Saturday, 30 July 2011
Friday, 29 July 2011
Sunday, 24 July 2011
Monday, 18 July 2011
Thursday, 14 July 2011
Sunday, 10 July 2011
Friday, 8 July 2011
The last couple of days I've been reading Beyond the Outer Shores, Eric Enno Tamm's biography of Ed Ricketts 'The Pioneering Ecologist Who Inspired John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell.'
Ricketts spent a summer in Clayoquot, where my story's set, albeit a decade and a half earlier, and this episode is brilliant for insights about the Princess Maquinna, the legendary steamship that serviced the lighthouses, missions, logging camps, canneries and villages of the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
"The Maquinna is an ugly ship [...] with her thin, elongated funnel and her illproportioned bow, she is ugly from any direction in which you look at her [...] she has stolen the hearts of the people, and I doubt if any vessel afloat could be more beloved."
Ricketts, (the barely-disguised 'Doc' in Steinbeck's Cannery Row) spent his Clayoquot summer foraging at low tide for marine life, making a painstaking inventory of the 'good, kind sane little animals' of the shore. I've been using the book to extend my reading list, get a better sense of the huge significance of the pub at Clayoquot (one of only three on the west coast of Vancouver Island at the time), then sitting and staring and eventually drawing out a little more of my own story, which has been so neglected for the last month or so.
The folk are good. Last night I spent some time talking novel (particularly the pure intent of the ones which are never meant to be published, and what a luxury the absence of ambition can be) with Claire Wigfall. Her debut The Loudest Sound and Nothing was published by Faber in 2007 and she's currently the Book Trust's Writer in Residence.
The others are visual artist Chris Evans, James Rigler, a ceramicist, with whom ('with whom'!) I've debated benefits of various courgette species; Olufemi Terry, who won the 2010 Caine Prize for African Writing, currently resident in Berlin, Lina Peterson, a jeweller; Roanne Dods and Frances Priest – this weeks 'Creative Catalysts', who led us astray yesterday to the ruins of St Peter's Seminary in Cardross, just down the road from Hell(ensborough); a vast tangle of graffitied concrete and drifts of shattered glass. It rained and thundered, what Rickett's might have called 'Old Testament Rain'. It looked like the multi-storey carpark in Altrincham Town Centre. The niches in which the trainee priests (we speculate) could pray, dripped. Frances directed us to 'Concrete Britain' when we got back which merges footage of the seminary ruin and the building in use: elegant, bright, airy, modern.
In the evening Roanne opened a discussion about the artist's perception of their place in our culture. It wasn't long before we'd all got hung up on the money, which is always a circular kind of riff. It's a bit of a necessary purge, maybe, to talk about it but I usually feel as if I've been a bit foulmouthed afterwards.
Something new feels possible in the work in this reprieve from habitual life. It's occurred to me that a pessimist consciousness almost can't help but express a pessimist world populated by pessimists, which certainly has never struck me as the prevailing weather in 1930s Tofino, whose country dances Ricketts describes as 'peppy and drunken', despite its hardships.' Whisky crops up a lot, as I believe it did in my grandfather's days as G.P. in Tofino in the 30s.
'"It was at Tofino," a passenger once remembered, "that we realized to our absolute horror that we were running out of Scotch." [...] Ricketts had taken action by "self-consciously" carting a couple cases of beer up the Maquinna's gangway.'
So maybe I should follow Rickett's example when I finally get around to going into Kilcreggan for groceries. Sort of looking forward to getting my hands on the truck, but I'm liking walking the roads and forestry tracks in the immediate vicinity even more. I enjoy the limits of what's walkable. And to be seen there are: bats, dragonflies, newts, swallows, swifts or housemartins (some time I'll learn the difference) a herd of Highland cows that drowse around the pods and cubes, and this morning I found an owl feather, that jumps in your fingers as you draw it down through the air, thick brindles softened by the extra pelt that acts as a silencer.
Still missing the cat though.
(All quotations from Beyond The Outer Shores, Eric Enno Tamm, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 2004)
Wednesday, 6 July 2011
I could've been in Tofino this morning with the boggy Argyll forest smelling of wet dog and the visible spears of rain driving through me like mycelial threads. Being shot through with some binding material, web or spore. I didn't mind the wet at all until I crossed the road that leads to the naval base at Coulport and over the trampled fencing into that meadow of buttercup and tufted vetch and long grasses just at the point of spilling their seed. I was up to my waist in it, and felt the waste as the rain-laden seedheads burst across my jeans. The denim drank down that rainwater so fast that before I was halfway across the field my boots were filling up with water.
I crunched over a brittle crust of spootshells, cockles, smislins, live mussels, like the caramelised glaze on creme brulee, thick, so there was no way you'd see a siphon beneath. Nor did I feel like hawking about in that mud for nothing. I waded out into the shallows, to just below the throats of my boots. I always end up with my boots filling with water at some point anyway, even on a still day when the waves are a mild uplift and drag down on their rubber. Mostly I just like an excuse to stand in the water and feel the gristly membrane respond to the movement of the water. I like to wade into the water and see the membrane of the sea undulating away from me. Immersion is important. The amphibious mode.
There's a lot more going on than I expected in the mud of this populated shore. Something that might be young lobsters or perhaps some kind of shrimp, their front ends a bustle of busy transparent proto-claws. About the length of my thumb. I wonder how much marine life, when it comes down to things that we might eat, gets measured in relation to the human hand. Welks, by which I mean winkles, are considered large enough to pick if their operculum is the size of your thumbnail.
