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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Jelley

At your Stamping Stations

Over the past four months, seven locations along the Tarka Trail have hosted stamping stations for the Peddling Poetry Project. Each were listed inside the Peddling Poetry Passports (of which 100’s were distributed to schools, walkers, writers along the trail.)

The project ran in three simple phases or stages

1 – get your passport and visit the cafes to stamp it

2 – follow the instructions inside to hunt out the poetry along the trail with your family and phone

3 – write your own poem and pin it to the trail for others to find

So how many passports were taken, how many stamps made and how many new poems posted?

Jimmy of the Waterside Diner – Chivenor nr Braunton

About 3500 passports have made it into the hands of the curious over the past four months, a great proportion of the 5000 printed. But how many of these passports made it to the stamping stations is really hard to ascertain. The cafes reported ‘regular visitors’ but thats really vague, and waiting in a cafe to count was really unproductive.

How many people went hunting the poetry is also really hard to quantify, specifically due to how the system (web app) actually works. We can count the number of web hits / downloads to a device (every open is a download!) but I don’t trust this metric at all. For years people have been telling me how many thousands visit their webpage. My belief is that these are all web bots and not real people at all. Real metrics are hard to get!

Lisa of The Burton Art Gallery – Bideford​

But what we can count are the new poems when someone pins it to the trail. This adds a time stamp to the database along with the gps location so we know where the author stood when they posted, as well as what they wrote (the poem).

Initially I pinned 150 poems on the Tarka Trail Poetry Pin for the launch this spring, which came from the poetry boxes installed last summer. Those ten little poetry boxes and subsequent poems laid the foundations for the trail as I geotagged each in turn to the very places where the tins had been installed. This meant as we launched in spring there was already content for people to seek out. Now at the end of these four months we have over 300 poems pinned to the trail, not bad at all.

Stella of Tea on the Train – East the Water Station

And even though the stamping stations have now retired for 2019, the trail is still open for new poems and will remain so for the foreseeable future. In addition to this, the cafes felt there was plenty of future potential for the project and were keen on doing it again next year.

Doing it all again.

That would of course rest with a few things falling into place but primarily funding as this years project was only possible due to support from who commissioned me in the first place with a residency. Out of this I was able to throw together an additional Arts Council England proposal which really put some gas in the tank and successfully launched the Tarka Trail Poetry Pin.

It also meant I could design and print passports, connect properly with the cafes along the trail, whip up and distribute the stamping stations, and run nine public creative writing workshops plus a further three with local schools. I could also monitor the poetry being submitted, keep the Facebook and Twitter feeds alive (easier said than done) and enticing more and more to play.

So having peddled and walked, chatted and hunted, wandered and talked from tip to tail of the tarka trail; having written poetry about lime kilns, cyclists, tea drinkers, errant yachts, sleepy tunnels, seaweed, sand and the seasons; and having read poetry about old folks, bike spokes, oily spanners, and family clangers, Brexit, boat yards and simple playing cards (actually not too much about Briexit thankyou!) I feel the Poetry Pin along the Tarka Trail has blossomed.

The Glorious Oyster – Instow

There are poems all the way from Braunton to Torrington, some are nested in clusters (the Instow picnic spot) others are off the trail (Victoria Park in Bideford / the old Rolle tow path near Torrington.) Some are under bridges, others with wide open vistas, some are tagged to benches, others about old friends and long lost loves. There are lots and lots about riding bicycles, all are full of facets, deviations and diversions, with each and everyone fascinating in their own way.

Paul of Fremington Quay Cafe – Fremington Quay

So its with great pride I am able to add these photos of the 2019 Stamping Station hosts along the Tarka Trail. Their part in this project has been essential, but better still they have asked for the project to repeat next year.

Phoebe of the Station Masters Cafe – Barnstaple

But in the mean time, get out there with your passports and tag new poems in readiness, lay a breadcrumb trail of special words for others to seek out and enjoy. Just this morning I had three new poems added along with this email. What a great end to the project.

‘We did the route from Westleigh to Fremington yesterday and picked up 130+ poems! We were told the stamps had been removed, but got the stamp station staff to draw in the passports instead!!’ Andrew

To round off I will finish with a poem as is the form, but go back to the roots of Poetry Pin with the very first trail at Hinkley C in Somerset. This was the rallying chant to get people writing to that trail, may the chant be sung loudly for many years to come. This is the Somerset Hinkley C trail which is still live and ready to receive your words of wisdom.

What Shakes?

Just bite it, and write it,

word it, then site it.

Park your mark to this path,

for the next to read

on their digital pass.

The canvas awaits,

what shakes, what breaks?

A trail of traits,

all shapes and mistakes.

Only here can you gather

the rhythm and flow,

the dips in the trail

or the rain on your brow.

Untethered and exposed,

released and refreshed,

word-smith extrusions,

juices freshly pressed.

So, stitch it to the trail,

put a notch in the rail,

post it, haste it,

chain it, and paste it.

The canvas awaits,

what shakes, what shakes?

The canvas awaits,

what shakes?

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