Writing the Rural: The Peregrine Falcons of York Minster, Carole Bromley

We’ve reached that point in the year when Spring is within finger-tip touching distance. The snow is cleared, and yes, even we on the North East coast got a little bit of the white stuff. In its place is a muddy, brown/green landscape of bare trees and fat sheep in fields, but also snowdrops, everywhere snow drops. This week I used the snowdrop as a base for some writing exercises in a workshop I ran. We looked at a poem by Louise Glück and wrote poems of survival and emerging after a period of wintering in. It felt good to be looking forward. At the end of last year my garden was destroyed by, first flooding from a burst mains pipe, then by the team who came to fix the leak who had to dig a whole corner of my postage-stamp sized front garden out to get to the pipe. It just happened to be the corner of the garden where something grows, that something being the spring snowdrops which emerge each year in greater quantities. I feared they had all been destroyed. The garden still looks like a WWI battle site. But the last couple of weeks a few straddlers have come through, a few hardy snowdrops emerging white as bone into this weak early spring. Lovely stuff. And there are green shoots on some of the cultivated rose hips in the village and the buds on the trees are looking less waxy and sealed and more like they are preparing for living. The bird song is starting to swell on a morning, the blackbirds are clearing their throats, I have seen the strange collared dove couple who, each year, are obsessed with trying to get through my bedroom window onto the inside windowsill, (presumably it looks like a good nesting site) starting to eye up the ivy on the front of the house, and sitting in my sycamore and again eyeing up the bedroom windowsill. Birds are pairing up. I need to trim all the hedges and trees before they attempt to nest in them. Spring is going to arrive like a magician pulling a bunch of flowers out of a hat.

My village is in an area of high water table and clay soil. The two make for a very boggy experience. The village is full of beech trees and willow as testament to the amount of water in the ground. These thirsty trees love it. But it makes for quite bad walking in winter. So while the snow was laid and the ground was frozen it made it much easier to get out of the house and out round the fields and tracks. I’d not been up to my favourite track for ages until the snow came, it felt good to be out in that sharp bright weather, to feel the cold on my cheekbones and what was even better was, as I walked up the hill towards one of the farms, the sight of a buzzard being dive-bombed by the local crows and jackdaws. I’d not seen it all winter, which means it might be migratory, I guess. But there it was again, returned; its enormous V wings, and F**k you attitude to the dive bombing crows – completely ignoring them, its lazy circling of the updrafts. I’ve seen it up close once, and spent a lot of last year convincing my husband that it was a buzzard and not a seagull. I hope it makes it through the year. Other raptors I’ve seen so far this year include a big barn owl, presumably male. We used to see a barn owl a lot around the village, I even found an owl pellet, complete with bone of some unfortunate small creature, outside the barn in which it resided.

Recently the same barn was converted into a holiday home, and whilst they put an owl box in, I haven’t seen a barn owl round here for a while. So it was even more pleasing to see the white drift of it returned to hunt the hedgerows of the village.

I’ve also been seeing a lot of a lovely kestrel in the back lane. They seem such a common little predator, I’m so used to seeing them hovering by the road sides, sliding and adjusting, that I’d forgotten how beautiful they are up close. This one seems to be using the telephone wires as a good vantage point for the farmland around here. I managed to get quite close to it, but it was always a few wing beats in front of me, flying then landing, flying then landing, before it was off like an arrow out and away where I couldn’t follow it. Never staying long enough to catch it well with my camera.

