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)

UK orders (+ £1.70 postage))

Europe orders (+ £5 postage)

Rest of World orders (+ £7 postage)





4 Comments on “If You Go Up To Higger Today | Mark Goodwin”

  1. Tatterhood says:

    Fantastic book – Mark is such a beautiful soul and marvellous writer xxx

  2. […] by one of the fantastic poets that we have coming to the November Carlisle Poetry Symposium here: https://longbarrowblog.wordpress.com/2019/09/05/if-you-go-up-to-higger-today-mark-goodwin/. Hope you find it of […]

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