The Henkeeper's Almanac
2013 will see the completion of a new collaboration that I've been working on for the last year.  I wrote a short poem for every month, from the viewpoint of the country henkeeper.  I've kept hens for ages, frankly, in town gardens, country gardens, on a smallholding - and this spring I'm looking forward to reinstating them in a my new town garden.  I miss them.

Last spring I cast around to find an artist who might like to work with me on this project - because hens are so decorative - and thought of  Pamela Grace.  Pamela is an artist and printmaker working in Galloway, whose work I already admired (some is on the wall).  Luckily for me she was interested, and came out to our smallholding over a couple of days.  My hens there lived very (very) free-range, and weren't very tame.  In fact they weren't keen to let Pamela and her sketchbook get very close at all, and in the end I had to stalk them with her, because they clung to the belief that I might feed them something.  Indeed much bribery took place.

We're putting together a small but beautiful book, with an exhibition of Pamela's prints and drawings, presented with readings and an artist's talk.  We'll talk about hens too.

 Have a couple of months to be going on with.

July Sebright

She leaves the nest
to stretch, and feed.
For a moment her eggs
are a clutch
of nothing less
than jewels
in jade, dull bronze and ochre. 
They’re warm to the hand
like a satin slip
just taken off.

November Vorwerk

Red as leaves
and showered
with gold, he struts
his stuff.  His black-green
tail is a plume
of conjurer’s smoke.
He gapes scarlet,
spurs his way
up the hill,
on the gate. 

'Voyage of the Discovery' - a response in art and poetry to the Antarctic journey of Captain R.F. Scott and his team in 1901-3, in collaboration with Catriona Taylor 2012.
The Discovery Expedition was the first official British exploration of the Antarctic since Ross, 60 years earlier.  The Expedition aimed to carry out scientific research and geographical exploration in what was then largely an untouched continent. It launched the Antarctic careers of many who would become leading figures in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, including Robert Falcon Scott who led the expedition, Ernest Shackleton, Edward Wilson,and others.  Catriona began work on the stories of these men, visiting the Discovery where she lies in a special museum in Dundee, and she asked me to write some poems.  We were both struck by the palpable sense of the real people who had lived and worked on Discovery in such harsh and testing conditions. 
I read Scott's diaries, Apsley Cherry Garrard's book 'The Worst Journey in the World' together with much trawling of the net.  
Here is one of Catriona's pieces, layered and printed and making use of resin to echo the effect of ice.

And an extract from one of my poems:

Summer, late December.  Ice unconfines the buzzing air.
The glacier whispers change.  Some nights

he’s woken now and then by boulders rumbling
and shifting somewhere deep, beneath the heart.

‘Carsethorn’ – poetry, print and painting collaboration with Catriona Taylor 2010. 
Carsethorn is a now tiny village on the Solway coast – a single street of houses, some of them Georgian, which look out over a long shingle beach.  These days Carsethorn is very, very quiet, but during the late 18th and 19th centuries over 10,000 people emigrated from this beach.  They were economic migrants, suffering intense hardship from the agrarian reforms of the day.  Their reasons for leaving are recorded – as one man, travelling with his young family to Newfoundland said, “I go to seek better bread.”

I wrote some poems, and Catriona painted, and then printed my poems onto driftwood.  The work was exhibited during July and August 2010 in Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries.

'Traces' site specific art and poetry installation 2009
In a first for Spring Fling in 2009,  I collaborated with artist Catriona Taylor to present Traces, a site-specific installation in the 200 year old byre at my home near Dunscore.

Traces began when I found a bundle of love letters tucked away in the stones of the byre.  I started to uncover the life of the fermtouns, whose year-round labour was done by itinerant farm workers, who spent their lives journeying from place to place. I began writing about the life of the bothymen and women, who laboured on Scotland’s farms until only a few generations ago.  My sequence of poems, ‘The Byre’, ‘The Horseman’ and ‘The Letter’ were subsequently published in Poetry Scotland and inspired Catriona to research and develop the multi-media artworks that formed this site-specific installation with poetry readings for Spring Fling 2009, inspired by themes of emigration, memory and loss.  Traces was visited by just over 200 people during Spring Fling.