BurnedThumb

Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


Geopoetics


  • Lights, Camera, Action

    very green spring grass, with the first cuckoo flower

    On Sunday, I saw my first of these ladys smocks (also known as cuckoo flowers) growing in the forecourt of the police station. They are much earlier here in the west, than I was expecting, but it seems to me that the celandines, which have appeared en masse this week, are rather later. Along the footpath and in the park, the green things, which seemed to have stopped and started during March, have suddenly stirred into action. Ferns are unfolding, sheets of acid green petty spurge (also known as milkweed), dogs mercury – which indicates ancient woodland – and bluebell leaves are showing in the wilder bits of the park, and shepherd’s purse, ground ivy and whitlow grass are along the pavements. I never expected so much plantlife in this built up suburb, but it seems even more abundant here than back in Stirling.

    shepds purse showing seed heads and some flowers at the top

    The birds are busier too. We have several goldfinches, siskins, blue tits and chaffinches as regular visitors to the bird feeder. Though the sparrows seem to have dispersed a little, the blackbirds are back and the starlings are still here in their bronzed summer feathers. The common gulls have been joined by lesser black-backed gulls, and I can hear woodpeckers drumming in the trees along the footpath whenever I go out into the garden. All the smaller trees are wearing more green – hawthorn, birch, bramble, poplar and hazel, and the pink cherry trees the builders scattered around the estate have fat buds just ready to open.

    In the garden, I have seeds germinating in the cold frame, leaves on the dwarf willow and new shoots of lily of the valley and martagon lilies. The culinary herbs are settling into their new patch, and the first flowers have appeared on the rosemary. The beds at the back are looking a little bare, as I’m moving some plants to the front, and the new herbs to replace them won’t be ready for a while, but there are tulips I didn’t expect coming out all pink and scarlet, and plenty of purple blossom developing on the lilac.

    camellia in flower. To the right, a lilac in leaf, to the left daffodils

    Settling into this new space is like folk dancing – advance and retire, hands across the set, turn and progress. You think you discover something, you realise you got it wrong, then maybe, after all …. This garden does have more light and air than our previous garden, as I expected, and the soil is as heavy, but it isn’t acid, and barren. It is rich, and though full of stones, it’s also full of worms and grubs and ladybirds, and bumble bees have come out in hundreds now the weather is warm. In winter the back of the house was in shadow all morning and the sun rose straight into my study window, but now the first light shines into the windows to the right, and by ten the sun is so high over the roofs that most of the back, as well as all of the front, is in the light. The soil is not as wet as I had imagined on the south side – in fact it seems to have dried out a lot in the last coouple of weeks – but against the north and west fences, it’s still very wet. I think there may be an underground watercourse running down into the burn behind the house, and I’m planning to move all the wet-loving herbs – the marsh mallows, the flag irises and the meadowsweet there.

    It seems appropriate too, that there are finally new poems to think about, and new kinds of writing to experiment with. I haven’t done many reviews lately, because I still have fourteen boxes of books waiting for shelves, but I am working on an essay about geopoetics as a commentary on a discussion project I am working on with Pentland poet Helen Boden, whose debut collection A Landscape to Figure In was published by Red Squirrel Press last October. Look out for this in my next newsletter, which I hope to send out next month sometime.


  • 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

     


  • Coming into Flower

    There’s a whole lot of progress and change going on in this territory. The herbs are full and lush, and sage and thyme are drying in the kitchen for the winter.

    The iris border has come magnificently into flower, all at once this time, instead of spreading itself out over a month.

    The lavenders I bought last summer are bulking up, and beginning to show their true colours.

    The pond is midge heaven this week – very annoying for me, but rather delightful for the tadpoles who are beginning to rise to the surface to catch them. And maybe this is what I have to thank for the large numbers of swallows, martins and especially swifts I am seeing in the early morning. I’m sure there are many more than last year, although the picture isn’t uniformly good, as I’ll tell you later.

    Closer to the house the first rose is in flower.

    And the vegetables are beginning to grow with a will. There are no lettuces from seed, nor spinach, as the slugs have had the lot, but peas, beetroot, leeks, sprouts, broccoli and courgettes are doing well, and in the greenhouse the tomatoes and the cucumber have made the most of last week’s good weather.

    On the riverbank, there is still a lot of feeding of baby birds going on. Blackbirds, wrens and dunnocks, are especially busy. The black-backed gull chicks have hatched, but not even the sight of the endearing balls of fluff running around the warehouse roof on their disproportionately long legs can reconcile me to the fact that the martin’s nest I spotted two weeks ago is silent and abandoned. The gulls had the lot. I had hoped that the martins had just moved in under the roof of the tenement, but no, that is the starlings on brood#2!

    There is also some exciting geopoetics news. We now have a facebook page and a twitter account @SCGeopoetics. I hope a lot of people who read this blog will like the page or follow the feed, and get all the news as it happens!


