Birds Nesting - Chapbook No.13

Here is part of my introduction to Chapbook number 13 - 'Birds Nesting' which will be ready by July. 

From my 'introduction':
"The John Clare Peterborough Manuscript MS A47 contained the original text of Clare’s long poem ‘Birds Nesting’.  We owe Eric Robinson a great debt, as if he had not struggled to copy this manuscript 50 years ago, it would only have survived in fragments and in unsatisfactory copies by earlier hands. Of course, it is possible that Eric made mistakes but comparisons can easily be made with readings made by the Tibbles in the 1930s, so readers can judge for themselves.  Perhaps one day the original manuscript will surface again, but in the meantime, it is a real privilege to bring Eric’s transcription to the public eye in this little volume: 'Birds Nesting'.

What happened to the manuscript?  We do not know, nor when exactly it disappeared.  What we do know, however, is that it was loaned to an unnamed scholar by a senior member of the Peterborough Museum Society, and left in a railway compartment between Peterborough and Cambridge.  Was it swept away as waste-paper or is it still being hoarded by some miserly soul?  If the latter, we plead for its restoration to the Peterborough Central Library Clare archive, where it can be properly conserved for future generations.

A spirit of young adventure permeates the texture of Clare’s verse as the reader is brought to join hands with the eager schoolboys scouring the fields around Helpston in the search for birds and their nests.  Clare came to denounce bird-nesting as a hobby, but the excitement of this early pursuit filled his mind and heart with the recollection of those heady days at the turn of the Nineteenth Century."

Birds Nesting (Arbour Chapbook No. 13) will be available from me at £4.00 + £1.00 postage and packing (UK) from 1st July 2019.  It is dedicated to Professor Eric and includes a photograph of the great man and one of his poems on the subject of Clare's words.

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A cag of swipes?

[Image: A product of the thackers art in West Deeping]
I've been working on a Chapbook to be published in the early autumn of 2019.  'A cag of swipes' will be a collection of Clare's poems that contain, well shall we say, unusual words.  Here is a flavour from my draft 'introduction':

"Quite apart from that, Clare is having great fun writing this way.   He is not looking down at his fellow-villagers for their speech-habits but enjoying, as we should, its vigour and variety.   So Clare does often use a word in its dialect or obsolete form.  Not only does this alter the ‘smell’ of the poem but it also intensifies its meaning.  Clare often used words that he employs in his own speech and that he heard every day in the village street. For instance, the man who repairs a roof-covering made from straw or reeds is a ‘thacker’, not a ‘thatcher’.  Such a man uses a variety of ‘thacking’ tools, known today only to a specialist in such work, but common knowledge to every agricultural labourer of Clare’s time."

The photo was given to me by Peter Moyse, who sought out Clare 'locations' for his camera.

Childhood's Glory - Chapbook No.12

The innocence and freshness of Clare’s early years are grounded in the specific places and occasions in which his early sense of ‘glory’ was first experienced.  The landscape of his childhood, therefore, is not only a particular physical landscape – where certain kinds of fields, trees, flowers, birds and animals may be found and where even the names of places become incantations – but it is also a cultural landscape of infant affections and pastimes. 

His childhood innocence may have been sometimes darkened by a sense of loss and of guilt, or of fear and foreboding, but it certainly was a time of his life when his perceptions were particularly vivid, more direct, more natural than the time of  “knowledge of good and evil” — of disillusionment, and the sickness that accompanied his later years.

I look behind & like to eden find
Too late the Eden I have left behind

To lose this extacy, this rapture, is to be excluded from a direct relationship with the unsullied glory of creation, and to have to live one’s life with a sense of loss.

Childhood's Glory (Arbour Chapbook No. 12) is available from me at £4.00 + £1.00 postage and packing (UK). 

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John Clare facebook group

In December 2012, poet Angela Topping and I decided it was time to start a proper John Clare Facebook page. In the 6 years since then, my how we have grown, with today no fewer than 1,000 members. In August 2013 we held our inaugural 'group' weekend in Helpston, and over 19/20th May 2014 we gathered to remember our great poet by his graveside, and the gravesides of his wife Patty and muse Mary Joyce.
We have writers, musicians, painters, photographers & illustrators, film-makers, poets, sculptors, several descendants of Clare, academics, and plain old fans of his work. We have a rolling virtual exhibition of work "John Clare 150" dedicated to Clare (more contributions would be welcomed), and several books have been published from members of the group who met via these pages, as well as other collaborations.

We plan a fourth (or is that fifth) gathering over a weekend in September 2019 (mark your diaries now), again in the Helpston area, but with the possibility of visits a bit further afield to Holme Fen and Woodwalton Fen, weather depending of course.

And to add to all that, the weekend of the 12th to 14th July are the dates of the 2019 John Clare Society  Festival in the village (many of us are, of course, members of that organisation - one of the largest literary societies in the country).
Our cup runneth over...
Click here to go to the facebook page.

