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.

IMG_1504

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.

 

 

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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.

Hinterland

Hinterland

Hinterland

 

They say it doesn’t rain here much, often, but

when it does, canopies of merciless cloud snuff out

 

every last square of the sky, hanging about the fields

like a quarrel, forgotten without ever being resolved,

 

and empty themselves in angled swipes that paste

both barley and nettles to the red earth, bleeding into

 

the leather boots and loafers of commuters on trains,

who steam coolly in their seats all the way into Waverley.

 

 

first published in Southlight Magazine, 2017

Kearvaig – National Poetry Day 2017

Kearvaig

It’s National Poetry Day in the UK, so it would be rude not to mark the occasion somehow! After all, I’ve been writing poetry ever since I could write (just about). And I’m still struggling to move on…

This is a reposting of the first ever post I made here nearly eighteen months back. The poem was written many years ago, and belongs to a time when I first began submitting to magazines seeking publication. It didn’t last very long! And it was followed by a much lengthier hiatus.

The theme of this year’s National Poetry Day is “Freedom”. I’m not sure if this is necessarily a poem about freedom, but it’s certainly written about a time and a place where I felt a genuine sense of peace.

Whatever you’ve been doing to mark the day, I hope it’s been a great one.

Kearvaig

Tonight the sun just bluntly refuses to set,

yet I can squeeze no more minutes from the moment,

no more dry wood from the crashed crates scattered

between the docile rocks. It’s wet again.

I’m missing nothing, no-one.

 

I was sure that I saw whales in the bay,

slowly taking in the cliffs that look like

a church in resolute light.

I could be mistaken. They say that

tankers often come this way.

The deeper, wider ocean isn’t so far,

and I will still be here tomorrow.

 

First published in Poetry Nottingham 1997

Launch of Southlight 22 at the Wigtown Book Festival

Issue 22 of Southlight Magazine will be launched this coming Saturday, 23rd September, at the Wigtown Book Festival, a 10-day literary celebration in Scotland’s National Book Town.

This issue includes four of my poems: Planting cyclamen; Hinterland; Flood and Arran Victory. My thanks go to Southlight’s editorial team of John Burns, Vivien Jones and Angus Macmillan for choosing my poems. Best wishes for a successful launch – wish I could be there!

New poems at The Open Mouse and The Poetry Shed

Two poems of mine with capital city settings have been published on separate websites in the last week. Finding a dead Waxwing on Braid Road has Edinburgh as its backdrop, and was posted on Colin Will’s poetry site The Open Mouse.

SW12 – a reflection on a train journey through south London – was published today at The Poetry Shed by Abegail Morley.

Big thanks to Colin and Abegail for their support!

Edinburgh

 

Rusted plough at Guirdil, Isle of Rum

JadeTheyPlough

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

Kearvaig

 

Kearvaig

Kearvaig 

 

Tonight the sun just bluntly refuses to set,

yet I can squeeze no more minutes from the moment,

no more dry wood from the crashed crates scattered

between the docile rocks. It’s wet again.

I’m missing nothing, no-one.

 

I was sure that I saw whales in the bay,

slowly taking in the cliffs that look like

a church in resolute light.

I could be mistaken. They say that

tankers often come this way.

The deeper, wider ocean isn’t so far,

and I will still be here tomorrow.

 

First published in Poetry Nottingham 1997