Tag Archives: walking

there were our own there were the others

Killerton REMEMBRANCE

I spent much of summer 2014 driving the motorways and country lanes of England and Wales with Luke Allan for there were our own there were the others, a project by Alec Finlay for the National Trust to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. Luke & I visited 23 properties, all of which had some connection to the war – a family member who served and was perhaps killed; a house used as a hospital, grounds used as a training camp; gardens planted as memorials to the carnage. At each I led a silent memorial walk, bookended by a pair of poems from the past century on the theme of conflict. At most properties we set up a pair of lecterns, on which the poems were presented, and at some the lecterns were placed either end of a sandbag wall, reminiscent of the trenches. At a few we flew a red flag featuring a circular version of project’s title. That phrase is taken from Hamish Henderson’s Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica, about his experiences in the North African desert in the Second World War, but it seemed an apt way of memorialising all the victims of conflict, rather than just those ‘on our side’, as did the large-scale ceramic poppies installation at the Tower of London.

This gallery above shows some photos from the tour (all are by me, except Killerton Chapel by Hannah Devereux, and Liverpool, by Luke Allan). The full itinerary is on the website.

After the English and Welsh tours I was able to visit Belgium at the end of September to visit some of the First World War sites near Ypres: graveyards, battlefields, memorials. I also saw the excellent exhibition In Flanders Fields in the Lakenhalle in the centre of Ypres itself, which shows the war from the perspective of the four armies who were fighting there: Belgian, French, British and German. We stayed at Talbot House in Poperinge, a small town which, for most of the war was just far enough behind the front line for it to be fairly safe. Talbot House became a social club for off-duty soldiers, and retains many features of that time.

book of the same title documents and reflects on the project. It includes poems and prose by myself about the walks and the poems, as well as the poem ‘Cloqueliclot’ about my experiences in Belgium. It also features fine photos by Luke and Hannah.

our own the others front cover

Walking Poets: the books

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 coverA-ga coverWalking Poets cover

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.”

While yet we may spread
While yet we may cards
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.

A-ga spread

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.

Walking Poets cover
Walking Poets back cover

Wordsworth & Basho: Walking Poets

Sill Stone

I was in the Lake District last week for a symposium on ‘Wordsworth and Basho: Walking Poets’. A group of us were there to meet and discuss what we might make for a forthcoming exhibition at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, home to the Wordsworths from 1799 to 1808, now a museum and home of the Wordsworth Trust.

The Prelude mss

Curator Jeff Cawton shared his enthusiasm for ‘The Prelude’ and its various manuscripts. Most are written in the hand either of Mary, the poet’s wife, or Dorothy, his sister, with amendments by William; apparently he found writing physically painful, so composed in his mind while out walking, dictating the results when he came home.

Wordsworth ms

The pages above show a draft of Book 10, with William’s revisions on the left hand page:

… As a light
And pliant harebell, swinging in the breeze
On some grey rock, its birth-place, so had I
Wantoned, fast rooted on the ancient tower
Of my beloved country, wishing not
A happier fortune than to wither there
And now was from that pleasant station plucked
And tossed about in whirlwind. I rejoiced…

Wayfinder

A group of us managed a walk in Easedale, up Sour Milk Gill (a fast-flowing stream) to Easedale Tarn (a placid lake). At the foot I read ‘Emma’s Dell’, one of the ‘Poems on the Naming of Places’ – right place, wrong season, as the poem is set on “an April morning, fresh and clear”, whereas we had damp January.

Easedale Sour Milk Gill

Though with all the recent rain, it was still true that

The Rivulet, delighting in its strength,
Ran with a young man’s speed…

The white waters reminded me the Inverianvie, of one of our stations on The Road North, so I adapted a line from Basho to fit the new location.

Poem-label gillEasedale label rapidsEasdale 1

Sixteens

Sixteens: for Isobel is a project featuring simple, formal arrangements of related found objects, made for Northlight Dunbar 2012, and presented at the Beach Hut, Dunbar Harbour.

I developed the practice of making Fourteens in summer 2010 as part of The Road North. On my daughter’s fourteenth birthday I was on Skye while she was in Edinburgh, so to mark the occasion I picked, arranged and photographed fourteen yellow ragwort heads, and e-mailed her the image. This soon became a way of enabling Alec Finlay and myself to focus on things we came across – including berries, flowers and mushrooms.

