Sunday: Skies

During February our Digital Poets in Residence, Liv Aldridge and Thea Ayres, swapped nature writing prompts every Sunday throughout the month.

Dear Thea,

I played a football match for the first time in months yesterday, and now I feel wrecked... Running around under all that sky, I focused my full attention upward when catching my breath between sprints.

The whole thing made me think how rarely I am outside under the elements for that long.

Some questions to think about:

How often do you notice the sky in your every day? What are the colours in it now? Are there levels in it? How does it make you feel? Where do you arrive when looking at it?

And some poems for inspiration:

‘no font’s liquid / but cloud’s and earth’s, suspended / And composed, lifted quiet’
 - Zaffar Kunial, ‘Inkling and Font’ England’s Green

‘It’s the color in the lower sky / too broadly suffused, / or the wind in my tie.
 - Lorine Niedecker, ‘When Ecstasy is Inconvenient’ Collected Works

Hope you are having a great weekend,


Dear Liv, 

I'm glad to hear it was worth it to play football again for the first time in a while. Love the prompt, thank you.

Here's my prompt for you:

Go to a river and find somewhere you can cross. It could be a fallen log, stepping stones, a bridge, a ford, an island in the stream. Pause mid-crossing. You are in the middle of the river, which is following under you or to either side of you. Look upstream. See the water flowing towards you. Listen to the water. Turn to look downstream. See the water flowing away from you. Watch the water. 

My poetry inspiration for you is ‘The Blue Dress’, by Saeed Jones: 

‘Her blue dress is a silk train is a river
is water seeps into the cobblestone streets of my sleep, is still raining
is monsoon brocade’

I hope you enjoy. Gonna go out and look at the sky now. 

All the best,
Dear Liv, 

I go to the field across the road from my flats, where the sky is widest. The thick mud tries to pull my shoes off. I find a dry patch of grass at the top of the field and lie down on my back. 

The sky is calming, with a greyer layer in front and a bluer-whiter layer behind. The fluffy textures in the unbroken cloud cover drift slowly. Silhouetted are the knobbly branches of a cherry tree, with tiny leaf buds on them, and the thin twiggy branches of a birch. When I roll my head to the right I can see the sunset, which is gold, amber, blood-orange, rosy, purple. 

I put my palms together and say a little Buddhist prayer. I see a magpie. A tiny fly lands on me. When my thoughts wander, the wind picks up, bringing my attention back to the moment. The grass flutters and the branches above my head sway.

Thank you for your prompt. I had a very peaceful hour or so looking at the sky.
Best wishes, 

Dear Thea,

I'm so glad to hear it, your afternoon on the field sounds pretty good to me. And you caught a sunset, how lucky! I also want to lie down in a field someday soon. 

I am interested to know that you ended up writing an imagistic poem. I didn't consciously think about this but looking back I sent you some image-heavy poems. 

Thanks for sending me your piece, I enjoyed reading! There is a separateness about the stanzas, but I can sense that it’s a poem written from a perspective of lying on your back and looking up at the sky. And it's almost like you describe a different sky in each stanza, or that each one is a version of the sky. I also like knowing that you're collaging memories and immediate impressions. Also because you start with the absence of birds and end with the presence of a magpie.

Thanks for your carefully worded river prompt which matches my current river obsession... (no pun intended)

Yesterday I brought a lunch of roasted beetroots and feta down to the river under Kingsgate Bridge. Felt like a pretty good direction to be headed in. As all the backpack-clad, thermos-holding crowds passed over the bridge towards the library I turned right to join dog walkers and pensioners. I had read Blue Dress that morning and really enjoyed it, it kind of feels like a song. I liked how flexible, indecisive and overcrowded the lines were in it and the way it made the river something that brings comfort, despite being a powerfully flowing muscle, strong enough to dissolve things. I'm in awe of poets who can write lines that make you so focused on sound that you have to go back and read what a line says. When I read, 'me in a blue dress/ out to sea, is my mother is a moon out to sea', it makes me think that riverwater and longing for freedom and change are compatible. And that writing rivers is to flow through the hard borders of things. 

Thinking about rivers in this way reminded me of  'The Cruise' by Marek Piwowski, one of my favourite films, set on the Vistula River which runs between Krakow and Warsaw. It's a slapstick parody on the formation of hierarchies under communism. It is full of absurd scenes that were filmed as improvisations. It's very theatrical and the river cruise setting is kind of otherworldly in the best way, transcending political and national rules.
I went to a sandy bank that was strangely smooth. Water levels were high because of heavy heavy rain. The river surface looked like skin moving. It was kind of dizzying to look at because of the speed of the water, so I mostly watched the light reflecting the riverwater on the banks. I felt like I was in a sweltering and brightly spotlit room, as the sun was very strong and I wore a very thick coat. I was thinking about precision, about how impossible getting the description right on the first try can be. Being accountable to you with these prompts and having to write about a present moment is really cool, and it also means being alert to the brokenness of certain experiences and being okay with that brokenness.

