Category Archives: Scotland
Federation of Writers Scotland have a feature called ‘Blog of the month’, and I’m delighted that this month’s blog is Subjects, objects, verbs. FWS’s editor asked me this:
“… you have provided a brief note on the blog’s genesis, I wonder if you could expand that a bit – what your aim is in creating the blog, how do you hope it might affect readers?”
That’s an excellent shot across the bows, I thought! Straight to the heart of the matter – just what am I doing here, friends, and what are you getting out of it?
I had a long think, and tried to write a reply that was honest, and as b.s. free as I could manage. You can read my reply here…
Back in December I posted about The Curlew publishing one of my poems called ‘Horizoned’. Recently the editor got in touch with me to ask about using the poem for some teaching she is planning, and if I could record something about my motivation in making this kind of poem. I was delighted to do this of course, but I thought it might be fun to try to show something about what goes into some of my ‘wandering’ poems.
Really I wanted to take people on a wee walk, because there is something about being there (and getting there!) that is essentially important. An aspect of embodied poetry perhaps.
There’s a long tradition of walking poets – the Wordsworths and Bashō prominent among them. When I googled about the topic I found some fantastic work by Mike Collier of the University of Sunderland which is well worth a look.
Here is my wee piece, with a reading at the end. I tried to cover the questions of what and why seriously, but answering using images, sound and physical effort(!) as well as words. I hope the result is entertaining as well as informative…
“It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, or on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions of the airy flights of my imagination , were born and fostered.”
So wrote the Mary Shelley reflecting on her time spent at in “The Cottage” on Dundee’s Broughty Ferry Road.
She thought differently of the place in later years, however, “…my habitual residence was on the blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay, near Dundee. Blank and dreary on retrospection I call them; they were not so to me then. They were the eyry of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy.”
“The Cottage” is long gone but today, on a substantial buttress wall (dated 1899) in Dundee’s South Baffin Street, a plaque marks the spot. I was nearby this morning, and as the Wyvern Poets are currently working on a ‘Frankenstein’ project, I thought I’d pay a visit.
Curiously, I couldn’t help thinking that Mary’s later thoughts might have been even more gothic if fed from the place as it is today. A fine location for a scary movie…
We finally got around to visiting the Corbenic Poetry Path yesterday. The path is a delightful 3km walk through a variety of woodland, moorland and riverside habitats, around the periphery of the Corbenic Camphill Community near Dunkeld in Perthshire.
As the name suggests, poetry placed around the walk is part of the experience, and poems are placed at frequent intervals. Verses appear in the form of small post-top resin encapsulations, notices, and carvings on wood and stone. Some of these form sculptures well placed to work sensitively with the surrounding landscape, on a variety of scales. Sometimes the tone is contemplative, sometimes sombre, but also at times humorous and celebratory. Many of the works play with their specific locations, or refer to different aspects of the places in which they stand. There are also a number of sculptures, in materials both made and found, and even a sound installation (sample – note rainfall in background!).
There is a map on a panel near the (very small) car park, but the poetry path is dynamic – features do come and go. I think following the walk is enhanced by uncertainty about exactly what you might find next, but confidence that something unexpected will appear soon. Not knowing what is coming fosters a feeling of discovery, and I think that was part of the pleasure of our visit. The route of the walk itself is well made, charming and varied. Views across Perthshire from the walk are marvellous, often framed or emphasised by the artworks.
To be honest I had to look up ‘Corbenic’! Apparently in Arthurian myth it refers to the castle holding the Holy Grail. So perhaps, if this doesn’t sound too grand, ‘Corbenic’ can be taken to mean a location connected with a search for something of a nature which is both rare and has a spiritual dimension.
As I mentioned some poems are mounted on top of ‘poetry fence posts’ in resin blocks, the same size as the section of the posts, and about an inch thick. The small size requires a small point size of text which falls well below what is ideal for older eyes (…and, let’s face it, many of the poetry audience have been travelling on our personal grail quests for a whiley now…) These blocks had been glued on to the post ends, but (cue Scottish weather) this has not always proved a very firm anchor. Several were loose, and at least one was missing entirely, perhaps being repaired. However, all this is really a pretty minor bug-bear. But, when all is said and done, as well as a spiritual and artistic path, the walk is also route in the real world – change and erosion are inevitable!
It was a rainy day when we walked around, but given “appropriate clothing” I think the poetry path could be enjoyed in all but the worst of weather. As it was quiet, and RB and I went around on our own, we read some of the verses out loud as we went. I think this adds to the experience, as long as you don’t feel you might be irritating someone else. One advantage of a rainy day!
NB: Although the path is well made, some slopes would be hard for those with real difficulty walking. It is not suitable for wheelchair users.
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.