Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer

Expressing the Earth

  • 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:



  • Expressing the Earth – the Herbs

    When we visited the Kilmartin Museum, my first port of call was the lovely herb garden planted alongside the path. I had been struck by this last time I was there, because it seemed very different to a lot of recent constructions, which often come straight out of a picture book, without regard to climate or local tradition. This garden had a lot of local plants, mostly native, but not all – Highland herbalists were in touch with healing traditions all over the world, and were willing to import or try out new ideas. They were all well-grown and in good condition, and divided into beds according to their uses for healing, dyeing, cooking and fibre – including flax and nettle – and beautifully labelled and displayed.

    I had planned to talk about the herb garden in my presentation, and emailed the Museum so I could credit the designer, and it was with great trepidation that I discovered it had been designed by Patsy Dyer, who was coming to the conference in her other guise as storyteller!  Unfortunately we were scheduled against each other, so she couldn’t come to my presentation and I couldn’t go to hers, but it was lovely to meet her.

    I distributed copies of The Charm of Nine Herbs to everyone who came, and I was delighted to find how much interest there was in my subject. The gist of my talk was that pre-scientific herbalists didn’t necessarily operate by magic and guesswork, but by observation and experiment, adapting their practice to the locality and the climate, as well as the patient, but presenting their knowledge in a way that suited a culture without books. Dependence on a uniform set text radically changed not only herbal practice, but the way we thought about knowledge, and I added that having access to the internet, with a whole mass of data, observation and opinions, was teaching us to relearn  the one-time skills of verification and adaptation of information to our own particular needs.

    This went down a lot better than I thought it might! I had a lot of fascinating conversations about such things as the placebo effect, the herbal practice of a holistic approach to illness, the doctrine of signatures and the revival of old physic gardens. I’m going to try and put all  the things I said into some coherent form, and may add it to the Half a Hundred Herbs page.

  • 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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