Tag Archives: imagination

Not a handful of earth

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For when the traveller returns from the mountain slopes into the valley,

he brings, not a handful of earth, unsayable to others but instead

some word he has gained, some pure word, the yellow and blue

gentian.  Perhaps we are here in order to say: house,

bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window –

at most: column, tower?…but to say them you must understand,

oh to say them more intensely than the things themselves 

ever dreamed of existing.

From Rilke’s 9th Elegy

It’s over a week ago that the garden at Moorbank closed its gates and I’ve hesitated to write about it, unable to find the words.  The place was still being ransacked even as we held our final fling amidst it all.

IMG_7116I felt as if I was at a funeral, the funeral of someone I loved, my legs hollow and shaky, stomach fluttery and taut.  I still can’t quite believe we won’t be able to go back but whatever happens, depending on the course the Freemen decide to take, it will never be the same.

IMG_7109I’m pleased I have so many full notebooks and photographs to return to and summon the garden, its plants and trees, from a mixture of memory and imagination, what I’ve managed to salvage from close observation and what I hope is a reliable, authentic notation.

IMG_7113The Director of Moorbank, Dr Anne Borland, made a wonderful speech celebrating the Garden’s significant legacy.  Here’s a small but striking extract, highlighting the University’s shortsightedness in deciding to cut such a valuable resource:

Moorbank has been an important resource for Plant Science research at the University since 1923. Trevor Walker amassed a unique collection of tropical ferns and the discovery of a new pathway of photosynthesis in the 1950s by Drs Ranson and Thomas relied on plant material raised and maintained at Moorbank.  Whilst the number of plant scientists employed at Newcastle has declined over the years, Moorbank has continued to support the work of postgraduate students from countries as far apart as Thailand and Nigeria as well as undergraduate project students on a whole range of topics from bird behaviour to plant genetics, important research on Alzheimers (the work of Elaine Perry) and on a personal level Moorbank has been home to my collection of the tropical trees of Clusia, probably the most diverse collection of the genus in Europe, a genus which is now at the centre of a $15 million dollar research program funded by the US-DOE to improve drought tolerance in tree species used for biofuel production.

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Seeing, Choosing, Being

…there is nothing more surreal, nothing more abstract than reality.

Giorgio Morandi

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Plant Sale

Because I have no roots to speak of
I choose a bulbous specimen
George tells me is indestructible

and if I lived in Mexico would grow
the size of my kitchen table. I carry it
home in the car like an adopted child.

When its blanket of gravel spills
beneath the seat, I panic, swerve;
it stays steady, stoutly anchored.

I water it and slip its tan plastic
inside purple ceramic, happily
matching the base of its leaves, folded

into each other, like family, where one
and many gather. These leaves, searching,
thinning to nothingness, sprout

from the scaly caudex in a topknot
of bright ideas that might make a difference
to the air it lives in, which I swallow,

changed already for seeing it there,
taking up residence on my windowsill,
elephant’s foot going nowhere.

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What’s writing really about?

It’s about trying to take fuller possession

of the reality of your life.

Ted Hughes

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Translation from the Tulip

The most interesting things in life often happen by accident.

The opening sentence of The Tulip by Anna Pavord (Bloomsbury, 1999)photo copy

Perhaps it’s because I’m on the brink of a birthday but recently I’ve been thinking about how memory works and noticing my changing relationship with it.  I used to think that memory and imagination occupied different compartments of my brain – particularly in relation to the making of a poem.  Lately I’m more inclined to think they’re aspects of the same impulse – our need for assimilation and understanding.  Memories aren’t fixed – they evolve over time and there’s always more to uncover than you think there is.

IMG_4593 Since I became more thoroughly aware of that, I’m less interested in writing about ‘the past’, which feels like a slightly skewed concept – much more intricately stitched into our present experience than is always comfortable.  If it’s true that we are the sum of our thoughts, words and actions, the past, present and future can be seen to work in parallel –all with the potential to be changed by our making different choices.  I’ve often thought of this as manifest in the process of choosing the next word (and the next and the next etc) when writing a line of poetry.  None of it is inevitable, although we might persuade ourselves it is so.

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Today I have been looking at a friend’s gift of tulips (a gorgeous variety called Angélique).  They’re just getting blousy – that knack tulips have of dying so very beautifully.  Over sixteen years ago I must have looked at another gift of tulips and wrote Still Life (from Storyville, Bloodaxe 1997).  Re-reading it is like looking at an old photograph of myself, a historical translation.  A great deal of my experience and how I would choose to express myself has changed but I recognize the almost physical impact of the flowers’ beauty, the pleasure that goes in through the eyes and touches something in the belly.

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Isn’t this how memory and imagination works?  Not in the brain at all but somewhere in the gut, all those nerve endings stimulated into communicating a sense of perception, of relationship and intimacy.  How we choose to respond to that moment of recognition and connection affects what the future looks like.  And today, how my new tulip poem might unfold and what the coming year may bring…

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