Here is a fragment of what I wrote:

There is only light and the 

small snakes it sends onto 

to river trees

only blue light

on the brown water

and the ripples lifting

their flat bones

The image is from The Cruise. It's so great.

/ Liv

Dear Liv, 

I like what you said about rivers flowing through the hard borders of things. One of my favourite authors is Amitav Ghosh. There's a moment I think about a lot, from The Shadow Lines. A woman is flying over Bangladesh and India, and she expects to see guarded fences and checkpoints all along the border but it's just fields and forests and rivers. Ghosh has another novel called The Hungry Tide. It's set in the Sundarbans, a region of Bengal that stretches across the Indian/Bangladeshi border. It's this crazy maze of islands and rivers. I don't think anyone would be able to say how many islands there were. Some of the islands appear and disappear with the tide or the season. The rivers move around. You couldn't say exactly where the freshwater ends and the sea water begins. Of all the faraway places on earth, I think the Sundarbans capture my imagination the most strongly.

I'm loving the light-snakes and light-bones of your poem, and the idea of there being only light. It's not a river; it's just light in your eyes. I like to imagine my two-dimensional senses are three-dimensional and my three-dimensional senses are two-dimensional. I think of my vision as a two-dimensional image on my retina, and I think of everything I can hear as tiny versions of themselves living inside my ear canal. Then I imagine I can stand on the ground and use the sense of touch to see through the soles of my feet, searching through the layers of rock for fossils and skeletons and geodes. 

Here is my prompt for you:

The first snowdrops came up in Leeds a few days ago, and today the first daffodils came up too, and I saw an ivy-leaved cyclamen. Have the first flowers of the year come to Durham yet? Can you find any other signs of spring approaching?

All the best, 

Dear Thea,

It's so nice to have a reason to write an email, a set communication weekly where I get to decide on the focus of a moment in your day. It is uniformly gray here today, but I think it will do me some good to get outside and walk in the fields and down the riverwalk near my house before it gets dark, to look for some colour in the brown-green February landscape.

I like what you describe about longing for a place in your email. I was listening to this Swedish podcast called 'fall asleep with Henrik' when this Henrik talks to his listeners about various subjects: toeing the line between absurdity and logic to help them sleep. He talked half-seriously in the episode about the feeling 'sensucht' (german word) which is a kind of longing. He goes on to say that even when you’re older and you know for certain some things won't happen, disbelief is suspended sometimes and you entertain the possibilities. 

I would like to ask you to pursue this feeling of longing that you describe about the Sundarbans on a micro-scale. Is there a place or a thing you long to see right now in your immediate surroundings? It can be anything, urban or natural. Go there, and when you are there, how does being there feel when you set it against your 'longing'? Does it resolve it or does that longing disappear or take a different shape? Try and write something about the relationship between wanting to be somewhere and seeing something versus actually arriving at the physical space you had longed to be in. Does the contrast resolve? How do you move in the present tense when you have arrived at your place, how do you reconcile the present moment with the longing?

All Best,


Dear Liv, 

Recently, I’ve been thinking about sea creatures and the ocean. I seem to see images and reminders of the ocean everywhere. I've been feeling a pull. So, the day before yesterday I had a trip to Hull with my friend and we went to the aquarium.

My friend didn't realise Hull was on the coast, so when I said, 'Look there's the sea,' she was totally surprised. It's funny how the first glimpse of the sea in a new place is always so exciting. It makes me feel lighter and happier. 

Looking around the aquarium, there was a beautiful feeling of discovery. I didn't want to be anywhere else. The jellyfish tanks were my favourite. The jellyfish were so beautiful, ethereal, calming. Did you know they live most of their lives as polyps, attached to the ocean floor? And they have no brains, hearts or skeletons? What must it be like to be a jellyfish? They're so fascinating to me. I can't say why I wanted to see fish so badly, but I was drawn to them. I think they say everything and everyone is a mirror. Sometimes, it's hard to see a feeling of longing clearly until you've found what you were longing for. And then you think 'Oh, this is what it was.' When I was a kid, I was a little lonely and I used to long for a best friend, without really knowing what that would be like. When I did make a best friend, I thought, 'Oh my, this is what I've been missing all my life'. It's funny how you can long for something, without knowing what it will be like until you've seen it. 


