Monday, 15 July 2013

Carrying the Songs Moya Cannon

Reading this book was like coming home. The subject range is very familiar - landscape, language, home, emigration, music. There are a good number of poems I wish I'd written - Carrying the Songs, First Poetry, To Colmcille Returning, and even one, Pollen, that I swear, I was just about to write. But it wouldn't have been as good.

Moya Cannon is a more thoughtful poet than I am, more orderly, less fidgety and compressed. And there's more personality - by which I don't mean self-disclosure, but more of a persona, a sense of a fully engaged mind and heart, not just observing, but responding to her observations. Her poetry is more informal and irregular than mine:
Have I stooped so low as to lyricise about heather,
adjusting my love
to fit elegantly
within the terms of disinterested discourse?
whihch meant I had a hard time with the metre until I read it aloud, and then was won over completely.

A sense emerges throughout the book of an irrevocable change through a rational education and emphasis on abstract thought, of a loss of capacity for faith, which leaves us withdimished means to articulate the power of landscape, home, heritage and community exerts upon us. Moya Cannon's poetry is a magnificent attempt to redress this. Landscape and sea dominate the book - hills, wells, nests, shells, and the survivals of bones, nuts and pollen. Migration, loss and persistence shape many poems, the movement of birds, of people, of songs, and of language. The loss of language is the loss of identity (Forgetting Tulips, Murdering the Language) or relationship(No Sense in Talking). But words are carried, transformed, persist and re-emerge in place-names,(Oughterard Lemons) in local idioms(Banny), and in loan-words to other languages(Augers).
There are small unassaible words
that diminish Caesars;
territories of the voice
that intimte across generations
how a secret was imparted -
that first articulation,
when a vowel was caught
between a strong and a tender consonant
when someone, in anguish
made a new and mortal sound
that lived until now
a testimony
to waves succumbed to
and survived.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

A Quick Round-up Before the Holidays

School's out for summer! So I will be looking after Lucy a lot, and posts will be when I can get around to them. But beofre I disappear into the cake-making, flower-pressing, music-learning, story-reading, picking up and delivering to activity classes over the next weeks, I thought I'd catch up with what has been going on - there was more than I thought!

I was at the launch of the Stirling Fringe Festival on Thursday night. This has been unaccountably below the radar up till now, but it looks like a truly inventive and wide-ranging mix of artistic activity, and I'm hopeful that a new era of the arts in Stirling is about to dawn. And not before time, either. The most exciting thing about the night, however, was meeting a local artist who will be having an exhibition during the fringe, Tamsin Haggis. We had a long discussion about creativity and geo-poetics, so I am really looking forward to seeing more of her work.She has a fascinating website, which you can see here, and I'll be posting a link in the sidebar shortly.

Creativity was also on the agenda at a reading and discussion I went to in the Scottish Poetry Library on Friday, with Christian McEwen, who wrote the very popular book World Enough and Time. She is a very nice woman, and has a lovely voice and reading style,but it did leave me rather thoughtful. Every now and again I find myself up against something that just doesn't work for me, although everyone around me seems to love it.I don't do well, I discover, with the notion of 'slowing down' and 'wasting time' to liberate creativity. I don't have any bother with generating creative ideas. I do have bother turning them into useful working projects. My brain goes in fits and starts, often buzzing with way too much to do, sometimes spinning its wheels in a depressing morass of exhaustion and frustration. The trick, I've found, is a steady pace, enough to keep up the momentum, not so much that I lose the plot, and (horrors!) engaging the much-maligned intellect. Shifting my left brain (always a Cinderella in discussions like this) up a gear gives a project a bit of traction, and rewards the dullness of structure and habit with a satisfaction that I find genuinely liberating. Nimue of Druid Life discusses the same kind of thing here, but I'd be interested in other readers' comments.

In addition to keeping up the momentum on the transaltion of Virgil's Eclogues (feel a tub-thump coming on about the relationship between the state and ownership of land, but that will have to wait a week or two)and Bernard Lonergan's Insight (I've hit a hard bit, there'll be nothing about that for a good while, till I get my head round it) Cora Greenhill introduced me to the poetry of Moya Cannon. That was a real revelation. Her poetry is on much the same ground as mine, but in many ways could not be more different. I'll be reading and re-reading Carrying the Songs a lot over the summer, and reviewing it some time in the autumn.

I haven't been walking the territory much this year, but today I noticed that the wild roses and the elder flowers were in full bloom. My hayfever is too bad this week to be outside much, but the garden seems to be getting along without me. We are harvesting lettuce and gooseberries, and the strawberries are filling out nicely, though there's none ripe yet. The roses are in full bloom, and the lavenders are just beginning.

