Monday, 17 December 2012

Solstice




A little over six months ago friend and fellow poet Rebecca Bilkau asked me if I would like to help her compile a small anthology for the summer solstice: finding 24 poets to write a poem on each of the 24 hours of the longest day this year.

Well, who would refuse such a lovely idea?


We had a couple of weeks to get everyone in place - emailing poets we liked offering any hour of the day. Miraculously everyone got either the time they wanted or hadn't stipulated and were easy enough to take what they were given. A double check that everyone was happy - it being the kind of project that a no-show would mess things up - and then to wait until mid July for the poems to start to trickle though. Rebecca, never having typeset a book before offered to honour the poems in a beautiful and clear perfect-bound booklet.

What we've ended up with is an expanse of light - if emotion, history, thought and sightings are light - I think they are in a fleeting sense, in a energetical sense, in their ability to throw shadows and illuminate or blind. Here these experiences are weighted with word - given shape and resonance by being set down, like hours on a clock. At either solstice is a corner turned: here the length of summer already closes as we turn the pages. And in this week of the winter solstice, it feels even more potent that this is what we'll be turning towards again.

This transience is evident in the views of streetlamps, hedgerows, cafes, the rising light, swallows, rain, and ultimately the growing dark, its rituals, noises, pathways disappearing ahead.

I love this flickbook of hours, how I can settle into each hour and then be uprooted and replanted for the next. The preciousness of a day, of what each hour can give if it is wholeheartedly engaged with is flagged up by each page. Inspiring in its quiet, slender way.

As are all the poets whose imagination was caught by the unexpected email all those months ago and willingly offered to join in the idea. Thank you Helen Ivory, Andew McMillan, David Borrott, Jane Routh, David Tait, Joanne Reardon Lloyd, Jean Atkin,  Sheila Liggett, Jim Turner, Rebecca Irvine Bilkau, Maya Chowdhry, Wayne Burrows, Seni Seneviratne, Andrew Forster, Catherine Sadler, Elizabeth Burns, Martyn Halsall, Steve Waling, Janice Fitzpatrick Simmons, Carole Coates, Lorna Thorpe, Rhiannon Hooson and Polly Atkin. Thank you all!


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Next Big Thing

I was recently asked, by Maya Chowdhry, to take part in a blogging project call The Next Big Thing.

It entails a whole bunch of writers answering a set of questions about a book they've either recently published or one they're working on. And then asking more writers to answer the same questions. I decided to write about the teeny tiny pamphlet I made recently called Lune, which proved very popular at a reading I gave last week. 


Where did the idea come from for the book? 
It's an A4 length pamphlet of a long poem about the Lune estuary. I live at its mouth and so watch it most days. I say a long poem, but it's not that long... long for me. I've been writing tons about the sea, sailing on it, living by it, the industries and buildings arising from it and I wanted to explore the seaness of the sea itself, how we (or more realistically I) relate to it emotionally, what we (I) miss or imagine from it, how intertwined we all are with it - it produces half the oxygen we breathe for example... It feels an important subject to get to grips with given what is happening to our ocean, its creatures and therefore us.

What genre does your book fall under?

Free verse poetry with an obvious emphasis on it being set inside a folding pamphlet, a concertina kind of production, in and out... get the drift? (groan)

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Well, I'm not into plankton exploitation, but if we could get a brilliant macroscopic camera I'd love to have some great shots of microbes, phosporescence... There are some bit parts for people too, so I'd go for Ron Perlman, Anne Marie Duff and Lucy Hymas (my ten year old neice who loves the stage).
 
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Look at the sea, girls! (courtesy of LM Montgomery)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I've made it, with inspiration from Hugh Bryden whose pamphlet-making workshop I went to about two years ago. Although I've had good feedback on it so might see if there's any specialist makers out there interested in making it super beautiful.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
For the first draft, not including previous research time, I sat down and laid it all out in one leg, maybe an hour or so. But most of that was rubbish and had to be rewritten. At least then I knew more what I was wanting from it, what was missing and had a loose shape. Then from there to here, six months.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The sea, my being on it, and looking at it every day.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
It's printed on glittery green paper.

If you're that 'piqued' let me know and for a few pennies* I can send you a copy


Writers I've asked to take part in the Next Big Thing are Kim Moore, Andrew McMillan, Naomi Foyle and Jane Eagland


*£2

Friday, 9 November 2012

Entertainer? Poet?

Burmese poet Thitsar Ni at the Scottish Poetry Library
The second and third weeks of the Arc Ventuers Tour overtook me in terms of neat bullet points on what I enjoyed and so have decided to share a few stories from my time with the various poets... Or in this case what information (once here) they shone on one of the more particular stressful logistics of the tour: getting a visa -

The highly regarded 66 year old Burmese (Buddhist) poet Thitsar Ni (one of the proponents of modernist poetry in Burma), applying for a visa to come to the UK, was asked if he had a bank account as proof of his address/identity/status ....
No, no bank account.
Did he own a house?
No, no house, he lived with his mother.
What about a car?
No, no car. I have nothing, he told the visa woman. Nothing. And it dawned on him for the first time in his life, he really did have nothing. Nothing at all.

The woman suggested he applied for a business visa instead.
He did not want to apply for a business visa. He had no bank account.

Off he went. Emailed me to say he had been refused his visa.
Try again! I say, and luckily having the email address for a former British Ambassador for Burma, I could ask her for help.
He gets himself a bank account and returns to the Visa Office for a visitor's visa.
What is the reason for his visit to the UK? asks the visa woman.
I am going for a week long poetry tour.
Are you a poet?
Yes.
Can you prove it? Do you have a membership card?
No, I don't have a membership card.
How can you prove to me you are a poet?
I can write you a poem.

She does not want a poem, thank you. And she will give him an entertainer visitor's visa
But he is a poet. Not an entertainer. He does not want an entertainer visitors visa...

Fortunately the British Ambassador's husband made him accept an entertainer visitor's visa and he got his visa a week before the first reading on a week-long tour of UK. His first trip outside of Burma.

This story came via Ko Htike's interpretation, as did the photo. With thanks.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Poetry on the Road

Gerdur Kristny, me and Bejan Matur at Manchester
Week 2 of the Arc Ventures Tour begins. And the reality of 10 poets from 8 countries visiting 27 venues in 3 weeks is beginning to sink in. I mean really sink in, despite having had the logisitics of it swirling around my brain, nerves and muscles for the past three months...

