Monday, 31 March 2014

The Seemingly Inevitable Tragedy of Blackbirds

For the third consecutive year blackbirds are renovating the nest in the Shed of Shame. They seem to think it's a perfect spot. It is in a sturdy shelter. However, there are two problems with it.

1. We keep the freezer here, so almost daily I go in and send mister blackbird into spiraling paroxysms against the stone wall in the far corner. He gives me the jitters and for a few seconds we're both incapable of knowing what to do beyond flutter and flap either physically or mentally. I've worked out the best thing to do is crouch down just inside the doorway so he can see me and know it's safe to fly over me and out. Missus blackbird is not so agitated in her response to me. I think perhaps it's because in the past she has had to sit on the eggs while I enter potter and leave, so even when they don't yet have eggs she has developed a more sanguine approach.

2. The second downside to nesting in the shed is that the entrance and exit is the hole of an old cat flap. We don't have a cat, so that doesn't pose a danger, but once the chicks have outgrown the confines of the shed (shitting on everything in it in the process) they need to hop through the square hole to the outside. I can only imagine the awe and surprise a chick must experience when they discover this whole new enormous world of light and movement and expanse the moment they hop from the shed to the stone sets outside. At least, whatever they are experiencing, they stop still for several seconds on the sets before launching off to somewhere more sheltered. Yes, the sets are terribly exposed.

The worst occasion witnessed was a wee chick last year bouncing off the hole's ledge, into the light, pausing long enough for a sparrowhawk to swoop down and snatch it away. F's instinctive response as witness was to charge the sparrowhawk on its upward flight, chick in claw. Naturally it dropped its bounty before escaping the clod-hoofed human. The chick fell to the ground, not dead, barely alive, to writhe, misshapen, bloody, in a tangle of down and bone, on the sets.

The price of interfering with nature writ large. Again

Friday, 14 March 2014

The Blue Rubber Band Benefit Gig

I put a call out on Facebook a while back for blue or green rubber bands and have done quite well - receiving a varied selection of colours within the spectrum. These are, I think, for the next pamphlet: In Good Weather the Sign Outside Reads Danger Quicksand. A long title for a small selection of prose poems. And it may yet change. As may my intended use of rubber bands. I had such an enthusiastic response to the call out I got greedy and wondered if, instead of using one per pamphlet, I could use two or three - indulge the rubber band thing.

I haven't even decided on the cover as yet - although think (again only think) it'll be using letterpress - and need to find the right materials. I'm feeling more and more certain that the spine needs to be using at least three rubber bands. So for a print run of 50 I'm going to need a hell of a lot more bands.

Hence my idea for a blue rubber band benefit gig.

I'm organising a reading in May for myself and a couple of writers I've not read with before - a poet friend up from London and a short story writer from Lancaster I really admire - just waiting on confirmation of the venue - and would like to use the occasion to launch this new pamphlet. It'll be a pingy springy cohort of creative thought and imaginations, so it seems entirely appropriate for the event to be a repository of unwanted blue and green rubber bands.

Anyone who donates an as yet unspecified number of bands gets a free copy of the pamphlet. The number will depend on how long it takes me to put the pamphlet together and therefore the final rrp.

If you have any spare blue/green rubber bands and would like to either simply donate them or (if you've enough - tbc) trade them in for a limited edition pamphlet - publication date mid May - then please get in touch.

If you'd like to know more about the gig I'll be posting up details as soon as the venue confirms... which hopefully will be very soon...

All rights to change my mind on the make up of the pamphlet - hence any connecting offers - completely and utterly reserved.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Shrove Tuesday

photo: Sue Gill
Pancake day tomorrow and a conga eel has washed up on a recent high tide at my bay-neighbour's shore.

I'm not sure who else she's told about the eel and since I'm not invited to her shrivening supper, and I'm sure you haven't been either, it's quite safe to reveal what I think she'll serve up, as she's one for enjoying extensive menus and ceremony.

I suspect, she like me is, relieved at the thought of some practical flotsam again, something we can do stuff with. Weeks have passed, many of them stormy, since we've had any usable firewood wash up. I don't know why. Plenty of trees must have come down in the winds and there can't have been that much of an increase of people snaffling them upriver for their own burners. Possibly councils have been more vigilant about cutting down trees with the storms, or the by-pass has required a more thorough felling programme.

Either way it's pancake day and it's no coincidence a five foot long eel washed up on her beach, which, while dead, still looked as though it had had a healthy life and, more importantly for her plates, a sturdy circumference.