After the recent hot spell, my right hand is much more tanned than the left, being my writing hand. Due to the positioning of my desk at the east-facing window, it travels across a sunlit page for most the morning like the stylus of a lie detector, or some kind of knitting, knotting or netting machine, fussy and abrupt, making sloppy or tight fankles of ink, a spidery black lacework. I like to see the branched veins close to the surface, strong and rich, like mandrakes (I mean mangroves): it means I'm warm through, right to the tips of my Reynaud's extremities. Reynaud's doesn't do me any harm, except for chilblains in winter, and a listless, uncommitted, unhopeful mood that comes over me when a few fingers in the sheaf are white and yellow, like chloropyll-starved leaves.
Those little lobsters darted away from my boots and lay as still as they could on the sandy bottom. Then, with a sly whisking of transparent feelers, they sank below the surface of the sand, one fussily arranging a square of shell on its back as it submerged. I remember when we used to beg to be buried on the beach. Wet sand was best because whoever was getting buried could be neatly plastered with a smooth skim of sand. I remember the deadened percussion of palms slapping the shell over torso and legs. There was the pleasure of shifting subtly below the carapace of silica, breathing shallowly, guessing how your bodily disturbance would crack the dome of sand above. Then there were the games of abandonment, where your family pretended to have lost or forgotten you, trapped in your sand lung like a larvae, responsible for your own hatching, the possible ticking or scratching or tunneling of sand life against your skin, horrible lugworms, perhaps. You exploded from the sand cast like a lugworm yourself or someone took pity and turned back or the game became the one where your sister pretended you were a bone and dug you up like a dog. You broke free anyway, still belonging, caked in grit, which no amount of ducking in the sea or towelling would get off entirely before you piled tired and sticky into the car.
The rain hissed on the water and my hood and the mountains on the far side of the shore were obscured by low cloud. Apt scene for a submarine to cruise. Below the surface the huge colony of hermit crabs, mostly inhabiting empty welk shells, rolled about in pursuit of each other like marbles, deflecting and diverting. The urgent activity extended over the flats. I panned out and then waded out and wondered what the consequences of almost exclusive use of the macro lens may prove to be.
I found a way back to the gate through shorter grasses but it was too late for my socks. As I walked uphill water was forced out of my socks and insoles and up around my ankles with each step. My two feet a sort of composite heart structure, pumping cooling fluid around the rubberised chambers.
Tuesday, 5 July 2011
"There is the silence before one just as difficult to disturb significantly as before.What one has learned is inadequate against the new silence presented."
('The Nightfisherman – Selected Letters of W.S.Graham (Carcanet, 1999).
Yesterday I arrived in Argyll for a two week residency, and I've spent today slowly settling in, starting coming to terms with the fact that "no outcomes" are expected. Pretty rare, that. Basically, you get paid to shack up with your own funny head for a few weeks and work if you feel like it. You're allowed to just sleep if you like. Now, it sounded very enlightened, but it turns out that 'no outcomes and nothing expected' isn't just as easy to accept as all that. If I don't work, what am I? So I've been a bit unsettled today: new place, working out where to start, how I'll begin to try and 'disturb the language'. Missing the cat.
Last night I walked down to the beach. Muddy shingle; hermit crabs; lots of spoot shells, but no sign of siphons. It would be good to forage here. The different light you get on water when there are mountains. Bewildering lack of wind and occasionally, an inexplicable urgent backwash on the shore, which gave me the willies as I considered it might be caused by submarines passing underwater to Coulport. Don't think I'll be swimming after all. But I gathered some dry seaweed and some of the everpresent plastic fishing fibre you find at the tideline, and today I've made rope out of them. The fibre is salmon pink, and nicely luminous within the red and coppery weed. I might get around to making a basket out of it. It's good to make rope out of seaweed: your hands slick with agar as if you were assisting a birth; or as if you were actually extruding the vegetable hawser from your own spinnarets, as a spider extrudes web.
Some reading today. Gerald Manley Hopkins, but I didn't have the patience for the God-bit, although I enjoyed his mania and the drubbing his verbs give you 'does so rinse and wring/The ear [...]' And I admire the way he couples those bleached abstracts with imagery that's weird enough to be compulsive. Can't imagine getting away with the opening line 'Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –' myself, and yet I love this, that follows 'When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush[...]'
Otherwise, I've snacked compulsively (the visibility of the little kitchen from the writing desk may be a problem) and napped (the visibility of the bed from the writing desk may be a problem.) But napping, I propped the notebook and pen on my knees and shut my eyes, and everytime I became aware of a bit of 'chatter' rising up through my subconscious, I wrenched my eyes open and wrote it down.
"No, I'm a member of staff! No, I'm not slow –"
"Phone your baby. I'm gonna di–"
"Keep crisscrossing for mixed stones and make sure they're all of one colour."
"So you're both Mrs B.S.?" (Checking my eyelids, friendly-like. )
"Bob, it'll only take you one minute" (American)
"Have you heard about the three Danes? There's one sitting where I'm sitting..."
Although it's tempting to try and use this stuff for divination, my fascination with it is that it's so aligned with my preoccupations in poetry just now. Obviously, it's the reverse of intention, it's a way of forgetting the self, and there's a spookiness about it. Where does it come from, after all? Who's doing the voices?
Then I passed out for real. 'Nap' seems an incongrously cute word for something you start up from with your heart pounding, trembling all over.
This evening there's going to be a kind of happy hour to meet the other residents...