29. October 2017 · Comments Off on Geopoetics News December 2016 · Categories: Uncategorised

The latest issue of our online journal Stravaig is now available to read here: http://bit.ly/2hWgzdI

It’s been a long time in the making but its poems and essays are well worth reading. The essays include the first and second place prize winners in the Hugh Miller Writing Competition.

Many thanks to all the contributors and to Bill Taylor who designed the new look Stravaig. Your feedback on its content and form would be most welcome.

2017 promises to be a big year for the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics with our Expressing the Earth conference in collaboration with the University of the Highlands and Islands taking place from 22-24 June 2017 in Argyll. Full details will follow in January but right now we’re looking for proposals for engagement in the event:

Expressing the Earth

A Trans-disciplinary Conference
the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics
in collaboration with the
University of the Highlands and Islands
Seil, Easdale, Kilmartin and Luing, Argyll
22-24 June 2017
Call for Engagement:
Creative workshops, presentations, papers and performances

‘Geopoetics is concerned, fundamentally, with a relationship to the earth and the opening of a world’.

The Scottish Centre for Geopoetics and the University of the Highlands and Islands will host Expressing the Earth in Argyll 2017 to bring together creative artists, musicians, poets and film makers along with academics, researchers, students and teachers to explore, create and debate the earth and the environment in this spectacular area of Scotland.

‘Atlantic space, the west coast of Europe, is characterised in the first instance by fragmentation … a multitude, a proliferation of islands and peninsulas separated by difficult waters. It is a territory of dispersion and precariousness – but each fragment is exact in itself, there is no confusion in this plurality. In a word, unity is not something given, to be taken for granted, it has to be composed.’ (Kenneth White, 2004)

Expressing the Earth will look to the multitude and proliferation of the islands and peninsulas and address the ways in which people are influenced and brought together by these features from the Neolithic and Bronze Age, early Celtic Christian heritage and seafaring history to more recent industrial exploitation of the Slate Islands.

Themes and activities, rooted in Geopoetics, include literature, history, visual arts, film making, archaeology, geology, geography and theology – with active engagement and creative outcomes as central to the conference as academic papers and presentations.

The conference will take place at the Seil Island Hall in Argyll with field activities also in Kilmartin Glen, Easdale Island and the Isle of Luing. Poetry readings, musical performances and social gatherings will play a key part in the conference programme and it is intended that publications and exhibitions will follow.

Please send a 200 word proposal, title, short bio and supporting images, if appropriate, to Mark Sheridan, Reader in Music and Creativity at the University of The Highlands and Islands, by 15 January 2017 – mark.sheridan@uhi.ac.uk.

Further information on the programme, key speakers and content will be published in due course.


Please join or renew your annual membership (£10/£5 unwaged)
by sending your name, postal and e-mail address & a cheque
made out to the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics to our Treasurer,
David Francis 214 Portobello Road, Portobello EH15 2AU.

Please spread the word by sharing this Newsletter with others.

Season’s Greetings to you all! We hope to hear from you in 2017.

29. October 2017 · Comments Off on Geopoetics News October 2015 · Categories: Uncategorised

If you’d like to know more about what geopoetics is, the best place to start is our website at www.geopoetics.org.uk where you will find an overview of geopoetics and 4 issues of our online journal Stravaig. Issue 4 contains essays on intellectual nomadism by Kenneth White, Martina Kolb, Bill Stephens and Norman Bissell, and on Rimbaud by Karen Strang and Mike Roman. It also has new poems and images by Morelle Smith, Alyson Hallett, Andrew McCallum and also by Gordon Meade and Douglas Robertson from their new book Les Animots: A Human Bestiary.

The International Institute of Geopoetics website is now available in English and contains many essays by Kenneth White including one on Alexander von Humboldt and An Outline of Geopoetics. http://www.institut-geopoetique.org/en/the-geopoetics-review.

Our AGM in Portobello in August decided to produce this Newsletter twice a year and to continue to publish Stravaig annually in the Spring. It also agreed to make plans for a major conference on geopoetics in 2017 and we have already had fruitful discussions with representatives from the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and the University of Glasgow about this. Watch this space!

Stravaig Issue 5 Call for Submissions
We are looking for submissions of essays, poems, short stories and images on the general theme of geopoetics to be sent to nbissell@btinternet.com no later than Tuesday 23 February 2016. Prose should be a maximum of 3,500 words and no more than 4 poems should be submitted. Relevance to the wide field of geopoetics will be one of the main criteria for selection.

To keep up to date with the latest geopoetics news, why not Like our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ScottishGeopoetics?fref=ts and follow us on Twitter https://twitter.com/@SCGeopoetics?

Photograph by Mike Knowles

We were very sad to learn of the death of Tessa Ransford in September. She made an outstanding contribution to poetry in Scotland as a poet, founder of the Scottish Poetry Library and promoter of poetry pamphlets; and to culture in general, both here and internationally, which will live on and be her legacy to the world. She was passionate about many causes and in recent years joined the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics and came with us on some of our walks. Her latest poetry collection A Good Cause from Luath Press was well named. Further information and reviews of her other books and much more are at http://www.wisdomfield.com/.

A Memorial event for Tessa Ransford will be held on Monday 7th Decemberat 7.30pm in St Andrew’s and St George’s Church , George St , Edinburgh .

We are delighted to partner the Scottish Geodiversity Forum and The Friends of Hugh Miller in supporting and promoting Testimonies of the Rocks: the Hugh Miller Writing Competition. Poems, non-fiction and fiction inspired by the geological and landscape writings of Hugh Miller, Scotland ’s celebrated self-taught geologist, are invited by Friday 18 March 2016. Miller was a poet and prolific writer and this competition, open to all ages, will encourage a renewed interest in his work, a catalogue of new writings inspired by him and greater awareness and appreciation of Scotland ’s geodiversity. See more at: http://bit.ly/1Gv1CdG.

Upcoming Events

Thursday 29 October at 6.30pm Les Animots: A Human Bestiary at Books and Beans 22 Belmont Street, AB10 1JH Aberdeen . Gordon Meade will read from his eighth collection of poems, a collaboration with the artist Douglas Robertson, published by Cultured Llama Publishing. http://www.culturedllama.co.uk/ http://on.fb.me/1ic9V2n

Saturday 14 November 10am-4pm Traditions in Place Perth and Kinross
A day event at Perth Concert Hall, for musicians, dancers, storytellers, promoters, teachers, community activists etc interested in the traditional arts and oral and local history: a chance to share knowledge and find out about resources for the traditional arts in Perth and Kinross. Speakers include musicians Pete Clark, Steve Byrne and Kath Campbell, storyteller Jess Smith and Local History Officer Nicola Cowmeadow.  Further information and booking here: http://bit.ly/1Mg6IXj

Monday 23 November 2015 at 6.30pm The Last Man in Europe Oban Phoenix Cinema A talk and readings from the novel in progress The Last Man in Europe by Norman Bissell about the last years in the life of George Orwell on Jura and elsewhere. He will outline Orwell’s love of nature and tell the dramatic story of his near drowning in the Corryvreckan Whirlpool and his desperate struggle to finish ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ on Jura before his health failed him. This will be followed by a showing of the film ‘1984’ starring John Hurt and Richard Burton. http://bit.ly/1LZjVrC

Wednesday 25 November 2015 Scottish Geodiversity Forum Conference at Battleby near Perth . A world-class visitor attraction – Scotland ’s Landscape, fashioned by geology: this Sharing Good Practice event, organised by the Forum and Scottish Natural Heritage, will explore what’s currently on offer, and how the sector might develop and expand. http://scottishgeodiversityforum.org/

Friday 27 November at 7.45 pm Atlantic Islands Centre, Isle of Luing A Talk and Reading by Carla Lamont, author of The Ninth Wave: Love and Food on the Isle of Mull as part of Scottish Book Week, supported by the Scottish Book Trust. Full details at http://on.fb.me/1H6rWpf.

