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Riddler in Residence: Green Words Poetry Anthology

Green Words Poetry Anthology

Explore nature-themed poems written by people from the local community and curated by Riddler in Residence Aly Stoneman. The poems celebrate urban nature and wildlife in Exeter Cathedral’s green spaces and beyond.

The groves burst with blossom, towns become fair, 
meadows grow green, the world revives’ 

‘The Seafarer’, The Exeter Book (about 970AD), translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland
(The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology, P.54)*

The Riddler in Residence Project is kindly supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

*‘The Seafarer’ (MS 3501) is an Old English poem written down in The Exeter Book (about 970AD), which is preserved in Exeter Cathedral. Epigraph from The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology, edited and translated by Kevin Crossley Holland, Oxford University Press, 2009. 

Welcome to this collection of poetry, curated by Exeter Cathedral Riddler in Residence Aly Stoneman. The Riddler in Residence is one of a series of projects, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, welcoming all people to participate in creative heritage activities at the Cathedral and out in the local community. We have been particularly pleased to partner with St Petrock’s, our neighbours on Cathedral Green, on this project. St Petrock’s supported us to offer ten weeks of creative writing sessions to people experiencing homelessness, giving them space to tell their own stories.

The title Riddler in Residence is inspired by the riddles contained in The Exeter Book, the oldest book of English Literature in the world, which has been in the Cathedral since the 11th Century. Alongside the (sometimes bawdy) riddles, the Exeter Book features epic poems like The Seafarer and The Wanderer with themes of loneliness, exile and the passage of time that are still resonant today, particularly for those without a home.

There will be four Riddler residencies over the course of the Heritage Fund project, each with a different theme. Nature and the environment are the themes for the current Riddler, linking in with the work the Cathedral is doing to increase biodiversity in our public and private spaces. The green spaces around Exeter Cathedral are used by thousands of people every year for solitude and socialising. It is here we gather to mark important national moments and small, personal ones. The rhythms of the year, marked inside the Cathedral by the liturgical calendar, are mirrored outside by the cycles of nature as the leaves bud and fall. These poems, created as part of the Riddler residency or submitted to our call out, highlight the abundance of nature in the green spaces around the Cathedral and beyond. They tell stories of beauty, murder, theft, growth, decay and more, each writer interpreting the theme with their own focus and in their own style.

We hope you enjoy this anthology. If you are inspired by what you read, then keep an eye on the Cathedral Events and Engaging Communities pages on our website for future Riddler residencies and other creative opportunities.

We are particularly grateful to the Heritage Fund for their support; to Bishop Robert Attwell, Sarah Ball and James O’Callaghan for facilitating access to the Bishop’s Palace Garden for creative writing workshops; to St Petrock’s staff and clients for their willingness to engage with this process and to the many writers who responded to the call and produced such thought provoking, wonderful words.

Lis Spencer
Community Outreach and Partnerships Officer at Exeter Cathedral

What Will Be by Aly Stoneman

Sparrow painting by Lynn Bailey
Sparrow by Lynn Bailey

‘all these things urge the heart […]
to set out on a journey’

The Seafarer

Like a mote of dust, a pollen grain,
an unassuming apple pip,
I slipped into my mother’s cup;
she drank me down, ingested me.
Wanderer, back again, possessed
by a shadow memory, a yearning.

I come from red Devon mud
rooted under fingernails, a communing
with rough-haired ponies in the dimpsy,
a tradition of short legs and apple orchards.

Father was hayseed, soil and salt;
Mother pegged sheets like wings,
singing, ‘my butterfly child, so free and so wild’.
Neighbours, wary as cattle,
suspected a changeling, a daughter
too long awaited.

Rain tapped me awake finger by finger,
unfurling leaf, apple blossom. I sprang,
I spun, I cartwheeled, I sang. I balanced
on my fingertips, I could almost fly. Bees
dozed between my toes, silky nubs, undisturbed.

How it came about, I dreamed what will be.
Try telling that in the playground
or at the tea table, for I do fear (and so should you)
the attentions of gods and men; whether
they curse or bless you, it is the same.
Block your ears and close your eyes, child, become
a stone they may pass over like a scratch of wind.

