I contributed a sequence of seven short poems, taking as my starting point Wordsworth’s ‘The Solitary Reaper’. They were presented as prints, and as a booklet in the display case.
The photographs on the wall are by Tomohiko Ogawa, and show postcards of Scotland ‘matched’ with landscapes in Japan. Tomohiko also took these exhibition photographs.
Some of Alec Finlay’s word-mountains were also shown. There is a fine, informative catalogue; below is a page with Tomohiko’s photographs, including one we used on the cover of The Road North (middle left; on the book cover it’s reversed), and a page with background to my take on ‘The Solitary Reaper’.
After the road-trips of 2010 and 2011, Alec Finlay and I wrote a long poem about our travels on The Road North. It’s now been published in book form by Shearsman as the road north: a journey through Scotland guided by Bashō’s oku-no-hosomichi, 15 May 2010–15 May 2011.
Earlier this year I mentioned that I was taking part in the exhibition Wordsworth and Basho: Walking Poets at Dove Cottage, Grasmere. That exhibition is now up and running – it closes on 2 November – and this post is about three books connected with it.
While yet we may is my contribution to the exhibition. It exists as a boxed set of 68 cards, and as a book. “While yet we may is composed of 17 words from Basho’s Oku no hosomichi (best known in English as The Narrow Road to the Deep North, though I worked mainly from the English translation by Cid Corman and Kamaike Susumu published as Back Roads to Far Towns) and 51 extracts from The Prelude, The Recluse and ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey’ by William Wordsworth. The idea for While yet we may came from a ‘variable construction’ by the poet Gael Turnbull (1928–2004), which consisted of two sets of cards : one of 28 cards, each featuring a noun, the other of 112 cards, each featuring a qualifying phrase. As Turnbull explained, “any one of the one-hundred-and-twelve phrases may relate to any of the twenty-eight nouns”. Of a published version in which each phrase was paired with a noun he wrote, “this version is no less final than any other”. The same applies to the version of While yet we may printed here.”
Copies of While yet we may (book and cards) are available from the bookshop at Dove Cottage, at £8.00 and £25.00; alternatively, you can buy them online at Big Cartel.
Alec Finlay’s contribution to Walking Poets is the booklet a-ga : on mountains, which includes pieces composed for the road north.
The exhibition catalogue has now been published, a fine full-colour publication edited by Mike Collier, and featuring work by, among others, Autumn Richardson, Richard Skelton. Ayako Tani and Brian Thompson. You can buy a copy here for only £9.99. One of the photos I took on the walk up Easdale Tarn in January has made its way onto the front cover.
In the grey afternoons and long nights of January, it’s good to be reminded of The Road North, the summer Alec Finlay and I followed the Japanese poets Basho and Sora along the hosomichi, the back roads, of Perthshire, Argyll, the Hebrides and elsewhere.
The big blog is still available, but we’ve also written a long poem about the journey. There are four extracts from it in the new edition of Northwords Now (no. 25) – ‘Glen Lyon’, ‘Loch Etive’, ‘Schiehallion’ and ‘Berneray’– available here; other sections are online at Alec’s blog; more will appear in the spring edition of Shearsman.
Alec Finlay and I have been working on a long poem about the journeys we made for The Road North, and two extracts have been translated into French, and published in the most recent edition of Les Citadelles. Philippe Démeron is the journal’s editor and also the translator, and he has chosen the poems ‘Loch na Tormalaich & Loch Duilleag-bhàite, Kilbride, Argyll’, and ‘The Groves of Isle Maree, Wester Ross’. Our swim among water-lilies,
shucking tangled legs
through greasy stems
I kick a lap
among the stars
becomes in Philippe’s French
pour dégager mes jambes empêtrées
dans des tiges gluantes
je donne un coup de genou
dans les étoiles
while this is our tree-list from Isle Maree and its French equivalent:
birch and chestnut
alder and beech
willow and dog-rose
sycamore and juniper
le bouleau et le châtaignier
l’aulne et le hêtre
le saule et l’églantier
le sycomore et le genévrier
We are in good company: elsewhere in the issue are poems by Kenneth White, Derek Mahon and John Montague, as well as an essay on the recent Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer, and poems by contemporary French poets including Armelle Leclerq and Roger Lecomte.
