BurnedThumb

Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


Grounded Poetry


  • Remembering, Renewal, Rebirth

    I’m thinking a lot at the moment about ‘heritage’. It is a loaded word, often used to create barriers around places, or topics or art forms, that say ‘Mine! Keep out!’ Living in a culture that has been both colonised, and complicit in colonising other cultures, it feels like a minefield. But the concept is so useful, in so many different contexts, that it’s worth pursuing – with caution.

    I watched Once Upon a Time in Belfast on the BBC. It was less of a shock to me than to many people who watched it, as they realised how much about daily life in Northern Ireland during the Troubles they didn’t know. But I worked for a while in a university chaplaincy which students from Northern Ireland used. It was a fully ecumenical space, which presented them with challenges, even at the level of small talk. You didn’t ask a Northern Irish student which school they had gone to, for instance, and you had to be circumspect about sports conversations. They were extremely wary about sudden noises, like cars backfiring, and there were nuances around place names that we didn’t always get. But it’s clear now that there was so much more to the conflict than we realised. I’ve just finished editing a poetry collection by Charlie Gracie dealing with his grandfather’s emigration to Scotland early in the twentieth century, and the impact the sectarian divide had had on his family over three generations – family estrangements, reconciliations, managed truces and the shaping of personalities. And my friend and fellow-geopoetician, Laura Hope-Gill, from Asheville in North Carolina, has just started a project called the Story Shepherds which ‘seeks to recognize people who have explored their stories and developed the particular kind of listening stories require in order to access their deep medicine for healing trauma and reconnecting with humanity’. This project grew from a return to her family roots in Northern Ireland, during which she met survivors of the troubles from both sides, who have begun the process of healing and reconciliation through their stories.

    I’ve also followed the activities of the Sheiling Project, an of-grid learning centre in the Highlands. This is a place where people can learn traditional skils of farming, building and crafting, but it’s more than a nostalgic revival. These skills and this knowledge may be the key to living more sustainably in the future, as we embrace more regenerative styles of farming and land use, crops more suited to local food security, or lower-energy homes and business. The project has embraced the use of Gaelic too, recognising that much detailed knowledge of the land and people is embedded in the language. It’s a fascinating project, which deserves to be much better known.

    And finally there is the Grit Orchestra, which opened the Edinburgh International Festival. This is an enormous undertaking, based on the work of Martyn Bennett, and I can’t describe it better than I did in this poem, which first appeared in Scotia Extremis.

    You Play the Melody
    You play the melody on the chanter
    Martin Bennett, Grit

    You play the melody on the chanter
    on street corners, in pubs, in concert halls,
    the basements of churches and salons
    in exclusive buildings, in all the forms.
    Traditional is classic, and a mixing desk
    brings boxes and puirt a beul and beats
    to reels and travellers songs, and the conductor’s
    voice breaks as he says it. You play the melody.

    We play the melody, of course we do.
    We’re Celts, an almost imaginary nation,
    undefined in history, and known
    without blood-lines or boundaries or map,
    but recognised in an upbeat by the lack
    of reverence for the things we cherish.
    We can make them new, and keep them safe
    in one burst of music. In January, in Glasgow,
    anyone can be Celtic, and we’re all connected.

    There is a wealth of traditional musical knowledge in the work of the Grit Orchestra, as you would expect, but also classical musicianship (Nicola Benedetti played with them this year), and the inventive use of hip-hop and dance music. The Chanter this time got a makeover which sounded like canntaireachd goes to Ibiza, and it was mind-blowing. And this is the point. You have to know and love and respect your own heritage, but the boundaries, edgelands and marginal places have to be porous – open to dialogue and mutual influence. I will have a lot more to say about canntaireachd over the next few moths, it’s the most fascinating concept I’ve come across in ages. If you don’t know what it is, you can make a start here.


