Frances Presley


Gavin Selerie

Gavin Selerie

My partner, the poet Gavin Selerie, died in June of glioblastoma, and his funeral was held at Kensal Green cemetery in July. It was attended by many friends, family and poets. Gavin chose the music for the service which included John Dowland, Ottolie Patterson, the Pogues and Bob Dylan. A long wake was held at the nearby William IV hotel which ended with readings of his poems. This is the eulogy which our friend David Annwn and I wrote together. (David also edited the recent festschrift for Gavin, Shape-Shifter, available from

Gavin is one of the most celebrated and well-known of English poets, creating long Modernist and Late Modernist poems post-1970. As he himself writes: ‘I seem naturally drawn to structures which involve cumulative and twisting elements.’

Book-length sequences such as Azimuth (1984), Le Fanu’s Ghost (2006) and Roxy (1996) are landmarks in contemporary literature and his sonnets and shorter poems are just as important. Gavin identified with the third wave of Late Modernist writers post the British Poetry Revival. His work reveals a complex and invigorating shape-shifting faculty seen in his doubling and mirroring, as in Hariot Double. He also published appreciations of and interviews with other poets, generously funded, collated and published by himself. He was a gifted lecturer and teacher, conscientious and perennially popular with students, many of whom attended his readings for years after meeting him.

His partner, Frances remembers:

Gavin and I first met on the London poetry scene in the 1980s, sometimes at the experimental performance series Sub-Voicive. I also saw him perform the wonderful Strip Signals at the Musician’s Collective. We fell in love in the 1990s. We shared an interest in women’s fashion and clothing: he was working on Roxy and I was performing Automatic Cross Stitch with artist Irma Irsara. I lent him a cassette of our performance and he invited me to his flat for a discussion which went on very late. That was twenty-six years ago and there were innumerable performances, writing projects and travels in the intervening years.

In July last year we went to Oxford to celebrate Gavin’s birthday. It was during the extremely hot weather and we spent days swimming at Port Meadow – Gavin loved swimming. In spite of the heat, he insisted we go to all the exhibitions, taking notes as we went. A day after we got back, he suffered a major seizure and was rushed into hospital. A doctor rang me from A&E and questioned me closely about our movements and Gavin’s behaviour during the previous day. I was explaining to him that we were on our third exhibition and I had collapsed on a sofa. The doctor misheard me and said ‘He collapsed on a sofa?’ ‘No’, I explained, ‘I collapsed on a sofa. He was doing another tour of the exhibition’.

My last anniversary card was dedicated to ‘my dependable adventurer’ and that made him smile, even though words had become difficult for him by then. He was always open to adventure and exploration, whether through poetry or travel. We often talked about where we might go after his diagnosis, although sadly it was to prove too difficult. When he could no longer talk, I would read poems to him from our earlier journeys together and he would still respond with sound and gesture, his spirit as strong as ever.

Close friends, like myself, speak of Gavin’s warmth, kindness, welcome to new-comers and open-ness, Peter Middleton writing: ‘He was generous, Elizabethan, Olsonian, enthusiastically immersed in writing and reading poetry’. In his sartorial jackets, bright shirts and trademark hats, with raffish moustache (sometimes askew with amusement), smile and piercing eyes, Gavin always brought colour to literary scenes. He was a gifted raconteur with a great sense of humour and an infectious, wholehearted and endearing laugh. Just as in his writing, when walking with Gavin through London, diversions and short-cuts could turn into the main attraction, a delightful, conversational long-distance meander. I want to finish with a few lines from Frances’s poem ‘From itself’ recalling a journey which she and Gavin made to Norfolk, and the mediaeval shrine of our Lady of Walsingham:

and we walk a green lane in the dark
who will never see her angel-like
face but touch her shoulders and kiss
beneath the sand and swifts”.

