WickenFen_butterfly

In an exciting new collaboration between the National Trust and the University of Northampton, poet and nature-writer Charles Bennett has been confirmed as the Writer-in-Residence for Wicken Fen. “It’s a thrilling chance for me to sample the Fen through all its seasonal changes” he said “witnessing the fluctuation and revitalisation of the area as birds and other creatures flood in. I plan to record the tide rising at Wicken”.

Isobel Sedgwick, Visitor Services Manager said “We are delighted to welcome artists to the Fen at any time of year, and Charles will be charting a whole year in a series of poems specially written for us. We hope to show him something of the diversity and richness the Fen holds – its treasures and secrets.”

Dr Bennett is Associate Professor of Poetry & Creative Writing, and his residency is supported by an major Arts Council grant. As well as his many books of poetry, of which the latest, Evenlode, is a river-journey toward balance, he is writing a book about listening to landscape and the fascination of natural sounds. “It’s going to be a very busy year” he said “but I expect it to be deeply rewarding”. A series of poetry workshops for adults is also planned, something Charles is especially excited about: “I’m keen to involve the local community in recording their impressions and observations” he added.

Visitors might like to keep an eye open for Charles as he wanders through the Fen and the surrounding regions.

April : Bog Oak

Sometimes I think of the forest
beneath the fen. Those cumbersome logs
they pull from under the earth.

Lumps of stubborn oak 
that are no use, they lie like sleeping tramps 
in black cloaks by the side of the field.

I think of how, before the sunlight 
closed above their heads, before the water 
seeped between their roots,

these broken trunks (so dark they might
have grown in total night) opened green leaves 
in a dapple of birdsong. For all I know

this emerging comma butterfly,
whose folded wings are a pair of closed oak leaves,
is looking for a lost forest.

May:

At the start of summer’s journey towards fruit
a hawthorn’s cluster of pearls
open into white petals: I think perhaps migration

must feel like this, as coming to Wicken blossoms
in the centre of a reed warbler.
When a cuckoo drops his note from A to F sharp

he is asking the female to grow a bright flower
in someone else’s garden: soon 
she will have the reed warblers’ nests by heart.

I listen for a long time as morning breaks
and the hawthorn opens its petals
on the chilly white beginning of a sharp summer.

June:

I read the fixed wave of a honeycomb page
and notice as I turn it over from recto to verso
how the central O of each empty cell 
is imprinted over the X of the one beneath.

This is a palimpsest of hugs and kisses,
a page of the hive broken free when the library fell.
These stacks of vanes that were spoken aloud by bees
are silent now and smell of a dark sweetness.

From the upturned hollow of a willow
a brittle fin of murmuring floats in my hand
its makers blown to the end of their own voices.
O, says the honeycomb: O, O, O.

July:

When I think of the rare fen violet

whose seeds can wait for decades for just

the right kind of disturbance,

whose bluish-white petals


have crept into sight again after forty years,

I remember Sedge Fen Drove

where lesser spearwort steps across

the queasy ooze of ground I am sinking into,

and I come again to the place

where I see how the names of plants

are thoughts in the fertile mind of Wicken Fen,

and how you have to wait sometimes

for the right kind of disturbance
before you can blossom, and then at last

you remember the rare fen violet.

August:

When a fish lips the surface of the lode
ripples breathe in circles
                like a tree’s growth-rings,
as if the fish were showing
                how old the water is in Wicken Fen.

Dendrochronology can show you
what kind of year it was
                by the width of the rings,
like plugs of ice from the Arctic
                kept in a frozen library.

From seeds in fields of water
the quick, bright flowers of the air pass by,
                 their wings a fizz of blossom:
brown hawker, black-lined skimmer, downy emerald.
                 Ah, says the water, a good year.

September:

I sit at the top of the old tower hide
as cormorants roost in a tree like black pears.

Nine on the left are balanced by nine on the right
as if they knew tonight is the autumn equinox.

A twilight robin whistles through his teeth,
and the soft peak of thatch on the tower hide

is a fulcrum where the year has come to rest
with daylight on the left, and night-time right.

A brimstone butterfly skitters behind a buckthorn
and emerges as a pipistrelle bat.

Summer twitches its wings with zugenruhe,
then flies off overnight along with the swallows.

Between a ton of frost and a ton of feathers
I sit in darkness knowing they weigh the same.

Coming downstairs backwards towards winter
I feel for each tread of the cold piano.

My yellow pool of torchlight going home
skims across the fen like a harvest moon.

October:

Moles are sleek fish in dank soil
tasting the two darks of Wicken Fen:
the midnight of its sky above the earth,
the water of its earth beneath the sky.

They ridge and furrow and sew
the ground together: they eat
their own weight in fallen stars.

When moonlight licks their coat
with a kind of frost, they burrow north
like the nose of a compass needle.

Soft black roses with thorny claws
they sprinkle plump ziggurats.
Pulling the earth behind in a stroke of genius
they row the floating fen on its long voyage.

November:

Over my head the fieldfares’ tittle-tattle
is a consort of typewriter-thrushes.

The face of the moon floats on Wicken Lode
like a disc of hoarfrost. When I fish it out

it is cold as all my Novembers rolled together:
a mirror to show the weather I look like now.

Winter is the fen’s midnight, when the year
ticks slow. From Norman’s Bridge I watch

the fieldfares gather: they have left a snatched
supper of berry-snaffle and bletted apples

to eat the moon I’ve left on brittle grass
like a thin round crust of white bread.

I scatter sharp crumbs from its frozen rim. Before
you can say Jack Frost they’ll surface as daisies.

December:

                        On the longest night of the year
              I like to take a bucket of oak apples down to the fen
and soak them in lode water up to the brim.

                        I know the marble gall is full of darkness
             which seeps through a small hole into the liquor,
as though the nights of its growing are being released.

                        By morning the days will be longer,
             my pen will be filled with summer in the middle of winter –
I’ll be writing towards the light with oak apple ink.