  • Wilding Unwilding

    a tangle of elder with berries, bindweed and brambles

    Beyond the brambles you can see shadowy spaces beneath the elder branches. They are the sides of a bank, four feet deep, that let you drop into a ditch. The undergrowth you can see in the foreground is wall to wall nettle. I was picking blackberries there last week – there were lots, in peak condition – when I slid down that bank, and only the elder roots stopped me hitting the ditch. If I had, I don’t know how I would have got out! I have lost confidence in the theories that grasping the nettle reduces the sting, also that it does anything at all to help arthritis. It doesn’t look as if I will be picking blackberries any time soon.

    This is a great pity, as it is a wonderful year for berries of all sorts, hawthorn sparks among the foliage, rowans a wild flame, hips burning a deeper red each day. We have had plenty of rain since the middle of August, and the garden is thriving, with sedum and phlox, marigold and marshmallow still flowering. I have saved seeds of marigold, poppy and echinacea, and I’m waiting for the marshmallow ‘cheeses’ to ripen, so that I can sow them. The snapdragons are over, however, and I have planted out wallflowers and bulbs of wild daffodils under the willow at the front of the house, and mulched it with ‘lakeland gold’ a bracken based compost which will add structure and tone down the alkilinity of the soil a bit. It is coming up to the equinox, and people are beginning to post on social media about the skeins of geese coming in for the winter. The air is colder, and my focus is shifting from outside to in, planning next year’s sowings, the sewing and knitting for the longer evenings, and more importantly, the new writing.

    Last week I wrote about my trip to Moniack Mhor, where I received a lot of help and encouragement with a book of essays I want to write about the poetics of human relationships with the landscapes and communities where we live. Think a synthesis of fifteen years of blogposts, but less rambling and reactive and repetitive, more structured and at a leisurely reading pace. It is harder than you might think to craft a language about this. I found a perfect quote from Gary Snyder about knowing a place, googled it, and found it used as the cover photo of a survivalist group in midwest USA, complete with a man brandishing an AK rifle. I’d have liked to use ‘dwelling’ to describe the permanent, committed relationship you might have with a home place, as opposed to the temporary alignment you might have with a place you’re in for work, or a holiday, or this phase of your dream life, but Heidegger used it for some questionable attitudes to favoured species and people, and it sometimes gives rise to nativist thinking and ‘blood and soil’ politics which would be distracting. I’m using the phrase ‘grounded’ to describe this axis of the book.

    But there’s also the ‘gleam of light’ axis – the phase of poetry which illuminates the tangles and tedium of the everyday, which celebrates, honours and inspires. It’s a more adventurous and experimental task, where we meet beings we never expected to meet, explore places and ideas we never wanted to go, and come back gifted, broken and remade. I believe that both these phases could combine and modify each other to make for ways of living with the world that are wiser, more creative and kinder. Or at least make for the kind of poetry you’d want to read!

    But also there is new poetry. The essays will be called Unwilding, but there will be a collection inspired by the local earth-spirit, the duende of this place. Here is a bit from one of the new poems:

    The garden speaks in sow thistle, mudstone
    spider and slug. I say to it ‘apple trees’.
    It says ‘elecampane’. It says roses here,
    not there. Leaf cutter and chafer live there.
    It gives me couch grass, bistort, ground ivy,
    red clover, buttercup, magpie, fox. I live here
    west of the sun, east of the moon. Orion
    strides up the wrong face of the sky’s hill.

    It will have the wild apple trees, the brambles and elder, and the voices of the burns – most local fairy creatures in Scotland live in water, not on the land, it would appear. It will probably have mines and metalworks, as I discover more about the past, monks and evangelical preachers, there’s a precedent for them, too. It will be called Wilding.

    The shadows beteen trees, rowan, hazelnut and beech. A grey squirrel is seen through an arch made by a fallen branch.

  • Those Who Disappeared

    Tappoch Broch - a low wall overgrown with heather, barcken and seedling birch
    Tappoch Broch, near Larbert

    We are haunted by those who went before. One strand of The Well of the Moon deals with this haunting, not only by our ancestors – though mine do seem to hang about a lot – or the people who actually lived in your house or your village before you, but by the myths we create about them. I have no evidence, for instance, that my ‘first Honora’ was the woman whose obituary appeared in The Waterford News in 1938 after her death at the age of 113, and her hedge school is a matter of family myth, but we all believe in the importance of access to education to this day. The village where I have lived for the last 39 years is convinced we are haunted by monks from the ruined abbey, and the comment from my Benedictine friend that they NEVER haunt and anyway they weren’t monks but Canons, does not cut it with anyone.

