Saturday, 18 January 2014

Advance copy of Byssus...

…with gorgeous cover artwork by Shetland artist Kristi Cumming

Monday, 13 January 2014

Bearding the Mussel

Mussel's beard (or byssus) and items made from it, 
from the Natural History Museum Basel's Project Sea-Silk.


It's not due out until mid-February, but apparently a finished copy of my third poetry collection, Byssus, is sitting on a desk in the Picador offices, about to be posted to me. Way too exciting! 

'Byssus' means the strong fibres of what used to be known as 'sea-silk', that some bivalves, including mussels, use to secure themselves to their rocky homeplace. You can make yourself a tie out of it, apparently. 

Half-knowing what I meant, I heard myself telling a friend this summer that the act of writing this poetry collection had finally become a performance. I remembered then that that's what it felt like before. It took the threat of publication – the real risk of finding a reader – to stand a chance of making real work again.

And what was the work? Camping on the rosy cliffs of the Lang Clodie. A cep-hunt on arctic terrain in the north of Shetland. My recurrent dream, climaxing in the hectic extremes of the Spring tides, about tugs-of-war with brawny spoots (razor clams). And wasn't there something to try to say about puffballs? Hours lying on the banks with the surf thundering under and through me.

The problem of poetry is that while it dangles before us the possibility that we might 'get home' to such moments of animal absorption, our effort rarely – thanks to pernicious habits of intention and self-consciousness – succeeds. This book is trying very hard; in time, I'll see how many of these poems do actually vibrate on the present tense's 'thin line'. (Gaspar Galaz)

Whilst it is fashionable to speak of the liminality of islands, with people titillated by the notion of them as World's End, a brink to teeter on; this world-view denies that for island-dwellers, they can be the centre. I wanted to dig down into this place, prospecting the infinitely-revealed complexities of 'home'.

Byssus is, I hope, an arched book: climbing through spring's maniacal flowering to summer's zenith, declining to exhaustion, and a contemplation of how it batters us just to live, learn, make and love. I have always fetishised the idea of home, and perhaps, Shetland. Byssus is, I hope, as it is for a mussel, my holdfast in such wild water.

There now follows a celebration of the mussel's beard…

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Bill Manhire

Looking forward to my poetry exchange with NZ poet Glenn Colquhoun this Spring – with the Scottish Poetry Library – I'm reading Carcanet's Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets. This, from Bill Manhire, made me smile and rang bells all over the place:

'I started writing poems out of a deep shyness and social awkwardness, and because words could sound magical. Probably I hoped to project an image of mystery and sophistication while remaining somehow out of sight, though I don't recall thinking this at the time. But certainly what looked like self-expression was more like palisade and refuge – some sort of secrecy machine – and I think this is still true for plenty of the poems I write. Fortunately, good poems have more presence and capacity than the people who write them. The world of Oz is more interesting than the Wizard.'