Tuesday Poem – The Royal Forests by Judy Brown


In the royal forests, the chimera was idling

by a mirror pool, calm as a self-driving car.

In the royal forests, my breath moved slowly

against the pile of my blue velvet snood.


Lichen was lime green and frilly, as it clasped

the oaks’ new growth. The scar of a cut branch

would burst in spring into a brown firework.

It was all starting again, the dynasties, the cooking:


game, and jugging and spatchcocking

in the quasi-taverns skeletoned in gold wood.

Light pooled in certain places, and from others

it kept away, like indigo around a wax resist.


I hurt my hand in the royal forests:

a splinter got wedged down behind my nail.

For a long time I didn’t realise, about the birdlime

and the stage set, and the twinkling.


I didn’t realise that the investment,

and the visiting henchmen were incidental,

that it was about the bark, and the water

ascending the tubes in the trunks’ rinds,


that it was about the trees, not the haunted air

that peopled the gaps between them.

The above poem by Judy Brown is from the anthology, ‘The Tree Line: Poems for Trees, Woods and People. The editor was Michael McKimm, who said,‘Over a period of several months poets were invited to write new poems in response to the 1217 Charter of the Forest, to trees or woodland of personal significance to them, or how trees have shaped our society, landscape and lives. They sent poems about trees in gardens and along the sides of roads, trees to climb and build dens in, favourite trees cut down

About the Poem: Judy says ‘I had been reading the extracts which contributing poets had been sent from the United Kingdom’s 1217 Charter of the Forest, a charter that re-established for free men rights of access to the royal forests.

UK Royal Forest Charter

The old legal language had a strange energy but the brutality of the exclusion of ordinary people from the forest was shocking, even though things were to be improved.  It made me think of cordoned-off playgrounds for certain classes, harsh politics disguised as naturalness, and, in contrast, the mythical sense forests have of being woods between worlds, zones with different rules.  The poem came pretty much in this form and refused to give up its paradoxes, which I suppose are the point.  The speaker seems to encounter both safety and danger – forests are still forests whatever kings do. And I’m pretty sure the Brexit referendum result, the disturbing campaign and its ugly fallout, influenced the creepy anachronism of some of the images.’

Ed. Helen McKinlay says: At first I was puzzled by meanings in this poem. But I let its mystery and the fall of its words lead me.“the chimera was idling…calm as a self-driving car” and the “jugging and spatchcocking” What wonderful images, sounds, and smells of cook ups in ancient forests! Think Robin Hood. But Judy has an uncanny way of getting to the internals of her subject. “it was about the bark, and the water ascending the tubes in the trunks’ rinds and in the end it comes back to the tree itself.  Thank you for sharing this wonderful poem Judy.

About the Poet:  Judy Brown is a poet, poetry tutor /mentor, and poetry reviewer.   She has been Poet-in-Residence at both the Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere and Gladstone’s Library, and was a 2017 Hawthornden Fellow.  Judy studied English at Cambridge and Newcastle universities and previously worked as a lawyer in London and Hong Kong. Her latest book is CROWD SENSATIONS (Seren Books, 2016) a Poetry Book Society Recommendation 2016; shortlisted for the Ledbury Forte Poetry Prize for second collections 2017, described by The Telegraph as ‘deliciously tactile,’ and The Poetry Review as ‘exuberant, expansive poetry.

Please go to Judy Brown’s website for more information on her publications work and poetry.  Remember, today is National Poetry Day in New Zealand and you will find more information on that in the Tuesday Poem left hand side column.







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