“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…
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…
Fair horizoned photographs
from trig points and summit cairns
fine and airy breaths of sky,
The way was not crow-flown,
there was weather,
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
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.
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.
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.
boundary lines surrendered
sculpture on the way