Robert Hampson wrote an obituary in the Guardian:

My friend Gavin Selerie, who has died aged 73, was a writer whose collections of poetry included Azimuth (1984), Roxy (1996), Le Fanu’s Ghost (2006) and Hariot Double (2016). Favouring long-form verse, Gavin liked to think of his volumes as research projects that involved original academic analysis. Le Fanu’s Ghost, for instance, was based on family history of the Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu, while Hariot Double brought together his wide-ranging knowledge of the Renaissance with his love of music and a fascination with London by juxtaposing the Elizabethan-era polymath Thomas Harriot with the modern jazz saxophonist Joe Harriott.

Between 1979 and 1983 Gavin also conducted and published his Riverside Interviews, a series of book-length conversations with poets and playwrights, from Allen Ginsberg and Jerome Rothenberg through to Tom McGrath, some of which took place at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, west London.

Born in Hampstead, north London, to Peter Selerie, a wine merchant of Italian extraction, and his wife, Muriel (nee Lee), Gavin was educated at Haileybury school in Hertfordshire. He went on to study English literature at Lincoln College, Oxford, and then undertook research on Renaissance literature at the University of York. Afterwards Gavin taught creative writing at the University of London extra-mural department (later part of Birkbeck College), remaining there from the 1980s until his retirement in 2004.

Apart from his more lengthy volumes of poetry, he also wrote shorter sequences such as those brought together in Elizabethan Overhang (1989), Tilting Square (1992) and Collected Sonnets (2019). In addition his work appeared in anthologies such as The New British Poetry (1988), Other: British and Irish poetry since 1970 (1999), and the groundbreaking Reality Street Book of Sonnets (2008). Some of his other work was collected in Music’s Duel: New and Selected Poems, 1972-2008 (2009) and he also wrote critical works on other poets, beginning with a study of Charles Olson in 1980.

In addition Gavin collaborated with a number of other writers, including the poet and visual artist Alan Halsey, with whom he wrote Days of ’49 (1999), a celebration of the year of their birth. He also teamed up with David Annwn and others on the poetry collections Danse Macabre (1997) and The Canting Academy (2008).

Gavin was diagnosed with glioblastoma in 2022, but before his death was able to complete a memoir, Edges of Memory, detailing his experiences on a 1968 trip to the US.

He is survived by his partner, the poet Frances Presley, his sister Clare, a nephew, Peter, and a niece, Gemma”.


September 2023


Gavin Durdle

ADADADA: landescape

ADADADA: landescape

The long awaited collaboration between Tilla Brading and Frances Presley, based on Ada Lovelace’s life and work on Exmoor, ADADADA: landescape, is now available from Odyssey Poets, Heathrod Cottage, Smeatharpe, Honiton EX14 9RF, price £6 + £2 p&p.

In ADADADA Brading and Presley continue their feminist textual archaeology of the Somerset landscape. They have worked on stone settings and the White Ladder of Exmoor, and now they deal with Ashley Combe, home of Ada Lovelace, Byron’s daughter and Charles Babbage’s collaborator. Their modern pastoral approach has always been to map the interactions between the human and the natural. Here it takes a mathematical turn, where the vectors of Lovelace’s thought mesh with vectors of landslips and fallen branches. It might be thought difficult to humanise and mathematise a landscape at the same time; and without reimagining the mathematical and the human, and the way they relate to space, you can’t. That’s the ambition here, in a real collaboration that goes beyond a mere mixture of styles to the writing of a hybrid poetic.
Keith Jebb

Brading/Presley’s ADADADA is a sonic-visual take on Ada Lovelace. Like DADA itself, not afraid of creative nonsense within language – Presley/Brading continue their history of unique recoveries in text and mapping of landscapes of women we should know more about – place is present (and past) but never simplistic. Here they add into the form the unexpected equations of mathematics, also used to consider power relations in gender, land, class. As ever, Presley’s precise and delicately placed language sings and Brading, quietly, wittily, intervenes in many materials. Their genuinely collaborative work rediscovers an age when people were not afraid of exploring more than one discipline – something we need to develop as hybrid space in our contemporary practice.
Harriet Tarlo


