Finding a home for Simon’s words

by Landscape Architect Tom Lonsdale

“What a brilliant idea” I thought when Ilkley Literature Festival told me of the ambition to get Simon’s poetry carved into stone in the Pennine landscape and asked me to make it happen. Unsurprisingly that thought was followed immediately by a rush of questions in my head: where would be appropriate; would there be resistance from landowners; would it need planning permission; and would those who believe the moors to be wilderness tolerate this new mark of civilisation? I needn’t have worried; almost without exception everyone I consulted thought the same.

What followed was perhaps the ultimate in turning a hobby into a job. My love of the hills finds expression through maps, walking and photography, all of which were essential if I was to find places that Simon and I could agree fulfilled our test - 'locations already possessing a powerful sense of place that would both enhance and benefit from the potency and beauty of the poetry'. Many hours of map study led to scores of miles walked to identify a shortlist, which I then took Simon to visit: his was the final decision but also guided by the judgement of letter-cutter Pip Hall on which individual piece of stone would be receptive to her chisel. In the cases of Dew and Puddle the stone was not even there but had to be sourced and brought in.

Once the stones had all been carved all that remained was to help people to find them, so the trail guide was developed along a route that would connect all the poems and visit a range of different landscape types, all on well established public rights of way. To accommodate an audience wider than just hardy hill-walkers each stone can be visited individually with little effort from a departure point on a public road.

Stanza Stones Trail Guide

The Stanza Stones Project

by Rachel Feldberg
Director, Ilkley Literature Festival

In 2010 Ilkley Literature Festival and imove began a unique and ambitious project: commissioning leading UK poet, Simon Armitage, to create a series of poems responding to the landscape of the Pennine Watershed in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The Festival asked letter carver Pip Hall and her apprentice Wayne Hart to carve Simon’s poems in six atmospheric locations along the Watershed from Marsden, where Simon was born to Ilkley, the home of Ilkley Literature Festival. Each stone took weeks with Pip spending days out on the moors. At each end of the Trail, on Pule Hill and Ilkley Moor, local drystone waller Nick Ferguson created a Poetry Seat – where you can sit and admire the view or even write your own poem. Both these initiatives were supported by Pennine Prospects, a South Pennines rural regeneration company.

About the Stanza Stones Project

by Simon Armitage

For many thousands of years people have been coming to moors around West Yorkshire to offer their prayers and express their desires in the form of carved stones. The Stanza Stones poems are my contribution to that unbroken and ongoing dialogue, and consist of six carved poems sited across the South Pennine Watershed, all celebrating or paying their respects to the element which gave shape and form to this region, namely water. The water that sculpted the valleys, the water that powered the industries, the water we take for granted but which is our most precious life-giving substance.
Each carved poem describes water in one of its many forms, hence a Beck Stone, a Puddle Stone, a Mist Stone, a Rain Stone and a Dew Stone. The Snow Stone, the first to be carved, is situated in an old quarry on Pule Hill above the village of Marsden where I was born and grew up.
In my experience the moors are both brutal and blissful, an essential part of our ecology, economy, our vocabulary and our subconscious. So as well as being landmarks in their own right, I hope the Stanza Stones act as beacons of inspiration, encouraging people to engage with West Yorkshire and Lancashire’s great outdoors in thought, word and deed. And those looking hard enough might stumble across a seventh Stanza Stone, a secret stone left in an unnamed location within the Watershed area, waiting to be discovered and read.
Simon Armitage