Saturday, 28 October 2017

Shaping the Water Path review

Review in Stride Magazine blogspot ( you can read the rest of the review here) by Angela Topping

Shaping the Water Path, Morelle Smith (£5, diehard)


Morelle Smith is a well-travelled poet, and writes very often of places she has lived or spent time in. This latest book concerns places nearer home: Scotland, Chester, Wales, as well as a few further flung places like Corfu. Her poems are very visual and tactile, for instance she describes grass as ‘coiffed with frost’, in ‘Bird Morning, Bird Night’. She looks squarely into the eye of the storm, and is drawn to wildness, in weather, place and often uses these to lift off into metaphor, as in ‘Memorials of Kosova’, where, on a day of heavy rain, she notices the marks of war on buildings, a roofless house where  a family was ‘gunned down’ but concludes with this image:

     We leave history behind.
     Back in the city, in the present
     damp pavements glow
     while evening’s troops move in, silently
     meet no resistance.

Street in Pristina, Kosovo    

Cake in Pristina cafe

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Hermes, Dreams and Getting Lost (again).

View from Troumbetia, Corfu. In the distance, the snow-capped Albanian mountains

The story Travel with Theos Lines is about movement and travel over land and water, and it’s about dreams and the interpretations and assumptions – not just of dreams but of life situations too – that can have far reaching effects on one’s life. Dreams and everyday life intermingle.

Written in Greece, the home of gods and mythic heroes, whose stories still have an impact on our imaginations and so also affect our everyday world, the precise place and time we wake up in, the facts and objects we have to negotiate. Themes of paths taken and not taken, of losing and finding our way, of what is the right way and what is the wrong way and how do we distinguish, and how much of the way we find is not marked on a map but is created by ourselves? Themes of boundaries between sense-perception and intangible energies sometimes personified as gods, and that evocative idea of home and that searching sense within us, a seeking-home sense that can require that we leave home in order to find Home.

It begins like this:

Some dreams glow with a numinous energy. These are the ones that get me crossing my fingers, touching wood, making offerings of fallen oranges – for only their perfect ripeness is suitable for the gods. How after all do we make gestures of gratitude to the gods in the modern world? No it's not something we do too often, is it? So I revert to more ancient ways of giving thanks, because they feel authentic to me, though I draw the line at sacrificing a cockerel to Asklepios, the god of healing dreams. Somehow I cannot quite believe that any god would wish for the death of another living creature. Besides, I don't want blood on my hands.

Other dreams often deal with the go-betweens, the ones that transport or accompany us, from the waking to the dream or mythic realms – and back again – the guides, the ones that know the paths or straits that link the worlds. And, although we have to trust them, we also know there may be negotiations, deals, and bargaining. Charon is not the only ferryman who needs a coin.

I remember the day I wrote it, warm February sun streaming through the open French windows from the balcony of my apartment in Corfu’s old town, where, if I had thrown a stone out of the kitchen window, it would have fallen on the house where Edward Lear lived in the 1850s, on the waterfront. Though I did not know that when I moved in, I only discovered it in my wanderings through the narrow Venetian streets of the old town. I did a lot of exploring then, taking buses to various destinations, walking by the coast, or up in the mountains. 

Street in Corfu's old town

Edward Lear's house on the seafront, Corfu

This story was a prizewinner in a recent competition and I was going to attend the award ceremony. As I rely on public transport and live quite far away from the meeting place I had to look up bus times and routes on the internet. And because the meeting was at 10 am, I had to leave my house early, at 6.30. Everything was planned with precision, and written down. What could possibly go wrong? And whenever someone says that you know that it will. But the thing is, if things do not go to plan, it’s not necessarily wrong, even if it is based on incorrect assumptions.

Rebecca Solnit writes so eloquently about getting lost, Robert Moss in his several books about dreams
and coincidences and their interaction with waking life, positively delights in plans being altered as he then feels that an unexpected opportunity is being opened up.

At 6.30 am the sky is newly light, that early-morning sense of freshness and optimism that sense of privilege just to be out at this time as the world wakes up. A thin curve of waning moon hangs in the sky. The cold shocks me though, temperatures have changed very suddenly from summer to autumn.