Collected Poems 1973-2020

Collected Poems 1973-2020

I’m very grateful to Shearsman Books, for publishing my Collected Poems, which was launched at Swedenborg Hall,, on May 10th 2022. The first volume, 1973 to 2004, is an overview of poetic development, experiments with modern and postmodern poetry and prose, projects and collaborations, sometimes associated with the new British poetry. Feminism and political commitment are sharply defined, alongside a growing concern for ecology. It includes The Sex of Art, Hula Hoop, Linocut and Somerset Letters, as well as collaborations, with artist Irma Irsara, on women’s clothing, Automatic Cross Stitch, and with poet Elizabeth James, Neither the One nor the Other. It supersedes and expands my selected poems, Paravane (2004) and Myne (2006). The second volume, 2004 to 2020, brings together major projects and publications. Feminism and political commitment are still evident, but ecology and ecopoetics are foregrounded. It includes Stone Settings and Longstones which explores Neolithic stones on Exmoor, in collaboration with visual poet Tilla Brading; the playful An Alphabet for Alina, with artist Peterjon Skelt; as well Halse for Hazel, which received an Arts Council award; and the Ada Lovelace project, Ada Unseen. There is also a new sequence, Channels, on shorelines and parallel coasts. Available from Cover images are by Jun Shirasu and Irma Irsara.

Welcome to this comprehensive, collected poems from one of our most impressive contemporary poets. Here we can trace how, from her earliest poems, with their intense and tense engagement with her modernist forbears, Frances Presley has maintained an uncompromising integrity and invention. Her use of the page as a space of experimentation and of language as a multiple-stranded thread of living letters and sounds is dazzling, and these volumes allow us to see the shifts in this practice over decades. Each collection has built on the last, yet remained open to the world as she sees it at the moment of writing, as she greets it with an eye and voice both tender and sardonic. We see this in the wit with which she incorporates diverse found materials into her work and in her engagement with her fellow poets and artists through allusion, conversation and collaboration. In these carefully woven webs, her sense of place and the politics of landscape and her astute feminism remain constant.
Harriet Tarlo

As these volumes attest, Frances Presley’s is the poetry of the artisan, authentic in the sharpest sense of the word: rare, inventive, its original beauties edged and tempered by the traditional skills in which they germinated. Nomadic in theme, sinewy of thought, filigree in habit, this oeuvre rummages with discriminating care among the cultural-linguistic currents and debris complicating the experiencing of place, distant or proximal, prehistoric or contemporary, empty or inhabited.
Alice Entwhistle

Presley combines deliberate poetry and environmental engagement to compel us to think and act. She sews together language, time, and space; and shows us that the creative act itself inspires a vivid ecopoetics of the imagination.
Chad Weidner


Falcon Brook plaque

Falcon Brook plaque

The lost London river of Falconbrook is the theme of my new poem for a plaque, a commission from Tideway Public Arts, at the rebuilt pumping station in Battersea, due to go on site in 2023. The poem explores ideas of history and written records, concerning the river and its surrounding land, through the etymology of Falcon brook and especially its earlier name of Hideburn.  The name and the image of a falcon rising, seems to originate with the family crest of the post-Reformation, seventeenth century, landowners.  It was called Hideburn in the middle ages, when the land was in church ownership and strips of land, ‘hides’, were let to local families for subsistence farming.   ‘Hide’, in this context, is derived from the word for ‘household’, used in the earliest human language.  I bring the idea of the household into the present day with the council estate’s communal park, concrete modernist flats and the people who live and work here.  There is also a play on contemporary usage of the word ‘hide’ and a hidden human history. 
The other main element of the poem is the stream itself.  It has two tributaries which merge into one as they descend from the hills and, at times, threaten to submerge the inhabited land, so that the river has been redirected and channelled.  In the final verse the river, the surrounding land, and people’s lives, are given equal value and foregrounded, or rise up, through the writing.  
The poem is designed with straight left and right margins to suggest a strip of land and also the containment of the river.  The internal spaces and punctuation have semantic and visual significance, as they can suggest variant readings of verse units, as well as the unwritten or yet to be written history of the area.  They can also suggest the hidden flow of the river. 
The final design and typesetting for the casting of the poem was achieved with the help of Rob Green of Doves Press and we had some lively discussions about fonts, punctuation and spacing. Tideway have used a modernised Doves font for all their public art. It was invented by TJ Cobden-Sanderson, influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement. To prevent his partner inheriting it, he threw the metal type mould into the Thames, where it was rediscovered by Green.
I would also like to thank Bridget Sawyers and Rachel Fleming-Mulford, Public Art Consultants, for their assistance and advice.


