Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Getting acquainted with Being Human

'Being Human', the new anthology from Bloodaxe, has been brightening my life for the last three months.  Witness the fact that when I want it, I have to track it down, because it wanders from room to room. Sometimes it's been read in a saggy chair in the conservatory in the chilly early morning; or it's tucked under the chair by the Rayburn after a wet summer evening.  Or in the capacious basket we keep in the loo.  Or lying doggo on a windowsill, waiting to go out to the garden with a cup of coffee.

What a book!  Wander into it and it will enrich your life.  Here's some favourites.

'Time was away and somewhere else,
There were two glasses and two chairs
And two people with one pulse
(Somebody stopped the moving stairs)'

Louis MacNeice's beautiful exploration of the slowness and strangeness of time when you're waiting for someone.

Then there's Ruth Stone's 'Second Hand Coat'.

'I think when I wake in the morning
I have turned into her.
She hangs in the hall downstairs,
a shadow with pulled threads.
I slip her over my arms, skin of a matron.'

Think about it, next time in Oxfam!

Try Thomas A Clarke, 'In Praise of Walking'.  A long poem, like his walk, full of steadiness and meditative rhythm. 
'Walking is not so much romantic as reasonable.
The line of a walk is articulate in itself, a kind of statement.
Pools, walls, solitary trees, are natural halting places'.

For an evocation of haunting, Fleur Adcock's 'Water':

'I met an ancestor in the lane.
She couldn't stop, she was carrying water.
It slopped and bounced from the stoup against her;
the side of her skirt was dark with the stain,
oozing chillingly down to her shoe.
I stepped aside as she trudged past me,
frowning with effort, shivering slightly
(an icy drop splashed my foot too).'

Simple, and absolutely believable.

I've no way read enough yet.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

New poetry written with midges and OS Explorer 318

Out west in the Galloway Forest Park are the mountains of Benyellary, Bennan, Craig Neldricken, Craignaw, Mullwharchar and the big daddy of them all, The Merrick.  Scattered among and below the hills are the farms, in an arc north of Newton Stewart.  This is the area of the recently designated Galloway Dark Skies Park, a recognition given to only a few places in the world whose natural darkness is almost entirely unpolluted by human sources of light.

Since May I've been working with OS 318 and 319 close at hand, on a new poetry project, working title 'The Dark Farms'.  It's developing into a themed collection of poems focused on the landscapes and extraordinarily dark skies of the Galloway Forest Park.  It's about places, on the human scale of cottages or sheep pens (they're sheep rees in Galloway).  But I also wanted to consider 
the immensity and complexity of space-time, as visible in the dark skies that are still part of this area.

I've been reading astronomy and discovering extraordinary things about the cosmos that I was ignorant of.  I'm still pretty ignorant, due to the marked lack of a science education, but I'm staggered by facts like -
a black dwarf is surrounded by a sort of faint light, which is a 'memory' imprinted on the fabric of time and space, of the blazing star it once was.  Or telescopes move in altitude and azimuth.  Or that dying stars spin out electrically charged winds.  That wind makes no sound in space.

(My teenager heard me exclaim about the last one and looked at me pityingly.  "Well of course it can't" he said, "no sound in a vacuum".  Ah).

I've been walking alongside huge striped dragonflies in places where there are no longer even sheep tracks (just bog) and whenever I stopped to write something down, the midges caught me up.  Stood on foundation stones of cottages long gone, their hearthstones gathering rainwater.  Met a huge red bull all too like a comet, while I was looking for a place called The Castle of Old Risk. 

Working with me on this project is artist William Spurway, who I persuaded because of my great admiration for his draughtsmanship.  Also, since his work is about light, he's interested in dark too.  Here's one of William's bull drawings, and part of one of my poems in progress.

and now             they’re emptied
the dark farms
now crouched        in their earths 
for years               
they swallowed      glints               
and flakes          of stars