Flight of Being | Mark Goodwin

at cusp of    fledge        eyes to sky as        others of kind        call​

I was brought up on a farm in South Leicestershire, and since my childhood, some of the outbuildings have always ‘housed’, each summer, a certain kind of dweller, or rather I suppose, a certain kind of traveller. These beings made the dustbin shed a dangerous place to enter, or at least it seemed dangerous … because, more often than not as you opened the bottom half of the stable-door, the top half of which was always kept open, suddenly you would need to duck as a blurred

dark wing-edged missile
twanged past

skimming your crown …

It is just like that now – the swallows are still there at Lodge Farm, in the summer. And I, like many others, have come to know swallows as being the chirrups-&-clicks and flitting flow-visions of a particular summer place …

An intimacy of sorts. Swallows zooming the corners of the cobbled yard and then banking up into the wide summer blues above. You could never get near them – all speed & agility – and yet that fast distance they carry or project … that was, and still is, a kind of unique nearness, a bringing in of the far …

And as a child I could only vaguely imagine far-off South Africa, and how it might feel to fly and weather the long sky-hours crossing continents to that unknown ‘there’ … and then again to fly the vast space back … up Africa … across the deadly Sahara … Morocco … Spain … the high Pyrenees … France … across The Channel to England … and then up to Leicestershire again, and again to a particular rafter, in a farm’s outbuilding. And as an adult, I think I can imagine this no better. And yet, the swallows – settled in the dustbin shed – each year they bring this intercontinental distance close. Even though, swallows, flyers that they are, can never be touched …

Yes, swallows in my life, so far, have been near, but utterly impossible to touch. That cup of mud tucked into the rafters? Well … even as a small child I knew and felt just how forbidden it is to put a hand into that nest of peek-a-booing chicks. And in all the years of my growing up at Lodge Farm, and since, not one swallow chick has fallen from the nest. Or at least, I believe it to be that way …

Swallows. The impossible to touch. So, it is such a beautiful but strange surprise to me then, that my growing-up children, who are both now moving out and into the far world, should one day bring a touchable swallow to the place where I grew up …

My daughter, Tess, is a vet student, and she was recently doing some work experience at a stud farm in Shropshire. One of the other students had found a fallen swallow nestling, but was unable to carry on hand-rearing the bird, because her time at the stud farm had come to an end. She managed to persuade Tess to carry on with the rearing … and then Tess, as her work-experience came to an end, brought the swallow back home with her …

And so, that is what she, and my son, Louis, are now doing – they are hand-rearing a swallow. Or at least trying to …

a swallow chick    perched on my daughter’s fingers        its sweet alive anger    voiced        loud & yellow

Swallows grow fast, very fast. The grip of tiny claws on your finger. The strength of the grip. The fanning of wings, and the swish of air on your skin as flight is felt by the bird, but … flight not yet made, at least for now. The sudden little crinkled squawk-&-wide-open-yellow-maw as a tweezered wriggling mealy worm is offered … then gulped down. The sharp frightening hunter gaze and already skilled precise rotating head-movements as a passing fly is scanned avidly. This little creature is a terror! A hawk of a kind – a gnat harrier. So fast its ancient instincts are making its form & drive come into the world. This little creature is immensely beautiful …

Tess is trying very hard, as a vet student, as a scientist no less, NOT to get attached to this little being. She is failing, of course, but not enough to try at all to keep the creature. I’m sure part of her does not want this bird to fly, yet I know she mostly wants the creature to go, and to be free … yes! that is certainly what she wants most …

And as we talked about this, with the swallow on her hand, in the garden at my parents’ farm … suddenly the fledgling took flight … was up … and instantly bigger versions of itself boomeranged out of thin air and swooped close through the confines of the garden … and then the little swallow and the bigger ones that had joined it were beyond the beech hedge and in the big sky … Were they friendly, these big blade-shapes cavorting with the fledgling? …

The concern on my daughter’s face was as clear as the streak
of a swallow’s cry …

And then the wee bird landed on her hand again.

