Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Reviewer Needed: Exchange by Chris Drury and Kay Syrad

April 29, 2016

We’re looking for someone to review Exchange by Chris Drury and Kay Syrad.
From Chris Drury’s website, “Exchange was produced in collaboration with Kay Syrad and was commissioned by Cape Farewell to look at sustainable ways of living and farming in relation to three farms in Sydling St Nicholas and Godmanston, West Dorset. The two farms in Sydling St Nicholas were Huish sheep farm and Dollens organic dairy farm. The other organic dairy farm was Manor Farm which is the other side of the downland watershed in Godmanston.”
Contact chris @ fremantle . org. Let us know what relevant expertise and experience you have. We are interested in this project both because of the collaboration between a visual artist and a poet and because of its duration and locality.

Call for Works: Tagore

February 24, 2016

THE SOIL IN return for her service
keeps the tree tied to her,
the sky asks nothing and leaves it free.

Fireflies, Rabindranath Tagore

Liz Adamson asked us to share that Professor Bashabi Fraser and Christine Kupfer are launching a new online journal called Gitanjali and Beyond, as part of their work at the Scottish  Centre of Tagore Studies.

Gitanjali and Beyond is a peer-reviewed open-access international journal, promoting creative writing and research on Rabindranath Tagore’s work and life, his circle and his impact. Tagore won the Noble Prize in literature (1913)

Call for artworks

We are looking for short articles with photos/ videos of artworks (painting, sculpture, photography, installation, performance art, new media etc.) for our new open-access online journal Gitanjali and Beyond, which publishes peer-reviewed academic articles, creative writing and art. Our upcoming issue is “Expression and relevance of Rabindranath Tagore’s spirituality in the arts, education and politics.” The artwork submissions do not have to directly relate to Tagore but should relate to aspects of his thinking related to this topic.

Rabindranath Tagore’s spiritual ideas are this-worldly and at the same time based on the belief in a deeper reality. His ideas were inspired by Hindu scriptures such as the Upanishads, Vaisnava, Baul, Buddhist and Persian traditions, the reformist involvement of his family in the Brahmo Samaj, and his encounters with ideas and people from around the world. At the same time, he creatively selected and reframed these ideas on the basis of his own revelations. Spirituality, for Tagore, touches every aspect of life and leads humanity to fullness and joy by connecting them with other people, with nature, and with spirituality. This connection is established through love, action and knowledge. Tagore’s spirituality has many social and political facets, as it encourages active involvement to make the world a better place by developing internationalism/cosmopolitanism, tolerance, and social engagement.

It is relevant for ecology as it embraces the connection and care for nature. He expressed all these ideas through his poetry and prose, through his educational and social endeavours, and through his art. Tagore’s ideas have been described as an artists’ religion, as they encourage creative interactions with the world.

Further inspiration can be found in his essays (e.g., https://fortunedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/sadhana-by-tagore.pdf) and in his poetry  (http://www.tagoreweb.in/StaticTOC/AlphabeticEnglishVersesIndex.aspx?ct=Verses).

Decisions on publications will be made by the Art Editorial Board of Gitanjali and Beyond, based on the quality of the work.

Please send your submissions to c.kupfer@napier.ac.uk until 17 April 2016.

ebban an’ flowan: a poetic primer for marine renewable energy

October 29, 2015

Alec Finlay recently announced the publication of ebban an’ flowan: a poetic primer on marine renewable energy.  More information below:

ebban an’ flowan
a primer for marine renewable energy

ebban an flowan sea structure
Alec Finlay and Laura Watts, with Alistair Peebles
pb, 56 pages, morning star, 2015; edition of 500 copies

Ebban an’ flowan is the world’s first poetic primer on marine renewable energy. The book focuses on the Orkney islands, as the leading international test site for this nascent energy industry, and expands to reflect on its relationship with the Nordic countries across the sea.

