I originally wrote this intending to send it in to Visual Verse for a great image of a horse by Bruce Connew. I never got around to it, and I’d forgotten about the poem until I happened on it today. Anyway, I still kinda like it, I hope you will too. As often from me, there’s also some sciencey inspiration – see below…
Karen McComb, who heads the research group and co-lead author of the study, said “Horses may have adopted an ancestral ability for reading emotional cues in other horses to respond appropriately to human facial expressions during their co-evolution. Alternatively, individual horses may have learned to interpret human expressions during their own lifetime.”
Source: ‘Horses can recognise human emotion, study shows’ Guardian 10/2/2016
scary sounds tinder
my right brain.
my left eye
you. your voice. angry. anger. danger. is it?
do i? do we? does the herd?
set, set, set.
my heart revs.
a dren a lin.
ready, twitch, ready.
time made your mood our threat.
your anger the wolf on the prairie.
your impatience an adder under-grass.
your oath hard iron in flight.
so if you don’t need to, just don’t.
step calm. breathe gentle.
speak less. listen more.
hear. my. gaze.
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.
I have a poem in Atrium today…
Are you there, Mum?
She could not fathom why he’d ask
his foolish question at three in the morning,
croaked but clear over no-man’s carpet.
She wanted to sleep, and she had a right,
stroked or not he was a grown man, and
she was the children’s mum, not his.
Yes, I’m here. Then storytold in afterthought,
before he was gone and her stories broken,
What a funny thing – where else would I be?
Odd to find it odd that he should signal,
passing dark but nearest, another navigator
on those uncertain ferries of long late nights.
Steve Smart is a poet and artist living in Scotland. His poems have been published in Poet’s Corner, Fat Damsel, and Ink, Sweat and Tears. Recent work includes ‘interstitial woodland’ poetry in collaboration with visual artist Tansy Lee Moir.
We finally got around to visiting the Corbenic Poetry Path yesterday. The path is a delightful 3km walk through a variety of woodland, moorland and riverside habitats, around the periphery of the Corbenic Camphill Community near Dunkeld in Perthshire.
As the name suggests, poetry placed around the walk is part of the experience, and poems are placed at frequent intervals. Verses appear in the form of small post-top resin encapsulations, notices, and carvings on wood and stone. Some of these form sculptures well placed to work sensitively with the surrounding landscape, on a variety of scales. Sometimes the tone is contemplative, sometimes sombre, but also at times humorous and celebratory. Many of the works play with their specific locations, or refer to different aspects of the places in which they stand. There are also a number of sculptures, in materials both made and found, and even a sound installation (sample – note rainfall in background!).
There is a map on a panel near the (very small) car park, but the poetry path is dynamic – features do come and go. I think following the walk is enhanced by uncertainty about exactly what you might find next, but confidence that something unexpected will appear soon. Not knowing what is coming fosters a feeling of discovery, and I think that was part of the pleasure of our visit. The route of the walk itself is well made, charming and varied. Views across Perthshire from the walk are marvellous, often framed or emphasised by the artworks.
To be honest I had to look up ‘Corbenic’! Apparently in Arthurian myth it refers to the castle holding the Holy Grail. So perhaps, if this doesn’t sound too grand, ‘Corbenic’ can be taken to mean a location connected with a search for something of a nature which is both rare and has a spiritual dimension.
As I mentioned some poems are mounted on top of ‘poetry fence posts’ in resin blocks, the same size as the section of the posts, and about an inch thick. The small size requires a small point size of text which falls well below what is ideal for older eyes (…and, let’s face it, many of the poetry audience have been travelling on our personal grail quests for a whiley now…) These blocks had been glued on to the post ends, but (cue Scottish weather) this has not always proved a very firm anchor. Several were loose, and at least one was missing entirely, perhaps being repaired. However, all this is really a pretty minor bug-bear. But, when all is said and done, as well as a spiritual and artistic path, the walk is also route in the real world – change and erosion are inevitable!
It was a rainy day when we walked around, but given “appropriate clothing” I think the poetry path could be enjoyed in all but the worst of weather. As it was quiet, and RB and I went around on our own, we read some of the verses out loud as we went. I think this adds to the experience, as long as you don’t feel you might be irritating someone else. One advantage of a rainy day!
NB: Although the path is well made, some slopes would be hard for those with real difficulty walking. It is not suitable for wheelchair users.
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.
Home is a big thing. If you’re lucky, like I’ve been, home is a place you care about, with people who care about you. Losing home must be like losing a part of your own body. Losing home because of the violent acts of others is something almost unthinkably painful, and yet this may be the least of the suffering which forms the stark reality of millions of people in the world today. It is not something I find easy to think about. It is not something I really want to think about. Perhaps “Mankind cannot bear too much reality” after all.
I think that an important role of the paintings in Christine McIver‘s exhibition “The Journey” is to bring the viewer to look again at images of migration, and to help us to think again about something that it might be easier to put out of mind.
The exhibition at the Dunblane Museum is quite small – only a dozen or so works in all, but several of these are unusually long images of a panoramic aspect ratio. Christine’s subject is migration. She shows us shadowy tides of humanity drifting by the perimeters of our world in the liminal light of the edge of day. These long journey-friezes, resembling lost scrolls rendered on archeologically fragile rice paper, are at first vaguenesses of crowds. But as the eye lingers on interesting textures, and shadows of movement, individual moments of story become visible, lagging children are gathered up, pained backs hunched inward, bone-weary people prop each other up. It’s necessary to work to visualise the details, and that requirement is part of the skill of these paintings. The eye wants to engage, and the mind needs-must follows, even if into territory that we might rather not consider.
There’s more than this at work here, and I hesitate a little before bringing up another driver that I think underlies the compassion and urge to convert empathy into action here. It is something unfashionable, and something that I think the artist might hesitate to discuss directly…
open rant [
Let me be upfront about how I feel about faith. Although I’m an avowed atheist (I have been reliably told it’s a pity I’ll be going to Hell before now), I’m not a Richard-Dawkins-hang-’em-high kind of an atheist. I do have major concerns about what religious belief can do to people when it goes awry – and, Jings! it often does. Faith aggravated conflict seems itself be a significant contributing factor to the causes of so much contemporary migration. However, that doesn’t mean that I have no respect for the beliefs of the many people of faith who I know to be remarkable, generous, and plain-honest-to-goodness sound individuals.
] rant ends. Apologies!
Having said all of which, I feel that faith is very present in this work. The titles of some of the works like ‘Exodus’ and ‘To the river’ point the way to biblical references, and the show has a strong feel of the drive of Witness about it. My point is that these works – which are neither derivative nor preachy – are empowered by this drive. We do tend to fall back on biblical metaphors when presented with a sufficiently catastrophic mass of human suffering. But I do not think this is what is happening here. Rather it seems to me that faith, perhaps metaphorically informed by biblical narratives, is a core part of the artist’s psyche. It would have been disingenuous not to allow this to be present into these paintings.
Across open fields (scroll to view)
This provoking show was two years in the making. It has already sold well, and this forms part of the artist’s intention to generate action as well as empathy, as proceeds are being passed on to refugee charities.
The images shown here are frustratingly small – I think it is important to meet these paintings face-to-face. When I did I felt engaged, and compelled to think and question in several uncomfortable directions at once. Where next? I am not sure.
The Journey by Christine McIver is at the Dunblane Museum until May 29th 2017, admission is free.