She didn't ask, but clearly she'd need ideas for toppings for the gluten free pancakes. I'm no gourmet but am happy to chat, over our virtual fence, about possible flavour combinations:
For savoury - creamy mash and black peppered onions or beetroot roasted with cumin seeds provide good contrast especially one as starter and one as main, the first complementing the eel's fattiness and the second cutting through it. Obviously no extra salt is necessary. Toasted coconut meringue and whipped pineapple cream would make a cleansing, palate freshening dessert. Or of course the unbeatable lemon and sugar.

Slice thickness is quite crucial for the success of each dish: the thinner the better, for crispiness rather than flobbiness, apart from the mash/pepper which would be elevated by a good 12mm steak beneath it.

But she's a woman of her own devices. I wouldn't put it past her to make a shin high pair of wellies from it, if I didn't already know she wasn't a wellie-wearer.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Writing Process - Blog Tour

I was asked to participate in this blog tour by Jean Atkin. Its purpose is to share current activities, link writers to their wider community and to spend a little time considering the latest project - which could be either to tantalize readers or to give me the opportunity to chew over what exactly I'm doing. Either way, we get four questions to structure the post around:

Right now I'm working a new artists'-pamphlet. It began life as a hyperlinked story about the first of the big storms to hit us here back in December 2013. It has four interconnected pieces - maybe prose poems, maybe prose - that spin off from the moment of the high water. I stumbled upon a nifty way of presenting the pieces in a fold-out booklet, but have been struggling with upping the juice of it a little more. It just didn't quite cut the mustard. I'd set quite a high bar with Sea-creatures. So I've been faffing about illustrations, images, and paper weight and texture and am ready to test drive another prototype with tracing paper. I'll let you know the outcome...

How it differs from other work of its genre is a tricky question, especially since it's not finished. I suspect I'm too close to my work to be accurate and I don't know everything that is out there to compare myself to. Plus, I'm not sure comparing myself to 'other work in its genre' is that helpful - it's a job distinct from this blog. I went to see Inside Llewyn Davies at the weekend and found it even more affecting than previous Cohen Brothers' films. It's about being good but not good enough - or rather not being deemed good enough by the big say-sos in the music industry. Throughout the film there are comparisons made with other folk singers who all are given the break that Llewyn Davies really wants and perhaps needs more than they. And yet he couldn't sing in any other way. He was being true to his heart and self. That was what made the film so painful.

I write about the sea because I'm fascinated in how long can I write about it and find something new to say; how long will I keep myself interested? Keep others interested? A dangerous challenge to have set myself...

As for my writing process. Ha. Tom Chivers was complaining about the same old three questions he gets asked when interviewed for Penned in the Margins: (1) what do I think about performance poetry vs spoken word, (2) how does my writing affect my editing, (3) what am I looking for? And because it was on Facebook there were a bunch of sarcastic questions in the thread that followed which have completed clouds my thinking around this innocent question. So I'll write about my booklet-making process which is new to me so I haven't talked about ad infinitum... I'll have a poem or selection of poems that I think deserve being made into an object, clustered and built up somehow. Then I try to think how they can be best presented as a concrete thing. It's like turning words into a sculptural form. I want to enhance the poems, make the act of reading them bring out their themes and engage the reader more in the physical origin of them. It also acts as a great excuse for not writing new things. I'm busy developing existing work.  

Next week, hopefully, the blog tour continues with Naomi Foyle, novelist, poet and intellect extraordinaire, and Maya Chowdhry, art-activist, poet, playwright and digital explorer.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Fourfold: Space and Creativity,-2.410641&spn=0.024554,0.074759&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=33.764224,76.552734&hnear=River+Ribble&t=h&z=14
Lancashire, while boggy, has barely been afffected by the recent flooding and I'm grateful. One of my most favourite things in the world is to walk by a river in the direction of its flow. Walking yesterday I mentioned this to F, who being a philosopher cited Heidegger's concept of fourfold as a possible explanation.   

The drawing together of sky/earth/divinities/human to create a fullness of place chimed with my experience of the river. A river - in fact all bodies of water - has that extraordinary quality of reflecting the sky, being from the sky and being located on earth.

Maybe this is why we are so drawn to living close to rivers, as well as that sense of movement and the renewing qualities of a river, this deep union of nature and culture overrides any practical advice of not building near them.

And to step further along the flow of thought, I found this enchanting idea in an article on Heidegger's fourfold by Peter Critchley. It, on talking about fourfold in dwelling space, highlighted the sense of bounded space "not that which something stops but... that from which it begins its presenting" : the potential of a space that has been enclosed for a particular use is made more potent by its boundary. This definition of space is ours for the making. I'm thinking more more creatively and metaphorically than the Enclosures.