And my daughter, the scientist, knew, so very well, that the bird had returned only because of hunger & thirst, and nothing else. And yet, human that she is, my daughter declared her ‘love’ for the beauty of this driven beast …

droplet        swallow

Postscript

Last night, Tess took the fledgling back to Lodge Farm, which is abundant with swallows, skimming flies off the farm’s lake …

Before last night, the little bird had already made a flight with the wild adult birds, of about twenty minutes or so. I was there, at Lodge Farm, and saw how the bigger swallows curved close and jostled the fledgling. Were the ‘wiser’ birds teaching? Or were the wild creatures bullying a stranger? We couldn’t really tell. We suspect they were actually helping, but we don’t have enough knowledge of swallows to be certain of what we were looking at, other than a smaller bird circling and swooping … and being … pursued by larger beings of its kind. And when the nestless fledgling returned to my daughter’s hand, its beak was ajar: the fledgling was panting, and obviously very tired. The sudden open sky and the action of flight had taken a lot of energy …

Late last night, Louis told me that the little swallow had been flying again at Lodge Farm, and this time for over two hours … and that Tess was about to leave, suspecting she would see no more of the bird, when suddenly it landed on her head …

… I texted Tess this morning: ‘I hear, on the wing 4 over 2hrs yester eve! Lv d’ Her reply: ‘Yes but he’s not in a good way 😦 he came back absolutely exhausted and hasn’t tweeted since, and this morning I noticed a slight bloody patch on his under belly so he’s going 2 the vet today. Lv T.’

It is likely that the juvenile driven flyer, un-guided by parent swallows, simply flew and flew in circles until exhaustion … and then made a bad crash landing causing injury …

Such an immensely beautiful & driven little beast. And yet so fragile and dependent on a particular pattern of existence, a particular unfurling of events, a set of steps in a deep old precise process … that cannot be easily interrupted …

The attrition rate for juvenile swallows whilst making their first migration is so very high – only the strongest flyers stand any chance of making the journey their instincts demand of them …

It is sad, this loss. But only for us people. The swallow cares not …

Photographs by Nikki Clayton. Mark Goodwin’s publications include All Space Away and In (Shearsman, 2017) and Rock as Gloss (out from Longbarrow Press this autumn). His fourth poetry collection, Steps (Longbarrow Press, 2014), explores themes of climbing, walking and balancing. Click here to visit the Steps microsite for extracts, essays and audio recordings. You can also order the hardback via PayPal below:

steps-large-e-bollandSteps: £12.99

UK orders (+ £1.60 postage)

Europe orders (+ £5 postage)

Rest of World orders (+ £7 postage)


Age of Sh All | Mark Goodwin

Spring gathers on (an) England. Onto ground’s wintery etch, onto lettery tree-shapes. Spring’s green fibres flock to this twig island. Or is it a th rust? Does the tracery of Isis – veins & photosynthetic ghost – come from within? Or fall upon all us En   glish to grip? Someone long ago … a version of me and a version of you … played Pooh sticks with An(gle)land-shaped twigs set … myths & histories afloat on a … glowing liquid. And watched them disappear beneath a bridge of our ageing, and reappear again in this later light. Old man me, and old woman you, old boy, old girl. That cross hung in our sky, that’s not Horus, that’s … purely a kestrel – he’s not fucking wind, no, he’s being feeling place. Yesterday I peeled off from my face such a faint skin and the whole faint skin of my body came away with it. So quickly May is here again. And. Again. And the nursing home that’s England’s dappled lanes has coagulated as a cloak for un-dwelled selves. Us. Perhaps. And. Look, and listen, as you cross the rumbling roads, to get to the quiet abandoned building in the woods of your life’s end … look and listen as some War-wick-shire poet’s body of words rips-&-mangles … yet the body’s bits cling to A/the blade of change. No. No En gland begins, begins all over again. Again over all be   gins, beg   ins Engl   ands.    No change of blade.    No !

This prose poem introduces ‘shall’, Mark Goodwin’s collaboration with film-maker Martyn Blundell:

Blundell’s ‘Convalescent Fade’ extends the dialogue with this now-demolished environment. Click here to view the film (with a written introduction by Mark Goodwin).

Mark Goodwin’s fourth poetry collection, Steps (Longbarrow Press, 2014), explores themes of climbing, walking and balancing. Click here to visit the Steps microsite for extracts, essays and audio recordings.

Martyn Blundell is an artist and film-maker. Click here to view his other short films.


