Sunday, 27 February 2011

Resilience building 2

Back in the autumn, I posted about building resilience. I think you'll notice that my proof-reading on that occasion was not up to much! Since then we've had the longest and worst winter of recent years, and I got the chance to test just how resilient I really was. Not so much, as it turned out!

The thing is, is isn't just about Being Prepared. Yes, we were caught on the hop because the frost came so early - the garlic only went in last week, and I'm reliably informed that this means it will all run to seed, and I might as well not have bothered. The answer for next year is to plant them in pots. But that means having potting compost, but I didn't and the chances of getting to a garden centre in all that ice were something less than zero. Something else to be prepared for this year!

The thing is that our definition of being prepared has to change. We are used to 'just in time' ordering, so we're not stockpiling stuff like our grannies, and therefore having to create storage space, which we have to maintain and service. But just in time ordering doesn't mean less waste, it just pushes the waste down the line, so ther people have to stockpile, and deliver the small loads we need, or else we have to make extra trips, and so on - and, as we all found out, it makes the supply lines very vulnerable. If you could get to the shops the shops didn't have the stock, and if you were snowed in and ordered on line, the deliveries couldn't get through.

The other vulnerability I found was the domino effect. If I planned to do one thing, and if failed, or took longer I couldn't get to the next thing because it depended on having done the first - and so on through the day. Not only did I have a whole complex of jobs not done, but I was completely frazzled and frustrated, and frankly miserable.

A neat, sleek, efficient programme with all your tasks batched and your gaps time designated looks like a work of art on paper. And I've had a life full of distractions and derailments - you have no idea how satisfying it is to look at a plan for a week that is consistent and productive and creative after so many years being on call for everybody else. But it is a recipe for disaster.

A resilient system has to be resilient all along the line. We have to wire our systems in parallel, not in series. There's a downside to this - complexity.

Instead of getting all your stuff from one source (shopping, energy, water, employment) which will give you a good deal in return for commitment, we are going to have to mix and match. We're going to have to stop looking for 'magic bullet' solutions, too. No pesticides that wipe out everything that bothers us. We will have to learn to live with a predictable and manageable level of damage with the trade-off that it's better for all the other species on the planet, not just us. We will have to have power from a mix of different sources, with the trade-off that we'll never have to be totally without, even if it's less than we want.

But the big trade-off is that it sparks creativity. And creativiity is the happiest experience than a human being can have in this life. A happy harmonious planet makes for happy harmonious people. As without, so within.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Burned Thumb
The holy grail, distilled wisdom
of all the world, slips sideways
through the fingers of authority.
Never mind the years of waiting,
the great fish caught and gutted,
the dragon trapped in the pit,
the long simmered broth of herbs,
it always goes astray. The poet
is always that chance apprentice
sucking his clumsy thumb,
scarred, accidental, listening.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

As Without So Within

Astrologers have a saying "as above so below", meaning that what goes on in the sky is reflected in what goes on down here. Now I'm not big on astrology, being a fairly rational kind of person (but we'll get to the faith vs science bit next week), but one thing I have discovered.

Whatever goes on inside ourselves is reflected in the outside world. And this is crucially important just now.

We are undoubtedly up against it, not only in this country (recession, bankers, Tories, spending cuts, petrol prices, food prices, pensions, social services, just give DC a horned helmet and call him Attila) but as a species, as a planet. Loss of biodiversity is the biggest threat to planetary survival at this time, and the biggest threat to biodiversity is climate change. We really are all in this together. It's time for radical action.

And yet. One of the biggest planks in my lúcháir project strategy is stress reduction. Meditation. Down-time. Chilling and living in the moment. Why? Because 'as within, so without'.

Why do we over-consume? Anxiety. We comfort shop. We defend ourselves with stock-piles of stuff we don't need 'just in case'. We feel we have to have our own stuff rather than borrowing because we are too uptight to lend or borrow comfortable. We have to have our own space because we get anxious being too involved with other people. We are security nuts (though this is a bad time to talk about security the week after almost all the sheds in the village were broken into. They didn't touch ours although it would have been dead easy, and they didn't seem to take anything but garden tools which was all they'd have got anyway). Everything from burglar alarms to nuclear weapons is a stress-related purchase.

We also make foolish, short-term and irrational decisions under stress, which inevitably leads to waste and inefficiency. And we fall down on our good resolutions, and then have to cheer ourselves up and start all over again. A stressed person is not only ineffective, but despondent, resentful, self-pitying, and frankly no fun.