Highlights of week one include:
  • The Icelandic Ambassador's delight at Gerdur Kristny's impending visit to Hull... The long shadow of the cod wars still evident.
  • The audience at the Turkish Cultural Centre bulging to welcome Bejan Matur to the UK
  • Bejan's reflection that staying at Waterloo Travelodge was like being on the set of Barton Fink. 
  • Amarjit Chandan's rendering of 'To Father' at Lancaster: sharp and moving. The epitomy of how one persona's experience can touch so many.
  • Discussing Buddhism, Islam and Christianity with Razmik Davoyan and Amarjit - the irony of religion being there to unite people.
  • Maike Oergel at the workshop in Nottingham giving a brilliant presentation on poetry, translation and drew out the most extraordinary range of experiences of translating.
  • The Hebden Bridge salon that was 'absolutely magical' 
  • But perhaps the biggest thrill so far was hearing that Thitsar Ni, the 66 year old Burmese poet who got a passport especially for this tour, whose visa only just came through last Wedesday, arrived at Heathrow last night and is ready to roll.
And so, to Hull, London, Newcastle, Bangor, London and Edinburgh ...

Razmik Davoyan, Armine Tamrazian and Amarjit Chandan







Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Secret of Success

Success. It's all about definition: Are humans successful?

In light of what we collected the other week from the beach and then the timely news item about increased crap found in Antarctica and my increasingly pessimistic view of our 'future', I'd say No. I'm measuring this in how thoughtless and unsustainable we are, obviously, rather than by advances in medical science.

I am quite convinced that we're screwing up this planet for ourselves in the main. With oil spills we've seen how the natural world recovers from our carelessness - eventually. So too this world will adjust to rising sea levels. I have no doubt. But while we continue to ignore the potential problem of mass migration that is inevitable as Bangladesh goes under, as well Pacific Islands and ... we're letting ourselves down. We don't even have the excuse of ignoring it. The government is actively barricading this island against movement of people. 'We're alright, Jack'

This post began life in my brain as a piece about success in poetic terms. I've been hearing a few mid-career poets talk as though they feel ignored, unsuccessful. And while with only one book out, I can't claim any mid-thing for myself, I get the complaint. We don't have the outward appeal of fresh new voices or energy that can be easily stamped with success.

I've skewed around the issue of rubbish and catastrophe because I'm trying (and currently failing) to work out how to write a poem on that subject. How does this affect my sense of success as a poet? While it's a work in process there is no knowing whether it'll be a success. That's the risk. And there's only one way of finding out. Knowing when to stop flogging a dead stanza is a mark of success ...

How do I generally gauge my success is a trickier question. Winning prizes instills a sense of success, shortlived though. Having other people read, understand and enjoy my work is important but fickle - what happens when they don't? Does that lessen the work's value?

As I said. Success is about definition. Being a successful poet, for me, is to get work out, affecting those who read or hear it in some (undefined) way; to develop and improve - change; to connect with other poets; complete projects; respond to and interpret the world; keeping on writing for as long it delights me, and, possibly most importantly, liking what I write for longer than that inital flush of creation.

Sure I'd like to win some big accolades, but there would always be bigger bucks to win, next year's prize, another review to bag. Restlessness may be an inherent part of the creative process but it doesn't have to undermine the sense of achievement in writing a good poem. A poem you know is good for how it hangs together, crackles with independent life and swells everytime you read it.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Recyclable

Three of us spent an hour yesterday picking up rubbish from the beach (inspired by National Beachwatch Day). Above is what we found. Not bad - in terms of not very much. What catches the eye (in the photo and on the salt marsh) are the bigger canisters, trays, plastic drink bottles and bits of aggregate sacks.

But the real danger lies in the small pieces of Polystyrene. It masquerades as food for birds (Oh the irony since much of it comes from take-away containers). Estimates are that it takes 500 years to decompose. Although since it's only been around since 1839, that's an unknown. Also, it's unstable. Especially in salt water, where it releases potentially toxic substances. So not just the birds get it - the whole chemical make up of the ocean is contaminated.

Today we have strong winds which will bring more crap to the beach. And we don't plan to spend a hour cleaning it up today. If we did, there'd be more tomorrow. Although, nothing to the extent of what collects in the vortexes in each ocean... in the North and South Pacific, North and South Atlantic, The Indian Ocean... 100 million tons of plastic overall, apparently. And growing. Bon appetit.




Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Intertidal poetry

I love this picture of seaweed at low tide. The residue of movement is thrilling because the object is static while the energy of the sea heaves away a few hundred metres down the beach. This is poetry.

At least, this is what I try to capture in my work. The words and their overall shape on the page are motionless but contained in their sense is an extraordinary movement. Such intention was likened, by a friend recently, to a rose blooming. Poetry has the ability to capture the coming into presence of something: object, person or event. All poetry has this inherent energy, even if it initally looks like this still seaweed. No wonder it becomes addictive to its practitioners.

Peter Redgrove called that moment of discovery, an 'opening', the heightened sensation of understanding or illumination. The best poems continue to open long after they've been set. To me, that is, as much as to any reader. The chafing of word against word, line on line, can continue to spark indefintely, reshaping depending on time, tide and light. Edit this too much and there's a danger for me to over manipulate the subject. I like the not-knowing, the unseeing element. Those waves shingling the beach in the distance while I stare at this seaweed. It lets me off the hook. Surprises, startles and unsettles me.



     

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Sightings


On the first night of a tutored retreat with David Morley and Deryn Rees-Jones, they announced they wanted us to surprise ourselves during the week. I did not react well to this. It felt akin to paying to laugh (I don't go to many stand-ups). How was I going to surprise myself on command? I (metaphorically) searched for the surprise, then decided I probably wasn't going to find any surprises. I was there to read mainly rather than write, anyway...

Of course it did. On day three, after a casual question about the animals I'd seen while sailing, all these tiny poems tumbled out about the sea creatures I'd sighted over the years: basking sharks, minke whales, arctic skua, dolphins, grey seals, puffins... Writing about them was wonderful.

