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?
Fair horizoned photographs
from trig points and summit cairns
fine and airy breaths of sky,
The way was not crow-flown,
there was weather,
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.
boundary lines surrendered
sculpture on the way
Beech pennies tanned rust and ochre,
circles of sky cast in cold pressed leaf,
they do not always look the same,
though Brighty is damp almost all year
the pools are not always present.
I can look above and below,
but not at the same instant.
I must choose one plane,
breathe low and look kindly, and
fix each in focus, turn about.
This short circuit, a balanced cut-log bridge,
needle scent, fern and copper scale contours,
barely fifteen minutes to walk around, but
gently, surely, it all returns to ground.
see also… Beech Pools
click to listen:
Sounds of rain
Staccato taps syncopate
justification on your cautious hood.
Very pleased to have one of my short poems (In the squall) included in Issue 10 of Fat Damsel’s ‘Take Ten’.