If we are really going to tackle the enormous problems of the way we live, we are going to have to start with a bit of useless, self-indulgent navel-gazing. We need to be job fit. And that doesn't include guilt trips, bullying, or self-righteousness. Just chill for a bit, and we can start fair.

Friday, 18 February 2011

A River of Stones

I just heard that one of my 'small stones' from January will be in the forthcoming anthology. It was this one

Penguin Book of Irish Poetry edited by Patrick Crotty

I set myself a reading challenge this year, to read three anthologies, of Irish poetry, American women poets and Chinese Rivers and Mountains poetry. And to back this up, I've chosen three individual poets, Neruda, Cavafy and Basho - partlybecause I like them so much, partly because their poetry is very different from mine. I needed to shake things up a little.

I've just finished the first book, and here it is.

This is a big book - family Bible sized at least, and in my house I'm not sure that it isn't going to get chained to something, as Bibles sometimes were, to make sure it stays where I can get it. It's a tremendous resource, covering in great depth about fifteen centuries of Irish poetry both in Irish and in English. There was stuff here I knew and loved - and sometimes in new translations that wake me up to things I hadn't seen before, stuff I knew about but hadn't been able to track down, and a lot of stuff, particularly the later medieval poetry and the poetry of the nineteenth and early twentieth century that I didn't know existed. Real treasures.

It revised a lot of things I thought I knew about Ireland, both wiser, more light-hearted, more cosmopolitan than the stereotype, but also sometimes darker and more cruel. Patrick McDonagh's O Come to the Land captures the ambivalence of the whole collection as he balances a an overt expression of kindliness hospitatlity and culture, with a hidden experience of poverty, repression and callousness. Religion is a repository of wisdom, security and compassion but also sometimes an instrument of torment. Women are sometimes powerful, hard-working, outspoken, frankly sexual, sometimes aloof passive dream-figures, sometimes treated with contempt. They get more of a showing in this volume throught the ages than they would in a similar collection of English verse.

Best of all, Patrick Crotty includes songs and ballads alongside the poems, so we get Patrick Kavanagh's On Raglan Road and Christy Moore's Lisdoonvarna as well as Yeats' predictable Salley Gardens. (and McBreen's Heifer and Slathery's Mounted Fut by Percy French which were part of my childhood. I don't really see much of a gap between poetry and song myself, and I think the closeness and connection is a big strength of Scottish poetry as well as Irish. It certainly brings a lot to this book.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Brides Chickens

Harbingers of spring,
the sound of oystercatchers
whistling in the dark.

We went up to the university last night to see Chico and Rita (not as good as the hype - showing nudity and drug-taking doesn't make animation 'adult'), and as we left the car park the air was full of the whistling of returning oyster-catchers. They nest on the flat roofs during the spring and they are incredibly noisy, especially at night. In gaelic the are known as ghille-bridhe (the servants of Bridget) because they usually arrive round about her feast day, which is why they are also called Bride's chickens.

Friday, 11 February 2011

As Above So Below

The cloud on the hill drifts down
to meet the damp green on the grass
the wet tarmac, disintegrating leaves
despondent gardens

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

First day of real gardening

The weather was so nice at the weekend. I got all the pots tidied up

and on Sunday we went to buy potting compost, - and a few other things---

and today was going to be the day when things got moving. I was going to plant the witch hazel and the aconites, set out the garlic I bought back in November just before the frost and snow, and maybe start some early potatoes in the greenhouse.
I was defeated by the frost last night - not a very hard one, but enough to persuade me that it wasn't a good time to take risks. I did get some clearing up done, however, and in the course of it I found that some things have already heard the starting whistle:

These bright red shoots are elecampane. It will get to over six feet high and have bright yellow flowers like disshevelled daisies in the summer.Basically it is an aspirational dandelion, but it's cheerful and easy - and look at that red! I found it growing wild near the ruins of St Brendan's monastery on Eilach a Naoimh once, cut very short by the winds; it may have been deliberately planted, as it had some herbal value - the roots were used for cough cures.

I'm really thrilled to find this pot looking so lively. The bright green leaves are hyssop, a mediterranean herb which really doesn't like damp and which has failed me several years in the ground. The cold this winter doesn't seem to have been nearly such a big problem as sitting about in mild wet soil in previous years.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Of Gods and Men directed by Xavier Beauvois

I went to see the film Of Gods and Men last night. Chretien de Chergé has been one of my heroes since his Testament was published. I'd put a link to this remarkable document except that it's only available in French, for some reason I don't understand!