Through both language and technology, the book explores how use is inflected with locality. A number of tide and wave energy devices are illustrated, some in dock, others in the sea, along with an anthology of their characterful names–mixing humour with invocations of classical myth and metamorphosis.

Ebban an’ flowan explores the technical and mythic vocabulary which is evolving alongside marine energy devices. The book offers a unique, creative perspective on this social and technical world by gathering together maritime dialect expressions from across the Norse languages, connecting the older lore of the sea with the new lore of ocean energy generation. An innovative range of poems, maxims, and dictionaries connect tide and wave engineers with the older wisdom of mariners, fisherfolk, and mythic selkies or tangies, to suggest how a language of marine energy may, in some imagined future, grow from words, lodged in collective memory.

Languages also have their tides: the energy of speech, as its sound rises and lulls, is always ebban an’ flowan.

The project is inspired by ongoing social research in collaboration with people and places around marine energy in Orkney, conducted as part of the Alien Energy project at the IT University of Copenhagen.
ebban an flowan image

Laura Watts
writer, poet, ethnographer of futures, and Associate Professor at the IT University of Copenhagen; a writer who brings together the academic and poetic to imagine the future otherwise.

Alec Finlay
poet and artist; he has produced art and writing on all forms of renewable energy since 2005.

Alistair Peebles
artist and writer; the book includes his photographs of installations on Orkney, and a text work.

Price
10.00 GBP
13.00 EUR

ISBN: 978-1904477150

To get your copy please email info@alecfinlay.com, visit amazon.co.uk, or visit the bookshop at alecfinlay.com

Read more on Alec’s blog.

Environmental Art Festival Scotland 2015: what is art and ecology?

August 27, 2015
EAFS.  Photo Colin Tennant

EAFS. Photo Colin Tennant

The creative team at EAFS needed help this year and ecoartscotland provided some editorial support for the newspaper and an essay on art and ecology as voluntary contributions.  EAFS is an incredibly important development in Scotland (as was the UNFIX festival this year, also delivered by voluntary effort).  The essay below attempts to highlight some of the different ways of working that characterise ‘art and ecology’ practices.

Art and Ecology or “the context is half the work”

By Chris Fremantle with input from Ann T Rosenthal.

Landscape painting represents or idealizes ‘nature,’ usually by depicting wide vistas, such as seascapes, forests, and countrysides. Sometimes it also brings attention to the human impact on the land, such as wilderness vs. settlement. Given the environmental challenges we face today, however, environmental art goes beyond representation or even witnessing changes in the land to effect social change through raising awareness and/or actually restoring damaged landscapes. Some of the ways environmental art differs from more traditional art forms, like landscape painting, are discussed below.

Considering art made or in progress by artists who work with environments or ecosystems, there are a few key things to consider, such as whether the project is reflective, awareness-raising or interventionist. You’ll find various things called ecoartxxx but, unlike Young British Artists, such as Damien Hirst, this isn’t about individualism or celebrities.

So, what are some of the things that might characterise artists working with ecologies?

Context – this might be ‘place’ or ‘issue’, though in the interesting projects these are deeply bound together. The issue might be the deep experience of a place and its effect on a person. Personally I find Hamish Fulton’s piece NO TALKING: seven days walking in the Cairngorms (1988) to be a very personal provocation – could I not talk for seven days? The issue might be storm surges and their impact on coastlines. Eve Mosher was featured in The New Yorker because she had marked a high water line on parts of New York (2007). When Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012 the debris marked the same line. Everyone was amazed that an artist had predicted the impact of an extreme weather event. The context might be a remnant of the ancient Caledonian Forest. The Collins and Goto Studio have been working in the Blackwood of Rannoch (2012-ongoing) to imagine a future of eco-cultural well-being where the forest’s beauty and biodiversity become an icon for a different Scottish landscape.

