A tree shines brightly
near the Allt Glas-Doire,
by the coffin road.
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…
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.
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
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)
I tripped on some kindly light,
where fallen cones eroded by birds
echoed the labyrinth.
From site A to building B
busy at work passing directly
through Kinburn Park.
Light prefers straight line shadows,
though indirect paths, still and cool,
might enlighten more.
Hand scored benches keep the goal:
George Fox 1658
‘Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit’
In spirit my fingers follow the spiral sign,
tracing the miniature way, and
I stop to think that I would like to be that.
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…
[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
from deeper waters,
from driven seas.
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/
You’re an old dog now, no mistake.
Titanic as you weigh anchor to embark
from under the table, your safe-harbour
day-bed, out on to the linoleum sea.
The idea of standing is there
but between your back feet cross
caught napping, and front feet
skiting wide like a novice pond skater,
it takes time and struggle for the plan
to swim. Trying to float, confusion flaps
behind the George Clooney gaze,
signals flag a drift cast slightly all-at-sea.
Until at last you stand four-square
floor-launched to general relief,
we all tracked your slipway staggers,
familiar waters met though bearings lost.