Armelle and Roger were my original connection to Les Citadelles. I met them in Bratislava in 2006, when we were all invited to read at the festival Ars Poetica. Roger is on the editorial board of Les Citadelles, and from that initial contact Philippe has translated and published several of poems in the magazine, for which I’m very grateful.
The magazine doesn’t have its own website, but click here for information about this issue, and here for more general information about the magazine. (Both pages are in French.)
The cover price is €10, and the ISSN is 1253-0557. (At time of writing, I have a spare copy, which I’m happy to send to the first person who requests it.)
Friday 5 August – Saturday 3 September
Below are photos of our ‘sampler’ of The Road North at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh in until 3 September – a display of poems written on the road, written on labels attached to whisky miniatures which we sampled while we travelled. And below the photos is a description of the project and the show. There’s also an article about The Road North in the current issue (no. 9) of Poetry Matters, the biannual newletter sent to all Friends of the SPL.
The Road North is a word-map of Scotland, composed by Alec Finlay & Ken Cockburn as they travelled through their homeland in 2010 and 2011. They were guided on this journey by the Japanese poet Basho, whose Oku-no-hosomichi (Narrow Road to the Deep North) is one of the masterpieces of travel literature.
Following Basho and his travelling companion Sora, their journey took in 53 ‘stations’, from Pilrig to Pollokshields via Berneray, Glen Lyon, Achnabreck and Kirkmaiden. At each place they wrote and left poems in situ, as well as drinking a tea and a whisky, and leaving a paper wish. At several they met and wrote with other poets, including Meg Bateman, Gerry Loose and Angus Dunn.
This ‘sampler’ features the 53 (miniature) whisky bottles, each with a poem-label attached. These are complemented by a selection of books, word-drawings, texts and objects gathered and made on The Road North.
This May, join Alec and Ken Cockburn for a matsuri festival at the Hidden Gardens, Glasgow. For the past year Alec and Ken have been travelling through Scotland, guided by the Japanese poet Basho. On Sunday 15th May, their year-long journey will come to an end, and to celebrate they have invited some of the people they met along the way to join them for an informal afternoon in the gardens. There will be performances of poetry and song, paper wishes to tie, and teas from Japan and China served by the gardens’ cultural cookery group. The performances are scheduled for 3pm.
The Hidden Gardens, 25 Albert Drive, Glasgow G41 2PE
You can follow Alec and Ken’s journey on their blog, and there’s an e-invitation for you here.
Last month I spent ten days on Lewis and Harris, running schools workshops around the Artist Rooms exhibition Ian Hamilton Finlay: Sailing Dinghy at An Lanntair in Stornoway. The centrepiece of the show was a real dinghy given to Finlay, but it was too big for the lochans at Little Sparta. So it was never sailed, and it’s also unamed.
I worked alongside artist Jon Macleod, and as well as working in the gallery, we were able to take some groups out to the beach. Most of the pupils we worked with were familiar with boats, having sailed themselves or, if not, seeing the array of boats in Stornoway harbour or at other moorings around the island.
At the beach we said sad farewells to a dead dolphin beached after a high tide, named and drew boats, and wrote ‘horizon poems’ – the line in the middle is the horizon, and above it you write a few words describing what you see above the horizon; and below the line, what you see below.
Sometimes the waves got the better of us. When I asked Adam what he written, he cried ‘I can’t remember!’ So he got on with writing a new poem.
While there I met writer and sailor Ian Stephen, and one afternoon he took me out on El Vigo across a sunny and becalmed Stornoway Bay.
I also managed a couple of stations for The Road North, Dun Carloway on the west coast of Lewis, and Rhenigidale on Harris; the blogs about these will appear soon on the website.