First coffee of the day, an espresso, at Edinburgh bus station. Then the bus to Glasgow. It’s a little late and I miss my first connection. I go to the desk in Glasgow’s Buchanan bus station to ask when the next one will be. The man is very helpful and says I can walk to Howard Street beside Central Station and get my second connection there. He produces a map and shows me where to go, and the bus route. I know the Central Station and it doesn’t take long to walk there.

At Howard Street stop I work out which is the first bus I can get to take me close to St Andrew’s Drive and it arrives a few minutes later. I ask the driver to let me know when we get there, the stop nearest to Maxwell Road. A few stops later, the drivers change. Another passenger attracts my attention. You’ll need to tell him, the new driver, where you want off she says. I thank her. Glasgow people are so unfailingly helpful. Whenever I exit Buchanan Bus station, I feel the city’s atmosphere so lively and vibrant, people of many ethnicities walking in the streets, speaking many languages and I feel I could speak to any one of them, this sense of all being linked in a common and recognized humanity.

Following the map on my A-Z, a few minutes after getting off the bus, I reach St Andrew’s Drive. I’m a little late, but not much. I ask a passing couple if I’m in the right place (there’s no street sign). They say yes, straight on. I pass a Sikh temple. A couple of other large houses. No sign of the hotel. I walk on, ask other people at a bus stop. They don’t know the hotel but feel it will definitely be further on. It becomes more residential, just a few large manor houses, set back from the road, with pillared entrances and driveways. Then a few streets leading off on either side. Trees by the roadside. It’s a long street and few people. I’m nearly half an hour late and still the road goes on. There’s a park on one side and a man with two black dogs heading towards it. I accost him, ask if he knows of the Westerwood Hotel.
There’s no hotel on this street he says, examining my printed directions. Then he pulls out his phone and in a few seconds, he has it.
It’s in Cumbernauld he says, it’s listed as Glasgow, but with a different post code. That’s about half an hour from here, by car.
Well, says I, I’m in completely the wrong place.
If you want to get back to the city centre he says, you can walk through the park and there’s a train station just across the road from the other entrance to the park.
I thank him.

It’s a grey morning, overcast, and I walk through the park as he suggested, then decide to walk a different way back to the bus stop. I’m in a quiet residential area, the buildings are red sandstone, some of them with dark green painted window surrounds. I explore some cobbled back streets, cross bridges over railways, go past buildings with carved facades and back to the shop-lined Pollockshaws Road, where I get a bus back to the city centre.



So what did I feel when I realised that I was in the wrong place and I was going to miss the meeting I’d been looking forward to? Clearly I was disappointed but it was so incongruous that it was funny too, and there was also the feeling of remembering Robert Moss’s tales of being on the lookout for opportunities. There was a sense of dislocation, of being pushed out of my usual ‘place’ the one we inhabit in our lives almost without realising it, those of us, that is, fortunate enough not to be literally pushed out of our homes and the current of our lives by war or some other catastrophe.

The immediate result was that I walked through an area of Glasgow I had not encountered before, enjoyed the architecture and the leafy lanes, crossed various bridges, both road and pedestrian, over railway lines and rivers. Though the morning sky had been clear, it had soon become overcast and the grey day had a distant feel to it, slightly unreal and grainy, like a film set I’d wandered into, a parallel reality neither hostile nor friendly, but indifferent, detached. My path was not crossed by any particularly significant beings, animal, human or divine.

It’s only now, writing about this, that I pick up a picture of Hermes which lies beside my desk. It's a dark photocopy,
brown-speckled with damp, of the original by William Blake Richmond.

 photo credit the Internet Archive and the University of Toronto Library 

And take in again that sideways look of his, that gesture as he fixes his sandal, the pillar he leans against, the sunlight casting strong shadows, and that sea beyond him. That sea – so reminding of the Ionian that I walked beside, that I looked out over from the esplanade of Corfu’s old town, and looked down on from the mountains near Troumbetia so high up I could see the curve of the island of Corfu to the north east and west and the sea and the Albanian mainland beyond.

View from Troumbetia, north Corfu, with the snow-capped mountains of Albania in the background

 (Travel with Theos Lines will be published in a print anthology in 2018. You can read the complete text here )