Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Archaeology and Poetry: The Lansdown Poetry Workshop

Last week, the excavation received a visit from the Lansdown poetry workshop, an informal network of Bristol-based poets who meet once a month in The Lansdown, Clifton. The tour was organised by recent Bristol graduate, Robert Beavis, to provide an educational and inspiring experience, in the hope of stimulating creative responses to the academic environment.

Although the processes of archaeology and poetry may seem worlds apart, they share many similarities. 
Archaeology makes the past present; poetry makes the past as experienced by somebody else present for the reader.

Poetry can be can be used to reflect on the past, much in the same way that archaeology provides us with a physical interpretation of history. There is also a romanticism to archaeology, in the ruins of buildings or holding an artefact for the first time in hundreds of years, that can be seen in many poetic styles. Robert wished to highlight this and inspire the visiting poets to create their own artistic interpretations, influenced by the excavations at Berkeley.
The Lansdown Poetry workshop at the site. Credit: Diane Taylor 2017
As part of the tour of the site, Robert showed the poets archaeological artefacts from previous seasons at Berkeley including Gloucestershire slip ware and worked flint. Robert used poems from the Classical era to the present day as the basis for discussions of taphonomic (the study of processes, such as burial, decay and preservation) processes, materiality and temporality (existing within or having some relationship with time). These are themes present in poems such as Heaney's work, 'Grauballe Man,' or the Roman poet Lucretius's De Rerum Natura.
When asked which elements of archaeology they found the be the most interesting many of the poets, such as Tim Burroughs, noted the paradox of archaeology - the destruction of history to better understand and record it. Martin Rieser also commented on the artefacts and layering of history in the trench. Some, as will be seen, were interested in the notion of 'the uncanny,' while others have been captivated by the reality of past lives that archaeological excavation can bring to the surface.

Over the next few posts we will be sharing poems written by the Lansdown poetry workshop that were inspired by the excavations and archaeology of Berkeley. Some of these poems are still in draft form;  they will be subjected to their own complex processes as they are reworked and rewritten.

Keep checking the blog over the coming weeks for even more poems! 


The ground is hard, halfway to
Stone, packed safe round stone,
its secrets kept,
Layered away from curious eyes.
Flow has no place down here
in another time,
Meaning no validity. These
Things simply were, these black sherds
where the earth
Cradled them. Exposed to rain and measurement,
Trowelled up, a sacred confidence
has been broken:
The long concealment of walls is violated
With tools, with hands, with novel thoughts,
for unwanted scrutiny.

- R. C. Beavis

BERKELEY CASTLE REVISITED It begins in the ritual of meeting In the car park (Late Automotive Age) Early spider webs catching the sun The movie trucks are gone But I’m still here like a ghost Visiting a pasture of ghosts I was a leper here And I was a dead man in the dry moat Covered in muslin and dust I smell the ghosts of smoke machines I was English Irish French and Cornish I was a contractor for Disneyland We walk through the churchyard The inscriptions disappearing Rome reappearing in sherds of Severn Valley ware Bullet holes in the church doors and pillars Uncanny air in the pasture below the church Where an army of archaeologists swarms in the great trench We come to the tent of finds / above Coenwulf’s Anglo-Saxon silver penny (c800) Coins from Elizabeth I and Edward III A perfect iron arrowhead from the 14th century Neolithic flint and medieval tableware Slipware greyware black-burnished ware And an Aestle: a ritual pointer Not like King Alfred’s Aestle-jewel This is a humble monk’s pointer For pointing at a book of jewels And a whetstone neck pendent A beautiful beveled scribe’s tool With a hole for the leather lace A whetstone to sharpen the pen knife Used for cutting goose quills The pages are missing but the footsteps continue An archaeologist points with her trowel To the rocks of the inner outer walls In this trade of pastures plans and sections The plague is buried here Along with smallpox Milkmaids don’t catch smallpox Ask the hut / below A little bit of knowledge Is a visionary cosmos Even the grasses know New Worlds The artist installs ghost deer in the game larder Whiter than the fog of early hunting And again I’m the ghost in residence Archaeology is like a poem That is never finished Poetic closure only infill Some day we will be the ghosts And thrill the visitors of this changing landscape So completely changed by time and music Oh look what they have found Freed from the red protective clay A rare undamaged communication device No just a stainless steel wristwatch from 1951 Blinking again in the footsteps of the pasture Days later it’s raining and the trench will be slick But I’m sleeping with the spiders in the rain - Tony D’Arpino
Robert Beavis showing finds to the poets. Credit: Diane Taylor 2017.


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