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Earth Monastery Project ~ Litany for the Wayside

I am pleased to share another beautiful project created with the Earth Monastery Grant. Read on for Philip Wood’s Litany for the Wayside. 

Phil Wood, Epping Forest, Essex
Phil Wood, Epping Forest, Essex

Litany for the Wayside is a liturgical and poetic sequence with visual and musical responses.  It is rooted in a shared practice of attentive walking.  The primary vehicle of the Litany is journeying and the main location is the road, but elements of the sequence (poems, prayers, reflection, art and music) may stand alone or combine with others, whether in recital, protest, performance, exhibition or lament.

The Journey So Far
This Litany for the Wayside has developed around a call and response pattern.  I have been working on poems, prose-poems, nature writing and liturgy for around a year now, drawing on existing material from Walking Church.  I have also approached visual artists who have offered responses to my writing and have sometimes walked with me. Altogether, I planned eight walks, though I incorporated an earlier Richmond

'Herbalist, Edwina Hodkinson on Spice Path walk', Springwater Park, Bury
‘Herbalist, Edwina Hodkinson on Spice Path walk’, Springwater Park, Bury

‘Walking Church’ walk and later added a tenth in St. Bees where we scattered my mum’s ashes.  In no particular order:

  1. Springwater Park, Bury
  2. Ramsbottom and Edenfield
  3. The Spinney, Elton, Bury
  4. Heaton Park, Bury/Manchester
  5. Nine Pins, Leek
  6. The Roaches to Buxton, Leek
  7. The Ness of Brodgar, Orkney
  8. Bees, Cumbria
  9. Richmond, London
  10. Grimston’s Oak, Epping Forest, London

Presently, I have three artistic collaborators:

Julie and I walked Springwater Park together in April 2016. The Springwater Park site is reclaimed land, having been a municipal refuse dump, heavily contaminated with waste from a local dye works. From the Park it is possible to see the source of the Irwell river in the distance, threaded between a complex horizon of hills.  It is a place where water is evident, both as a natural and a post-industrial presence.

I have so far written two poems and a liturgy which were inspired by the Springwater Park walks.  Julie Foley took the following poem as inspiration for her painting, ‘The Sludge Beds from the Bleach Works in Springwater Park‘:

Julie Foley, 'The Sludge Beds from the Bleach Works in Springwater Park'
Julie Foley, ‘The Sludge Beds from the Bleach Works in Springwater Park’

Springwater Park

On the close walk is something happening
not the news or P.M.Q.’s –
like a murmuring
between the stoop and Yarrow,
arousing wild memory
of a young river; a Roman road,
through the wide hills.  There are pools
in a mosaic, elliptical,
that learned the language
of birds and lines smoothed
under a wind-worked charm
of the forgiving grass, sinuously curving
while an army is marching nowhere.

I also did a second solo Bury walk in Elton, where I grew up.  Just off Dow Lane, a cobbled back-route between Elton and Walshaw, there is a remnant of the farmland that once existed between Bury and Tottington.  My uncle, a talented amateur artist, made sketches of green space and views of Holcombe Hill that I remember, but have now been lost to residential development. I have no idea of its proper name but we called it the Spinney. Generations of intrepid children, including myself, risked life and limb in search of newts and Sticklebacks.  When the housing estate was built the Spinney was destroyed, no doubt in a well-intentioned though risk averse attempt to tidy up the place.  This is an excerpt from the long poem, Spinney:

The Spinney, Elton, Bury
The Spinney, Elton, Bury

A child dreams in the man:
Deep-drowned footings,
Ink-shadowed walls,
Oil slipping over stone.

Gone now!  The sodden wise earth,
Bestows her tenancies,
On whom she will.

The Flooded Cellar
Never again the pantry chatter,
Or Pond Skaters’ patter
On a smothered hearth.
The boy dreams, now the man,
Of Sticklebacks, unseen.
Those deepening, dark pools.

Both Spinney and Springwater Park touch on a theme that crops up many times in the Litany, the idea of natural and human succession, a dance of vulnerability and restoration.  Even against the backdrop of the ecological crisis there is a note of hope – a renewal of tenure, the unintended fertility of sludge beds that can learn the language of birds or the linearity of empire softened under the forgiveness of grass.

Tramway, Heaton Park, Bury & Manchester
Tramway, Heaton Park, Bury & Manchester

Looking Ahead
The remainder of the Litany is currently under wraps and copyright but related themes – inefficiency, backwaters, nature mysticism, land rights, resistance and contemplation, etc – come together in the work.  As it stands we offered a taster of the Litany at the launch of our new quarterly poetry recitals, ‘Poetry by the Park’, at the Studio on the 9th May, 2016.

We will unveil much more of the Litany at the Stuidio on the 24th September, 2016.  That event will take the form of a reflective walk around Heaton Park, accompanied by liturgy, poems and visual art.  We intend to mark the place (which runs through the park) where pro-Brexit Bury meets pro-Remain Manchester.  Nas Malik is planning a photo mosaic which involves our walkers using their mobile phone cameras, before editing to form a mosaic. After the 24th we intend to take the Litany on the road beginning with London in November, where we will be joined by Axel Büker and a group of German Social Workers researching ‘Fresh Expressions of Church’.  It is a reminder to us that the focal point of the Litany isn’t art or even poetry, but walking.





Here are some more images taken from the walks.

Dead Thrushes, Springwater Park, Bury
Dead Thrushes, Springwater Park, Bury
Wayward Tree, Springwater Park, Bury
Wayward Tree, Springwater Park, Bury
St Ann's Well, Buxton
St Ann’s Well, Buxton
'Which way now', Ramsbottom
‘Which way now’, Ramsbottom
'Writing the Litany in a Prestwich coffee shop', Bury
‘Writing the Litany in a Prestwich coffee shop’, Bury
Rachel Mann, Veronica Zundel and Phil Wood at 'Poetry by the Park', the Studio, Prestwich, Bury
Rachel Mann, Veronica Zundel and Phil Wood at ‘Poetry by the Park’, the Studio, Prestwich, Bury

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