Niggling away amongst the thoughts and notes I collected recently up at the Solway estuary – in addition to those about careful observation, and where poetry comes from – have been some insights into what I choose to write about. And what I’ve realised is that no matter where I am, whatever I’m looking at, the thing I’m interested in is people.
This might seem like an obvious conclusion to reach, but wouldn’t always have been. I can recall a time – back when I first began writing “seriously” – when I was more interested in reflecting on what I would’ve considered “nature”, meaning land- and seascape where human beings were either absent, ignored or unwanted. I was always trying to look beyond people and lose myself in these places, or feel inspired by them with my ego at arm’s length, if possible (reliably not).
I find people and what we do far too fascinating now. I’m one of those irritating creatures you see in art galleries who – after about twenty minutes of wandering around – occupies the most advantageous seat in the biggest room and spends their time looking at what everyone else is doing. It’s not that I don’t like art. It’s just that I find our interactions with art and public spaces more intriguing. Admittedly, art is a human business anyway, but the ways people interact with and imprint themselves into landscape is of equal interest to me.
I live in a relatively crowded country, where it’s pretty much impossible to find yourself in a landscape that hasn’t been engineered to some degree by humans. The Solway estuary is a beautiful place, but people have been living here for thousands of years – farming, fishing, mining, extracting whatever we need – and helping to shape it, for better or for worse. These days I’m far more likely to be drawn by traces and consequences of these activities, and find inspiration for writing there.
Call me a bit slow, but…
…it was almost exactly two of those
old-fashioned, pre-decimal years later,
on the other side of the world, and I was
nursing a rusted old dragon of a truck
down a red road you could see streaking by
through the lacy floor of the cab. And it was
just after midday, because the shadows
were mean and riveted on, and I don’t
know why, but all of a sudden I realised
you’d actually meant what you’d said,
that they hadn’t been just giddy, disposable,
2 a.m. words you might say to almost anyone
at all, to be laughed off the next day, like dust
from a mirror. It was possible that if I eased
further off the gas, I wouldn’t get back until
everything was already picked and safely in
the chiller. And I wondered if those brahmans,
drawn and incongruously skeletal in such a
fleshy, civilised country, would be nosing
around in their paddock again, grazing on
fresh air, amazing me that they survived.
First published in San Pedro River Review, Spring 2017
I dreamed my way back to the old farm,
with its straight lines and brutal corners,
the sick skies overhead pillowed
with the burden of all that endless work,
my cold hands moving objects bigger than myself,
waiting for something small within me to fail.
It was a relief to wake again in your house,
with its manic garden beating at the screens
to gain entry, to coax us out of ourselves,
its hummingbirds and gentle energy;
and your returning joy, knowing nothing
of the dark soil at the back of my mind.
first published in Dream Catcher, issue 32, 2015
Illustration used by kind permission of Jade They
Rusted plough at Guirdil, Isle of Rum
Once it would’ve arrived here, painted and new,
either landed from a friendly sea by boat,
or else shouldered over those rocky tracks by ponies,
and assembled from its pieces into a monster.
It must’ve seemed like the work of both
the Devil and the Lord in cahoots, the way it
knifed through the spongy turves, turning green into black,
burying centuries of broken backs in an afternoon.
Now it lies ridiculous, against the emptied house,
below the cliffs chopped roughly into silent hillsides.
Only goats feed here now, chewing, box-eyed,
on kelp stranded up and down the shoreline.
first published in Firewords Quarterly, Issue 6, 2016