Sometimes, when I find what I've been longing for, there's a sense I have become larger, swelling with the new things I've learned and absorbed. I videoed some jellyfish, and found some other clips online, and made this guided meditation video: 

When I read your prompt, my first thought was that when I arrived where I was longing for, I would probably be disappointed. I thought of the phrase, 'the grass is always greener'. I thought I shouldn't long for things, because I ought to be satisfied with what I have. It is true it can backfire to get what you want, and I do appreciate those times when a good cup of tea and the sunlight in my room seem like all the beauty and pleasure I could ever need. But I don't think longing is a negative feeling necessarily. Sometimes, it is good to be reminded how much more of life there is yet to experience. When you get what you want and start wanting something else, it doesn't have to mean you think the grass is always greener. It can be a sign that you're continuing to learn, grow and develop. 

Best wishes, 

Dear Thea,

Thanks for your email, I enjoyed reading it. 

I'm imagining jellyfish, brainless, heartless. Niedecker wrote a lot about stones and sure, they aren't alive or anything, but she does notice that our blood contains the minerals of the rock, that we share part of ourselves with the past and with the landscape. Anyway, your jellyfish description made me think about stones which are also heartless, though they are not organisms. But they are part (maybe even an organ) of the land.
Anyway, I was thinking about the concept of care and the idea that we can only care for things that are either alive or our own belongings. What about the things that fall outside those categories or fall on the borders/ gray areas? What is their status? Imagine extending care to stones. Jellyfish also feel like a weird animal in terms of care and empathy but I also feel partial toward them because of that.

The Niedecker poem (Lake Superior) I have in mind opens like this:

In every part of every living thing
is stuff that once was rock
In blood the minerals
of the rock

I think it's interesting that your first thought on longing was the 'grass is always greener' motto. In a general kind of way, I think I know what you mean.

I often tell myself to calm down or just not get too excited about things. Was talking to a friend recently about how we tell ourselves not to count on anything or not to get too excited or hope for things to happen as a reflex we developed after lockdown. I feel like COVID subdued my instinct of looking forward to things. I guess in a way indulging too much in longing is kind of risky. I'm thinking about 'Simple Passion' by Annie Ernaux where this plays out in a romantic sense.

I walked along the Wear and saw a very sad creeping buttercup. Mostly I saw dark-green ivy or light-brown river / beech trees/ mud. Lots of dead plant-matter.

A few of the lines I got:

one brown 
water has a chickenbroth 
an older couple pass                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Until the next one,


Hi Liv, 

I think your last email has quite a melancholy tone. I'm sorry to hear that the covid lockdown diminished your capacity to look forward to things. I feel as though I bounce between checking and nurturing my hopes about things. It's always felt like a problem to me. 

I used to assume that if something didn't have a brain, it must be only an object, but I don't feel that way anymore. I don't see why having a brain should be the only way for anything to think or feel, or the only thing that gives it innate worth. I think we should extend care to stones. I love the quote about our bodies being made of minerals. Rocks are made of organic material too - aren’t they? - so it's a full cycle. 

My prompt for you: 

Choose a thing. It could be a plant, a stone, a man-made object, a piece of food, even another person, anything at all. Think of everything that was required biologically, ecologically, geologically, economically, astronomically etc. for the object to exist and to have come to you, everything the object contains or depends on, everything that could come from the object. Keep going as far as you can, reconstructing the object's family tree. 

I'm enjoying these emails we're sending each other.

All the best, 


Hey Thea,

Thanks for this. Just to give you a deads up, I'm swamped with work today so I might send my prompt this evening, if that's ok? Sorry to disrupt our Sunday routine. I am enjoying it too.

All Best Liv
heads. Haha

Maybe caring about stones and jellyfish is just part of adulthood. 

You write 'I feel as though I bounce between checking and nurturing my hopes about things. It's always felt like a problem to me'. I think this is really perceptive. About balance and strength also coming from contradictory impulses constantly fighting within us. What I love about poetry is that it's like a holiday from that, you can tip that balance or expose its machinery or go fully into forgetting all about those hierarchies when you're absorbed by the writing. Writing stuff down feels like the freedom to call out any kind of bullshit, to sink into obsession or anything at all that you have to keep in check in your day-to-day life.

I'm going to ask you to do a walking poem. Go on a walk. Sit down for a free-write immediately after. Don't bother taking your shoes off, just sit down on a bench or a patch of balding February grass. Write something in any mode.

A few questions you could consider if you wanted to:

What kind of thinking do you engage in? 
What kind of relationship does the formulation of thought and walking have? 
Why would you stop and for what? 
What could drag you away from the invigorating pull of walking? 
Do your shoes bother you? Are you well prepared?
What does walking make you want and hope for and at the end of the walk, coming to stillness do you find yourself subduing that?