Interdisciplinarity is often another central characteristic. Artists are using methods and processes that are selected based on the idea/issue/context rather than the skill they were taught at art school. Don’t get me wrong, if you ask the right questions you’ll find that what the artists learnt at art school is still fundamental to their practice. But whether in deep durational collaborations or in short interactions, artists working with environments and ecologies learn and use the knowledge and practices of natural and social sciences, read and seek to influence policy, work in teams and maintain relationships. The quality of interdisciplinarity is perhaps in the seemlessness of what results, such as with Cinema Sark in EAFS 2013 where Pete Smith, Professor of Soil and Plant Science, and John Wallace, film-maker, explored the ecosystem of the river Sark in a work that was at once excellent science and compelling film.

Education and volunteering is a common characteristic of those projects focused on awareness-raising and intervention. It is important to understand that this aspect of practice is not separate from the process of making the art, not ‘outreach’ once the art has been made – rather it must be understood to be intrinsic.

Novelty is less important than sharing. Iterating and the commons are recurrent themes. All of the characteristics noted above (context/issue, interdisciplinarity and education and volunteering) militate against that particular art world requirement for constant newness. In the art world too often the focus is on new things, whereas ecoart is more often about new understandings and revealing experiences of the world around us (and our place or impact within it). More specifically documentation of environmental and ecological projects often takes the form of action guides, sets of instructions, or toolkits. We can recognise the aesthetic of artists, but when groups in Miami (2013) and Bristol (2014) did versions of Eve Mosher’s High Water Line, it wasn’t a breach of copyright – in fact she celebrates it. They used the Action Guide produced by Mosher working with ecoartspace.

Leaving the world a better place than you found it might be an overarching concern. This is more radical that it might sound when you consider that the archetype of the ‘reckless, hedonistic and art for arts sake artist’ has been pervasive for the last century anyway. John Thackara suggested that we live between on the one hand the despair at the scale of the crisis and the complexity of the challenges, and on the other hand the hope in the multitude of examples of grassroots activism, but he also commented that ‘don’t be evil’ is not enough. We have to act in ways to leave things better than we find them as we move through the world.

Caledonian Everyday Discussions – Glossaries

May 13, 2015
Edvard Munch, The Yellow Log, 1912

Edvard Munch, The Yellow Log, 1912,

A panel of Foresters (2pm Saturday 16 May, Summerhall, Edinburgh), perhaps a Glossary might be in order (thanks to Robert Macfarlane and his new book Landmarks for the idea and the resources).

Forestry Commission Research Glossary. (Page to a letter, i.e. not particularly good for browsing).

Royal Forestry Society Glossary. (Some terms and some links – full glossary available to members, but one also finds a link to an article on Forestry and Painting by Andy Moffat arguing that specific paintings of forests contribute to foresters’ understanding).

Forests and Chases in England and Wales, c. 1000 to c. 1850; A Glossary of Terms and Definitions. (Obviously it’s England and Wales not Scotland, but an interesting historical resource).

Caledonian Everyday Discussion Pt 3 of 3

May 12, 2015

For the third in the series of Caledonian Everyday discussions (2pm Saturday 16 May, Summerhall) we have a panel comprising foresters (managers and researchers).

At the first panel (12 April) we were provided with an historical trajectory of the issues that Forestry Commission managers and researchers have been asked to take on. We started post war with pit props (a short hand for the role of forestry in the economy) through biodiversity (in the 80s) and community (in the 90s). But the shape of our forests, particularly the ancient woodlands such as Blackwood of Rannoch, have been affected by social and economic changes (human conflict) over a much longer timespan. This historical trajectory is from the period of Jacobite Revolts to the present.

Our second panel (9 May) started with the ways and reasons the Squamish First Nations people spent a decade taking back legal control over woodlands (Beth Carruthers). They were supported by the new Roundhouse Arts Centre in Vancouver who’s initial artist in residence project ended up lasting 10 years.

