We wrote a poem on a leaf…

I’m just back from a glorious weekend teaching creative writing with Anna Robertshaw from Freestyle Yoga Project, who was teaching the yoga. Yoga and writing proved a perfect combination, or maybe that was the group who came. Or even the venue, glorious Tilton House, just up the road from the Bloomsbury set’s famous Charleston Farmhouse on the South Downs.

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There’s a beautiful garden at Tilton, which Shaun and Polly, the owners, are gradually clearing in parts to show off more of the views. And best of all, a fairy light lit walk through the words to the yurt – we shared our sessions between the yurt and the library belonging to Tilton’s previous owner, John Maynard Keynes. I know, it’s a hard life! Here’s Anna, at the door of the our yurt.

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I’d intended to do a writing exercise using the garden but it was raining that day, so instead, we collected leaves on the walk back from the yurt to the library, choosing them like children – precious treasure we might otherwise have walked over. Then in front of the log fire, we wrote haiku – not counting syllables though (sorry haiku writers) but working to combine image and emotion to catch a moment, a passing moment. We’d been talking about the concept of wabi sabi earlier – how time changed things into a different kind of beauty.

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Then we wrote our poems with sharpies on leaves, pinning them over the fireplace like autumn decorations, or writing them on the logs to feed into the fire.

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The joy was how each leaf dried in a different way over the next days – curling round our words like they were keeping a secret.

This was the original poem we used as inspiration, it is by the Russian Poet,  Yevgeny Yevtushenko. I love this poem, and somehow it seemed appropriate in the current news cycle (series of disasters).

I Hung a Poem on a Branch

I hung a poem
on a branch.
Thrashing,
it resists the wind.
“Take it down,
don’t joke,”
you urge.
People pass.
Stare in surprise.
Here’s a tree
waving
a poem.
Don’t argue now.
We have to go on.
“You don’t know it by heart!”…
That’s true,
but I’ll write a fresh poem for you tomorrow.
It is not worth being upset by such trifles!
A poem’s not too heavy for a branch.
I’ll write as many as you ask for,
as many poems
as there are trees!
How shall we get on in the future together?
Perhaps, we shall soon forget this?
No,
if we have trouble on the way,
we’ll remember
that somewhere
bathed in light
a tree
is waving
a poem,
and smiling we’ll say
‘We have to go on.’ …

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And of course, the next day, the sun shone… but we decided to let our poems gently disintegrate and took a silent walk up to the South Downs instead. Magic.

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What people have been saying about Digging Up Paradise

I’m not always the best person to talk about my own work. To be honest, I tend to say stuff like, ‘Oh, don’t feel you need to buy it…’ or even direct them to someone else’s book about the same subject. So it’s made me laugh, cry and dance to get the blurbs below for DIGGING UP PARADISE. Not only are they blush-makingly flattering, but more importantly for me, they absolutely get what I’m trying to do. Thank you Lia, Viccy, Victoria and Patricia. You are my dream team of readers, and I am honoured.

From Lia Leendertz, writer on gardens for The Guardian, The Telegraph and others:

“On this poet’s garden tour Sarah Salway writes of the gardens physical selves, of course, but also of the sensations they conjure, the memories they stir up and the glimpses of history that colour her perception. Each description is rich, layered, personal and moving. It is more like the way we all experience gardens than any garden writing I have come across. Sarah has a unique combination of a garden lover’s eye and a poet’s imagination, and it is a delicious treat to watch her exercise them on this group of gardens. She makes a fascinating and unpredictable virtual garden companion, always drawing your attention to some unexpected detail, or taking some half-told story, exploring it and breaking your heart with it. At the end I desperately wanted to set her onto my own favourite gardens and see what happens.

I read this book sometimes with a silly smile on my face, sometimes gripped and anxious, often with a tingle running down my spine. Sarah’s poetry has always moved me, and now she writes about my favourite subject, gardens. How lucky we gardeners are to have her in our midst. This could not be a lovelier book.”

From Victoria Field, author of The Lost Boys:

“Sarah Salway’s new collection is an original and engaging take on a perennial theme – pun intended! Gardens have occupied the imaginations of poets for generations, from Hafiz writing in ancient Persia to Rudyard Kipling declaring that ‘All England is a garden’. In moving, engaging and often surprising reflections, Sarah Salway takes the reader on a tour of the Garden of England, introducing us to the stories of Kent’s astonishing variety of well-known and tucked-away gardens. As we’d expect from this widely praised and published writer, her prose is expansive and generous and the poems distilled and precise. As a bonus, both are illustrated by Sarah Salway’s own photographs. This is a book to treasure and to carry on summer picnics to these captivating and ever-changing oases – a worthy paean to gardens and the gardeners who created them.”

From Patricia Debney, author of Littoral and How to Be a Dragonfly:

This remarkable creation – part guided tour, part literary and history essay, part poetry – is rich testament to Salway’s entirely passionate and insightful observations as a writer and self-confessed, lifelong biophilic.

In Digging Up Paradise, Salway charts interior and exterior journeys as she travels through Kent’s gardens. From Margate Shell Grotto to Sissinghurst Castle, we travel with her via an eclectic mixture of photos, journal entries, and exquisite poems, often to our own real and remembered gardens, and the people in them. This book surprises and delights us with what we never knew, or knew and had forgotten, reconnecting us with our own public and private spaces. With characteristic lightness of touch and lively enquiry, Salway explores our relationships with the natural world: how we live and create in it, and how it lives and breathes in us.

From Viccy Adams, Writer and Literary Artist:

“In Digging up Paradise Sarah Salway has drawn thoughtful and imaginative pathways for the reader through the horticultural persons, places and histories of Kent. Through an arboretum of writing these spaces come alive on the page, providing a moment of instant verdant escape for the committed armchair traveller.

Part-travelogue, part-poetry collection, part-guide-book, Digging up Paradise moves from landscaped castle grounds to shell grottoes, from desolate public parks to topiaried views, gathering creative seeds and espaliering the stories so that a sense of each place can be quickly understood and enjoyed. Reading this book has inspired me to take my own notebook out into my local green patches, and left me with hopeful plans to visit the Garden of England that these ‘cuttings’ make sound so enticing.”

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The book is coming out in May, and there are plans for walks, workshops and readings. Information will be on this website, but do let me know if you’d like to be on the Digging Up Paradise mailing list I’m keeping too. There will be special ‘mailing lists’ events…

Do also let me know if you would like a review copy of the book or want to talk to me about readings, events or garden poems.