    The poem Lost Roads is also about this. It was a post about buried roads here

    https://2bogsaswampandsomeislands.wordpress.com/2019/05/19/footprints-of-history-on-the-bog/

    that started me off, together with a walk through the Avalon Marshes where you can still see a replica of the neolithic Meare Track. There is a tendency to annex these things, to want them to be Roman when they are later, or sometimes even earlier than is generally supposed. Often associated in the past with the late Roman queen Helen (who is said to have been the mother of the emperor Constantine and to have discovered the burial place of the True Cross), there is now a tendency to merge her with the goddess Elen of the Ways. The real Helen has disappeared, like the ancient Britons we have transformed into fairy folk or the people of the Sidh. And yet we crave their presence, and revere their wisdom, as far as we can find it.

    I have been thinking about this as I begin to plan to live somewhere new. I have a lot of books, which will take up space in the house and a lot of plants already to put in the new garden. We tend to think about ‘putting our stamp’ on a new home, and making it our own, but it is fatal to imagine you can create a stage set for a drama in which I will take the lead. What I’ve got is a bit part in a soap that has been running for centuries. I will try to connect with what has gone before, with the soil conditions, the prevailing weather, the plants that thrive and the communities that flourish there, but I wonder what I will be erasing, who will be forgotten, will disappear and return as myth.

    a stone arch overgrown with heather and grass
    arch at Tappoch broch


  • Back to the Source

    spring falling down a scree
    A spring along the Linn trail in Ayrshire

    I am reading Seamus Heaney’s Preoccupations, a paperback first published in 1985. Some of it was later reproduced in Finders Keepers in 2002, particularly the essays Mossbawn and the very timely Belfast, which recalls what it was like to live there at the height of the Troubles (how can we think of those days returning?), but some of the writing on Wordsworth, Yeats and Hopkins was new to me. I find that I don’t agree as much with Heaney as I thought I did, but he made me look again at the source of my poetry, and it has helped me clarify a few of the ideas swirling round in the back of my head. It has been a grounding experience, in more ways than one.

    Reading this kind of thing is a very different experience now that I have written enough poetry to have an informed opinion about the writing process. I am struck by how Heaney divides poets and poems into separate and opposing camps – poets of thought and poets of sensation, poems which seem to arrive as naturally as giving birth, and those which are forged and designed, poems which seduce and invite surrender, those which impose and convince. There is a masculine-feminine dichotomy going on in these essays, without value judgements or preferences, but clearly defined – feminine is going within, becoming inspired, responding passively to the vision granted, masculine is being captivated from without, shaping and designing.

    In the ‘feminine’ style, we aren’t talking simply about the innately gifted genius who produces without effort – it’s work, alright, but the Rilkean work on your life to get your ego out of the way and let the poem happen. And it isn’t simply about mastery in the ‘masculine’ – the effort is to liberate rather than dominate. But try as I might, I don’t get this. It doesn’t reflect my writing experience at all. The preoccupation of some writers with analysing the disparate ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ sides of their work and personality seems to me to be a very male thing. A woman, who frankly, has to take any writing life she can get, is more likely to think about being her ‘self’ – whatever that may be.

    Breaking Through Gravel
    for Deborah
    My Muses have nine children.
    They go mad, lose their jobs,
    live on rolled oats and vegetables.
    That’s how they write. In three languages,
    in trains, in kitchens, in libraries,
    on the back seat of the bus. They write
    about sex and history and fairy tales,
    the shape of a sonnet, splitting the atom,
    where the rent is coming from. Their lives
    are made of food, and soap, and meetings with strangers,
    the family china, slammed doors, a child’s stamped foot,
    the hurt silence, the stolen kiss,
    the need to write.
    The art of women is not a quest, like the whale,
    but salvage from a storm of perplexity.
    It is unlicensed, defiant, pervasive
    and inevitable as starlight,
    or the trajectory of the lily of the valley
    disregarding gravel, and breaking the tarmac
    with unapologetic, overwhelming joy.