The house martins nest that was raided by the gulls is full of cheeping again, so I hope that brood#2 has better luck than the first one! I was weighing up this year's nesting season, and it doesn't seem too bad. I've noticed fledglings of sparrows, dunnocks, blackbirds, greenfinches, jackdaws, great tits, mallards, goldfinches, crows and magpies - and the gulls, of sourse, now very large and mousy brown, but still roof-bound. And ospreys, though these weren't actually on my patch, but at Aberfoyle, where you can see live pictures from a webcam in the mini lodge.

And this brings me rather breathlessly to a stop for a while. I hope to be posting over the holidays, if rather erratically, but otherwise, I will be back in august. Happy summer, everyone!

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Flight From Understanding

Every so often I want to get on my high horse and rant about this, but here's a guy who has done the job for me, back in 1957, without any of the slang and swearywords I'd have to edit out.
Bernard Lonergan writes:

For concrete situations give rise to insights which issue into policies and courses of action. Action transformsthe existing situation to give rise to further insights, better policies,more effective courses of action. It follows that if insight occurs, it keeps recurring; and at each recurrence knowledge develops, action increases its scope, and situations improve.

People who have looked into permaculture theory will recognise the imperative for observation and responses, feedback loops and spirals of abundance. On the other hand, Lonergan writes about the opposite, the spiral of degradation which he calls 'oversight' or 'the flight from understanding':

The flight from understanding blocks the insights that situations demand. There follow unintelligent policies and inept courses of action. The situation deteriorates to demand still further insights, and as they are blocked, poloicies become more unintelligent and action more inept. What is worse, the deteriorating situation seems to provide the uncritical biased mind with factual evidence in which the bias is claimed to be verified. So in ever increasing measure intelligence comes to be regarded as irrelevant to practical living. Human activity settles down to a decadent routine, and initiative becomes the privilege of violence. The preface to Insight,The collected Works of Bernard Lonergan Volume 3, published by University of Toronto Press.

This applies to so much I have been seeing over the last few years, and I'm sure everyone can come up with their own examples. Here are three of mine:
Food is short, and the situation is too desperate to stop and think about lasting solutions, so we have to resort to GM technology. Don't be emotional, says the government. But look at the science. OK GM food hasn't been proved to have killed anybody, and 'frankenfood' is a particularly unhelpful term of abuse, but look at the actual results. It doesn't deliver on yield. It doesn't deliver on pest resistance. It hasn't cut down the use of pesticides and herbicides. It has cross-fertilisied with non GM crops. It has escaped from cultivation. On every level it has failed to do what it was supposed to do. It is an experiment that has failed. Move on.

The same can be said for nuclear weapons. They are too terrifying to use.They are expensive to maintain or replace, to the point where their possession compromises the standing of a conventional army. And they haven't kept anyone out of war. They are a failure. Let's cut our losses and move on.

And now there's the looming energy crisis. We are so tempted to fly from understanding this one. If we are bounced into allowing fracking - which will only happen if the companies involved are given large subsidies and allowed to relax current environmental safeguards, we can't guarantee cheap abundant energy. we can guarantee higher taxes, envirinmental devastation, and some years down the line when shale gas runs out, the exact same problem we have now, and less opportunity to rectify our mistakes.

There are moral issues here. But prior to the moral responses come the intelligent insights. And before the intelligent insights, the patient and unself-serving attempt to be still and observe, not react out of panic. I see a lot of division between the spiritual people and the intellectual, the practical and the moral, but it does seem to me that the good and the clever should not be at odds - or we're all screwed.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Pastoral Poetry

One of the many upheavals in the cultural world over my lifetime has been a reappraisal of pastoral poetry. In my youth pastoral poetry was regarded as an artificial and rather sentimental construct - all these highly cultivated (and presumably rich) people pretending to live the simple life and envying the happy peasant his careless poverty. The Romantics, of course were regarded as different, seeing engagement with nature as a spiritual or intellectual adventure, with no sense of wish-fulfilment or nostalgia. It was all a bit macho then, and we went in for the hidden violence in Ted Hughes' animal poetry (that thrush, for instance, a mechanical murderer, like something out of Terminator - what were we thinking?)

Well, we weren't entirely fair to the pastoral as a genre - though there's something to hang onto in there; it's awfully easy to slip into something that sounds as if it belongs in Country Living - pastoral poetry has a serious job to do, and we are in just the situation where we need it. Pastoral isn't really about playing Marie Antoinette - a bucolic holiday for spoilt or disappointed urban readers. It is almost always written in response to a time of social and political upheaval. It is almost always about renegotiating what's really important about human life, our place in the universe as individulas and as a species. And there is no doubt that this is what is driving so much of our writing and thinking. From geopoetics, eco-poetry, permaculture and transition, the revival of interest in crafts and slow food, to the upsurge in nature writing and deep ecology and earth-based spiritualities, we are really open to questions that pastoral poetry invites us to consider.