Frances Presley
January 2022


Black Fens viral: new publication and reading

Black Fens viral:

Black Fens viral:

In summer 2020, when I was recovering from Covid and lockdown was lifting, I was finally able to follow the migrating swifts.  I travelled to my friends in Norfolk on the slow train which goes through the Black Fens of East Anglia.  I found that I could no longer see landscape or write in the way I did before Covid, but only make notes on the train.  This flat, almost hedgeless and treeless, agricultural landscape of black peat, was once marshland, before the drainage of the fens.  ‘Viral’ refers both to Covid and to a text generator known as the Markov chain, into which I fed the notes.  Its strange rearrangement of text, according to an algorithm, sometimes used for predictive spelling, resembled the viral assault on my mind and body, and on all our lives.  The first part of Black Fens Viral is published as a Literary Pocket Book by Steven Hitchins (£5 inc p&p).  As he writes: ‘A mobius-strip origami-book of a topological traverse of the post-Covid Fenscape. Presley’s vividly chiselled mosaic images fold out and back into each other in looping iterations shuffling phrases in phonemic decomposition across stanzas’. See the video:   The cover image is a glitch of ‘Fen Blow’ from H.J. Mason’s An Introduction to the Black Fens (1973).  Mason’s study became essential reading, although written long before an awareness of the climate crisis and the need for rewilding.  The Black Fens are very close to the landscape of my childhood in Lincolnshire and so have a lot of resonance for me.  Some of the other poems in this sequence have been published in Molly Bloom magazine 24:  MOLLY BLOOM poetry magazine,  and can be heard in my Molly Zoom reading:

Frances Presley

February 2021

November 20

she said her name was in November rain you’ll find it’s Tier 3 lines that go on forever through a winter green field or furrows filled with water never fallow soil is compacted I think of you O, Fallow for a year she kissed you said her name was to live among these exhausted fields how lonely it was to live among these permanently harvested fields are those roosts or the last leaves lying low for a year she said her name was fallow I think of you low for a year she kissed you I’m just getting to the trees beautiful shutters of Brandon I’m not getting off I’m just getting low if you’re lucky a copse or a corpse of a field lying low for a year she kissed you the hedges grubbed out there are those roosts or these exhausted fields there are no grubs beautiful shutters of Brandon I’m not getting off I’m getting nearer my bike the last leaves clinging to the soil compacted never fallow lying low forever through a winter green field or furrows filled with water all the hedges grubbed out there are you leaves clinging nearer my bike O, Fallow for a year she kissed you getting off I’m just getting to the trees beautiful shutters of Brandon if you’re lucky a copse if you said her name was to live among these exhausted fields if she kissed you leave Tier 2 lying low for a year she kissed you for a year she kissed you


