If You Go Up To Higger Today | Mark Goodwin

My latest book with Longbarrow Press – Rock as Gloss – is full of various characters, some made of geology’s processes and others made of meat-&-bone, some wild animals & others animals of culture, and some of them entirely fictioned, and others drawn from the actual human world. At the very end of last August my partner Nikki & I enjoyed some time with one of the actual humans that Rock as Gloss engages with. The following is an expression of an afternoon of being with large pebbles (or little boulders) & Johnny Dawes (click on the images to view the caption to each photograph). Before we begin though, I will give you the note from Rock as Gloss’s Gloss of Rockery, that refers to Johnny:

Johnny Dawes is often described as a legend of British climbing. During the 1980s he produced the first rock-climbs to be graded E8 & E9 (the E standing for extreme). Dawes is an artist of sorts – a unique visionary & practitioner of movement-&-adhesion. He is also a profoundly gifted poetic climber-writer.

If You Go Up To Higger Today

 
Johnny is wearing a bright yellow t-shirt, a white golf cap, shorts, red socks, and also a pair of jaggedly-patterned-sportily-branded trail-running shoes. Sunshine sings off Johnny’s torso. The sky is wearing a bright blue sharp suit … uniform … but because of Johnny’s clownish brilliance, this precise sky is now all-ready relaxing … and laughing too … now our sky today wears a few white chiffon ruffles, and is even this very now suddenly waving gentle cloud-hankies … all sporting! … all so over the top, and leaving itself wide … wide open … open to be accused of being some kind of fop … way … way up … up its own farce … But this collaborating sky also makes a clean late August breeze hiss across Higger’s top, and gently weesh in Higger’s grasses, and then rub Higger’s grit with a blunter sound of air. And this is just simply beautiful, and utterly present. An invisible scurrying is a circling transparent cat settling on its cushion …

 
Johnny wonders if what we are doing today could be called ‘pebble-wrestling’, or perhaps ‘frictioneering’. He talks of the little helicopter that must land on each toe-tip step to show the places we can or must land our bodies’ intentions (but not our minds’!). The dark pellets of sheep-droppings, haphazardly spread in the grit-dust or presentation-placed on brillo-pad tufts, are part of a fairytale trail out of the maze, or better, deeper into it … into a place in which place is digested. And the mass of flying ants in the air, and some of them that grapple with my arm-hairs, these lusty specks are all taking part in Johnny Python’s Pebble Circus. And yes, of course, there is something irreverent and Englishly rude about this clown … but also he is hugely generous … his way of drawing passers-by into having a go at handless climbing … see the performer handing out gifts of precision standing, walking, running, and leaping … and all on un-cliffs, on nothing higher than his yellow-t-shirted chest. And none of the passers-by have a clue of just who the grit-wizard is … and the wizard loves that fact …

 
Often, over the years, I’ve walked across this top above Higger, the small boulders laid out like a colony of utterly still beings hunkered into deep time. And I have stood on some of them and also jumped from one to t’other. But today we get to see the stone’s secret textures. (And we realise that we could act    ually believe that these stones were always wai    ting for us.) Johnny is moving his head side-to-side, Bollywood-dancer-owl-style – he is showing Nikki how to see the rugosities rise and fall, and how footholds dance with what Johnny has understood as a particular kind of parallax, special to one who wishes to connect her-his-its-their mineral frame to that of the Earth’s … limitless genders …

 
Johnny is now gently plugged, by his feet, into a small tor that is fractal-exactly the same shape of the little cloud six or so thousand feet up in the blue and some nineteen miles north-north west of this gritty here. Stanage is way off at the back, a line of knuckles on a keyboard of geology, and just across the way opposite us Burbage is arranging absolute stillness at an incredible speed. Both edges partaking of and freely giving out the sweet silent sounds of what Johnny calls foot-notes. And here we are miniaturised amongst this thisness, focusing in on the grains of grit, and the most primitive of human gestures: that one where your throat wobbles to make … a gurgle sound that is hard to explain … yes, Higger is laughing with infinities of grit, and we are laughing with it … her … him … them …
 

 

 

All photos by Nikki Clayton.

This piece is massively informed by the insights & concepts of Johnny Dawes, who, over the last couple of decades, has been working extremely hard to condense and clarify his special understanding of stone & movement into artistic expression … but also into a series of clear instructions that can be shared with a variety of others …

 

 
Mark Goodwin‘s publications include All Space Away and In (Shearsman, 2017), Steps (Longbarrow Press, 2014), and a new collection, Rock as Gloss (Longbarrow Press, 2019), a category finalist for the 2019 Banff Mountain Book Competition. Click here to visit the Rock as Gloss microsite for extracts, essays and audio recordings. You can also order the hardback via PayPal below:

Rock as Gloss: £12.99 (hardback)

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Meridian: The Last Step | Nancy Gaffield

October 2017

I finished walking last month, and now the writing’s done. In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau claims that the act of “walking is a space of enunciation”. The word “enunciation” means declaration, assertion, elucidation, a setting forth. Meridian is all these things. Charles Olson’s spatial poetics—“I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America”—both grounds and alienates me. I will insert myself.

Most of what I write is written through research, and Meridian is no exception. Part I opens with an epigraph from Robert Moor’s book, On Trails: An Exploration: “The key difference between a trail and a path is directional: paths extend forward, whereas trails extend backward.” This helps establish the context in terms of presence and absence, of moving forward whilst remembering backward.

My first book, Tokaido Road, was informed by ekphrasis and research into Japanese woodblock print art, and particularly the artist Hiroshige. Continental Drift includes the long poem “Po-wa-ha”, which was informed by Susan Magoffin’s Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico, as well as Essays in Landscape Theory, The Untold Story of the Making of the Atomic Bomb, and books on New Mexico’s history and geology.