They were quite unlike what I usually wrote, small, short lined, straight observations. Reaching back into memory (some were 15 odd years ago) gave surprisingly vivid images. The required forms were apparent from the start. I felt very fond of them, tender, rather than thrilled as I usually am at finishing first drafts. And overwhelmed at how they just kept coming. By the end of the retreat I had a small coastline of creatures.

Then the doubt set in. Who did I think I was, writing about these sea creatures when so many great poets already had done? Marianne Moore, Mark Doty and Kathleen Jamie have all previously written about one or more of the creatures I'd seen. I was just setting myself up for [pale] comparison.

Besides, how relevant is it to write about sea creatures? Who cares?

Whenever I start to doubt what I write I compare myself to this fantasy poet I want to be. This fantasy poet writes clever urban poems, that illuminate the economic situation (not unlike Sam Riviere). Or cool satirical poems (aka Luke Kennard). Or carefully crafted philosophical poems (Deryn Rees-Jones). Or passionately political poems (Adrienne Rich)...

But this latest batch weren't written by my fantasy poet. They were written by me. Who cares passionately that the sea mustn't continued to be ignored (except for the fear of it invading our homes/holiday homes and romantic views). Me who wants to celebrate its diversity, its creatures, to consider our relationship with them. Me who is as interested in music and rhythm as protest. Trusting these poems have something to add to the others already written is hard at times. It means they need thorough stress tests before they see the light of day: what am I saying? How necessary is it? How does it fit with (or not) what other people have said?

I want to call them eco poems rather than nature poems. The former genre feels more edgy, conjures up the warrier. As if that makes me a bit more edgy. Although...  Ecology. From Greek, house. "The branch of biology that deals with organisms relations to one another and to the physical environment in which they live. All poems are ecological by this definition."

It's like being at school again. Learning the same lessons. I'm not a cool kid. I can only be who I am. Standing by what comes out of that uncool loner means understanding authenticity. I never was, and never will be, Debbie Harry.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Sleeper


 



My first undergraduate essay was on Alice in Wonderland through a filter of Freud's interpretation of dreams. Not a particularly original piece, but enthusiastic.

And still now I love sleep. When allowed by circumstance, I'll make ten hours a night, every night. Sometimes I think how much more productive I'd be if I could shave off a few hours, a la Maggie T. Sitting on the 0635 train to London last week I was with people on the phone, computers, reading papers, talking, only a few actually sleeping. These hours of life usually lost to my conscious self. But then would I produce anything worth producing with the extra three hours? Something worth more than a dream? Does my creative energy, my imeptus, come from that time spent in the unconscious?

I may not remember all my dreams, but like all those lost (to memory) experiences, I still hold them somewhere in my body to be accessed when I'm not necessarily searching them. Muscle memory. Reflexes. A submerged landscape that forms a context for my writing.

Then there are the dreams I do remember, that filter my waking, or those that startle me at some point during the day. My mother calls this 'breaking a dream'. To me it feels the other way round: a dream breaking my daytime life, with the strength of deja-vu, of past life, a childhood memory. All of them wrapped up into a fragmented image punching the force of whatever emotion gave rise to them in the first place. That then hangs over me like the aftereffect of a sneeze. What's the supposedly velocity of those?

The breaking dream may not be as violent, but as pervasive, my mind rolling around it, grasping at the pieces of visual and tactile imagery, to reenter that disconnected space, recall those experiences I've either stashed away or never previously had. Some stay with me for years after, as though they were 'true' experiences. Do they have the same influence on me?

I heard Jacob Sam-La Rose read a great poem on elements of dreams, in which he asked us, the audience, to acknowledge when we'd dreamt something similar: a litany of school corridors, sex, losing glasses, darkness, family... these are my regulars. Everyone was clicking away in recognition. Our secret sharing made public. A testament to the poem.

It's not only those dreams of our most beloved that interest us. It's an odd declaration that sleep is part of my creative practice when I can only remember a fraction (a small fraction at that) of it. And, logically, one I am not fully convinced by. But the first setting down of words on a page isn't logic. My intuition is covinced it's essential.

My bed is my desk.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Fireworks: literal and metaphorical


Just back from French House Party in the Languedoc, where seven willing participants ignited their imaginations over four days of intensive writing.

The above pic is not of their brains but the Bastille Day fireworks over Carcassonne. This was one of the most moving displays I've witnessed: beautifully paced and constructed over half an hour and set above the walls of Carcassonne which was so thoroughly brought to its knees by Christian crusaders in the 13th century.

That's the paradox of fireworks: beauty commemorating a brutal event. And I couldn't watch these, or feel the reverbations of the booming (and their echoes) on Saturday night without thinking of what terror Damascus must be under right now. Apparently Dubrovnik still does not allow firework displays.

...

Inevitably we discussed this the day after the trip (we'd all been taken to the city by Moira as part of the course) and perhaps some used it as trigger for their writing. One of my rules (I only have two in any workshop) is that no one is expected to read out everything they've just written in a session. We have a short 'airing' at the end of each three hours where everyone (including me) selects one piece - however long or short - to share with the group, to release it to the world, as it were, and see how it sounds on their tongue. While I often will stumble upon some great ideas in workshops, I personally hate most of what I write under those kind of conditions and don't see why I should expect others to present work freshly written for consideration or analysis by others.



We introduced a feedback session this year, so those who had something they wanted others to comment on could bring copies for a more thorough group discussion. And despite coming directly after the wine tasting, this was a great addition to the week. Or maybe, because...   

In case you're wondering my only other rule is only one person speaks at a time. Anything else goes. And it always does




Monday, 9 July 2012

Beaufort? What Beaufort?

The arrival of this on YouTube this week (from Richard Davis) feels especially pertinent since it was the wind that slashed my sailing trip in half. "Unseasonal gales" cooked up over and over in the Atlantic hit the UK in June. Fortunately the boat (and all crew) were unharmed, if stuck in the delights of Stranraer...


Friday, 1 June 2012

Monday, 21 May 2012

Hymas&Lewis: Seasick?

photo: Richard Davis
Last Friday night Hymas&Lewis performed at the Spotlight club, a wonderfully welcoming live literature and music night in Lancaster, which provides a great space to try new work out, experiment, dip toes into the waters of uncertainty. Which is what we did.

When we perform we always have strong reactions from audiences. I think they're often quite surprised at how we work together, a bit like Marmite and peanut butter sandwich: unexpectedly harmonious. 