We went on to explore C19th logging on Rothiemurchus Estate (Scott Donaldson) and on to contested languages of forestry and the ways that poetry, for instance, can inflect political discourse (Amy Cutler). We ended with the democratic intellect in Scotland (Murdo Macdonald). Imperial and post-colonial, institutional and critical, understanding and misunderstanding, ran through this conversation.

For the panel on Saturday 16 May (2pm, Summerhall) we’ll take a different trajectory again.

Given an increased understanding that everything is connected, what do we need to be sensitive to in managing both ancient and urban woodlands, commercial plantations and even new sites for forestry such as the NHS Estate? What is the role of the arts and humanities? What is the role of cultural institutions?

To address these questions, we have a great spectrum of people involved in forestry including Bianca Ambrose, David Edwards, Richard Thompson and Rick Worrell.

Recently moved from the mountains of North Wales, Bianca Ambrose is a social forester, researcher and writer known for her work on public engagement and community connections with woodland who is now based in Bristol. A strong thread within her research work is to understand more about the motivations behind people’s engagement with woods and forests, how people feel themselves to be connected to place and with nature, and how this translates into group action and personal satisfaction. The concept of biocultural diversity and the complexities of socio-ecological systems are embedded within her work and thinking. Using environmental sociology and human geography as her epistemological frames of reference, biocultural diversity and socio-ecological systems are manifest as woodland and forest scale cultural landscapes, where agency is directed by culture, place presents the natural resources, and a cultural landscape results. Bianca’s recent work in the UK has involved research collaborations with community woodland groups, and communities involved in urban greenspaces both of which included travel to work in the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland. Previously, she worked in an international context exploring the biocultural diversity of tropical forests and semi-arid rangelands across the world in countries including Cameroon, Mali, Ethiopia, Nepal, India, and the Philippines.

David Edwards, Senior Social Scientist at Forest Research – the research agency of the Forestry Commission – started his career as a forester on rural development programmes in West Africa and South Asia. In 1997 he re-trained in African Studies at Edinburgh University, with a doctoral thesis on the environmental history of southern Tanzania. He joined Forest Research in 2004, where he leads a new programme, ‘Integrating science for policy and practice’, which aims to demonstrate how to conduct applied interdisciplinary research in ways that enhance its impact. He has a keen interest in the environmental humanities and has been collaborating with artists Tim Collins and Reiko Goto, and a diverse range of partners, to help realise the cultural meanings associated with the Black Wood of Rannoch, one of the largest remnants of ancient Caledonian pine forests in Scotland. In doing so, he has explored the contrast between the official instrumental discourse of ‘ecosystem services’ and the private narratives of aesthetic and spiritual connection and empathy with nature held by many ecologists and foresters – and the prospect that these less tangible values might be incorporated better into environmental decision-making.

Richard Thompson, Native Woodland Ecologist for Forest Enterprise Scotland – realised his vocation at the age of ten and spent his formative years doing voluntary nature conservation work. He has muddy boot origins having trained as a forester and worked for a few years supervising harvesting and forest management. However, his interest in nature conservation soon led to an appointment as a conservation forester in Mid Wales and subsequently, a project leader in Forest Research’s Northern Research Station, specialising in the ecology and silviculture of upland native woodlands. Richard now provides strategic and site based advice on native woodland management on the national forest estate focusing on the restoration of planted ancient woodland sites, the improvement of condition in ancient semi-natural woodlands and the restoration and expansion of rare woodland types such as montane scrub and Atlantic hazelwoods. The aesthetic complexity of the “natural” environment and palimpsest of cultural use form important facets of Richard’s interest in native woods.

Rick Worrell is a self-employed forestry consultant who specialises in the management of native and broadleaved woodland. He has been involved in woodland survey, planning, management, research and policy development; working for private owners, Forestry Commission, local authorities and environmental charities. He is one of a small group of people who argued for native woodlands to be brought into the forestry in the 1980s; and has made a career out of working with the forestry profession to develop the collective competence to manage them. After 25 years we are only part way through that process.

