Tag Archives: Alec Finlay

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.

P1000279-1

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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Spring Shoots – Readings in April & May

After a long hibernation, the days are getting longer and several events in the diary are getting closer.

B&J approach Rasaay

First up is a launch event for Out of Books, with Alec Finlay, on Thursday 11 April at 6.30pm, at the Scottish Poetry Library, and a second event as part of the Boswell Book Festival at Auchinleck, Ayrshire, on Sunday 19 May. Out of Books is collaborative project inspired by Boswell and Johnson’s 1773 journey across the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Taking their texts as their guides, we’ll set out to revisit particular landscapes and recover particular views. Over the summer and along the route we will host a series of events inspired by their antecedents’ famous journey, with further events in and around Inverness, on the Isles of Skye, Coll and Mull, and in Inveraray.

snapdragon11-1

Barrie ‘Caseroom’ Tullett is visiting Edinburgh for the Fruitmarket Gallery Book Fair on Saturday 20 April. I’ll do a stint on the table as well, and read something from Snapdragon about 12.30.

Arne Rautenberg

Arne Rautenberg is visiting Scotland later in the month, and we’re doing two readings together – at the Goethe Institut in Glasgow on Tuesday 23 April at 6.30pm, and at the Edinburgh Bookshop the following day at 7.30pm (this is the Facebook page about it).

cherry blossom 2

In May, I’m leading two poetry walks in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12, both at 2.00pm. Content still to be decided, but certainly some Chinese classics, haiku, maybe Burns in rural-floral mode, something from The Road North

Apollo shadows

And finally, a reading with Pierre Joris and Lila Matsumoto at Little Sparta on Sunday 26 May at 5.00pm, linked to the University of Glasgow’s Assembling Identities conference. Tickets are available here.

Perhaps the snow will have melted from the Pentlands by then.

Snowy Pentlands, April

Snapdragon

Snapdragon is a newly published collection of my translations of poems by the German writer Arne Rautenberg, made over the past decade. Arne lives in Kiel, where I’ve visited him on several occasions, and he has been to Scotland twice, in 2003 and 2007.

As all books are, it is a collaborative effort. I was introduced to Arne by Alec Finlay, who has written the cover blurb above; Stewart Conn heard Arne and me read in Edinburgh and 2003, and his poem ‘Translations’ describing that occasion is included; the book is designed and laid out by Barrie Tullett, with whom I’ve worked on many projects over the years; and the cover was designed by Jantze Tullett, Barrie’s wife.

The ladybird
On the hibiscus flower
In the ashtray

(Haiku)

The poems are fomally varied: monologues, lists and fairy tales – haiku, double haiku and football haiku – one-word poems, nudges and inversions. They are presented as parallel text, German on the left and English on the right.

Between turbulence
And the monstrous rivets
A beckoning home.

His gaze deep in the
Rear wheel of a juggernaut
Thundering on by.

(from ‘Kiel After Rain’)

I mention my choice of title in the Afterword: “I settled on Snapdragon as it seemed to sum up much of Arne’s work: a flower-name, so a word that’s rooted in the real, something delicate and beautiful; yet also with outlandish and unsettling associations.”

The formal details are:
published by The Caseroom Press, 180 x 125 mm, 64 pages, ISBN 978-1-905821-21-1, cover price £5.00.

A review by Lesley Harrison has appeared in Northwords Now, no.22 (if you download the pdf, it’s on p.22). “I don’t speak German, but the English versions conjured very clearly a city-world still recovering from war, and Cockburn’s clipped, wry translations seem to be a perfect window to it, both clever and compelling.”

If you’d like to buy a copy, it’s available via The Big Cartel.

Arne Rautenberg, Glasgow, 2003
Alec Finlay & Arne Rautenberg, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2007
Ken Cockburn & Arne Rautenberg, Kiel, 2008 (photo by Birgit Rautenberg)

Les Citadelles



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.)

The Road North at StAnza 2012

Image
'there go the geese / and the foxgloves / not yet over (Slioch)'

The ‘sampler‘ of The Road North which was shown at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh last summer can be seen in St Andrews as part of this year’s StAnza poetry festival.

1.00pm – 5.00pm
Thursday 15th – Saturday 17th March
Public Library Meeting Room, Church Square, St Andrews
Free

 

Details here

The Road North at the Scottish Poetry Library

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.