The Lovers Meeting

This is the first time John Clare's "The Lovers Meeting" - a reworking of Ovid's Fifth Elegy, has been published outside the Oxford University Press ‘Clarendon’ edition.  Authenticity has been at the heart of our volume.  The poem is presented exactly as Clare wrote it and has been typeset in a font designed in Northamptonshire in Clare's time (the Founder's Caslon type of Justin Howes).  A beautiful calligraphic ampersand has been specially created by Patrick Roe of The Logan Press to acknowledge its characteristic use by Clare.  Background information about the poem and its context is included. The book is bound by hand in two cloths of complimentary colours with gold blocked titles and has hand printed end papers designed by Anne Lee.


"The Lovers Meeting"

Clare's version of the Fifth Elegy of the First Book of Ovid

Our hand-made book was originally launched at John Clare Cottage, Helpston on Saturday, 9th November 2013 all now sold.

However, following a meeting with Patrick Roe of The Fine Book Bindery just two days before the launch of that edition,  it was agreed that he will produce the book for us, in an edition limited to 200 copies.  

So... the book has been produced in two versions - the initial one sold out, but The Fine Book Bindery edition still available at £20. 

Whilst we would have been able to continue to produce the books ourselves, being offered this opportunity to have our book printed and hand bound by a leading Fine Press maker of limited edition books is too important for us to ignore.  The level of quality in this artisan field of letterpress printed and hand bound books will be higher than we can possibly produce, yet we will still retain control of the book’s design and content.

Photos taken in the Cottage cafe on launch day, Friday 7th February 2014


Hot was the noon in summers sultry hour
The sun then raging with meridian power
When I more burning with the scorching heat
Of hot desire—lay hid in close retreat
Beneath the covert of a secret shade
Flush'd “with expectance of the lovley maid”
Sweet was the spot no one throughout the grove
Was better suited to the sports of Love

There is little doubt in our minds that Clare’s poetic vision was somewhat more carnal, fleshy, voluptuous than his advisers thought fitting, and of course, as a mere peasant what did he know about such sensibilities?

As Professor Robinson says in his introduction to Early Poems of John Clare (OUP) : “To survey the whole range of his poetry about Woman is to encounter a many-faceted, exhilarating, and erotic sensibility.”  This Clare certainly explored in his reworking of the Fifth Elegy of the First Book of Ovid, dating from 16 - 15 B.C. 

'The Lovers Meeting' as published by John Clare Cottage Press

The Poet in Love

Book Two of our Handmade, limited edition trilogy.

Come to my bosom my only thought pleasure
Prove that thou lovst to give pleasure to me
Come to my bosom my lone valud treasure
As all that can please me is resting wi thee

Come to my bosom that waits thy complying
Like the parchd earth in the summer the rain
Love in thy absence droops languid & dying
& only revives when it meets thee again

When I think on thee life half its load looses
When I enjoy what thy presence can bring
Sorrow half charmd into sorrow reposes
& pain melts wi kindness to lay by his sting

Come then to me wi thy fondness revealed
Softly to mine let thy blushing cheek bend
One wish Ill breathe wi my lips to thine sealed
Our trance may in heaven awake at its end

The very real story of Clare's meeting and courtship of Patty Turner, then her subsequent pregnancy and their marriage in 1820.

A review from Ronald Blythe:

"I read, and re-read 'The Poet in Love'... it is a delight; beautifully presented and even revolutionary in its demand that we should look at Clare 'passionately and practically'. You have re-instated Patty... and you have dethroned Mary Joyce. The book makes us look at Clare in a fresh way, and this is no easy matter considering the stream of Clare criticism. Anne Lee's illustrations are fascinating - a kind of poetry in themselves."

"So beautiful, such treasures for my John Clare bookcase. They should lie on a table where everyone can see them, pick them up and delight in them. The end-papers themselves are a treat... they really are very beautiful." (Of The Poet in Love & The Lovers Meeting)

And from Eric Robinson's Afterword to 'The Poet in Love': 
"No one can read this book without learning much of Clare's courtship of Patty during these formative years. It is a very strange story, but it reveals much of the essential character of a poet who had at last been recognised as a very great writer. Roger Rowe and Anne Lee have made an important contribution to Clare studies. And I am pleased to know that more is yet to come from their joint efforts."

Each book is signed and numbered and is available direct from me.  Simply email or message me via the John Clare Poet facebook page, and I will get back to you.

Each book measures 11" x 8"

"The Poet in Love" is £25 (Post free)

From 'The Old Shepherd'

The green where I tended my sheep when a boy
Has yielded its pride to the plough
& the shades where my infancy revelled in joy
The axe has left desolate now

Yet a bush lingers still that invites me to stop
What heart can such whimsies withstand
Where Susan once saw a birds nest in its top
& I reached her the eggs with my hand

& so long since the day I remember it well
It has stretched to a sizable tree
& the birds yearly come in its branches to dwell
As far from a jiant as me

On a favourite spot by the side of a brook
When Susan was just in her prime
A ripe bunch of nutts from her apron she took
& planted them close by my side

It has grown up with years & on many a bough
Groweth nutts like its parent agen
Where shepherds no doubt have oft sought them ere now
To please other susans since then

(MP III 444)

The Gothic John Clare

Gothic literature is often described with words such as "wonder" and "terror.” These senses, to which must be added the suspension of disbelief, are important to Gothic writing of all kinds, perhaps saving when it is parodied.