Tuesday 1 December Book launch of Disko Bay by Nancy Campbell Enitharmon Press, London . The poems in Nancy Campbell’s first collection transport the reader to the frozen shores of Greenland and relate the struggle for existence in the harsh polar environment to modern life and traditional ways of subsistence. http://www.nancycampbell.co.uk

Wednesday 27 January at 8pm Pulse Mairi Campbell Tron Theatre Glasgow
Drawing on her combined fluency in Celtic tradition, free improvisation and classical idioms, as well as her personal artistic journey, the award-winning Scottish singer and fiddler/viola player Mairi Campbell performs a new one-woman show that blends live and recorded music with animation, dance, movement and storytelling. http://bit.ly/1k6EIi8

Saturday 5 March 10.30am-4.30pm Geopoetics in the National Galleries of Scotland Collections: Bill Taylor. A guided tour of the Collections in the National Galleries of Scotland , Edinburgh led by artist Bill Taylor, a Geopoetics Council member. A date for your diary – full details to follow in the next Newsletter.

Members’ Books
Thinking of Christmas gifts? Why not choose books written by our members?

Kenneth White Guido’s Map: A European Pilgrimage A new narrative prose book in which Kenneth White moves over spaces and among places, ranging from Ireland to the Balkans via Spain , from Glasgow to Trieste via Bilbao . This and his Ideas of Order at Cape Wrath: a collection of essays on cultural politics, Latitudes & Longitudes: a new collection of poetry, and The Winds of Vancouver which charts his travels in British Columbia and Alaska are available from http://bit.ly/1MQp3ea

James McCarthy A Short Call to Arms, a military memoir can be obtained from mccarthy-james4@sky.com for a modest donation to the Askari Appeal.

Martina Kolb Nietzsche, Freud, Benn, and the Azure Spell of Liguria, University of Toronto Press, about the influence of the Ligurian coastal area of Italy on three seminal German writing modernists – Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Gottfried Benn. Available from http://bit.ly/1icdpSs.

Mavis Gulliver Slate Voices: Cwmorthin & Islands of Netherlorn, a poetry collection set in Scotland ’s slate islands and the slate mines of North Wales with Jan Fortune. Also Cry at Midnight, a children’s adventure story. www.cinnamonpress.com

Christian McEwen Sparks from the Anvil The Smith College Poetry Interviews with 16 poets by the author of World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down http://bit.ly/1Mg9sE6.

Norman Bissell Slate, Sea and Sky Luath Press. A new paperback edition of my poetry collection which contains an Introduction and some new poems as well as photographs by Oscar Marzaroli is out now. A signed and dedicated copy can be obtained from me at this e-mail address. You can also Like my book page on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1OUthHB.


Please join or renew your annual membership (£10/£5 unwaged) by sending your name, postal and e-mail address & a cheque made out to the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics to our Treasurer, David Francis 214 Portobello Road, Portobello EH15 2AU.

To unsubscribe, just send an e-mail to Norman Bissell at normanbissell@btinternet.com.

Please share this Newsletter with others.




29. October 2017 · Comments Off on Geopoetics News July 2015 · Categories: Uncategorised
Geopoetics News July 2015                        
Stravaig Issue 4: Intellectual Nomads
Issue 4 of our online journal Stravaig is now live and contains essays on intellectual nomadism by Kenneth White, Martina Kolb, Bill Stephens and Norman Bissell, and on Rimbaud by Karen Strang and Mike Roman. It also has new poems and images by Gordon Meade, Doug Robertson, Morelle Smith, Alyson Hallett, Andrew McCallum and many more. Many thanks to Nancy Campbell for all her great work editing it and to Steve Pardue for creating it online. Sorry that issue 4 and this Newsletter are late due to illness, but they are well worth reading.
Stravaig Issue 3 is still available at http://www.geopoetics.org.uk/online-journal-stravaig/stravaig-3/.  It has 8 essays and 14 poems on the theme Geopoetics in Practice ranging from Aberlady Bay to Saudi Arabia, from Illinois to Iona.
Upcoming Events
Our SCFG AGM will take place on Saturday 8 August at 12 noon at the Dalriada, 77 the Promenade, Portobello. We would like to see more people taking an active part in the SCfG and will be discussing how best to take it forward e.g. what should we be offering members? Would crowdfunding enable us to pay someone to carry out admin, develop our website, plan and lead activities etc? Contact me if you would like to attend and you will receive an agenda etc.
Living Well on Luing Events at the Atlantic Islands Centre
Thursday 23 July: Seafood cookery & Words and Music night
Friday 24 July Geology Talk and Walk
Saturday 25 July Botany and Poetry Walks 
Thursday 16 July The Oxford launch of The Interpreter’s House No.59 by Nancy Campbell at The Albion Beatnik at 7.30 pm. There’ll be kayak poems and more.
Scottish Geodiversity Forum
A world-class visitor attraction – Scotland’s Landscape, fashioned by geology: Wednesday 25 November 2015 at Battleby near Perth. This Sharing Good Practice event, organised by the Forum and Scottish Natural Heritage, will explore what’s currently on offer, and how the sector might develop and expand. http://scottishgeodiversityforum.org/
To unsubscribe, just send an e-mail to Norman Bissell at normanbissell@btinternet.com.
Please share this Newsletter with others.
23. July 2017 · Comments Off on Expressing the Earth: Geopoetics and George Orwell – Norman Bissell · Categories: Expressing the Earth · Tags: , , , , ,

Expressing the Earth: Geopoetics and George Orwell

Norman Bissell

So, what is Geopoetics? I suppose the simplest answer is: look around you.

It’s about creative people: writers, musicians, storytellers, visual artists, geologists, ethnologists, botanists, ornithologists, geographers, conservationists, researchers and people who care about the future of the planet, coming together to discuss our common ground and to express the Earth in whatever creative ways we wish.

I’d like to thank you all for taking part and welcome you to Argyll on behalf of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics. Particularly those of you who’ve come all the way from Brazil, USA, Switzerland and Italy as well as England, Wales and Scotland.

Geopoetics involves expressing the Earth in a variety of ways – for example, through oral expression, writing, painting, photography, film making, music, geology, geography, other sciences, philosophy, combinations of art forms and of the arts, sciences and thinking. By its very nature it is trans-disciplinary in its approach as a synthesis of ideas and practices, and lends itself to collaborations between artists, scientists and thinkers of many different kinds. That is why our conference programme emphasises our creative responses, and provides space and time for everyone to create new work of all kinds, some of which we hope will subsequently be published in our online journal Stravaig which features essays, poems and artwork on our website www.geopoetics.org.uk and will be made available in other ways.

But what is it we have in common that brings us here?

Geopoetics would suggest it is various things. It is not least a shared concern for the planet, which means putting the Earth at the centre of our experience. It can involve developing a heightened awareness of the world of which we are part and using of all of our senses and knowledge in approaching the world, something that my poem ‘When You Go Out’ tries to express.


When You Go Out

When you go out into the world
try to use all your senses
touch and taste wild thyme
smell hawthorn and kelp
watch herring gulls soar
listen to the sound of the sea
above all open your mind
and who knows what you will find.


So, geopoetics is an approach to the world, a way of being in the world, as well as a world outlook. It seeks to overcome the separation of mind and body and of human beings from the more than human world. It involves learning from others who have attempted to leave ‘the motorway of Western civilisation’, as Kenneth White calls it, to find a new approach to thinking and living, for example, ‘outgoers’ or ‘intellectual nomads’ like Henry Thoreau, Nan Shepherd, Patrick Geddes, Joan Eardley, Alexander von Humboldt, Kenneth White, and many others.

It has led to a network of Geopoetics Centres with a shared project to develop our understanding of geopoetics and apply it in different fields of research and creative work. There are such Centres in Quebec in Canada, different parts of France, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, Chile and New Caledonia. The Scottish Centre for Geopoetics, which was founded on Burns Night in Edinburgh in 1995, has attracted members from England, USA, Morocco, Germany, Poland and Sweden as well as different parts of Scotland. Geopoetics is truly a trans-national movement.

Geopoetics seeks to open up the possibility of radical cultural renewal for us as individuals and for society as a whole. It could be considered a wave-and-wind philosophy and this part of the world is a fruitful and wonderful place to develop it.

On the face of it, George Orwell and geopoetics are strange bedfellows. Orwell was one of the finest political writers of the twentieth century, he attempted to turn political writing into an art, and he well-nigh killed himself writing Nineteen Eighty-Four on the Isle of Jura, which you can see from outside here in Ellenabeich, to warn the world about the dangers of totalitarian dictatorships. Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four have sold over 40 million copies between them and, as you will know, Nineteen Eighty-Four became a best seller again this year with the election of Donald Trump as America’s President.

