LOOK, LISTEN AND CHOOSE

Each month the website will feature a different poem both printed and recorded. If you have a favourite poem that you'd like to share with others please get in touch via the website and we'll add it to the list.

 Reading The Forest There is a long tradition of writing in and about the Forest of Dean. Our people, places and traditions have appeared in books of fiction, fact, and fable, poems, comedy and plays since at least the 18th century. The Reading the Forest project aims to create resources, activities and events to encourage people of all ages to engage with this rich seam of stories set in and about our Forest landscape.
Poem of the Month
Play Me

 

Four Seasons in the Forest

By Dave Harvey

 

In early Spring the snowdrops peep

From laying in the ground fast asleep.

The daffodils next will show their heads

Turning parts of the Forest into bright yellow beds.

 

These are the signs that Spring is here,

Young green shoots to feed baby deer.

The babbling brook still runs deep

After Winter snow, rain and sleet.

 

All kinds of birds, with robins red breast,

Are gathering together to build their nests.

The blackbird sings his song on high,

Because another Winter has passed by.

 

In early May, when the weather gets warm,

The honey bees they tend to swarm.

The Forest turns to all shades of green,

The most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.

 

After long hot days of visiting sites,

The nightingale sings into the night.

You may spot a doe and a baby fawn

As another day begins to dawn.

 

From August on, take a long crook stick,

For there’s lots of blackberries to be picked.

There are signs of Summer coming to an end

For Autumn weather is just round the bend.

 

Autumn comes with colours so bold,

Of yellow and reds and browns and golds.

These ochre colours all can be seen

All through the woods in the Forest of Dean.

 

Hazel and chestnuts on the floor

For nature’s pets to fill their store.

The Autumn leaves fall on the ground,

Leaves a soft carpet all around.

 

Then the first slight frosts appear

To show that Winter’s drawing near.

When nature’s animals seek to doze,

Hibernate for Winter! I suppose.

 

The snow turns the Forest to a blanket of white,

The frost all day that glistens at night.

The sound of the fox on the cold night air,

For a long night’s hunt away from his lair.

 

At the end of December

A new year is found.

For nature’s world,

It goes round and round.

 

‘Poems by local poets (and that includes you) on assorted subjects'

 

Reclamation

©Vicky Hampton, 2015

 

There are quarries where men flaked history.

Three centuries and more they split, knapped

and nailed the country’s hardcore over their heads,

bedded stone down on rafters for their new-weds

and children to play under, their old to die.

 

There are streets hatted in the finery of that labour.

It’s lichened now, the colour of April catkins, and

sags badly with the weight. Where it falls

sifting yellow Caterpillars turn to light of day

the cobwebbed prayers and ghosted I love yous.

 

There are places where the dismantled are left,

counted, classified, bleak; where wind shrieks

through black eyes punched in old tiles

leaning against each other like mourners, scrubbed

and gone that asphyxiated grey of the lost.

 

There are faces on those stones which are inscrutable.

By day they are tired exiles, in line for transportation.

Beneath a moon, they are dragon scales -

pewter runes to roof time itself -

awaiting reclamation by the ancient ones.

 

 

Originally from Wales, Vicky Hampton has lived in and around Ruardean for twenty years. She is a qualified Writing For Wellbeing facilitator.  “I’ve written poetry pretty much most of my life,” she says, “Wherever a landscape tells its stories to me.” Vicky is a member of poetry-writing groups in Cheltenham and Monmouth, and regularly reads her poems and short stories at The Queens Head (Monmouth) Writers Showcase. Some of her poems, written soon after moving to Gloucestershire, are anthologised in ‘Forest Poets of Today’. Her poem, ‘Reclamation’, inspired by the stone roof tiles typical to the Cotswolds and her native Wales, won in the 2015 Chipping Sodbury poetry competition.

 

Dick Brice, was brought up at Harrow Hill and now lives with his wife Di just outside the forest boundary some four miles from Ross on Wye. From the mid-sixties to early eighties he and Di sang with ‘The Farriers’ an award-winning Birmingham based folk group; but  once back in the forest, the history, characters and dialect have provided material for an astonishing range of poem and song, which goes all the way from lamenting the lost world of the mines (as here in ‘A Culture Built on Coal’), to celebrating the forest heritage –a gift to be treasured and passed on to future generations (See ‘This Forest Land’  on the Poetry Recital page).

 

 

Culture Built on Coal

 

The pithead hooter’s silent now; the winding gear is still.

What was a grey-blue heap of slag is now a fern-green hill.

For the old men draw their pensions and the young men draw the dole,

And I’ve lived to see the dying of a culture built on coal.

