Category Archives: Adult Workshops

Haiku in Hamburg

I visited planten un blomen, Hamburg’s botanic gardens, in mid-September, and ran a haiku workshop in the Japanese garden, which has a teahouse beside a pond lined with maples, pines and bamboo.

I’d visited the garden before, in late spring, but it seemed to be more itself in autumn – leaves reddening, a few of which had dropped visible in the clear water; pine needles fallen onto rocks; a more muted light suggesting both distance and enclosure.

For the workshop I selected some lines from German versions of Japanese haiku, and we used these as starting points for our own work. Here are some the poems written on the day, with my English translations.

Teehaus_Gruppe

Bauschen die Wolken
lausche ich dem Herbstwind und
halte die Luft an.
[Christine]

Clouds pile up
I listen to the autumn wind and
hold my breath

*

Der Herbst beginnt schon
noch blühen die Sonnenblumen
welch ein schönes Gelb.
[Petra]

*

Autumn has begun
still the sunflowers bloom
a wonderful yellow

*

Plötzlich donnert es –
das Geräusch des Wassers bleibt
ununterbrochen
[KC]

Sudden thunder –
the sound of water continues
uninterrupted

*

Geräusch des Wassers
taube Ohren des Herbstes
nach dem Sonnenklang
[Simon]

The sound of water
autumn’s deaf ears
after sunchords

*

Zwei Ameisen sah’n
Altona Amerika
Erlangen Weisheit.
[Sidney]

Two ants saw
Altona America
Gained wisdom.

This is a playful take on an already playful poem, ‘Die Ameisen’ (’The Ants’) by Joachim Ringelnatz (1883-1934) known to anyone who lives in or grew up in Hamburg. I append a literal translation below. The district of Altona lies immediately west of central Hamburg.

In Hamburg lebten zwei Ameisen,
die wollten nach Australien reisen.
Bei Altona, auf der Chaussee,
da taten ihnen die Beine weh,
und da verzichteten sie weise
dann auf den letzten Teil der Reise.

In Hamburg there lived two ants,
who wanted to travel to Australia.
In Altona, on the street,
their legs started hurting,
so wisely they gave up
the last part of their journey.

JapaneseGarden13

 

 

On Raasay

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I was on the Isle of Raasay in early June, for the launch of Patterns of Flora | Mapping Seven Raasay Habitats. ATLAS Arts, based on nearby Skye, had commissioned Edinburgh-based ceramicist, Frances Priest to develop a series of handmade, ceramic artworks for permanent installation in Raasay House.

The form and design of the artworks – vases, door knobs, door pushes and pieces for sills – are based on Raasay’s plant life, and in particular seven different habitats that host unique and varying plant species: Bog, Coast, Fresh Water, Limestone, Moor, Mountains and Woodland. Alongside these Frances designed a map, featuring the habitats with associated walks. She collaborated with Raasay-based botanist Stephen Bungard.

(I had worked with Frances several years ago, on Pandora’s Light Box at the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh, and it was good to catch up with her work in a very different setting.)

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I was there to lead a ‘haiku walk’ on the Saturday afternoon, again working with Stephen. We went to the salt marsh at Oskaig, arriving at a particularly wind- and rain-swept moment, but the weather cleared and there was much to enjoy immediately around us, and looking across the sound to Skye and the Cuillins. I was struck by Stephen’s remark that the four aspen trees we saw were in fact all one, the trunks all sharing a single root.

Back at Raasay House all was notebooks and concentration.

On Sunday, once the morning rain had cleared, I managed a walk with Frances and others on the east coast from Fearns to Hallaig, below the cliffs and into the birchwood the burn runs through. In his poem ‘Hallaig’ Sorley Maclean repeoples the now empty places:

na h-igheanan ’nan coille bheithe, / dìreach an druim, crom an ceann.

the girls a wood of birches, / straight their backs, bent their heads.

Gavin Douglas in London

“And, seand Virgill on ane lettrune stand,
To writ anone I hynt ane pene in hand”

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I was in London earlier this month, running a workshop for the Translators’ Association called “Translating the Translator: Gavin Douglas’s Eneados“, when five of us attempted versions of Gavin Douglas into contemporary English.