Mother, we sang along
brambled lanes,
my pockets bled berries,

your sleeves were stuffed with tissues.
We looked for Dad in the flaked fields,
followed disguised tracks into fairyland.

Off the school bus, Mother, I searched
for you, I found you weeping;
apple trees folded their branches

around you: trees held you.
Like roots through droughty clay,
life cracked you, burst through.

I am a field of crows, I tread
the world in like mud. Oh, Mother,
now your deadwood wrists snap underfoot,

even my softest step
breaks them.

Clumping through claggy fields
past the ruined cob piggery –
our customary dead-of-winter walk.
Sandstone, wood-smoke,
red clay; smudged hills deceptively soft.

This land was ours, you said,
but pigs were always copper or gold.
Rain clouds, low, blot out the view. 

What sent me out, what was it?

The thing
I should not have told my mother,
the thing I should not have said.

Our legacy of graft and hard knocks,
our conflicted hearts.

A sparrow
flashing along St David’s platform and away,
brief spark of sunlight on its wings.

I dreamed I met a wayfarer at Starved Oak Cross,
smoking his clay pipe through a gun barrel,
his red horse twirling and frothing in the dusk.
His coins scorch circles on the bar and good ale
hisses down his furnace throat, but how he sings:

Face your mirrors to the wall, pluck
out your hairpins in thunderstorms;
washing clothes on Old Year’s Day
will wash your family away; and oh,
there’s a price to pay, maid, for wanderin’. 

And what I said was, up my sail must go – 

and the gods laughed and the gods blessed me
and the gods cut me loose there and then.
For my mother was a daisy and men
burn the fields;
the land is bone-hard, crops fail.


Note from the poet: ‘What Will Be’ draws on Old English poems including ‘The Seafarer’, ‘The Wanderer’ and ‘The Ruin’ from The Exeter Book (written about 970AD), the oldest book of English Literature in the world, which has been kept in Exeter Cathedral since the 11th Century. Many of the riddles and poems featured in The Exeter Book evoke the natural world in their explorations of loneliness, restlessness, fate and the passage of time, themes that continue to speak to lived experiences in the modern world.

Aly Stoneman, Riddler-in-Residence at Exeter Cathedral (July–November 2023).


The Seafarer’ in The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology, ed. by Kevin Crossley-Holland (Oxford: OUP, 2009) p. 54.

The Casuals, ‘Jesamine’ (1968).

Also after St. Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731AD) and Antoine Ó Raifteirí, ‘Cill Aodáin’ (early 19th Century).

Anthology Introduction

Exeter Cathedral Green Words Anthology and Map brings together and locates new poems, riddles and hand-made prints inspired by Exeter Cathedral’s green spaces and the relationship between human culture and the natural world in Exeter and beyond, created by people from the local community and further afield.

Some of these poems germinated during weekly ‘Wandering Words’ sessions with service users at St Petrock’s, who are experiencing homelessness; others sprouted during poetry workshops held both in and around Exeter Cathedral, and as part of Exeter Science Centre’s ‘Climate Exhibition’, where participants examined ways in which people can have a positive impact for our planet in our time of climate crisis. Poems and riddles from The Exeter Book (written around 970AD), which is kept in Exeter Cathedral, offered a rich stimulus for new writing. Contributors also submitted work in response to an open call for new poems on the project theme. Prints were created in the Double Elephant print workshop by members, and also by some of the poets who made illustrations to accompany their poems.

Over the following pages, you may accompany people from all walks of life – gardeners, students, volunteers, teachers, clergy, scientists, printmakers and more – on a shared journey through The Bishop’s Palace Garden (an enclosed ‘secret’ garden that is occasionally open to the public), the Cathedral Green (a popular open space where wildlife and human lives overlap), and Exeter Cathedral (with its superb nature-inspired carvings), then out into the city of Exeter and the world beyond – for everything explored in these poems is happening in a global context.

I hope that you will enjoy reading these poems, viewing the prints, and answering the riddles as much as I have done while editing and compiling this anthology. I am grateful to everyone involved in Green Words for welcoming me back home to Exeter and into the Riddler role, and for contributing to this project and supporting it with so much energy and enthusiasm.

