Just as summer finally blossomed in July, our Walking With Poets project got into its stride last month when Mandy Haggith began her residency at Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden. You can read Mandy's blogs about her experiences on the Walking With Poets website.
For August, Walking With Poets shifts its focus outside the capital to Logan's Botanic Garden. Jean Atkin will be our poet in residence during this month, leading a number of readings, walks and creative writing sessions. Jean works as a poet and educator, and lives in Shropshire. Her first collection, Not Lost Since Last Time, was published in February 2013 by Oversteps Books, and she has previously had three pamphlets published. Jean has worked with children as a poet in schools, and as Poet in Residence for Dumfries & Galloway Science Festival 2012.
What is your favourite flower, tree or plant?
I shall cheat and have all three. For flower, I’m going to choose the common hardy fuchsia, Fuchsia magellanica. For its sheer richness of form, its crimson and purple, and the way the dangling flowers quiver. And how it’s prepared to survive winters in the British Isles, and is the most spectacular hedgerow plant where our climate is soft enough. (And also I associate the name with Mervyn Peake’s mysterious girl in the Titus Groan novels).
For tree, I’m going to stick to oak. Because walking last weekend I found a vast, aged specimen, of huge girth, so old that it had hollowed out. Sheep were sitting inside it, clambering in and out through a hole in its trunk which was rubbed smooth by generations of woolly passage. Its crown had gone, but it was leafing generously on short, fine branches growing directly from its stocky trunk.
For plant, I’ll choose rogersia, a herbaceous perennial from south east Asia, but which I was thrilled to find growing mightily in my new garden when we moved house. It has vast, bronze-green leaves and tall flower spikes, and the most amazing texture and form. It’s inspiring me to build a pond beside it.
Name a nature poem you love.
The one that came to mind first (because I’ve been working on a poetry-in-the-woods project) is by Alice Oswald, from her collection Woods etc. I’m thinking of ‘Wood Not Yet Out’, with its closing lines:
the rain, thinking I’ve gone, crackles the air
and calls by name the leaves that aren’t yet there
Complete this sentence. ‘The one walk I know of that would make anyone a poet who followed it is….’
…through Brigsteer Wood in south Cumbria, early morning, early spring, when the wild daffodils flower under birches all through this small, wet wood. It’s criss-crossed with narrow paths; the westerly air is sweet and filled with birdsong.
What particularly excites you about the Garden you are working in?
I’ve always found the combination of Logan Botanic Garden’s position – it’s perched on the western edge of the long, green peninsula of the Rhins above the sea – and its sheer exoticism – completely irresistible. Caught in the Gulf Stream, sheltered by the decaying walls of Castle Balzieland, Logan has an atmosphere like nowhere else. Scotland, with palm trees. Galloway, with glimmering flowers from the southern hemisphere.
What do you think will be the highlight of your residency?
Sharing this extraordinary place with visitors through the medium of poetry! I will love that.