Bringing Gloucestershire poetry to Gloucestershire schools: a new DegreePlus opportunity

Bluebells in Dymock Woods, 2014. Photo: HWeeks

Here is an exciting internship opportunity through DegreePlus that will be of especial interest to anyone who loves poetry and is seeking classroom experience.  

The  Dymock Poets were a group of writers and artists (not just poets) who lived in and around the village of Dymock at the beginning of the twentieth century: Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, Lascelles Abercrombie, WW Gibson, and others. I wrote a post about a visit to Dymock for the blog last year.

The Friends of Dymock Poets want to promote awareness of these Gloucestershire poets in local schools and have asked for our help in making it happen. Our University Archives hold an important collection of related material, so we have strong connections to these writers and to their milieu.
You can find out more about the project and how to apply at the DegreePlus webpage:

Laurie Lee celebrated at the Cheltenham Literature Festival

The University of Gloucestershire sponsored lots of Festival events this year. One event in particular goes back a long way for us. The School of Humanities sponsors the annual Laurie Lee Memorial Lecture, which in the past has been given by Paula Byrne and Robert Macfarlane. This year, instead of a formal lecture, three poets gathered for a special celebration of Laurie Lee’s life and work, introduced by Professor Shelley Saguaro. The poets P.J.Kavanagh and Brian Patten knew Lee personally and shared their memories of the poet, Patten reading out part of a moving memoir. Nature writer Tim Dee talked about Lee’s influence on his work as a writer, photographer, birdwatcher and, in a sense, memorialist of landscape (read Kathleen Jamie’s review of Dee’s work here.)

Laurie Lee is a writer we claim as our own, and we’ve celebrated the centenary of his birth in many ways. Poet and Creative Writing Lecturer Angela France, who knew Laurie Lee in his final years, hosted an evening of Lee’s poetry at the prestigious Cheltenham Poetry Festival in March (and here); Angela was also on the panel of judges for the Literature Festival’s Schools’ Creative Writing Competition , in which Cider with Rosie made an appearance.

Photos & Links: Chelt Fest 2014:
Angela France photo courtesy of Western Daily Press.

Gloucestershire’s own Poets’ Corner

Of the many writers and artists who have drawn inspiration from Gloucestershire and the borderlands, the Dymock Poets represent a particular moment in English life in the years leading up to WW1. Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, Eleanor Farjeon, and others, along with the American poet Robert Frost (for a while) settled in Dymock from about 1913 – 16.  They were drawn by the area’s isolated beauty and the promise of companionship and support for their art, and for something more. Matthew Hollis writes: ‘They came from the cities for an elemental life, for the earth beneath their boots or the breeze that stirred the wheat fields.’ * Perhaps they idealised rural life, which is hard and unforgiving, then as now. For a while, though, the beautiful Leadon valley gave them the space and freedom that allowed them to develop as writers and artists.

We can still experience some of that peaceful beauty in Dymock today. In Spring, the paths to Dymock Woods trail through daffodils and bluebells. St. Mary’s Church Dymock stands behind the village green, but the visitor is in for another surprise: the Poets Corner in the northwestern part of the church, where an exibition of poems, paintings, publications and information celebrates the Dymock Poets’s achievements. Read more at the church’s web page on the poets. You can see some more photos at our Flickr gallery.


                                                                  ‘oh! yet
                                                    Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
                                                    And is there honey still for tea?’
                                                    Rupert Brooke, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’ from Collected Poems (1916)
Frost and Thomas formed a close creative friendship, going for long walks in the Dymock Woods and along the valley. Thomas taught Frost to think his poems through the body, through the act of walking, not simply seeing. Roger Ebbatson remarks that ‘Thomas’s verse constantly implies the point of view of the walker in the landscape.’ * In return, Frost teased his friend for being constitutionally indecisive and hesitant. A walk through the daffodil paths at Dymock is thought to be the origin of one of Frost’s most famous poems. 
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, ‘The Road Not Taken’ (1915)
Frost went back to the USA; Thomas was killed in action in France on Easter Monday 1917.
The University of Gloucestershire preserves the Dymock Poets Archive, part of our Gloucestershire Poets, Writers and Artists Special Collection.  Several research staff and postgraduate students in the School of Humanities have a particular interest in Thomas’s work. But our connection with the work of local poets and writers goes beyond academic curiosity. Cheltenham and Gloucester are situated between the Cotswolds and the Severn, not far from the Forest of Dean and the Welsh borders. Our identity is strongly regional. Gloucestershire inspires everything we do, and it is the place to which we return continually in our work and university life.
* References: Matthew Hollis, Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas (London: Faber, 2011), p. 116; Roger Ebbatson, An Imaginary England: Nation, Landscape and Literature, 1840-1920 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), p. 167.
Photos: Hilary Weeks.

