horizoned

Horizoned

Fafernie is a rounded top
astray amid other places.

Southeast a shank to the Knapps,
slow strewn stone rumpled ancient beds.

Northwest Callater glens a way
to distant Cairngorm stories,

if these are unobscured by clouds
looming grey with rain lofted into snow

as ambiguous as now.

 

At the small cairn a throw from the top
I meet ptarmigan partners.

Sighting me they take stations:
he stands porcelain on the topstone,

eyeing me with red khol caution.
A step past, she sits well grounded,

dissolving spring speckle into
lichen and wind rounded stones

as still as earlier ice.

 

Bending slowly, I rediscover
her against the uncertain sky.

Firmly static, from above she flickers
lost and found and lost again.

Stalking an unready camera,
I exist too much, and they burst

in flurry croaked alarms of flight,
just far enough to horizon me

as vanished as myth.

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Review:

‘The Journey’ by Christine McIver

Exodus

Home is a big thing. If you’re lucky, like I’ve been, home is a place you care about, with people who care about you. Losing home must be like losing a part of your own body. Losing home because of the violent acts of others is something almost unthinkably painful, and yet this may be the least of the suffering which forms the stark reality of millions of people in the world today. It is not something I find easy to think about.  It is not something I really want to think about. Perhaps “Mankind cannot bear too much reality” after all.

To the river

I think that an important role of the paintings in Christine McIver‘s exhibition “The Journey” is to bring the viewer to look again at images of migration, and to help us to think again about something that it might be easier to put out of mind.

The exhibition at the Dunblane Museum is quite small – only a dozen or so works in all, but several of these are unusually long images of a panoramic aspect ratio.  Christine’s subject is migration. She shows us shadowy tides of humanity drifting by the perimeters of our world in the liminal light of the edge of day.  These long journey-friezes, resembling lost scrolls rendered on archeologically fragile rice paper, are at first vaguenesses of crowds.  But as the eye lingers on interesting textures, and shadows of movement, individual moments of story become visible, lagging children are gathered up, pained backs hunched inward, bone-weary people prop each other up.  It’s necessary to work to visualise the details, and that requirement is part of the skill of these paintings. The eye wants to engage, and the mind needs-must follows, even if into territory that we might rather not consider.

There’s more than this at work here, and I hesitate a little before bringing up another driver that I think underlies the compassion and urge to convert empathy into action here.  It is something unfashionable, and something that I think the artist might hesitate to discuss directly…

It’s faith.

open rant

Let me be upfront about how I feel about faith. Although I’m an avowed atheist (I have been reliably told it’s a pity I’ll be going to Hell before now), I’m not a Richard-Dawkins-hang-’em-high kind of an atheist. I do have major concerns about what religious belief can do to people when it goes awry – and, Jings! it often does. Faith aggravated conflict seems itself be a significant contributing factor to the causes of so much contemporary migration. However, that doesn’t mean that I have no respect for the beliefs of the many people of faith who I know to be remarkable, generous, and plain-honest-to-goodness sound individuals. 

] rant ends. Apologies!

Having said all of which, I feel that faith is very present in this work.  The titles of some of the works like ‘Exodus’ and ‘To the river’ point the way to biblical references, and the show has a strong feel of the drive of Witness about it.  My point is that these works – which are neither derivative nor preachy – are empowered by this drive.  We do tend to fall back on biblical metaphors when presented with a sufficiently catastrophic mass of human suffering.  But I do not think this is what is happening here.  Rather it seems to me that faith, perhaps metaphorically informed by biblical narratives, is a core part of the artist’s psyche. It would have been disingenuous not to allow this to be present into these paintings.

Across open fields  (scroll to view)

This provoking show was two years in the making. It has already sold well, and this forms part of the artist’s intention to generate action as well as empathy, as proceeds are being passed on to refugee charities.

The images shown here are frustratingly small – I think it is important to meet these paintings face-to-face.  When I did I felt engaged, and compelled to think and question in several uncomfortable directions at once. Where next? I am not sure.

The Journey by Christine McIver is at the Dunblane Museum until May 29th 2017, admission is free.

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We are krill

A while back I half joked with a colleague at work who was asking about a website for a conference for international researchers studying krill – “I could write you a poem as well, if you like.”  He was back in touch with another question last week, and asked in passing, “Did you ever write that poem?” Well, I hadn’t, but I have now – so here you go, Andy!

My apologies to any krill-gurus out there for possible wild inaccuracies, but please remember, it’s not science – just a poem.

But also, it’s not entirely about krill…

 

We are krill

I am the meal that’s in-between,
a format suiting one and all,
for seals and squid and penguins,
converting the smallest of the sea,
for fish and shrimps and people, the
unseen convenience food that’s me.

No legends sung about us krills,
shape shifters of seven seas,
they ping us under pressure,
exoskeletons creaking we dive, dive, dive,
cosy swarm lights rising fallen,
gills bless this brine to wines of life.

More of us aswim than any other
swelling life in each ocean alive,
and not much here without us,
no great whales baleen or blue,
without some fish-free small fry,
brother, without us – me and you.

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drawing breath

Trees can be very big, and some of them are very old. Their character and way of life is complex, in many ways hidden, and very different from our own. They can make us pause and they can make us gasp.

drawing breath is a collection of twelve poems arising from a collaboration with visual artist Tansy Lee Moir.

I’ve made booklet with the poems, some photographs, and some of Tansy’s drawings, and I’ve also made a series of recordings of readings.  Hope you like them!

You can find links to all of these and more about our collaboration here.

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Reading at Howden Park

I’m going to be reading some poems at Tansy Lee Moir’s residency presentation event at the Howden Park Centre, Livingston on Sunday (23d) afternoon.  If you’re anywhere nearby it’d be great to see you there.

Facebook event

Out of our collaboration I’ve written twelve poems to make a small collection called ‘Drawing Breath’. I’m going to post more about this soon, including some audio recordings, and details about a print copies.

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old post

windstream whittled

boundary lines surrendered

sculpture on the way

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Tallying

In February I attended an excellent workshop by prima poet Helen Mort called ‘Lines of Ascent’. This was part of this year’s Stanza strand celebrating hills, mountains and high places in poetry. The exercise this poem started from was about experimenting with perspective. Inevitably much subsequent plodding to and fro was required to arrive at my effort below.

Also, n.b. I am very fond of biscuits, including the old fashioned varieties …

Tallying

Tay’s estuary is a custard cream
from thirty two miles
and three thousand feet,
sat on my old friend Mayar.

She’s just a southerly yellow stripe,
currents fickle and ambiguous
smeared to a sweeter layer of light
between Broughty and Tentsmuir.

In February survey square biologists
cookie cut the machar there,
quadrats cast as girdle nets,
griddles tallying growth and life.

From here we’re shrunk invisible,
with my biscuit tea-dunked in hand,
I see us all in plain view vanishing,
sugar granules spilt in distant sand.

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