The river Barle is unusual as it has no towns or villages baring its name along its meander through Exmoor. The river Exe which is equal in measure when they run together is the very opposite, but it is the Barle which is this summer's muse; as the Poetry Boxes have been situated along a short length of it just next to an ancient crossing known as Tarr Steps.
The poetry box project is quite simple in concept, just a tin with book and pencil inside, left for strangers to populate with their words of wonder. In the summer of 2014 I tethered six such tins at Valley of Rocks for June, July and August supported by The Lynmouth Pavilion Project. By the end of the three months we had amassed over 2000 poems which was quite incredible, and now with only two weeks to go until the tins are removed we already have some 1300 entries written by passers by.
Moor-tinged head bows
Velvet kisses its reflection
This first response I usually receive when explaining the project and poetry boxes is 'what are you going to do with the poems?' Initially I explained that the project didn't expect to do anything, it was designed to simply gather and provide a space for writing if anyone felt so inclined. But as it turned out people were inclined and after the amazing quantity and quality that were collected last year it seemed that a publication would indeed be possible and requested by participants.
The second question people ask is about vandalism and I have to say that there is an element of this but it is minor, really surprisingly minor. Sometimes books have been edited by visitors, a page removed, a rude drawing erased (I only place pencils in the boxes for a good reason) and about one in twenty books will go walkies. But these losses are well beneath the number I initially expected. There is also a couple of repeating poems which would make my mum blush (probably not actually - I know she is made of sterner stuff!) but nothing which a little editing can't mask to make exhibition ready.
So how have I managed to get so many poems from complete strangers?
I think there is a mix of elements, firstly the location, Tarr Steps and Valley of Rocks are both beautiful places which many gravitate to when they visit Exmoor.
Secondly the quality of the tins and contents which must be A1 all the time, I check on them weekly and keep them tip top, replacing and repairing the tins, refreshing the books, sharpening pencils etc each time.
The poetry boxes are the seeds and they do need time to nurture and grow just like any good plant, so a little time in the field is essential.
The final ingredient which makes the perfect mix is space, to entice people to write they must feel under no pressure nor obligation to write. The books and boxes are just so tempting that people can't resist, and if their offering is not really up to their own expectation then they just pop it back in the box and leave for the next. But more often than not, the authors are rather pleased and like to sign their works (even when they are not their own!) some even add a copyright symbol.
For me what is astounding is the latent talent of passing strangers, those people treading the trail just like yourself, caught in a moment of relaxation and beauty, interest piqued they open the tin, read a little then add their own composition - just like that!
So perhaps when this set of books is in we will indeed start to pull together a little publication, it would be a shame not to. But in the mean time here are some extracts and images from this year's Tarr Steps' books, with the one below from me. The books and boxes will be retrieved without leaving a trace beyond memories and smiles, however they are still in situ until the end of August 2015 so you've still got the chance to add your own words. Throughout September a selection of the books are to be exhibited at The Lynmouth Pavilion, so catch them there too.
Across Sanskrit of leaf brash hall
A glowing spring evolves forth with
Forest twines and un-winds and gives
Rhythm of breath labours full strong
Upwards greets the blue bell haze
Indigo phase with eastwards bend
Where a brew of thoughts comes fresh to comprehend
A throw of ferns now into the trees
Down through the soul-scape of rivers casting
Towards the ocean a lazy life unmasking
Moss crazes this luscious mantle
Bilberries fringe where the text dismantles
All jigsaw pieces beyond the sum of its parts
Each segment spoke forming a wheel to this cart
Fold it up into phrases for elaborate cording
Entwine the words for future hoarding
The appetite of forest glamour
With which we may construct an armour
Against the raging wearing clamour
Also for those interested in poetry which responds to landscape there is an exhibition of The Poetry Pin Project at Contains Art in Watchet, with special event on the evening of 31st October. The Poetry Pin Publication - A Walk Down the Rift will be for sale (Fly Catcher Press and Amazon)