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)