An Alphabets’-Lattice | Mark Goodwin

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At a certain time of the day the jackdaws fly over, although you couldn’t set your clock by them. I can’t be sure, but I reckon it is the light that they feel, as by degrees day changes its frequencies towards night’s. Suddenly the sky is spotted with jacks’ calls, and the odd jackdaw figure being tugged towards favourite willows … and then not much later a slightly dimmer sky is spattered with jack-jacks & dark bird-glyphs constellated in flow towards roost …

An evening or two ago, I decided to set up my field-recorder in the heart of Jackdawia – a nation-less place amongst old water-filled gravel pits, and beneath tall willows. As I arrived the odd jack sparked in the sky as a blackbird chinked and a wren’s hot sonic silver shot through twigs … the long willow limbs were purple-black and blackening against the sky’s energy-fade … the city-rim noises of by-pass cars and the general whirr of the city’s mass fractured into slippery see-through sounds as the entangling alphabets of the trees’ branches – the lattice of cruxes & twig-scripts – re-said some world … and then the jacks, and the crows too, their throats took something from the air and gave something else back … but what it was these creatures were giving, and to what or who … suddenly exquisitely impossible …

img_0026_2

My digital field-recorder on its silvery-legged tripod in the dark, the illuminated square of its interface lonely below the blackening willows & the twig-clots of crows’ nests. I’ve got my ears, on the side of my head, I put my fingers up to them, I can feel them … and yet that technological appendage, the field-recorder just over there, as I stand here surrounded by whirling bird-voice & crossed-crisses of tree-letters from languages not imagined yet, that prosthetic ear almost, even though I’m not touching it, that grammar-changer, that algorithm-driven gleaner of sonic traces … it changes the way I feel with my ears. Degrees of direction explode slowly through degrees of sound, each jack or caw sits its noise on a fibre of distance …

It is actually almost frightening. In fact it is frightening, so I keep my mind on my feet, the pressure of Earth pushing up towards me, just to remind me I’m not radio waves and that I have a core of bones, and that I’m standing on a planet and not being sucked out into space … because now the roost is at climax, the smithereens-cackle around me has taken the dark now and compressed it and exploded it at once, the now, the now purple-black entangled letters of the trees & countless fragments of voices from all-times-gone-&-to-come … all this now has taken dark’s noise and remade it so that the outside of my mind is the same as the inside … unbounded, borderless … except for my feet, I keep my feet, keep them, I don’t let them go, I keep them planted … for if I forget to stand on this ground here then all this utterly-foreign-deeply-familiar eternally migratory creaturely un-language that I love as much as I fear, this burn of noise will not become … this burn of noise will not become sound … and sound’s pattern will not become … will not become words …

Photographs by Nikki Clayton. Listen to Mark Goodwin’s field recordings of jackdaws & crows at roost, Watermead Park, Leicestershire, England, January 2017:

 

Mark Goodwin appears at the StAnza Poetry Festival (St Andrews, Fife) on Friday 3 March; click here for more details. His fourth poetry collection, Steps (Longbarrow Press, 2014), explores themes of climbing, walking and balancing. Click here to visit the Steps microsite for extracts, essays and audio recordings. You can also order the hardback via PayPal below:

steps-large-e-bollandSteps: £12.99

UK orders (+ £1.60 postage)

Europe orders (+ £5 postage)

Rest of World orders (+ £7 postage)


Along a Line | Mark Goodwin

Mark on weir rail

Mark Goodwin on the weir rail, Birstall, Leicestershire (photo by Elaine Miller)

I have what could be described as a penchant for balancing along things – fence rails or tree branches or cables etc. Such balancing is intensified walking. I so enjoy the precision of toe, ball-of-foot & heel placed on solidity, and feeling for friction, as the rest of my body sways in air and pulls only against its own muscles to stay placed, and connected by feet.

As a poet I have a penchant for lines, for sound-shapes & text-shapes measured out, sometimes even in feet. The metaphor of balancer precisely stepping along a rail equalling poet is no metaphor at all, nor a symbol. Humans walk, and humans balance, and humans speak.

Very near to where I live there is a country park. It has an abundance of solid lines to balance along. One of my favourite lines is made from old railway track bolted to short pillars. This single railway rail is just a foot or two above the water of the river Soar, and it was placed here as a guard, to keep boats off the weir. Just the other day an elderly couple paused on the walkway running parallel with the rail, they watched me intently as I walked backwards along the line. When I got to one of the pillars, I stood on its rectangular top and got chatting with the couple. I mentioned to them how last summer an elderly woman, probably in her mid-seventies, had watched me just as intently as they, and that when I’d finished my walk she came over to me smiling. She was delighted, and told me that she had last walked along that very rail when she was twelve years old.

