The aim of this project is to create an extensive archive of poems—old and contemporary— that have been inspired by the New Forest.
The New Forest National Park is located in the heart of the South of England and encompasses 219 square miles of heath and wetlands, ancient woods and fragile coastlines. It is one of the smallest national parks in the UK, but with one of the highest footfalls.
The New Forest has inspired writers for centuries. It is a place of wild beauty steeped in natural magic, folklore and history. It is an area of huge environmental importance, providing habitat for rare nesting birds and is home to some of the largest mires in Europe.
Originally enclosed by William the Conquerer in 1079 as a royal hunting ground, the forest has provided the Royal Navy with timber for warships, and throughout the forest traditional commoning is practiced widely.
You can read more about the New Forest here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Forest
but I want the poems to tell you the real narrative of the Forest, its unique voices, its past, present and an reimagining of its future.
It will be fascinating to consider the poems together, to identify recurring forms or themes, the different ways the Forest is represented and even how the Forest is gendered. What moments or places have inspired poets to turn to the page to record what they have seen? What concerns, if any, do contemporary poets share with poets who were here before? What aspects of the landscape or wildlife have been lost since the poems were written? Or language even? Above all, it will be interesting to observe how poets express their love of the Forest in their own language, how they value its landscapes and histories. It is so important to preserve the Forest as words—those idiosyncratic stories and legends which could be easily lost.
What is immediately apparent in the poems is a strong sense of history and folklore. Enclosure, not surprisingly, is a reoccurring subject and also King Rufus. Beaulieu features in three of the poems. And of course, royal harts and ponies!
Like all wild places the New Forest is vulnerable to degradation. Pollution, development, tourism and climate change are just a few of the threats it faces.
Can words save landscape?What role can poetry play in protecting vulnerable areas such as the New Forest? Can poetry help us move beyond passive memorial to active conservation? Can poetry be activism?
By hunting out and gathering up these poetic resources, I hope to create a rich harvest of words that captures the heart of the forest onto paper, bringing together the wonderful voices that have preserved the forest as words for us to enjoy centuries after they were written..
My plan, after collating these poems, is to produce a beautiful print poetry anthology, to recreate the forest in book form, where pages become inclosures, a written map of the national park.
I hope this project will inspire new writing too. The New Forest is a vibrant, dynamic landscape. It even has its own language. Maybe collectively our words can help shape its future as well as preserve its past.
Karen Jane Cannon is a poet and author. Her poetry has appeared in a wide variety of literary journals in the UK and USA. She has written two short collections—Emergency Mints published by Paper Swans Press in 2018 and The Curfew Bell due to be published by Indigo Dreams in 2020. She was a finalist in the Mslexia Poetry Competition 2017 and was shortlisted for The Bridport Prize 2019. Karen is a PhD candidate at the University of Southampton researching the New Forest and eco-feminist landscapes. Her novel Powder Monkey was published by Phoenix in 2003. She was Somerset Libraries’ Roving Writer in Residence in 2005 funded by the Arts Council. www.karenjanecannon.com