During the writing of Part II of Meridian, I discovered For the Time Being, a book of poetic journals edited by Tyler Doherty and Tom Morgan. As these authors define it, a poetic journal literally means “a making from the day” or “a day’s making”. Poetic journals are not reportage, but embodied experience, comprising descriptions of the environment (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches) along with gazelle leaps and associative connections in sound or sense. Journal writing can consist of poetry, fiction, non-fiction. Weather, season and time of day are essential elements—as are place names. Procedurally, it is documentary in both senses of the word: it documents first-hand experience in a specific place at a specific time, but it also incorporates and manipulates found text. It’s meditative and reflective, in the same way that walking is. It doesn’t know where it’s going or how it’s going to get there. It is a physical, emotional and intellectual engagement with the day. Meridian arises from the poetic journal.

I chose to write Meridian as a long poem. Various forms are employed: the epistolary poem, the acrostic, the prose poem, but mainly, an open field poetics predominates. In a similar way to Tokaido Road, the poem is arranged in the sequence of named places along the pathways and trails that are situated along the Greenwich Meridian line from Peacehaven to Sand le Mere. But unlike Tokaido, which was a journey of the imagination, this work is based on an actual journey where I walked sometimes a day at a time, sometimes two, and sometimes four. The movement was not east to west, but south to north. I chose a four-part structure, based on the series of guidebooks I used to map the walk, and within each part, the poem is subdivided by an Ordnance Survey Map. The work as a whole contains fragments of song and poetry alongside snatches of TV dialogue, information from guide books, film flashbacks, all gathered together through the act of walking. While I planned each walk, I never planned the content of the poem, which always emerged from the walk itself. Along the way, I made notes, took photographs, recorded sounds including my own voice and footsteps, collected information from churches, museums, local newspapers, the people I met. After each walk, I would assemble this information and begin to write up the day. This would normally take about a week. I started in July 2015, and finished in August 2017. The shortest walk was about 7 miles; the longest 21. I walked 21 miles on two consecutive days in Lincolnshire, where the countryside was so vast, and the distances so great, that I would walk for 6 hours without seeing another person or even a road. I walked in blazing sun, freezing fog, ice, hail storms, rain. Mostly I walked alone, with two exceptions. Kat Peddie accompanied me through part of Epping Forest. And at Waltham Abbey, I actually met, entirely by accident, Graham and Hilda Heap, the authors of the guide book I was using. They walked with me a couple of miles that day. At the end of each day’s walk, I would return home (when I was near enough to do so), but when I got too far away, I would spend the night with a friend or in rooms above a pub or a B&B (in Lincolnshire). I have walked on blisters that bled, and I lost five toenails.

Writers such as Zoe Skoulding (in her book Contemporary Women’s Poetry & Urban Space) and Donna Stonecipher (Prose Poetry and the City) consider the city as a space of experiment for women writers, but there has not been much attention paid to rural space. This relates to another aspect of psychogeography that remains critical to my work: the desire to raise awareness of the natural, ecological and cultural environment around the walker, and thus the act of walking is enunciation/declaration as political and critical response to the status quo.

Part III begins in winter. It’s titled “Hardwick to Boston” and is located in the Fens. The poem begins with December 5: “the day of fracture / time & everything / is out of joint”. It starts with a walk through the Fens in fog so thick that, in the absence of any visible landmark, I had to use a compass to find my way, and it ends in the spring with a hailstorm. The reading which lends this section cohesion is Paul Celan’s The Meridian essay, which I discovered at Christmastime. This is a complex and elusive text which is Celan’s manifesto on what poetry is after the holocaust. It was delivered on the occasion of his receiving the Büchner Prize in Literature (1960). Pierre Joris recently undertook the mammoth job of translating its four parallel versions from German to English. There are so many things to think about in this essay; you cannot exhaust it. For example, it seems to say that the poem lies in the future of remembering, where remembering occurs across specific coordinates of time and place. Thus, Part III is a haunted text. It ends with an ode to Celan’s Meridian and juxtaposes some of the phrases from his essay into my poem and its thinking about poetry in time and place. So Part III is both a walking poem and a statement of poetics.

As I was walking and writing Part IV (Boston to Sand le Mere) I discovered two more remarkable books. Tim Ingold’s Lines: A Brief History is a fascinating meditation on the multiple meanings of the word ‘line’ which takes in everything from forest tracks to genealogies. I preface Part IV with a sentence from his book: “The line, like life, has no end.” The other writer, Rebecca Solnit, I had known about, but had not read A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Both of these writers took me back to the start of the project, which was motivated, in part, by a fascination with lines.

In the beginning the poem originated out of the fear of getting lost. Solnit helped me to view this from a different perspective: “One does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is a conscious choice, a chosen surrender, a psychic state achievable through geography.” She illustrates this quality with reference to the Pit River Indians who refer to a certain man as “wandering”. Under certain conditions of mental stress, when someone finds their life too much to bear, they will start to wander around the country aimlessly. She compares this to Virginia Woolf, who also knew despair, and it led her to fill her pockets with rocks and walk into the River Ouse. “It’s not about being lost but trying to lose your self.” Wheels within wheels. In Tokaido Road, there is a poem about Woolf. It is poem 50: Tsuchiyama. The River Ouse passes through Sussex; I walked along it during Part I. There is another, different River Ouse in Cambridgeshire; and yet another that empties into the Humber Estuary. This word “Ouse” derives from Celtic and means “water”. From now on, my pathways would be watery ones, leading me to the Humber Estuary, where several rivers flow, draining one-fifth of England. At the time I was walking, several disturbing events were happening, and these were weighing heavily as I walked, and so Part IV opens with a lament.

The trouble with ending a project like this is the reluctance to let it go. As I neared the end of the walk, I could hardly bear to finish it and both literally and figuratively kept dragging my feet. Should it find a publisher, that will be a final kind of letting go.


N.B.: this essay was first drafted in October 2017 (at the close of the Meridian project). Meridian was published by Longbarrow Press in February 2019 (see below for further details). ‘The First Cut’, a recent post for the Longbarrow Blog, reflects on the early stages of the project’s development; you can read it here.

