Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Launch of Gold Tracks Fallen Fruit

Kathy Kituai introduced me to tanka last year, with her splendid collection, Straggling into Winter, a tanka journal. I experimented with five-line poems but as they are not strictly tanka, I decided to give them another name – quinta. The idea of journaling in poetry [I have written prose journals for almost as long as I can remember] was also appealing. So the book, a selection from the many quinta I've written over the past year, has just been published by Cestrian Press. I was reading from Gold Tracks, Fallen Fruit, in Chester last Thursday. Kemal Houghton was also reading from his new collection, Pastizzi, and Edwin Stockdale played ethereal music on the harp.

Journal and journey of course share the same root, and within our long – or short - passage through time and space, our lifetime, a journey that everyone makes, there are also forays into the unknown, geographical, psychological and metaphorical, the wanderings and the stories, and how we are changed by the features of the landscapes we pass through.

As I was travelling back through Italy and France earlier this year, in the summer, I was thinking about the effects that travelling can have on us, very positive effects, so it seems to me, as one is removed from one's usual context and one's usual identity. With these familiar accretions of identity removed, who are we really? For although we 'identify with' all kinds of familiarities, it has been my experience at times, that there is another identity waiting in the wings. Our usual associations and patterns of thoughts and feelings are removed by some circumstance or other, either deliberately sought out, or seemingly accidental. Travelling in unknown places is just one way of making space, leaving a door open for this other to make its presence felt. In an extreme form it can be like Inanna's journey to the underworld where everything is taken from her. But that's not the end of the story. Death is followed by transformation and rebirth.

the journey strips us of possessions -

language, context, self-importance.

Sunlight on sea and bougeainvillea,

scents of lime – here our travelling soul

feels perfectly at home

Later, I came across this quote from Albert Camus which evokes similar feelings, describing both the fear and the treasure that we find on the journey.

.....For what gives value to travel is fear. It breaks down a kind of inner structure we have. ….......travel robs us of …..... refuge. [We are] far from our own people, our own language, stripped of all our props, deprived of our masks (one doesn't know the fare on the trams, or anything else) …...... But [we] also...... restore to every being and every object its miraculous value. A woman dancing ….... a bottle on a table, glimpsed behind a curtain: each image becomes a symbol. The whole of life seems reflected in it.....

From l'Envers et l'endroit - Amour de Vivre

And, from Nikos Kazantzakis (Odyssey – a Modern Sequel )

'My soul, your voyages have been your native land!'

The Christmas lights in Chester are already up, delicate nets of white lights strung between buildings in the narrow streets of the city centre. These lights are, of course, a celebration. But they also remind me of clusters of constellations, pinpricks of light, reflections of the night sky.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

From the Shore

On the 13th November, In the Voodoo Rooms above the Café Royal in Edinburgh, the Shore Poets celebrated 20 years of existence. Poems and music by the Kitchen Stools, Jim Glen, Minnow, and Brighde Caimbeul with Jim Wilson as compère extraordinaire.

Brighde Caimbeul, Angus Peter Campbell's daughter was the star, for me, playing extraordinarily good bagpipes. It was the first time I heard her father read, and that too, was impressive.

Photo of Brighde courtesy of Fin Wycherley

Photos of all the other readers, musicians, compères and commenters can be seen here.

Ken Cockburn asked all of us current or former Shore Poets to supply a memory of past readings.

A couple of my personal favourites are below [they're anonymous so I can't credit the writers].

Those occasions in the Canon's Gait when a reading seems about to be transformed into a sonata for human voice, telephone and till, plus choral improvisations from the upstairs bar.

At the Fruitmarket Gallery, the curiously endearing sound of trains shaking the postcard stands.

Someone and I can't remember who it was, mentioned being introduced by someone, as being a member of the Shore Porters! I like this very much. It combines the idea of carrying, bearing as in the bearers of a tradition, mingling responsibility with a down to earth quality, a practical bardicness, nothing flighty or off-planet here, but a humble craft-making as well as service to the community, lightly silvered with the misty liminal quality of shore and all that that entails – blurred boundaries, shadowy outlines where the material mixes with something less tangible.

Christine de Luca, Peter Cudmore, Ian McDonough and various others have worked hard to create the CD, From the Shore, to mark the 20th anniversary. The fantastic cover photo is by James Christiethe words and music are good too!

The poems on the CD can be read on the website, by clicking on the names listed on the right. I remember hearing Mark Ogle reading English Rain, about fifteen years ago and being struck by the poem's ability to evoke a powerful nostalgia, even then, even in someone who spends as much time as possible getting away from this climate! It has now become the literary equivalent of an icon, and evokes nostalgia in all of us. Mark died in 1999.

English Rain by Mark Ogle

I want today to close with English Rain
Tapping on my window in the four o’clock gloom.
I want Wellington boots, damp coats in a hallway
And to fight from a warm room against a screaming seawind
To the poached puddled gateways of fields
Where mud flanked cattle wait at winter’s end for hay.
I want trousers soaked to the thighs
From walking in the long grass
In fine misty rain that doesn’t fall
But fastens glistening droplets to my clothes and skin
And to listen to the sucking sounds of meadows as they drain.
I want to come home early from work in the afternoon
Because of the rain and sit with a book by the fire
And hear the words ‘Attention all shipping’,
And glimpse pale blue through broken cloud
And hear brown water running loud
Through the streets of the village
During a lull in a three day gale.

Today on this parched dusty plain
I want rain to start falling and not to stop
Until trees take such deep root, they can only turn green
As they begin to do in England now,
Thanks to the English Rain.

