In the Physic Garden
Andrew asks if spiritistically is a word
it is now I say
how do you spell it he says
and we sound out the letters together
him way ahead of me
written down they’re ghosts
of the evening primrose
throwing up its arms behind us
MOTH’S MOON FLOWER
says the sign and we lean in
to yellow like thunderbugs
drinking from wilting cups
spiritistically we are yellow
and black when they are the same
night and day – me and Andrew
his words I want to save
and the flowers I can’t
and it’s okay
what does kill or cure mean he says
Just back from the Poetry in Aldeburgh Festival where I was delighted to be awarded the Bronze in this year’s Ginkgo Prize for my poem sparked by a summer’s day at Dilston Physic Garden, working with a group of vulnerable adults from Haltwhistle on one of their Zig-Zag outings.
The Prize was judged by poet Mimi Khalvati and gardener and writer Alys Fowler and organised by the Poetry School, following Resurgence’s initiation of a Poetry Competition specifically for ‘eco-poems’ a few years ago. This year the newly-named Prize was generously supported by the Goldsmith Trust, which promotes the work of ecologist Edward Goldsmith (1928-2009). It was fascinating meeting everyone involved (including one dog – Pekingese – and one baby – North American) and all the other winning poets: a real live chain of interconnection – ecology in action.
There is a beautifully designed and produced pamphlet of all the winning and commended poems. You can read it online here. Our wonderful certificates were designed and hand-made by Charles Gouldsbrough.
Part of the award for winners and the runners-up is a 10-day residency in Ireland next Spring at Cill Rillaig Arts Centre, County Kerry. The chain of interbeing continues and will grow…
The House the Wind Built
This is where we live now
the chimney redbrick roaring
a hollow trunk open to the flow
of the wind a bellowing fall
of wind a bellyful all day long
trying to breathe it in / break free
Since the trees were felled
I’ve stayed close to the floor
prone trying not to feel flayed
flaying around so full of flay
and fall all my freckled skins shed
succumbed to floor or flaw
Spending so much time in the 19thcentury lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about our relationship with time and history. Not just because the present is so confounding, although that is undeniable. I’m struck by how little we seem to have learned from the past, every day faced with so many instances of collective amnesia.
But context is all and we must keep re-visiting history, our own and our shared inheritance, to re-view it in the light of the present. Only then can we orientate ourselves in the direction of the most helpful choices, for our own individual and the common good. Frequent pauses are necessary. Moving slowly also makes it easier to see what is really needed. Change is subtle as well as cataclysmic.
The most powerful new element affecting the way we relate to the quotidian and the longer view is digital technology. My very first emails were sent back home from Internet cafés in India while I was away for six months, travelling there and in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Sikkim, in 2001-2. When I got home, I bought my first mobile phone and gradually the way I (and the rest of the world) communicated changed. Happy to admit my ambivalence to our current dependence on the digital, I’m still resisting acquiring a smartphone but have plenty of other portable gadgets to keep me connected and distracted.
This is a SLOW introduction to letting everyone know that I have a new website (thanks to New Writing North and Creative Fuse’s recent DigiTransform programme). At the same address as my old one, you can visit it here – and I’d be very happy to hear any thoughts you may have about it. I now have the skills to update and amend it myself, something that wasn’t possible with my old site.
On another digital note, you might like to check out the Poem of the North, an exciting Northern Poetry Library initiative for Great Northumberland 2018. It also does strange things to Time and Space, creating something new from the shared compass of the imagination. My own contribution has just been added and you can learn more and watch it unfold here.
So, after all that clicking and coding, I feel the need to go back, a long way back and see things from the perspective of one of our most ancient plants – Equisetum. A living fossil, which once dominated the understory of late Paleozoic forests, it is also known as horsetail, snake grass or puzzlegrass.
This poem by Joanna Boulter is worth spending some time with:
We live in droves. Memory herds back
to a time before there were horses or pasture
when soil was hardly soil, inhospitable.
You ask why we still grow, abandoned here
after thirty million years,
left clinging out of our time
by brittle toeholds
to a past you can’t conceive of.
Our roots reach so deep
we can grow anywhere,
have done and will, in marshes or sand dunes.
We cannot be dug out.
Think of the silica spicules
that scaffold our stems –
part organic, part inorganic
things could have gone either way
for us, you could have been
the beached ones.
But we are still at the crossroads,
and you need us.
You need to think sometimes of sparse
harshness, of glassy grains without humus,
your world returning to that.
(from Collecting Stones, An Anthology of Poems and Stories inspired by Harehope Quarry, Vane Women Press, 2008)
Poem for a Birthday
I am the single bluebell
In the mowed lawn.
I am the clusters of buds
On the British Library apple.
I am forget-me-not
Self-seeding where it will.
I am water hyssop transplanted
From India, Ayurvedic.
I am a hellebore’s nectaries
Fleshy with pollen.
I am dewdrops beading
Lady’s mantle leaves.
I am dandelion and dock,
Goosegrass and nettle,
Never say weed.
I am honesty, in love
With my faithful moon.
I am the new clematis,
Alba, kissing its trellis.
I am so many yellow keys
Of cowslip, jangling.
I am the different yellow
(Buttery) of marsh marigold.
I am these violas on the step
And their blue music.
I am narcissi –
Pseudopoeticus – still at it.
I am this garden, here, flowering
Against the odds, catching
Every last gram of wind.
I sometimes feel that I have lived two hundred and fifty years already and sometimes that I am still the youngest person on the omnibus.
Virginia Woolf, Diary, 1931
At times I was even sure the garden and I were made of the same substance, sand and earth rubbed my bones, mosses, ferns, violets and strelitzia sprouted from my skin, stretched out my limbs. In springtime I let the caterpillars stride over me, in rusty soft processions, and when they made moving rings around my spread fingers, my skin had the stiffness of bark.
In the old days I’d have been scared. But now I knew it was me the garden. I was the garden. I was inside, I was made of priceless diamonds and I had no name. Earth, Earth, I cried.
From Hélène Cixous, A Real Garden (1971) Translated by Beverley Bie Brahic
Images by Francesca Woodman
(The Portable Cixous
Edited by Marta Segarra
New York: Columbia University Press 2010)