I'm thinking of how I use the boundary of a riverside: for writing - the flow I'm connected to; for contemplation - its light glancing off new thoughts; for talk - the sluicing an ideal punctuation; for celebration, even - being lifted by its movement: apparently shamen in Madagascar use rivers as entry routes to their sacred sites as part of a ceremony, which makes perfect sense to me. We already use walking down aisles as the entry point to a ritual, a river (when not in flood) is a more expansive aisle, more undulating, offering more time to consider what lies ahead.

Maybe this riverside walking is more integrated to the everyday than the idea of ceremony suggests. Maybe it's one of those quiet rites we perform on a regular basis, that leaves you changed from when you started, that elevates your sense of self in the world, that deposits a thought, an accompanying emotion, in you. Maybe I need more research.



Saturday, 1 February 2014

More Wood More Wind

They say wood warms you twice. I reckon it warms five times: just not all cosily tucked up on the sofa.

First: Collection - which actually falls into two stages of warming. The driftwood round here can come in the size of tree trunks that need chainsawing in situ - perhaps into three or four logs. Then we barrow them home, which can be half mile of wheeling along the seawall. 

Third: Chaining. It's a job neither of us like, but free fuel is not something to turn up your nose at. For the past few weeks we've been watching our chopped wood supply sink, saying "when it stops raining we'll get out the chainsaw out...". It hasn't stopped raining - or at least not when we're both around to get stuck in.

Except this morning - bitterly cold, yes, 30mph wind gusts, yes, but glorious sunshine too. It was an opportunity to grasp with both hands - after coffee, chat, crumpets and a little essential weekend lounging.

We haven't been so cornered by the weather before - only a few nights' worth of wood left to burn, we couldn't wait for the 'winter winds' to calm down. Besides, it was May when that happened last year. South westerlies have the clearest line to howl across the garden. (I'm trying to grow a windbreak but need a windbreak for that to have a chance to grow). There's not a lot of shelter. We positioned the saw-horse upwind, the wood piled downwind and begun the slow, rather shouty task of slicing through ivy, avoiding nails, fingers and legs. No give in the wind to allow us to loiter. Always there's the disappointment of finding what appeared a massive juicy log is actually rotten as hell and while has some calorific value is deemed 'summer wood' if not discarded.

Fifth: Chopping. Because we're dealing in tree trunks what we saw is too dense for the stove. It needs splitting to have half a chance of burning well. Out with the chopping block and axe. Given we've already spent a hefty amount of time hauling wood from the garage to the saw-horse, sawing it, barrowing it down to either the woodshed to stack or the chopping block to axe, we're already pretty pooped.

With the wind now gusting to 40mph, welding an axe takes some strength to keep its aim precise. And there's no best place to position myself in relation to wind/chopping block/wood/wheelbarrow. Wherever I stand the wind hampers - catching the axe - buffeting my back - overturning the barrow - scattering splinters. I don't think I've ever found chopping as hard work as this morning and there's no relief in pausing. The wind still pummels. It's cold standing still, chilling the sweat. 

And while it's good there's loads of wood it's a bastard too. I have no memory of warmth, comfort or any physical recollection of why I'm doing this except the inherent knowledge I must I must. As one block splits I remember how my dad loved this job. He'd spend what seemed like hours swinging his axe, probably tapping into some base instinct, which I can't find, not in my icing toes, my numbing fingers nor, disappointingly, in a graceful arcing swing of an axe-welding natural.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Night Sound

A windless night, closer to the longest night than we are now, a good hour after the milk lorry trembled the house in its nightly pound to the farm, I was in the bathroom, readying for bed. The bathroom in our cottage is behind the kitchen, towards the sea. In fact there at high tide, as it was, there's possibly only ten or twenty metres between the bathroom wall and the sea.

What I heard at first sounded like a car reversing, a long way off. Further than the car park, locked up now anyway. But there was no long way off for a car to reverse, only the sea. For reasons I can't now explain I was convinced there were lights attached to the sound. Regular, intermittent soundings. Big, deep, hovering and slightly thrumming, as if more vibration than sound, as if operating on another sound wave to the one I usually hear on.

I heard bats calling once. Without any batophone. It was, again, late at night, and two of them swooped over my head and knobbled - the closest I can come to describing their echolocation - to each other. Apparently my attunement to high frequency sound happened to coincide with the lower one they employ for calling to each other.

This was a far bigger sound. One that filled the air, the way thunder does. But intermittent and sharper. It really did sound like something parking. It sounded above the water, rather than in it, the sharpness gave it that sense. Although the vibrations did suggest water maybe being disturbed. As I leaned closer to the wall the stronger the sound, and its vibration, felt. Oddly regular. Insistant. I called F. Again I called. Urgently. Already the silences between the sounds were lengthening. I called out again. Quickly. But too late the sound had sunk away. The emptiness of the night seemed, at the moment F arrived in the bathroom, far far bigger than the five mile wide bay, black as it ever is.