Poem introduction

As a practicing designer I’ve worked for several years with the archive of two women Modernist textile designers, Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher, who in partnership practiced their craft together – between the First and Second World War. As Hand block printers and dyers both women experienced the First World War in very different ways – Phyllis in Belgium, Dorothy in India. My book Walking the Block explores their life work and creative practices. I’ve included two poems that explore Phyllis’s experience as a VAD nursing on the Belgian front... Both poems examine the nature of creativity and imagination and the impact the war had, both personally and creatively. Phyllis Barron, like many other artists and makers of the period, such as the painters Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, never lost her ability to think, absorb, learn, create and interpret: despite the horrors she witnessed she was trying to make sense of it all. (Read in the voice of Phyllis Barron.)

1914, Working With Red in a Field Hospital, Belgium

Back in the workshop I look 
for any kind of flux, discrepancy, 
or break from the uniform,
when dyeing wild madder with gromwell,
or common sorrel with bedstraw, but not here. 

The men lie, abstract shapes & sizes 
angled & shattered in beds,
a fraction between types & ages.
Without exception all dye red,
grimy sheets, make do blankets. 

I notice little variation in shade 
or depth of shade, or length of spread or seep,
or smear or splatter;
where the bandage unravels, 
or the flesh stitches bloom & split.

Take this boy – he won’t mind me showing you.
His wound replicates early nineteenth century anilines –
look closely at his right buttock,
see mauve going green, going flinch black –
no amount of handiwork can stop 
the corruption that imprints flesh,
there are no mordants for miles around.


from Walking the Block (Templar, 2008), © Jane Weir 2008, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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Recordings

Jane Weir Downloads

1On the Recommendation of Ovid We Tried a Weasel

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2In Commemoration of a Live Birth

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3When Considering Whether to Suckle

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4Quinces

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5Leonardo's Skull

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6The Star of Verona

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7Slip Road with Indigo Sky and Pussy Willows

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8Snout of the Mole

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9With Matt Staring at Ferrets

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10Making Calico Canvases for Heddle

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11Practising on Your Mother

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12English Book

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13Heights of Abraham

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14A Hank of Yellow Wool in a Landscape

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15Poppies

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161914, Working With Red in a Field Hospital, Belgium

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17Stricken Fields

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18I'm Trying to Make Gnocchi for Angelina for Old Times Sake

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19Recovering

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20Stomacher

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21Hat

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22Cigar

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23We Discuss D.H. Lawrence's Story, The Fox

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24Reading Your Spring Letter, Postmarked Middleton - By - Wirksworth

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25Stood At Alan Bates' Grave

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26There, In An Ercol Bottom Draw

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