This week’s poems prompt an adventure into woodlands to explore the transformative and threatening qualities in emergence. Through scales at once microscopic and macroscopic, these new poems by Camilla Nelson and Alex Josephy explore the inhabitants of these environments – from the various creatures travelling their way through apples to charcoal burners camped in the forest itself. Camilla Nelson’s images are taken from The Same Apple series and record the changes and effects of decay in sixteen apples picked from the same tree.
FRAXINUS, ONNEN, NIN, ESH, ASH
by Alex Josephy
A splay of leaves, each the shape of a little hull,
serrated, stalky, lemon-yellow; you let them drop
one by one along the footpath by the old railway, flags
that catch in the fence, twist underfoot.
for a tree, you may not see two hundred years
though Norsemen knew you, traced your roots
to hell, saw heaven in your crown, gods
in your shade. You were spear-shaft, longbow,
oar and besom. Ash, esh,
onnen, nin, your crazing honey halted
an army; they drank your sap, died dreaming.
Women split your trunk, passed through
a naked sickly child; as you healed,
she healed too.
They said, never cut ash for fear your cabin burns,
but now it’s you I fear for, in mild winter sun
close to the railings in our quiet park. Each year
you raise your ash-black buds, last of the trees
in May. Open again,
ash, ask, onnen, esh. Outwit your enemy
whose spores fly even now across the cutting;
find, curled in your heart-wood, purple florets,
branches that can bend, slender twigs
to spring back.
by Alex Josephy
this forest is no fairytale
trackless, the heart hidden, it rips
holm oak, tree heath, myrtle and juniper
tangle with spurge olive, strawberry tree,
sage, blackthorn, mastic, broom
oaks stud themselves with corky galls,
ragged woody blooms, bark petals
the acorn rug winds on ahead,
amplifies each footfall
easy to lose your way
it fills in fast behind
that tree with a scar the shape
of a half-open eye,
trunk with a splay
of parallel harp strings,
the blue-feathered hollow
where foxes dined on jay
the charcoal burners knew this place,
camped on frozen ground through winter
tending the slow crimp of wood
into brittle sticks, their black fortune
and who knows which fugitives lay low
in speckled shadow
round their own banked fires
dazzle of glade
and dusty green illegible thicket
Camilla Nelson is a poet, artist and researcher, currently based in Somerset. Nelson successfully completed a PhD in ‘Reading and Writing with a Tree: Practising ‘Nature Writing’ as Enquiry’, at Falmouth University in 2013. Her text work has been featured in Amy Cutler’s exhibition Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig (London, 2013) and Karen Pearson’s outdoor exhibition in Yarner Wood, Assemblage (Dartmoor, 2012). As well as appearing in several magazines and journals, her poems have been anthologised in The Apple Anthology (Nine Arches) and Dear World & Everyone In It (Bloodaxe) and she has a pamphlet forthcoming with ninerrors press. In September 2013, she produced The Same Apple in which sixteen apples were picked from the same tree (edible variety: Discovery) in a domestic orchard in South Somerset. Each apple was placed on an A5 sheet of cartridge paper and stored in the same conditions. The Same Apple was exhibited at the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World in 2014.
Alex Josephy lives in London and Italy. When in the UK, she works as an NHS education adviser. Her poems have been published in magazines such as The Rialto, Smiths Knoll, The Interpreter’s House and have appeared in anthologies including ‘Jericho’ (Cinnamon Press 2012). Alex Josephy’s work has won awards including the McLellan prize 2014, the Battered Moons prize 2013 and second prize in the Hippocrates Prize for poetry and medicine. She is currently working on her first pamphlet, due out from Cinnamon Press in Spring 2016.