Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

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

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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.

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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.

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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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