Sarah James

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What a Tree-t!

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Okay, I admit the blog title makes even me groan. But it was either that or Poe-tree, as both leafed friends (yes, that’s trees and poetry books)) have very much been the theme of the past week.

The reason? Well, our MA homework this week was to write a tree poem. Okay, so the precise instructions were a little more specific than that but that was the starting point and for once (poor pun alert) this exercise left me unusually stumped!

It’s not that trees aren’t inspirational – it’s almost the exact opposite.

Stunning tree poems include the examples given as part of the exercise:  Philip Larkin’s ‘The Trees’ ( ), Tomas Transtromer’s ‘The Tree and the Sky’ (which I’ve found online at: ) and John Ashbery’s ‘Some Trees’ ( But then there’s also Don Paterson’s ‘Two Trees’ which open his collection Rain, Michael Symmons Roberts’s ‘To Skin a Tree’ in his collection Soft Keys and a range of ‘tree’ poems in Jo Shapcott’s Costa Book Awards Winner collection Of Mutability. (One of these poems, ‘I Go Inside the Tree’, can be found at: ) I’d also recommend Worcestershire poet Jenny Hope’s ‘Forest Seamstress’ ( ) and ‘Self-Portrait as a Smooth-Skinned Beech’ from her collection Petrolhead.

This is, of course, a very pruned list of the many fine tree poems out there. Add in the fact that I have ‘The Tree Surgeon’ poem in my collection Into the Yell, not to mention others not in Into the Yell (a global warming tree poem, a pregnancy tree poem, myth tree poem and actual tree tree poems, including some of my recent small stone poetic snippets,) and the challenge of trying to find a new approach becomes even trickier. Even though winter/ spring is a time of year when trees seem to particularly make their presence felt –  darks skeletons stark against the skyline, the first green unfurling, birds singing – the way through the poetic forest was far from clear to me.

So did I fight my way through? Yes! How? I kept chipping away at that wooden writer’s block. Will what I’ve written stand any test of time? Probably not but like many early draft ‘poems’ it may, hopefully, bear some seeds for the future.  Certainly, it was worth battling on just for the joy of coming out the other side and I’m sure it won’t be the last time I look to trees for poetic or photographic enjoyment or inspiration.

Anyone with an interest in trees, be it for environmental, heritage or inspirational reasons, may want to check out this stunning online slide show on the ‘Oxford Today’ website at: .

There is also an online campaign against plans to sell off national forests at

Finally, on the topic of trying to protect the world we live in and the animals that live in it, the Tiger, Tiger project website has a new look. This is well worth checking out at: for information about how to help save this endangered species as well poetry, fiction and art reminders of how amazing the tiger is.

It’s been a week of Ploughing through Feathers and a Photo Album to hold a Folding Mirror up to the Soul. Yes, that’s my way of saying I’ve had a couple of days of action on the poetry front!

Firstly, my copy of Soul Feathers arrived from Indigo Dreams ( I am absolutely delighted to have a poem in this anthology in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. It is a fantastic cause and the book is bursting with poems by some fantastic poets including Carol Ann Duffy and Seamus Heaney, as well as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, and some wonderful local Worcestershire poets and friends too.

The Plough Prize 2010 results are also now up and it was an uplifting boost to find I’d had a poem shortlisted in the open section and another longlisted in the short poem section. (The results are available at the prize’s newly designed website:

A spontaneous Folding Mirror poem Photo Album, penned for my Twentyfirstpoets Makeitnew collaborative poetry project on Facebook, is also up on Marc Latham’s Folding Mirror blog at: .

Today, I’ve been busy on a kids’ party, skateboarding and biking front but did manage to collect a few photos during the car journey through the countryside to Malvern. (I’m rather in to taking reflection pictures in mirror or water at the moment and also enjoy the challenge of trying to capture snapshots while moving. Obviously, I wasn’t driving!)

Just one day and a few hours left of  the International Small Stone Month challenge and the route to Malvern also gave me an opportunity for spotting today’s ‘poetic’ small stone’, which turned out to be a partly built/roofed house. I loved the symmetry and openness of the exposed roof rafters – though that’s not much use for keeping out the rain!

the beauty of bare roof rafters
so much space for light and sky
a brave prayer for spring’s fair weather

I’ve small stones in my stomach today – looking forward to this evening’s guest poet slot at The Fizz in Polesworth!

If you’re in the Staffordshire area, the evening, which includes an open mic, kicks off at 7.30pm in Polesworth Abbey Refectory. I hope to read a few of my small stones, as well some poems from my collection Into the Yell.

Meanwhile, here’s small stone day 18:

the red wheelbarrow of water ripples
breaks my reflection into patterns of light
stray grass sticks to the side

Polesworth Abbey

Polesworth  Poets Trail Sculpture

It’s been a wonderful week enjoying poetry, the sunshine – and some natural beauty.

I was delighted to hear on Friday that some of my Christmas photos had proved the inspiration for this wonderful poem by Claire Knight. (You can check it out at: )

A walk out on the Clent Hills in today’s sunshine also proved inspirational for me, on both the writing and photography front, as did last week’s excellent Parole Parlate at Little Venice in Worcester.

