Category Archives: the sky

the singing ringing pole

The Singing Ringing Tree‘ (Das singende, klingende Bäumchen) was a strange East German fairy-tale film shown by the BBC in the 1960s. It is also the title of a sound sculpture in Lancashire on a hill called Crown Point above Burnley.

It’s not just the simple rhyme of the title that sticks in the imagination, especially for those who saw the uncanny film as small children, something about its odd atmosphere seemed to resonate. Apparently in a 2004 Radio Times poll it was voted “20th spookiest show ever”, even though it was a story for children.

This visual poem is about an encounter with a kind of life after death. The title is a small homage to the strangeness of that children’s film.

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the singing ringing pole

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Monikie’s Mariners

I had a pleasant donder around Monikie Reservoir with my pal Cavan this morning. Lots of interesting birds on the water just now. We spotted some redshank and heard their lonely note calls, but at this time of year it’s the large number of cormorants in from the coast that are most noticeable visitors.

Apparently in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan took the form of a cormorant to disguise himself in order to enter Eden. More tragically, but romantically, Norwegian mythology says that those who are lost at sea can visit their homes in the form of one of these birds.

I don’t know about that, but I suppose the well-stocked quiet waters of Monikie must seem like paradise to a cormorant – at least compared to a chilly winter gale battered coastline. Curiously when they come to Monikie they always roost together on only one of the three islands, the one on the south side of the water. And they really do roost – seeing such large birds perched high in the branches of the trees is a little unexpected.

I wrote a poem inspired by these winter visitors a few years ago. Visiting them again this morning made me make look back for a wee redraft…

Heliopause 1: Mariners

[northern hemisphere: 23.4 degrees obliquity, perihelion]

Black stroked full flaps down
over un-cast overcast naval greys,
wingtip taps reflected wingtips
a parallel rhumb line rhythm flight
ruled over inshore mirror water.

Pulling up in a clumsy prehistoric stall,
a drunken marine’s shore-bound landing
pitches the branches of this,
their February Isle.

Around again our orbit wheels
past drear and dreich northern months,
until anglers rewound cast again
from their wooden clinkers.

When longer days’ winds whistle
and fetch and chop and slop the surface.

And, filled with heat and hunger,
the cormorants quit to seek
saltier sustenance
from deeper waters,
from driven seas.

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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
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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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the shortest night

the shortest night

Nearly eleven p.m., dry and mild,
bright enough for reading outdoors.
Warm intimations of honeysuckle,
lemon balm, tiger lily’s sharper bite.

Sleepless through three thin hours undarkened,
fortified tea brewing dusk spun verses,
I fidget dust my tiny cabinet of
keepsakes found and curiosities kept,

rearranging these unsure talismans,
certain enough what each is, less clear why.
I find and re-read some childhood chapters,
and discover though changed they move me still.

Until, like a birthday dawn, bird sung dews
condense fresh light from thin and unslept airs.

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Jail broken

‘Crow 6’ by David Ladmore. Reproduced with kind permission from the artist www.davidladmore.com

Constrained clumsiness
skitters in the corner of my eye,
irking like a bluebottle corked,
erratic flutterings meshed into
a five foot box cell silhouette.

I suppose crow smarts
finagled entrance,
then failed to find egress.
The track bears left,
I turn right to interrogate.

I twist the small door’s snib
with little further thought.
Perched on the threshold
he black eyes my framed bulk.
When I side-step, he gunnels out.

His burst plummets off-kilter,
one wing clattered perhaps
in thrashing runways at escape.
Have I just made a fast-food snack,
free to the quickest clench or bite?

I re-snib the door in stealth,
glancing late inside the cage.
Two wrecked hares gore-pecked,
half a smeary tub with water –
intentions here of some survival.

But what kind of gamekeeper
aids and abets a carrion crow?
Unkent to urban bumpkins perhaps –
a trapper’s ruse, a jig set to dance,
bait to snag a raptor’s gaze?

Walk on. Am I just a jail-bird’s patsy,
stumbling in imagined manumissions,
meat and water, caged as maybe? Still –
not half-a-second stood by unstolen,
before air was ripped apart in broken flight.

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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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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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