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The Poetry of Working Parties

Working parties are some of my favourite times of year. Even though they’re hard work for me – I’m host, project manager, materials fetcher, food gatherer, singer and storyteller – they’re warm and friendly occasions, usually a good mix of old hands and newcomers, and stuff gets done. Cae Mabon receives an infusion of transformational love and energy. That’s why it’s as beautiful and magical as it is. So many people have helped.

This end of season working party in late October was no exception. We had a good crowd – just the right number – and we made a difference. The path to the lake was improved; drains and gutters were cleared; concrete ramps were laid between the two levels of our main car park; an oak fallen across the river by the gate to the country park was cut, carried, split and stacked; a hurdle wall in the Caban was lime rendered; the house was painted white, bringing it back to its original name of Muriau Gwynion, ‘white walls’; apples were collected and juiced; acorns that fell from the oak tree into the sacred pool at Dinas Emrys were planted; brambling and kindling was done; the decking around the hot tub was replaced and improved; and feasts were cooked aplenty.

Thank you one and all. Not only to those who helped this time, but also to all those who have come to working parties over the years and who I’ve failed to properly thank. Deep gratitude to you all.

There’s one way this last working party was different. Not only did I have a hot tub – which I usually never have time or energy for – but also there was a lively creative presence. We had excellent singers, storytellers, artists and poets among us. On the night we celebrated Samhain/Halloween in the Roundhouse we experienced a profound blessing of spiritually uplifting beauty, conviviality (I know, my favourite word!) and humanity. Nothing was planned. Instead, one after another, gifts were spontaneously placed into the cauldron of inspiration and an astonishing communal masterpiece emerged.

At the morning meeting on the final day I casually suggested that one of the day’s tasks was for everyone to write a poem. I didn’t for a moment expect they would. To my surprise and delight many did, and on that last evening we had another exquisite sharing.

I asked people to transcribe and send me their work but you know how it is, scraps of paper get lost, life rolls on. But in the nick of time four of them came through with their poems. Here they are.


By Robert Holtom

Dreamed while doing working party jobs…

If the land would write a story,

I think it would unplug the laptop

and lid the pen.

If the land would speak a story,

I think it would forget the words

and lose the letters.

If the land would tell a story,

I think it would babble and burn,

freeze and thunder,

rise, tumble, fall and spring.

If the land would tell the truth,

I think it would sing.

* * *

I couldn’t make magic

down by the river,

no lightning from fingers

or trembling thunder.

I couldn’t remember

down by the river

how to move quicker

than air.

So I sat myself down,

down by the river

and listened quite quietly

as the river made magic of me.


By Matthew Slack

These are places Matthew visited in the Outer Hebrides over four occasions – in alphabetical order. Read out loud to fully appreciate the names!

Ardmore, Ardalanish.

Barra, Bernera, Berneray, Bosta, Borve, Broch.

Callanish, Crannog, Daliburgh, Drimogrin, Druidibeg.

Eaval, Eriskay, Erraid.

Fionnphort. Flodday.

Griminish, Gravir, Gylen, Geocrab, Gallanach.

Huisinish, Harris, Hecla, Horta.

Iona, Islay, Idrigill.


Kilchoan, Kerrera.

Leverburgh, Losgantyre, Lwewis, Lochmaddy.

Mingulay, Mishinish, Ness.

Orosaig, Pabbay, Quidinish, Rog, Rodel.

Stornoway, Scarba, Staffa, Skerryvore, Stockinish, Seilebost.

Tarbet, Tobermory ,Treshnish, Taransay.

Uig, Uist, Uist, Uisken, Ullapool.

Vatersay, Valley, Waternish.


By Katya Barton

Five of us went to Dinas Emrys after the working party. But Katya wrote this before. She must have known something. If it doesn’t make sense first time round, read it a few times.

Once there was

That which one once knew,

That this thing that is,

Would not be this again.

But were there those

To think that then,

There would not have been

That which was.

Yet without this,

Those who thought

Of that which was,

Were here with that again.

And in the end,

That which one once knew,

Was that which never went.


By Harper Stone

Harper’s journal, in which he wrote this poem, went on a journey itself from North Wales to Ireland and finally to his home in Washington State. It arrived the day we sent this newsletter out!

Hemp, sand, water and lime

Tumbled in a bowl of tines

Scooped and pitched and balled together

Pressed and jiggled and squeezed between

The Wiccan weft of a wattle wall

To coat and smother the tangled trees

Smoothed by the blade that obeys a wrestling wrist

Slacked and plastered and splattered with mud

To grip the willing weave of wormed wood

Then left alone to drink the air,

Congeal, stiffen and silently turn to sculpted stone

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