Posts Tagged ‘Gerry Loose’

Camilla Nelson: An Oakwoods Almanac in Review

February 22, 2016

 

There is much to explore in this Almanac of entries, some more sculpted than others, compiled by the poet Gerry Loose as he wandered the familiar and foreign oakwoods of Sunart and Saari in 2007, 2008 and 2010.

An Oakwoods Almanac is arranged in two parts. The first, ‘Sunart’, takes its name from the Scottish oakwood and contains entries made in and around this area from September 2007 to June 2008. ‘Saari’, the second, shorter and more focussed section, contains entries made in and around the Finnish oakwood (from which this section takes its name) between September and November 2010. These two parts have very different qualities and characters. The first, ‘Sunart’, is a fog of place names and organism activity that weave in and out of an oakwood that you may or may not be inhabiting at any one time. There are no maps. Dates are partial. And it feels like Loose is only partly committed to this text as a publishable piece of writing. You are as likely to be treated to reflections on the conflict in Israel as you are to a detailed observation of ants. The mind wanders and the text, correspondingly, disorientates. In contrast, ‘Saari’ has no maps, but the structure is clear. This section provides days, dates, months and place names with which to orient the reader. In ‘Sunart’ you are never quite sure where you are or what time it is. In ‘Saari’ you even get subheadings. ‘Saari’ is a series of highly focussed snapshots and polished reflections. Loose’s entries shine hard and bright, like the ‘diamond pointed minds’ (136) of the raptors he references. If ‘Saari’ is something to share, ‘Sunart’ is for himself.

If I wasn’t interested in the dynamics of writing in and about place, Loose might have lost me with ‘Sunart’. In this first section, Loose is so much a part of his surroundings that he is largely absent to himself and the reader. He forgets that his audience are strangers both to him and to the oakwoods he inhabits. His account is intimate. We find his thoughts and language in a state of disarray. We are mainlined into his stream of consciousness; we inhabit what Loose inhabits, unedited. The partiality of flitting from one thing to another is set down faithfully, in the moment, with the result that the writing may only make partial sense. We are half-blind. Loose is fluent in these woods and takes this knowledge for granted, making no allowance for our ignorance. In this section, we get a sense of our guide more through his patterns of thought than through any direct detail; he is mostly speaking to himself.

There are two entries that, together, give a good sense of what it is like to read ‘Sunart’. The first, written on the 10th October 2007, describes Loose’s relationship to words:

I have too many words. What’s written here is spontaneous, I’ve nothing to lose but the words. It may be a broadcloth journal, from cutout bits from poems; the poems are the holes in the cloth from which they’ve been cut. Like the Jain image of the released spirit, a negative, because they are not yet written. In the surrounding material are many repetitions in pattern, like speech. (23)

This almanac ‘may be a broadcloth journal’, a word hoard, or spontaneous site of notes that fill the store cupboard from which future poems might later ferment. This is both suggested and immediately counteracted as a possibility. It is not that the poems will later be cut from this broadcloth of spontaneous jottings but that this broadcloth is already a collage, formed ‘from cutout bits from poems’. The journal is less a continuous piece and more of a patchwork quilt; a quilt made from the leftover fabric from which these poems have been already cut. Except this is not quite it either because the poems do not yet exist, or exist only in negative, ‘because they are not yet written’. But if they are not yet written, how have they formed holes in the text? I’m pushing the text, perhaps more than is warranted, in order to excavate what it is Loose is delivering for the reader. This excerpt shows how ‘Sunart’ can be both suggestive and confusing, a combination that can be frustrating – it gestures towards what it could give you, but doesn’t. ‘Sunart’ rewritten would be a very different oakwood. There is something to be gained from the honesty of setting down words as they arrive but this act of recording unstructured thoughts and leaving the reader to make sense of them could also be seen as presumptuous; other writers have to rewrite and restructure but this writer doesn’t have to – why? Is publishing a work before it is fully-formed an act of laziness on the part of an author who won’t rewrite or an act of generous vulnerability, exposing prose in its ‘purest’ formation, only just out of the mind? It is these questions that makes this text an interesting work to study, but not always an easy one to read. ‘Sunart’ is a word store, pre clear-out, and we are often lost in its midden.

