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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Jelley

A Pavement of Poems from Exmoor Pupils

Over the last four months I have been working with eight schools across Exmoor, writing poetry which responds to the landscapes and environment around their villages. Each session began with a walk and exploration of the plants and wildlife along paths, verges and hollow ways of Exmoor, word harvesting as we went. The reason for this was due to the festival celebrations of the 150 years since the publication of the novel Lorna Doone by R D Blackmore. Inside the novel there are robbers and rogues, love and loss, intrigue and investigation, but for me the real star of the novel was simply the nature writing and the landscape.

silky water slicing through the blades

sprinting down

the isolation of the steady flow

vaults of water gush and deepen

vibrant teal blue foam simmering under

ice water flows near pink flowers and goose grass

clouds above stream bright white horse tails

radiant River Barle

Dulverton All Saints School

The fictional story, set during the civil war era takes part in most in the villages and combes across Exmoor. Tarr steps, Valley of Rocks, Dunster, Porlock, Watchet not to mention Malsmead and Oare (where the Doone Valley existed even before R D Blackmore set it in print.) And I am not alone with the love of this aspect of the novel, Doone Country has been a draw for people across the globe to see the mountains (!) and great wide plains of the moors since publication.

I wouldn’t kiss a stinging nettle's petal I wouldn't drink from the bubbling muddy stream I wouldn't eat the prancing dancing foxglove I wouldn't sleep upon a prickly bed of brambles nor lick the foot of the spiral hypnotising snail but I would stick goose grass to your tail and shake the damp rain soaked branches so the drips will fall down your smooth neck

Cutcombe C of E First School

So when approached to put a project together for the celebrations, it was only natural to connect to the nature writing and landscape aspects of the book, and now after the installation is complete at both Dulverton (Monmouth Terrace) and the castle courtyard at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton I can finally take stock of it all. Firstly, this project focused on pupils from years 4 to 6 (ages roughly 7 to 9 year olds) and funnily enough when I counted the pupils from each of the eight schools there were 150 in all, one for each year since publication.

an ancient carpet of golden leaves

toss and turn beneath precious knees

precious toes and precious locks

a royal blanket of goose and swan flock

Dunster First School

So where is the poetry, and how can I see it?

After creating the poetry at each school I drew the words in to little stanzas being as honest as possible to the pupils creation. These were then laser etched into stencils which I applied an invisible spray through (yes really called invisible spray!) onto the pavements. After a short time the solvent of the fluid evaporated leaving just a pavement again.

soundless rain caught in the crevices of the emerald green oak their leaves, where birds lay eggs, dark at night branches striking out like lightning bolts the sun beams through the dark endless tunnels silence everywhere bundles of leaves still scatter across the land everywhere I look there's no hand to hold

Lynton C of E Primary School

Monmouth Terrace, Dulverton

So how are the words revealed?

So this is the neat trick, when stone gets wet it generally darkens, but only where it is not protected by the invisible spray, so the words magically reveal in the rain. The technique is not permanent and will only last for the summer depending on traffic and weather etc, so make your way to the museum today and hunt the Exmoor inspired pavement poetry out. I have left a set of water pistols and watering can at the counter to help you on dry days, but on wet ones, all the poetry reveals in a tapestry of incredible words for you to tip toe through.

pattering feet on the gravel path

a black cat in the rushing grass slinks away

howling wind hatches bees

through shaking branches and rustling leaves

dogs barking loud as thunder

birds cheep-ing in the cyan sky

forget-me-nots on a river bank

clean mists feather and pillow fight away

a brilliance of bees cautiously approach

next door is a gentle flow

that’s the way the last of the lost trinkets go

Porlock St Dubricius School

mud as black ash

carpet of clover

rivers like slate

the wind’s whispers carry up leaves

vines of lime hair hang from the holly trees

with thorns as sharp as a hornet sting

and the ivy climbs

and the goose weed brings

crumbling docks

and the smell of fresh toothy leaves

jade butterflies gliding

through a sea weed sky

blue bells swarm like octopi

Timberscombe C of E First School

Thanks to Heritage Lottery and Exmoor Partnership Funds for support as well as Heritage South West for supporting the installation. But more importantly, thank you to the pupils and staff at Porlock St Dubricius School, Exford C of E First School, Dunster First School, Cutcombe C of E First School, Timberscombe C of E First School, Dulverton All Saints School, Lynton C of E Primary School, and Parracombe C of E Primary School.

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