Katy Lee ‘in Conversation’

Myc Riggulsford and Katy Lee ‘In Conversation’ – and a Trip to the Community Woodlands

Katy Lee at the Quince Honey Farm Hexagon
Photo by Karolina Andreasova

On Sunday 26th September 2021, as part of the Deep Roots Festival organised by Arts Destination South Molton, the culmination of the Ode to the Ash Tree poetry-film project took place.

The project has produced a superb book of poems, written by local people, entitled Ode to the Ash Tree which is on sale through South Molton Library. There is also a performance selection of these poems – accompanied by specially commissioned films – accessible at specific locations around South Molton Community Woodlands. The combination of the specifically designed map, QR codes and recordings enables listeners to hear poems presented by Katy Lee, of Courage Copse Creatives, creator of the project.

The project was funded by Arts Council England with Arts Destination South Molton, and support in kind from various other organisations, such as the South Molton Library and the South Molton Community Woodlands. Katy also worked with Literature Southwest; publicity via social media also played an important part.

On the Sunday Myc Riggulsford, a noted science and environmental journalist, spoke with Katy. The audience, in the Hexagon at Quince Honey farm, was fascinated to hear not only about the project, but also about Katy’s life as a ‘woodlander’ in the Taw Valley. Katy and her husband own a woodland where they are reviving the old traditional mix of trees replacing fir plantation with mixed deciduous planting.

Katy made an interesting distinction between ‘forest’ (usually remotely managed) and ‘woodland’ where people used to live and work with the trees, making furniture, charcoal and using wood for other purposes. During their ownership of the wood, the couple have sadly witnessed the decline in the ash tree population under the impact of ‘ash die back’ and this has inspired the project for the Deep Roots Festival: Ode to the Ash Tree.

During the summer a call-out went to local people, inviting them to send in their poems on the theme of the ash tree. The submissions included stunning contributions, mainly centred around childhood memory, the impact of the ash tree dieback and themes of loss and grief, which obliquely alluded to the pandemic. There were references to the significance of the ash tree in British culture and life through the centuries, with poems that linked to the notion of the ‘World Tree’ and other Nordic myths and legends. The project also developed a ‘pen pal’ scheme of collaborative shared poems between the residents of Eastleigh Care Home, South Molton and the Community Primary School.

The discussion at the Hexagon, conducted in an atmosphere of great good humour despite the disheartening tragedy of the theme, included interesting contributions from the audience, and was followed by a visit to the Community Woodlands, led by Katy. The walk through the woodland stopped at various points for recitations by Katy of a selection of the poems at the foot of designated ash trees – all in the process of dying. There were lively discussions amongst the group about the woodlands, future prospects and plans and so forth. In addition, admiration for the quality of the poems produced for the project, which was felt to have been extremely worthwhile on many levels: for the writers, for the town, for deeper understanding of the issues, for appreciation of history and past cultures.

Thanks go out to all involved in this invaluable Deep Roots Festival, with hopes for future creative developments in South Molton.

Jane Chesters, Follower of Arts Destination South Molton