The second entry I want to look at, written on 29th December 2007, describes Loose’s perceptual approach to Sunart oakwoods:

There is a need to approach Sunart oakwoods obliquely. Like sitting. Sitting very still, alert and relaxed, waiting for something to arrive: a deer, maybe, or an owl. If I look at trees in the dusk directly, they dance in vision; it’s the way our eyes are physically made. Look to one side and the tree is clearer. I approach the tree sideways, a little nervous of their history and presence. I count geese, deer, list mosses, enumerate spiders, look out to sea with my back to the woods, holly and birch and alder all around. It’s as if to look directly is somehow to obscure a latency, a voice that I want to listen to; but it’s not enough to be attentive, scientific; it’s necessary to be receptive. I’m impatient. I’ll not live as long as an oak. (61)

This entry provides the rationale for ‘Sunart’s mode of delivery. It also sheds light on Loose’s decision to leave this section so unreconstructed, and potentially offers a guide to the reader. Loose’s approach to understanding this oakwood is oblique, perhaps our reading method should be similar? Loose is wary of disturbing the oakwood’s fragile voice with the violence of direct attention. Perhaps the violent kind of truth-searching to which I subjected the word-store excerpt is an example of precisely what Loose is trying to avoid. I can identify with this feeling. It is something I felt when working with a tree for three years in Cornwall. There is a different logic among trees. A human cannot contain the expansiveness of the relationships at work there. We have to insert ourselves into the network – to be rather than do – in order to feel how these relationships work, and even then we have already disturbed something. The counting of geese and deer, the listing of mosses, the enumeration of spiders are gestures, fine-fingered attempts to store fragments from which to reconfigure a whole. Loose has tried to capture a sense of these threads without pulling a hole in the fabric, but the oakwood is no clearer as a result. In response to William Carlos Williams, Loose writes that ‘Things have their own ideas, they’re […] an event, walking their own way’ (39). The event that is this oakwood evades capture in ‘Sunart’, despite Loose’s best efforts. ‘Inside a wood, it is hard to see it for the trees which overwhelm with their forms, twisted, broken, growing one in the other […] I find it hard also to see the trees for this reason’ (22). Loose cannot see the woods or trees, and neither can we.

‘Saari’ is a different species. As a stranger, Loose is more attentive and committed to his note-making; he is more focussed in Finland. His prose is a poetry: alert, more consciously placed, more settled. Here, Loose writes, ‘I go to the woods because they do not need me’ (111). He is clear-sighted and precise. After enduring the fog of ‘Sunart’ (for almost one hundred pages), ‘Saari’ sparkles and all forty-eight pages are equally brilliant.

And so we are left with the question, should Loose have made ‘Sunart’ sparkle in the same way as ‘Saari’? Or is there more for the reader in the unfinished, warts-and-all structure of ‘Sunart’ than in ‘Saari’s polished prose? Or, finally, does the value lie in their comparison? This Almanac poses many questions, the responses to all of which will be different depending on how and what you like to read. For myself, having braved the wilds of ‘Sunart’, ‘Saari’ was a welcome reward. But Loose’s Almanac certainly offers much to think about.


 

An Oakwoods Almanac is available from Shearsman Books.

Camilla Nelson is a language artist, researcher and collaborator across a range of disciplines. ‘Tidal Voices’, a collaboration with Welsh poet Rhys Trimble, was short-listed for the Tidal Bay Swansea Lagoon World-First Art Commission (Cape Farewell) and her first full collection Apples & Other Languages (forthcoming with Knives Forks and Spoons) was long-listed for the 2015 Melita Hume Poetry Prize. Camilla completed her practice-based PhD in Reading & Writing with a Tree: Practising ‘Nature Writing’ as Enquiry, funded by Falmouth University, in 2012. This research involved working intensely with a series of trees over a three year period, with particular attention paid to an apple tree in the walled garden of Tremough Campus. Excerpts from this and other projects can be found on her website. Camilla is the founding editor of Singing Apple Press, contributing editor for The Learned Pig and poetry editor for The Goose, the official publication of ALECC (Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada).

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 2 of 3

April 24, 2015
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Tim Collins and Reiko Goto, Coille Dubh Rainich (The Black Wood of Rannoch), mixed media, 2015. Photo Tim Collins

Should artists seek to change the world?  That’s where the first discussion ended, having explored the history of pit props; the potential for a poet to contribute to the constraints that a forest manager might have to take account of in planning the management of an area of woodland; the development of ecosystems services assessment and in particular the cultural dimension; Gaelic and the subaltern, and how to protect a bramble patch in Central Scotland.  A more reflective and detailed summary of these discussions will be forthcoming in due course.