I love this unexpectedness. I love what we do. In fact I love working with Steve Lewis. Here are some reasons why:

1. We muck about together to make pieces, so throwing away stuff is easy. And the stuff we keep always has some playful quality to it even if it's not immediately apparent.
2. We laugh and laugh.
3. It's a bit scary, as some of this mucking about involves improvising and even improvising in front of just one other person is exposing.
4. Reading/reciting my poems with Steve on an instrument forces me to listen to every word, to hear it with a precision and resonance I may not have done previously.
5. This leads to a strong edit.
6. And then Steve cries 'too many words' and we cut again. Cut cut cut. Space is what we create.
7. Steve's 'instruments' range from guitar, shruti, spring drum, accordian, elastic bands, to his voice
8. There is a constant push/pull between sound and sense
9. We begin most 'rehearsals' with a procrastinatory chat (usually initiated by me) that must be helpful in some way. If not to clear the decks to open up creative pathways, it gets shit off my chest to someone who isn't involved in the rest of my life.
10. Along the way Steve has introduced me to Sergy Starotsin, Adam Philips, Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, Tunng, The Cave (Steve Reich's masterpiece about Abraham) and more, much more.
11. What we make is unlike anything I'd do by myself, and yet it feels like it is a natural extension of how I perform by myself. An extension. Yes.
12. How there's always someone in the audience who responds to what we're doing by laughing and I enjoy this manifestation of emotion, whether or not what we're doing is supposedly 'funny'.
13. And there's always someone in the audience who finds our creations totally transporting, and comes up afterwards to tell us with a strange shine to their eyes.
14. I finish each set with a wonderful sense of elation at having remembered everything we planned and composed to do.   

We're currently working on a longer piece we've temporarily called Seasick.
Steve writes our blurbs and this is what he said about it:

Sarah Hymas & Steve Lewis(aka Deep Cabaret) demonstrate the difference between a deficit and a debt with swashbuckling material and neo-mixed, self-sampled, mash-ups methodologies. The zygotian pairing of poet and voice will perform a livetease direct from Seasick, their still-developing new show about trust & fear, weather & philosophy and shipwrecked shanties. Comes complete with spring drum and shruti.

Let me know if you'd like to hear when we're testing the waters with it again...

Monday, 14 May 2012

Innocent Afloat vi


6. OCD?

This is (vi) in a series on the voyage that could only have been my first. Part i is here

Relief at imminent landfall was swept away with a sudden squall, unnoticed as we gawped at the sight of land, and floated in our private fantasies of whatever that promised. Our repaired sails blew out. Quite a feat since we were sailing on the second jib, approximately a square metre in area. A mile or so out of Rarotonga's harbour, we hoisted our bright orange storm sails and listed into it, tying up alongside a rusting Indonesian trawler that looked only slightly less seaworthy than us.

While in part grateful to be able to step on land, I was buzzing, elated. We’d made it. We’d lost three sails, taken twice as long than expected, eaten tinned soup and beans for the last week, had two stanchions snap, and lost the heart and mind of one crew member; but we’d made it, without anyone falling over board, without hitting a tanker, without starving.

On the other hand, I’d learnt to steer through a storm, master the Sat Nav, read charts, plot positions, change sails, repair sails, cook without puking, chop veg without losing a finger, function on three hours sleep, translate clouds, recognise albatross, do very little for hours at a time, operate around other people in a confined space.

In short, I'd found I could rely on myself as an individual and as part of a team in a way I'd never experienced before. I had used body, brain and spirit to travel approximately 1600 miles, and all three had held together, proved trustworthy, connected and capable.

I was hooked.


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Innocent Afloat v

5. Routine, the Goddess of Sanity

This is (v) in a series on the voyage that could only have been my first. Part i is here


A week into uninterrupted curvature, air and light (even night glows at sea), our group and individual survival (mentally and phyiscally speaking) of boat life depended on the three hour shifts Les, Chicako and myself operated. Sylvia emerged once or twice a day to check on progress and feed.

Day and night were irrelevant markers to sleep, providing only a different view and colour palette.

While I could have relinquished external waymarks to get me through a day, relying on the state of my stomach and mind to decide on meal- and bunk-times, this would not have been helpful for crew cohesion. Already a nasty, unspoken crack existed between us three and Sylvia. We needed an agreed normality within which we could co-operate; enabling irritation, doubt, insecurity and resentment to bubble passively beneath. Routine, structure, call it ‘civilisation’, encouraged repression of these more corrosive motivations.

By week two our common goal of ‘land’ was only commonality we had. And routine was the way we were most likely to reach this.

The three hour shifts of watch then rest were punctuated by lesser rotations of cooking, drying gear, repairing sails, Dead Reckoning our position, watching out for drifting containers. Breaking up the day this way prevented my focus from seeing beyond the next nine hours. The jigsaw of A4 charts disabled any vision of the passage in its entirety. The mundanity of practical jobs derailed any critical analysis, demanding concentration on the most basic activity: cutting bread without shedding blood, washing sufficiently using only minimal water, helming so the boat progresses whatever the wind strength, tying a reef rather than a granny knot, fixing coordinates from the Sat Nav to the relevant A4 chart section…

My navigation skills never really consolidated. It took us another 17 days, 24 in total, to cover the 1600 miles to Rarotonga in the Cook Island archipelago. Our first sight of the island was at daybreak, a jagged lump of grey barely distinguishable from the heaving sea surface, except for being slightly darker. And it didn’t move.


Monday, 30 April 2012

Innocent Afloat iv

4. Dead Reckoning

This is (iv) in a series on the voyage that could only have been my first. Part i is here


Day four, with two sails blown out, and a pathetic, dehydrated, hungry crew, the sea calmed. In the stablised cabin I could focus on the Sat Nav manual. I opened it. Some years previously I'd scraped my maths 'A' Level, and was clinging to this fact in an attempt to boost confidence.

What I hadn't reckoned on was my inability to string thoughts together. I hadn't seen anything familiar since we’d lost sight of the north coast of New Zealand. My body hadn't stopped its counteractive roiling for days. I'd slept for a few hours on and off. All reference points were contained within the forty foot space that was the boat. All conversation was limited to the same. Thinking had become a process of reaction not analysis.