Orwell was a fascinating, complex, contradictory character who as well as being a politically-driven author, was also a naturalist who yearned for the ‘Golden Country’ of his childhood and tried to become as self-sufficient as possible when living on Jura and before that in the village of Wallington in Hertfordshire.

He was born Eric Arthur Blair in 1903 in India, but was brought up in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. He loved playing outdoors where he exercised the most important attribute any child can have – he was inquisitive about everything he came across.

In the summer of 1930 he tutored some boys in Southwold and took them on long walks in the country. One of them, Richard Peters, says in the book Orwell Remembered, published in 1984:

He was a mine of information on birds, animals, and the heroes of boys’ magazines. Yet he never made us feel that he knew our world better than we knew it ourselves. …

His attitude to animals and birds was rather like his attitude to children. He was at home with them. He seemed to know everything about them and found them amusing and interesting. … He infused interest and adventure into everything we did with him just because of his own interest in it. Walking can be just a means of getting from A to B, but with him it was like a voyage with Jules Verne beneath the ocean. … A walk was a mixture of energy, adventure and matter of fact. The world we felt was just like this. And it would have been absurd not to notice all there was to see. …

Eric and Richard Blair at Canonbury Place by Vernon Richards

‘Noticing all there is to see’ is an important element of geopoetics.

From 1936 onwards Orwell and his wife Eileen rented a small cottage known as The Stores in Wallington in Hertfordshire where he kept goats, geese and chickens round the back. Their first goat was called Muriel and they named their rooster Henry Ford. Their black poodle was called Marx, and Orwell used its name as a kind of political test of visitors to see whether they thought it was named after Marks & Spencer, Karl Marx or Groucho Marx. He also grew vegetables and planted roses and many other cottage garden flowers there.

In an extract from one of his best essays, ‘Some Thoughts on the Common Toad’ published in Tribune in April 1946, Orwell writes,

The pleasures of spring are available to everybody, and cost nothing. Even in the most sordid street the coming of spring will register itself by some sign or other, if it is only a brighter blue between the chimney pots or the vivid green of an elder sprouting on a blitzed site. Indeed it is remarkable how Nature goes on existing unofficially, as it were, in the very heart of London. I have seen a kestrel flying over the Deptford gasworks, and I have heard a first-rate performance by a blackbird in the Euston Road. There must be some hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of birds living inside the four-mile radius, and it is rather a pleasing thought that none of them pays a halfpenny of rent.

As for spring, not even the narrow and gloomy streets round the Bank of England are quite able to exclude it. It comes seeping in everywhere, like one of those new poison gases which pass through all filters.

Orwell went to Jura in May 1946 to get away from London and the treadmill of journalism which made him feel “like a sucked orange”, to bring up his adopted baby son Richard after Eileen died, and to write what became Nineteen Eighty-Four. That first summer he took a break from writing and threw himself into gardening, fishing, digging peat, shooting rabbits (who kept eating his vegetables), and keeping hens, geese and later pigs.

Here are a couple of extracts from my novel I Want to Live just after he arrived at Barnhill on Jura:

Next morning George walked down to the rocks and gazed contentedly at the gently lapping water of the Sound of Jura. The sun was up and the grey-blue sea shimmered in the early morning light. To the east lay the low hills of the mainland and not another house in sight. It was even more beautiful than he had imagined during that last cold winter in the city. Where better to be than on a Hebridean island on a day such as this? This is what he had come for; to be part of all of this, to give himself space in which to think and to write, to make a new life for himself and his son here. It certainly beat the frantic grime of London. Maybe he could borrow or buy a boat from the Fletchers and do some fishing? He went back up to the garden and stripped to the waist revealing his white, scraggy body. In a shed he found a garden fork, a spade and a sieve. Someone must have done some gardening here before. He used the fork to break up the dry, stony soil and started to clear it of weeds. Soon he was sweating and panting for breath. It was back-breaking work and he hadn’t done any real manual labour since Wallington years before. He went into the kitchen to find an old towel to wipe off his sweat. At this rate it would take him most of the week to prepare the ground for sowing. Perhaps by that time the veg. seeds he’d ordered would have arrived.


Barnhill on Jura looking east

Later that first week, spade in hand, George slowly dragged his sledge up a hill. Up on top he dug up peat, breathing heavily and sweating in the hot sun. He took off his shirt, his thin body looking slightly browner than before. He piled the peat up in blocks to dry and was surprised how quickly he could cut it. In not much more than an hour he’d piled up about a hundred blocks. A raven flew overhead. He felt content. He’d come to lose himself in this remote place that he’d fallen in love with. To do the kinds of things that he fondly remembered doing as a boy in Henley-on-Thames, exploring and getting to know the territory, and going fishing. But now he also wanted to see if he could live off the land and become as self-sufficient as possible, taking it all much further than he had at Wallington. Here he had peat for the fire and all the fruits of the sea at his disposal, and even the occasional gift of a deer to top up the meagre rations he was allowed by law. It was a dream he’d had for a long time and his knowledge of nature’s ways should help him to realise it. But he also needed a complete break from any serious writing. He knew what his next book would be, and had written a little of it; he’d drafted its structure years back and here he could make a proper go of it at last. But first he needed to clear his head, to rid himself of all the things that had held him back. Right now he was feeling tired, perhaps he’d overdone it. He headed back and went up to his bedroom and slept for several hours.

Orwell’s Jura diaries faithfully record all of these activities: the Argyll weather, how far on the plants and trees were, the gardening and other practical work he did, the wildlife he came across, and how many fish he and his sister Avril caught.

Even in Nineteen Eighty-Four, that most dystopian of novels with its oppressive atmosphere of a city falling apart and on which flying bombs might drop at any time, there are some fine lyrical passages which vividly depict the English countryside. For example, this passage descripes in Winston Smith’s dream of his mother and baby sister who disappeared when he was young:

Suddenly he was standing on short springy turf, on a summer evening when the slanting rays of the sun gilded the ground. The landscape that he was looking at recurred so often in his dreams that he was never fully certain whether or not he had seen it in the real world. In his waking thoughts he called it the Golden Country. It was an old, rabbit-bitten pasture, with a foot-track wandering across it and a molehill here and there. In the ragged hedge on the opposite side of the field the boughs of the elm trees were swaying very faintly in the breeze, their leaves just stirring in dense masses like women’s hair. Somewhere near at hand, though out of sight, there was a clear, slow-moving stream where dace were swimming in the pools under the willow trees.

Many of us have lost the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feel of our childhood and we desperately want to find them again. The ‘Golden Country’ is the dream of Winston Smith, but it’s also the dream of George Orwell who longed for the lost rural childhood he’d experienced in Edwardian England as Eric Blair. It is also the dream of our earliest experiences of the natural world that we all long for. Winston’s yearning for his lost childhood is referenced later in the book when he and Julia escape the eyes of Big Brother by going into the countryside to make love, away from spying telescreens.

Orwell’s bedroom in Barnhill on Jura

As his health deteriorated from tuberculosis, Orwell thought more and more about his childhood, the repressive prep school he went to, and his love of the countryside. The ‘Golden Country’ represented his dream of what life could be like for everyone. Even when he was dying in a London hospital he sent for his fishing rods from Barnhill since he hoped to fish in Switzerland where he was to recuperate in a sanatorium

When you boil it down, geopoetics is a way of approaching the world with heightened awareness, it’s about being open to what’s around you, using all your senses and knowledge to take it all in, and expressing it creatively. A keen interest in all things and the ability to observe them closely and express them creatively is just as applicable to politics as it is to the bird life, the Atlantic weather systems or the rugged terrain of Jura. Orwell demonstrated that truth in his life and work.

In his essay Why I Write he wrote:

So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information.

There are strong elements of geopoetics in some of Orwell’s work and in his fascination with nature. This final quotation from ‘Some Thoughts on the Common Toad’ provides another splendid example of how insight into natural phenomena and heightened political awareness can illuminate each other.

At any rate, Spring is here, even in London N.1, and they can’t stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could. But luckily they can’t. So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, spring is still spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.