The film reminded me of the gentle charming Etre et Avoir in its quiet fragmentary build-up of the relations between characters but the themes are so much darker. The monks of the Atlas Mountain monastery are caught between the violence of terrorists and the aggression of the army - and to this day no-one knows for certain which side killed them.

Dome Donald McGlynn of Nunraw Abbey tells the full story here. he was responsible for publishing a lot of the background information about the monastery, and it was noticeable how close the film kept to this material.

The other thing I noticed about the film was its restraint. There was no taking of sides. There was no glossing over the divisions between the monks as life got more dangerous. They were shown as well-meaning, but not too wise, brave, but not noble, good but perhaps not always right. There was very little violence. There was no way of identifying the killers, whose faces were alwys in shadow. And at the end we did not see the deaths. Monks and kidnappers quietly disappeared into the snow.

Two shots will always stand out for me. One is the taking of a photograph in the last peaceful days before the end. All the monks are standing together in the sunshine, smiling. I have a copy of the real photo on prayer cards -it is so close to that shot. It must have been a labour of love. And the other is when the monks are singing an Easter litugy, almost but not quite drowned out by the sound of the helicopter above. Gradually the brothers come together, their arms around each other, proclaiming the persistence of light and hope.

Sometimes the enemy of your enemy is not your friend. Sometimes the way we defend ourselves is more dangerous than the gullibility of being trusting and compassionate.

Yesterday on Facebook the poet Andrew Philip posted this
picture of Christians protecting Muslims at prayer in Liberation Square in Egypt, and reminded us that at Christmas there were Muslims protecting Christian churches during the services. It's important to realise that this can happen, the value of honouring other people's beliefs whether we share them or not.

As for the rest of us, we stumble and get up again, stumble and get up again. And learn to forgive ourselves and each other, every time.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

New month, new season

This was Tuesday. look at it, all new buds and promises

The jasmine on the yard had another go at flowering -

the pond had no ice for the first time in over two months

But this morning it was snowing again. There's not much at this level, and what there is, is melting fast, but the hills are all outlined in white again, and up north the traffic is having a hard time.

By the river things are looking battered and bleak.

It will take a week or two for the new growth to green up. But there's something in the air. The migrating birds are beginning to get restless and there was a blackbird near the top of a sapling rowan tuning up for the coming spring.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Slokt by Sea by Nalini Paul

Slokt by Sea was also launched by Red Squirrel on 17th January. It grew out of nalini Paul's year in residence in Orkney as George Mackay Brown Writing Fellow. It's a quiet book, a bit disenegaged for my taste at the moment, but full of good things.The word 'slokt' means drenched, or quenched, and the book is thoroughly soaked in Nalini Paul's engagement with the sea, from a first encounter with high water crossing the Churchill barriers to a distant view of the Old Man of Hoy. It is full of music Lark Ascending, Danse Macabre and traditional Orkney fiddle music, and haunted by the legendary selkies - the seal-people, human on land and seal in the sea.

She is very conscious of landscape and weather. There is rain:
Sheets of rain sweep over the streets
against flats
into gutters
saturating leaves

and wind, peat and birds. I love her snapshot of gannets off Lerwick;

scissors fold shut
before the plunge

and the night sky:

a bowl of hidden stars

and the way she uses colours and textures, as in the first poem Moth, or in Sunshine in the Hope. I hope there are more Orkney poems to come.

Defragmenting Sappho by Kevin Cadwallender

It's two weeks since Red Squirrel launched Kevin Cadwallender's new book, Defragmenting Sappho so it's more than time I reviewed it, especially since I had it read by the time I got home that night.

Kevin is known for his excellent performance poetry, very funny, very well-performed, but also thought-provoking and extremely intelligent. And though the launch was also a brilliant performance, with music and readings by fellow-poet Sophia Walker, no-one was really ready for the new departure this book is.

Essentially Kevin Cadwallender has reconstructed poems from the fragments which are all we have from the 7th century BC poet Sappho. He studied them intensely in the translations of Anne carson, deliberately restricting his vocabulary to what is known of hers, and producing sixty new composite poems.

The result is passionate, tender, lyrical. Sappho praises, teases, reproaches, remembers lost loves, entices new ones, confronts old age, infidelity and mortality

Someone will remember us, I say,
even in another time
when our bones are whiter than an egg (58).
Sometimes there is a lot to work with - as in the above example. Occasionally there is very little:
Sunset stoops over the hill
slowly like an old man
putting out fire.

(the italicised words are Sappho's)

It is moving, astonishing, a little bit obsessive. It's brilliant.