Weir, Thurmaston South

Mark Goodwin rail-balancing, Thurmaston weir, Leicestershire (photo by Nikki Clayton)

When I first started balancing in the park I was a little shy, or rather I didn’t want people to think I was showing off, so I would try to wait until no one was about. This was almost impossible, and so I was hardly getting any balancing done. And to grow the power of balance one has to do a lot of it. So, I decided that I must balance whatever, whoever was about, and that part of the practice should be to ignore whoever was watching me or speaking to me whilst I was balancing, but that once done with my balancing, should someone ask me about it I should tell them as much as I could. This practice has led me into delightful, and sometimes inspiring encounters with various kinds of people, from cheeky teenagers through to a serious but gentle Indian doctor. Most people have been inspired by my balancing and have inspired me by the ways they have questioned me.

King Lear's lake

King Lear’s Lake, Watermead Park, Leicestershire (photo by Nikki Clayton)

There have been a few incidents. Once on the railway rail by the weir a lad threw a football at me. It skimmed in front of my face. I didn’t even flinch, not one teeter. My body was so focused on being in balance on the rail, that it, or was it me?, just accepted the flying object as being part of the place & the moment. I suppose sudden ducks & low-flying geese had helped in my training. In no way do I know Kung Fu! But I certainly know how Kung Fu becomes possible. But then again, most of us can tie our shoelaces blindfold and at speed. If we really watch the dexterity of someone tying a shoelace, and detach from our habitual familiarity towards that calligraphic knotting procedure, then we see that shoelace tying is Kung Fu.

To walk along a handrail by the side of a footpath is to disobey. This is, I feel passionately, what poetry should be. Poetry is just next to the conventional ways (or habits) of being human … but it disobeys, which only goes to show those conventions more clearly, even celebrate them … but certainly challenge them.

Mark n young offical

Mark being challenged by a young official in Watermead Park, Leicestershire (photo by Nikki Clayton)

I was challenged by a very young man, a very angry young man actually. He was dressed in a dark uniform, he was a park warden. I was balancing along a rail that was placed in the landscape with the intention of keeping pedestrians & feeders of ducks & such from falling into the lake. It was never intended to be a way. But this rail has been one of my ways for some years now. As the water lapped to my right this young man barked his commands at me from my left. Part of my discipline is to ignore anyone who talks to me whilst I’m balancing. So that is what I did. I regret that this only made the young man even more angry, as he protested what he believed to be my irresponsibility. However, I would not change the way I behaved at that point. What I would change is the way I tried to reason with him afterwards, tried to get him to see that should I hurt myself, well, it would only by my fault and I would have to be responsible for it. I think it is probably illegal for me to balance on this rail, and so my argument only served to anger further this young man in his uniform. I now feel that I should’ve let the young man tell me off … and once he’d gone just carried on along my way. It’s well over a year since this took place, and I’ve not seen the young uniformed man since.

The first time I balanced the thin white rail over the lock gate my fear was intense. Although I knew falling into the lock was unlikely to do me much harm. But the lock, its narrow slot, its dark obscure water – the lock holds a terror. The terror in the bottom of the lock is still there. It’s a simple terror, and a true one – it consists of no oxygen & filthy cold wet depth. No place to live in. Over the years my balance has become so sharp that walking the thin white rail over the lock gate poised breathing above no place to live where the terror still is has become a joy. I love poetry!


The short film embedded above (created by Goodwin and filmmaker Martyn Blundell) is based on a recent visit to Watermead Park, north of Leicester, in which Goodwin’s ‘rail-balancing’ is to the fore.

Mark Goodwin’s fourth poetry collection, Steps (Longbarrow Press, 2014) explores themes of climbing, walking and balancing. Click here to visit the Steps microsite for extracts, essays and audio recordings. You can also order the hardback via PayPal below:

steps-large-e-bollandSteps: £12.99

UK orders (+ £1.60 postage)

Europe orders (+ £5 postage)

Rest of World orders (+ £7 postage)

 


Circumspect & Circumflex | Mark Goodwin

What follows is about reading … and caution in a round & about way. It is not circumnavigation, it is a warning that no matter how intent we are on aiming for certainty, the terrain will always reveal its selves in ways map -readers, -makers & poets have no control over.