Meridian, the third full-length collection by Nancy Gaffield, is available now from Longbarrow Press. You can read an excerpt from Part II here and a poem from Part IV here. Visit the Meridian site for further details and to order the collection; you can also order the book by clicking on the relevant PayPal link below.

Meridian: £12.99 (hardback)

UK orders (+ £1.70 postage)

Europe orders (+ £5 postage)

Rest of World orders (+ £7 postage)

Nancy Gaffield’s first collection of poetry, Tokaido Road (CB editions 2011) was nominated for the Forward Best First Collection Prize and was awarded the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize that year. Her second collection, Owhere (Templar 2012) won a Templar Poetry Pamphlet Award that year. Subsequent poetry publications include Continental Drift (Shearsman 2014), the chapbooks Zyxt (Oystercatcher 2015) and Meridian (Oystercatcher 2016), and a libretto, Tokaido Road: A Journey after Hiroshige (Shearsman 2014). Meridian is her first collection with Longbarrow Press.

Click here to read ‘Mirror Image’, Brian Lewis‘s recent survey of the poetry of Nancy Gaffield (by way of Eratosthenes, Solnit, Muybridge and Hiroshige) for the Longbarrow Blog.


The provincial sublime: transcendence and the post-industrial | Pete Green

What does the word sublime mean to you? For many, it connotes the grandeur of certain natural landscapes – rugged, mountainous vistas with the potential to inspire awe, and perhaps a sort of departure from the everyday. We inherit this understanding from the Romantics, for whom magnificent scenery offers a kind of transformative power which heightens the poet’s perception.

This power typically reveals connections between the poet, the natural world, human society, and sometimes a deity or immanent creative force. These connections are often profound and esoteric, and inaccessible except through this kind of sublime revelation. When the poet comes to mediate this experience into verse, their tone is typically one of wonder, their language ‘elevated’ far above the everyday.

In Wordsworth’s case the kind of scenery that offers an experience of the sublime is found in the Cumberland fells. Other Romantic poets look further afield – Shelley, for example, to Mont Blanc in the Alps.

This experience of the sublime might have been a long way removed from the everyday lives of most people in Wordsworth’s time. But this was at least a time when those lives were largely connected quite intimately with the natural environment. After two hundred years of urbanisation in the developed world, we find ourselves profoundly estranged from that natural environment and the Romantic sublime is less accessible to most of us than ever.

True, we can take walks in the countryside. We can visit the Lake District or (if we can afford it) the Alps. On those occasions when we are permitted to ‘connect with nature’, though, our potential experience of the Romantic sublime has been pre-empted by visual media. We’ve seen those places a thousand times in photographs, film and television. We can never perceive those landscapes in the same way as our forebears in the era before mass communication.

As a reader or a writer of poetry in 2019, then, you might be tempted to discard any notion of the sublime as an experience of place. Instead I would suggest looking somewhere different.

Wordsworth’s contemporary John Clare was born into the agricultural labouring classes and spent his life in the pleasant but unspectacular landscape of rural Northamptonshire. He found glimpses of the sublime not in majestic scenery but in the smaller details: the motion of a robin, or the sounds of thawing ice and snow.

Clare demonstrates how the sublime might be reconfigured in terms of both scale and location – from the grandiose to the humble, and from the notable to the obscure. In doing this he offers us some cues towards an understanding of how we might find a kind of transcendence in poetry (and perhaps other art forms) today.

When I come across this characteristic in new poetry, I think of it as a sort of ‘provincial sublime’. It’s typically located in scenes that are ostensibly mundane or inconsequential, often marginal in some sense, often where the natural and the built environment interact. They are obscure places. They may embody some kind of social, economic or environmental dysfunction. A sort of transcendence is attained in these locations through a particular gaze, which might narrow down to those small details or expand outward into an imagined or remembered wider landscape.

If you are watching a Boeing Dreamliner taking off from Heathrow for Singapore, there is no Romantic sublime to be encountered in the humdrum periphery of west London. But you might think about the hundreds of passengers on board, and conjure some riff on the grand sweep of humanity. You might consider the many intertwined processes – technical, industrial, financial, political and personal – that have combined to lift and propel this 250-tonne mass of glass, kerosene, titanium, and human flesh and bone over your head. You might reflect that these processes can also move backwards, and when Concorde served the route the same journey could have been made 40 years ago in half the time.

Or you might focus on the gentle swaying of the rosebay willowherb at the airport fence below.

Here are two poems, with very different tones but some similarities of form, which seem to me to relate to this notion of the provincial sublime. The first is from Natalie Burdett.

 

Birmingham,

you’re blossoming new curves. A warm glow skims
them, ribbons out across your city roofs
from Selfridges’ bright aluminium discs
to flick around the library’s gold hoops.

At night a colder, more fluorescent sheen
accentuates your skyline’s harder-edged
old towers. Polished steel casts well-built beams
of light which flash back from wet tarmac beds.

Inside the markets people claim a space.
Chermoula chicken couscous in deep bowls
steams up the glass; revives, illuminates
the dust-grey faces, highlights natural tones.

Outside, down low where nothing shines at all,
a sycamore seed sprouts against a wall. [1]

 

Burdett’s Birmingham is a scene not of decline and dysfunction but of renewal. The distinctive “new curves” of the library and the Selfridges building are both 21st-century additions to the landscape. Although the expansive, rooftop-roaming gaze of the first two stanzas narrows down to a human level in the third,[2] the celebratory tone remains, and the focus remains on the built environment rather than the natural. Neither prepare the reader for the quietly astonishing final couplet.

And that, in fact, is the point. The understated power of this closure derives precisely from its reversal of expectations. The richness and gleam of the regenerated cityscape, together with the convention of the sonnet form, invite the reader to anticipate an even grander, further-reaching finale. But the gaze becomes narrower still and, in a wonderfully surprising twist, shifts abruptly from the built environment to the tiny interloping organism from the natural world.