    From the sequence Eurydice Rising, published in Wherever We Live Now

    Going ‘within’ does not seem to give me ‘vision’ or a hidden life. It is more like a gathering of strength which helps me pay attention to the world, rather than battering off the walls like a demented bluebottle, less like revealing secrets than being plugged into the mains. Considering the world ‘without’ is not to be inspired by something I must shape and master, but entering a conversation with what’s around me. Shaping a poem is more like a housewifely cherishing than forging steel. Writing, for me, is a more mutual and integrated, less polarised process than either style Heaney talks about, but this does not mean it is necessarily less strong or subtle, or on a smaller scale. It depends not on being seduced by or mastering my inspiration, but on being grounded.

    a vase of autumn flowers and berries
    rudbeckia and rosehips

  • Stravaig 6

    cover image
    Paintings by the artist Mary Morrison. Oil and mixed media on paper.

    This is the beautiful cover image of Stravaig 6, the on-line journal of The Scottish Centre for Geopoetics. It has been a long time in the making – the work in it was mostly inspired by what came out of the Expressing the Earth conference last June. It is very beautiful – the images in particular are superb, and there is a lot of interesting and thought-provoking writing in it, essays as well as poetry. I particularly recommend Mairi MacFadyen’s reflective essay in response to the conference, but there is a lot to see and enjoy.

    My essay By the Book: Herbs Creativity and Ways of Knowing is in it, and I notice that, since it came out, people have been searching this site for an essay I wrote many years ago about Geopoetics, and not finding it since the revamp. I think I will have to rework it, as my thinking has progressed a little since 2009, but for now, here it is:

    neogeopoetics

     


  • Summer Reading

    paperbacks fanned across my desk

    The good thing about having finished a book is that you can feel free to read what you like, and this summer it has been a very random selection – cookery books, books about trees, a lot of short stories, this historical adventure – the first of a trilogy

    cover of mandy haggith's walrus mutterer

    and almost everything else that has come across my path – short stories by Colin Will and Tom Kelly, poetry from Lisa Matthews and Matthew MacDonald, who has finally moved from the pamphlet basket to the full collection shelf with Petrichor – all from Red Squirrel Press.

    There were some books I wasn’t expecting but have made me think and speculate over the summer: Linda Hogan’s Dwellings, a take on human relations with the environment from the Chickasaw point of view, which I find sits quite well alongside the philosophy of Neill Gunn, whose Atom of Delight and The Drinking Well have kept me busy since April; Eavan Boland’s Journey With Two Maps, discussing the opposition of the traditional (communitarian, formal, a status granted) and the Romantic (original, inspired, solitary) view of the poet, which along with the idea that the appropriate subjects for poetry are the exterior, the sublime, the universal, combine to disallow the feminine perspective and experience, which is often personal, domestic, and focussed on the foreground not grand sweep of the bigger picture. I’m astonished that although I’m only ten years younger than she is, my experience and ideas about poetry are so different, but it’s helping me to analyse why and how that should be.

    One thing still seems to be the same, however. It does seem that the stereotypical idea of women’s writing is that it is domestic and personal, and all the changes that have happened since then have not prevented it being dismissed as ephemeral, sentimental or trivial. Four times this summer I have had conversations about the marginalisation of women’s writing on nature. In spite of the success of Kathleen Jamie’s Findings, Miriam Darlington’s Owl Sense, Helen McDonald’s H Is for Hawk and Amy Liptrot’s women are finding their work dismissed as ‘not really about nature, it’s all about their emotions’, or finding themselves excluded from such lists as the one for the Wainwright Prize.

    For this reason I was thrilled to find In Her Element, published by a Welsh co-operative Honno Press, an anthology of nature writing by women of all sorts – poets, farmers, hill-walkers or sailors. There does seem to be a need for a serious initiative in this area, and I’m giving it some thought.

