Category Archives: poetry

a post by the road to Craigowl


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A friend recently suggested that many of the things I make have something of the spirit of the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi – had I had the term? I had, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant so I looked it up.

Wabi-sabi is a term rich with many layers of meaning, but could be summed up as an aesthetic celebrating the beauty in transience, impermanence, and imperfection. Well, yes, I thought, many of my photographs are about looking for beauty in moments embodying much of this.

I’ve been intending to do some more work with found audio for a while, and this post has a little sample. Ironically, it is just that – a post! In this case – a metal gate post beside the road up to Craigowl hill in the Sidlaws. I’ve often noticed that when the wind is in the right direction, this particular post has a lot to say. I suppose this is not surprising, the post is basically a meter high metal tube with a couple of holes placed rather like those on a flute.

As I set out on a windy afternoon to see if I could capture some of this sound, it did cross my mind that a slightly baleful, but (to my ears) resonant and interesting sound encountered only when the wind blows a certain way in a particular place in the middle of field usually occupied by at most some sheep or cattle was definitely a stab at finding a fairly transient and imperfect fragment of beauty: wabi-sabi.

Bashō on the Path to Hanging Bridge
by Hokusai

If there is a poet of the idea it must surely be the great seventeenth century traveller and haiku pioneer, Matsuo Bashō. A master whose work sometimes makes me think of photographic ways of seeing, although written long before the invention of photography.

The wind is mentioned often in Bashō’s haiku. Here is one to consider, with some alternative translations, perhaps while you listen the piece of sound I made (lower down) using the plaintive voice I heard calling from a post by the road to Craigowl.

 

蜘何と 音をなにと鳴 秋の風
Kumo nan to ne wo nani to naku aki no kaze
Matsuo Bashō

Spider, say again!
It’s so hard to hear your voice
in the autumn wind.

Spider, I say!
In what voice do you chirp?
An autumn wind
(Tr. Makoto Ueda)

Old spider! What is your 
song? How do you cry
to the autumn wind 
(Tr. Sam Hamill)

source: http://matsuobasho-wkd.blogspot.jp/

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More: A history of wabi-sabi (YouTube)

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Horizoned in The Curlew

 

Curlew

Original Curlew logo drawn by Hester Cox

Very chuffed to have both my poem Horizoned and one of my ptarmigan photographs (double cheer!!) published in the most recent edition of The Curlew.

The Curlew is a terrific non-profit printed periodical dedicated to fine writing and illustration about the natural world which seeks “…passion, images that make us smile or shiver, word pictures that stay with us and make us think. Writing and illustration that enriches our lives.”

Sales of each edition benefit organisations and charities dedicated to protecting habitats, stopping wildlife trafficking and educating people worldwide about conservation and animal welfare.

More details: https://www.the-curlew.com/

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Transhuman™

This poem was my contribution to a collection made by the Wyvern Poets with Dundee University as part of this year’s ‘Being Human’ programme in Dundee. The collection took the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a starting point to think about how the story still resonates.

Mary Shelley had probably either seen or was very aware of the showmanship of a character called Giovanni Aldini, who was the nephew of Luigi Galvani [that’s the famous electrical pioneer and zapper of frogs’ legs]. His nephew Aldini went one better and presented spectacles involving electrifying the (human) dead. In the preface to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley wrote:

“Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth.”

As a novel bound up with the question of what it means to be human, Frankenstein remains very much relevant to now. Today there is a collection of real and often troubling ideas involving topics like gene-splicing, bio-hacking, body augmentation, digital consciousness, and no less than the reanimation of cryogenically frozen heads … all enterprises that find their ground somewhere around the idea and under the the banner of “transhumanism”.

This poem came (perhaps from a slightly tongue-in-cheek perspective) from thoughts about Frankenstein, transhumanism, identity and ‘being human’ …

 

Transhuman™ [some assembly required]

Six million dollars doesn’t buy the dream team of once-upon-a-time,
the future’s DIY, blister packed, bubble wrapped, and shipped by UPS.

… check the manifest of better-than-you-were-before;
better, stronger, faster, custom body parts …

They say deluxe membership guarantees personality upload,
your destiny securely backed-up in the eternal cloud.
They just have to work out how to do it, and how,
when, where and if, you might finally come back to life.

… fix cryo-preserved head to brass neck collet
with twin 15mm chromed boris-karloff bolts …

I wonder if bionic organs will harbour residual bodily charms,
some gene squeezed vestigial glamour, post bio-hack-and-splice?
Could you courie in to perfect bliss, a bench-grown better embrace,
cosily snuggle up to a pale cyborg, un-sun-kissed but so sublime?

… kneel and carefully tighten the jesus nut, but note:
improper fitting may fatally void warranty …

Reborn as carbon composite, I discover built-in lingering doubts,
has something (maybe still in the flat-pack?) somehow been left out?

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Franken-poems

I’m going to be joining fellow Wyvern poets for a Franken-poetical event on Wednesday November 21st at 17.30 in The Global Room at Dundee University. As part of this year’s Being Human festival, we are celebrating the 200th anniversary year of the publication of Frankenstein with readings of new poems ruminating on Frankenstein, technology and identity, and Mary Shelly’s own early association with Dundee.

Tickets are available free from eventbrite.

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Struck

Very pleased to have ‘Struck’ published at the Poetry Shed. 

This one was inspired by an object shown to me many years ago by the very knowledgable Sandy Edwards, who was curator of the Bell Pettigrew Natural History Museum at the time. Since then I have (amongst other things!) spent many years being fortunate enough to do ‘media odd jobs’ for researchers involved in studying the scope and meaning of sounds made by marine mammals. My knowledge of what they do is slight, but I continue to find what they discover remarkable and inspiring.

Struck


gestures: pull

This is one of a sequence of poems I’ve been working on
about feelings connected to physical gestures.
(This one is centred to avoid a spin.)

 

pull

arms waving off big
a balanced bending in
LOOK
shiny handle
SEE
fingers grasp
PULL
arms wide again
symmetry of breath
a metronome
counting
CHECK
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my body retains
this programmed movement
unused
for over thirty years
the stroke
to quit the air
making landfall
in
good and gentle
order
.
martial choreography
civilian drill
a highly specific
whole body awake yawn
beyond any other gesture
learned
indicative of
the most firm
intent
100
%
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time
to
live
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Of the Marvels

This month’s prompt from Wyvern Poets was ‘a found poem’. I’d been looking at tweets by Martin O’Leary with images from HiRISE, an incredibly high resolution camera on the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter.

The pictures are amazing. Some of them make me think of colour field paintings by Rothko, some of lush folds of the richest silks. The titles of the images interested me too. They seem to make an accidental blend of succinct description and (at least to my ears) sensuously exotic place names.

I decided to make a piece that brought these titles and images together with some found words by another famous traveler to strange lands – Marco Polo.

The result was this found poem/video.

With special thanks to NASA/JPL/University of Arizona for the use of their fabulous images, and to Martin O’Leary for @HiRISEBot.

Of the Marvels

Best viewed with sound ON, and better yet, some nice cosy headphones…

More –

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