Sunday, 24 April 2016


Recently, I went on a workshop that worked both as a creative writing exercise and as an introduction to the Cornish miner poet John Harris. It was an interesting day that took in the green skirts of an area dedicated to the mining industry.

We visited the ruins of St Ia where sycamores had replaced roof beams and a fire-pit and deckchair marked the small nave and altar, ivy had dappled the outside walls with its own unique language play, a tale of reclamation:

We then wandered the woods, seeking a more minimal response to the area that inspired Harris's flowery late Romantic prose. I lay on a quilt of pine-needles, light falling through striated branches of evergreen growing tall and then leafy. I thought about transpiration while my @Sunbeatsco partner in poetry crime wrote a concrete response to the moment:

Anna Cathenka, 'Ha Ha'. @annacathenka 

Later on, after passionately defending minimalism and sound poetry to a group of bewildered first year creative writing students, I wrote a minimalist response in the style of Robert Lax:




(words taken from John Harris's Monro)

It's important that we read and study authors such as Harris. Writing becomes immediate, something that is not set above us but part of our evolution and necessary response to our experiences of the world.

Harris's poetry provoked different responses. I found his situation as a miner and the few snatched moments of ecstatic elegy to the natural world easy to appreciate, and felt empathy with the conditions from which he fought hard to elevate himself and his family. Certainly from an academic viewpoint there is a wealth of critical and theoretical work to be done on Harris's writing. It was good to see English students interacting with the poetry and the history.

I found it interesting that Harris's poetry was famed for his peasant's voice. Several contemporary reviews praised his simplicity, but he was devoted to Romanticism and often adopted the dominant voice of the Romantic, which was the voice of the high born conqueror. That is, the language of the people who created the dangerous and tough conditions in which Harris and his fellow miners worked and lived. Instead of the cracked and exploited earth of mid-Cornwall, we have rills of all-manner of things, plump milk maids and the solitary peasant genius noting it all down, ecstatically praising the merits of woods and groves. This strangely foreign, German pastoral imagery reads like wilted Goethe set among the tin mines of the Camborne area.

Nerve Damage

I have a poem in the recently published anthology Nerve Damage; an collection of poetic responses to Joel-Peter Witkin's image The Poet edited by Rupert Loydell.

I'm delighted to feature alongside poets such as Carrie Etter, David Grubb, Martin Stannard and Robert Sheppard as well as everyone else. A really interesting spoon-eyed mix of people.

You can buy the anthology by sending a cheque for £5 (or $10 if in US) payble to 'R.M. Loydell' at Stride, 4B Tremayne Close, Devoran, Cornwall, TR3 6QE, England.