Gavin Douglas (1474–1522) was the Provost of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh when, exactly five hundred years ago, in June 1513, he completed Eneados, his translation of Virgil’s Aeneid into Middle Scots. He also wrote an original Prologue for each of Virgil’s twelve books – and for an additional thirteenth book, written by Mapheus Vegius in 1428. The prologues describe with immediacy Scottish landscapes and weather – a May morning, a June evening, a chill winter.

Below is a several-handed translation, of an extract (lines 51–77, & 85–88) from ‘The Proloug of the Threttene Buik of Eneados Ekit to Virgill be Mapheus Vegius’; on a bucolic June evening, Douglas encounters Mapheus. The translators are Felicity McNab (FM), Nicky Harman (NH), Susan Mackervoy (SM), and myself (KC); the original follows.

And soon every creature that came into the bay or field, flood, forest, earth or air or in the scrubland or wooded copse, lakes, marshes or their pools, lies settled down still, to sleep and rest in darkness. Also the small birds sat on their nests, with little midges and irksome fleas, hard-working moths and busy bees, both wild and tame beasts and every other great and small thing, except the merry nightingale Philomene who sat on the thorn tree singing from the spleen. (FMcN)

How I longed to hear those notes cascade
And wandered till I found a tree-filled glade
I take a seat beneath a glossy bay
So my thoughts too can wander as they may. (NH)

I could see bright stars – the Pole Star, the Bear –
a crescent moon (quite dim in the summer skies)
and Venus and Jupiter (what a pair!)
beaming down. So, lying there – what with the
calm night, what with the birdsong – pretty soon
I nodded off.
                        And saw an old man standing there,
under my tree. I asked him why he’d come,
and if he harboured ill intent towards me. (SM)

His figure-hugging outfit, trim and neat,
was long enough to cover up his feet
while on his brow the laurel-wreath he wore
put me in mind of ye olde bards of yore. (KC)

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And schortlie, every thing that dois repare
In firth or feyld, flude, forest, erth or ayr,
Or in the scroggis or the buskis ronk,
Lakis, marrasis, or thir pulis donk,
Astabillit liggis still to slepe and restis;
Be the small birdis syttand on thar nestis,
The litill midgeis, and the urusum fleyis,
Laboryus emmotis, and the byssy beyis ;
Als weill the wild as the taym bestiall,
And every othir thingis gret and small,
Owtak the mery nychtgaill Philomene,
That on the thorn sat syngand fra the splene.

Quhais myrthfull notis langing for to heyr,
Ontill a garth vndir a greyn lawrer
I walk onon, and in a sege down sat,
Now musand apon this and now on that.

I se the Poill, and eik the Ursis brycht,
And hornyt Lucyne castand bot dym lycht,
Becaus the symmyr skyis schayn sa cleyr ;
Goldin Venus, the mastres of the yeir,
And gentill Jove, with hir participate,
Thar bewtuus bemis sched in blyth estayt :
That schortly, thar as I was lenyt doun,
For nychtis silens, and this byrdis sovn,
On sleip I slaid ; quhar sone I saw appeyr
Ane agit man, and said: quhat dois thou heyr
Undir my tre, and willist me na gude ?
(…)
Syde was his habyt, round, and closing meyt,
That strekit to the grund doun our his feyt ;
And on his hed of lawrer tre a croune,
Lyke to sum poet of the auld fassoune.

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And here are a few lines describing a storm at sea in the words of Virgil, Douglas and (based on Douglas’s second stanza) Robert Chandler.

Talia iactanti stridens Aquilone procella
velum adversa ferit, fluctusque ad sidera tollit.
Franguntur remi; tum prora avertit, et undis
dat latus; insequitur cumulo praeruptus aquae mons.
Hi summo in fluctu pendent; his unda dehiscens
terram inter fluctus aperit; furit aestus harenis.

Virgil Aeneis, I, ll.102–7

Ane blusterand bub, out fra the northt braying,
Cane our the foirschip in the bak sail dyng
And to the sternys up the fluide can cast;
The ayris, hachis, and the takillis brast,
The schippis stevyn frawart hir went can writhe
And turnit hir braid syide to the wallis swithe.

Heich as ane hill the jaw of watter brak
And in ane help come on thame with ane swak.
Sum hesit hoverand on the wallis hycht
And sum the sownschand see so law gart lycht
Thame semit the erd oppinnit amyd the flude;
The stowr wp bullerit sand as it war wuid.