Bottles & hokku-labels

love is / a bridge // that / lives (Inver, Raasay) Alec Finlay

swallows skim ripples / on mirror-pond stillness / cup-and-ring marked rocks (Luing) Ken Cockburn

Nikka’s part / of our michi no nikki / on Mt. Nikko (Slioch) Ken Cockburn

pulling mussels / from a shell // parting the paired / tea-cups (the hidden gardens) Alec Finlay

 
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.
 
Scottish Poetry Library
5 Crichton’s Close, Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DT
t: 0131 557 2876
w: www.spl.org.uk
blog: www.scottishpoetrylibrary.wordpress.com
on twitter: @byleaveswelive
*New opening hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 10-5; Thursday 10-7; Saturday 10-4; Closed Monday, Sunday

The Road North: a matsuri festival


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.

Hidden in Hilton

The Wildwood

Back in April I ran workshops with Year 5/6 pupils at Hilton Primary School in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, as part of a project by Alec Finlay about habitat and outdoor learning. The focus was on exploring and redeveloping an overgrown garden known as ‘the wildwood’.
cHerry rIpening, pLum bursTing, Oak flamiNg

hawtHorn growIng, appLe fruiTing, cOtoneaster twistiNg

Poet-botanist Colin Will spoke to the children about what was growing there. The visit with Colin gave them a lot of stimuli, and they made notes as they went round. What helped them differentiate the plants was a memorable detail – the ash’s ‘black fingernails’, making it a ‘goth tree’, for example.
tHe fruIting pLum, The lOnely rowaN

sHaking wIllow, fLowering blackThorn, smOoth rowaN

I showed the kids different ways to write about the plants they’d discovered and observed. The mesostic poems have a central stem-word, while embedded poems have a word hidden within it, like a cryptic crossword clue. The two below include tree names.
A shivering twig and a shiny key (3)

Servant to a king (3)

The poems have now been installed in the garden, as labels, bird-boxes and on barrel-seats.

Argyll

Whiskies from & for Argyll

Cullipool on Luing

Last week The Road North led to Argyll. It was part family holiday as well, and there were six of us in total. Fewer stations than Perthshire, and no two-in-one-day, so we should get the blogs up sooner than last time. There’s a new web address, which takes you to a map of Scotland with all the stations marked; the darker ones are those we’ve blogged to date, the lighter ones those to come.

Other than Dunstaffnage Castle which I visited in 1998, when I was visiting primary schools in the area with the Scottish Poetry Library van, last week’s destinations were new to me – Achnabreck, Kilmartin, Dunadd, Kilmichael Galssary, Luing, Crinan. The cup-and-ring marked rocks at Achnabreck are astonishing beautiful, a density of perfect circles rippling through milennia… and despite the rain, the walk cairn-to-cairn along the ‘linear cemetery’ in Kilmartin Glen was one of the highlights of the week for the girls.

Achnabreck cup-and-ring-marked rocks

Kilmartin Glen, Temple Wood from Nether Lairgie South cairn

The black slate beach at Luing was a revalation to me, and my thanks go to Norrie Bissell for showing us round there; that was our Matsushima, Basho’s ‘magnificent vista’ where ‘all sorts of islands gather’ – fourteen in our case, compared to his 263, but magnificent it certainly was that bright afternoon, as we looked from Jura across the Garvellachs to the south coast of Mull. I missed the beach at Carsaid, as I was walking to (and nearly missing) Castle Dounie above Crinan; again the view was spectacular, and now I had a much better idea of what I was looking at.

Castle Dounie looking NW towards Mull

Alec led us to Loch Na Torrnalaich, between Kilmartin and Kilmichael… or, as it turned out, the unnamed lochan just to the south (he said it was smaller than he remembered). But there were waterlilies there too, and we swam, and it was beautiful, other than the bites I took away with me.

In the unnamed water-lily lochan

We ended the week with Pat Law, her husband Andy and daughter Kirsty, who’d sailed over from Lochmaddy, having dropped a dozen messages-in-bottles into the Minch, to await their fate. Over the table in the Crafty Kitchen at Ardfern, we toasted ‘journeys’. Long may they continue.

Looking west from Beregonium