The next date for this Worcester Literary Festival and Apples and Snakes spoken word evening is Thursday, February 3. Meanwhile, I can’t wait for their next Learn:Eat:Perform workshop and open mic with Francesca Beard at Worcester Arts Workshop on Sunday (January 16). (More details at: and

Following on from reading at Parole Parlate, I’m also looking forward to my guest poet slot at Polesworth’s The Fizz on January 18. The publicity details for the event, which also includes an open mic, are below.

Have a good week everyone!

“The Fizz number 5 will take place on Tuesday 18th January at Polesworth Abbey Refectory

We are pleased to welcome the Worcestershire based poet Sarah James to read from her first collection “Into the Yell” which was published in 2010 by the Circaidy Gregory Press.

Sarah’s imaginative narrative delivered in her distinct poetic voice explores the world from familiar to the fantastic. Her confidently crafted poems excite and engage the reader into her descriptions of the world, often bright, sometimes dark, but always inviting us to examine the theatrical complexity of our daily lives.

Copies of Into the Yell will be available for sale at the Fizz.

Admission is FREE and soft drinks will be available for a small charge.”

Even an early start after a late night has its own music. So here are my small stones day 7:

7am black rain
but the birds are singing

on the kitchen shelf
dust and a dead spider
fill my empty glass

Ice Alight

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I’m reading at Parole Parlate in Worcester tonight, where I shall be sharing some of my small stones,  a favourite from Into the Yell and some other new poems. So here’s a sneak preview of small stone day 6, which will be making its debut at Little Venice this evening.

jack frost feathers
the patio table,
combs quills of ice
across the glass

my flash turns
its daylight surface
to ridged night sky
bursting with fireworks

And just to prove there are some good things about having to get up early for the school rush – small stone day 5:

curtains not quite closed
a grey soldier of sky dipped in yolk
with chimney teeth marks

And two photographic stones:


a lucky bamboo shoot
cocktail of sun

My poetic stone for today (spotted at the leisure centre):

pink daisy picture
reflects the lights
as classic UFOs

And a photographic stone in the supermarket car park – noticed for the first time after seven years of parking there!

A short series of small poetic stones today fresh from the stream:

8 Days After Christmas

lopsided fir tree
at the top a red star looking down
to glitter on us


beside the sink
cups and dishes pile up
like a silent funfair


hoovering up
stray scraps of wrapping
stick to my socks


light creates pebbles
on the cleaned kitchen floor

And some snatches from the car-seat:

mistletoe ball
in a bare-branched tree
giant beehive of leaves

Malvern Hills glimpsed
through pinheads of water and mist
an Impressionist painting

And finally, my photographic pebble, not from today but from Christmas Day because it seems apt from the viewed from the car theme.

Snow Spoiled!

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As the last day of the old year rolls into the first day of the new year, I’ve been looking back, forwards and enjoying the present moment. More of the present and future in later posts but first, looking back over this year’s festive break and I’ve been thoroughly spoiled – with food, drink, presents and company. And this despite the heavy snowfall which almost avalanched all our plans!

The snow did make for some super sledging though – and some stunning Christmas scenery!

Not only has it been nice to catch up with family, even a woodpecker popped by for Christmas breakfast.

Wheelbarrow Farm – Review

Being surrounded by farmland over the festive break, not only gave me the chance to catch up on some reading but was also the perfect setting for settling down with Hilary Menos’s Wheelbarrow Farm. This poetry pamphlet was one of the winners in the Templar Poetry Pamphlet and Collection Competition 2010 (Menos’s Berg also recently won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2010).

Right from the opening poem, this short collection is full of strong characters, music and some fantastically quotable lines. In fact, the main reason I’m not just letting short snippets from the poems speak for themselves in this review is that I don’t want to lessen their impact by removing some of their surprise.

On a personal level, these poems of farmlife triggered many childhood memories of my grandparents’ farm. But more than that, the poems in this pamphlet create a beautiful balance between a conversational, matter of fact tone and moments of poetic beauty seen  in the grimmest realities of farmlife. I probably wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told me, for example, that one could bring ballet, a slurried farmyard and death together effectively but that is exactly what Menos does in her opening poem ‘Being Grunt Garvey’. (In fact, the penultimate line of this poem is one of those lines of poetry which stays with one long after reading, instinctively lodging itself firmly in the memory.) And all this with the light touch of humour that is also found throughout the pamphlet.

The title poem ‘Wheelbarrow Farm’, particularly seasonal at the moment given the recent snowfall, is an excellent example of this blend with its opening lines:

“When hell freezes over, he swears by three things.

“Lard on the lips. Two pairs of socks. His wheelbarrow,”

As elsewhere, the light, matter of fact, conversational tone belies and ultimately heightens the poignant use this wheelbarrow is put to, by necessity .

All in all, the mixture of poems in this pamphlet is probably best summed up by a line from one of my favourite poems in it, ‘Woodcock Hay’: “their neat fit the only magic we know or need”. This is what poetry is all about and, of course, the perfect magic to start the new year with – post hangover or not!

Happy New Year! Happy reading! Happy writing!

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