Gavin Douglas, Eneados, I.iii, ll.14–25

Hill high hung the well of water,
then dropped down on the ships with one swift blow.
Wave-winged, one boat stood hovering in the sky
while other boats were drawn down to such depths
it seemed earth’s jaws had sucked all sea away
and left just one wild swirl of sand and spray. (RC)

According to Ezra Pound, “Gavin Douglas was a great poet… I am inclined to think that he gets more poetry out of Virgil than any other translator”.

The 1874 edition of Douglas’s Eneados is available online here. This link is to volume 2 of a 4-volume edition of his ‘Poetical Works’ published in 1874, which contains Books I–V of Eneados – if you click on the ‘Author’ text – ‘Gawin Douglas , Maffeo Vegio, Virgil’ you can find volumes 3 and 4, which contain the rest of the work.

A new edition was published recently: The Aeneid (1513), Volumes I-II / Gavin Douglas ; edited by Gordon Kendal (London : Modern Humanities Research Association, 2011).

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The photographs were taken on 4 June in Kensington Gardens, except the seascape which shows the Firth of Forth from Kinghorn, last April.

Blossom

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Last month I spent an overcast spring day at the National Fruit Collection, Brogdale Farm, near Faversham in Kent. It was supposed to be the height of the blossom season, but most of the trees were holding on to their winter bareness until the weather improved.

I was there to lead a couple of haiku walks – the idea was that we’d write poems about the abundant blossom, but what we actually wrote about was the late arrival of spring.

I was there with Luke Allan, who works as Alec Finlay’s studio manager. Luke was there to install and photograph poem-labels for a project of Alec’s called The Bee Bole, and here all the poems were variants on Basho’s famous haiku about a bee leaving a peony-flower.

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You can see all the poems here.

Below is a sequence of haiku, featuring some of the names we came across (four trees and a beer).

chilly April
an Early Bird
at the Sun Inn

chilly April
Pyrus Chanticleer
has yet to crow

chilly April
the Blue Prolific
is anything but

chilly April
Zwemmers Fruehzwetsche
and one bee

chilly April
Prunus Stella
unconstellated

chilly April
one magpie
in a fallow field

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Abriachan Forest

A belated post about a couple of days I spent at Abriachan Forest, just above Loch Ness, back in March, walking and writing in the forest. Day 1 was working with folk from APEX Scotland, and Day 2 was organised by Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre. On both days we did a range of things – making ‘sixteens’ in the woods, labelling the landscape, looking close-up at the lichens on a glacial erratic, reading Boswell and Johnson, who’d ridden down the other side of Loch Ness on 30 August, 1773, and writing back at the forest ‘classroom’ over cups of tea. My thanks to Suzann, Christine, Cynthia and everyone else who joined us over the two days.

Pandora’s Light Box

Lorna listening, White Gallery

Pandora’s Light Box is a collaborative project I worked on for over a year, from June 2010 through to September 2011. My brief, from Artlink, was to write a descriptive poem about the University of Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery, to be recorded and presented in the gallery as an audio work for visitors both visually impaired and sighted.
Georgian Gallery, reading

Access to visual art for individuals with a visual impairment relies on verbal description, and Pandora’s Light Box takes that ‘practical’ form and extends it into an artwork in its own right.
Listening post, Round Room

I wrote the poem for two voices, and a recording of myself and Lorna Irvine reading it has been installed in the gallery at three specially designed listening stations, downstairs in the contemporary White Gallery and the historical Georgian Gallery, and upstairs in the Round Room. You can listen to the poem here.

These were designed by Frances Priest and made by Ronnie Watt; the recordings and sound design were made by Martin Parker and Jung In Jung.

A friend of a friend sent these photos of some lines from the poem which seem to have escaped from the gallery; based on this blog, we think it was Dora, one of the project volunteers, but she’s not owned up yet! And this blog describes the project from the perspective of one of the visually impaired participants.

Miłosz 2011


30 June 2011 was the centenary of the birth of Czesław Miłosz. He’s a poet I’ve begun to read just in the past year, after the Krakow visit. I returned with a copy of his New & Collected Poems, bought on the last morning of the trip with the spare zlotys, and begun on the bus out to the airport.

