"In Red Devon, Hilary Menos confirms her reputation as one of the strongest emerging voices in British poetry. All the qualities of her previous work are evident in these new poems – notably her wit and formal dexterity – but this book takes them further. These are local poems in the best sense, rooted in a particular ground and community, but the poems of Red Devon deserve – and will find – a much wider readership." — Michael Symmons Roberts
"These rural poems of irresistably coarse vitality comprise a collection that is dark, taut, crafty and entirely compelling ... heralding an unmistakeable voice in contemporary poetry." — New Welsh Review
"A finely observant poet." — Stride Magazine
In 2004 Hilary Menos and Andy Brodie bought two Aberdeen Angus x heifers, five in-lamb Wiltshire Horn ewes with lambs at foot and two Tamworth pigs. They applied for a CPH (holding) number, registered with a vet and joined the Soil Association. They bought a 1964 Nuffield tractor, a powder-blue 1958 Land Rover Series II pick-up and various bits of farm machinery in various states of decrepitude. They phoned the local AI man, planted and fenced, fed and watered, and watched stuff grow.
By 2007 this small enterprise had become Beenleigh Manor Organics, a 100 acre mixed organic farm selling maiden heifers and in-calf heifers and breeding cows, breeding ewes, and finished beef and lamb to the local farm shop and in meat boxes. At its peak the farm ran a herd of 40 pedigree Red Ruby Devon cattle and 150 sheep — some Wiltshire Horn and some rare breed Castlemilk Moorit — and was home to pigs, geese, chickens, ducks and guinea fowl. They used two pedigree stock rams, Blue Boy and Aarondale Brennin, for the sheep, and also bought a big black Zwartbles x Berrichon du Cher ram to tidy up after. Initially they used AI (artificial insemination) for the cattle, but eventually they bred their own bull, Beenleigh Capability. Every summer at haymaking Hilary's three teenage sons invited friends to help and they made traditional small-bale hay with a 1970s Bamford baler towed behind their Renault tractor. In the autumn they collected apples from the orchard and made cider and apple juice. They made sausages, bacon, and ham from their own free range pigs, shot rabbits and game birds for the pot, and reared geese for Christmas. Their son Inigo was born in 2006.
In 2009, the bottom fell out of the organic market. It became increasingly clear that none of the older boys wanted to go directly into farming. A number of minor injuries — and near misses — convinced them to scale down their involvement in farming. In 2011 all the cows and most of the sheep were sent to market, and the farmhouse was sold along with most of the farm buildings and part of the land.
Red Devon is the story of the making and the leaving of a farm. In this, her second collection, Menos reveals her experiences as a “blow in” from “upcountry” moving into a tight-knit rural community. Here she sees at first hand some of the human — and animal — costs of the conflict between traditional farming methods and the demands of modern commercial agriculture. She also tells the story of a burgeoning love affair between farmer Grunt Garvey and haulier Jo Tucker, a romance which ends in tragedy. Alongside these two stories, one fictional and one very real, stand poems reflecting her concern for farmers around the world whose livelihoods — and lives — are threatened by global changes in agriculture. Surreal sonnets about pigs sit next to poems about crop spraying, super weeds, and GM crops.
Red Devon is published by Seren Books.
This is the cow that peered down the black hole of the captive bolt
shrugged its clod against the head-gate
and said, like Gary Gilmour facing a five-man firing squad in Utah State,
“Let's do it!”
This is the sheep that held out a hoof
as the tongs ear-muffed her temples
and said, like John Amery greeting the hangman in Wandsworth Gallows,
“Oh Mr Pierrepoint, I've always wanted to meet you,
but not, of course, under these circumstances.”
This is the goat that, incompletely stunned,
offered his throat to the knife
and said, like Walter Raleigh mentally thumbing the axe,
“So the heart be right, it is no matter which way the head lieth”.
This is the chicken that, shackled by one foot to the rack,
reached the electric bath for a partial KO
and said, like Tony Mancini receiving the hood at Pentonville Prison,
And this is the pig that, trotting through the race to the gas cubicle,
put down his regulation issue bible
and said, like Sean Patrick Flanagan readying his arm in a small white room in Nevada,
“I love you”.