Uttar Pradesh, March 1980

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

International Day of the Imprisoned Writer

The day began by helping to lift a heavy metal cage from the stage door of the Festival Theatre into the van that J and D had driven through from Glasgow. We then drove to the Scottish parliament. There was a brief discussion regarding the merits of the architecture. I like the arrangement of bundles of pale mustard coloured sticks on the front, some of them slightly warped, giving the impression of naturally curved reeds and vulnerability [though they are actually quite stout, as D discovered, when he tried to dislodge one when the policemen weren't looking]. It has to my eye a kind of makeshift appearance, something cobbled together - and of course to give that effect takes a lot of skill and contrivance.

Various quotations are carved into the stonework on one side of the building, and this one, by Alan Jackson, is one of my favourites.

We set up the cage in front of the Parliament. We found that two of the sides had become lodged together, but with the aid of a stout stick and muscle power, we managed to prise them apart. A spacious cage was then prepared for Ron Butlin, the Edinburgh Makar, who soon found himself behind bars.

The event was to draw attention to the plight of writers around the world, imprisoned because of what they have written. Many countries and political regimes do not respect human rights and freedom of expression.

Alba, the Gaelic TV channel filmed the event and interviewed Ron. A small crowd gathered. A couple of well-behaved golden haired dogs added some flashy brightness to the overcast day. But it did not rain. J had brought along a tartan tarpaulin to put over the cage, to protect the imprisoned writer, should it rain.

Several Kurdish people turned up and thanked us for making this demonstration particularly as Ragip Zarakolu a Turkish writer and publisher, has recently been arrested again in Turkey. One of them talked about how difficult it is for Kurdish people in Turkey today. He has lived in the UK for 8 years now, and he drives a taxi. He texted his friends when he heard about our event.

A couple of poems were read out, written by imprisoned writers, one of them Liu Xiaobo, who received the Noble Peace Prize last year but was unable to go to Oslo to receive it. Scottish PEN organized the creation of a special 'imprisoned writer empty chair', which flew to Oslo to be present at the Nobel Prize ceremony, symbolizing those writers unable to attend because of arrest, detention or imprisonment in their own country.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Talks at the Sauniere Society

Days at Newbattle Abbey. The sun arrows through the big windows into the drawing room. Some of the shutters are closed, to reduce the amount of light coming in, so that the images can be seen clearly on the white screen. If there are images. In Sylvia Francke's talk about Rudolf Steiner, she put up a picture of the Goetheanum, the second one, at Dornoch. The first one was burnt down in a fire possibly started by people who were opposed to his ideas. This talk reminds me that Rudolf Steiner stands head and shoulders above most thinkers and seers. He combined these two remarkable qualities – profound intelligence and equally startling clairvoyant abilities. His vision also had far reaching practical applications in the fields of education and agriculture. He had ideas about social equality that were way ahead of his time. In his many books and lectures he addresses the really big questions about life – the purposes of humanity, our connections with the cosmos, how our individual life links up with these greater purposes.

In between talks there are coffee and meal breaks, and the sky is cloudless blue and the trees in the grounds are the colours of bright flames and blanched light and smouldering fires. At night, the Moon has grown plump as a ripe almond with a furred edge on one side, as if the soft outer covering over the hard shell is still there. The last unpicked gleaming almond in the night sky, the tree invisible and magical as das ringelte Klingelte Baumchen, a fairy tale tree. Some of its branches are sketched against the black sky backdrop, sprinkled with glitter stars. The Moon tilts slightly in the direction of Jupiter, the topmost star on the sky tree.

A few years ago Stephen O'Shea wrote a book about the Cathars of the Languedoc, The Perfect Heresy. His talk at the weekend focussed on his most recent book, The Friar of Carcassonne. When you're in a place that is utterly unfamiliar to you he said, and where you do not understand the language, I find the focus is on meal times. In such a situation, you're deprived of two senses – the ability to talk and to hear, or at least to make sense of what you hear around you. The senses of smell and taste become heightened and gain in importance, as if to make up for the loss of the others.

Well, that has nothing to do with the subject of his book, although it is connected with his travels while he is doing his researching. You have to go to the places you're going to write about, he said,

it's only by being in the actual places where the events happened that you'll know what the light is really like, how the landscape feels, and the effects it can have. This seems to suggest that the landscape can give you insight into how people viewed the world, how it affected these views and perceptions, and still does. It is good to hear this idea being spoken. It is good to know that others are travelling and exploring and listening to what the land, the air the sunlight, the weather, to what all of nature is saying.

I've only just got the book and haven't read it yet, but if you are interested in the Cathars, you will probably want to know more about The Friar of Carcassonne. [You can read a review here http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-friar-of-carcassonne-by-stephen-oshea-2369622.html ]

When it comes to landscapes, Stuart McHardy, whose talks are always fascinating, seems to have discovered or rediscovered, a perception of landscape that has regifted it with the sacred. His exploration of certain places, and the myths and stories connected with them, such as the Nine Maidens, has given him the ability so it seemed to me, to see it with the eyes of people for whom the landscape was sacred. He also has the ability to communicate the excitement of that vision to show that if we explore it with knowledge, interest, curiosity and openness to what it may reveal to us, a relationship with the land can be regained, a relationship that modern people have lost. It then becomes not so much an objective observation, where what is observed is something separate, but where the land begins to 'speak' to us. Where 'the dancer and the dance' become one. It makes me think of J, who spends so much time with the alignment of stones at Cairnholy, where the landscape responds to his openness to it and reveals itself in an ongoing conversation. A new relationship is being developed.

It makes me think of Rudolf Steiner too, and his biodynamic methods of plant cultivation, where plants are treated as living energies with individual needs, which are recognized and taken into account.

In the mornings, the grass had a crisp white covering of frost. In late afternoon, it was layered with light. At sundown, the eastern horizon was wrapped in bands of blue-green and pink.

You can find out more about the Sauniere Society here