Llyn yr Arddu, Moelwynion

The focus sheet of water of ‘Llyn in the Moelwyns’. A version of this same little mountain lake appears in Mark’s collection Back of A Vast (Shearsman, 2010). Image: Llyn yr Arddu, Moelwynion, August 2008. Nikki Clayton & Mark Goodwin.

We read
ground through
fine detail printed
on paper …

Talking of over : it is the bent line of a circumflex that sits over y. This can equally be y as to x, or a crow’s spatial a as to be, or the question why? Confused? Well of(f) course that’s what a map’s for: to make us believe that the infinitely detailed, multi-directional & complicatedly angled terrain we find our selves in can be organised. We must be very careful about this powerful simplifying illusion. We map-maker-readers are prone to delusion if we do not watch out, and watch in, so as to spot how we may fool ourselves, especially when reading maps. As a practicing navigator, back in the 20th Century, I visited the Moelwyns in Snowdonia. Afterwards I wrote a poem centred around a small lake, or llyn. ‘Aim for certainty’ is prominent in that poem, and that poem was one of the steps I took towards making my book Steps … a book in which that poem appears.

We’re between
four walls of mist.

Appearance through mist, and missed also, has to be attended to with great care by a navigator. That poem morphed as it passed into the new cartography of a book. That poem’s shapes changed, particularly towards its end as an open misty field form insisted words spread over page. Within the mist-swirl I discovered the lore, the legend, and the curtain or veil of the word ‘llen’ with circumflex and without. In Llyn in the Moelwyns the mountain Cnicht is suddenly revealed. Cnicht has a classic mountain shape, and sits above the rucked blanket of the Moelwyns like a circumflex over an arcane vowel. Poets try so hard to be precise, and the thought of a stray comma or accent or even partial stop can wake a poet into a landscape of sweaty sheet.

The llyn’s still sheet is revealed.

Llyn is lake, or tarn. Llŷn is peninsula. Through veils of lores’ aching mists something missed emerges. A hollow of the lake & the extended point of a peninsula – they meet on maps of landscapes we cannot contort nor bend even slightly to our wills, we can only travel through our becoming, and only accept a landscape’s becoming. Kalapous is shoemaker’s last … yet our shoes or boots are always wearing out. Calibre exists as a measure in a/the round, yet to exist through movement over ground demands that various horizons’ rims ever recede. Precise measures are never

possible ; possible    is wide open. So, finally, as it turns out and turns around, events found some self, and another poem called Peninsula in The Moelwyns became.

‘Llyn in the Moelwyns’ (excerpted in grey italics throughout this piece) appears in Mark Goodwin’s new poetry collection Steps (Longbarrow Press, 2014). Click here to visit the Steps microsite.


Wrong & Right | Mark Goodwin

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Photograph by Nikki Clayton

I feel compelled to tell others about two difficult moments I have experienced … but somehow I don’t think that I can write poetry about what I feel compelled to tell … I’m not keen on writing prose … prose fixes things too much for me, whereas poetry is open … and I often feel pompous with prose, as if I’m making statements that of course can be smashed … with poetry, all flows, bends, dissolves, re-appears … and it seems to me my ego can lay no claims to another’s – reader’s – imagination … but prose … well, I don’t trust prose … certainly not my own … or at least I have tended not to … however, of late I’ve learned that just writing how things were, or are, in prose, does not have to fix, or hold ideas down … and sometimes the stable ground of prose is the only way to proceed, the only way to say certain things, and sometimes the ‘art’ of poetry cannot say such things … one cannot begin through poetry to try to tell of certain things … it feels like … stealing … and the usual expansive feeling of creativity that begins the making of poetry is somehow unobtainable, even though there is so much vivid feeling & detail, which is usually the very stuff that starts poems … the underlying drive is there, but it is cut short by a feeling of some kind of forbiddenness … I’ve not worked out why exactly I can’t make poems from certain moments, why it feels wrong … I don’t know the right answer … but I’m not sure what would be a wrong answer either … anyway, here is what I want to tell:

Years & years ago, when I lived in The Lake District, a climber called Luke Steer told me how he had found a ewe with her eyes gone, and that he had had to kill her. He used a boulder. Luke said that it was one of the most difficult things he had ever done, certainly the most horrible. And so, for years I have feared that one day in the hills I’d encounter a sheep so ravaged and in agony that I wouldn’t be able (allowed?) to just walk away – that I would have to ‘put’ the beast ‘out of its misery’, as they say.