It doesn’t matter where you live, this openness and alertness to nature can enable us us to be more creative and be healthier people. In places like this, the energy that comes from the Atlantic waves and winds can re-ground and re-invigorate the potentially vibrant cultures of the islands and of Scotland as a whole. By attuning our minds to the elements in such places we can renew our lives and our creative work. Over the next 3 days I hope we will all experience this and do just that.

23. July 2017 · Comments Off on “Sweet the Cuckoo’s Sound”: Prof. Michael Russell · Categories: Expressing the Earth · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Sweet the Cuckoo’s Sound” Argyll: Place, People and Neighbours

Prof. Michael Russell, MSP for Argyll & Bute; Minister for UK Negotiation on Scotland’s Place in Europe

Keynote address at the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics ‘Expressing the Earth’ conference, 24th June 2017

The Glenmasan Manuscript, written in 1238, brought to light a much older gem of Scottish/Irish literature, the Lament of Deirdre. Full of imagery of the place and its environment it is a good starting point to consider Argyll as an integral whole and the way in which it relates to its neighbours, then and now.

“It is a great pleasure to be here this morning.

It must be coming on for two years since I first discussed the possibility of this event taking place. I did so on the neighbouring island of Luing with my friend Norrie Bissell, and it is he and my other good friend, Mark Sheridan, among others, who have made it happen.

At that time I was out of Government; released after 8 years of Ministerial office, five of which were as Scotland’s Education Secretary, which followed on two years as Environment Minister and too short a time – only 9 months – as Culture Minister.

I had recently taken up an intriguing and enjoyable position as Professor in Scottish Culture & Governance at Glasgow University and I was looking forward to contributing to a range of events such as this, as well as teaching and writing in the University – all the while continuing to represent the most beautiful, and the most rural and diverse, constituency in the Scottish Parliament: Argyll & Bute.

I was more than aware of Norrie’s championing of Geopoetics over many years and the idea of an event that brought to our shores and doorsteps a consideration of this part of Argyll in a wider, deeper way; a way that connected the land, landscape, environment and culture to the people was (and is) very attractive.

What, of course, I did not know, is that when I agreed then to deliver a keynote, I would be doing so in very changed times and with a very changed role: back in Government and spending every day focused on the threat to Scotland that is presented by a UK Tory Government fixated not on moving forward in understanding, but instead backward in polity.

So what I have to say today will be different from what I might have planned to say even twelve months ago. It may be as much geopolitics as geopoetics – or perhaps an amalgam of the two – although it is driven by my own continuing fascination with and support for, the extraordinary vision of Kenneth White.

Twelve months ago of course, on this very day, we had woken up to the reality of the Brexit referendum decision (or, rather, decisions). A positive intention to stay was declared by every area of Scotland and by Northern Ireland and London, but a narrow decision to leave recorded in other areas and by the UK electorate if taken as a whole.

I was driving that morning to Oban – to catch the ferry to Mull – and it was with a heavier and heavier sense of foreboding that I approached the town. On the boat I found myself holding a surgery of sorts as people approached me to discuss the outcome and what might happen next.

Yet, even then we could not have imagined how much worse things were to get. The triumph of the UKIP Brexiteers was not yet complete; they had still to take over the policy and the party of Government, though that has now happened.

The recent election has merely deepened the crisis.  As a diplomat said to me earlier this week, when the Italian press start to describe the governance of the U.K. as “unstable” you know you have problems!

But I am not going to dwell on that today – or rather I am going to approach it and its impact from a very different angle.

So let me start in a different time and place. A time of greater hope.

In August 2001, at the Edinburgh Book Festival, Kenneth White gave what I still think of as one of the finest lectures I have ever been privileged to hear.

The lecture was sponsored by Consignia, an ill-fated re-branding name for the much better titled ‘Post Office’ which came and went in a mere 15 months (a little lesson in that). They invited every one of the 129 MSPs who had been elected only two years before.

However, I learnt later that only two bothered to turn up – myself and, I believe, Roseanna Cunningham.

It was the other 127 MSPs’ loss.

The Remapping of Scotland booklet by Kenneth White

I shall draw on that lecture – entitled ‘The Re-Mapping of Scotland’ – heavily today. I want to start with an early thought from it.

At the very beginning, White stakes out the intellectual ground on which he stands when he says this:

Scotland at this moment is in a transitional stage – we can probably all agree on that, for a start. At surface level , it’s a question of politics. At a deeper level it’s a question of poetics. I don’t neglect the politics, but Im I am more concerned with the poetics. If you get politics and poetics coming together you can begin to think you’ve got something like a live, lasting, culture.”

And then he starts off on our voyage of discovery with the physical reality of where we stand:

A country,” he says, ” begins with a ground, a geology. When it loses contact with that, it is no longer a country at all. It is just a supermarket, a Disneyland or a madhouse.”

Both remarks are as true today as they were then. We are still in a transitional stage. Though the transition is less hopeful, the destination perhaps less appealing and more problematic.

But let me too start with a ground, with the ground, which is what he calls his ‘first zone’ in the remapping of our country – a task needed more than ever.

I represent a constituency which consists of a large swathe of rural, West Coast Scotland, as well as 23 inhabited islands and hundreds and probably thousands of other pieces of rock and grass surrounded by sea, which are outcroppings of a geology that floats on a plate in constant, though very slow, motion around our planet.

Last October I stood on the border of ‘our’ plate – the Eurasian Plate – where it abuts onto another of the 15 large plates, the North American Plate.

It is a plate, we should not forget, on which we float with the whole of Europe and which, therefore, declares some form of common destiny.

At that particular point in Iceland, however, there is in the process of being made, as the Icelanders say, ‘new earth,’ for the plates are what is called in geology ‘divergent.’ Their boundary is that of the North Atlantic ridge where vulcanism brings to the surface molten lava from deep under the plate.

But at that spot the Icelanders also made something else: a country.

The Icelandic Flag

For in the valley between the plates – where the new earth is being made (though at this spot the motion is presently ‘transformative,’ that is side by side) – a tall flagpole flying the Icelandic flag marks the spot where the ancient Parliament of Iceland met; and where, on the 17th of June 1944, the Republic was proclaimed, bringing an end to the Union of the Crowns with Denmark.

The link between the country and the ground is obvious in Iceland. In Argyll it can be obvious too, if we look for it.

‘Deirdre’s Lament,’ or her ‘Farewell to Alba’ is a work that we know from the 13th century Glenmasan manuscript, though it is undoubtedly earlier in origin. ‘Alba,’ of course, being Kenneth White’s preferred name for the country in which we live, for, as he puts it:

“The word has “an A for a beginning and another A at the end, for an opening. In between you have lb; libra, books.”

Glenmasan is in Cowal, a high glen still difficult to enter. It is here that the manuscript seems to have been written, and it starts with these words:

“Do dech Deardir ar a heise ar crichibh Alban, agus ro chan an Laoidh Inmain tir in tir ud thoir
Alba cona lingantaibh

(Deirdre looked back on the land of Alban, and sung this lay:-

Beloved is that eastern land,
Alba, with its lakes.)”

Deirdre – Scotland’s ‘Helen of Troy’ – is, of course, preparing to leave Alba, and it is the land, the landscape, the environment and the people which she is mourning, but also celebrating.

And here are just a few more of the places she celebrates:

“Glenmasan! High is its wild garlic, fair its branches
I would sleep wakefully
Over the shaggy Invermasan.
Glen Etive! in which I raised my first house,
Delightful were its groves on rising
When the sun struck on Glen Etive.
My delight was Glen Urchay;
It is the straight vale of many ridges.
Joyful were his fellows around Naos
In Glen Urchay.
My delight in every man who belongs to it.
Sweet is the voice of the cuckoo
On the bending tree,
Sweet it is above Glendaruadh.
Beloved is Drayen of the sounding shore!
Beloved is Avich (Dalavich?) of the pure sand.”

I count myself lucky today to be one of those men who ‘belongs’ to Glendaruel, having lived there for the past quarter of a century and having heard the cuckoo there often.

This poem – perhaps the oldest recognisable description of Argyll – is, in every sense, ‘grounded.’ Deirdre’s Argyll is not a supermarket or Disneyland; it is a place that shapes her and us, and is in turn shaped by her and us.

