My friend and collaborator the artist Birtley Aris has just finished making some new drawings to illustrate a small pamphlet of work from the Rutland Friends of the Earth Earthwords 2 Writing Competition I helped judge with Clive Anderson and Jon Canter. They’d asked me if I might contribute a couple of poems of my own. These two seemed to fit with the theme and, as usual, Birtley’s images have added a fresh dimension. The whole business of collaboration, the conversation between poet and artist, word and image, an endlessly fascinating one. Where does one end and the other begin? How to describe that third element, what happens in between?
Talking About the Weather
The gardener sat on the old wicker chair,
hands wrapped round a mug of nettle tea –
and even though the room was warm, curtains
drawn against the night, the way we hold
our breath between winter and what might follow –
snowmelt, rainfall, lambing storm, the words
she spoke flung open the door on water, a river
in spate, rushing and roaring between us –
her worst fears of flood and disaster,
an unstoppable lostness sweeping her away,
tossed in the current of truth, lies, testing
the strength of this earth we cling to – as if our lives
were leaves, whispering North, North, North.
After Guiseppe Bartolini’s lithograph, Pisa
Jellyfish fall through the heavens above
the viridescent night of the Orto Botanico.
Count their drifting moons, skullcaps
for the duomo, just visible over the wall – 7, 8,
9. In fact, they’re all parachutists: cumulative grace
at odds with their singular mission; that history
still untold. Let’s say today they wear the ruched silk
of angels, landing within the garden’s jurisdiction.
Watch them unhook their spent umbrellas and pick up
a spade to dig fresh beds or a rake to sweep paths
clear. They’ll unravel the hose to revive parched myrtle
or pelargoniums; reinstate tumbled ceramic, fix
cracked signs and screw the last bolt in new glasshouses.
As the city sleeps, they’ll delve till the trees toll
their boughs in exaltation, each one seen so hard
the people will wake up to the world’s first day.
On Thursday we gathered at the Queen’s Hall in Hexham to launch another wild – a new edition of a pamphlet published ten years ago under the title wild. There was a mix-up between the publishers and the printers so it came back with much thinner paper and cover than expected but the small print run quickly sold out. We always hoped we might work on another edition and now, with a beautiful new re-design by Melanie Ashby, here it is…
In 2002, the artist Birtley Aris and I sought out a wild flower each month in different places around the north-east of England. This is from the original introduction:
We were interested in ordinary, less well-known spots as well as more obvious landmarks; the surprising uncontained spaces in towns and cities as well as the rural environment.
Inspired by the reverberations of wild, we wanted to seek out and celebrate that particular quality of North – an autonomous identity, the open spaces, resilient flora and fauna, unfolding seasons, relatively sparse population and unequivocal weather.
From the start we envisaged setting the large-scale context of landscape alongside the miniature world of wild flowers. Some months we had an idea of the flower we were looking for; others we left it to chance, waiting to see what was growing.
For the new version we have included eight more poems that pick up the themes of wild and take them somewhere else – looking at light, energy, memory and belonging. They are introduced by this wonderful quotation from Pico Iyer:
Love is a wildness that has been falsely domesticated.
We were very lucky to have Morag Brown playing the violin for us, her wild northern tunes creating just the right atmosphere and bringing us all together in a celebration of place and this new work in print.
If you missed it, there’ll be another chance to hear some of the poems and buy the book at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle on Thursday 4th December, 7pm. No need to book – all welcome.
Who could say exactly where a river
shifts shape into sea? Where current collides
with tide? On the pier’s stone slopes, mugwort
grows in spite of the salt and the weather:
who could say where its black becomes brown
becomes silver-grey? Today everything
is edgeless and strange. Even the spray
from the waves battering the southern jetty
bursts in the air like fireworks: a negative
framed by the window of the Bungalow Café.
Dirty glass catches the blur of what
could be a man, crouching to make a sketch
of mugwort fronds, like alchemical wands,
chancing their silver. Although, who could say?
Roker Pier, Sunderland