I’m not entirely sure it is the right thing to do; perhaps us humans make an assumption about ‘misery’ & ‘agony’, and perhaps other creatures would prefer to cling to life no matter what, for as long as possible. And so perhaps I did wrong. But, yes, this last July, on the south-eastern ridge that goes up to Moel Eilio (just before the peak Foel Gron) in Snowdonia, I found a young ewe whose belly was ridden with maggots. And one of her hooves was twisted half off. She could hardly move, her gasps were frail and slow, and her snout was red raw and crawling with flies. Nearby there was the ‘perfect’ stone: a long shaft of rock, whose weight & length made for easy momentum. She was already very sluggish … my thwacks dazed her more … but she did cry … and so did I … and her legs trembled and kicked weakly. Of course, sheep’s skulls are incredibly hard, as is evident from the way they butt each other. The swinging stone & my shaking self could not kill her … so, I took some of her own wool, that had come loose from her and was lying nearby, and I pressed it into her nostril … and I pressed her snout into the short grass … daftly I kept uttering ‘Go beast, just go.’ Eventually, her frail grasping to breathe subsided. Instantly, her cornea blurred, the gleam vanished, and the flies, with jewel-green abdomens, immediately crawled all over her eye.

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Photograph by Nikki Clayton

I’m a farmer’s son. I’ve killed many cat-damaged birds, mice & rabbits, and other small badly broken creatures … but killing a creature so big … I don’t know why it should be so different … but the energy of such a tough beast, such a resilient hill creature … it is very very hard to come up against … and I’m not sure that I did right … accept that I think I responded honestly to a feeling we call ‘compassion’ … but I’m not sure it makes it the right thing to have done …

… another incident years ago: when my partner Nikki & I witnessed a young man jump in front of a lorry on the M1 just before junction 28 (on the hillside that falls to the River Erewash) … perhaps I need to write that again … yes, we saw a young man kill himself by facing an oncoming lorry … I stopped my car on the hard-shoulder and ran back up what seemed like such a long steep slope … I passed other motorists who had pulled over and were sitting motionless and shocked … the artic-lorry that had hit the young man stood alone beyond traffic backing up behind it … in front the motorway was still … and the young dead man lay absolutely still too … he looked so so heavy … at the time I imagined the surface of the road bending under his weight …

… and perhaps that imagining – in the moment – is all the poetry that can come of experiencing such an event … and for me, probably, I needed the company – the protection – of my familiar art in that moment, and needed to make something of what I was experiencing … but I can’t make that image go further, or rather ‘take’ that image further … and I can’t take a poem from this moment …

The lorry driver was a man called Terry. I remember his bewildered gentleness and fear as he gave evidence in a court room in Chesterfield. Terry saved my life. Nikki & I were passing the front of his lorry just at the moment the young man hit it. Had Terry swerved or hit his brakes too hard, I’m sure that Nikki & I, and quite a few other drivers & passengers would’ve been tumbled, with our vehicles crumpling round us. The judge clearly stated how well Terry had done – despite his suddenly being presented with a horrible emergency he had kept his artic-lorry in a straight line. Terry had to decide to drive straight on into that poor young man. I have no doubts that Terry, that day, did everything right …


Mark Goodwin’s new poetry collection,
Steps, will be published by Longbarrow Press on 24 November 2014.  Click here to visit the Steps microsite.


Key Ping Ba(p)la(n)ce | Mark Goodwin

Clogwyn y Ddysgl

Clogwyn y Ddysgl & the Clogwyn y Person Arête, with Crib Goch’s pinnacles in the background (photo by Nikki Clayton)

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.

Mark Entranced by Llyn Bach

Mark fixed by the spectacle of Llyn Bach’s glinting invitation, just before his climbing partner, Nikki Clayton, snaps him out of it! (photo by Nikki Clayton)

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.

Mark Amongst Angels

Mark, big booted on Tryfan, taking (but not for keepsakes) steps amongst those who have chosen to fly (Nikki Clayton)

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 new walking-themed poems published by Longbarrow Press.  A new collection, Steps, is due to appear from Longbarrow Press in late 2014.

Sylvia Plath’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ appears in her posthumous collection Crossing the Water.