Deirdre had an intimate connection with, thoughts about, experience of and sensation in the landscape and the places. Just as we have, today, in the same places and landscape that have not changed greatly in a thousand years.

The same grounding remains a feature of the aesthetic of many creators in Scotland. We can experience it ourselves in the poetry of Norman MacCaig who draws in the living as well, in poems such as “So Many Summers” and in the poetry of Jim Carruth, a particular contemporary favourite of mine, whose poem ‘The Field’ ends with these two verses:

“He looked at Muirsheil’s dark and blackened hills

Round to the hard won grazing of the Law

And further to the creep of city high rise

He raised one strong arm across his body

Then with the grace of a sower’s wide arc

Scattered his father to the wind”

In any consideration of country and ground we have to include people and their physical and intellectual creations as well as their state of life or death.

And in so doing we move to White’s “second zone”, the zone of history, identity and culture. It is here, of course, that White in his Edinburgh Book Festival lecture was at his most critical. He despairs of the inability to draw the ‘significant lines together’ and wonders if it is possible to re-ground our country and culture, or as he later puts it , to ‘re-found’ it.

His description of the ‘self made nitwit, the smart semi-educated nonentity, moneyed without being mannered’ who inhabits this space perhaps strikes a renewed chord though the intrusive ‘lap top and portable’ are probably replaced now (only a decade and a half on) by the iPhone and Twitter.

But the purpose of lampooning that person and the land he inhabits is not only to make us sensitive to ourselves and our faults. It is also to drive on, by means of contrast, to his His real objective, which is the ‘head zone’ as he describes it,

the zone of philosophy and poetics, the regaining of a significant centre for a culture with a re-grounded educational system, with value-oriented information, with enlightened cultural politics…a place where , in a simile, he envisages ‘more and more people going into bookshops, able at a glance, at a whiff, to make the difference.’

‘A virtuous populace’ wrote Burns – in that much-maligned ‘Cottar’s Saturday Night’ – ‘may rise a while / and stand a wall of fire around their much lov’d isle.’ The same thought, in a different cultural time and clad in different clothing.

White’s aim, in this ‘remapping’ is the clearest thing in his text. It is to ‘refound’ and re-centre our selves within our landscape and our culture. To reconnect us to the holistic nature of existence and landscape and to raise our eyes and minds to its significance.

This ‘remapping of Scotland’ was never going to be easy but the importance of the lecture is in part in its date. White saw the opportunity that a new Parliament and a new spirit of optimism had created. Unfortunately, that opportunity was not completely taken, that new optimism not completely converted in to action.

Perhaps it could have never have been but the potential remained alive. And the good news is that it is still alive. There is still an energy for change in Scotland – an energy of aspiration that is more than material; a politics and public life that is still driven, at least in part, by ideas and principle.

But last June a new threat appeared on the horizon. That threat may not only kill the potential, it might also unleash a process of cultural regression and political isolationism. And it is here that the poetics and the politics meet.

In On the Border, White rightly refuses to take sides between globalism and narrow nationalism.

“In the ongoing debate,” he writes, “between commercially high-powered, multinational globalism on the one hand, and, on the other, localism, geared to identity ideology, narrow nationalism, sectarianism, provincial complacency – geopoetics sides with neither party”

But then he goes on to make a plea for something bigger and smaller than both – the “World”

“….“World” for geopoetics is open world. Open world begins with place, not with simple piety of place (from homely couthiness to spooky animism via racial rootedness), but with knowledge (informed, sentient, intelligent) of place. From the smallest rivulet, via a network of rivers, one arrives at the ocean. A little geology allows one to know that not all the stones on the local beach are necessarily of local origin, that glaciers may have brought them in from elsewhere. Likewise, from a layer of local rock one can move across nations and continents. An informed look at the sky will see not only wind-driven cloud, but the tracks of migratory birds. To all of which must be added the movements of population and language.”

World is wide but rooted. World accepts, indeed welcomes, connectedness but knows place. World has knowledge and arises from knowledge, but knowledge is deep, not shallow or easy. And world is not only out there, but in here – not only outside us but alongside us and within us.

He puts it, of course, better than I can.:

A world is a place, a space that one cultivates. And in order to be up to that world-cultivation, one has to cultivate one’s self.”

When I say ‘cultural regression’ I mean the threat from the process of Brexit that we will have our Scottish voice and our distinctive choices drowned out.

That would be the antithesis of deep knowledge of place. And our political expression may be blunted by the desire of the current UK Government to follow the path of disconnectedness it has chosen no matter the views of the divergent nations of these islands for whom connection is more and more important.

And when I say ‘political isolationism’ I mean the process of turning away from the mainstream of European life which is more than institutions but which is based – at its best – on a vision of peace and prosperity which has secured both those things for the lucky inhabitants of this continent for the past fifty years.

And more. It is turning away from a process that has widened and deepened our sense of who we are and who we can become through common citizenship with France five centuries years ago, through the experience of the peddler in mitel Europa, so prevalent that the word to describe him in high German is Scot. It is turning away from who we are and who we can become through the writings of David Hume in French (because French was his language too) through the vision of the Enlightenment, through the romanticism of MacPherson’s Ossian (whose poems were in Napoleon’s tent on the field of Waterloo) through the founder of the historic novel who was read from Waverley to Warsaw, through, indeed, White at the Sorbonne…

In other words, turning away from a process that has built (at last) political progress on the growing together of cultural roots and which can only be weakened if we take away that superstructure.

I was privileged to hear President Obama, when he spoke in Edinburgh last month, talking of the best moment to be born on this planet – now.

Now, because it is, or could be, a golden age in which the wealth of the world was turned to supporting all those who are citizens of it and in which technological progress could ensure equity no matter where one lives.

A golden age that could be – but which is not, yet. And voices that support that type of world are becoming harder to hear amidst the cacophony of fake news and propaganda. Of shallow knowledge.

But no matter one’s view of that world, putting one’s faith in politics to change these situations is a necessary step. It is the means, still, for securing change.

But recognising the deeper connectedness of humanity, not just one to one, not just individual to society, but connectedness to the ‘World’ in White’s definition is equally important. So geopoetics – as the means to ensure deep knowledge, place and connectedness – stands alongside geopolitics as a means of securing the future …the ‘world’ which is still there to be won.

Sometimes this type of discussion seems pointless. No matter how much we, in this small hall – on the edge of Scotland, which is on the edge of Europe and in a state (in every sense of that word) of insecurity – believe in thought, creativity and progress, we may often feel that we are only whistling in a cold wind.

But we are not.  We are holding a candle in the darkness, keen to pass light to others to drive away fear.

In our cultural traditions – often diverse but often with common roots – there are many examples of such actions, undertaken symbolically to encourage continued hope. In the Christian Easter vigil, for example, as dusk falls, a blazing bonfire is lit outside the church from which a tiny candle flame is kindled and then carried into the heart of the community. I stood on an Argyll hillside and had a candle in my hand re-lit by this symbolic light coming into the world at just such a vigil only a couple of months ago.

And there will be light in our lives, light in our minds, if, to quote again Kenneth White at the commencement of his Edinburgh lecture we “get politics and poetics coming together” for then we “can begin to think we’ve got something like a live, lasting, culture.

A live, lasting culture – a culture to rise above the declining culture that would be the poisoned fruit of Brexit.

I live with the reality of political change every day. I see at very close quarters the existential threat – and I use those words carefully but truthfully – that Brexit is. It is about much more than institutions and much more than contemporary political alliances. It is about how we see ourselves, how we view our world and whether we want ourselves and our neighbours to be grounded, to be re-founded, to be connected; or to be cast adrift and looking only inwards.

Here, in Argyll, we have much around us that can remind us of that choice. And remind us that it is the ground beneath us, and the signs of continued presence all around us, that give us the best lessons in ensuring that we join in, rather than walk away.

Just up the road from here there is an ancient site – Kilmartin Glen – where no doubt the questions of connection or isolation were in the minds and rituals of inhabitants long before we were ever plagued by the same thoughts.

Standing Stones Kilmartin Glen

Kilmartin is a good place for me to conclude these thoughts, starting as I did in Glenmasan – a span across my whole constituency.