In the meantime we are very pleased to announce that the next panel (2pm Saturday 9 May 2015, the Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Summerhall) will have on it:

Beth Carruthers is a philosopher, theorist, artist, and curator known internationally for her work and research over three decades exploring the ethics and aesthetics of the human-world relationship. Her primary focus is on the transformative capacities of aesthetic experience, and of the arts in human relations to environment and other beings. She has collaboratively across the arts and sciences on the SongBird project (1998-2002), and in 2006 created a research report for the Canadian Commission of UNESCO on art in sustainability focused on sci-arts collaboration. She has recently begun a collaboration with a neuropsychologist on a project studying interspecies aesthetic engagement in part by imaging the patterns of human brain response to birdsong. Over the past decade she has been developing a theory of “deep aesthetics”, arising from the aesthetics and ontology of Merleau-Ponty, and studies in psychology and cognitive neuroscience. It proposes that aesthetic engagement is potentially transformative of reductive ontology, and hence of cultural practices, looking toward more sustainable futures (see Carruthers, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2015). Her most recent publication is “A Subtle Activism of the Heart” in Piper and Szabo-Jones, Sustaining the West: Cultural Response to Canadian Environments, from Wilfred Laurier University Press (May 2015). Also note: “Returning the Radiant Gaze: Visual art and embodiment in a world of subjects” in Brady, J., Elemental, from Gaia Project/Cornerhouse (forthcoming). Beth lives in unceded indigenous Coast Salish territory on Canada’s west coast. She is irregular faculty at Emily Carr University of Art + Design at Vancouver Canada, and currently a researcher at the University of British Columbia.

Amy Cutler, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, School of English, University of Leeds  Amy’s main academic research focuses on modern literature and its engagement with environmental politics and with old and new geographical imaginaries of Britain. Her specialist areas of study are coasts and forests in popular, small press, and avant-garde writing. She writes on problems of language, symbolism, and definition in particular environmental imaginations.  Amy is the lead academic on the new cross-disciplinary White Rose network, Hearts of Oak: Caring for British Woodland, based at the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield, and York.

Murdo Macdonald, Professor of History of Scottish Art, University of Dundee. Murdo’s doctoral thesis (University of Edinburgh, 1986) explored the relationships between art and science. He was editor of Edinburgh Review from 1990-1994. He is author of Scottish Art in Thames and Hudson’s World of Art series. His recent research focus has been as principal investigator of an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project Window to the West/ Uinneag dhan Àird an Iar: Towards a Redefinition of the Visual within Gaelic Scotland (2005-2011). This is a collaboration between the Visual Research Centre of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design at the University of Dundee and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic College in the Isle of Skye. It explores the inter-relationships of contemporary art, Gaelic language and culture, and art history. A further research interest is in the generalist ideas of the cultural activist and ecologist Patrick Geddes.

Scott Donaldson, Creative Scotland.  Scott is responsible for film education and environmental development.  Scott studied literature, film, education and environmental management. He taught photography and media in London colleges and Scottish universities, photographed for Scottish Natural Heritage and programmed cinema and education at macrobert. From 1997 – 2010 at Scottish Screen, Scott promoted film and moving image education in statutory and tertiary education. Since 2010 at Creative Scotland, he managed the Creative Futures talent development programme and continues to promote film education.

The following and final discussion on 16 May will have a panel of forestry managers and forestry researchers.

You can download the pdf of the exhibition publication SylvaCaledoniaCatalogue

For those of you who are observant you’ll notice that we have reduced the number of discussions from four to three – the one this Saturday 25 April has been cancelled.  Look forward to seeing you on 9 May.

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Gerry Loose, Neon, 2013. Photo: Tim Collins

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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The law of the forest and the freedom of the streets

March 23, 2015

Thanks to Scott Donaldson for sharing this article The law of the forest and the freedom of the streets on openDemocracy.  Forests play an important role in the evolution of public space in England.  The Magna Carta was followed in 1217 by The Charter of the Forest.

The Forest Charter formalised the right of unbonded men to access and use of the goods of the royal forests (grazing, fuel, food), while implicitly assuming the right to wander freely in the landscape as well as providing a place of refuge for those cast out of the social order.

Forests not only played the role that cities now play, forests also offer a conceptual tool for thinking about the public realm in cities today.

 

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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