 

The husband on the night-shift won’t trudge off down the lane,

And leave his wife to worry he won’t make it home again.

No more we’ll hear the banter in our proud old forest tongue

Or the old man in the corner coughing poison from his lung.

 

No more will weary  miners bring home faces grimed with dirt,

Or a woman old before her time scrub coal-dust from a shirt.

No more will anxious fam’lies gather at the hooter’s sound

Or stand weeping at the broken bodies brought from underground.

 

But neither will we feel the bond between a band of men,

Who trust each other’s skills upon which all their lives depend.

In a time of peace and plenty it’s impossible to find

The comradeship that’s known to those, who laboured down the mine.

 

But now our world is setting out to write another page

Without the sighing of the winding wheel, the rattle of the cage.

And those of us with memories will live to count the cost

Of what the forest gained from progress and just how much has been lost.

 

For the pithead hooter’s silent now; the winding gear is gone.

But in this generation still the mem’ries linger on.

There’s a melancholy emptiness deep, deep within the soul

That we’ve lived to see the dying of a culture built on coal.

 

 

‘Another Shift Done’

 

Monday morning go to the mine,

Up early in the morning to get there on time.

Into the baths to clean lockers first

Fill up your can for the later-on thirst.

Up to the tally-man to pick up your check;

Tighten the muffler that hangs round your neck.

Down to the blacksmith - a sharp blade for your pick;

The hooter’s blown: go up to the pit.

Into the cage; the gates close with a clang.

Someone comes out with some old forest slang.

Lift off the dogs, then downward we go

To the depths of the mine far down below.

The cage seems to bounce as the brakes are applied,

Secret thoughts – for another safe ride.

Down to the coal-face, there’s work to be done

Deep down in the ground, away from the sun.

There’s Don, Fred and Ken, Mike Burns and myself

Colliers on a face in the Coleford High Delf

A slight fall of roof, it scrapes off the skin

I wash it clean with some drink from my tin.

We work on the face in boots, trousers and vest.

It’s good to have bread and a well-earned short rest.

Then back to the coal face: we must get it clear.

Look forward to the darts and a cold pint of beer.

It’s quarter past one – to the trolleys we stroll:

Another shift over from this dark grimy hole.

Into pit bottom, we wait for a while

For the afternoon shift there’s always a smile.

Onto the cage, up into the sun

What a joy for us all – another shift done.

 

 

Dave Harvey, who knows the forest past and present like few others, from personal experience here recalls life down the mines. Another painful memory, of a tragedy that nearly cost him his life, can be found in the poem ‘Big Phil Bennet’ on the poetry recital page.

 

 

Coal Mining

A Tribute to the Forest of Dean Miner

 

Black harvest gleaned from the belly of earth,

For thee we seek.

That sweat we offer - a mark of thy worth,

Yet we are weak.

Rude hands that claw at your dark rugged walls,

Dim eyes that peer through the dust of your falls,

That craving for comfort how strongly it calls,

Of thee we speak.

 

Gone are the days of our fathers before,

For thee they sought.

Small though their yields yet sufficient the more

Thy face they wrought.

Simple their methods and basic their need,

Unspoilt by demand of others' base greed,

From the fruit of their knowledge they planted the seed,

From which we're taught.

 

But with the coming of machine and its power,

An age had gone.

What they won by week was now gathered by hour,

But their light shone.

But when that new era was profit no more,

And all that were left were the tiny and poor,

With nought but the skills of those days of yore,

You still go on.

 

Keith Morgan was born in Coleford in 1942, has lived in the forest all his life and was encouraged to write by the late Harry Beddington, one of the best writers of the forest dialect. Keith’s love of the Forest of Dean, its people, culture, humour and heritage is reflected in his  work – in poems such as ‘Coal Mining’ included here and his dialect poem ‘Varest Ship’ on the poetry recital page.

 

Brenda Read-Brown is the current Gloucestershire Poet Laureate. Brenda has won many slams, and performed everywhere from Texas to the local pub. A selection  of her poems can be found in ‘Arbitrary edges’ published in 2013, which includes, she says ‘poems I am proud of, the ones I like, and the ones other people like'. Two of Brenda’s poems are included here – on the poetry recital page the beautiful ‘When A Butterfly Lands’ and here ‘Justified’.

 



Justified

 

Just today I just noticed that I use the word just just about all the time, instead of only which makes me feel lonely, and indecently often in place of recently, and sometimes when I really mean merely, or dearly, or, queerly, even really itself; or, more matter-of-factly, when I should put exactly; and it certainly isn't prudery that avoids the hint of rudery in setting down, squarely, barely. I've never denied despite my pride that I can be idle, and don't always take the trouble to decide the precise word for my meaning, but sidle round with this vague evasion; but it's annoying and demeaning that the occasions are strangely rare that I use just to signify fair; where, in fact, it would be truly justified.

