I walked down to Stroud Valley Arts through Rodborough Fields,
Medieval ridge and furrow still just visible in the April evening light,
Cracked earth and shallow stream talking to me with John Clare’s voice,
Lamenting the past and fearful of the future -
And so along the industrial archaeological edgelands of Stroud,
To John Street: ‘Where its only bondage was the circling sky’.
Twenty or so of us gathered here, to discourse on Captain Swing,
Mechanisation, new technology, loss of jobs in the here and now
(As well as the autumn and winter of 1830),
Blandscape, enclosure, the poetical legacy of John Clare,
All the while listening to the ska sound of ‘The Guns of Navarone’,
In a typically Stroud post-modernist mashup.
We then processed to the Swing/Clare film at the Brunel Goods Shed,
Thence to the River Frome, via blue-brick Midlands Railway,
Discussing Clare’s anthropomorphising of landscape,
Pondering on the palimpsest implications of wood anemones,
Until Captain Swing letters were left by Capel’s Mill,
And the sky blazed red in Sussex in the winter of 1830
(Whilst all the while the dogs frolicked cheerfully in the water).
Readings of Clare were collectively shared, hedgerows were dated,
Tolpuddle’s legacy was juxtaposed with that of Captain Swing,
The history of allotments and common land was pursued,
Until we ascended to the peak of Rodborough Common,
Where Clare’s incarceration within the asylum,
And the possible causes of his madness were portrayed
Through presentations, performance and readings,
As the sun set red across the tide full River Severn.
Dogs played, toddlers played,
As the red light silhouette shift
Changed us all to a band of gypsies,
At Helpstone, in 1830,
While John Clare read to us,
Gilded by the glowing sun.
And the tricks we played with time.