Two years on, and I’ll be with my daughter on her birthday. But I’ve been making Sixteens anyway, sixteen related found objects arranged as a four by four grid, and photographed in situ. I’ve made sixteen such arrangements and photographs, retaining one item from each, which is displayed in the beach hut alongside the photos. The items compose a seventeenth Sixteen, derived from its predecessors (just as in a ‘crown of sonnets’ the fifteenth sonnet is composed of one line from each of the previous fourteen).

I made eleven Sixteens before my week in Dunbar, on recent trips to Moray and Orkney, and the remaining five were made on a walk along the John Muir Way east from Dunbar towards Torness power station.

With thanks to Angus Reid and Lorna Irvine for their contributions.

Northlight Dunbar

I’ve been working in East Lothian this week, at Dunbar. As part of the Northlight ‘creative season’, I have mini-residency at the beach hut by the harbour.

These sea-creatures were drawn last week, and sadly are no more.

In the hut I’m showing ‘Sixteens’ – more on that tomorrow. Yesterday I walked the John Muir Way east from the harbour towards the lighthouse at Barns Ness, and on towards Torness power station.

There’s a poetry and music event on Friday night (10 August) – details here.

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.

Seven Hills, Seven Questions

I walked Edinburgh’s Seven Hills as planned at the end of last month, mainly in warm unseasonal sunshine, though the day we walked to the Castle Rock was gothically haar-shrouded. [January 2017 – the various blogs about the walks (on another website) are sadly no longer available.)

The project culminated with an event at Fingerpost (formerly Croy Miners’ Welfare) last Wednesday (18 April), which is World Heritage Day – an exhibition / installation space animated by film, theatre, choral singing, my reading of ‘Seven Questions’.

I managed a walk on Croy Hill, where the Antonine Wall ran – the ditch (right) is the most obvious extant feature. The view above (centre) is looking north, barbarianwards.

Seven Hills: Poetry Walks in Edinburgh, 22-24 March 2012

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The lower summit at Blackford Hill

Edinburgh, like Rome, is a city built on seven hills. I’m running three poetry walks later this month to some of those hills, as part of the preparations for World Heritage Day 2012 on 18 April.

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Below Calton Hill

Here are the details:
Calton Hill
Thursday 22 March, 1.30pm–5.00pm, meet at Scottish Poetry Library, 5 Crichton’s Close, Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DT, where we’ll return after the walk

Arthur’s Seat
Friday 23 March, 1.30pm–5.00pm, meet at Scottish Poetry Library, where we’ll return after the walk

Castlehill
Saturday 24, 1.30pm–5.00pm, meet outside the Scottish Parliament visitors’ entrance (opposite the Queen’s Gallery); the walk will finish at Edinburgh Castle

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Arthur's Seat seen from the David Hume Tower

All the walks are free, but please book via e-mail as numbers are limited: kencockburn@blueyonder.co.uk

On the day please bring waterproofs and a notebook, and wear footwear suitable for rough underfoot conditions.

At the end of each walk we will spend some time discussing the walk, and reading what we’ve written; on Thursday and Friday at the Scottish Poetry Library, and on Saturday at the Education Room in Edinburgh Castle.

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Salisbury Crags and Arthur's Seat, seen from Blackford Hill

A bit of background:

‘Seven Hills’ is part of Shadows of our Ancestors, supported by Historic Scotland and UNESCO, which promotes and celebrates Scotland’s five World Heritage sites – Edinburgh Old and New Towns, New Lanark, the Antonine Wall, St Kilda and The Heart of Neolithic Orkney. A group of five artists – a poet, a sculptor, a performance artist, a photographer and a composer – will each work at one of these sites, developing work for the public celebration of World Heritage Day on Wednesday 18 April, which will take place at Croy Miners’ Welfare, North Lanarkshire, next to the line of the Antonine Wall.

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Brigid Collins's artwork for Shadows of our Ancestors 2012

All the artists are working loosely to the theme of ‘AD 142’, the year the Antonine Wall was begun. ‘Seven Hills’ will link to the theme by considering aspects of the land that broadly haven’t changed since Roman times – uplands and lowlands, coast and sea, the Scottish weather – as well as referring to the history of the Roman presence in the area, and considering the changes over time.

I’ll blog the walks to Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat and Castlehill (as well as further walks I’ll make to Edinburgh’s other hills) and gather texts for the April  event. All those coming on the walks will be also invited to contribute work they make up on the hills  – poems, photos, recordings – to the project blog, and to the event at Croy.