My Glasgow University colleague Alan Riach writes this of his experience of Kilmartin, in words which could be well described as ‘grounded’ – in Argyll, a distillation of the goepoetic world view:

“I never saw the intricate connections with quite this sunny clarity before, such intimate revealing of relations in brilliance, and at such an hour: the West and Islands open to the sea and Ireland, always seemed to be alive with colour: bright blue waters, emeralds and snow; but shapes and movement, glacial striations, ox-bow lakes, tidal rivers, hill-tops making patterns to each other – all connect in vision as the art of men and women finds its laws in natural reciprocation: raindrops in a quiet pool form expanding spirals on the bending plane: an ancient brooch, the lunulae – silver, gold: water, sunlight, eyes to see the clearness of design.

And this takes place in mind, imagination: across 10,000 years, while now outside the car my father drives, the rain drives down on grass and bracken, heather rocks and hills and lochs and lochans, midges and elusive little fish. The forestry have camouflaged the earth’s wet dark antiquity; the road between Kilmartin and the ferry just approaching Oban is impatient, twisty, a hard fast exit through this valley of old ghosts. And yet the vision stays perception, the clarity of sunlight’s careful disposition, in this undifferentiated time.”

An ‘undifferentiated time’: a time of continuity and connection. A time grounded in the world, conscious of place and knowing one’s self. A confidence even during transition, even during that transition which Kenneth White imagined taking place in 2001 and which continues under darker skies.

“Fare forward, voyager” instructed T.S. Eliot, echoing that earlier injunction from Walt Whitman: “Now Voyager, Sail Forth to seek and find

Sail forward. Sail Forward because we have no alternative but to keep going, to travel with hope, but always to apply intelligence, creativity, poetry and even politics to where we are, where we are traveling through and to where we want to get.

And always to be connected. To hear the sweet sound of the cuckoo in Glendaruel and to know that it is one of the songs that links – and has long linked – Argyll, and us in Argyll, to Argyll and us and to the deep and wide, if not yet grounded, world.”

23. November 2014 · Comments Off on Geopoetics News November 2014 · Categories: Uncategorised

Stravaig Issue 4: Intellectual Nomads
Submissions of essays, poems and images for Stravaig Issue 4 on the theme of Intellectual Nomads are invited by Monday 12 January 2015 to Nancy Campbell at Nancy Campbell nancy@nancycampbell.co.uk and Norman Bissell at normanbissell@btinternet.com. We would like to express our thanks to Elizabeth Rimmer, who gave such sterling service as both Stravaig editor and our secretary, who has had to withdraw for health reasons from her work for the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics.

Stravaig Issue 3 is still available online at http://www.geopoetics.org.uk/online-journal-stravaig/stravaig-3/. It has 8 essays and 14 poems on the theme Geopoetics in Practice ranging from Aberlady Bay to Saudi Arabia, from Illinois to Iona. If you like the journal and want it to continue please join us: £10/£5 unwaged: see how under Membership below.

Upcoming Events
Writing for Life Day Saturday 6 December 2014
Award-winning author Mandy Haggith will lead an Isle of Luing Community Trust Writing Workshop at 10.30 am-12.30 pm at Cullipool Hall on the Isle of Luing on Saturday 6 December 2014. She will be joined in an evening performance at 7.30 pm by music from Kirsty MacLachlan and Fiona Cruickshanks and other writers from the workshop. To book your place, £8 (under 16s £4) for the day, £4 (under 16s free) for the evening only, contact me at 01852 314322, normanbissell@btinternet.com. Let me know if you will need accommodation. Ferries run every half hour until 10.30 pm.

Sharpening your writing skills is useful, whether you want to write a blog, send someone a persuasive letter, win a poetry competition or post something that goes viral on Facebook or Twitter. This friendly and relaxed workshop will explore how to use close observation of the world to get the words flowing and how to chip away the dross and polish your writing. It will show that sparkling text is something that we all can create, by expressing ourselves as we are and by borrowing and taking inspiration from other writers. If the weather is good it will include a short walk.

Mandy Haggith is a writer based in Assynt, in the northwest Highlands, whose publications include two volumes of poetry, an anthology of tree poems, a non-fiction book about paper and two novels, one of which, a historical novel called The Last Bear, won the Robin Jenkins Literary Award. She has turned her writing skills to a wide range of uses, from blogging for archaeologists to writing funding applications for environmental organisations. Her interests include forests, rocks, history, sailing and bears. Blog: http://cybercrofter.blogspot.co.uk/.

Nancy Campbell Seven Words for Winter: Arctic Poems
Monday 17 November 7pm at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
In this free reading Nancy Campbell will evoke the atmosphere of ‘the most northern museum in the world’ on the remote island of Upernavik in Greenland. These poems describe the disappearing Arctic language and environment and retell the colourful myths of the Inuit coastal community. The evening will open with readings of new work from writers who participated in the Ice and the Imagination workshop. Numbers are limited so booking is advised for both these events. Please contact The Lit & Phil Tel: 0191 232 0192 Email: library@litandphil.org.uk

Alyson Hallett
Saturday 15 November. 2pm–4pm Poetry Workshop tickets £10.
4.30pm – 5.30pm Poetry Reading with David Woolley, tickets £5. Both at Bosco Books, Looe, Cornwall www.looeliteraryfestival.co.uk

Geraldine Green
Sunday 16 November ‘Living Words’ 2-5pm Creative Writing Workshop Swarthmoor Hall
Saturday 22 November Write to Roam creative writing workshop at Jane’s farm near Kirkby Lonsdale 10.30am-4.30pm £30 incl. refreshments – all welcome!

Scottish Geodiversity Forum
The Write Right Conference Saturday 22 November at 09:30–16:00 at the School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh.
This conference is for anyone interested in writing about geodiversity. It will encourage sharing of experiences, inspire new insights and work towards top-quality writing that informs, interprets and inspires. It will create and publish best practice guidance and appropriate examples to aid anyone writing about Scotland’s geodiversity in the future.
Free, but places are limited – advance booking essential. https://www.facebook.com/events/298740080320794/

Susan Richardson
Sunday 30th November 2014, time tbc – poetry performance as part of residency with the Marine Conservation Society, the Hay Festival Winter Weekend, Hay-on-Wye.

Looking for Christmas presents for family, friends and yourself? Here are some recommendations:

Mavis Gulliver has two books out:
Slate Voices: Cwmorthin & Islands of Netherlorn, a new poetry collection about Scotland’s slate islands and the slate mines of North Wales with Jan Fortune, and Cry at Midnight, a children’s adventure story. www.cinnamonpresss.com

Tessa Ransford Made in Edinburgh, Luath Press, is a collection of poems inspired by Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park in Edinburgh enhanced by photographs by Michael Knowles. http://www.luath.co.uk/made-in-edinburgh.html

Kenneth White Ideas of Order at Cape Wrath: a collection of essays on cultural politics, Latitudes & Longitude: a new collection of poetry, and The Winds of Vancouver which charts his travels in British Columbia and Alaska, from the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies at Aberdeen University RIISS at: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/riiss/publications.shtml.
News about plans for the publication of his Collected Works can be obtained from Professor Cairns Craig, cairns.craig@abdn.ac.uk. For further information on White’s work, with commentaries and criticism in English and in French: his bilingual site is at http://www.kennethwhite.org/accueil/index.php.

James McCarthy The Diplomat of Kashgar: A Very Special Agent – Sir George Macartney Proverse Publishing, joint winner of the Proverse International Prize and From the Cree to California, J&B PrintLtd. http://www.waterstones.com

Martina Kolb Nietzsche, Freud, Benn, and the Azure Spell of Liguria, University of Toronto Press, about the influence of the Ligurian coastal area of Italy on three seminal German-writing modernists – Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Gottfried Benn from http://www.abebooks.co.uk/book-search/author/MARTINA-KOLB?cm_sp=brcr-_-bdp-_-author.

Gerrie Fellows The Body in Space (Shearsman), which is concerned with the living presence of place, in particular the landscapes of Scotland and what is written over them by people and history.