The bathos here is profound enough to prompt a reappraisal of what has gone before. Is the city’s much-heralded revamp somehow all in vain? Will human endeavour forever be overtaken by the natural environment that preceded it? Regeneration has been practised by urban planners only in the few decades of the post-industrial era – but nature has been doing it for countless millennia.

Matthew Clegg’s poem ‘Open to the Sky’ is rooted not in a city but an unnamed location, recognisably neither urban nor rural. There is no sign here of any form of regeneration, just glimpses of an inaccessible otherness.

 

Open to the Sky

England – my England – amounts to this:
a Hull-bound train stalling by a landfill;
gulls and crows scatter from the rubbish

and delay evolves into total standstill.
This is no more than I deserve, no less.
If I ever dream, the place is unable

to deliver. The big guy opposite
sucks on his Coke, bites deep in his burger.
He unwraps The Matrix DVD box set.

His balding fleece is endorsed by NASA.
We live on what we find. Like crows. Like gulls.
The sun ebbs and the landfill loses colour.

Lacking anything else, two teenage girls
take photo after photo of each other. [3]

 

If western society in the 20th century was characterised by social and technological advances in tandem, then perhaps the defining feature of the 21st is the way technology has continued to race ahead while social and perhaps cultural progress – like the train in Clegg’s poem – has stalled. Advances in technology are no longer driven predominantly by the need to solve a problem or improve society: some items and services seem to be developed and marketed simply because they can be.[4]

It’s this disconnect between possibility and reality – “If I ever dream, the place is unable//to deliver” – that defines ‘Open to the Sky’ and sets its tone of matter-of-fact desolation. The girls’ cameraphone and the mention of NASA remind us what miracles can be achieved by human ingenuity, but the concept of space exploration makes for a sharply ironic contrast with this rickety, paralysed locomotive and the predicament of its stranded passengers.[5]

In the end, while the adjacent landfill stands replete with rubbish, the stalled train comes to emblematise another kind of waste. Instead of merely salvaging scraps, how much more could all these passengers be doing now, had a functional railway already taken them to their destination, or a functional society delivered on their dreams? The image of the girls photographing each other just for something to do is not a reversal, in the style of Burdett’s closing couplet, but is equally arresting, even as it completes the sense of malaise. Outside of war poetry, it’s perhaps as complete and devastating a symbol of futility as you will ever find.

If we insist upon the notion of sublime that developed two centuries ago, in an utterly different world, then we’ll not find it in the poetry being written today in Yorkshire or Birmingham, or any other post-industrial setting. If, on the other hand, we understand the sublime to be defined by a sort of transcendence from one’s immediate surroundings – rather than necessarily by beautiful or majestic settings, and a tone of great wonder – then it is there for our taking.

‘Birmingham’ toys delightfully with our expectations, skipping adeptly between scales and scopes, and snatches us away from human vanity to point out the timeless endurance of nature. ‘Open to the Sky’ hints at a magnificence or redemption that is insurmountably elsewhere, offering a bitterly ironic kind of transcendence. In their different ways, in similar forms, both poems represent a model of the sublime that is perfectly attuned to our times.

 

[1] From the pamphlet Urban Drift (smith|doorstop, 2018).

[2] The “dust-grey faces” of the market people here reprise the “sleep-stupid faces” of factory workers in another study of the second city, by Louis MacNeice, dating from the 1930s and also entitled ‘Birmingham’.

[3] From the collection West North East (Longbarrow Press, 2013).

[4] When cameraphones first became available, owners typically lacked ideas for their everyday use. For the technology to acquire a widely perceived purpose, a culture shift was also necessary; this followed later, when social media lifted some of the stigma around narcissism, as seen in the normalisation of the selfie.

[5] Regular users of Northern Rail, which serves the Hull region, will need no reminder that its fleet still comprises many obsolete Pacer units, built in the mid-1980s with an anticipated lifespan of 20 years.

 

Images by Pete Green. An earlier version of this essay was presented at Modern Nature, a two-day symposium (organised by The University of Sheffield) at The Hepworth, Wakefield, 25-26 April 2019.

Pete Green’s Sheffield Almanac is available from Longbarrow Press; click here to order the pamphlet. An earlier essay by Green addresses issues of civic identity and civic pride, and examines Sheffield’s status as a ‘City of Making’. Click here to read ‘Model City’.

Pete Green and Anders Hanson lead a walk through Sheffield’s Kelham Island district on Wednesday 3 July (as part of From Brooklyn Works to Brooklynism, a programme of exhibitions and free events). Click here for more information and to book tickets.


Touching the Gleam | Mark Goodwin

a poet as rock – an attempt to gloss

Andrei Tarkovsky identified the specific material with which art-cinema works – time. He said that it’s obvious a musical composer works with sound, and that a writer’s material is words, a painter’s is colour, and a potter’s clay … Tarkovsky realised that the artist film-maker sculpts in time. A material of memory!

‘Where will they put [time]?’

‘They won’t put it anywhere. Time isn’t a thing,
it’s an idea. It’ll die out in the mind.’

I feel enlightened by and confident in Tarkovsky’s explaining that cinema is made out of time (or rather, perhaps that should be ‘from’ time?). And I’m comfortable that obviously a sculptor’s material could be marble, and that a musician’s is sound. But I’m not so sure about a writer’s material … or rather I’m not so sure about Tarkovsky being right about the material a poet works with. And in turn this starts to make me doubt whether a poet is actually a writer … because writers do … of course, of a matter of course … work with words …

But to say a poet works with words, that is, perhaps, like saying a rock-climber works with stone. Of cause [sic], a writer works with words, in the same way that a map-maker works with symbols that represent geometry that represent ground … that …

… But what is it that a rock-climber works with? What is a rock-climber’s material? Am I being foolish, to assume that a rock-climber makes something, that a climber is a maker? Yes, perhaps being a fool is the point, or a point … in time … or out … of time …

A person has one body,
Singleton, all on its own,
The soul has had more than enough
Of being cooped up inside
A casing with ears and eyes
The size of a five-penny piece
And skin – just scar after scar –
Covering a structure of bone.