I've written before about this in Wilderness Poetry, but I've just started working on a translation of Virgil's Eclogues. It will take me ages. I've forgotten so much vocabulary, and I was always a bit slip-shod in my translations even when I was doing it all the time,but it's fascinating to take so much time to concentrate on the weight of each word.

Take 'lentus' in the fourth line of Eclogue 1, for instance. If you look it up quickly, you get 'slow' like in music, or 'tough' which are both a little bit weird in the context. If you go on (I got an enormous dictionary very cheap in a booksale at the Scottish Poetry Library) you get words like 'fixed', 'inactive', 'lingering'. Are we insulting our rustic shepherd - slow-witted, inert, a bit thick? No, not really. Although Meliboeus is comparing his hasty flight into exile with Tityrus' contented stay-at-home idyll, he is also talking about resilience, roots, belonging. To Virgil, as to many of us these days, stability comes with engagement with the earth; it is the foundation of a proper human life. Whether it is pleasant or peaceful or happy is not the point. There aren't any guarantees or illusions about it. But as we get into the Eclogues we realise that in more than one way, we are 'grounded'.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Coming into Flower

There's a whole lot of progress and change going on in this territory. The herbs are full and lush, and sage and thyme are drying in the kitchen for the winter.

The iris border has come magnificently into flower, all at once this time, instead of spreading itself out over a month.

The lavenders I bought last summer are bulking up, and beginning to show their true colours.

The pond is midge heaven this week - very annoying for me, but rather delightful for the tadpoles who are beginning to rise to the surface to catch them. And maybe this is what I have to thank for the large numbers of swallows, martins and especially swifts I am seeing in the early morning. I'm sure there are many more than last year, although the picture isn't uniformly good, as I'll tell you later.

Closer to the house the first rose is in flower.

And the vegetables are beginning to grow with a will. There are no lettuces from seed, nor spinach, as the slugs have had the lot, but peas, beetroot, leeks, sprouts, broccoli and courgettes are doing well, and in the greenhouse the tomatoes and the cucumber have made the most of last week's good weather.

On the riverbank, there is still a lot of feeding of baby birds going on. Blackbirds, wrens and dunnocks, are especially busy. The black-backed gull chicks have hatched, but not even the sight of the endearing balls of fluff running around the warehouse roof on their disproportionately long legs can reconcile me to the fact that the martin's nest I spotted two weeks ago is silent and abandoned. The gulls had the lot. I had hoped that the martins had just moved in under the roof of the tenement, but no, that is the starlings on brood#2!

There is also some exciting geopoetics news. We now have a facebook page and a twitter account @SCGeopoetics. I hope a lot of people who read this blog will like the page or follow the feed, and get all the news as it happens!

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Thinking Like a Tree

These are pictures from last year, and choosing them really showed me how late everything is. This time last year the alchemilla looked like this: and it does, just about!But in my May folder there are pictures of my iris border in full flower, and it's only just in bud now, and all these aquilegias - barle a twinkle in the border's eye!

Things are beginning to move very fast now. I still have the very last daffodils, the cowslips, the lily of the valley and the tulips, while the rowan and cow parsley are in flower and the sweet rocket - which may well go on all summer is begiining to show. The housemartin nests under the eaves across the river are full of noisy chicks already, though they only came back at the beginning of the month, and the first birds - the sparrows, starlings and chaffinches have fledged, and there are young greenfinches on the riverbank, while the black-backed gulls are still sitting tight on eggs.Tadpoles in the pond are large and very lively, and the magpies are courting disaster trying to fish for them - mostly without success. All the vegetables are planted out now, and the window-boxes are ready to go into place.

On the writing front, things are maturing nicely, mostly thanks to the conversations I have having with a poet I met at Wiston Hall - Cora Greenhill, which have not only moved me in a new direction, but made me more aware of the complex and multi-layered processes that go into my work - all of which should mean a bit less thrashing about in all directions trying to get moving, and a lot less settling for the quick and empty image-grab. If I've been a bit quiet lately, that's mostly why. I'm having a moratorium on the whole jumping-in-with-both-feet thing, becoming less of a magpie-mind and a bit more grounded, persistent and nurturing to my ideas - more like a tree, maybe? It's rather a pleasant process!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

New Blog Links

I've just added some new blogs to the list, following the Dark Mountain Weekend. Go check out, Graftage, The Poetry Pile, The Salt Road and Weaving Poetry - you won't regret it!