Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Muse: The Stanza Stones Project

It's one thing writing poems for yourself. . .
And it's another thing to write poetry. . . to be
carved into rocks in public places, where they might
last for centuries and catch the attention of passers-by
 who might . . . possibly have  no interest in verse.
~ Simon Armitage

As part of the 21-month "Stanza Stones" project of the Ilkley Literature Festival, in West Yorkshire; imove, Yorkshire's cultural program for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad; and Pennine Prospects, Britain's Simon Armitage was commissioned to write a sequence of poems, inspired by the landscape of the Pennine uplands, that are being carved into stones that then are set in place along what is to become a permanent "Poetry Trail" extending from Armitage's birthplace, Marsden, to the festival's home base in Ilkley. 

Armitage originally intended to write a sestina for the project but abandoned his plan, he writes here, when it finally occurred to him, after many visits to the watershed, that water offered the inspiration he needed and that various forms of water — rain, snow, stream, and so on — could be the subjects for the seven poems he eventually would write for the Stanza Stones. He titled his series In Memory of Water, thereby, he says, "connecting the often commemorative act of monumental masonry and engraving with our most vital but often neglected necessity, our common gold, our shaping force, our local vintage — water." (Armitage speaks briefly here about the verses.)

The project, which requires the cooperation of numerous private landowners, utility companies, and local and national government agencies, including the National Trust, is well underway. Three of the seven intended Stanza Stones have been erected. The first, completed last July, is located above Marsden on Pule Hill (each of the 360 characters in the verses took seven minutes to 10 minutes to carve); the second, finished last October, is on Nab Hill near Oxenhope; and the third, erected in December, is at Cow's Mouth Quarry, a spot known to mountain climbers. Each of the stones (for Armitage's poems "Snow", "Rain", and "Mist") was incised on site. At least two others (for Armitage's poems "Dew" and "Puddle") will be carved elsewhere, because of the stones' size and weight, and transported to their sites.

Pule Quarry, Marsden
Photo Credit: Tom Lonsdale, Stanza Stones Landscape Architect

The stone carver is Pip Hall, who runs a letter-carving studio in Cumbria and collaborates often with poets and writers on "environment-interpretation" projects, including Art on the Wall in Carlisle, comprising enameled tiles designed into panels for flood defenses and containing words from poet Jacob Polley, and Discover Eden, for which Hall created linoprints that illustrate a book related to etched bronzed panels erected along the walking routes of the river Eden. (Be sure to browse Hall's site to look at her extraordinary work.) 

The final four stones are to be in place in time for a celebration of the launch of the completed Poetry Trail, as well as on-site performances and readings, in May and June. A Stanza Stones Trail Guide is to be published online in May.

In conjunction with the project, groups of writers ages 12 to 26, from both cities and rural areas of Yorkshire, are visiting the watershed and participating in workshops and studying in masterclasses with Armitage. The groups' goal is to write poems inspired by the Pennine landscape that will be collected for an anthology to be issued this summer, presented in readings at festival events, and interpreted by dancers and filmmakers during the festival.

I can think of no effort on a similar scale anywhere in the United States (an online search of the project reveals that not everyone in the UK believes the project should have been undertaken). Can you imagine, for example, a poetry trail along our famous Rt. 66?

I have been itching to go back to England for a visit. This project gives me reason to want to travel there to walk the Poetry Trail and become inspired myself.

Stanza Stones Project Updates

Flickr Image of Stanza Stone "Snow"

Simon Armitage's Poem "Snow" (This post includes a photo of the incised stone and the text of the poem.)

Ilkley Literature Festival on FaceBook and Twitter

Pip Hall and the People of Cairnhead at Striding Arches


Anonymous said...

man carving in stone
words to linger
into the future

Joyce Wycoff said...

You always find the most interesting things. This is fascinating, inspiring and beautiful.