SC Morgan of the Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, talks to Jane Lovell, who was poet in residence at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve from 2019-2021
How long have you been writing poetry?
I started writing in my early teens and joined my first poetry group in my twenties: a Cardiff group called Undercover Writers who used to meet in an upstairs room of the Four Bars. I was one of the youngest and there were some hugely talented writers there; it was an invaluable learning experience!
What draws you to poetry as a medium?
I love the economy and precision of language and the use of imagery to illuminate ideas. Musicality, for me, is an essential quality – the sounds and rhythm of the words and how they relate to each other on an aural level. Having the time to compose and refine my thoughts is also very important; I'm not good at thinking on my feet!
Could you tell us a bit about your relation with the land, specifically as it relates to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve.
I've always loved the outdoors. When I was a child growing up in Northamptonshire, we had an amazing garden with secret areas and places I could grow things. I was allowed to use tools in the workshop from a frighteningly young age and make dens and climb trees. One of my earliest memories was writing with a crayon on an upturned tin bucket 'FOR YOU BIRD' and putting pieces of bread outside for the thrush... oh, and keeping a dead starling in an old shoebox because I wanted its skeleton! It was in those times where, as long as you turned up for meals, you could pretty much do what you wanted. We used to go on long walks in the fens at weekends and I was told about John Clare, later reading his poems. All this has stayed with me: deep countryside, birds, paths and bridleways. I'd never want to live in the city.
What drew you to the Writer in Residence project?
I came across the Places of Poetry Project in 2018 and thought that it would be wonderful if Rye Harbour could be involved in some way. The Nature Reserve is such a wild and beautiful place, a place of transient landscapes and huge horizons: perfect for poetry. I commented on Twitter and the manager, Dr Barry Yates, got in touch. We walked around the reserve and talked about the possibilities of a project involving, amongst other things, workshops and a poetry trail. Workshops began in the spring and a group was quickly established. We would spend half the session outside, responding to prompts relating to some aspect of the environment, then we would finish the workshop in the Avocet Gallery where you would supply the most wonderful cakes and tea. I continued to provide writing prompts and challenges through much of the pandemic and, when it became clear we wouldn't be able to meet up for some time, we had virtual meetings using Zoom to bring people back together, sharing work and ideas.
Is it possible to be optimistic about the future of the natural world... how important do you think something like the Ginkgo Prize, which you won in 2021, is in highlighting the plight of nature?
Nature poetry can be quite dark in terms of raising awareness of issues relating to the natural world and the environment, but it can also celebrate the beauty of it, so there’s a spectrum. The relationship between people and the natural world at Rye Harbour tends to be a very positive one. Although the writers who attend the workshops feel strongly about the environment, much of the work created is celebratory in nature, focusing on the beauty and wildness of the landscapes and wildlife. The Ginkgo Prize is, happily, quite broad in outlook. There is the inevitable focus on the damaged environment and our part in that, but there is also a place for wonder at the beauty of our planet. Similarly, the Laurel Prize also values 'nature poetry' alongside work that raises awareness of environmental issues.
Why is the Writer in Residence Project valuable to writers and others?
A project like this gives people the chance to share their thoughts, views, ideas and creativity in a supportive environment, not only developing their writing skills but their confidence and self-esteem. There has also been, with this group, a feeling of connecting with people who share the same love of place, its landscapes and stories, its history and future.
Could you explain how the new poetry anthology, due out in September, might give people a new insight into the reserve?
New Ways of Looking at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is a collection of literary and artistic responses to the sights and sounds of the reserve, imagery ranging from wide-angle landscapes to almost macro detail. Local poets and artists offer their own personal perspectives and the range of work is incredible. It is truly a thing of beauty and will hopefully open people's eyes to alternative views and viewpoints of the reserve.
In the past most nature reserves have focused on habitat creation and wildlife protection but this project has opened a way for individuals to connect on an emotional level with the land... could you expand on that?
It is impossible to visit Rye Harbour without appreciating its beauty and wildness but the project goes a step further and allows people to explore their feelings towards the nature of the reserve and how it relates to their own lives and experiences. A greater awareness of its history, the changing landscapes and transient skies, ebb and flow of birdlife and flora throughout the year, opens up perspectives that can be translated into writing. Responding to these on a personal level and putting those feelings and ideas down on paper can be both rewarding and illuminating.
New Ways of Looking at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve costs £15 and will be on sale from 19th September, in the Discovery Centre shop and elsewhere, with profits from the book are going directly to help fund activities in the Discovery Centre.
This post is also available on Sussex Wildlife Trust website