Dig the Abbey – Part Two

I had not intended to blog on just one day at the Dig , but day five produced so many poems that it made sense to do so. This session was led by Jacqui Rowe and any fears I had that the creative inspiration emanating from the site would be sapped by over -familiarity were soon allayed by Jacqui’s enthusiastic and different approach ,which was to build the session around haiku.

I have ambivalent feelings towards haiku, reservations which I was pleased to hear Jacqui share. The Japanese haiku and English language haiku are not the same at all, the latter being a hybrid . In my experience, as a performance form, its brevity offers little lasting impact. Furthermore I find joined haiku in sequence rarely satisfying. However they are very good at two things. Firstly they enable simple ideas to be conveyed in condensed complete form, and the discipline of doing so often provides the seed corn for other writing.

I enjoyed playing with Polesworth haiku nonethless. The opportunity to have fun with homophones in Refectory Hearth, The Roofers’ Dog and Sandals was too good to miss, as was the opportunity in Water Course to artificially play with the punctuation in the same way that the course of the Anker has been altered by man.

The Roofers’ Dog

Paw prints from the past
Baked frozen by midday sun
An unwelcome feat

Pit Tip

Giant thistles sway
Wild sentinels of the past
Hover restlessly

Lost Foundation

Dormitory walls
Whispering prayers and secrets
In stony silence

Fleur de Lis Tile

Fading glazing now
Still bearing witness to those
Who worked fought and prayed

Line Call

Grey ash packed strata
Hears, no longer takes, service
Echoing above

Refectory Hearth

Stone fireplace keeps watch
Poets’ words flame and flicker
Their work not yet Donne

The Dig

Nights’ shadows draw in
Dancing like crazy mourners
Over opened pits

Oak Lintel at the Stables

Your shoulders still strain
Under the weight of centuries
With well seasoned wood

Water Course

Wrenched this way and that
To suit, human caprice, the
Anker meanders

Bone Fragments

Reborn to light’s glare
Exhumed from dark interment
Cruel resurrection

Shattered Pottery

Random broken shard
Irregular memento
Your sharpness cuts deep


Stone Baptismal font
Defaced by fragment’ry loss
Unquenched by water


Osanna lies still
Hair smoothed by pilgrim’s touch
Bible tightly clasped

The star find of the week had been a dress pin estimated to date from around 700 AD. Trying to grasp what had not happened or been discovered over 1300 years ago is mind stretching. An era before the Viking raids , and when Aethelbert of Kent and Edwin of Northumbria dominated as the threats to the local Mercian Kingdom, a time when Beowulf was being written, and this artefact emerges untouched since then.

Dress Pin

Bronze dress pin dropped lost
Cast adrift from flowing robe
Recovered in awe

Ironically, ideas which I explored in haiku form I found I could express more completely and rewardingly in Cinqaine form, an example of which will follow. The cinqaine only offers an extra four syllables and two lines but I find is a killer vehicle to deal with place writing.

I like cinqaines. I like the way they look. I like their brevity and their capacity to say just enough, Twitter is self indulgent by comparison. A particular feature is the ease with which cinquaines can bolt together five subjects. It works. Do places need more than five pints of interest in a poem? I don’t think so, and the symmetry of five lots of five lines covering five subjects appeals. When you have finished, it feels like the end. Six cinquaines in sequence would simply not feel right.

Polesworth Abbey

Stones linger still
Held in forgotten walls
Amongst earthy robber rubble

Mercian king
Rested, then settled here
His divine, precious legacy
A saint

Proud devotion
Returns, a heard unheard
Whispering in lavender leaves
Once more

Still burning bright
Drayton Johnson and Donne
Whose omnipresent oration

Weathered and worn
Closed enclosure now breached
Dissolution could not dissolve
Your stones

The second exercise of the day was to decorate tiles and then place a selected Haiku or phrase onto the tile. A few things emerged from the exercise. The first was how little of the written word survives in archaeology, the second was the sense of value that decorating the word bearing tile affords. In the modern era of computer blogs , e mails and texts how much of what is written will survive ( or deserve to)? Just maybe we should bury these tiles to be discovered in another 1300 years time. I wonder what the world will look like then?

This is the haiku which adorns my tile the bottom centre one with the newspaper images of religious figures praying.


Lost just underfoot
Simple sandals tap softly
But now there are none

The workshop leader of Day One, David Calcutt has written a fine poem on Polesworth called “Dig”. I frequently find inspiration in reaction to the writing of others. David’s take is essentially a naturalistic one, mine explores a different perspective, that of the destruction that is required to recover the past in archaeology.

The Dig

Nature’s fine weave lies breached
Brutal hands scour below
In ghoulish exhumation
In ground at rest no more

Each day the pits grow
Earth’s belly spewing its guts
Half, barely digested
Splattered over tables

The Anker washes silently by
Salving, cleansing its wounds
Of the twisting distorting agonies of centuries
Its course only now restored

A holy site, visited by saints
Gouged and disfigured
For us to read its entrails
In detached curiosity

Where nuns once keened
Where oblations once soared
Now the dull thud of spade in dirt
Now the shrill trill of trowel on find

Around the borders, patient trees watch
Boughs bursting with leaves
Waiting for their moment
They will not be denied

Dig the Abbey and Dig the Poetry continues until 1st September. An exhibition will take place displaying the story of the dig and finds, and the prose and poetry which resulted a week later between the 7th-9th with readings on Saturday 8th in the afternoon. Workshops are still to be run by Maeve Clarke and Jo Bell For more information:


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1 Response to Dig the Abbey – Part Two

  1. Pingback: Gary’s words on Dig the Poetry | Dig the Poetry

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