Be ahead of all departure; learn to act
as if, like the last winter, it was all over.
For among the winters, one is so exact
that wintering it, your heart will last forever.
Die, die through Eurydice – that you might pass
into the pure accord, praising the more, singing
the more; amongst the waning, be the glass
that shudders in the sound of its own ringing.
Be; and at the same time know the state
of non-being, the boundless inner sky,
that this time you might fully honour it.
Take all of nature, its one vast aggregate –
jubilantly multiply it by
the nothing of yourself, and clear the slate.
Rainer Maria Rilke
From ‘Sonnets to Orpheus’
Austin Wright’s ‘Limbo’
The Edge of Summer
Housed in the heart
of the sycamore
we’re recycling its green
to the ground below
a power tool
not a woodpecker
axis and rotation
halfway to full
all that buried life
bramble and dock
but how to write good verses
without a pot of oolong?
in the still air
dance their frenetic jizz
through the canopy
greying clouds and a chill
when this ash grows
past that sycamore
would you speak of win and lose?
fistfuls of Burnlaw berries
that never reach the bowl
protected with flames
and burnt sandalwood
oh to be a jaguar
slumbering in these boughs!
bark as skin
and like all skin
its own fragrance
on a cooler evening
easier to dream of woodsmoke
worry – a temptress
worry – a truthteller
impossible to say in the dark
caught in the lake
the bounce of borrowed light
to grow roots
or go and reinvent yourself –
the weight of choice
the spread of heather – August
woven purple into the hills
while there’s still light
we move inside
the edge of summer
in reddening rowan.
22nd August 2015.
The S Word
The cups and frills of tête-à-têtes
at my door only make me want
more. Deeper. Longer. Your eyes
full of looking. That sweetness
in the light piques my appetite;
a lick of salt, sap knocked back
in a shot glass. Didn’t we both clock
the pussy willow at the same time?
I wrap your scent around me
like a shawl, walk out into the stretch
of a lost afternoon, to the tune
of ipod-shuffled finches, Larkin’s
stutter. Your F sharp charm, here
and away, the wink of your eye.
Last night I gave a reading of some of my new poems at the Lindisfarne Centre, St Aidan’s, Durham University, where I am currently Fellow at the IAS. This year’s theme is ‘Light’ and it felt ironic to be revisiting Moorbank which has been so illuminating for me while the gardeners are preparing to clear out the glasshouses in readiness for the Freemen taking back ownership at the end of the month.
The deadlock continues in terms of any possibility of creative dialogue between the Friends and the Freemen so it remains to be seen what will transpire. Meanwhile here are some updates from Moorbank’s Facebook posts. Yet more irony – all this happening when it’s just won a much deserved Award…
We are thrilled to announce that Moorbank Botanic Garden has been awarded an Outstanding rating in the RHS – Royal Horticultural Society ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ Awards. We were presented this award last night at the ceremony and we’d like to thank the BBC’s Marian Foster for nominating us for this award. You can read all the information about how we were marked in the photos, but we’re thrilled with this news!!
This week marks the date when Newcastle University are starting to rehome plants from Moorbank Botanic Gardens. They are being forced to do this as the Freemen have not revealed their plans for what will happen to Moorbank once the University depart. The University offered to leave the entire collection, minus the research plants, but the Freemen have not suggested how they will care for Moorbank once the University leave, so the concerns were with the tropical and desert plants. There were no suggestions that the heating and watering systems would continue, which would mean that there would be total loss of plants in these glasshouses. Homes have been found for the most important plants in our glasshouses with other botanic gardens across the UK, including Sunderland Winter Gardens, Ventnor Botanic Garden, Glasgow Botanic Garden and Cambridge University Botanic Garden. However, many mature plants cannot be moved due to their size or intermingled roots. Cuttings are being taken from these plants, but there will still be significant numbers of plants left in the glasshouses after the University departs. We still haven’t been given any information about whether the Freemen will care for these appropriately, or whether they will switch off the heating and water.