I hope all is well with you. I am writing this from a streaked wooden desk in the warm dry library. I’ll go for a walk on my lunchbreak with my fish finger wrap to pick an object to interrogate. Maybe a fish-finger? Will report back to you.

All the best,


It's interesting to me that you can allow yourself to upset your inner balances when you write. I think when I write I try to step back and look more objectively at the emotions that swing me up and down the rest of the time.

I didn't leave the house or change out of my pyjamas yesterday, so when I went for a walk today, I was like 'Ooh it's the sun, it's the sky, it's the dirt.' I recently started keeping a dream journal. I used to suffer from regular nightmares, but recently, I've started to have nicer dreams, which can be beautiful or comforting or funny. So I decided to keep a dream journal to better enjoy my dreams and overcome my fear. I decided I wouldn't try to analyse or interpret them. I would just experience them. Anyway, I had some tricky dreams last night, the kind that bother me, and make me want to analyse and solve them against my better judgement. And so going for a nice long walk, looking at the flowers, getting covered in mud, was just what the doctor ordered. I sat on some wet grass and wrote this poem:

The Dream-Bag

I go for a walk this afternoon,
and I carry a bag of dreams.
I’ve been hoarding them,
curtains drawn on my riches.

I could be a mole,
blinded by the daylight,
a deep-sea creature,
washed up on the shore.

The dreams in my bag
are silver-blue
the colour of the ocean,
the colour of the moon.

I look at the February primroses,
red, white, yellow, pink,
well-lit under the bare trees,
and I think, They are very strange.

I spread my jacket
on the wet grass,
open my dream-bag
and lay out the contents on the ground.

The sunlight doesn’t destroy the silver-blue,
but fills in what’s missing
from the spectrum:
red, brown, orange, yellow, green.

I pack the night away again,
and then I pack away the day.
I will take the day out again
to dye it silver in my sleep.

Best wishes,

I love this poem Thea. Especially the parts about the bag and the interior moment in italics, it's so minimal/balanced/perfect. I just love 'I could be a mole, blinded by the daylight'. So much in this. Thanks for sending it to me.

Hi Liv, 

Thanks for your feedback on my poem. I'm so glad you liked it. 🙂

Thought I'd send my next prompt for you a little early. I felt inspired by your suggestion to do a memorial rather than an observational poem.

My prompt: 
One time, when my sense of connection to the world around me was unusually weak–caught up as I was in my personal troubles–I went to a bonfire party at night. On my way, shining my phone into some bushes, I made eye contact with a deer. Later that night, I walked a little way into the bushes and saw a badger. Although I was right by her, she ignored me and carried on sniffing the ground near my feet. There was something auspicious, something visionary about it to me at that time. It was as though I'd seen the fairies of the place and they'd favoured me by not turning invisible.
Do you have a favourite nature memory like this, a moment of intense contact with an animal, a landscape, the stars etc. that has stuck with you?
What did you see or hear, and what did it feel like to you? What was the connection between your outer and inner experience in that moment? 

A couple classic poems for inspiration:
'Come Into Animal Presence,' by Denise Levertov
'The Moose' by Elizabeth Bishop

Best wishes, 

Dear Thea,

So good to get this email. I just reread 'The Jaguar' by Ted Hughes so this seems really fitting. I loved reading about your bonfire experience/ how you describe going back to the fire and then retreating to the bushes where the animals appeared. I have a memory of being in the forest behind my primary school on a treasure hunt, and one of my classmates picking up a plastic snake which suddenly shuddered and slipped out of his hand -- it was a live adder... I still remember the shock and remember finding it kind of exciting (obviously not the possibility of him being bitten) but that change from plastic to animal in my consciousness. 

Thinking back to the night when you saw a badger and deer, I like remembering how sometimes, after some uneventful (or overly eventful) time a day comes out of nowhere bringing you a shipload of bizarre magic.

I just reread ‘The Spider holds a Silver Ball’ by Dickinson.  

‘The spider holds a Silver Ball
In unperceived Hands—
And dancing softly to Himself
His Yarn of Pearl—unwinds—’


It feels like a short film to me. I don't know why, I could see it in black-and-white on a wood floor, where women in stilettos walk past and almost tread on the spider who seems unbothered and floats about very seriously. 

Picking up on your thinking about the visionary, could you try and dramatize some moment in nature or some animal/place/plant you have seen in this mode / treat it as though it were a performance? You could think about elegance/shock or a dynamic between two things. Or imagine a little stage and imagine what you would do with the animal / thing if it appeared on that stage. Or write its narrative as though you are secretly watching it?

