This week I was lucky enough to record a poem on BBC3’s The Verb, in collaboration with musician Kate Arnold from Fear of the Forest. I’m currently on a writing retreat at Hawthorden Castle so the trip to Salford proved a little too epic – they let me record my part from Edinburgh, with everyone else in the same room in Salford. Slightly surreal to be talking to disembodied voices and guessing cues, but I think it all came out in the wash!
Also on the programme are Pascale Petit reading from Mama Amazonica – she blogged about the experience here, Terry Deary of Horrible Histories fame, Jack Bernhardt with a horror-movie spoof, and, of course, Ian McMillan presenting!
For context, I was approached and asked to write a forest-inspired poetry segment to accompany Kate’s beautiful song Fairy Tale Ending (which you can listen to here). They were particularly keen that Breton be integrated within it, as Kate’s inspired by medieval Breton author Marie de France’s lais.
I was drawn to Kate’s lyric ‘it’s nice that you’ve come to my rescue’ and knew I wanted to create a semi-narrative poem inspired by the Breton legends I love so much. One way into the poem for me was hearing about the Ogham alphabet – an ancient celtic alphabet in which each letter corresponds to a particular tree. I wondered which tree was missing from that alphabet and the poem became a sort of origin story.
Brittany is full of forests and, to me, they are inseparable from the sea. They are liminal places and portals to other places, particularly the world of the Korrigans. The Arthurian and mythical forest of Broceliande, said to be in the current forest of Paimpont, is full of such gateways and magical entrapments: Merlin is apparently trapped there by Viviane. I therefore weaved in at the start of the song an extract from a previous poem I wrote (‘Fest Noz’ found in The Shipwrecked House) in Breton and English, to set the mood.
Another favourite forest is Huelgoat, which I visited only a few months ago. Each rock and tree tells a different story, I’ll leave you with a few pictures I took then.
Ultimately though, the poem was inspired by more than one tree, more than one forest, and I’m pleased with the strange creature it’s evolved into.
You can listen to it here, about 10 minutes into the programme.
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