Aly Stoneman, Riddler-In-Residence, Exeter Cathedral (July–November 2023)

Aly Stoneman grew up in Exeter, Devon. Her writing explores the relationship between people and the natural world in a climate crisis. She was founding Poetry Editor at LeftLion Magazine, a winner of The Poetry Society Members Competition [2022] and the Buxton Poetry Prize [2015], and a commissioned poet for Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature [2020]. She is the author of Lost Lands [Crystal Clear, 2012] and her poems have appeared in various journals including Poetry News and Under The Radar. Her doctoral research on coastal erosion poetry was funded by an AHRC Midlands3Cities award [2016-2021].

Slow Path by Aly Stoneman

This is my slow path to the centre…from Haven, from Ship Canal Basin, from ale hall and bakery…via chain ferry or footbridge…forever and ever up steep Quay Lane as far as ghost-marked South Gate, where Fireweed remembers blitzed ground…to cross roaring Western Way…and linger alongside scarred lava and red sandstone city walls, where birdsong spills, tantalising, from The Bishop’s Palace Garden…and dawdle through Cathedral Close under square Norman towers and hissing gargoyles…past Glastonbury Thorn, Exeter Elm, dark-fruited Mulberry…then coast downhill in the snatched company of gulls…and return through Watergate to the Exe (Uisc, abounding in fish)…that kayak-busy river, rich in summer visitors and winter waders, which ebbs and flows and floods under motorway flyover, through wrecks and weirs, past sludge beds, mudflats and marshes…drawing our brief songs, our shimmering reflections, seaward through drowned river valley to the beery English Channel (The Sleeve, The Narrow Sea, Oceanus Britannica)…

A note from the poet: After an early 11th century Old English document from Exeter Cathedral Archives, which describes the boundary of an area of land somewhere on the edge of Dartmoor, using rivers and trees as waymarkers. For me, a slow path is one to walk with all senses alert, taking time to notice…and imagine. This poem invites people to share one of my favourite slow paths from the Exe to the Cathedral and back again. With thanks to Ellie Jones, Exeter Cathedral Archivist.

Thanks and Acknowledgements

Exeter Cathedral Team and Riddler-in-Residence Aly Stoneman would like to thank all our Green Words project partners and creative sessions hosts for their support: St Petrock’s, Exeter, with special thanks to Sarah and Tony; Double Elephant Printmakers, with special thanks to Simon Ripley; Exeter Science Centre, with special thanks to Dr Alice Mills and Dr Ross Castle; Exeter College, with special thanks to Maria Rose.

Thank you so much to all our wonderful writers and printmakers who have contributed to this publication (in alphabetical order):

Poets: Amy Adkin, Swarnim Agrawal, Philippa Barfield, Sarah Bartrum, Isabella Beckett-Smith, Kitty Carter, Canon Cate, Nathan Maxwell Cann, John Chrimes, Clare, Micha Colombo, Anabelle Denney, Si Egan, Catherine Flavelle, Theo French, Gabriel, Rebekah Horton, Chris Jackson, Emma Jackson, Lou Jones, Eleanor Konings, André de Mendonça, Leslie Moss, David Newman, Tom O’Connor, Canon Deborah Parsons, Anwen Phillips, P.J. Reed, Ven Nick Shutt, Simon, Riley Smallman, Rod Stacy-Marks, Srijani Rupsha Mitra, Carlin Steere, St Petrock’s ‘Wandering Words’ Group, Tim Toghill, Vasile, James Wilkes, Jules Young.

Printmakers: Lynn Bailey, Pippa Barfield, Lisa Dillon-Langhorn, Linda Dowsett, Sarah Furby, Cathy King, Louise Neilson, Simon Ripley, Joanne Roper, Karen Waterlow.

We are particularly grateful to The National Lottery Heritage Fund for their support; and to Bishop Robert Attwell and Sarah Ball for facilitating access to the Bishop’s Palace Garden for creative writing workshops.

Finally, we would like to thank everyone who supported the Green Words project, took part in our public creative sessions, contributed their stories, and shared their hopes and ideas for a greener future.