Take as much freedom from the prompt as you need. On another note, I'm looking for animal poems. Got any favourites?

All the best,


Hi Liv, 

I know it was a bit dangerous, but I'm envious of you and your friend for seeing an adder. I've never seen a wild snake. I like the way you describe it turning from a plastic adder into a real one. I put a bit of that into my response poem. Your prompt is very clever. I can picture the spider film you describe. Don't know why the stiletto detail works so well but it does.

The Theatre of the Moon

The Moon shines down into the theatre.
She is the lighting designer. She’s front-of-house.
She makes the sets. She paints the backdrops.
She writes the play. She sits in the audience
nodding at her own writing as she performs it.
She plays the Badger, hiding in the painted bushes.
She plays the Fox, watching herself in the stalls.
She becomes the Bat, eating the plastic fruit.
She becomes the Primrose, opening her petals to applause.
When the Sun arrives in the morning,
he turns the theatre into a real place,
the set into a garden, the cast into animals.
We’re glad the play is over, we’re glad we were there.

My favourite animal poems are by Les Murray. They're weird and wonderful, because they're written in the voices of the animals. I don't understand half of it, but I don't mind. He calls them 'Translations from the Natural World.' The language is fitted to how Murray imagines the animals would think. So they sound a bit nonsensical in the best way. Here are some links:
I also love 'Considering the Snail' by Thom Gunn: 
What I like is that the snail is moved by 'desire,' ‘purpose,' 'passion,' 'progress.' I love that. What does a snail want? Where is he going? What is he up to? There's a sadness about never truly being able to know the snail: 'I can never tell,' 'I could never have imagined.' Our human world is just one world, overlapping with the snail's world. Other worlds are right there in the grass but we can never really enter them. There's a longing to talk to animals, to turn into them, to get to know them more fully, which only grows stronger the more you learn about them. 

I also recommend 'Of the Snail & its Loveliness' by Victoria Adukwei Bulley. It's a tender, compassionate poem, for the snail and for the speaker's human lover. My favourite line is 'where honey fills the wound's red mouth.' 
Can you tell me some of your favourite animal poems, other than 'The Jaguar'?
All the best, 
Hi again, 

I wrote a bonus poem. It's not explicitly about a performance, but it is about an aquarium exhibit, and I suppose an aquarium exhibit is a sort of performance, a theatre set recreation of the sea.

For the Aquarium Catfish 
I don’t know why I’m so taken by you, my friend.
Is it because your round body would be the perfect shape and size for cuddling,
or because you are so handsome,
or because you’re the only catfish in the pacu tank? 
Even if I could dive into your water, I could not dive into your world—
not this captive life of yours—let alone the vast free life
you were born for—
the life your instincts are urging you towards.
One planet, many worlds,
and only one is mine and only one is yours.
I press my nose to the glass, and I wonder if you notice me
as you swim back and forth. 

Thanks for sending me your poems, I really enjoy them. I love the way you write to the Catfish, found it really moving. Thanks for the animal poems, I really really appreciate. I just caught a glimpse of the snail-poem and I am very interested to sit down and read.

A snippet of what I wrote. I kind of departed from the prompt with the first fragment but with the white deer poem I tried to follow it. It ended up strange and not coherent enough to be successful. I couldn't stop setting it in the present. When I don't feel like there is significance/sense in memories I immediately start to set what I am writing in or against the present... For some reason I was thinking of memory as something which is being delivered to me like my supermarket delivery and all the takeaways on my street, as though these places are responsible for getting my memories to me intact. haha. 

Here is a slice of something I wrote:
I think the past

is floral.                          I’d like to hold onto
the proportions
I've got.
The deer stood
              through the
bus window
             dulling its blood
like a frozen strawberry. Onions growing
in spring
                  roots knitting
I refuse
            to let things 


About Liv Aldridge

Liv Aldridge is a poet from Småland in the south of Sweden. In November 2023, her Micro-Chapbook ‘Bad Air’ of poems she wrote when she lived in Kraków was published by The Braag. Her poems have appeared in Ink Sweat & TearsPorridge Magazine and Carmen et Error. She is currently editor of The Gentian Journal for the Durham University Poetry Society.

About Thea Ayres

Thea Ayres is a poet from West Yorkshire, and a graduate of the Writing Squad. Her work has been published in The NorthPoetry WalesInk Sweat and TearsThe Scribe and Strix. She was highly commended in the Frosted Fire First Pamphlet Competition 2023. Her work has been commissioned by Dead [Women] Poets Society and the Arc Project.