Ada Unseen

cover image by Joan Ainley

Ada Unseen

Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, was a mathematician and computer visionary She wrote ‘Mathematical Science is the language of the unseen relations between things’, which is why my new book is called Ada Unseen. She lived on Exmoor and this landscape is reimagined through science and poetics, part of a collaboration with visual poet Tilla Brading, which will appear from Contraband press. Ada loved birds and a series of poems on birds and flight are designed like punch cards to isolate key words, creating an alternative text for a woman’s life. Various aspects of the ’unseen’ are explored including the human body, computing, music, the imaginary, and outer space. There is also an internet cut up and paste of ‘Ada’ and copious Notes. Ada Unseen, by Frances Presley. Shearsman, 2019. Paperback, 116pp, 9 x 6ins, £9.95 / $18 ISBN 9781848616639

In Frances Presley’s new exhilarating and intellectually stimulating collection, the life and work of Ada Lovelace — innovator in the science of computing, but also lover of birds and music — is both focus and trigger. The concepts of the seen and the unseen in science, poetry and social mores permeate this volume, including contemporary society’s blindness to ecological destruction and the historical suppression of women. Creative tensions between the closed and open, the algorithmic and the intuitive, science and nature weave their way deftly through the book in a profusion of evocative and often witty allusions to birds, flight, landscape, architecture, computation and mathematics. Through ambiguous voices, shifts in time and location, quotation, word play, cut and paste, visual patterns and accompanying documentation, Presley gifts us a rousing, profound and multilayered poetic sequence.

Hazel Smith

Ada Lovelace provides the catalyst for this collection that juxtaposes the abstractions of science with the resistance of rural environments, particularly on Exmoor where ‘gorse is dense unfractured/ spike through every scrub leaf’. Alert to both the play of perception and the realities of climate change, the poems explore a world in which nothing is static: land slips. The effects of unseen codes that organise life, linking human and other existences, are glimpsed through the patterns of birdsong and algorithmic movement. As the poems unfold they reveal that numbers, too, have a life of their own. In her early contribution to the development of computers, Lovelace saw the potential for making music, and these poems listen acutely to the patterns of language and birdsong, rewilding language as sound and visual score. Encompassing a radical vision of history, landscape and contemporary politics, Frances Presley writes with wit, urgency and a commitment to experiment in its truest sense.

Zoe Skoulding

Ada Unseen

The Fairy of Science

‘Science has thrown its net over me, & has fairly ensnared the fairy’
 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​            Ada Lovelace
The fairies of the flowers  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ have been moved a decimal point
can no longer be carried over  ​​​​ with shrunken lungs with shrivelled
bladder campions  ​​​​ always the same girl  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ the same expression
The plant differs  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ the features of the fairy do not  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ the common
denominator fails to find the fairy of the nettle and burdock ​​ scarlet
pimpernel  ​​ ​​​​ byrony  ​​ ​​​​ goosegrass  ​​ ​​​​ plantain  ​​ ​​​​ thorn ​​ or  ​​​​ blackberry
Is a fairy in a mathematical system  ​​ ​​​​ freer  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ than a fairy without
the silver lady has a purpose to demonstrate ​​ an effective automaton
does not pretend to blend  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ with hues and pattern of leaf and flower
He wanted to place her in a book of fairies  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ prompted by her way-
wardness beauty and intangibility ​​ the idea of a petal with the merest
spike of a thorn ​​ not to threaten or scratch but modify mute and fade
This is her book of fairies:  ​​​​ a fairy ensnared  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ in the net of science
whatever she is ​​ a fairy of the gorse flower  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ a fairy with a husband
of earthly clay  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ a fairy who fairly believes in her very imagination
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Sallow, by Frances Presley with images by Irma Irsara, 24pp, Open House, 2016,

from Leafe Press,   £4.50 (inc. postage), £6.50 RRP.

Sallow continues a sequence of poems about the languages of trees, especially those used by or for women, Halse for hazel (Shearsman, 2014).  Sallow is both a species of willow and dull skin: its dual meaning is found in the title poem, where ‘sally’ is dialect for sallow and a girl’s name.  As well as local dialect, I use the languages of forestry and botany, analysing and reassembling them. I benefited once again from the guidance of botanist and poet Libby Houston.