Summer turns to autumn in the Cotswolds, and a piece of Gloucestershire literary history

The author Laurie Lee (Cider with Rosie) has a special place at the University of Gloucestershire. The School of Humanities sponsors the annual Laurie Lee Memorial Lecture at the Cheltenham festival of literature (stay tuned to the blog for more information shortly). This summer, a beautiful area of ancient woodland at Slad once owned by Laurie Lee was preserved as a nature reserve. It epitomises the link between writing and place that’s at the centre of our research and teaching.

But that was in June, and soon Gloucestershire will look like this:

Westonbirt Arboretum in the Fall.
 And soon the new academic year begins. We look forward to welcoming new and returning students. September is the best month of the year.  See you soon.

Ivor Gurney, poet of the Severn and the Somme

The Gloucestershire poet Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) was also a composer. This week, one of his hitherto unknown sonatas was released from the  Gloucestershire Archives for the first time. Gurney wrote the Violin Sonata in E-Flat Major on his return from the front in 1918. Gurney’s beautiful songs and settings are well-known. Listen to ‘Sleep’ here.

The South Midlands is a musical land, the birthplace of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells, Gustav Holst (Gloucestershire) and Edward Elgar (Worcestershire). It also became famous for its poets after World War I. Some poets, like Gurney and F.W.Harvey, were born here; others, like Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, and Eleanor Farjeon, who identified themselves as the Dymock Poets, were drawn by the special magic of this region. Perhaps the landscape spoke to them in ways that silenced the horrors of war.
The University of Gloucestershire holds the entire Dymock Poets archives and the Edward Thomas collection, among many other things of interest. Be sure to visit.

Robert Macfarlane delivers the Laurie Lee Memorial Lecture at the Cheltenham Lit Festival

As usual, students and staff are enjoying a fortnight of all things literary, cultural and book-obsessed at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature. Yesterday something really special took place. Robert Macfarlane delivered the annual  Laurie Lee Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the University of Gloucestershire, to a capacity audience at the Forum. Dr Shelley Saguaro, Head of the School of Humanities, introduced Professor Macfarlane’s talk on walking the ancient paths and track-ways of Britain.  His long walks helped reconnect him with the landscape, as well as with walker-writers such as Laurie Lee, whose long walk from Gloucestershire to London and then on to Spain to fight in the civil war is described in As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969). Professor Macfarlane’s book The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (2012) explores, in all senses, ‘the relationship between paths, walking and the imagination’. The autumn weather participated in the talk; thunderclaps and a terrific rainstorm forced him to stop speaking for several minutes. We felt that it was a tribute to his book.

The Word in the world

Last year English speakers across the world marked the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. William Tyndale of Gloucestershire’s translation is one of the greatest works of English literature. Without it, the work of Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Dickens, Tennyson, TS Eliot, Henry James, Yeats, Iris Murdoch – the list is endless – would not exist. It also formed the basis of the Douai-Rheims and most authorised versions of the Bible since.
Tyndale’s translation was the first printed edition of the Bible, ensuring its distribution throughout Europe and thus helping to disseminate the ideas of the Reformation. Today I found a commemorative £2 coin minted last year that celebrates the printed word. If you look closely you’ll see the opening words of the Gospel of John on the right-hand side, and its printing plate, with the characters reversed, on the left.
Humanities staff at the University of Gloucestershire created a blog to reflect on Tyndale’s translation and how it shaped English language and culture. I hope you enjoy reading some of it here.

"Cotswold or Malvern, sun or rain, my hills again"

Centre for Writing, History and Place
‘F.W. Harvey: A Poet for Today’
a talk by Roger Deeks, F.W. Harvey Society
F.W. Harvey (1888-1957), war poet, friend of and collaborator with Ivor Gurney, broadcaster and activist, was known as the Gloucestershire Laureate. This promises to be a fascinating talk on a local poet by Roger Deeks of the F.W.Harvey Society.
Wednesday 13 June
Francis Close Hall
FCH HC205, 5:15 p.m.
Everyone is welcome

The view from Cleeve Common. Image from