Notwithstanding the occasional melodrama, gothic writing is typically played straight, in a very serious manner. All that is required is that the imagination of the reader is willing to accept the idea that there might be something "beyond that which is immediately in front of us."

The Gothic often uses scenery of decay, death, and morbidity to achieve its effects . Nearly two centuries after Clare penned most of  these poems they maintain a dark and mysterious appeal.

 Soft as creeping feet can fall
 Still the damp green stained wall
 As the startled ghost flits bye
 Mocking murmurs faintly sigh
 Minding our intruding fear
 Such visits are unwelcome here
 Seemly then each hollow urn
 Gentle steps our steps return
 Ere so soft & ere so still
 Check our breath or how we will
 Listning spirits still reply
 Step for step & sigh for sigh
 Murmuring oer ones wearied woe
 Life as once was theirs to know

(Solitude, lines 281-294)

Epistle 1st from Richard

Here is one of Clare's love poems where Richard is writing to Kate - Clare appended to one of the manuscripts, "Richard a Country Clown and Kitty the Milkmaid".  Half a dozen years later Clare was composing the Hubbergubbel letters in much the same way.  As Professor Robinson wrote in his Introduction to Clare's aborted novel Memoirs of Uncle Barnaby, "It is high time that we learn to understand why Clare determined to ignore much that editors had forced upon him - and laugh with him."

Dear kate 
            Since I no longer can 
Go on in such a mopeing plan 

I send these lines with ham & hum 

To let the[e] ‘no’ I mean to cum' 

Sum' time or uther you to see 

W'en things ar' fitting to agree 

For ever since you jog'd from here 

The day to me do's seem a year 

I can't endur't so 'tis no use 

I love you wel' without excuse 

Therefore as now I plainly show't 

I only wish for you to 'now't 

& w'en the let'er you do get 

Let it suffice you how I fret 

For e'rey night I gang to bed 

Nou'ht but kit runs in my he'd 

The boys they all keep clit'er clat'er 

Wondering w'at can be the mat'er 

W'y I look dul'.—& w'ats befel' 

They on'y wish I wou'd but tel' 

But I'm determind not to do't 

They'l' on'y call me foolish fo' 't 

Yet not as I shou'd car' for that 

'T'wou'd on'y then be tit for tat 

But if I bro'ght thy name I 'no' 

Up 'mong such chaps as Jim & Jo 

 (Tho Jim if he 'ad on'y sense) 

 (To tel' mi'te be of conseq'ence) 

For he can reed an' never spel' 

 (An' 'rite a let'er mons'orous wel') 

Was thou to hear't as likly mi''te 

'Twou'd presen'ly to'n luv' to spite 

An' wou'd so much a terify'd thee 

As you ne'er after cou'd abide me 

This is the reeson kit (don't dou't it) 

That I ne'er tel' the boys about it 

For I'll sweet kit the thing is tru' 

Do ony thing to pleasur' you 

& w'ot you do'n't like sh'u'd be 

Shal' be the last thing dun by me 

For ere I 'rit this scrauling let'er 

 (I wish I cou'd ha' 'rit a bet'er) 

Fe'ering sum peeping chaps mi''te 'no' 

I 'new not 'ardly w'ere to go 

Yet anx''us stil' to send you one 

I at last contriv'd an' pitch'd upon 

Our bushy clos' agen the link 

'Twas ther' I went wi' pen an' ink 

The ink I stole from Jimys box 

For that he 'ardly ever lo'ks 

 (& if I'm 'ang'd for doing so 

It wil' be you that caus'd the wo') 

The paper at the shop I got 

& lu'ky pitch'd upon this spot 

Wher' skilarks wis'l'd oer my head 

& morning shun so bri''te an' red 

The du on e'rey bush did hing 

An' bods of al' so'tes did so sing 

That cou'd I sing like farmer's Jo' 

 (For shep'ads all can sing you 'no') 

I'd surely sung this very morn 

An' made a song in bushy laun 

But thats all now't I can'ot sing 

Nor 'bout this lawn nor 'bout the spring 

En'uf for me cans't thou but read 

This baddy stuf quite bad indeed 

An' w'at made worser on't you see 

Was writing on't upon my 'nee 

But w'y su'h 'pologin odrotit 

The stufs for you an' we'n you've got it 

Excuse the whol' an' never wonder 

That 'tis in all a worthles' blunder 

But kitty think nor think in vain 

My daily toyls my ni'tely pa'ne 

O if thy ''art can tender be 

'Twil' never fa'le to pity me 

I must konclude ther'fore ad''u 

My ''art an' so'le's for' ever tru' 

EP I 64