'You find yourself here again / as if in dream', I wrote in River Suite, of Cranmere Pool. 'This bleak bog / black and ochre home to cotton grass and kestrels / shaped flints, a sheep's skull // in the absences where small deaths press / (scatter of fleece like dirty snow / a spike of bone, a tangled wreath of feather and sinew) // where the winds prowl / where the buzzard's cry falls through space / and there's no ear but your own to catch it...
Past Cosdon is the friendly little hump of Meldon Hill, softly rust-golden, rising out of the gorse and bracken behind Chagford. A row of tall old willows, flaming red against the afternoon. And then the nostalgic drive through the Wrey Valley between Moretonhampstead and Bovey Tracey: such a beautiful wooded valley, its pastureland either side of the B road studded with chestnut, blue roan, black and dun cattle, and granite boulders. For five years my daughter and I lived in this valley, high up and tucked into trees in our beloved wooden thatched house (rented), full of light, and dogs, and occasionally bantams. A wild swarm of bees thrummed in the double-skinned walls as the house woke up to spring.
On Tuesday, though, Princetown on the high moor, site of the highest (and high security) prison in England, was, as so often, shrouded in thick fog. Which gave my long-time friend and creative collaborator and I an excuse to spend quite a time nattering over a late breakfast in a café.
Michael is a public artist, and we've done a great deal of work together. M's current project, after 'wind harps' made from living trees, is gayageums ('gayagea'?), outdoor stringed instruments for people or wind to play. He's made nearly two of three, each incoporating a haiku of mine. Here's the first:
This time, though, we're talking about a kind of soundscape libretto; my words to M's various quirky made instruments.
'I might be a bit worded-out about Dartmoor,' I say cautiously, having written a novel set here (published last year), various pieces of non-fiction, and numerous poems (including the long and comprehensive River Suite) about the moor over the last 25 years or so.
'Never mind,' he says breezily. 'The words don't really matter. We'll be turning them into sounds and patterns.'
So we set off, into thick and somewhat freezing fog. We were drenched before very long, waterproofs and all. Oh well.
Like a fairy tale, isn't it? – Yes, it did occur to us that we were possibly nearly lost, once.
However, despite the fact that Michael had brought his recording gear and his special non-violin bow in case there was a wire across which he might draw it (there was, but it was too wet), there were no sounds to sample. (– Well, the leat; but Michael said that was far too predictable. What do I know?) No ravens. No crows. No buzzard's cry falling through space. No distant dog, munching of turf by sheep, cattle, ponies. No wind on stone or rush. Not even a quad bike. Just muffling fog, apart from the nearby road.
Words from me? Mmmm. Soon. Maybe.
But then, just as we turned back, a slightly mysterious thrumming roar, both high and deep. Took us quite a while to work out that it was the bow poking out of Michael's rucksack, picking up our movement through air.
Watch this space!