    People of colour, too, have struggled to find recognition in this area, so I’m particularly pleased to mention the launch of The Willowherb Review, which aims to diversify nature writing. They had a successful Kickstarter campaign and the first issue is due later this autumn.

     


  • A Visit to Wales

    train on narrow gauge railway, Tallyllyn
    Dolgoch

    This is the reason we went to Wales – the narrow gauge railways. This one is the Tallyllyn woodland trail, a very pleasant trip. We did two railways, three castles, two historic houses, and three waterfalls, including the Swallow Falls at Betws y Coed.

    cascade at Swallow Falls
    Swallow Falls

    We also visited Ty Mawr Wybrnant, a sixteenth century drovers’ inn, where the Bishop William Morgan was born, who made the first translation of the Bible into Welsh.

    hearth and fireside chair in drovers' inn at Ty Mawr
    The fireside

    This was significant, partly because it halted the attempt to downgrade Welsh as a recognised spoken language, but more crucially, as local variations developed, it provided a standard for written Welsh, enabling the teaching of the language across the whole country. Many visitors now present the Museum with a copy of the Bible in their own language, and the collection is now quite large, providing for many a record of the first time the language was written down.

    16th century bible box on table
    Bible box

    We had a very interesting conversation about Welsh with the custodian here, as I’d already noticed a huge increase in the amount of Welsh I heard spoken in the streets and shops. When I used to visit Wales as a teenager, you would hear Welsh as you might hear Scottish Gaelic now, among the old, the isolated communities and the enthusiasts. But in North Wales now you hear Welsh more often than English, among young families, among teenagers out shopping, between the generations.

    The custodian told us that all primary schools now teach in Welsh as a first language, and there are immersion courses for non Welsh-speaking children to enable them to join in within three months, which have a high success rate. Similar courses are available to adults, free of charge, and there is a high demand for them. The payoff is visible in the bookshops. Two thirds of the books on offer in the indie bookshops are from Welsh publishers, or by Welsh authors, and half of them are in Welsh.

    You might wonder if this would isolate children from mainstream culture, but it would seem not. The aim is to have children fluent in Welsh and English and with significant experience of French and Spanish by the age of eleven. Once you can move out of the cultural assumptions of a monoglot culture, the world would appear to be wide open.

    This must have implications for Scotland. Of course it’s not the same – Gaelic isn’t the only indigenous language that has been overshadowed by the dominance of English, and I’ve seen a lot of vitriol thrown about as if Gaelic and Scots were mutually exclusive, and as if teaching one was threatening to the other. Plus, there are communities with distinctive history and culture which might be swamped by a too gallus insistence on linguistic orthodoxy. But it’s more complicated because it’s richer. Scotland has so many treasures of languages and art forms – the Welsh initiative shows there’s a chance we could have them all.


  • Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine by Declan O’Rourke

    On Sunday we went to see the last British date for Declan O’Rourke‘s tour performing work from his new album Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine. It was a searing experience, rather like my visit to the Dunbrody Famine Ship, which inspired my first collection, Wherever We Live Now, and I hesitated to buy the album, because I was, frankly, in bits by the end, (but I have, since), because he included a lot of intensive research into the background, incidentally filling in some gaps in my own family history – offering some understanding of why my father’s family dropped the ‘O’ in front of their name, (they were required to do so, in order to access the soup kitchens set up by Protestant churches), where the Quaker connection with my great-great-great-grandmother Hanora Foley (who, astonishingly, lived from 1825 to 1938) came from, (Quaker soup kitchens made no such requirement, which would have impressed that fiercely recusant branch of the family) and the origins of the Yellow Road in Waterford, where some of my family lived. Roads were built to provide work for starving people, but in order not to disrupt the market economy they were often ‘roads to nowhere’. The one in Waterford takes a long loop outside the town as it then was, and eventually a fertiliser plant was built there, processing seaweed and guano.

