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

Sunday, 5 February 2012

water sutra, cut-up poems and dark matter

After all that locking-tight of snow and ice here even in the mild southwest, today was a gentle gift of a day, almost-spring.
     TM and I went to Bantham to walk a few miles on the coastpath. My dog's been with my daughter for ten days or so – odd to walk along beaches and not have her crazy-careering spatially-unaware inability-to-corner delight-and-exuberance-at-sand-and-sea accompanying us.
     I must have got soft, too, at ten days with tiny strolls in place of my hour+ daily walks, because my legs are tired now, and it was only 8 miles. In my defence though The Man walks extremely fast, and four miles an hour on the coastpath is quite good going, though this is an easy section, via Thurlestone (with its inland lagoon/ley, wildlife refuge) to Hope Cove (and a pub lunch overlooking the water). 
     Incidentally, if you live in the southwest, I'm leading a half-day 'poetry walkshop' on March 25th from Hope Cove round Bolt Tail for the local AONB; apparently I'll be sharing how to see with a poet's eyes with the participants, and we'll be writing haiku afterwards with a cup of tea in the Fisherman's Reading Room. More details soon on my website, (in fact I might have posted them already).
     The sea was glassy and green, horizon lilac- and indigo-outlined. Bantham had a big rash of surfers on very flat laid-back waves; the sea tractor was ploughing through the shallows on the causeway between Bigbury (with its twin seas) and Burgh Island. And here again a guy standing upright 'out back' on a board with a single paddle – not seen this before until recently. I felt a twinge of envy at the kayaker paddling quietly solo offshore.
     Scented jonquils are out already in the sheltered places! And at home the broad beans, socks knocked off (no, I am of course talking metaphorically) by the frost, have recovered their dignity and are back upright.


Yesterday was my wonderful monthly poetry group. Something alchemical happens in a deep and intimate group where we work with soul-stuff – because that is one way of looking at poetry; my way, anyway – and there's a deep resonance and trust arises. Plus some very interesting poetry grows out of it.
     I decided to use one of Charles Bernstein's exercises where you borrow lines from a prose book. These kinds of exercises feel like cheating – I mean using others' words – but what they can do is kickstart associative thinking, as well as inject new energy via a different vocab and diction. The end result may or may not make a poem in its own right, but the creation of the piece of work does stimulate the imagination, give it a workout.
     What you do is take a book with a two- or three-word title. You assign a number to each letter according to its place in the alphabet, with A being 1 and Z being 26. You then look up the page in the book according to each relevant number in turn. You then find a phrase beginning with that letter (that has become a number too).
     Obviously the book you choose will colour the phrases you pick. Someone chose a gardening book; another a novel by Maggie O'Farrell; a book of essays; and I took Dark Matter, an extraordinary book by German Juli Zeh: a kind of detective novel rooted in physics and philosophy.
     So my title translated to: 4,1,18,11   13,1,20,20,5,18.
     Looking up those pages, I tracked down a phrase beginning, each time, with the title-letters (I hedged my bets by choosing a second phrase, in brackets below). So my starting point phrases were (are you with me?):

Doubt the most beautiful (Dozes in the porch)
A theory of physics (A man's ideas)
Relaxed quite the opposite
Knows is warm and dry

Merely of protons, neutrons and electrons (Murder certainly not something he has planned)
Always there
The age of quantum gravity
Theoretical physicists who are the architects
Encounter on the bank (Earth a little way off)
Raises a palm.

Before this exercise we'd already done two or three other exercises to generate a lot of phrases. I asked people to tear these up and mingle and recombine them (having swapped some torn-up part phrases with others). Allow, I said, for interesting juxtapositions.

I wrote two. Here's one:

Towards the Horizon

How we question who we are
(doubt the most beautiful
theory of physics).
The undertow jostles.

Cure for this sense of deep uncertainty:
lime-wash scent of the morning sea
here at Gyllyngvase; pied wagtail
in the wrack and kelp of the tideline

the singing of the spheres.
What do we have in common
with midnight's dark breakers?
The way they blossom into the seventh wave.

Protons, neutrons, electrons –
all encoded to mirror the metamorphoses
of space, planetary parabolas,
triads, fifths and octaves

in the spiral dance of phi;
snailshell, orbit, pine cone; and us –
recent visitors, unreliable witnesses
searching for continuity

in this long now, poised
like a memory of flight
(in the age of quantum gravity)
forever on the brink

of impossible transformations.


Yes. Well. It was fun, anyway.

Speaking of poems: I had such a kind review of my last poetry collection, Bardo, from Alasdair Paterson on stride magazine online (edited by Rupert Loydell, he who booked me to lead the workshops at UCF last week). I hope you won't think me boastful if I post it? It makes such a difference when another poet 'gets' one's work (and with Alasdair it's mutual: I so recommend his on the governing of empires [like mine, published by Shearsman]). I should just reassure you, if you don't know my work, that the poem above is not typical! here's what Alasdair says:

'Those of you already in possession of a smattering of Tibetan or the vocabulary of transcendence will know that 'bardo' signifies a transitional or liminal state (Latin has its uses too). Roselle Angwin's 'Zen take on psychogeography' examines just what it is we discover in the contours of place, how much we bring along with us, how much inner and outer landscapes and weathers interpenetrate and rock into some kind of equilibrium. The poems, many formally prose poems, are captivating and in places breath-taking, calm yet displaying a palette of emotional colours, always subtle and open to the world. Here are the connections between landscape and memory, landscape and belief, landscape and identity – one to read and re-read, to recalibrate the senses before getting out into the world again:

     water sutra

     just a slight thickening
     of the molecules that
     make up water

     the seal
     is almost more wave
     than matter'

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