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.