   Halse for hazel began on the hills of Exmoor and in Sallow I wanted to explore trees in low lying, wetland areas, such as willow and alder.  The sequence maps political and environmental pressures, as well as recent catastrophic flooding: ‘willow’ was written on a train in the Somerset Levels when the surrounding fields were an inland sea.  Many of the poems were written on site which can be hazardous, as it was in swamp carr at Ranworth Broad, but the trees have their own agency, and need to be experienced close up, whether in the wild or the urban edgelands of ‘grey willow’.

The reinvention of language and form is often shaped by the inventiveness of wild trees.  Sallow explores the visual patterns we use for trees in the design of the text and visual poetics.  ‘Crack willow’ is from a walk with Harriet Tarlo near her home in Yorkshire.  I sent her my text, she interleaved a response, and our two versions are printed on facing pages.

The Somerset poems were part of a collaborative performance with Robert Minhinnick which gave them a sharp linguistic and political focus.

Sallow, like Halse for hazel, has been a dialogue with the work of artist Irma Irsara, my friend and long time collaborator.

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Frances Presley – Halse for hazel

Halse for hazel: origins

1 Dialect names

One December night in 2008 I was staying with Tilla Brading in her seventeenth century home on Minehead harbour. Unable to sleep, I began to read an essay by Hazel Eardley-Wilmot on Exmoor place names which are derived from trees:

‘Exmoor was such a wild wind-swept waste that a single tree was a notable landmark; and on the old commons outside the royal game-preserve… tree names still recall lost woodlands and old ways of life’.

In ‘Oak, ash and thorn’ Eardley-Wilmot explores the origin of tree names as far back as Sanskrit, in ways which are both scholarly and speculative. She derives from place names such as Driver the Indo-European word ‘dru’: ‘Driver, Dryslade…Dyre were named in prehistoric times from an Indo-European word dru, which first meant any tree and specifically an oak. It would imply woodland where none remains’.

A farmer from Driver carves curios from bog-oak he has uncovered and prehistoric pieces of timber have been found near Dry Hill and the valley of Dryslade, ‘so Drye may have been a large oak-wood, two or three thousand years ago’. She couldn’t resist the imaginative resonance of tree place names, which, as in her investigation of the word ‘dru’, sometimes took her further than philology would allow.

Most of the tree place names on Exmoor are Saxon, and she gives various examples from the trees in her title, such as Oakford for oak and Ashway for ash. When she writes about hazel the text becomes more problematic and takes on a new significance: ‘What of the hazel, though? That has been here from time immemorial and has left no obvious names – no Haslemere or Haseley or Hesleden’. This question about the name ‘hazel’ is, indirectly, about the author’s first name, and must have been of interest to her, as it is for me. My own experience of nominative determinism has to do with FP = footpaths.

Eardley-Wilmot also considers how dialect changes the morphology of hazel: ‘a clue appears in dialect, in the reversal of sounds, so prevalent in the south-west – haps for hasp, crips for crisp. Halse for hazel is one of these … This would explain Halscombe Farm … and Halscombe allotment’. James Knight Jenningsin The Dialect of the West of England particularly Somersetshire (1869) makes a similar observation: ‘Another remarkable fact is the disposition to invert the order of some consonants in some words’, as in the ‘p’ and ‘s’ of ‘haps’ for ‘hasp’. Jennings thinks that this order of sounds may be ‘the original order in which they existed in our language, and that our more polished mode of expressing them is a new and perhaps corrupt enunciation’. He is keen to demonstrate that western dialect is closer to Anglo-Saxon – a ‘purer’ form of it. I was born in Derbyshire and taught by my father that the short northern vowels were the ‘pure’ sounds, but I have learnt to love both dialects.

Vowels ‘a’ and ‘e’ are sounded differently too: the ‘a’ sound is almost always ‘sounded open’, as in ‘father’. There is a ‘love of vowel sound, and opening out monosyllables of our polished dialect into two or more syllables’. This ‘opening out’ of sounds will be familiar to anyone who has spent time on Exmoor – it is an opening out of both time and space.