He owns a small ancient oak woodland together with 4 other families, near Aberfeldy, where woodland management becomes personal and collective, and gets entangled with family life. He also, after many years of trying, persuaded a commercial forest owner to sell him a couple of acres of spruce plantation behind his house, which he is restoring to native woodland.

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday.

Caledonian Everyday Discussions Pt 1 of 4

April 7, 2015

_IGP4408bsm

As part of Sylva Caledonia, one of Summerhall’s contributions to Edinburgh International Science Festival, we are holding a discussion, Caledonian Everyday in four parts.  The first part will take place on Sunday 12 April at 2pm at Summerhall (Anatomy Lecture Theatre).

We are very pleased that Paul Tabbush, Chair of the Landscape Research Group (Bio), will join the exhibiting artists to discuss key questions imagining the future of forests in Scotland.

The key questions are:

  • Who knows what (and who decides) about the ancient woodlands of Scotland?
    Management of forests is no longer restricted to issues of extraction vs biodiversity. In a field including wild and free forest (no management), community management and extraction, and a science-based biodiversity management system, what are the various implications? Who decides? Who benefits? Who speaks for the forest and other living things?
    .
  • What can the arts and humanities contribute to well-being of non-human?
    The iconic and of the everyday:“ where is the Caledonian forest embodied in the central belt? Can a deeper ecological community and its aesthetic experience be nurtured within a city?  Is it a bonsai forest or a living ecosystem?
    .
  • How can the arts and cultural institutions of Scotland enrich our relationship?
    Attachment and the challenges of creating connections: do cultural institutions have a role in the public awareness and well-being of ancient forests? Do the institutions of Scotland enrich our relationship with ancient Caledonian forests? What are the examples of practice in making these connections?

Download the SylvaCaledoniaCatalogue

The subsequent panels will be held on:

  • Saturday 25th April, 2pm
  • Satuday 9th May, 2pm
  • Saturday 16th May, 2pm

 

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David Borthwick: Review of Estuary, by Lydia Fulleylove, with artwork by Colin Riches

January 5, 2015

David Borthwick, who runs the University of Glasgow’s masters programme Environment, Culture and Communication at the university’s Dumfries Campus, reviews Lydia Fulleylove’s Estuary, a new book of poems published by the excellent Two Ravens.

Estuaries are, as in the title of one of Raymond Carver’s stories, ‘where water comes together with other water,’ fresh into salt, and as estuaries are characterised by tidal influx, where salt reaches back upriver.  They are transitional zones where local systems meet global ones, the activities of the land meet the open sea; indeed, they are also open to the tractive pull of moon and sun, linking them to celestial bodies too.  An estuary is defined by relational forces, then, and this also makes it a profoundly susceptible space.  One might say an estuary is produced through its myriad relations.

Estuaries are profoundly cosmopolitan areas, rich in the symbolism of transition, and this is perhaps why these environments have proven fertile grounds for poets in recent years.  The Severn estuary, in particular, has received considerable attention in both Alice Oswald’s book length A Sleepwalk on the Severn, and Philip Gross’ collection The Water Table (both 2009).  Oswald refers to ‘this beautiful / Uncountry of an Estuary’.[1]  Her ‘uncountry’ is ‘both a barren mudsite and a speeded up garden’.  It is between, untenable, and indefinable, irreducible to notions of rootedness, permanence or stability.  Phillip Gross describes an estuary in terms of its ‘indefinite grounds’, characterised by ‘constant inconstancy’; its ‘indefinable grounds’ and ‘irrefutable grounds’: ‘six hours and the grounds / are remembered.  Forgotten. Remembered’.[2]

