an abundance of charity shops. We’ve resisted chains for the most part though, so it retains a sense of itself. Take the road left out of the door and up the hill and you follow the Ridgeway onto the scarp. Ten minutes and you’ve got views across the whole vale. Nobody talks about the Chilterns really but they are a very beautiful place.

What place would you most like to visit?

I’d love to go to Iceland sometime. I’ve always loved the Sagas and the history of Northern Europe. But India as well. My grandfather was born there and it was him who inculcated my love of wildlife, partly through his stories of India. It has sort of remained as an unscratched itch ever since.

What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now?

A new album by my all time favourite band came out today, so I’ll be with that non-stop for the foreseeable future. That’s Union by Son Volt. My capacity for listening to them is pretty much infinite. And I’ve not really been able to stop reading One Lark, One Horse by Michael Hofmann since it came out. I’m one of these obsessive types I think who re-reads and listens to things once I’ve fallen for them.

***
Will Burns website
Twitter

Bishop's Pool: A Poem

By Ciarán O'Rourke:

This poem has roots 
in the sea, and time: 

in Bishop's Pool, when 
we slipped the plunging sun...

and let the wrack-
blue waters 

haul and hold, com-
pletely plumb 

our bodies' bird-boned, 
drifting shiver

down to the merrow 
dark below, 

where breakers 
breathe

and the green foam 
drops 

a hundred ways
to shadow: yes, 

dropped and spilled 
our names afresh

as salt, and sand,
and a wind awash

with things we bring 
to the sea's flame,

which now (and 
every wanting season) 

lay claim 
to us again:

five shipwrecked 
mountains, dreaming mist, 

the cuckoo's eye, 
the brimming nest, 

the latch in the voice 
and lift of pain, 

the flit of a swallow
in a flense of rain, 

the wave in the blood 
and the swimming stone

that flows and falls 
by breath alone – 

like the ghosts we knew
on given nights,

soft as seals 
in the soundless light.

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About the author: Ciarán O'Rourke was born in 1991 and is based in Dublin. He has won the Lena Maguire/Cúirt New Irish Writing Award and the Fish Poetry Prize. His first collection, The Buried Breath, is published by Irish Pages Press (November 2018).