A map-maker works on paper (or at least they used to!). A climber moves on … (or is that with?) … rock. If we are to believe, remembering that just like the word ‘fool’, ‘belief’ is a vital word for human-ness … if we are to believe, or rather if I am to believe … that a climber is a maker, that a climber in the act of climbing creates some ‘thing’ … then what is it that they make? The produce of the map-maker is their (or our?) map, made out of symbols of measurements. The produce of the/a writer is an/the … essay … prose … a novel … a story … a narrative … fiction … journalism … The Tweet! Where does a poem happen? When? What is it made of? Where from? Does it happen on the rock’s surface, or start deep down amongst strata, way back in deep time … or is it only now held in (the) memory, that sensation of fingers pressing against gritstone, or toes jammed into a sharp slate crack? The particular layout of holds … and textures on the rock’s surface … did the first climber to find that pattern, or put that pattern together … make the holds? And what of the climbers who follow after that first ascent? What do they make of it? What did they make of it? What will … ?

The road is mirrored in your tearful eyes
Like bushes in a flooded field at dusk,

I love … and I think that is the right word … I love to see light change the expressions of stone. How Stanage Edge is made of light and not rock, or at least it is made of light if I just watch … but … it is with … out any doubt in … my body … when I touch … it … made … of gritstone (and perhaps ‘from’ that substance too) … and when I remember my moving on the rock (or with the rock?), and I recall the resonance of other climbers having moved there also, and remember that others will also move in tune with the stone(’s) pattern(s) … at the ‘same’ point in space … but … long after I’m gone … then this memory feels …

… like a gleam, a glossy trembling, a smoothness just … vibrating over the rock’s rough surface …

In answer to each step you take
The earth rings in your ears.


Notes:

First quote: from The Possessed, Fyodor Dostoevsky,
quoted by Andrei Tarkovsky in ‘Imprinted Time’
(chapter 3 of Sculpting in Time).

Second quote: the first stanza of Eurydice,
by Arseniy Tarkovsky (Andrei’s father),
(translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair). This poem
is spoken in Tarkovsky’s film Mirror.

Third quote: first two lines of the second stanza
of Ignatievo Forest, by Arseniy Tarkovsky
(translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair).
This poem is also heard in Mirror.

Fourth quote: the last two lines
of Eurydice, by Arseniy Tarkovsky.


Image: Hen Cloud by Paul Evans (click here to view his paintings, drawings and poems for the Seven Wonders project). Mark Goodwin’s publications include All Space Away and In (Shearsman, 2017), Steps (Longbarrow Press, 2014), and a new collection, Rock as Gloss (Longbarrow Press, 2019). Click here to visit the Rock as Gloss microsite 
for extracts, essays and audio recordings. You can also order the hardback via PayPal below:

Rock as Gloss: £12.99 (hardback)

UK orders (+ £1.70 postage))

Europe orders (+ £5 postage)

Rest of World orders (+ £7 postage)


Meridian: The First Cut | Nancy Gaffield

February 2016

In her long poem Drift, Caroline Bergvall says, “Eventually one comes to a point where being lost can signal a starting point.” She refers to this process as “to north oneself”. This statement is an accurate description of my own long poem, Meridian. I am following the Greenwich Meridian line along public footpaths and bridleways from Peacehaven to the Humber in order to investigate the way that landscapes are disturbed and reordered by history and memory. Meridian is a long poem about time, walking and lines: lines, both real and imaginary, in all their forms. It is also a walking practice, walking in the Wordsworthian sense of “a mode not of travelling, but of being”—a process that implicates both mind and body on equal terms. I want the shape of the poem to be determined by the rhythm of walking—the measure of the step to shore up the measure of the line, alternating long Whitmanesque lines with the shorter, stepped lines of William Carlos Williams, undulating like the contours on the Ordnance Survey maps. On my walk I am in dialogue with a number of companion poets: Lorine Niedecker, Helen Adam, John Clare, Iain Sinclair—to name but a few.

I chose to write Meridian as a long poem. Charles Altieri defines the long poem as one which desires “to achieve epic breadth by relying on structural principles inherent in lyric rather than narrative modes.” To do this, the long poem incorporates other texts, voices, political speech, bits of memory whilst foregrounding the writer’s role in making her way through such often-resistant material. Indeed, the process of writing of such a text is often part of the material—it is self-reflexive. The long poem itself is a challenge—both for reader and writer, for example: how to maintain a sense of momentum and coherence, how/when to end it; choosing the most effective form. On the other hand, it offers greater space to develop ideas; it can be an ongoing work that you do alongside other projects; it offers the potential for panoramic treatment of a thing; it can bring in other registers, discourses, genres. Since the early 20th century, experiments in innovative, language-based long poems, often disjunctive in form, have been gathering momentum. In particular, I’m interested in long poems by women: Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, Rosmarie Waldrop’s The Reproduction of Profiles; Susan Howe’s The Europe of Trusts, Sharon Doubiago’s Hard Country, Lynn Hejinian’s A Border Comedy, not to mention very long poems like Rachel Blau duPlessis’ Drafts. These poems often recover political, philosophical or historical material, and pay close attention to the way language, especially its rhythms, silences, gaps, conventions and expectations, engages with the reader.

In 2015 I was beginning to think about what my next full collection would be, and I knew I wanted the work to be informed by the ideas, concepts and methods of psychogeography. Around that time I was reading books like Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, Roger Deakin’s Wildwood, Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams, Peter Davidson’s Distance and Memory—so I knew landscape/geography would once again feature in whatever I was to write, but ratcheting it up a notch by incorporating psychogeographic ideas.