As I read the manual, words lost what they’d once been attached. They had sounds, made shapes but held no significance. They hung on the white page without context. I was reading a musical score and trying to relate it to a small red machine with its digital display. Trying to match up these flashing numbers to the contour lines on the ten or so A4 copied papers that made up the South Pacific chart didn’t help. I felt like the architect on the Tower of Babel.

Day five, I run over and over the manual's introduction enough times to establish the Sat Nav would only locate us if I typed in co-ordinates five nautical miles within our actual position. According to the A4 chart I’d selected as most relevant to our position, we were approaching the International Date Line. I spent more rolling hours trying to calculate what this did to local time before I realised local time was relevant to the sextant, not the Sat Nav. I only needed actual hours travelled and a direction to dead reckon a position within stabbing distance of where we were. As Chikako served up more soup, the Sat Nav announced our location.

I couldn't eat with relief.

The relief didn't last more than 24 hours. Sometime between day six and day seven the wind died. As had the engine battery without us realising. Another thing I'd not thought to ask about when I first boarded was the battery situation. Meilani had only the one battery. All our cabin and nav electrics had drained it. Bye bye Sat Nav. This time I set up a log book to record our course and turned to the more challenging instruction booklet for the sextant.

Meanwhile Les and Chikako hove the boat to. There was nothing for it but to drift on the current, until the wind picked up.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Innocent Afloat iii


3. Seasick

This is (iii) in a series on the voyage that could only have been my first. Part i is here


It was July when we left Opua, winter in New Zealand, with a storm forecast for the day after we left. But, according to Les, we were too late to wait any longer, and it'd only be a little one, the first of the winter season. He decided anything else that needed doing could be sorted en route. He'd seen everything. We had nothing to worry about.

We motored out of the Bay of Islands, between the moorings, towards a wide watery light, all of us clustered in the cockpit, clinking plastic tumblers raised to our great skipper-and-provider Les, at the wheel. Chikako rushed to the pullpit at the bow, leant over it as a precursor to Kate Winslet a la Titanic. Les did not take the role of Leonardo.

Open water was choppy enough before the storm arrived the following day. Strong and stronger winds sentt huge green waves breaking on the deck, tipping our heavy hull in forty, fifty degree angles, one way, then another. We lost a stanchion within hours, so the starboard guardrail was redundant, flapping like a screwed-up cat's cradle. Nothing was secure, except the non-gimballed stone, from which pans flew.

We took it in turns to be sea sick. Chikako first, curled up in her forepeak bunk below, head towards the bow, coping with what I later learnt is the most volatile part of a yacht - even in a relatively quiet sea the bow bounces.

Hours later, I succumbed, heaving and retching into the bucket Sylvia held, as I clung onto the wheel, trying to counteract the swell of the sea and my stomach, to steer. I have no idea how long I was on the helm. All I know is it went dark. Les took a shift for a few hours, while me and Sylvia rolled about in our respective bunks. Daybreak and Chikako was able to clamber back on deck, keeping to the cockpit, but too miserable to helm. I took the wheel while Les monkeyed up the deck, lashing the number two jib to the portside guardrail, swapping it with the genoa, fiddling with the electrics to get the deck light working. Sylvia, having shut the doors to her cabin, vowing not to resurface until we reached the other side, was still below.

Then it was Les's turn. White-faced, he took to his bunk declaring the number one rule was never to turn back. Number two? Get someone else to navigate. He unearthed the sat nav operating manual and another on how to use a sextant, and waved them at me.

Once Chikako agreed to take the wheel, I made us both banana sandwiches. Then wedged myself in the cockpit, feet braced against the wheel column and opened the book.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Innocent Afloat ii

2. The Crew

This is ii in a series on the voyage that could only have been my first. Part i is here
 


One skipper and one inexperienced crew wasn’t enough to handle the 40 foot sloop. I knew a Japanese woman who was a diver and also keen to learn to sail so suggested her as crew.

Chikako, a little older than me, experienced in using the sea’s surface as a launch pad for going beneath, was taken on without a trial.

Our fourth crew was Sylvia, a fifty-plus year old native of Auckland, who wasn’t going to work for her passage, but financing it with an undisclosed sum. For which she was given the aft cabin, separate from the rest of the boat, accessed from the cockpit.

With his crew gathered, Les announced he wanted to sail to Australia via Hawaii adding approximately another 4000 miles to the original trip. Unable to believe our ‘luck’, we agreed.

Luck. Ignorance. Trust. A strange triad, with each component stretching towards and pulling against another, unhinging the fulcrum, shifting the weight, the equilibrium, between them. I swung with it. Les suggested I move onto the boat to save rent. And despite the landlord of the hostel I had been bunking in warning me that Les looked like some guy who had disappeared with a cople of young women a few years previously, I packed my rucksack and thought, Save money, save money...

Chikako headed to Auckland to see some friends for a week or two, and Sylvia would return the night before our departure. Preparation swung around me. It’d be another fortnight possibly month before we departed. Sails needed to be washed, new lines bought, charts photocopied. Photocopied?  Why not buy new charts? How would a patchwork of black and white copied charts reflect the Pacific? Trust. How new did lines need to be? How strong? Ignorance. A dingy would suffice as life-raft. It was always best not to leave the boat unless there was no boat left. Luck. The dingy needed painting. Les also found a huge swathe of fishing nets he wanted us to fix before we left, to see if he could sell to some guy he knew. I spent a few happy afternoons on the beach knotting a practically nonexistant net back together. Knotting my certainty of this being the best thing I'd ever done more and more tightly to my thoughts.

And whenever I stopped a job, and the spinning span a little too fast, I focused on what I did know: food, storage size, galley equipment; and what I could anticipate: sea, adventure, the unknown …

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Innocent Afloat i

1. In the Hands of Other People


In Opua, New Zealand, when I was twenty years old, I met a young woman who'd just arrived, having crewed her way on a yacht, from Tasmania.

Wow, I said, that sounds like fun.

As a child I was regularly car sick and still suffered on ferries. I had never been on a yacht, never met anyone who had been. I'm not quite sure what appealed: the passage in return for work; the untrammelled sea... Back then, I was fit, energetic and fearless. Ridiculously optimistic, I never considered risk as anything but thrilling, something to get the blood rushing through limbs and brain, to charge me with the certainty of being alive. That was that fun that caught my imagination. And for me, that was all it was: a fleeting second of whipped-up possibility.