These last few weeks have been a whirlwind of applications, first the PhD scholarship, which took weeks, and was turned down within days. I was quite gutted. But decided to let go my place at York, stop trying, for now. I’d thought about applying to other universities, but that would have meant letting go of the project, changing it, trying to do something different and it suddenly dawned on me, with the help of a friend who was willing to talk it through with me, that I wanted to do the project more than I wanted to do the PhD. So I decided to take control, and I re-worked the proposal I’d used for for the PhD and cut out all the bells and whistles I’d put in to make it fit into what the university and the scholarship folk wanted, stripped it back until it was the project that I was originally excited about, and I put myself out there and I approached a publisher and pitched the idea of, what would have been, the PhD poetry collection. And they said they’d like to publish it, and I was a bit gob smacked, because it’s not written yet, and yet, this publisher believes in my work enough to want to publish what I write. It felt like a jigsaw piece falling into place. I felt released. I am a writer, I shall write. I quickly put an ACE funding bid in, which won’t be successful, but I shall attempt another one when it’s not and I approached someone whose work I admire enormously and asked if they would mentor me with this new collection, as it’s something of a move away from what I have been writing about up to this point, I feel some guidance might needed. And she said yes, she said it sounded exciting and that too felt like a jigsaw piece falling into place. Perhaps this is what I should have been doing all along. I have drafted the start of a poem for the new project and tomorrow I am taking a day away from work-work to write that poem. What a brilliant feeling.

And then there’s been Spelt, which is a lot of work, but I love it. The content that we have is so good. It’s in the final stages now, we are laying it out, we are sorting out backer’s packages, we are preparing to go to print and it is so exciting. One of the themes I wanted to explore with Spelt is the liminal spaces where the rural creeps into the urban. So when I read Carole Bromley’s new Valley Press book, The Peregrine Falcons of York Minster, I was hoping there’d be a poem that I could highlight on my blog. And there was, there is, it’s the title poem. I’m so grateful that Carole’s work exists in the world. Her latest collection, in my opinion, is her best yet. she manages to be straight forward, direct, unsentimental, and yet able to write incredibly moving poems. I read this collection right through in one go, it’s beautiful and I highly recommend it, here’s the link to where you can buy it:

Valley Press: https://www.valleypressuk.com/author/112/carole_bromley

The peregrine falcons that nest on York Minster are quite famous. They are an urban success story, successfully producing chicks, feeding them on unsuspecting pigeons. They even have their own website: http://www.yorkperegrines.info/wp/where-to-see-the-peregrines/ . I don’t think I have ever seen a peregrine falcon in the wild. They look magnificent, especially when one sees them sitting between gargoyles, their own boggled eyed yellow stare somehow matching perfectly the gurning faces of the Minster carvings. How wonderful. When we are allowed out again I shall travel to York to see them. I shall sit in the little square with my binoculars and I shall watch them. Oh for the days when it is safe to travel and visit and explore. In the meantime, here’s Carole Bromley’s poem:

The Peregrine Falcons of York Minster

Best observed from Dean’s Park
(bring binoculars and stand well back
so you don’t get a crick in your neck),
Mr and Mrs Minster are high up
on the North West Tower, 
on the balcony or on a grotesque.
The falcon prefers The Thoughtful Man
who, for centuries, has stroked his chin
and ignored the crowds below,
the tiercel sits on the eroded carving
the other side of the belfry
but then he’s the smaller of the two,
less powerful, more easy going
with a neater and cleaner look
even when fluffed up and relaxing. 
It’s the female who hunts the pigeons 
which nest on that ledge in Stonegate
just behind the stone cat above JW Knowles 
Stained Glass, Leaded Lights, Decorations.
Look out or your chicks will be 
snatched and whisked to a nest
where the fledglings will soon take
their first scary flight from the House of God.

What do I like about it? Firstly I like the directions, how the poem opens with a guide to looking at the birds. That placing of the narrator as guide allows for the poem to open up into place names, street names, drawing the reader into a familiarity. Even the choice of names for the birds; ‘Mr and Mrs Minster’ is familiar, and the reader is allowed to be familiar with them too. It gives the impression that the birds belong to everyone and no one, but they are not simply the Minster’s birds. Then that last line, The House of God; the minster which has been a background of carvings and stone work to the falcons suddenly becomes the huge impressive and very human thing that it is. Smashing poem.

In other news – my own book launch is on the 7th March, online and free. You can get you’re tickets by following this link: https://wordsworth.org.uk/event-directory/

Take care


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