As Guy Debord accurately said, psychogeography is a concept with “a rather pleasing vagueness.” His Lettrist International Group in the 1950s were investigating urban space through desire rather than habit. To do this, they explored different ways of getting lost: for example, by hiking through the Harz region in Germany using a London map as a guide. However, in general, psychogeography studies the affects and effects of the built environment on the emotions and actions of individuals. It embraces chance and coincidence, concurrent with an alertness to patterns and repetitions arising from the collision between the chaos of the urban environment and the personal history of the individual. It involves a range of activities that raise awareness of the natural and cultural environment around the walker; the walker is attentive to senses and emotions as they relate to the environment; it is serious but fun; it is often political and critical of the status quo. One of the key concepts within psychogeography is that of the dérive, an informed or aware wandering through a varied environment using continuous observation. Dérive = drift, aimless wandering through a place, guided by whim and the awareness of how different spaces both attract and repel. The walker attempts an interpretive reading of the city and its architecture by engaging in a playful reconstruction. This turning around (détournment) is key to the situationist agenda; it is a dialectical tool useful to expose hidden ideology.[1]  The psychogeographer is seeking new ways of apprehending the environment, excavating the past and recording it with the present, revealing the nature of what lies beneath.

My own engagement arose initially out of a particular challenge: finding my way. I can’t read a map, or a compass—and, as a result, am always lost. Not only is this a huge frustration, when lost, I am susceptible to panic attacks, so I thought I could learn the rudimentary skills of navigation whilst writing my poem. I also wanted it to have a Kentish connection, so I gradually came to the idea of the Greenwich Meridian as a way to organise the walk in time/place. (Greenwich was part of the County of Kent until 1889.) Happily, then, I discovered the series of guidebooks written by Graham and Hilda Heap, which take the walker primarily on footpaths and bridleways along the Greenwich Meridian from Peacehaven in East Sussex to Sand le Mere in East Yorkshire—total length 275 miles. Around this time, Iain Sinclair came to Kent as a Visiting Professor. I started to read London Orbital and had the opportunity to speak with him about that as well as what I was doing. His process, he explained, always seemed to happen in four parts. There is a statement of place before a stepping out into a quest/journey. That is followed by a dark night of the soul moment that tries to undo the simplicity of the journey and takes you somewhere you didn’t expect to be, then a moving away from what you created and/or segueing into the next section/project. Could this structure then be helpful to me in the way I would move forward? Certainly, there was a synergy: the trail is divided into four books, so I am using each book as a device to section the collection. Part I is Peacehaven to Greenwich; Part II is Greenwich to Hardwick; Part III is Hardwick to Boston; and Part IV is Boston to the Humber. Each Part will consist of approximately 20 pages of poetry, subdivided by the Ordnance Survey Map number which pertains to that part of the walk.

So far I have walked to Epping Forest and I intend to walk the rest of the route this summer. While walking, I record observations and events in real time; these appear on the page using indentations to indicate voice or breath change and emphasis. Before each walk, I do some basic research into the places en route, but I do not plan the content. It is very important that the poem leads me. I stop to take notes as I walk, sometimes record things into a recording app on my phone and take photographs. At the end of the day, I write up the day—and finish the section related to each walk within five days. Inevitably, I engage in “soul-wandering”, so associative leaps and digressions are made, including sensory description, bits of narrative and lived experience, mainly relating to whatever is preoccupying me at the time, the passage of time, what I am reading around that journey, and conversations—both real and imaginary.

Part II has a section called “The First Cut”. This is composed by using the cut-up method. I took every tenth sentence from “The First Walk” in Iain Sinclair’s Lights Out for the Territory. I cut the sentences up into individual words and phrases, and collaged these into the poem along with my notes and observations of the day’s walk.

And this is where I am now, about to enter Epping Forest, which I’ve been putting off because of all the stories I’ve heard of the woods’ dark reputation. I wonder what will happen further ahead, through Forest and into the Fens? And Lincolnshire?

[1] If there is an application of this concept to Meridian it is that I am trying to break through the paternalistic and geocentric relationships inherent in the L[l]ine.

N.B.: this essay was first drafted in February 2016 (at the outset of the Meridian project). The walk was completed in autumn 2017; the resulting work was published by Longbarrow Press in February 2019 (see below for further details).

Meridian, the third full-length collection by Nancy Gaffield, is available now from Longbarrow Press. You can read an excerpt from Part II here; visit the Meridian site here; and order the book by clicking on the relevant PayPal link below.

Meridian: £12.99 (hardback)

UK orders (+ £1.70 postage)

Europe orders (+ £5 postage)

Rest of World orders (+ £7 postage)

Nancy Gaffield’s first collection of poetry, Tokaido Road (CB editions 2011) was nominated for the Forward Best First Collection Prize and was awarded the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize that year. Her second collection, Owhere (Templar 2012) won a Templar Poetry Pamphlet Award that year. Subsequent poetry publications include Continental Drift (Shearsman 2014), the chapbooks Zyxt (Oystercatcher 2015) and Meridian (Oystercatcher 2016), and a libretto, Tokaido Road: A Journey after Hiroshige (Shearsman 2014). Meridian is her first collection with Longbarrow Press.

Click here to read ‘Mirror Image’, Brian Lewis‘s recent survey of the poetry of Nancy Gaffield (by way of Eratosthenes, Solnit, Muybridge and Hiroshige) for the Longbarrow Blog.


Seven Forms Through | Mark Goodwin

for Paul

On the ninth of November 2018, climbers Paul Evans & Mark Goodwin performed together at the Kendal Mountain Literature Festival.

The following cycle of seven
poem-photo-combinations is drawn
from that experience.

All photos are by Nikki Clayton.

