Poetry that sews the seeds of thought

A garden-themed anthology has just been published by Otley’s new poetry press. Yvette Huddleston speaks to one of its founders.

The Garden, an anthology published by the recently formed OWF Press.
The Garden, an anthology published by the recently formed OWF Press.

In February 2014, Otley Word Feast – a festival celebrating the written and spoken word – published Spokes, a cycling-themed anthology of poetry. A celebration-in-verse of the joys of getting on your bike, not surprisingly it went down very well in the year of the Tour de France’s Yorkshire Grand Départ.

It was so successful, in fact, that festival organisers Sandra Burnett and Jane Kitsen decided to launch a small poetry press on the back of it – and so the not-for-profit community interest company Otley Word Feast Press was born. “We thought it would be a chance to get poetry to different audiences,” says Burnett. “There aren’t many poetry publishers and it is really hard for new poets to get their work into print. A lot of people don’t know how diverse and interesting new poetry can be.”

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Their latest anthology, The Garden, with an enthusiastic introduction by organic gardener and broadcaster Bob Flowerdew, is the result. “We thought that because so many people love gardening that would be a good subject,” says Burnett. “So we put out a call for poetry – and we received over 300 hundred poems from all over the world.”

Three award-winning poets – Geraldine Clarkson, John Foggin and Greg White – then went through the submitted poems and selected 62 for publication.

The theme of gardening may initially seem a little anodyne – a pleasurable hobby, yes, but not exactly the stuff of high drama. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth since gardening, by virtue of its seasonal and cyclical nature, actually deals with the really big issues – new life, fruition, decay, death, loss and regeneration, all of which are represented, often very movingly and sometimes with humour, in the anthology.

Many of the poets have used gardening as a way in to exploring the relationship between human beings and the land, most eloquently and succinctly expressed in Suzanne McArdle’s Sisters of the Soil: ‘We come with green fingers/and thumbs, earth edging our nails/… If you steal our fields, somehow/we’ll mind air and sunlight, gather/seeds and drops of soil and water’ or the timelessness of the act of planting, as in Chris White’s Cuttings: ‘Spade cleaves fertile soil/creating and destroying/past and future dreams’.

For others the theme has prompted a recollection of times past or of lost loved ones. In Laura J Bobrow’s Mother’s Garden, the poet longs for maternal advice that can no longer be given. ‘I need her now to order the garden of my life,/this wild, overgrown disaster./She would know weed from flower’ while Ann Graal’s At Seventy movingly describes a daughter’s late-life appreciation of gardening, a passion of her mother’s that she’d been bored by when younger: ‘No small thing to have inherited/one of the ways she’d loved the world/or to stand in a dying garden, rapt and breathing/autumn’s bitter spices – winter coming.’

And a number of poems in the collection use the garden as a setting to muse on love and sex as in Sarah Selway’s erotic fantasy The Landscape of Love: ‘She imagines sex with him/to be like this knot garden:/nature trimmed and framed/into a triumph of geometry/until she’s espaliered,/clinging to the wall/of him’ or Louise Holmes’ poignant observation on the transitory nature of romantic feeling: The Names of Flowers: ‘“And this?”/He cups his hands around a rose/and waits for her to speak./This, she wants to say,/this is my heart,/which,/before the summer comes,/I know you will have broken.’

For OWF Press there are two collections of single poets in the pipeline but more anthologies are planned.

“We like to do those because there’s a variety of poetry and appeal,” says Burnett. “I think there is something for everyone in The Garden – it touches on just about every subject.”

• The Garden, £8, is available to buy online at www.owfpress.com and at selected bookshops including The Grove Bookshop, Ilkley, Just Books in Otley and Salts Mill Bookshop in Saltaire.