 

The Poets of Gloucestershire

 by Helen Hail

 

I walk

with the poets of Gloucestershire

at Twigworth and Minsterworth

and on May Hill.

 

Far from asylums, prison camps

and the guns of France,

I find them in my county’s churchyards

and among trees on the high hills.

 

Hedgerows bursting with spring

speak them,

the bubbling water

sings them in summer,

 

Autumn’s vibrancy resurrects them

and frost sparks their words again,

for the poets of Gloucestershire

still walk these ways.

 

 

Helen Hail is a poet who is inspired by May Hill and the woods around it and is known locally as ‘The Poet of May Hill’.  Her first collection "Fire and Ice" was published by Bluechrome in 2004.

 

 

Autumn

by Frank Penning

 

This autumn time when day is done,

there sinks the early setting sun.

The air is cool, the wind blows keen,

and trees are losing their verdant green.

 

The plants have done their very best

to flower and seed but soon will rest,

as autumn heralds their winter test.

 

The fires are lit when daylight's gone,

we have lost the warmth of the setting sun.

And chill creeps in on misty waves,

that condensates on grass and graves

and outhouses, doors and window staves.

 

At dawn the dew hangs on the grass

in droplets like crystal glass,

cobwebs are spread across the lawn,

with watery pendants, that should be worn.

 

These diamond necklaces of crystal bright

are lit up by the morning light,

but soon will fade and disappear,

as the sun warms up the air.

 

This time of mists and watery sun,

where the shadows lengthen as the days do run.

 

Are just a reminder that the year is near done.

 

 After a battle

 

On near and far horizons

the blackened upturned trees

like Nature's crucifixion

remain for all to see.

A ghostly, sad reminder

a tally of the cost

A lasting valediction

For all that we have lost

 

 © IJH.    Aug.2014

 

 

 

Please see the 'World War 1 Page' of the website

 

Sharon Haines author of 'Honey'

 

"My poetry shares my innermost feelings of what it was like growing up in the countryside around Cliffords Mesne & Mayhill, my main inspiration being my ponies. You can see and experience so much more of the countryside whilst out riding, including seeing the seasons as they change."

 

 Honey (All those memories) For all my life I have been with you Everything I remember is always you You're always there to guide from right and wrong Even the day you heard that same boring song You carried me across rough land Always been there to give me a hand We've jumped things that seemed impossible With strength and courage you made them possible We've laughed, we've cried, we've even shied We've gone through chases Won many races At times you've felt poor I've watched you by the door For I could not imagine being without you My memories will always be of you Unlike the shade Those memories could never fade
 The Pet That Never Was Every morning I open the door Glistening trails across the floor An army of slugs about to wage war 10, 50, 100 or more! Should I try poison Or maybe just salt Not sure they should die It’s really not their fault…. …..That I’m a slut in my hut And slack on the broom As some might say Like UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom! So I decide they can live There’s room for us all No matter if they spread From the kitchen to the hall But then I feel a squelch Oh my god, my clumsy feet! The horror, the pain The total utter shame….. There was only ever one He could have had a name…. ….And now…. He’s just a stain Mel Adams June 2014 Mel Adams: Mitcheldean Folk Festival, Poetry Recital Co-Organiser

Reflections of a Pond

 

There is in woodland by a lane,

a Pond, a Lake, that’s made by rain.

This little lake it doesn’t stay,

it grows with rain, then flows away.

Down through a drain they call the spout.

Under Spout lane, then gushes out.

Into a stream and then another,

till volumes of the water gather.

Past long and old forgotten Mills,

into the Severn, where it spills.

It’s never ever really dry,

On clement days there is close by.

St Anthony’s Well, that flows so clear,

In fresh cool water all the year,

That cascades into woodland steep

And trickles down to where it seeps.

Away.

                                                                                                                                                                           F Penning

Chris Morris

 

High on May Hill is a simple celebration of our valley and it's hill.

 

High on May Hill

 

A beacon on the Forest’s northern flank,

Outstanding yet within its loose embrace,

May Hill’s high grassy slopes are Longhope’s crown,

The copse within it’s summit earthwork banks

Its jewel. A Sunday walk (whose country pace

Includes a detour for the friends from town -

Refuelling at the cider house) soon turns uphill

High on the cusp where pasture turns to heath,

The gorse and bracken dominant until

The famous scots pine grove. Spread out beneath:

 

The giant pylons, rushing arrow straight,

Criss-cross the contours where the railway line

To Ross once ran its level route, sedate

And certain (now its sad remaining signs:

A sheep collecting pen, abandoned bridges,

Disconnected footpaths and a fenced off

Lorry park). Beyond, the woods of Ruardean,

Breakheart and all the piney ridges

Drop down to the snaking River’s swollen trough.