 

to cradle
a will

of liga
ment is

to say a
line’s si

lent rub

 

 

to twin
to twine

to tear an
elbow’s

place of
sp

rung to

point

 

 

sen
se

caught in a
chest’s

zawn or

a lung’s
boiling

corrie all

sense

less as
kilometres of

rock’s

pig

ments

 

 

for

ced per
spec

tive takes
human

forms

through un
feel

ing stone’s
art

less ob
duracy

 

 

hear

t

less blind
stone knows

nothing

of human
com

edy or trag
edy yet

people

feel

 

 

as a bran
ch bro

ken in
win

dow light as
rock-tones’

multi co
loured sil

ence

our own I

is on
ly of

eros

ion

 

 

and even as won

and un
even as now a

mongst rock’s
hard

est reflected gest
ures this

briefest
page of

ex
is

tence has lit
specks

of

peace

 

 


Artist Paul Evans has collaborated with a number of Longbarrow Press poets in recent years; click here to view the paintings, drawings and poems for the Seven Wonders project. His main website can be found here.
Mark Goodwin’s publications include
All Space Away and In (Shearsman, 2017) and Rock as Gloss (out from Longbarrow Press in late January 2019). His fourth poetry collection, Steps (Longbarrow Press, 2014), explores themes of climbing, walking and balancing. These themes are developed in his new collection, Rock as Gloss. Click here to visit the Rock as Gloss microsite 
for extracts, essays and audio recordings. You can also order the hardback via PayPal below:

Rock as Gloss: £12.99 (hardback)

UK orders (+ £1.70 postage)

Europe orders (+ £5 postage)

Rest of World orders (+ £7 postage)


The Iron Harvest | Rob Hindle

Out in the Channel, the dead water
shines like melted wax. Behind in the dark
is England; ahead in the dark, France
and everything untold.

Miraumont Wundtwerk looking east (Rob Hindle)

A raw winter’s afternoon. A track peters out into stones and earth, a slight slump in the middle of fields. Pylons step across the dun-grey landscape. We can see maybe two miles in each direction, a horizon of copses, hamlets, farms.
     This is – more or less – where my great-grandfather Albert Brown was killed. We don’t know exactly: he wasn’t an officer, so the diary entry has only a few details, including the pencilled word ‘killed’, at the end of the brief record for the 26th February 1917. He was 37 and had been in France about six weeks; he left Annie to bring up six children.
     His body wasn’t found. The buzzing pylon and surrounding scrub don’t feel like markers: we’ve just run out of track. We stand freezing for a few seconds, my dad and me; then we go back to the car.
     The villages are ancient and they aren’t. Aerial photographs from 1918 show nothing but dark weals; yet here are hedgerows, huge trees, honey-stoned cottages and walls. Graveyards cluster along the lanes, the same stone cut into trim slabs and lined up, almost touching. Everything is small and close: 100 graves in a garden plot; six villages in a ten-minute drive. A dozen fields run down to the Ancre. I look at the maps from 1914, 1916, 1917. The villages disappeared but the red lines were more or less the same. Men came up that road, year after year, and were killed. When it was finished people came back, rebuilt their houses, planted trees, ploughed the land again.

Around Ypres, over the border in Belgium, farmers call it the Iron Harvest. Each year their ploughs uncover munitions, barbed wire, remnants of rifles. Sometimes the flotsam of older conflicts turns up – lead and iron from the Napoleonic Wars (known, until 1918, as the ‘Great War’) and the Hundred Years’ War.
     Digging down takes me through horrors in the cultural strata. Wilfred Owen (who fought in the same fields as Albert) and David Jones; Napoleonic Frankenstein and his monstrous progeny, Goya and his; the macabre paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, who lived in the shadow of the Hundred Years’ War (three million killed); and Thomas Malory, knight, possible veteran of France, probable career criminal. Here is a rough-stitched portmanteau of French romances and Celtic myth, spun with Christian morality and nationalism for the domestic market; and at its core, capacious and contradictory, the heroic, doomed quest of a fading empire. Bones jut out of the earth: men sent to fight someone else’s battles. Those returning tell horror stories, or stay silent.

Miraumont Wundtwerk looking west (Rob Hindle)

In his introduction to Malory’s Works, Eugène Vinaver is confident that Thomas Malory fought, not only in the Hundred Years’ War but later (on the losing Lancastrian side) in the Wars of the Roses. These events, along with the long list of indictments and imprisonments, make him something of a Falstaffian figure. In this context, the Tale of the Sankgreal appears to occupy the same political ground as Shakespeare’s Histories: an attempt to curry (or, in Malory’s case, rekindle) political favour in turbulent times.
     The narrative, unwieldy as it often seems (ellipses and non-sequiturs abound), can be summarised around a basic theme: the attempt to resurrect national unity of a once-great polity in the face of fading influence and factionalism. The Shakespearean seed-sowing in the first pages makes it clear not only that something is rotten, but that we are invited to anticipate a tragic arc. Gawain, as Arthur’s nephew (and first champion), feels duty bound to announce the quest to find the Holy Grail with which the maimed king can be healed and the waste land made whole again. There are signs and wonders but also personal and political intrigues, centred round Launcelot (the current beste knight of the worlde) and his illegitimate son Galahad, newly arrived at court and stirring difficult emotions in his lover Guinevere. Arthur fears the worst – his grete sorowe lies in his reckoning that
                 my trew felyshyp shall never mete here more agayne.
A doomed adventure, then – but one in the course of which the destiny of the nation is played out through the lives and reckonings of individuals. A mask of confusion is sustained through a range of contemporary literary conventions (dream visions, ‘miracles’, and predestined occurrences) – as well as events and moods which for a modern audience bring to mind Gothic (revivalist) novels, grand guignol theatre, Bergman backlighting (school of Malory’s near-contemporary Brueghel), or the ketchup and screams of Hammer films. Whether following the dismal trails of the knights over heaths and through forests, entering the ghost ship with Percivale (where his dead sister lies, having sacrificed herself to the Grail’s thirst for blood), or witnessing the ‘elevation’ of the berserker Galahad, we are consumed by a dreadful trajectory. The achievement of the Grail by the pure means death; failure means a return to a home that is unchanged – and yet which is now estranged by the experience of those that undertook the quest. When Launcelot and Bors embrace in the final scene, we see them with a modern sensibility – as survivors of trauma.