2 Poetics

The importance of dialect as a means of protecting and valuing landscape is discussed by Robert Macfarlane in his essay ‘A Counter-desecration phrasebook’. He is also interested in how poetry can be part of this process. He refers to the important role of poets in renewing the language: a language that is ‘galvanized against inertia’ (Marianne Moore). Testimony or bearing witness is enabled by metaphor: ‘as well as thinking about landscape we think with it, and, more radically still, that we are thought by it’.

That same December night I was reading another book from Tilla’s library –Through the Words of Others: Susan Howe and anarcho-scholasticism, by Stephen Collins. I was reminded of the ‘scattering of phonemes’ throughout Singularities, in which words are paired unexpectedly. One of those pairs is ‘words/ woods’, derived from Howe’s reading of Emily Dickinson: ‘Dickinson’s decision (in Howe’s reading) to bestow sovereignty upon the woods is a radical abdication – a throwing of agency and power out into the wilderness – out beyond the enclosure’s exploiting reach… The woods are words too’.  I had already made use of the ‘woods/ words’ pairing in my collaboration with Elizabeth James Neither the One nor the Other in 1999, after hearing a talk by Dell Olsen on ‘How(e) to write woods, words: mark-making and topography in Susan Howe’.

Now it had a new context, out in the woods of Exmoor.


Yesterday’s Exmoor, Hazel Eardley-Wilmot, Exmoor Books, 1990

‘Oak, ash and thorn’, Hazel Eardley-Wilmot, Exmoor Review, 25, 1984, pp 43-44

‘A Counter-desecration phrasebook’, Robert MacFarlane (In Towards re-enchantment ed Evans and Robson. London: Artevents, 2010 pp 107-130)

Through the Words of Others: Susan Howe and Anarcho-Scholasticism, Stephen Collins Victoria Univ., 2006

Halse for hazel  Shearsman, 2014

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Owain Jones in conversation with Frances Presley

Owain Jones in conversation with Frances Presley

(from More Than Human Research 06/12/2013

In 2002 Owain Jones  (with Paul Cloke)  published the book Tree Cultures and since then has kept up a series of conversations with academics,  artists and professionals about ‘aboriculture’. Recently, Owain has been in conversation with the poet Frances Presley who became aware of his work on trees through the book. Frances writes poetry and prose on landscape, language, nature and history. Her current Arts Council funded project involves engaging with individual trees in particular landscape settings. In late October, Owain and Frances spent a day visiting trees sites in Bristol and also met with the botanist Libby Houston who is an expert on the rare whitebeam trees that grow in Avon Gorge Bristol. Below is an extract of their conversation and some pictures of the day…

24 October 2013, Arnos Vale cemetery, Bristol.

FP: I am very conscious of the difference between urban space and somewhere like Exmoor, especially the context and extent of it.  As an artist you could take a close up of a leaf or a tree and it could be anywhere, but it isn’t.  As a writer in London I am conscious all the time of the thinness of it…

OJ: Thinness?

FP:  The thinness of the experience in terms of the tree and where it is situated – the fragility of nature before you get back into the urban.  It is a completely different experience to having that almost infinite reach you get in wild landscapes.  I think trees behave in different ways in the city – as well as people.

OJ:  How definable is that?

FP:  I think it happens in the work.  Using language you draw in more aspects of the landscape and the people who live there, the whole area.

OJ: Some aspects of that must be unconscious.

FP:  Yes, there is a richness and density of experience on the moor which makes itself felt in the writing.

OJ:  Which is the opposite to thinness I suppose.

FP:  But the thinness is also interesting, almost more interesting at times.  There are violent juxtapositions, such as the trees and the graffiti on the Parkland Walk in London – a disused railway line.  Trees are stressed in the city, even sometimes graffitied, as if they were another brick wall.