So today we went for a walk down to the estuary, the wind lightly blowing, clouds pending but not due to rain for a few hours. Cows in the field, sheep by the river, swans folding and unfolding, and the constant hiss and shimmer of the sea where the river runs into it.
The task to walk down there, chatting if we like, then once by the water, to remain silent and simply look, listen, touch, smell, and possibly even taste, while thinking. No pressure, simply notate. We are primed for this by a discussion of the work of the artist Francis Alys, specifically his fox in the gallery project...
...and by reading Robert Minhinnick's Forward Prize winning poem, 'The Fox in the National Museum of Wales'. We are to be foxes of a sort, or we are to set the foxes of the mind stalking through the gallery of 'sea art'. A tribe of thought-foxes.
So there we are, silent. The estuary is wonderful, but it leaves me gobsmacked. That is not to say I am not writing, but what I am writing is inadequate and I know it. Nevertheless I write.
Why is it inadequate? The whole syntax apparatus seems wrong. Lines in which one thing is compared to another seem contrived. Why is that? It may be because the sea is not my element (a landlocked country's capital city is my egotistical sublime), or because nature always takes me back to primary school nature walks where I hardly understood the language let alone tell the difference between one green thing and another. So the problem might be in me.
On the other hand it may be - or may also be - something else. It may, for example, be because it's all too primal and beyond language. Or maybe it's because it has been written and painted and sung so often the beach is all too crowded and I can't begin to hear the sound that sings to me. I other words it is too full of language. Others might be having that trouble, I imagine. Sheer size. So I wander along and fill pages with notes. Then I stop, skim a couple of pebbles, and start assembling a rather naff Andy Goldsworthy set of stones in a pattern on top of other stones. For a moment I think of Jewish funerals, then I go back to arranging the pebbles by colour so they make a kind of palette. Nice but pretty. Overcrowded. I feel the minimalist urge. It's all a little voulu, as things stand, I think, much like the effort of shoving this enormous phenomenon into syntax and simile and metaphor and rhythm, in other words into poetry. It's like trying to empty the sea with a jam jar.
What we need is a new language, I think, or at least the beginnings of a glossary, and I start to put down the categories for which I would need new vocabularies. These include:
ways of moving; textures; sounds; colours; densities; formations; paces and rates of movement; gestures; tones...
It is with these I return, along with the others, to compose something. What I compose looks a little like that list, a dictionary in fact with terms, phrases and words that might be grouped together under each category. I add some new categories and remove some possible overlaps. Some I just forget. Then, because this looks exactly what it is, a list of prose items, I play with formatting on the computer - putting in tabs and spaces, letting the words dance a little across the space of the page. I suspect this is cheating, but, all the same, it is faintly encouraging. There is about a page and half of it, and it's not exactly a poem. I can't format the blog as I would a page, so you'll have to imagine how you might want to space it, but it begins:
Ways of moving:
Pulse of wind, press of wind (as in the fingers of wind gently pressing against eardrum), swandip, swanbulge, swanstretch, peeling (as in gull peeling, as in peeling off the horizon, breaking into bribs and blebs,
sussuration, sibilance, hissing, severance, slobbing, sisterance, haw, ha, hm, hrum, squak, squirk, settling, the sudden cry of a low- flying plane
It progresses through:
hair, skin, bullet, scraped, dinged,
denser / dreamter
Homages: human offerings, (the deodands):
bright helpless bits of blunt blue,
startled yellow, intimated pink,
the fadings, deformations, ephemeralities,
evidences, the beginnings of a palette.
Food: the floating egg,
hundreds of thousands,
…pure Quality Street.
Broader concepts to be dragged kicking and screaming into language: the surprise of being there at all, of anything being there at all, of being there, of the concept of 'there', and, more intriguingly, the concept of a straight line of cloud pressing lightly down on its bed of language, still working out its etymologies.
All formatting lost, and with whole sections missing, the text is pretty naked and unresolved, but there's something ticking there. It's only a parody of a dictionary and a language, but it is genuinely trying to get to grips with something, however hopeless.
A shorter lunch break and longer tutorials - but very encouraging ones. The students have written some good sea poems (better than I could manage in some cases, but then mine isn't precisely a poem, and Pascale's is wonderful) and their work over the course has come along in leaps and bounds. I feel quite exhilarated by this. So, I feel, are they. There's a good shape to the week.
But it's pouring now, the sky one great grey sponge. It looks as though it intends to hang around for the evening.