Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Week in Cumbria - 2 Wordsworth

Cumbria, the birthplace of poet William Wordsworth, has a number of "must see" buildings associated with the poet.

First among these is Dove Cottage, Grasmere, where the poet, his wife Mary and his sister Dorothy lived. William and Dorothy moved in in 1799, he married Mary in 1802 and three of their five children were born there. In 1808 they moved to a larger house nearby, Allan Bank. While living in Dove Cottage William wrote some of the greatest poetry in the English language and Dorothy kept her famous 'Grasmere Journal'. Museum.

Dove Cottage is now owned by the Wordsworth Trust. They also own a complex of building around the cottage, the ticket office and shop, the Wordsworth Museum, the Jerwood Centre which holds the Wordsworth manuscripts, books and paintings not on show in the museum, a teashop, some function rooms.

I enjoyed my visit greatly. Guidebooks stress how small the cottage is but I was surprised how spacious it actually was. Irish railway cottages were smaller! It is dark inside and you can see why three adults and three children would have needed a larger place.

Because the cottage is small groups of about 12 are taken around in turns through the rooms by a guide. I have a dread of guides who assume you know nothing and go on and on. This was not the case. The guide concentrated on describing the house, telling us the use of each room, which details were original and which were not. The small garden at the back is well kept but not over elaborate and the museum is full of material and information.

The museum also hosts special exhibitions. The current exhibition is "Wordsworth and Basho: Walking Poets" and contained manuscripts and early printed editions of work written by Bashō, William Wordsworth, and Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy. It also features new works by contemporary artists working in a wide range of media in response.

The shop was small and tasteful - I couldn't find any sticks of Wordsworth rock but there were plenty of books and some daffodil mugs. The tea shop was spacious and the staff friendly and the Cumberland teacake very tasty.

A local writers' group, Dove Cottage Poets, meet every month at the Cottage for a workshop facilitated by the current poet in residence and visitors are welcome. I timed my visit to coincide and I joined in. The Poet in Residence for 2014 is Zaffar Kunial whose pamphlet is being issued by Faber and Faber as No. 11 in their New Poets series.

I really enjoyed the workshop, great to see how other groups conduct themselves. For the first half Zaffar shared poems on the theme of "The Edge" The fact that Zaffar's first three "sample" poems were by Irish poets caused some amusement and I was asked to read the first, Heaney's "Terminus". I put on my best Irish accent! The others were by Mahon and Muldoon.

The second half consisted of workshopping participants' poems. I hadn't thought of bringing something. Some great material from the participants. A variety of themes and treatments. I was impressed.

Not far from the cottage complex is the main part of the town of Grasmere which includes the churchyard where William, Mary, Dorothy and other members of the family are buried. The church itself is worth a visit and it has a memorial to Wordsworth.

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