The next day she told me she'd fixed me up with a possible crew job on a boat heading to Sydney. I just needed to go down to the harbour to meet the skipper and boat.

Les was an ex-pat, single-hander who had come over from England some vague number of years previously. He was sixty-ish and was looking for crew to help him take his boat, a cement-hulled kit boat called Meilani, to Australia. He seemed alright. Friendly. Not too friendly. Old enough to be my dad. He had a boat and knew what bits of it were called. And he seemed to like me.

I was sure about the boat. It looked fantastic. It floated. It had a great name. Meilani is a Hawaiian flower. It also had a mast, some sails, rigging. Three cabins below. A cockpit that could probably seat four comfortably, six at a push.I didn't think to ask about the liferaft, the engine, any safety gear.

I trusted Les because he told me he'd sailed from England. I trusted the boat because he told me she'd got him here. It wasn't a case of being brave. 

We agreed to a trial sail, the next day. After a sunny afternoon’s sail in a sweet force 3, I was recruited: first mate.


This is i in a series on the voyage that could only have been my first.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Two Sides of One Page

This is a note, with instructions on a bath panel, enlarge the picture to read it detailing things like small nails ... clawhammer ... keep pressure on uprights ... retaining screws ... after painting ... insulation ... silicon ...

And already written on the other side of the paper was this ...



Tuesday, 20 March 2012

How very Google

 

This is not the big G's headquarters. It is where I work two days a week. All very idyllic. And inside's pretty good too.

The two engines of Arc Publications are Tony Ward and Angela Jarman, who have been working together on the press for over 16 years (although Tony set up the press 40 years). Both are over sixty. And it's a delight to work with people who have such a long view on publishing and working practices. It reminds me too, of that quip - stay in one place long enough and you eventually become fashionable. Put another way: progressive is really just old school, in new trousers.

For example, lunchtimes. Instead of all heading out to buy sandwiches, or eating homemade packed lunches at our desks, one of us makes a soup. Which we all down tools and share for three quarters of an hour, or so, and chat about stuff we've seen, heard, read or done, or chew over some work-related gristle (less often it has to be said). You know, relax. Buy some headspace on whatever's happened that morning. Get a perspective. Re-energise ourselves. Remember there is more to each of us than being a member of staff. That we have other lives, pasts and imaginations. It's almost like a Friday night drink every day, without the alcohol.

Invariably it's the afternoons when things really motor, ideas cement and fly. And it doesn't even seem to matter what flavour soup, they're all hot.

Monday, 12 March 2012

More Flotsam


This time half a mile to the south, I found a trunk too large to carry back, even for two. Days later it’d been battered so hard against the seawall it was broken in half. I fetched the wheelbarrow, wheeled it along the seawall’s embankment and set it at the top of the embankment to then spend almost an hour rolling half the trunk up the wall to the barrow. Upended I could drop it onto the barrow. It was heavy. The metre-long trunk rolled awkwardly across the lip of the barrow. I decided to cut a third off my journey home by crossing the field rather than taking the corner round the seawall.

I hadn’t considered the mud. The cow hoof-ruts. The trunk must have fallen off the barrow into mud seven or eight times by the time I got part way home. I was muddy. My arms ached. The sky a blank grey above me. I drew more mud from the field. The wheelbarrow’s wheel thickened with mud. The tree slithered in mud. I could have cried mud. I wrote my name in mud on the bark. Mine. Hands off. And left the trunk, the barrow and all their accumulated mud to wade across the field to fetch help.





Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Driftwood. Woodness


Michael Haslam wrote a poetry collection A Cure for Woodness. I'm not ready to believe there is a viable cure. Especially not in winter. Woodness and winter are as intwined as darkness and winter. Winter winds throw up dead wood most tides.

One low water, a morning last month a trunk appeared about quarter of a mile out on the saltmarsh. I hopped a way over to it to remember that classic rule: small = far away. It was huge. A big dead tree trunk, perhaps two and half metres long. Its branches had been ripped from the trunk, its bark too, so it was smoothly unidentifiable to me. Still, too heavy to roll over itself. Too big to carry back, and the saltmarsh is too boggy, too pocked with ditches, to wheel a barrow over it.

The subsequent days I watched it wash closer to solid land, fretting someone else would see it and claim it. Every car held a potential woodsnatcher. Every morning I’d check it was still there, lying in opposing angles to its previous position in the tufted grass. It didn't get any lighter. The saltmarsh no flatter for a barrow.

Ten days since my first sighting, I had help to fetch it back. It was gone. Wail. Stolen from beneath me. At least a week's worth of heat, maybe a fortnight. I'd seen it first. Been watching it like some creature out of Aesop. I had a territorial right to it. It was mine. I scoured the marsh for people hauling trees, for cars high-tailing out of sight. Then I saw it, all two and a half metres long, its massive girth. Tucked under the seawall, metres from the door. My cure for woodness? More wood.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Sea Facts


A third of the CO2 humans are putting into the atmosphere has entered the ocean.

80% of the extra heat being created by climate change has been absorbed by the ocean

About 250 million years ago the ocean's oxygen ran out. More than 90% of the species alive then, died.

Plankton produce half the oxygen we breathe.

For the vast majority of the earth's 4.5 billion year history the ocean was the only place in which there was life.

Early stage foetuses depend on amniotic fluid that is a chemical replica of the marine world.


*These come from Alanna Mitchell's Seasick (Oneworld Publications, 2009)

Monday, 20 February 2012

Overwintering ii

The dismantling of the boat continues.

Bringing elements of it into my home is like finding a poem inside a chocolate cake: not entirely surprising, but a discovery that casts new light on both things. Home suddenly seems even more safe, static, contained, while the boat more vulnerable, easily dismantled.

The boat is more than the sum of its parts, it is a constantly shifting equation, within which I'm p (person), embedded somewhere in the middle of ropes, sails, rig, hull, weather and sea. Combine all these and I get something more than movement, I get a mythologising. A sense of the epic. Fragments of story, history, channels and myth that don't occur for the most part in my daily life, that, for the most part, I don't think about, which become consuming for a few weeks a year, so changing the chemical make-up of my blood in ways I can't pinpoint but know have skewered my perspective on everything, from clouds to crochet.

No wonder the ropes don't hang naturally alongside bath towels. It's good to be reminded.

