Archive for March, 2009

This year I made my debut in the York Literature Festival with a pair of collaborative events: a Spring Story Walk around West Bank Park, and a new show, ‘Raucous Rhymes and Wonder Tales: Childhood Across the Centuries”, with poet Anneliese Emmans Dean in the wonderful medieval Jacob’s Well on Micklegate.  Anneliese also led our toddler group, the ‘Very Young Friends of West Bank Park’, on a poetical exploration of the woods in West Bank Park which had them truly fascinated.  See her blog http://www.thebigbuzz.wordpress.com for details!

She wrote the ‘Raucous Rhymes’ and I told the ‘Wonder Tales’ and between us we told of children brave, silly, heroic, vengeful, clever, neglected and sad.

Anneliese and I after 'Raucous Rhymes and Wonder Tales'

Anneliese and I after 'Raucous Rhymes and Wonder Tales'


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For the story walk around West Bank Park I organised this week as part of the York Literature Festival, the theme was ‘Spring’.  Not difficult, you might think.  Choose some stories about birds and flowers and get cracking.  But, as ever in preparing for  storytelling event, I practise on my long-suffering husband, and he asks awkward questions like “What’s the point of that one?”  So St Kevin had to hold his arm out straight for weeks until Lent was over and the blackbird had finished nesting in it – of what relevance is that?  What are all these people supposed to feel about it?

This gets me thinking, more generally, about the business of finding, and choosing, and creating stories.  I like to research the obscure and hidden titbits of history of folklore, the ones that reveal how people relate to nature and each other, or cope with change.  Then I like to pass them on to people, and I sometimes need reminding that this in itself isn’t enough.   They need to be turned into a story.  And more than that, they need to say something about the here and now, or give people a chance to think about it differently.

So, the ‘hook’ for the story walk became Lent, the ‘waiting time’.  Why did Lent happen to be just exactly at this time of year – when the natural world hasn’t quite woken up yet, food was running low, and the long winter was starting to wear thin?  How did people cope with it?  If St Kevin’s reaction was a little extreme, at least he was choosing to take action.  And what does the Park look like at this time of year?  As we walked round, we heard the birds going mad with anticipation, saw the first daffs coming through and watched the frogs in the act of spawning – yet the trees still haven’t come into leaf.

Instead of a ‘story of the month’, here is Seamus Heaney’s poem about St Kevin:


And then there was St. Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
And lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: Now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.

    • *

And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird,
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.

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