Standing High out of Shrunken Peat – Our love letter to the fens
A collaboration between painter and poet - By Becky Owen-Fisher

In 2016 I met Nick Tearle at a rehearsed reading of a play I had written. The play was called
Perfect Straight Line and it was a story rooted deep in the fens. Perfect Straight Line wasn’t a great
play, but the words were poetic, lyrical and held rich descriptions of the flat, fenland landscape that
Nick and I both call home.

Creating a book

Nick introduced himself to me and showed me some of his work. Nick’s paintings are beautiful;
they really capture the (oxymoron ahead) bleak hopefulness of the fens. I’ve always been inspired
by the landscape in my writing – there’s something very special about the way that you can see for
miles, right to the edges of the earth. The skies never fail to astonish me and, when you really look,
the colours are so vibrant and beautiful.
This is how Standing High Out Of Shrunken Peat was born. After a phone call and a planning
session, I began work on 10 poems and Nick started choosing paintings that we would marry
together in our ‘love letter to the fens’.

Writing the poems

I’d never written poems to order before. I’d doodled at work in my notebook when no-one was
looking, I’d mulled over rich, adjective full sentences in my head, but I hadn’t actually put pen to
paper and called them poems. It was scary. At first I felt like a fraud but after scribbling down some
ideas and shapes I started to realise how liberating it was!
I decided on a mixture of rhyming and non-rhyming verse. I didn’t want to be too twee but it felt
important to try and add some variety. I used locations that Nick paints for inspiration, for instance,
Canary Cottage – the yellow-door (now grade II listed) building out past Thorney Toll. When writing
this poem I imagined the creatures that would now inhabit the cracking wood and the crumbling
stone.

How the poems resonate

My favourite poem is probably Fen Tigers. Whenever I read it, I get a little shiver. This poem talks
to me about the history of this black, wide, everlasting landscape. And it speaks of the fight we
have to preserve to keep this land and the importance of holding onto our past. We launched the
book at John Clare Cottage in Helpston so I wrote one poem for John Clare; Green Man, which
embodies revolution and determination. I think Nick’s favourite might be Queen, my Mum’s is The
Flatland. I love that there isn’t one clear favourite. Every poem seems to resonate differently with
different people.

Where I belong

Most importantly for me, I wanted to convey my love for this often overlooked, and regularly
dismissed bit of the world. I first discovered how much I loved it when I took a job that saw me
commute to Grantham every day. It’s incredible how much the view changes in just 36 miles. From
flat, slate grey, black and yellow, to rolling orange, brown and green. I started a blog called the
Lincolnshire Fog Diaries because I was so enthralled by the way fog behaved in the early mornings
– niche I know. I used to mull over words, adjectives, all the way to work and then spend 5 minutes
writing descriptions of the way the grey fog pooled into dips and ditches or hung over fields. And I
started to realise that the mist did different things depending on how hilly the landscape was. On
driving back home from the softly undulating, lush green fields of Lincolnshire, scooting down into
our as-far-as-the-eye-can-see lands I realised exactly where I felt at home.

My soul is dug deep in black fenland peat.

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