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A Potter's Moll: An Evening With A Poet

Liz Robison enjoys an evening with Yorkshire-born Simon Armitage, one of the leading poets of our day.

Do please visit the Web site of Liz’s potter husband Jim Robison

I had a huge treat last week when I attended an Evening with Simon Armitage at Huddersfield Art Gallery. He is a local lad, born in Marsden, and the evening was to include readings and talk about his recent translation of the fourteenth century poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Reviews of the book had been lavish in their praise of the translation, one saying that it was so good that one could think that Armitage had actually written it himself.

The original writer is unknown, but it is a strand of the Arthurian legend which has fascinated scholars of Middle English. What Armitage has done is take it from its original believed Derbyshire/ Staffordshire border origins and yanked it further north.

This means he can work in items of Yorkshire dialect very successfully. Words such as ‘laik’ (play) and nobbut appear happily. The poet read extracts very entertainingly and told amusing anecdotes about his experiences in the British Library. He wears his learning lightly.

Copies of the book were being sold and wine and nibbles were available in the reference library where the writer was doing a book signing. I bought a copy for myself and one for my sister who had heard him at the Hay Festival. And, bless him, he signed them in green ink.

Another recent treat was a visit to York Art Gallery for an exhibition, Stubbs and Whistlejacket at York. Part of the gallery is newly refurbished and the magnificent horse portrait is on loan from the National Gallery. Other artworks relating to the topic and times from York’s own collection make it a fascinating show.

I had not realised what a connection George Stubbs had with York. He lived there for several years while he studied anatomy before he went on to do his dissections of horses the drawings of which would become essential reading for vets and breeders.

Whistlejacket made his name at York Races in 1759 by winning the huge stake of 2,000 guineas for his owner, Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquis of Rockingham. The horse’s grand-sire was one of the three original Arab horses, imported into Britain and from which all thoroughbreds descend. Rockingham’s decision to commission the portrait from Stubbs for his countryseat at Wentworth-Woodhouse may have been prompted by a desire to record this perfect specimen on a grand scale.

A ‘whistlejacket’ was, apparently, a medicinal drink of gin and treacle which had a rich brown colour which is thought to have suggested the name for this chestnut horse. Entry to the exhibition is free, carries on till August 31 and is highly recommended.

By an interesting coincidence I am about to read a book called Black Diamonds about the Wentworth-Woodhouse dynasty who, like many another northern family made their fortunes from coal.

Tomorrow we will be at GalleryOldham for the opening of an exhibition called Life Forms – Ceramics and the Natural World. The work on show includes some pieces by my potter husband, Jim Robison, as well as other contemporary artists. Jim’s work explores his fascination for geology, landscape and weather. Pots from the gallery’s archives will also be on show.

GalleryOldham have adopted the practice I have seen elsewhere of having pieces you can handle to explore the ideas and techniques behind the works on show.

I am really chuffed about a little triumph in the little local town of Meltham where shopkeepers have decided to discourage the supply and use of plastic bags. I have taken my own cloth bags to shops for several years now, but I am amazed by how quickly the practice has taken off in Meltham and even in the supermarket plastic carriers have to be requested and people are buying the repeat-use ones in their droves.

Ireland beckons next week. For the fifth year in a row we will go on the MG Owners’ Club tour. This year it will explore the area around Cork and the organisers always choose a fine hotel. We are going with friends who took delivery of their MG on the morning we set off last year.

We are taking a day to explore Anglesey, followed by a night’s B and B, before catching the early morning ferry from Holyhead, so fingers crossed for the weather.

When Sir Gawain goes in search of the Green Knight in Simon Armitage’s translation….

He wanders near the north of Wales
with the Isles of Anglesey off to the left.
He keeps to the coast, fording each course,
crossing at Holyhead and coming ashore
in the wilds of the Wirral, whose wayward people
both God and good men have quite given up on.

As one born and raised in Birkenhead, I could take exception to that. More from me in a fortnight.


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