  • neo-geo-poetics 2

    The big question about geopoetics is: Is it the work of Kenneth White, and therefore absolutely and exactly just what he says it is, or is it something bigger, broader, and more generally applicable? What I mean is, is it like the theory of evolution or psychoanalysis, which depended on Darwin, Freud and Jung for their very existence, but which have been taken beyond the original flaws and limits of the original thinking to become usable disciplines of general science?
    There is a case for leaving it simply as the definition of Kenneth White’s own work. He is an original, outstandingly intelligent and remarkably diverse thinker, with the vision to bring together more different insights and source materials than almost anyone else on the planet. And he expresses himself with a verve and precision and elegant economy that belies the enormous amount of work behind some of his more outrageous assertions.
    This hardly justifies his professed ambitions to reform the state of education and culture as we know it. And, moreover, it fails to take on board his influence on many other artists and poets. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that I would not be writing poetry now if I hadn’t read him in the early nineties, and realised that it is possible to operate in a mind-field where my deepest interests can come together and fertilise each other rather than fitting into separate ‘appropriate’ boxes.
    It also fails to recognise a big shift in the way we are all thinking, writing and creating, perhaps the biggest since the development of Courtly Love in the early Middle Ages.
    Let’s be really brutally simplistic (I’m drawing heavily on C.S. Lewis’ Allegory of Love, now, despite all its limitations, just to make it easier to see the direction of thought) and say that, broadly speaking, the big thing in literature, the arena where the story takes place, before the twelfth century, was the hero/heroine confronting his/her destiny. After then, it was love. Now more and more we find that the arena artists/campaigners/academics want to work in is the relationship of the central character with the earth. It’s everywhere. Middle-aged heroines finish up with a garden instead of a marriage. Young men tackle mountains or oceans instead of criminals. Nature writing has become a recognised literary genre and is taught at Arvon courses. Ethical concerns are now about pollution, biodiversity and climate change, as well as political or personal relationships. Kenneth White has given geopoetics a flying start to organise our thinking in this new arena.
    But the bigger it gets, and the more it develops, the more it has to go beyond Kenneth White’s original brief. We need a new generation of geopoetical thinkers, who will translate the work of solitary intellectual nomads into the life of communities.
    This will have to wait until tomorrow, when I will review the work of Jamie Whittle and Norman Bissell and see where that gets us.


  • neo-geo-poetics

    Although the thing I was at last week was called the Atlantic Islands Festival, it was also the summer school for the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics, and many of the speakers talked about the impact of geopoetics, and in particular the work of Kenneth White on their particular discipline and artistic practice.

    We struggled, though, to find a workable and concise definition of what we meant by geopoetics. Norman Bissell provided an overview at the start of the school, which may be rather brutally summarised as
    1. a world view that is critical of western philosophy and civilisation in particular the division between mind and body and the isolation of the human from nature.
    2. it has a holistic view of the universe – a poetics which places the planet earth at the centre of experience.
    3. it is influenced by people Kenneth White defines as ‘intellectual nomads’
    4. it has a new sense of world combining the responses of the intelligence and the senses, using techniques such as meditation or tai chi which ‘decondition’ the mind to produce a poetics which is the expression of this interaction, in language but also in all forms of artistic expression. It encourages collaboration and multi-media work.
    5.it involves networking with all forms of intellectual and scientific knowledge and activity.
    There are some extraordinarily sweeping statements here, and if we go into it, we can find plenty of ignorance, prejudice and some rather neat moving of the goal-posts which leave Kenneth White in the privileged position of defining the game and imposing his own rule. However.
    It is certainly the case that modern civilisation consists of a lot of over-specialised and over-organised (but seriously under-educated)individuals who are capable of living a lifetime in ignorance of what the weather is like or where their food is coming from. We know we are not as aware of the seasons or the state of the moon and tides as our parents were. Many of us can’t identify common wild-flowers, or lay a fire or set a budget without a calculator. Scientists do not know history. Linguists don’t understand physics. In short we no longer have our feet on the ground. We don’t know who we are or what we really want or what is likely to happen to us.
    Geopoetics has a counter to this, and the summer school was an excellent demonstration. We had, among other things, film, poetry, art, sculpture, botany, geology, history, and tai chi. But the most common comment, which came over and over again, was, “It leaves so much out.”
    Mostly this came from women. Geopoetics is overwhelmingly a guys’ game, and it’s not because the guys are mean and won’t let us play. On the contrary, the guys are not mean at all. But women do not get the ‘intellectual nomad’ thing. It’s not just that society makes it hard for women to be nomads ( a real issue, though, nonetheless), we just don’t seem, by and large, to think like that. It’s not that we can’t stop worrying about the state of the kitchen and has someone remembered to feed the cat, it is simply that if you have ever undertaken those responsibilities, you don’t see the world in quite the same way. It’s not even the difference between Ents and Ent-wives (remember Tolkien saying the Ent-wives had gardens so that things would grow where they set them?). Even Tolkien’s Ents, though freer and more nomadic than the Ent-wives, were shepherds and took care of the forests. I, for one, found it hard to believe in the value of a world-view that does not lead to involvement and action.
    This is where we get to the next generation of geopoetical thinking, and I’ll get to it tomorrow.


  • Atlantic Islands Festival

    This was a big event, which I have already mentioned on Luchair (my keyboard isn’t recognising accents this morning!), and which will have ongoing resonances with a lot of my work over the next few months.

    There was a lot of interesting work in many genres and media, but particularly impressive were Richard Ashrowan’s lovely films (see more here), and the lovely Atlantic Islands Suite, which premiered on Wednesday, and which I reviewed here.

    Now I’m home for a couple of weeks, writing slate poems and star poems and grass poems, until I go to an Arvon course in August.


  • a world of poetry

    One of these days I will have to review some of the new poetry that has fallen into my lap lately. I am a sucker for books with water in the title so I have Matthew Hollis’ Groundwater and Gillian Clarke’s A Recipe for Water, which have stunned and excited me.
    Then there was Alan Jamieson’s video poems – beautiful combinations of text and sound and image which I’d love to find a way to share.
    Then there will be the Atlantic Islands Festival on the island of Luing from 4th-11th July
    which has been organised by Norman Bissell at the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics. I don’t know how he has managed to pack so much interesting stuff into one week, but it is truly impressive, and I am looking forward very much to taking part.



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