Lydia Fulleylove’s Estuary, published by Lewis based Two Ravens Press, adds to but also enlarges this resurgent interest in estuaries.  Centred on the River Yar estuary in the west of the Isle of Wight, Fulleylove’s eclectic book demonstrates in its very form the power of relationality.  The book is part nature daybook—a diary of visits to the estuary, interactions with it over the course of a year—but also a poetry collection.  It also has elements of deeply personal memoir.  One of the book’s strengths is that Fulleylove cannot bracket off her personal relations (an aging father during illness), her job as a creative writing tutor at HMP Isle of Wight, nor indeed the politics which sees one of the estuary’s farms carefully dismantled during her period of residency in the area.  It is all of a part, each element a channel or rivulet in the book’s flow outwards.  This is only added to by Colin Riches’ contribution of artwork at the collection’s centre: pictorial representations of estuary features, animals (domestic and wild), and artefacts.  Many of these have been created using materials from the estuary as their medium: estuary mud, sheep dung, bramble juice.

Colin Riches, 'moon and stream'

Colin Riches, ‘moon and stream’, silt, oil and acrylic

Fulleylove and Riches employ sensory information as a key part of their work here.  In one poem, the artist is observed at work:

Dung, mud, ink. The artist makes

the cow in the winter barn,

legs tucked under like a cat,

tail pressed close. Black eye watchful,

nostrils, ears flared. Long after

she is gone, these marks will call up her absence,

draw her presence out of dark.

This attempt to capture presence is vital, poetic and visual work going hand in hand as a means of representing the estuary faithfully, even as the environment shifts around one with the tide:

cracked mud mud-gasps

river dark glass

look down clouds sky

look up clouds sky

here is river

see sea-river

The stutters and repetitions here enact not only the process of trying to write the estuary, but its own particular and fluid behaviour.  Everything described must relate to the estuary, the estuary itself formed by these relations, and with all being fluid this negotiation even reaches into the language that Fulleylove uses.  The process of rounding up sheep is rendered in riverine terms.  Sheepdogs are:

Swift, slick

they whip round the sheep,

close to the ground. The flock

runs like a river into the pen

any stray rivulet

channelled back in.

It’s done almost before it’s seen.

Colin Riches, 'Reed and River', reed, earth, ink and gouache

Colin Riches, ‘Reed and River’, reed, earth, ink and gouache

What separates Fulleylove’s book from some of the celebrated ‘New Nature Writing’ is that it continually brings the reader back to community, away from the writer’s solitary observations and into the eddies and turbulence of issues affecting wider concerns.  Local writers’ and artists’ groups are taken out into the estuary to experiment.  Farmers’ views are recorded verbatim and inserted into poems.  Most powerfully, the estuary is brought indoors in order to engage prisoners with an external environment they cannot access.  Among the artefacts offered to prisoners are leaves: ‘what the men most want to do with the leaves is to smell them.  A leaf is passed round nose to nose.’  Sensory apprehension again.  The prisoners’ reflections in their own writing are recorded here too.

Colin Riches, 'Last Year's Leaves', mixed media

Colin Riches, ‘Last Year’s Leaves’, mixed media

There is a powerful social justice imperative within the book, from the treatment of the poet’s father in institutional care, to the politics of landscape which places farmland in ownership that cares not for local experience and traditions— and of course to the welfare of those in prison.

Estuary tacitly suggests that all of Fulleylove’s concerns are intimately connected.  Indeed, connection is a recurring motif.  A Schoolgroup is taken to see the last of the farm’s animals as it is transformed from an Aberdeen Angus carcass to food.  The visit is meant to reconnect the children with the food chain because, as Fulleylove notes, ‘we can’t be disconnected from this earth’.

And yet because we are ‘wrapped in layers of distance’ from the nonhuman world, and perhaps from each other, we ignore the interconnections which inform and shape us all.  From the flora and fauna of the estuary, to the farms upon it, and even the prison, relations exist which conjoin to form a relational space.  In short, the estuary, this place, exists only as the total interactivity of these factors.  There is no ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, but a reciprocal set of interactions in which we are all enmeshed.  In Fulleylove’s thoughtful book, the estuary becomes a powerful symbol for relations and responsibilities.

