Saltmarsh thoughts #3

IMG_1489If horses – as per the title of Alice Walker’s poetry collection – make a landscape look more beautiful, then perhaps islands do the same for seascapes. Or mountains do. Or islands with mountains. You get the idea, I hope.

Sifting and resifting through the photographs I took back in May when visiting RSPB Campfield Marsh and the Solway Estuary, I’m struck by two things.

The first is how many of the images are looking outwards from the land towards the estuary, with its rivers emptying out into the Irish Sea. And so – inevitably – across to the coast of Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland. And how few were taken facing back towards the land. Because the tide is out, the sea itself, its water, is largely absent, invisible, but nonetheless I find myself looking for it.

This is reflected in my memories of the day. I remember spending far more of it gazing out at and thinking about the sea. I’d travelled for almost two hours across land to get to the coast, so maybe it’s inevitable to focus on what you’ve been heading towards, rather than what you’ve passed through. It makes me wonder whether the experience of arriving somewhere over water leads the traveller to turn their back instinctively on that which has been crossed, and instead focus landwards? (I will make a mental note next time I arrive at the sea to check back and look behind me more carefully).

The second thing to strike me is the effect that the horizon can have on the watcher looking out to sea. Looming faintly on the skyline in most of the images is Criffel; neither the tallest by any means, nor the shapeliest of Scotland’s mountains, it still draws the eye.

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This is not to suggest at all that without the mountain there, there’s be no point looking out to sea. But it does make me realise how easy it can be to observe something without adequately considering the frame, the context, the accompaniment that completes the image. And how sometimes we can – even when we think we’re paying attention – need a second look to fully appreciate what is going on.

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Saltmarsh thoughts

IMG_1487It’s been a week or so since I journeyed up to the Solway coast to take part in a creative writing day organised by Cumbria Wildlife Trust at RSPB Campfield Marsh. As you might be able to tell from these images (easier with the colour one, admittedly), it was a glorious late-spring/early-summer day of high pressure weather, sunshine and stillness. A real blessing. With the tide wholly out, exposing the saltmarsh and mudflats to their fullest extent, the sense of openness and space was remarkable, and the beginnings of the Galloway hills across the border loomed almost reachable on the horizon.

Writer and blogger Ann Lingard, who was running the event, encouraged us to spend plenty of time out in the estuary amongst the mud and the marsh, exploring, observing and making notes, before gathering us again to compare findings and take part in a couple of writing exercises. She also took the time to share her extensive knowledge of both the microfauna that calls the place home, and the history of the immediate area. I doubt I could identify again (or even find) any of the critters we were introduced to, but at least I have no excuses anymore.

I’ve found myself regularly revisiting and reprocessing the experience in my head ever since. It would be untrue to say that I’ve used the notes I made to create anything of substance – poetry, fiction, whatever. It’s still just a jumble of notes. Had I expected it to be otherwise? I can’t honestly say. But I do know that something far more valuable has occurred to me in the meantime.

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I’m fascinated by the creative process – by what it is about us that makes us creative and makes us create (or else allows us to think we aren’t and stop ourselves). And how the germination of ideas takes place. What I’ve realised is how rarely I grant myself the gift of spending time simply looking at things, at what’s really there. Not only looking, but also using every other sense in a deliberate, conscious way. It’s an incredibly precious gift, but for me, it has to come without any hint of agenda. There must be no pressure, no compulsion to write about the observations – the sensations – as a result.

I either write or think about writing every single day (the latter occurs much more often!), but I almost never see or experience something and then sit down to try and write coherently about it straight away. Instead, whatever seeds have been sown usually have to sit there and fester first – for years, even – before a thing I might think of as ‘poetry’ happens.

But I have to gather those seeds, raw materials. I’ve never known precisely where poems and their ideas originate (I have a clue…) but I know that in order for the whole process to keep rolling, I need to continue to be as open and receptive to the world as I can. So I’ve made a promise that I’m going to give myself the gift of taking a look around much more often.

 

 

Capturing a saltmarsh in words

TidelineI’m taking time out this weekend to do something a little different. Cumbria Wildlife Trust is running a creative writing day this Saturday, 19th May, led by writer, novelist and WordPress blogger Ann Lingard.

The day is taking place at RSPB Campfield Marsh in north Cumbria, where England and Scotland face one another across the Solway estuary. Cumbria is usually thought of in landscape terms as a place of mountains and high moors, The Lake District, and the inspiration for the likes of Arthur Ransome, John Ruskin and William and Dorothy Wordsworth. But this part of the Solway coast is a very different prospect, a flat expanse of saltmarsh, mudflats and creeping tides, with its own special atmosphere and wildlife.

The purpose of the day is to spend time in this environment, being and observing, before translating these observations and impressions into words. Not only have I never visited this part of the world before, I’ve also never taken part in this kind of immersive creative writing event. I’m really looking forward to the experience, and to working with Ann, and meeting some other enthusiastic writers. And to seeing what I’m inspired to write by being in what sounds like an amazing place.

Brewery Poets and Kendal Poetry Festival

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At the beginning of this year I relocated to Cumbria, in the north-west of England, and have since joined the Brewery Poets, a long-established group which meets up once a month in Kendal’s Brewery Arts Centre.

It’s great to be part of a writers’ group again – something I’ve done previously, but not for a long time (the last group I was part of – in Edinburgh – disintegrated quite a few years ago, and the wonderful pub it used to meet up in is no more). Writing is – in most instances – a solitary business, so it’s never a bad thing to abandon the cave of your own head every once in a while and let others see what you’ve been smearing on the walls. Feedback is always helpful. It’s a not-insignificant part of the reason I first came to WordPress, and I’m always grateful for the comments of other bloggers.

Brewery Poets are also behind the Kendal Poetry Festival, which is taking place for the third time this year, between the 6th-9th of September.  Kendal is a great place to visit, right on the edge of the English Lake District. As well as an amazing backdrop for a festival, there’s a fantastic line-up and schedule of events in place, including readings from members of the Brewery Poets themselves.