Check Moorbank out on Look North from last night. You can scroll to about 11 1/2 minutes in to see the article about Moorbank and hear what the Freemen have to say. Not that we’re biased, but our independent survey of the site told us we needed to find £120k over 5 years to restore Moorbank. The Freemen haven’t yet mentioned to us what they think will cost “several hundred thousand pounds” to fix let alone the “million” that they are now claiming.
There was also a good summary of the situation in The Journal – you can read it here.
On my last visit to Moorbank a few weeks ago I was delighted to see the Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo), that had suffered so badly in the heavy snowfall of 2010, springing back into life. Surviving against the odds, reflecting the cyclical nature of things, it’s always been a strong symbol of the spirit of Moorbank for me. Let’s hope its strong new shoot is a good sign for what the future may yet bring.
How many cities have I flown into at night – full of expectation and delight, already dazzled by the sense of otherness? Those particular patterns and colours nothing like the ones I left behind in that place for want of a better word I call home.
There are three hypotheses about the inhabitants of Baucis: that they hate the earth; that they respect it so much they avoid all contact, that they love it as it was before they existed and with spyglasses and telescopes aimed downward they never tire of examining it, leaf by leaf, stone by stone, art by art, contemplating with fascination their own absence.
From Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities
Steeped in history and beauty, it was easy to forget that Padua is a city. After a week the wonder hadn’t worn off. As a country dweller, I’m interested in the fact that Botanic Gardens through their traditional connections with Universities tend to be based in cities, where what they offer simply in terms of green space is particularly vital. Antonella Moila showed me a passage underlined in one of her books – a quote she likes to share with her students from Marco Guazzo’s description of the garden in Padua written in 1546, just one year after it was first established:
Scolari & altri sign. possano da ogni hora venir nell’orto & ridursi co i loro libri a ragionar all’ombra, delle piante dottamente; & alla peripatetica sotto quella passeggiare investigando le loro nature…
(Scholars and others can at any hour be found in the garden, considering their books in the shade, and the plants intelligently; walking through, investigating their nature…)
Today in Newcastle Padua felt a million miles away – the idea of the need for shade a cruel joke. I went to a meeting of Moorbank volunteers to discuss the future of the garden. It seems to be clear that the University no longer has the will or finances to maintain Moorbank and so the gardening volunteers who keep the wheels turning are stepping up their efforts to try and make it viable as some sort of community venture. I was impressed, not for the first time, by their redoubtable practicality and endless resourcefulness. There will be an initial meeting to garner practical assistance of any kind that folk feel they might be able to offer (not necessarily gardening – admin, fundraising, business acumen, publicity, legal expertise etc) on Sunday 25th November at 2.30 and the garden will be open from 1pm. All welcome.
On my way out of the city I called into the wonderful Amnesty International Bookshop on Westgate Road and couldn’t resist buying far too many books – a mixture of gardening and poetry. Amongst which: a copy of Ida Affleck Graves’s A Kind Husband (Oxford 1994) – a magnificent book I’ve been hunting for in my house for years but suspect I lent it to someone and it never came home; and one by a Canadian poet called Lorna Crozier I’d not heard of before – The Garden Going On Without Us (McClelland and Stewart 1985) – this inscribed by the author ‘For Tom Paulin – words and best wishes from Saskatoon’.
Driving west, leaving the city behind, I stopped off at Bywell where the trees were looking stunning in the afternoon light. Typically, just when I wanted to take some pictures, my batteries were ‘exhausted’ as my camera tells me with such a sigh I can’t help feeling sorry for it. My friend John, man of many cameras, came to the rescue and took these quick and lovely shots. I drove home up the valley in the dark and through snow, all the gold turned to silver – the first of the year; the dream that was Padua receding further and further.
Garden at Night
Leaves flood the yard
in deep shadows. Gourds
float like jellyfish
in the night’s tidal pools.
This far from ocean
only plants know
Even the earthworm
pulls threads of light
through the blackest corner,
the sleeping eye.