Christian McEwen The Tortoise Diaries: Daily Meditations on Creativity and Slowing Down. Just out: a mini (4″x5″) treasure-house of poems and quotations based on the twelve chapters of Christian McEwen’s 2011 book World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down. http://www.bauhanpublishing.com/tortoise-diaries/

Dark Mountain Issue 6 The Rising of the Waters book launch Wednesday 3 December 2014 at 6.45 pm at Free Word Centre, London. Book at https://freewordcentre.com

Our SCFG AGM has been postponed until Spring 2015. Further details to follow next year. For more information, please contact Norman Bissell at normanbissell@btinternet.com.

Please join or renew your annual membership (£10/£5 unwaged) by sending a completed application form from our website & cheque made out to the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics to our Treasurer, David Francis 214 Portobello Road, Portobello EH15 2AU. You can also pay online by PayPal at http://www.geopoetics.org.uk/online-store/.
This Newsletter can also be read on our website. Please subscribe there to receive future Geopoetics Newsletters direct.

To unsubscribe, just send an e-mail to Norman Bissell at normanbissell@btinternet.com.

Please share this Newsletter with others.

12. June 2014 · Comments Off on Geopoetics News May 2014: Stravaig Issue 3 · Categories: Uncategorised

Stravaig Issue 3 is now online at http://www.geopoetics.org.uk/online-journal-stravaig/stravaig-3/. It’s bigger and better than ever with 8 essays and 14 poems on the theme Geopoetics in Practice ranging from Aberlady Bay to Saudi Arabia, from Illinois to Iona. Many thanks to Steve Pardue and all the contributors for making it such a fine issue. We were going to charge non-members for it but have decided on this occasion to make it free to all again. If you like the journal and want it to continue please join us: £10/£5 unwaged: see how under Membership below.
Submissions for Stravaig Issue 4, especially images to go with essays and poems, on the theme of Intellectual Nomads are invited by 1 October 2014 to Elizabeth Rimmer at burnedthumb@gmail.com and Norman Bissell at normanbissell@btinternet.com.

International Geopoetics Conference, Paris 12-13 June 2014
L’Archipel, the co-ordinating body of international geopoetics groups is organising an international conference on the theme of The Town and Geopoetics at the Centre culturel canadien, at 5, rue de Constantine, Paris 7e on 12-13 June 2014. If you would like to take part and wish more information, contact Rachel Bouvet at bouvet.rachel@uqam.ca or Norman Bissell at the above e-mail address.

Kenneth White Books
Three books by Kenneth White Ideas of Order at Cape Wrath: a collection of essays on cultural politics, Latitudes & Longitude: a new collection of poetry, and The Winds of Vancouver which charts his travels in British Columbia and Alaska are still available from the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies at Aberdeen University RIISS at: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/riiss/publications.shtml.
Further information about plans for the publication of his Collected Works can be obtained from Professor Cairns Craig, cairns.craig@abdn.ac.uk. For fuller information on White’s work, with commentaries and criticism both in English and in French, see his bilingual site: http://www.kennethwhite.org/accueil/index.php.

Tessa Ransford’s new book – Made in Edinburgh, Luath Press, is a collection of poems inspired by Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park in Edinburgh enhanced by photographs by Michael Knowles. http://www.wisdomfield.com/

James McCarthy’s The Diplomat of Kashgar: A Very Special Agent – Sir George Macartney to be published by Proverse Publishing is the joint winner of the Proverse International Prize.

Martina Kolb’s Nietzsche, Freud, Benn, and the Azure Spell of Liguria, University of Toronto Press, about the influence of the Ligurian coastal area of Italy on three seminal German-writing modernists – Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Gottfried Benn – is still available from http://www.abebooks.co.uk/book-search/author/MARTINA-KOLB?cm_sp=brcr-_-bdp-_-author.

Gerrie Fellows has just launched her fourth collection, The Body in Space (Shearsman), which is concerned with the living presence of place, in particular the landscapes of Scotland and what is written over them by history. The poems bring together people and places – family relationships enacted through webs of intimacy or distance, the dead remembered in interleaved images of art and medicine.

Members’ Events

Nancy Campbell

Vantar/Missing Exhibition of new work by visual and performing artist in residence 2013-2014 Nancy Campbell at Lady Margaret Hall, Norham Gardens Oxford OX2 6QA from 6-17 May. www.nancycampbell.co.uk

Alyson Hallett
Alyson will be reading from her new poetry collection Suddenly Everything with Victoria Field at the Charles Causley Festival on Friday 13 June at 4.00pm in the Launceston Guildhall Tickets: £4. More details at: www.charlescausleyfestival.co.uk.

Mavis Gulliver
Mavis Gulliver & Jan Fortune launch their new poetry collection Slate Voices: Cwmorthin & Islands of Netherlorn:
Monday May 19th The Clapton Laundry, London
Wednesday 21 May 7 pm Hen Bost, Bleanau Ffestiniog
Thursday 22 May 6 for 6.30 pm Penrallt Books & Gallery, Powys
Friday 23 May 7 pm Palas Print Bookshop, 170 High St, Bangor
Saturday 14 June 7.30 pm Poetry, slides, songs & refreshments Cullipool Hall, Isle of Luing
Sunday 15 June 11 am poetry workshop and 3 pm poetry safari, Cullipool, Isle of Luing
Tuesday 17 June 7pm Seil Island Hall 7.30pm
Thursday 19 June 11am & 2.30pm Poetry Walks on Seil and Easdale
Further details: http://bit.ly/1kMmw6K.

Richard Meyers: PICNIC for RICH: Remembering Richard at Islington Ecology Centre 191 Drayton Park London N5 1PH on Saturday 26 July, 2014.
Richard was a self-taught naturalist who was instrumental in initiating and managing for periods the wild part of Alexandra Park and Railway Fields in Haringey and Gillespie Park with its Ecology Centre in Islington. He contributed much to so many through conducted walks, his vast knowledge and enthusiasm for the flora and fauna of our urban world, and awareness of how people can be in this world. He worked with Gordon Peters to develop a geopoetics network in southern England and ably led some of our walks in the area. He died last October and his life will be celebrated at this event.
11 am Poems by Richard Meyers + readings and hints on living with the natural world in the city from Ruth Meyers and Gordon Peters.
12.30 pm Lunch inside or picnic outside in the Park (£5 per head).

Christian McEwen: Summer Isles Retreat on Tanera Mor 30 August – 6 September 2014 A Week in Paradise of art making, writing, poetry and reflection. Full details and booking: http://www.wildtiles.co.uk/world_enough_and_time.php.

Susan Richardson: Writing Root & Claw 17-19 October 2014
A Weekend Workshop with Susan Richardson & Em Strang in the Haybergill Centre, Cumbria. A stimulating weekend of writing and discussion around ecological themes. Further details at http://bit.ly/1mCNgZK.

Atlantic Islands Writing Day and Geopoetics AGM 18-19 October 2014
Mandy Haggith will lead a writing workshop & evening performance on the Isle of Luing on Saturday 18 October 2014.

Our SCFG AGM will take place on the Isle of Luing on Sunday 19 October 2014 at 12 noon. The venue will be the Atlantic Islands Centre if it has opened by then or Cullipool Hall if not.
If you would like to come to these events please contact Norman Bissell at normanbissell@btinternet.com for more information.

Other Events

Mary Morrison Exhibition Fonn – “A song of land, held in mind” 10 May -24 June An Lanntair Gallery, Stornoway, Lewis.

The gaelic word Fonn has various definitions relating to ‘land, music, state of mind, longing’. Writer Jay Griffiths describes the rich meanings of the word as suggesting, ‘a song of land, held in mind’ which echo the lines of enquiry in Mary’s practice. Mary Morrison’s work is largely informed by the Atlantic archipelago.

Please join or renew your annual membership (£10/£5 unwaged) by sending a completed application form from our website and cheque made out to the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics to Elizabeth Rimmer 18 North Street, Cambuskenneth, Stirling FK9 5NB. You can also pay online by PayPal at http://www.geopoetics.org.uk/online-store/.

This Newsletter can also be read on our website. Please subscribe there to receive future Geopoetics Newsletters direct.

To unsubscribe, just send an e-mail to Norman Bissell at normanbissell@btinternet.com.

Please share this Newsletter with others.