Monday, 13 February 2012

As the Flames Rose We Danced to the Sirens, the Sirens

Drawn by the Spanish element of the Sleepwalk Collective, I went to see As the Flames Rose We Danced to the Sirens, the Sirens.

Apart from my usual proviso of 'coulda cut 15 minutes' I loved its energy, use of music, microphone, darkness/spotlights and film. It felt very fresh, more theatre than live literature but ultimately a spoken word, stream of consciousness performance. A sequence of small actions in a large black-box stage.

Fave bits:
1. After a brief intro she pulled the mic up her body, accompanied by a v loud soundtrack: starting at the ankle, along the ripping of her leg, an oceanic stomach, thudding heart with poppy love song, to the silence of her head. Very affecting, mapping a new physicality.
2. Sitting in the circle of a train track she demonstrates how various people in various situations might drink a glass of wine: a man wanting to seduce a woman, like this... a woman wanting to forget everything, like this... a solider taking his final drink, like this...
3. In between these scenarios she decribes extreme deaths of people or herself - falling from a window, as part of a 'edgy experimental' performance, in the middle of an ocean, over the top joke deaths...
4. She sets a small train running, steps out of the track circle, ties her hands together and poses to scream delicately (as in 1930 b-movies). Screams again. The train circles around her. Then she falls over, screams to be silenced by the train running into her mouth.
5. Sets a film running, light screened onto black curtains, lies in front of it, and feeds a camera down her throat - get the muscular tongue, wetness on the screen as a recording talks about how she is viewed...
6. Walks away from film, into darkness. Switches on an underlight, so her face is distorted. Describes and enacts scenes (just with minimal facial expressions) from a Greta Garbo film, close up, underlit. Sort of funny, sort of sad.
7. Offers herself to the audience, we can do anything to her, kiss her, touch her, we have a minute to go up to her. The audience shuffles.
8. Declares she wants to fall into an image. Sets the film running again. This time it's a loop of a b/w film of a woman discovering the dead body of a man, swooning, to be supported by another man. She dances in front of the screen, so we have her enormous silhouette projected on the screen and the film projected on to her. Beautiful movement, repetition. Mesmerising

After which everything seemed a bit pale.

Throughout, though I loved its humour, playfulness, intimacy, earnestness, her presence, the self-awareness / self-mockery without being pretentious.

They're performing again in June in Harrogate (of all places).

Monday, 6 February 2012

Of Whales


It took me four months to read Moby Dick – for the first time last summer - and I felt energised by the experience to pick up Of Whales in print, in paint, in sea, in stars, in coin, in house, in margins by Antony Caleshu.
 
Anthony Caleshu has recreated the tangled, obsessive and fascinating story. Or a story, at least. As well as Moby Dick, Caleshu uses Melville’s letters, sources and criticism to create this excavation of obsession, of creation, of storytelling and fantasy. As he extracts in ‘Wonderfullest Thing’ (a poem of lines from the novel), “Each chapter is another chapter…”. And in this book, each poem is another poem, the tangents, enthusiasms, and knowledge diverge, echo and ultimately stack up to make a compulsive response to the original Whale.

One of my favourite themes from the original novel, Caleshu returns to, is Melville’s preoccupation with how whales are represented elsewhere. Caleshu has several poems discussing the art of whales, unpacking their contents, imagining relationships and hamming up new stories from them:


“The dialectical struck us: portrait or landscape? fish or fishmonger? In the white and green, we could see all of our dreams.” (‘A Very-Large Oil-Painting, Thoroughly Besmoked’)

“anachronistic… the time: post-war, post-apocalyptic, post-whale” there is time travel a-plenty here, both in Caleshu’s recasting of himself as a confidente to the Melville family (there are letters between himself and Maria and Augusta Melville, from 1850), and also in the linguistical play and references (Pulp, ACE grants and The Writers’ Room photography series from The Guardian all stand out).
 
“It’s the first night in a week of nights that we haven’t had any
                                           Herman between us.
 Not even a letter to his mother.

 But now I’m remembering his mother’s letters to him,
 and to me, to whom she was always good to write.”

(‘How I Met Your Mother (with the Help of Melville’s)’)

 And so, like with my reading of the novel, I became dizzy to where I stood in relation to events, fuzzy around the edges of reason and rationale. A position I like, that reminds me of being at sea, at staring too long at an empty horizon, too long without landed references and familiarity.

The contemporary letters are joined by Caleshu taking the role of Captain Caleshu, addressing his son Ishmael Caleshu on his 18th birthday. This sequence of five prose piece dances between a touching discourse between father and son, a pastiche of seaman talk, a homage to all things absurdist and a dalliance with a stream of conscious confessional that leaves us hanging onto an open end, as if the speaker has just slipped his mooring and is out of earshot.
 
“The passage I just read to you is not from the Oxford Book, but I think you’ll agree that it is engrossing nonetheless. There is nothing so elemental as water. Water has no past prejudices.” (“’What makes thee want to go a whaling, eh?’”)
 
It works, as the rest of the book works (for me, at least) – best when I don’t focus too much on meaning, but cock my head at sense and tone, letting odd sentences latch into memory, but on the whole leave it sloshing a sense of regret, aspiration, hope, love and uncertainty.

If the collection was made of such play, I might struggle to engage with its continual joking, the effect of which being masking, diffidence and remoteness. But it isn’t. Poems such as ‘The Making of Ahab’, are far more logical, or perhaps coherent in how they flow forwards from the first descriptive couplet of absence through how Melville’s novel is as much about the white space as a poem, to the revelations of the potency, fury and frustration of the captain, both in the novel and to the reader.

“None of us on board have any reason to question
 the nature of the voyage, when all of a sudden
 the whiteness of a blank page
 
rises up from beneath –
the author’s quick turn …”

The sense of inevitability in this poem is tragic, and mostly unsaid, as the lines become shorter and shorter, leaving more and more white – again the vast sea, perhaps?
 
This poem ends with a “we” – the reader, the crew, all of us… Elsewhere I enjoyed this communal narrator was in the farce, ‘Moby-Dick: The Film’ (there is also reference to a musical). Where the we seems to be the directors, the film crew, the actors, all struggling to make a film that attempts to be more faithful than previous but feels more like Eric Sykes or Tony Hancock are involved than Richard Attenborough.

