Poetry Corners

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FT Weekend’s First Person article features David Hunt, who works at Tufnell Park tube station. He started writing poems on the service information board each day – in effect a poetry corner – at this granular Northern Line station a couple of years ago. It began with a Wendy Cope poem on Valentine’s Day; he tries to be topical but is carefully unpartisan. “We get requests too. Teachers really get into it – for some reason they like Keats.” The article ends: “We get people doing all sorts of odd things at the station. Chucking beer around, throwing up all over the place, but the poetry is sacrosanct – nobody touches it.”

Here it has been something of a sacrosanct, poetry corner kind of a weekend, starting on Saturday evening with Edward Thomas-inspired performances in the Lupton Hall by folk groups, 3 Cane Whale and Pedal Folk. The latter especially base much of their work around Thomas’ poetry and prose; much of their performance revolves around their own re-creation of Thomas’ journey from London to the Quantocks which they did on their bikes last year. Happily this jolly, quirky and folksy event takes place on the eve of our celebration of the 100th anniversary of the genesis of Edward Thomas’ first poem, Up in the Wind, which we are commemorating with a day of talks, tours, walks, sausage-eating and tree-planting. So on Sunday morning (dry and clear, phew!) 120 outdoor clad people gather in the Bedales theatre to hear Thomas-editor and expert, Dr Guy Cuthbertson talk about his life and poetic importance. Guy is followed by the heads of English from Bedales and Churcher’s, the Davids Anson and Cave, who focus their appreciation on the poem, March. Then, assisted by students from Churcher’s and Bedales, we are out on tour in Steep, visiting Thomas shrines: Yew Tree Cottage, the nearest thing that Edward and Helen Thomas had to a home, (where we admire a Lad’s Love bush and hear the poem Old Man which was based on that yew-like plant); the crossroads by the Cricketer’s (where we hear Aspens, the last poem he sent to his poetic mentor, Robert Frost); and then onto All Saints Church where we hear about the Thomas windows, both the original Whistler one and its recent replacement. Then off up to the Hangers, tracing the path that Thomas would have taken at least once daily, between Yew Tree Cottage and the little room/shed that he retained in the grounds of the Red House and where he used to write.

Having toiled up the Shoulder of Mutton (good visibility, hooray!) and admired the Red House (built by Lupton for Thomas but unloved by ET), we are whisked up to the White Horse, aka the Pub with no Name, where a specially invented Edward Thomas sausage, soup and a hearty bun await us, courtesy of Georgie Stuart and her team. Yet more importantly, the culminating, precious moments beckon: renowned Irish poet Michael Longley reads two of his own poems about Thomas – one features the diary which was found, ridged by the shell-blast that killed him at Arras in April 1917 – before handing over to his wife, Edna, the leading authority on Thomas. She talks about the genesis of the poet Edward Thomas from the renowned prose writer – “emerging from his prose chrysalis” in November 1914 with his first poem, Up in the Wind, which, inspired by his over-hearing of a conversation by the bar of the White Horse and shaped by Robert Frost’s belief that sentence sounds animate blank dialogue, led to what she describes as the Frostian eclogue of his first poem, which we now hear, performed by Michael and Edna.

So it is uncanny and unrepeatable, this moment in a marquee 100 years on to the day, hearing the Longleys, poet and critic, devotees to poetry, side by side on a dais by the pub which inspired a Keatsian poetic flowering of poems in the shadow of the Great War as they read this angular, anguished and curious first poem of our local, poetic hero. The finale of this celebratory day is, suitably for a poet who loved outdoors, in the pub’s garden as Edward’s great-granddaughter, Lucy Milner, plants a beech sapling to commemorate the start of this extraordinary, brief and prolific poetic journey.

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.