Category Archives: autumn

Sound & Vision

Leonardo da Vinci, Star of Bethlehem and other plants, c.1506-12

Shantideva wrote in chapter eight, verse ninety-nine (VIII:99) of A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life that if someone is suffering and we refuse to help, it would be like our hand refusing to remove a thorn from our foot. If the foot is pierced by a thorn, our hand naturally pulls the thorn out of the foot. The hand doesn’t ask the foot if it needs help. The hand doesn’t say to the foot, ‘This is not my pain.’ Nor does the hand need to be thanked by the foot. They are part of one body, one heart.

Joan Halifax, Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet (Flatiron Books, 2018)

The idea of ‘one body, one heart’ has been on my mind lately as I’ve been working on our collective poem Murmuration, as part of my Climate Residency, collaborating with artist Kate Sweeney on the filmpoem for Durham Book Festival.  Murmuration is one thing – as the starlings’ flock is one thing – but made up of five hundred different voices.  There is unity in diversity, similarity and difference – and I’ve worked hard to try and catch the sense of that: bearing with contradiction and not trying to look for answers, just staying with all the questions the lines and the poem itself throws up.

You can book a place to watch its launch at Durham Book Festival, right after an event with Jenny Offill, talking about her Climate Change novel Weather (Granta, 2020) – highly recommended.  I’ve also written an essay on the making of Murmuration, which will be available during the Festival.

I’m very aware there’s an excess of things to watch and listen to online at the moment, but in the absence of human-to-human conversations and gatherings in the wild, it seems important to stay connected and be proactive in accessing alternative perspectives on how much is happening in the world that runs contrary to the news in the mainstream media, that insists on highlighting stories that communicate divisiveness, alienation and blame.  

I recently discovered, we have 86,400 seconds every day to fill. And sometimes I do nothing but listen to them ticking away.

The people at TED Talks have created Countdown – a programme with a coalition of voices addressing different aspects of the Climate Crisis.  Nothing is more important than the sharing of clear factual information.  One thing we can do – even though we might often feel powerless –  is to stay well-informed.  How we take in and pass on what we know (and feel) is what makes society and culture.  The imagination is powerful – it’s where the future resides.

You can take a look at the TED Countdown here.

The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop.  Together, we will find hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.

The Eight Principles of Uncivilisation, Dark Mountain

And so we enter the dark of autumn and winter. One of my favourite times of year. We could do with a bit more darkness – that place where we can be with what we don’t know and just love each other.  ‘Night is the mother of life’ says Chilean poet Cecilia Vicuna. ‘Light is born from darkness’.  

So many thresholds and edges just now – happening on a level I won’t see the end of or understand in my lifetime.  But I’m curious, interested to see what’s waiting in, what Joan Halifax calls, ‘the fruitful dark’.  One of the things I’ve been doing lately thinking about hope in the dark is planting bulbs, burying them in the cooling earth so they can do their own magic and emerge in their own time next year.  Next year…even that sounds like an unknown world.

Dried flowers from Verde Flowers, Burnhopeside Hall

Art is the flower – Life is the green leaf.  Let every artist strive to make his flower a beautiful living thing – something that will convince the world there may be – there are – things more precious – more beautiful – more lasting than life…you must offer real, living – beautifully coloured flowers – flowers that grow from but above the green leaf – flowers that are not dead – are not dying – not artificial – real flowers – you must offer the flowers of the art that is in you – the symbols of all that is noble – and beautiful  and inspiring – flowers that will often change a colourless leaf – into an estimated and thoughtful thing.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, On Seemliness (1902)

I’m doing a couple of linked afternoon workshops online for Lapidus Scotland (Words for Wellbeing) in October (17th & 24th), called Climate Crisis: Looking our Demons in the Eye.  I was experimenting with ways of tackling the subject with groups right at the beginning of my Residency and then the pandemic arrived.  I’m very glad to have this chance to work with others now, looking at how we might find words for an experience that can so often feel beyond the reach of words.  

Places are free, open to all, and you can book here.

Quotation: Luce Irigaray

Stay well.

L

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Autumn Colour

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Caramel

 

It takes the louche cool

of late summer on the heel

of a long-drawn-out

drought to bring out the best

in a leaf

before it sets free its ghost.

 

When desire isn’t all

that matters, then fall

is the deciduous rise

to the surface

of carotene, anthocyanin

or xanthophyll,

 

silenced till now by the clamour

of chlorophyll.  And even this

sweetness must be lost –

a red lament of abandon,

defiance,

indeed, utterly natural.

