Some of the oldest poems in Lost Bards and Dreamers come from a project I started with Tom, perhaps four years ago. I’d been studying ogham, considerably influenced by the writing of Glennie Kindred (who is brilliant, look for her books on amazon!) and the poems that came out of the project were very much part of my own learning. There are other blog posts on here specifically about ogham, so I recommend checking those out. It’s an Irish Celtic written language and can be associated with all sorts of things, including trees.
I grew up in rural Gloucestershire, with a mother and grandmother who taught me a lot about the natural world. My father’s interest in mythology was also a big influence, and my immediate family were into folk, so I had that inspiration too. I grew up knowing more than most people, about trees.
However, studying the ogham, I realised there was a great deal I didn’t know. Ok, so I can identify most trees even in winter without their leaves, but there’s so much more than just knowing the names and a smattering of natural history.
I set myself the challenge of writing three poems about each of the ogham trees in turn. (Three is a good number, there are many wisdom triads out there.) In each set, one poem concentrated on natural history, one on traditions and the third went wherever seemed sensible at the time! I spent a while researching each tree in more detail, gathering the information to write, and sharing the work with Tom as I went. As with many of the things I do, he was much of the reason and inspiration for the work.
For various reasons, it was a project that never fully came to fruition. Part of the problem was that at the end of it, I had thirty odd poems about trees. Even I have a limited tolerance for trees as a subject! Some of them were a bit on the dry side, because they’d been written more as an exercise. However, when I started to think in earnest about doing a collection of druid poetry, I dusted the ogham poems off, picked the ones I still liked, and added them to the mix. They benefit (I think) from being interspersed with other subject matter.
As an exercise, it is one I can recommend, and it works for any topic you might be studying. Runes, tarot and other forms of divination could be explored in the same way, as could pantheons, sacred plants, stars, and sacred sites, to name but a few. The process of turning study into poetry really does help with learning. Poetry writing itself is a skill that benefits from being practiced, so by using poetry as part of study, you can also hone your bard skills at the same time. Like me you may find at the end that some of the pieces aren’t suitable for sharing, but that’s ok too. In prose writing, we discard scenes and sentences that don’t work. Being smaller things to begin with, poems tend to stay or be discarded as a whole (I find) and if you end up only keeping half of what you make, that’s workable, and a way of editing and improving.
Lost Bards and Dreamers available from Alpheratz Press