Up at Nancy’s

Nancy's

 

Up at Nancy’s

 

You ruminate – as the wheels spin on a mossier stretch

of the cobbles – on how they’d never build a road like this

these days, all the way up the hill to where field and moor

merge indifferently into one another, where the improved

becomes the unimproved. They wouldn’t even build a house.

 

She’ll be long dead by now, of course, so there’ll be no more

of those illicit cans of sweet stout skulking in the refrigerator,

rubbing shoulders with the UHT milk cartons; no more

coal-black surprises coiled in the plastic commode for you

to deal with. No more memories of George, ‘God rest his soul’.

 

She’ll have stopped wondering what might lurk about the upstairs,

where she last went over a decade ago, when her knees

were still behaving; stopped smiling in that borrowed way

of hers, with those flawless dentures, that surely belonged in

someone else’s mouth. They never mirrored the eyes.

 

This property would benefit from substantial modernisation

bleats the brochure from the auctioneers. The images show only

the views across the dale on a high pressure, July afternoon,

and the centuries-old defiance of the stonework. Not the interior.

No mention of the ghosts you know you’d be sharing it with.

 

 

first published in The Interpreter’s House, issue 66, 2017

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Saltmarsh thoughts #2

IMG_1493Niggling 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.

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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.

Three poems up at Stickman Review

Anthony Brown, editor of Stickman Review, has been kind enough to include three of my poems – “Driving around town, 2 a.m.”, “Eddie’s” and “In which you are still leaving” – in Volume 17, Number 1, which has just been released online.

Big thanks to Anthony for finding space for these three amongst some very fine poems indeed. I’d particularly recommend checking out David Lohrey’s “Saturday, the 19th or the 20th”.

 

Last view of the island

Islands

Last view of the island

 

The ferry banks, only five minutes out

beyond the stone corral of harbour wall

and into the channel, the broad crescent

of its wake painting plumes across the

glass of the ocean, engines humming a

rhythmless vibrato. Smoke funnels skywards.

Cars hunch like crated eggs on the lower deck.

Over the tannoy, our cheery captain announces

a bottlenose pod, surfing in the bow-waves.

My eyes lock over the stern, watching as

those grey mountains begin to melt on

the horizon, taking a lifetime to disappear.

 

 

first published in Red River Review, 2018

 

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.

The Argument

The Argument


The Argument

 

Sometimes it’s as though we’re cradling it,

nurturing it gently, nomads with a flame,

carrying it with us, between us, wherever we go.

 

How carefully we feed it when necessary:

a dry fist of kindling to make the sore,

red embers burst back into life again;

 

a brooding log to see us through the night;

the quick volleys of our breathing, spat as words,

the oxygen it would perish without.

 

 

first published in Shot Glass Journal, issue #22, 2017

Errands

Errands

 

Errands

 

When things were good and I still believed in us,

even the mundane obligations sang like whales,

and taking the wiry road down the hamstrings

of the island to its full-stop, on those bastard mornings,

a single cassette on the stereo to numb the losses,

always made unquestioned sense. Sometimes in

light hushed with pearls, sometimes with the blade

of the wind knifing clear to the marrow, I’d time each

arrival against the tide, sifting it for treasure, perform

the errands, light the fires. Then return to you, the road

now huddled into a spool of knees and elbows, the

mountain a tight wedge tripping over its own steps before

falling like a tantrum into the kettle-grey ocean below.

 

first published in San Pedro River Review, Spring 2017