The true motive of travel should be to become lost and unknown.
Rainbow Warrior is currently docked in Sydney Harbour as part of Greenpeace’s campaign to stop the building of nine coal terminals in Queensland. The resulting shipping traffic (I per hour) would seriously damage the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site, which is supposed to be protected.
Apparently there are more different species of animals and plants in a cubic metre of the Great Barrier Reef than in any other environment in the world – including tropical rain forests.
I had a great tour of the boat (with wonderful views of the Bridge and Opera House) and learnt more about Australia’s plans to more than double coal production from Queensland and New South Wales in the next decade. Already the world’s largest coal exporter, this would add an extra 900 million tonnes of carbon emissions to the atmosphere.
One academic reportedly said ‘If you’re not angry, you’re not listening.’
Reblogging Rebecca’s piece about the garden in Arizona touched upon an area I’ve been roaming around ever since I began to write about plants: the difference between reading-based research and first-hand experience, between representation and phenomenon, and how that’s reflected in my writing. I’m trying as much as possible to spend time really looking at the plants and gardens I’m writing about, making notes in the field in the same way an artist makes sketches, catches a sense of the moment. It encourages me to stay still and really get to know a plant or a tree and for that understanding to be based on the actual truth of the plant’s morphology, condition and habitat, rather than simply being an excuse to indulge my fantasies. There is freedom and delight in this deep appreciation of what appears to be other – harmony between the seer and the seen.
The artist is a beholder. The artist carves with his eyes.
This week I’ve been writing about Miró’s The Tilled Field, a 1923 painting that has stayed with me since I saw it in the Tate’s retrospective a few years ago. Working from an image on the screen of my laptop was better than nothing, but frustrating. I was aware of my eye skimming over the surface, missing the evidence of a human hand directing the brush, the sense of 3-dimensionality. Because the mood of the painting is one of idealism and nostalgia I was able to persuade myself working from the virtual rather than the visual might be okay. As I said, better than nothing. Maybe.
Perhaps it’s also comparable to the difference between reading a poem on the page and hearing it read aloud, live, by the poet herself. Many people commented on that at the recent launches of Border Song – another piece of work that couldn’t have happened without field trips, this time along the North Tyne valley. Direct experience was filtered through an investigation of the Old Testament Song of Songs – a balance that suited my need for both the physical/natural and the intellectual/cultural.
Being present and really looking is not as easy as it sounds. We get in the way, and the world gets in the way, preventing us from seeing what’s in front of our eyes. The mind will always struggle to go somewhere else; the flow of impressions and digressions and voices in our heads like a badly-tuned radio. Writing in a garden helps me tune in and settle down, find the serenity to let my mind open enough to see what’s really going on and let the marvellous layers of it sink in.
Looking is as creative as making as long as it is possessed of the art of seeing.
Robert Pogue Harrison
After another fine day making books with Chloe Daykin at the Hearth in Horsley and aware we’re approaching the Autumn Equinox – with a sense of new beginnings and other things ending – today I have been combing through my old notebook, now full, to see what I’d like to remember and save. As well as my own notes, journalling, the seeds of ideas, I keep quotations from other people I stumble upon in my reading, listening, watching. Here are a few of my favourites from this particular notebook.
…the seed for your next work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece.
from ‘Art & Fear’ by David Bayles & Ted Orland
As you see, so at length you will say.
Men of little faith stand only by their feet…when most at one with nature, I feel supported and propped on all sides.
…beyond the energy of his possessed and conscious intellect he is capable of a new energy…by abandonment to the nature of things, that beside his privacy of power as an individual man, there is a great public power on which he can draw, by unlocking, at all risks, his human doors.
Emerson – The Poet
A rose can’t bloom as a violet and a violet can’t bloom as a rose.
If it is the highest and the greatest that you seek,
the plant can direct you.
Strive to become, through your will,
what, without will, it is.
Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.
…You, Beloved, who are all
The gardens I have ever gazed at,
To be desired is perhaps the closest anybody can reach in this life to feeling immortal.
From Charlie Kaufmann’s ‘Adaptation’:
…Should one be lucky enough to see a ghost orchid, all else will be eclipsed.
…When you find your flower, nothing should stand in your way.
…It’s easier for plants – they have no memory.
Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe.
…In a history of spiritual rupture, a social compact built on fantasy and collective secrets, poetry becomes more necessary than ever: it keeps the underground aquifers flowing; it is the liquid voice that can wear through stone.
Fields have meanings and memories for millions of us. In their manifold forms, fields express our cultural crafting of the land. They are our unwritten history, carved clearings in the wild wood, the accumulation of practical experimentation, invention and subtlety, extending over generations.
‘A Manifesto for Fields’ – Angela King & Sue Clifford
When our sea-walled garden, the whole land
Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers chok’d up,
Her fruit trees all unprun’d, her hedges ruin’d,
Her knots disorder’d and her wholesome herbs
Swarming with caterpillars…
Paradise is closed.
Robert Hughes – ‘The Shock of the New’
You may also be interested in a new story over in the Compost section of The Poet’s Garden. Last weekend it was the last session of the Plant Medicine Course I’ve been doing at the wonderful Dilston Physic Garden. It was a beautiful sunny day and it felt like a summer wedding with lots of cake and freshly brewed herb teas. We were asked to give ten minute presentations about the herb we’d chosen to study for our medicinal herbaria and encouraged to be creative. My herb was Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca). I’d hoped to write a poem but for some reason it just wasn’t happening and I found myself coming up with a story instead. It felt a little like wearing the wrong clothes but it made it possible to be much more descriptive than I’d have been able in a poem. And there’s a limit to the damage you can do in ten minutes…. You can click here if you want to take a look.