Indeed, in her prologue Fulleylove says that all of the book’s segments exist as ‘as sign of having been there, evoking the relationship with place at that moment’.  The work is, she says, ‘a dialogue’; it is all about ‘the act of paying attention’: using the senses, different materials, extending empathy to the lives of others, both human and non-human.

In a relatively slight book of under a hundred pages, Fulleylove manages to weave together all of the elements of the local environment on the Yar estuary.  Her vision is clear, her work concise and potent.  She is capable of reflecting back and forth in landscape, and in time, in a way that makes the book more than a diary of a specific place, but an exploration of a place’s multiplicity through the seasons, in which every detail is made to resonate, and flow outwards from itself:

I pick one barley stalk from this dry sea

to stick on the white field of my page.

Winter, I’ll look back at slant, hard-packed grain,

like Brent geese streaming in close line.

Colin Riches, 'Estuary Artefact', stone, wool, and wheat stalk

Colin Riches, ‘Estuary Artefact’, stone, wool, and wheat stalk

[1] Alice Oswald, A Sleepwalk on the Severn (London: Faber, 2009), p. 3.

[2] Philip Gross, ‘The Water Table (Tarset, Northumberland: Bloodaxe, 2009), pp 47-48.

David Borthwick: Review of Into the Forest

January 18, 2014

Mandy Haggith, ed., Into the Forest: An Anthology of Tree Poems (Glasgow: Saraband, 2013), pp. 280.

Image

Into the Forest, cover image by Carry Ackroyd (by permission Saraband)

An early linkage between literature and ecology in the recent revival of nature writing, Kim Taplan’s book Tongues in Trees (1989) investigated the connection between humans and woodland, trying to tease out our obsession with but also phobia about these tremendous, living forms that surround and frequently dwarf us:

Because they are primeval, because they outlive us, because they are fixed, trees seem to emanate a sense of permanence.  And though rooted in earth, they seem to touch the sky.  For these reasons it is natural to feel we might learn wisdom from them, to haunt about them with the idea that if we could only read their silent riddle rightly we should learn some secret vital to our own lives.[1]

In Gossip from the Forest (2012), Sara Maitland used stories and essays precisely to ‘haunt about’ forests in search of connections, and secrets.

For the past few years poet, novelist and environmental campaigner Mandy Haggith has been gathering together poems which speak of the folklore, mythology, inspiration and ecology of forest habitats.  Her windfall has now been collected in an exciting (and beautifully-illustrated) new anthology Into the Forest.

Image

Kate Cranney, Oak leaf, from Into the Forest (by permission Saraband)

Emerging from the A-B-Tree / A-B-Craobh project, a series of creative events celebrating woodland, the anthology follows the Gaelic tree alphabet (every letter of the Gaelic alphabet, Haggith informs us, has an associated tree or shrub).  The anthology is a documentary of native woodland species, then, as well as a collection of poetry.  Each section, from Birch to Bramble, Pine to Heather, Willow to Yew, begins with an introduction to the tree’s principal features in terms of its ecological properties, its mythological associations, and historical uses: ‘birch makes good firewood, is light and easy to whittle or turn on a lathe, and its sap has many medicinal purposes.’  We are told that ‘you can see the present, past and future on an alder branch: last year’s empty cones, this year’s cones and next year’s catkins, and to the Greeks, alder was sacred to the god time of, Kronos.’

Within each section, we find a dizzying array of poets historical and contemporary, from giants of the poetry canon such as Seamus Heaney, Sylvia Plath and Robert Frost to contemporary poets including John Glenday, Thomas A. Clark, and Haggith’s fellow Walking with Poets resident Jean Atkin.