Thumbing its pages, I made a couple of immediate connections: his appreciation of the Japanese haiku masters – Issa, rather than Basho, perhaps simply because he liked the coincidental link with the Issa Valley in his native Lithuania – and his ‘Notes’, a series of single sentences each under a short heading (‘The Perfect Republic’, ‘Epitaph’, ‘Mountains’), which are reminiscent of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s one-word-poems and monostichs, and Günter Eich’s (even briefer) ’17 Formeln’. Neither ‘Reading the Japanese Poet Issa (1762-1826)’ nor ‘Notes’ are entirely typical of his work, but they were useful landmarks I could start to navigate by.

I read him over the winter (in English, having no Polish). I read him aloud while sitting for my portrait, when Angus and I enjoyed enjoyed the discursive prose of ‘La Belle Epoque’, especially its closing section, ‘The Titanic’. When I proposed running sessions on his work for secondary schools, it became one of those rare and serendipitous projects everyone says ‘yes’ to.

In the summer term I visited schools in Edinburgh, East Lothian, Fife, Highland and South Lanarkshire, and will visit several more schools over the coming weeks. The poem I’ve come to focus on most is ‘The Dining Room’ (‘Jadalnia’) from the sequence ‘The World’ (‘Świat’), a seemingly straightforward description of an interior whose place and date of composition – Warsaw 1943 – soon open up deeper, darker layers of resonance.

The Scottish Poetry Library has produced a Miłosz 2011 poster, featuring the poem ‘Song on the End of the World’ (‘Piosenka o Końcu Świata’) in English and Polish, along with background information, weblinks, and a couple of photos of the poet in later life, craggy and bushy-eyebrowed.

There is also a series of Polish Poems on the Underground at the moment, including Miłosz’s ‘And Yet the Books’ and ‘Blacksmith Shop’, as well as poems by Zbiginiew Herbert, Wisława Symborska and Adam Zagajeweski.
I’m also running an event on Saturday 10 September at Macdonald Road Library, Edinburgh, for the Polish book group Zielony Balonik, focussing on Miłosz’s poems.

Strathcarron

Sundial

Let others tell of storms and of showers
I’ll only count your sunny hours

In spring and summer 2011 I ran several writing sessions with day-care patients at Strathcarron Hospice near Denny. We talked and wrote about places, objects, gardens, people, sharing and affirming memories, and opening new conversations about previously unsuspected things-in-common. Here’s a group poem –

A Strathcarron Lucky Bag

Sheena Easton, Larry Marshall,
Billy Bremner, Walter Scott,
Taggart, Wallace, Tom Mackay,
Mary Stuart and a’ yon lot

munch Selkirk bannocks, jeely pieces,
Atholl rasps and Cullen Skink,
haggis puddings, drop scones, crumpets,
a pint of IPA to drink

in Denny, Falkirk, River City,
Balquhidder, the Necropolis,
the Tryst Golf Club, Loch Fyne, Loch Tay,
at Mrs Anderson’s, Bo’ness –

and aye a jaunt to Kirriemuir,
I hear yon Camera Obscur–
a there is fairly worth a keek – but that
we’ll have to maybe leave till next week.

At the final session, last September, we read the work to other patients and hospice staff in the day-lounge. and I thought that was that, until this week a bundle of booklets arrived in the post.

Who We Are and What We Like

Who We Are and What We Like collects the poems and prose we wrote last week in a simple, 12-page, A5 booklet, thoughtfully and carefully crafted.

The photos below show some ‘Garden Haiku’ in the hospice grounds.

Hosta – food for snails

Coloured poppies / at lunch-time the school-kids / came to hear you pop

Rhododendrons / in springtime / in the gardens at Bidduph

If you’d like a copy of the booklet let me know, and I’ll post one out.

A Renga for St James

This renga, or ‘verse-chain’, was composed at St James Mill, Norwich, over four days in early July 2009 by eighteen writers in all, and flows over 109m of hoardings on the north bank of River Wensum in central Norwich.

St James Place is a large riverside site currently being redeveloped, and the renga is the first part of the St James Collection, a series of temporary and permanent artworks for the site. The renga, like the Collection as a whole, draws on the history of the site as a monastery, and later a print works.

The whole renga is available here.

If you would like a printed version of the renga, e-mail me your postal address via the ‘Contacts’ page and I’ll send a copy out to you.