    Some of the story was not news to me; the population of Ireland halved (from 8 million to 4 in three years) as a result of the famine, not simply because of starvation and disease, but because of emigration, but it was news that it has never recovered, standing at only 5 million today. The needless cruelty of the workhouse system imposed after the Catholic Emancipation Act, or the forced shipping of young girls to Australia to redress the gender imbalance caused by transportation was new to me. But the most surprising thing was that this history was not widely taught or discussed until the 1990s. Parallels with the records of the Highland Clearances did not escape me!

    Reclaiming history may seem like a way to nourish old grudges, but what Declan O’Rourke takes from it is a memory of the resilience of the human spirit, and instances of bravery and tenderness in hard times that should strengthen us against the hard times to come. We need those memories, though they grieve us.

    Here is the poem I wrote about my experience at the Dunbrody:

    Visiting the Dunbrody Famine Ship

    Grief bubbles like rosin out of the pine
    they built these stacked bunks from –
    one to a family, and bring your own bedding,
    each adult’s life packed into no more
    than ten cubic feet, says the ticket, including
    utensils for eating and drinking.

    Bad enough in fine weather, queueing to cook
    in their cold half hour on deck, but in storms
    battened under hatches, chewing raw oatmeal and biscuit,
    sweating, vomiting, pissing in the dark,
    and the smell of loss and fear. The actors recall
    a good captain, five deaths only the whole trip.

    It’s the lists that really hurt. The database
    remembers everyone, keeps them safe by name,
    and age and occupation, by ship, and by landfall.
    I look for my Foleys, Richard and two daughters,
    my grandmother’s family,  left Waterford
    in 1873, and lost at sea, still lost.

    It’s the way they tell you, as if they know
    it’s you, crying in the dark for your mammy,
    and the sweet taste of new milk, and sunlight,
    and just to be still. They know those names mend a link
    in the chain that leads us back to our dead,
    and makes us whole, wherever we live now.


  • Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

    In June Mandy Haggith recommended this book to me, saying it was one I must read, and she was right. When I wrote Ways of Knowing I was looking for a way of thinking about and transmitting knowledge that would encompass both the academic and the intuitive ways we get to know about the world we live in, and this book does exactly that. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a botanist, Professor of Environmental Biology, and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and this book discusses the human relationship to the land from both the perspective of her scientific training and the traditional wisdom and practices of her family. Intellectually and ecologically this is a great achievement, and the book is well-written, approachable and engaging. I Love it, and it will be on my shelves forever, so you can take this as a heart-felt recommendation.

    It throws up a few issues, not of contention, but requiring further thought and development from a European perspective. (By which I mean simply someone living in Europe – in the book Kimmerer uses ‘European’ and ‘Western’ as cultural groupings, which is reasonable in an American setting, but less so from here).

    What I love especially are her ideas

    • science as relational knowledge, not as detached observation
    • the speaking of a language as connection with the past and with other speakers, not as an assertion of identity (Gaelic activists here will get this connection – I get the feeling that people who disapprove of the use of Gaelic see it simply as creating barriers and ant-establishment acting out)
    • the reciprocity of the ‘honourable harvest’ where a disciplined use of natural resources is repaid by care, and this care is valued as genuinely nurturing the environment we profit from.. If we might see traditional cultures as tending towards the anthropomorphic and magical, we might want to recognise that this is in deference to our needs as humans; we behave much better when we are in caring relationships than when we try to follow rules.
    • seeing the earth as nurturing rather than functional, as organic and alive rather than as property
    • her ways of relating to key plants in a region as a way of belonging to that region. I thought about my territory and I’d say the key plants are ash, willow and alder, meadowsweet, comfrey, hawthorn, bramble and red clover. As it turns out, most of them have a place in Haggards. Alder doesn’t, but I have plans —-

