“A Harvest of Wild Words”


“Six tins. Three summers. Three Exmoor locations.

Over 5,000 poems harvested from passersby.”

Oh, and not forgetting the three marriage proposals!

A project that captured the imagination of thousands – and now you can buy the book just in time for Christmas!


The Poetry Box Project, conceived in 2014, was very simple in its aim: leave some tins containing a book, a pencil (and a pencil sharpener!) with the instruction “Write poetry in me” on the lid…. and see what happens.

123 books later (plus tins stuffed with additional poems on bits of paper and backs of tickets), we had our answer “A Harvest of Wild Words”.

Louise Reynolds, ENPA & Christopher Jelley (Photo courtesy of Davina Jelley)

And last Monday, we were delighted to attend the book launch in Lynmouth, along with many others who defied Storm Angus. Its curator, Christopher Jelley, was the instigator and heart-beat of the concept commissioned by Exmoor National Park (managed by Louise Reynolds as part of our Lynmouth Pavilion Project with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund).


Christopher had the almost-impossible job of whittling down over 5,500 poems to just over 100 of some of the best; then photographing and publishing them in the book “The Exmoor Poetry Boxes: A Harvest of Wild Words”. He says: “Over the past 3 summers I’ve been snaring the curiosity of passing strangers through 6 little tins and the words ‘Write Poetry In Me’ on their lids….. But whittling these down to just a 100 or so for the publication was not easy at all; the journals are busting with worthy words and if I were to do it again, I know would choose different ones. Looking back and reading through the book in its published physical form is wonderful, and I really feel that I have caught the moods and essence from the 3 summers of strangers’ scribbles.”

25-exmoor-poetry-boxes-c-jelleyAt the outset, with little idea of just how successful this “love letter to Exmoor” might be, we knew we were on to something magical by the end of the first summer (June, July and August of 2014). The 6 boxes, tethered around the Valley of Rocks, resulted in 2,200 poems. The following summer, the tins at Tarr Steps produced a further 1,900 pieces; the summer of 2016 in Dunster brought the total to over 5,500.

We were all blown away by the publicity generated by the concept, with many asking if a book would be the end result. Christopher was visited by our local BBC crew, with the output shared nationally. Locally, we held exhibitions (in September 2014 and June 2015) and published an on-line sample of a book from each year (Valley of Rocks, Tarr Steps – the Dunster book will be published on-line very soon).  All 123 journals are still available to read at our National Park Centre Lynmouth as part of the Lynmouth Pavilion Project archive.

The book is available to buy from our National Park Centres or Fly Catcher Press at just £12 per copy, a lovely hardback which would make an ideal Christmas gift!

And as a present to our blog readers, here’s an additional poem (not in the book), read out by Christopher at the launch.

“Pieces of paper people had on them and squeezed them in the tin.

Here we sit, looking at the view.

The clouds are fluffy, the sea is blue.

The seagulls are flying out to sea,

Soaring out fast and free.

Let’s finish our walk to the Valley of Rocks

And put our poem back in the box.”

Written by “Georgie and Charlotte” on a piece of paper, Christopher sums up the poem – and the project! “I love this, because you know that was written on the fly. There’s a fluidity to it… you know when they wrote the first line, they didn’t know what the last line was going to be.”

Neither did we!

Montage images courtesy of Davina Jelley

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