There are very few weak poems here, and Haggith has carefully selected examples within each section which are capable of holding a dialogue with each other to further illuminate or question the tree species they feature.  Linda Saunders’ Birch tree in November is ‘the stripped tree, scraffiti of branches / against morning’s dull steel’, contrasting with G.F. Dutton’s young birches which ‘shriek green laughter up the hill / billow on billow.’  The trees go on transforming within, between, and across the collection.  The metamorphic, protean, liquid nature of trees is emphasised: rooted forms which are nevertheless rarely static: ‘The tree leans, he / is about to move, he / has achieved a rigid balance between / moving and not moving, earth and air’ (Robin Fulton MacPherson, ‘Variations on a Pine Tree).

The anthology is a careful and thoughtful one, which has grown out of interactions with woodland, with people, with poetry, and shows the way in which they are entwined, connected, in possession of a shared system of roots.


[1] Kim Taplan, Tongues in Trees: Studies in Literature and Ecology (Bideford, Devon: Green Books, 1989), p. 14.

David Borthwick teaches literature and the environment at the University of Glasgow’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies in Dumfries. His current research at the Solway Centre for Environment and Culture explores contemporary ecopoetry.

David Borthwick: Footings and Entanglements

November 22, 2013

Dave Borthwick highlights two new books of poetry.  Entanglements is an anthology for which Dave wrote the Introduction, and includes work by amongst others Alec Finlay, Gerry Loose, Em Strang and Jim Carruth.  You can find out more and order from Two Ravens Press.

Footings is a new collection of specially commissioned poems focused on walking and comes from Longbarrow Press in Sheffield.  Dave has kindly provided this review for ecoartscotland.

Longbarrow Press is a small publisher of a suite of experimental poets, producing a creative output whose eclecticism is its hallmark. Longbarrow believes that the poem should dictate the output, and has to date produced publications in the form of acetates, maps, and matchboxes. This commitment to formal and thematic experimentation is carried forward into its newly-published anthology The Footing, a collection of commissioned poems on the theme of walking and landscape.

This is not a walker’s collection in the sense of exploring pleasing prospects or aesthetic epiphanies, though, but rather a series of often weary journeys where history and memory make uneasy fellow travellers, where ‘Night settles over everything’, ‘the single row of shuttered shops. / 2.00am, deserted streets and cul-de-sacs’ (James Caruth, ‘Nocturne’). Less rooted in, but emanating from, Sheffield these are poems that move through edgelands and riparian zones, a hauntology of locations where the walker is perpetually disturbed, moved on, and so moving off. Andrew Hirst’s ‘Three Night Walks’ has the poet ‘scuttling along the curb’s ledge / alone, unsettled, residual.’

Rob Hindle follows ‘Flights and Traverses (5 itineraries)’ including ‘the supposed migration of Richard Marsden, an ancestor’ in 1782, the sequence ending on ‘a descent in the traces of the first of the Luftwaffe raids on Sheffield’. Chris Jones’ ‘Death and the Gallant’ reimagines the Reformation—with its destruction of artwork and symbolism—as seen through the eyes of a traveller contracted to daub and destroy iconography: ‘we’re pilgrims too’, he explains. Fay Musselwhite’s excellent poems are the voices of the Rivelin’s latter-day spirits ‘tunnelling / under a low stone bridge’ or trekking ‘though woods’ winter skeletons’ by the riverside.

The Footing’s seven poets each explore their territory with sensitivity, but without sentiment, their psychogeographical mappings manifesting the interconnections of territory, memory and experience in vivid, and wonderfully unsettling, terms.

Angelina Ayers, James Caruth, Mark Goodwin, Rob Hindle, Andrew Hirst, Christ Jones, Fay Musselwhite, The Footing (Sheffield: Longbarrow Press, 2013). pp. 95. £12.  See also http://thefooting.wordpress.com/, with links to SoundCloud recordings of poems.

David Borthwick teaches literature and the environment at the University of Glasgow’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies in Dumfries. His current research at the Solway Centre for Environment and Culture explores contemporary ecopoetry.


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