Key Ping Ba(p)la(n)ce | Mark GoodwinPosted: August 13, 2014
I was sitting on a ledge high up on a crag called Clogwyn y Ddysgl. Below me the small watery letterbox-slot of Llyn Bach invited me to post silly messages … not exactly in the same way Plath’s Wuthering Heights’ sheep did with their black slots. This slot glittered, and I was elated, so obviously the invitation to post was also one to celebrate … in that moment I felt – being that absurdly over-the-top personhood known as poet – that I could sing a psalm to Earth’s centre, to praise the weak but very beautiful force of gravity. Fortunately, I quickly came back to the matter, the rock, in hand and focused again on the practicalities of climbing. My climbing partner – a tough, pragmatic yet gentle woman – was much relieved, to say the least. And to say ‘the least’ is very hard for a poet to do.
The sheep know where they are,
Browsing in their dirty wool-clouds,
Grey as the weather.
The black slots of their pupils take me in.
It is like being mailed into space,
A thin, silly message.
I was once told by a sheep, as I balanced along the knife-edge crest of a boulder, only nine feet high mind, but nevertheless, I was told by a sheep that poets are absurd, dangerously absurd. High minded approaches to the stuff of stone and the weak but cunning force of gravity quickly go awry. And even the most rational of people can find themselves being told off by the utterly resilient woollen beings that wander much of Britain’s uplands, if such persons approach the zone with high minds. Of course finding one’s self is far easier than losing it. As voters know too well! As for poets, well … being balanced on-&-along a line, knowing when to end it, the line that is, counts for much. Each step has to be counted, and counted on. One step at a time, and soon, you have a whole collection of steps.
Friction, momentum, gravity. If the poet engages with these three through impeccable tenacity, as well as gentle negotiation, then the poet can fling off ‘the’ and become ‘a’. To be ‘a’ teetering on an edge shows how very fragile and maskly ‘the’ really is. I, or an I, marvels at what an I has learned about gravity and how bundled attentions of flesh called muscles-&-ligaments-&-tendons – held on a stone frame we call bones – can become an aerial. When we sing we sway, and sway is dance. So, there I am on this ledge staring down at a dark yet glistening slot of water, and I am listening to gravity sing. And do you know what, I very nearly thought of spreading my wings, but was put off by how pointless climbing would become if I had in a reality done so. I mean if I’d really flown, rather than just really thought about it. Often climbers can be very arrogant, it goes with(out) the territory: the vertical expanse that maps forget. However, the arrogance of poets completely outstrips that of climbers … to believe that the vibration made in one’s throat can really keep a being in place on a line between abyss & existence is absurd self-indulgence second only to that of the gods’.
However, give me a break, or a gap, or a crevasse or caesura can you not read how I’m making some effort at humility? My title has wilfully refused ‘my’, because the notion of ‘keeping’ balance is daft enough without adding to it the notion that I, me, a selfhood, might ‘own’ balance.
It was when A raven at the top of Tryfan’s South Summit said to me, “Watch Your Step” … it was just then-right-now that I knew Offkilter was Is’s swooping. And I was literally covered in flying ants. Still, I stayed in balance, momentarily at home in a house of balance, and came down from the mountain … not mad … but not a poet either. I came down as a person who had been touched by gravity.
Mark Goodwin’s long poem ‘From From a St Juliot to Beyond a Beeny’ appears in The Footing, an anthology of walking-themed poems published by Longbarrow Press. Steps, his first full collection with Longbarrow Press, is available here.
Sylvia Plath’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ appears in her posthumous collection Crossing the Water.