 

Up Blaisdon’s valley, lost in shades of green,

(The pastel froth of blossom long since blown)

Plum orchards, potent with their autumn fruit,

Play host to grazing sheep (their lambs now grown

And gone for Sunday lunch). High summer suits

These hills: bright sunshine lends a Tuscan glow

To stone and whitewashed cottages and farms

Spread thinly on the slopes (in rain they show

A dullness that’s best known as Celtic  charm).

 

Now high on the summit, in the wood, drawn

Deep in shades of charcoal quiet as the night

(Though tricks from May Day’s jingle jangle dawn

stay resonant) the trees are split by sunlight

Slanting through the diamond coloured canopy,

One hundred Scots Pines planted, so we’re told,

To celebrate Victoria’s Jubilee.

From wide across the Vale the trees bold

Standing gives May Hill a singularity

That lifts it from a simple grassy dome,

Endows a landmark popularity,

Provides, from the far Scarp, a welcome home.

Marmie Smith

 

"When I was sixteen I came to live in Mitcheldean with my aunt and uncle Felix and Betty Wright who were the landlord and landlady of the White Horse pub in Mitcheldean.

 

I started work at the BAF on a milling machine, my boss was Jock Currie.BAF then became Rank Xerox where I covered Hacker radios and Selmer Speakers. Then I got married and had three children, lived in Platts Row, and this is the story of my youngest little daughter who planted this acorn."

 Enjoy Your Retirement The bonus's of retirement are, that you don't have to use that car, to get you at the crack of dawn through traffic, wind and weather's scorn, to that place you know so well, that once was pleasant, but now is hell. There's no phone and no boss, to irritate and make you cross, but books to read and friends to see and passing pleasant company. There's now time to spend on things that matter, away from all that office chatter, catching up on all those things, that choice and serendipity brings. So do just enjoy it!!! F Penning

 

THE LABYRINTH OF LIFE

 

Each day I struggle through life’s maze

Surrounded by the smog and haze

I battle on, but more delay

Another dead end bars my way

     And yet You love me

 

My baggage carries so much hurt

My life weighed down with guilt and dirt

Bitter, twisted from my pain

Tortured thoughts and troubled brain

     And still You love me

 

Lord, give me peace to calm the storm

Although my life did not conform

Unveil my eyes that I might see

The sacrifice You made for me

     Because You love me

 

Please take my hand and don’t let go

It’s You I want and need to know

So when I’m all alone and lost

I’ll think of Jesus on that cross

     And know You love me

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Smith (See also ‘Autumn’ on the Poetry Recital page) has loved  writing all her life but turned to poetry following a creative writing course in Gloucester. Of this poem she says: ‘Something called ‘Labyrinth’ was coming to our church – a  symbolic and sometimes disturbing spiritual journey in which the traveller is taken out of their comfort zone and encouraged to unwind and think – about themselves, their relationships, the planet and their God.  This was my response’

We're looking for poets and writers

Of verses and ditties and rhyme

Please send all your thoughts to the website

We'll put them on here next to mine.

 

There's a type of person we're looking for

A person whose got lots of thoughts

We'd like to see what you're writing,

To give you a theatre of sorts

 

Share your thoughts and ideas

Through the website

It's really quite easy to do

 

Use this link, press the button,

Go on - if you dare

Write down those thoughts

That you're happy to share

 

We'll put them right here

No problem at all

If you don't want to email

Then just take a stroll

Go down to the library

They're friendly in there

Explain that you have, something to share

They'll give it to me

I'll put it on here

It's really that easy to use this stage

Of the Mitcheldean Library website page.

       Swansong

 

Once I took my kids there

Played football, scored a try,

Now I pay to park at speech house

And I really don’t know why

 

Too late to close the stable door

Once the horse has gone

And the swansong of the forest

You feel it won’t be long

 

They’re putting up a hotel

Five star I hear them say

But the bats and newts and lizards

Wont even stay a day

 

Too late to close the stable door

Once the horse has gone

And the swansong of the forest

You're sure it won’t be long

 

And what of Forest’s future

I’ll give you all a clue

Burger King among the trees

And you just know its true

 

And when the Center Parc arrives

And we can’t afford to stay

The signs will be up everywhere

Private , Keep Away !

 

Too late to close the stable door

Once the horse has gone

And the swansong of the forest

You know it won’t be long

 

The Phantom Poet

All thoughts and ideas, follow the link to: website@gl17hub.org

 

 

Contact: website@gl17hub.org