The poem ‘Roaming Range’ appears in my 2018 Shoestring Press collection What They Left Behind. During an event at Attenborough Nature Reserve last November called ‘(Re)connecting with nature through the power of wild words’ (Being Human Festival 2017), I had a conversation with Adam Cormack from The Wildlife Trusts. Adam happened to mention how children’s opportunities to engage with nature at first hand have become so much more restricted in the 21st century. What he called their ‘roaming range’ has been severely curtailed, for many reasons including concerns about safety, restricted access to outdoor/wild spaces near to home, poverty, school pressures, limited unstructured free time or different ways of spending free hours. His comments took me back to my childhood, a place and a time with no house phone or car when we (me and my friends or brother) would think nothing of disappearing on our bikes for hours at a time, going out into the scraggy Hertfordshire lanes, woods and fields around and beyond Stevenage Old Town. The poem began to write itself in my head on the way home.
Attenborough Nature Reserve
You roamed wherever your bikes took you
where blackberries grew big and juicy
on railway cuttings, river banks, sunny field edges …
I chose to use the second person in the poem because I thought my memories echoed those of many other children born in the sixties and seventies. I hoped to include everyone in the poem, rather than name specific places or people which might limit the piece to particular situations.
The poem wanted to come out all in one long nearly breathless rush of a sentence. Instinctively, I knew that this was the right form. Although the places, sightings and events within it did not all happen at once (and some frequently reoccurred) together they made a compressed, speeded-up snapshot of a childhood roaming free, getting snagged and stung, hearing and watching nature all round us:
where a nettle’s sting was only
partly eased by spit-rub of dock leaf
where tadpoles jellied in deep ponds
and bluebells chimed silent songs
under greening beeches
where hair snared in thickets
goose grass stuck to jumpers
I have been reading this poem at launch events recently, along with what I now see is a companion poem: ‘Girls on Swings.’ For me, both of these pieces are about freedoms we should revel in, seize, but never ever take for granted.
If you would like to read the whole 'Roaming Range' poem go to suedymokepoetry.com.