 

 

 

From Reading the Flowers (Arc, 2016)

 

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Apple Pressing Day

IMAG1430A wonderful day at the Farmer’s Market in Hexham on Saturday – surrounded by apples and juice and everyone in good spirits.  As the apples were being pressed, I gathered people’s apple memories –  from Durham to Himachal Pradesh, from Holland to Northumberland, from Kent to Slovakia, from wartime to that very morning.   FullSizeRenderThe plan is I’ll weave the 52 luggage-label offerings into a collaborative, on-the-fly renga.  To follow shortly…FullSizeRender

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The Unexpected Orchard

Friday was a beautiful day and I tagged along with a couple of Transition Tynedalers to pick some apples at Jim’s orchard – an unlikely spot squeezed between the River Tyne and the A69 on the edge of Hexham.

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It was the start of a conversation I’ll be having with Transition Tynedale (and Edible Hexham) considering the poetry of food, gardening and ecology. Part of a new Northern Poetry Library Project, which is placing six poets in residence in libraries across the county. I’ll be based close to home in Hexham. There’s a launch reading at the Northern Poetry Library in Morpeth on National Poetry Day, Thursday 8th October at 7pm. Do come along if you’d like to find out more and meet the poets.

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Transition Tynedale will be pressing some of Jim’s apples (and others) at Hexham Farmers’ Market on Saturday 10th October 10 – 1. If you’re passing, come and say hello and have a taste of juice. I will also be pressing poems out of people!

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At 96, Jim has trouble keeping on top of this wonderful orchard he planted himself. Figs, peaches, medlars and soft fruit as well as apples. Talking to him put me in mind of Robert Frost’s poem After Apple Picking.

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After Apple-Picking

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree

Toward heaven still,

And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill

Beside it, and there may be two or three

Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.

But I am done with apple-picking now.

Essence of winter sleep is on the night,

The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.

I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight

I got from looking through a pane of glass

I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough

And held against the world of hoary grass.

It melted, and I let it fall and break.

But I was well

Upon my way to sleep before it fell,

And I could tell

What form my dreaming was about to take.

Magnified apples appear and disappear,

Stem end and blossom end,

And every fleck of russet showing clear.

My instep arch not only keeps the ache,

It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.

I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin

The rumbling sound

Of load on load of apples coming in.

For I have had too much

Of apple-picking: I am overtired

Of the great harvest I myself desired.

There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,

Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.

For all

That struck the earth,

No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,

Went surely to the cider-apple heap

As of no worth.

One can see what will trouble

This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.

Were he not gone,

The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his

Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,

Or just some human sleep.

Robert Frost

 

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Blackberrying

photoAll stained and scarred from an afternoon picking backberries from the hedgerows hereabouts.  Last year’s crop were transformed into vodka and vinegar, still in the pantry.  This year I think I’ll make some jelly to join them.  I’m less interested in the eating and drinking than the collecting – a ritual of the season ever since we walked upright.   Jane Grigson’s wonderful Fruit Book tells us ‘when a neolithic burial was excavated at the beginning of this century on the Essex coast, there was about a pint of seeds found in the area of the stomach – with blackberry seeds predominating.’

The poems I always turn to are Sylvia Plath’s moody Blackberrying –

The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.

I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,

Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.

The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.   

…and Seamus Heaney’s childhood evocation in Blackberry-picking – you can watch a fine reading of it here.  

You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet

Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it

Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger

Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots

Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.

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Those two poems cast a long shadow – it’s never seemed necessary to say anything more.  But I did write a Hedgerow Jelly poem a few years ago, which some foraging friends of mine used as a recipe to make some of their own and then gave me a jar as a gift.  A perfect exchange.

Hedgerow Jelly

The morning seemed ordinary

until she lifted the sieve of fruit – each berry

plucked from the hedgerows, ‘goodly

amounts’ of hawthorn and rosehip, according to the recipe

necessary

for pectin to set the jelly,

tumbled with apples from the city –

and dripping through the muslin was ruby,

pure and concentrated autumn, fiery,

bloody,

waiting for sugar and another boiling, bubbly

and foaming, till she wanted to dive into the beautifully

maroon confection bursting into life in the shiny

saucepan, her whole kitchen rich and smelly

with harvest bounty

she skimmed and poured into jars, steamy

with anticipation, fumes rising billowy

and sweet, like the spills, sticky,

she licked from her fingers before holding her trophy –

three glinting garnet jars, lovely –

up to the light, too rosy

to seal in with a label saying its name so plainly

 

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