                  “The director’s head is firmly in his hands when someone
                                                accidently triggers the whirlpool.”

Perhaps it is impossible to make a film faithful to such a book, just as Caleshu could well be “await[ing] technical corrections” to this book.

Although while it has this jokey, throwaway tone that keeps resurfacing in poems, each are clearly carefully crafted in their balance of tenderness, folly, research and personal experience. It took me several sittings to be able to step back from piecing the poems together, from relating them to incidents in the novel to slip into the eddy that is obsession, spiralling round and round the Whale, whales, Melville and what it means to create – relationships, art, literature. Once there, I didn’t want to leave. The collection is a great achievement, a great honouring of an obsessive book, and offered me a new perspective on the novel, acting as first mate rather than a sequel.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Burns Baby Burns

A double dosage of activity for Burns' Night this year:

In person (alongside Steve Lewis) I was performing at the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, in gallery 5 (see right for our stage set). Which I absolutely loved - the gallery itself, right on bank of the River Calder was wonderful, both the building and its contents. Windows overlook the weir, a rush of thick glassy water that is completely silent from inside the building, and yet totally influences it, thorugh light, a slow moving dynamism and the send of transience. All of which is in evidence in Hepworth's sculptures.

The night was organised by Andrew McMillan, and he'd picked the perfect Gallery five for our seaside set. The sculptures behind us, being like huge flotsam, beachy creatures and the piece at the back a upended hull, so adding an extra dimension to the poems (apparently). Just before we went on Steve pointed out a quote from Hepworth saying that when she was making the aperatures (in wire mesh) for her bronze scultpures she felt as though she were creating a boat...

We were only one set of performers. Also enjoying the crazy acoustics of the gargantuan galleries were Helen Mort, Max Wallis, David Tait, Rommi Smith and the Leeds Young Authors.

Further north, in Dumfries, a poem of mine, 'Hammock', was featured on a window pane, in memory of how Burns used to etch his poems on windows. Windows for Burns Night is an inspired project to be a part of. I was joining many many others, including Jen Hadfield, Jean Sprackland, Tom Pow, Anne Caldwell, Jean Atkin, Jo Bell, Kim Moore and many many more...







Sunday, 22 January 2012

Whistle

Martin Figura's Whistle was part of the Wordsworth Trust's Art and Books Festival this weekend. I am so glad I made the effort, through heavy rain in the dark, to get up there to see him perform this show.

It is a story of his mother’s death at the hands of his father when he was nine years old. Told, reviews said, in an uplifting and restrained manner.

Martin stays stationary throughout the show, using slides to provide the visual element. And someone has had great fun making up the slides. Figura is a photographer, so I presume he had some input. They use old family photos, cartoons, pictures also of memorabilia and magazines to recreate the time period, provide something other than Martin to look at (which he agreed was a good thing - for both the audience and him!). Sometimes it felt as though they were a bit too flippant (cartoon creatures added to the photos, for example), played for easy laughs, as very occasionally the text also did - "I'll protect their [an uncle and aunt] identity by giving them false names" ran one intro before revealing their true (maybe) first and surnames. And the performance really didn't need these add-ons of humour. His manner is so charming and the horror played so straight, I smiled just at the boyhood perspective and prioritisations.

The voices: poetic and narrative (as in the book, poems are interspersed with prose) are distinct and I enjoyed the variation between the two. There is an awful lot of material for him to get through, not a lot of pausing or space between the episodes, so the rip-roaring energy created by the differing rhythms helped [my] concentration. I would have liked more space though, to allow us fully to register the emotional impact of what was being said, add our own imaginative responses as the story unfolded. Thankfully Figura doesn't dictate.

The third voice is that of his mother - reading letters written to her father during courtship and as the relationship unravels. Introduced as a scouser, I was initally surprised she didn't have a stronger scouse accent, but this perhaps was a 'good thing', removing easy catagorisation. And maybe the mother didn't have one. What I struggled with was her monotone delivery (also quite fast). Whether she was declaring love or protesting at his withdrawal she sounded the same. A missed opportunity for me for some subtle drama.

And so the horrific incident is revealed, or not - as the boy didn't witness it, carted off by the authority of adults. Adults who are by turns distraught, dealing with their own grief, then saviours (a remarkable neighbour). The boy Martin takes in his stride, as child are wont to, moving between Benedictan boarding school to orphange, becoming more concerned with dealing with the rules of various institutions, while visiting his father, separated from sisters. A gripping story, yes. And carefully, senstively handled. Boundaries clearly defined between father and his teenage son.

I just wished it had stopped earlier. Moving into adulthood (including wedding photos) meant a loss of focus for me. And I wasn't really sure why, what this 'proof' of his current happiness proved - a belief in marraige, despite everything? - the comparison of two generations of weddings? - The fact he was standing there, delivering this beautifully redemptive story, was proof enough of his survival, compassion and understanding.


As a piece of live literature I think it'll (and porbably has done already) act powerfully in the service of poetry. It was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Prize for New Poetry, which has that ethic at its heart. I can imagine people coming for the story - what a draw - and witnessing the power of economy and restraint that poetry offers. Figura used few metaphors or rich language. It is perhaps unnecessary to embellish such a story with them. Ultimately it is the remarkable spirit of a boy and how his adult self relates to him that makes this piece of literature so worthwhile.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Buddha would Have Something to Say ...













Low clouds all day, making visibility less than three miles. Intermittent mizzle. That sly cold that stiffens fingers. Mud.

All creating this at the day's end.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Chainsaws: when to use them and when not

Inspired by Dave Hartley's amazing list of achievements for 2011 on his blog, I thought I'd consider mine.

The condensed version (ie, my top two):
I survived four weeks on retreat at Hawthornden Castle, which, during week three seemed extremely unlikely, and yet managed to come away with a whole stack of rough drafts which have formed the basis of the year's hothousing/incubation period.

I learnt to use a chainsaw. Fortunately this was after the month at Hawthornden. I can't decide which I find more scary: sawing the wood myself or supporting the wood on the sawbench as someone else welds the machine. I can't rid myself (when the machine first starts) of visions of deep thigh cuts or the saw kicking back to slice my head in half.

Tenacity underpins both. Maybe the wind's getting to me.

Self-Pity
I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.
                                                    DHLawrence