    I see some parallels between traditional Native American culture and Celtic practices, and even Biblical ones – the idea of jubilee, for instance, or leaving the gleanings of the harvest for wanderers, of gratitude and restraint. I can see parallels between what happened to First Nation Americans and what happened in Ireland and in the Highlands – the same lies, the same exploitation, the same refusal to understand the existence and respect the validity of other, less pragmatic world-views, which makes me wonder about how Western culture got to be the way it is (too big a subject). I don’t want to be too simplistic here, some of the Scottish and Irish who suffered so badly here went and inflicted exactly the same treatment on others when they got to America, but it does throw up some thoughts on why we can’t simply import ideas from other parts of the world simply because they seem sensible. So much of traditional Native American knowledge is conditioned by long knowledge of landscape and climate, soil types and wildlife. We can’t just copy and paste ideas, especially if we don’t have the same grounding – and we mostly don’t. Roger Deakin, in Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, deplored the damage well-meaning developers did to watercourses in his area for want of detailed local knowledge, and I have become aware of controversies among permaculturalists about importing ideas such as herb spirals, which work when in some countries, in places where neither the soil nor the climate make them appropriate.

    We are aware of attitudes that seem similar – profit as motivator, the market as the only regulator of industry, the earth as inert resource to be exploited (along with the self-serving opposition of jobs and environmental protection). But things are different here. We are, despite the ‘get on your bike’ mentality of governments, a much more settled country. People feel they belong to their place of residence, town or countryside. People feel, mostly, some obligation to their locality, even if it means being thought a ‘nimby’. It can narrow us, make us selfish when we go to other places like the National Parks, but it’s something we can build on, and we do, sometimes.

    It means our residual land-lore is closer to us and more extensive than we think, and perhaps environmental organisations could be less dismissive and paranoid about unqualified people doing damage, and more willing to co-operate with residents, rather than taking such a missionary position.

    It means that in this country, questions of class need to be more carefully looked at before assumptions are made about consultation and new initiatives, because we can create conflicts of interest unnecessarily in one direction, and turn a blind eye to others. This especially applies to the issue of land ownership. There’s a lot of over-simplification in these discussions, mostly because we’re importing models from places where the issues are much starker.

    This book is a great place to start those conversations!

     


  • Expressing the Earth – the Highlights

    This is the river running through Kilmartin Glen, which we visited during the Expressing the Earth conference at the weekend. I am hoping to have some longer, more considered posts drawing out some of the themes of the experience, but this will have to wait until I’ve collected my thoughts – it was a very rich and full programme, and will take some digesting!

    • the thunderstorm which happened just after I arrived, taking out the WIFI at Seil Island Hall. It made it impossible to tweet, stream events or even to run the films we had planned, but there was enough going on without that!
    • meeting old friends, some familiar figures from previous geopoetic events, some from the poetry world, and some known only from Facebook up to now – and the making of many new ones.
    • the beautiful island setting, and the wonderful catering provided by a local firm Fisherman’s Kitchen.
    • Siobhan Healy’s glass ghost orchids
    • Luke Devlin talking about ‘radical geopoetics’, and everyone delightedly waking up to what he meant.
    • how receptive people were to my talk about herbs and to the Charm leaflet. And I sold some books!
    • the cyanotypes people made at Susannah Rosenfeld-Kings workshop.
    • hearing lots of other languages spoken – German, Gaelic, Spanish, Portuguese – and accents from all kinds of places
    • Alistair McIntosh being the voice of a stone, and talking about the community buyout of Eigg
    • Neil Simco’s keynote about the educational vision of UHI, plus Mairead Nic Craith about identity and relationship, and Anuschka Miller turning our ideas about ocean on their heads.
    • the lovely herb garden at Kilmartin, designed by story-teller Patsy Dyer, and maintained by her wonderful crew of volunteers.
    • the baby robins outside the museum, barely fledged and playing around the benches under the watchful eye of their parent, each staking a claim to its own bench.
    • Dreaming Agrakas, an opera written by Mark Sheridan moving between the coasts of Scotland Greece and Sicily, combining references to traditional Gaelic music and coastal folklore, a classical Greek ode by Pindar and a modern reflection on the many migrants drowned in the Mediterranean. There were only three performers, Hannah Bown, voice, Morag Currie, violin and Mark himself on piano, but it was a magnificent achievement.
    • hearing Nikita Pfister’s river suite, beautifully played on the melodeon, and Dave Francis, long known to me for his generosity as a teacher and developer of traditional music, singing himself.

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