The Antarctic Poetry Competition is unusual in asking entrants to submit both poems and photographs, and specifying that the photographs must include the poems entered! I’m excited that that one of my entries for this year’s competition was shortlisted and will be on display, along with work by all the other shortlisted entrants, at Dunedin Public Library in New Zealand from 8th-31st October.
As well as my shortlisted poem, Polar Exploration, I’ve included a selection of photographs below. These were taken on the polar research vessel RSS Discovery, a research vessel launched in 1901 during the ‘heroic’ age of polar exploration. Discovery is a connection to Antarctica which is now permanently docked where it was built, in the city of Dundee, near to where I live. Gill Poulter and Suzanne Paterson at Discovery Point kindly arranged for me to have access to Captain Scott’s cabin, the chart room and other locations aboard, and also to access some of the unique objects from the Discovery collection. I’m very grateful for their help.
Reading about the experiences of polar travellers, it seemed to me that people journeying in these regions are as much exploring something within themselves as experiencing an unknown place, or a physical challenge. In the poem I tried to riddle basic challenges which Antarctica presents to human beings alongside questions about this kind of inner journey.
Who are you in a place with no name?
Stranger here or home at last?
Are you an Adam now, or a wiser Eve?
What are you in a place with no life?
Curiosity of transient biology?
Are you an alien, or a fresh infection?
Where are you in a pyramid with no stones?
Smiles alive under Scott tent shroud?
Are you a moth unformed, in swaddle-down cocoon?
When are you in a land with no night?
Pacing on and on or clock unwound?
Are you awake still, or persistent dream?
a field poem
(like field notes, but y’know – poety…)
I saw a bare-armed man
who flailed and capered,
turning unexpectedly about,
beating air like a conductor of elements,
until in a final spasm he flailed a stick
with great vigour,
up and into the sky.
I guessed at an unseen silent dog,
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…
More posts about walking.
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.