Europe was full of wanderers
and sickness: men who’d tracked
the Grail roads and found only wastes
and dark versions of themselves.

A picture on the cover of a book, Forgotten Voices of the Great War. The book is full of personal accounts; but it was the cover, hand-coloured, that got me. Three injured soldiers walking towards us through a wrecked landscape, their faces bearing witness to horrors we can never know. They could be the ‘champions’ of Malory’s Quest who return, damaged but alive, to tell their tales of prowess, ultimately to fall quiet, broken, perhaps, by survivors’ guilt. In that story it is those who don’t return – Galahad and Percivale in particular – who are most celebrated: pure, heroic, ‘whole’ men whose sacrifice is the ultimate, ennobling destiny.
     The soldiers in the photograph – two British, one French – walk in step, arms linked in fellowship. What binds them – the shared experience of war – won’t help them in their return to the everyday. The felyship of the Round Table, that necessary prerequisite to soldiery, cannot ultimately make a kingdom whole:

And ye have sene that they have loste hir fadirs and
hir modirs and all hir kynne, and hir wyves and hir
chyldren, for to be of youre felyship.

Albert signed up in 1915, before the slaughter of the Somme brought in conscription. It’s easy to imagine how a community can persuade its lads to go to war (or at least, ensure that any act of objection is made in the face of wholesale disapproval, even disgust): but a working, family man in his thirties? The 2/5th wasn’t a Pals battalion; nor was it likely, at the time of his enlistment (it was a Territorial battalion), to involve front-line service. The initial optimism of 1914 had begun to harden into a grimmer view: the sense was growing that the war would be long-lasting and attritional. In all likelihood, it was with a more general sense of ‘doing his bit’ that Albert joined up. No longer an adventure, it was still a just cause: in fact, as the casualties continued to mount, men still at home would have felt an increasing responsibility to play their part.

At home he dreamed of this:
his brothers’ bodies cast
on the mud, piled like logs
for the earth’s winter.

Track west from Miraumont Wundtwerk (Rob Hindle)

Edward Thomas was the same age as Albert when he was killed at Arras a few weeks after him – and he enlisted at a similar time. He had prevaricated, his conscience wrestling with a sense of, if not duty, then fellowship: an identification with his fellow countrymen and the physical connection with territory which is central to his poetry – and which provides a deep and enduring bond between him and his ‘tribe’. Most Englishmen in the early twentieth century had not travelled abroad, and had no sense of shared identity with ‘foreigners’. If the chain of events which led to war was political, it was nationhood, an emotional concept based on a sense of belonging – and, necessarily, not belonging – which provided an army. Though much is made of the power of community coercion – the Pals, the white feathers – millions of men joined up voluntarily in 1914–15 to protect their own against the ‘other’.
     It is argued that the period of the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453) saw the emergence of the idea of English national identity and the nation state, exemplified by the spread of vernacular English as an expression of national confidence. Though this view centres on the second half of the fourteenth century, focusing on the writing of Chaucer and Langland, it reached its fulfilment with Caxton’s printing of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur in 1485. Although the conflation of vernacularity and national identity can be seen as simplistic, Malory’s overtly nationalistic schema – the ‘matter of Britain’ identified as a heroic quest to restore a broken realm – is persuasive.
     Those three wounded comrades emerging out of the waste land trigger, then, an identification across five hundred years of nationalist politics which draws its soldiery from an idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’. It goes on. The current rise of populist demagoguery and vicious nationalism across the West is but another, depressingly familiar tide, made possible by the limitations of human memory: those with direct experience of Western war grow old or are dead – so we are stirred by bugles more than we are appalled by horror, or feel it as physical fear.

View north from Miraumont Wundtwerk (Rob Hindle)

In 2014 the Telegraph published a remarkable series of photographs by Thom Atkinson. Inventories of War: Soldiers’ Kit from 1066 to 2014 showed how little had changed in what British infantry took with them into battle – until the development of automatic weapons in the early 20th century. The similarities of both arms and personal items provided further correspondence, for me, between the wars in Malory’s fifteenth century (and by extension, how he considered the experience of Arthur’s knights) and the First World War. I have interleaved the sections of The Grail Roads with short comparisons as a way of maintaining a sense of identification between the conflicts.

We drive down to the river, follow it through villages and hamlets: Miraumont, Baillescourt, Beaucourt. The road turns uphill at the station towards Beaumont Hamel, where Albert camped the night before his death (and where those of his fellows whose bodies were recovered are buried). We are banked below the open fields to our right, formerly cut by the tangle of trenches, climbing gently to the pylons at the front line. A green lane tracks along to our left. It is quieter and warmer here. The regimental diary reports the advance of Albert’s regiment on 25th February down this road ‘and thence to Front Line… Shelling of Battalion Sector by evening normal.’ The same continues the following day, with ‘Shelling of ‘B’ Co’s Sector’.

CASUALTIES: KILLED, 4885 Pte A. Brown, ‘B’ Coy, 3475 L.Cpl J.W. Pearson, ‘D’ Coy […]. WOUNDED, 3363 Pte W. Hope, ‘B’ Coy, 3703 Pte H. Hastelow.



 

The Grail Roads is the third full-length poetry collection by Rob Hindle. A beautifully produced 144-page hardback, it is available from Longbarrow Press for £12.99 (+ P&P). You can order the book securely by clicking on the relevant PayPal button below. 

The Grail Roads: £12.99 (hardback)

UK orders (+ £1.70 postage)

Europe orders (+ £5 postage)

Rest of World orders (+ £7 postage)

 

Rob Hindle is the author of several collections of poetry, including Some Histories of the Sheffield Flood 1864 (2006), Neurosurgery in Iraq (2008), The Purging of Spence Broughton, a Highwayman (2009) and Yoke and Arrows (2014). Five long poems and sequences, collectively titled Flights and Traverses, appear in the Longbarrow Press anthology The Footing (2013). The Grail Roads is his first full collection with Longbarrow Press. Click here for further details and to read poems from the book.