from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

notes from Prussia Cove

Sometimes a girl's got to have a break; even, or maybe especially, from the continual pressure of trying to work out how to keep one's head above water as a poet in what Robert Bly might dub an age of the jingles of the advertising agency. And whenever there's pressure an image that comes closer and closer into focus for me until it eclipses everything is that of the sea washing the feet of the cliffs down here at the edges of the land; and invariably, no matter what, if I give in to that, the walking and the sea and the wind and the sun restore equilibrium and the knots are gently teased out.

So I've come southwest, homing instincts finely tuned, for two days down by the sea in my beloved Kernow (Cornwall, if you want to be English about it), staying with one of my oldest and closest friends who's just back from a big round-the-world trip. Back on Thursday because – ahem – I'm recording with the BBC for a Radio 4 Poetry Workshop (walk-on bit part really that might be edited out anyway – more anon.)

Last week I should have been running a course in France, in the Languedoc area, special to me for many reasons, and underpinning my novel Imago (see earlier posts about the Cathars). As many people are finding, courses are not filling at the moment, so we had to cancel.

So in the torrential rain of the Devon Monday morning I drove west, sure that, on this occasion as every other occasion I can remember leaving in rain and fog, by the time I was within sight of Hayle and St Ives there would be sun splaying on the chapel on the 'Island'. And so there was.

I was looking through my folder for one of the many poems I've written down here. I'm going to post you three: the first two prose poems from the opening sequence, 'West', in my 2005 poetry collection Looking For Icarus. The other I had completely forgotten; it originates in the early days of my marriage, when my then-husband and I, and later with our daughter too, followed the surf in our van like water gypsies initially in Devon and Cornwall (Sennen Cove was a favourite) and then down the Atlantic coasts of France and northern Spain each winter. (By the way, the poem is not a metaphor for my marriage – it really is about what it says it's about!)

St Ives
Today, paradise. Synaesthesia: everything is everything else. Sensory overload; no space for emotion. Sea-light. Lichen-roofed houses, Island chapel, soft gold sand, parabolas of mussels. Herring gull stalled in the air above you, yellow eyes scanning. Tall latte in a glass. Garlic bread, hummus, olives, roast aubergines and peppers with goat’s cheese. Two seals in the shallows. Sun. Hot. Sun.
...and for a long space of that day you were voyaging in the Sea of Clear Glass, a sea of such purity that the gravel and sand of the sea were clearly visible through it; and you saw no monsters or beasts therein among the crags, but only the pure gravel and the green sand...

St Ives
Night - opalescent. Towards Lyonesse. Godrevy blinks.

The legend’s black and white sails. To arrive too late, or never to arrive at all? We create the habit of forgetfulness 

and back to the dying fall. This is not what I wanted to say / this is not it at all. The sea lapping and lapping; something misplaced, forgotten at the margins of your mind. Human voices wake you. All those lost lands.
And then the sea that is thin like mist that seems as if it will not support your boat.*

To My Surfboard
after Kenneth Koch

Strung out on that long blue line
That still, resonant moment
That promises freedom
At the changing nexus of sea and sky –
It is hard to know now
Which was more pronounced,
Spending time with you:
The feeling of having died
Or of not having yet been born;
The weight of water beneath me
Or the weight of light above.

I have lived with promises
Before and since; I am no stranger
To maybe. I have learnt
That promises are no substitute
For freedom; that one wave
Doesn’t make an ocean. What’s more
I no long care that I never
Really ‘got’ you; maybe
The vertical’s more my plane -
That depth below, the endless sky
Above. But with you, at least,
I learnt that neither success
Nor failure are what we think
They are; I learnt to see;
And I learnt how to be alone.

- Roselle Angwin
* The quotes in italics are from the C13th Celtic Book of the Dun Cow. You'll recognise phrases from T S Eliot; and the black and white sails are a reference to the Tristan and Isolde myth – tragic turning of events on just a handful of words.

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