Wednesday, 23 February 2011

'Lost At Sea' launches (no tacking)

The grey waters of Hugh Bryden's beautiful treatment of my 'Lost At Sea' saw their official launch last week.  Gracefield Arts Centre Cafe was so packed out for me and Andy Forster (launching the excellent 'Digging') that more chairs were scurried for.  Oh it cheers you up so much when you're about to read.

I realised on the way to the event, packed into a car in the murky dark of February with rather a lot of my family, that 'Lost At Sea' is a kind of travelogue.  It proved to be one of the easiest readings, because of this, I think - it has its own internal narrative, in which both the Shetland Islands and my great grandfather and his family are explored, and glimpses caught of them.

My 82 year old mum came along, and it was lovely to read to her, as she has done all the family research that I have (rather) plundered.  She kept beaming at me.  I found reading 'The Ditty Box of Thomas Gilbert Hunter Aiken' to be a strange kind of crux, as it contains many of the fragments of story that come down the generations.  I suppose this is how our lives are likely to be summarised.  And they're not likely to be so adventurous. 

I've got his telescope safe.  But will I one day have to decide whether to keep that charts table?

The Ditty Box of Thomas Gilbert Hunter Aiken

That he left Church Closs
and his mother and stowed
away on a Tyne collier
at thirteen, dodging on board
in the wash and blow
of Lerwick harbour.

That sometimes he ate
ships biscuits so maggoty they
shuffled across his plate. That he sailed
round the Horn. That he shivered
one winter on a vessel held ice-bound
for weeks in the Baltic.

That he was wrecked
in the tide-race of Ushant, rescued
by a brig bound for Cuba and dropped
at the mouth of the Tagus to row
under Torre de Belem
into white-paved Lisbon.

That in Valparaiso he
punched a man and knocked him
overboard and then
jumped in and saved him. 
That he married twice but no-one
ever mentioned the first time.

That he had a strong face, a trim beard
and fierce eyebrows.  His eyes look far
past my shoulder.  That we know this
from a photograph.  And also have his telescope,
his drawing instruments and his cut-down,
hacked-about charts table.

That he lived to see his sons survive the War
and held his grandchildren, as babies.
That his sextant and the ditty box went missing
at last, in the bombing of Liverpool
in 1940.  That he never
went back to Lerwick.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Real Place and Katrina Porteous

Spent Saturday down at The Wordsworth Trust, enjoying a workshop run by Katrina Porteous entitled 'Spirit of Place' and looking at writing about place.  I liked her take on keeping it real, as it were, and being outside.  She'd brought a mysterious tupperware box full of soily, sandy objects (I had to imagine them, as will be explained) - which was never opened, due to the workshop taking place in the inner sanctum of the Wordsworth Trust, the Reading Room in the Jerwood Centre.  Strikingly beautiful, this room houses the treasures of the Romantic Era and as such has its light and heating controlled for the preservation of irreplaceable manuscripts.  No sandy, soily pebbles, rabbit skulls, damp bits of moss are allowed. 

So we went outside and did entertaining exercises based on close focus, and sounds near to and further away.  Truly interesting conversations and readings of different poems.  Dialect words and placenames.  I'm obsessed by placenames and besotted by maps.  I bought a copy of Katrina's 'Dunstanburgh', which was created as a radio play and designed for many voices.  I am very taken with its rhythms and half rhymes, and its sense of interrupted narratives and layered voices -

'In the courtyard, around the foundations,
The kitchens, the chapel, the Constable's chambers,

Leathery wings flit.  Woodlice trundle,
Armour on stone.  A spider trembles

A web's bull's-eye in the moon's full glare
On the arc of its journey, fierce white fire

Catches and fills a heart-shaped window.

And the deepest dark of the castle walls -
Doors going nowhere, hearths, holes,

Gardrobes, stairways bent at odd angles -
Join with the wider dark, the miles

Of field and heugh, and wind-blown fell,

Millenia of dark, the men
And women lost beyond recall,

Absorbed in silence, earth and stone.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Stones, Motels and Roncadora Press

Graham Fulton reading from Black Motel

Hugh McMillan reading Cairn

The cafe bar at Gracefield Arts Centre was filled with laughing people this evening, who just now and again emitted The Pause, followed by The Slight Sigh.  So it was cracking good poetry from Graham Fulton, visiting us from Paisley, and from Hugh McMillan, who must have rowed in from Penpont.

Roncadora Press has its beautiful work all over the walls.  There was Rab's 'Horace's First Buik o Satires', and Andy Forster's 'Digging', the Devorgilla Bridge (that got its piccy in The Guardian last year) and John Burns' new pamphlet with the glorious coloured cover. Hugh B has made such an amazing job of 'Lost At Sea' that I feel no shame at all standing in front of it admiringly.