22. October 2013 · Comments Off on Geopoetics News October 2013 · Categories: Uncategorised
Stravaig: Call for Submissions
Issue 3 of Stravaig will be published in April 2014. Submissions – poetry, prose, essays, artwork – on the theme of geopoetics in practice should be sent to burnedthumb@gmail.com, cc to Norman Bissell normanbissell@btinternet.com by 1st December 2013.
Images to accompany essays and poems are particularly welcome. We would like this to be a bumper issue since free access to the journal will only be available to members. Extracts will be available on our website but the full issue will cost £5 to non-members. Stravaig#2 can be read here:http://www.geopoetics.org.uk/online-journal-stravaig/stravaig-issue-2/
The Film We Are Northern Lights vividly reveals our intimate relationship with the earth that is Scotland in all its wonderful diversity of people and place. Watching it is an immensely uplifting and inspiring glass half-full experience that makes you feel proud of who we are and can be. If you haven’t seen it in any of its previous 200 screenings you can now watch it online here: http://muvi.es/w3598/202995.
Please vote for it for the BAFTA Scotland Audience Award. Voting is underway and ends on Tuesday 29 October. It’s a very close contest and every vote counts. It’s not every day 121 co-directors (including me) get a chance to win a BAFTA! Vote here: http://www.cineworld.co.uk/baftascotland. It only takes a moment.
An Aberlady Lunch and Stravaig on Saturday 23 November 2013
Gather for lunch at 12 noon at the Old Aberlady Inn and enjoy an informal discussion about geopoetics and its relationship to communities and networks of individuals. Join us for a guided walk at 2pm round Aberlady Bay Local Nature Reserve in the company of birder Bill Eddie and other informed naturalists. Thousands of Pink-footed Geese and other wildlife are to be seen. RSVP to me if you’re coming.
Kenneth White Books
The Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies at Aberdeen University has published three new works by Kenneth White. Ideas of Order at Cape Wrath, a collection of essays on cultural politics, Latitudes & Longitudes, a new collection of poetry, and The Winds of Vancouver which charts his travels in British Columbia and Alaska. They can be obtained from the RIISS at: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/riiss/publications.shtml
Many of his works, including his introduction to Geopoetics Le Plateau de l’albatros have appeared only in French, but all of them will now be made available in English in a new Collected Works to be published by the RIISS. Each volume will have a new introduction by the author. Further information can be obtained from Professor Cairns Craig, cairns.craig@abdn.ac.uk.
Nietzsche, Freud, Benn, and the Azure Spell of Liguria by member Martina Kolb, University of Toronto Press shows how this coastal area of Italy influenced  three seminal German-writing modernists – Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Gottfried Benn – whose encounters with Ligurian lands and seas led to an innovative geopoetic fusion of word and world. It is available from http://www.abebooks.co.uk/book-search/author/MARTINA-KOLB?cm_sp=brcr-_-bdp-_-author.
I was pleased to welcome Martina to Luing this summer and to have interesting geopoetics conversations and walks with her and Christian McEwen.
Christian McEwen: Summer Isles Retreat on Tanera Mor 30 August – 6 September 2014 A Week in Paradise of art making, writing, poetry and reflection. Full details and booking: http://www.wildtiles.co.uk/world_enough_and_time.php.  
Working the Tweed Project Room Exhibition at Harestanes Countryside Visitor Centre, Ancrum, Jedburgh TD8 6UQ until 31 October. Open Every Day 10am – 5pm. Free. A collaboration between artists and river specialists for the Year of Natural Scotland 2013 including member Claire Pencak. See www.workingthetweed.co.uk  
Please join or renew your annual membership (£10/£5 unwaged) by sending a completed application form from our website and cheque made out to the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics to Elizabeth Rimmer 18 North Street, Cambuskenneth, Stirling FK9 5NB. You can also pay online by PayPal at http://www.geopoetics.org.uk/online-store/.
This Newsletter can also be read on our website. Please subscribe there to receive future Geopoetics Newsletters direct.
To unsubscribe, just send me an e-mail.  Please share this Newsletter with others.
Best wishes
Norman Bissell
18. June 2013 · Comments Off on Geopoetics News – 17 June 2013 · Categories: Uncategorised

Greetings to all new subscribers and members. Here’s the latest news about our forthcoming events and resources.

On Friday 28 June at 6.30 pm at the Scottish Poetry Library Christian McEwen will give a reading and lead a discussion on Creativity and Slowing Down.

Her World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, was first published in September 2011, and has already gone into its fourth printing. Carla Carlisle: “Her prose is poetry, as clear as snow melt. If you think you’re too busy to read this book, this is the book for you.” The American poet Edward Hirsch described it as “a quiet feast, a daydreamer’s manual… which teaches us to slow down and see the world anew.”
Book £7/£5 concessions & SPL friends at www.cmcewen.eventbrite.co.uk/# or tel. 0131 557 2876.

More »

02. May 2013 · Comments Off on As I Roved Out: a folk musician and geopoetics, a talk by David Francis · Categories: music


This talk is in nine short sections and my hope is that each will illuminate the other in some way and that together they might give an indication of how geopoetics might link with my artistic practice as a musician, songwriter and advocate of what have come to be known as the traditional arts.

I’ve always loved this from Paolo Freire, the great Brazilian philosopher of education, who championed the cause of critical pedagogy and education as the practice of freedom, of de-colonisation of the mind as a first stage to liberation of the individual. Freire was the inspiration and guiding light of the Adult Learning Project here in Edinburgh.  Freire said ‘It is the ontological vocation of humankind to become more fully human.’

A key feature of human existence is the connection, desired and actual, to something outside and beyond our own individual, corporeal existence.  ‘We are the cosmos made conscious,’ as Brian Cox put it recently (and on prime time telly too). For me, human consciousness is part of a continuum with a wider reality – the human extends into nature, is in relationship with it and is not separate from it.

The desire for connection has a corollary, the desire for unity.  Scientist David Bohm expresses it well when he says we wish ‘to find in the reality in which [we live] a certain oneness and totality, or wholeness, constituting a kind of harmony that is felt to be beautiful’; as does Kenneth White (2001) with his concept of the Beautiful Thing: ‘contact between subject and object in a context of non-separation.  What emerges from that contact is the Beautiful Thing’, the interpenetration of the body-mind and the cosmos, and not just the starry void at that, but a universal field transcending the seeming division between matter, psyche and spirit, what John MacMurray called ‘the infinite ground of all finite phenomena.’


What do we mean by Geo-poetics?  Kenneth White, paraphrase 1.

Just as each human culture has had a principal motif and a poetics at its centre – be it myth, religion, metaphysics or history – the context today calls for a central motif and a new poetics for a new world-culture, a deep-going, out-looking movement leading to an open and freely evolving world.

That motif, that radiant centre which can reach out in an infinite number of ways to things related or dependent, is the Earth on which we try to live.  The new poetics is concerned with a relationship to the Earth, presence in the world and the cosmos, and the opening of a new world.

Poetics – the nous poetikos – applies not only to poetry as a literary form, but also to art and music, and can be extended into science and social practice.  Art needs that poetic intelligence, that active intellect, to form a new discourse, a logos, behind art.

Geopoetics is the means to break into a larger space, and to illuminate that penetration.  This, for me, is the telling phrase.

Culture, in the individual context, implies a conception of the human being.  It is the way human beings conceive of, work at, and direct themselves.

The geopoetic conception is ‘poetic inhabitant of the Earth’.

Culture (cultivation) implies work and a work-field.  The root of all culture is the relationship between the human mind and the Earth.


We are poetic inhabitants of the Earth, our immediate, grounded connection to the cosmos. Norman McCaig once described the senses as ‘the five ports of knowledge, into which come many cargoes’ – and, he said, ‘we should unship the lot.’

Not long ago I was flying over Baffin Island, and looking out the window this is what I wrote:

A few minutes ago there were mountain tops, hollows filled with the whitest snow.  The sky is deep blue, small clouds suspended below us.  In one of the hollows was a crescent of water, a perfect crescent, the water turquoise.  Snow spirals across the land like the Crab Nebula, dense clouds of stars in space.  No two shapes the same, order and chaos at one and the same time.  The thought rises – cosmic events, the elements of the cosmos replicated at every level, stars, snow on the tundra, snow-flakes, atoms.  They say quantum events are uncaused.  Maybe the universe itself is a quantum event, random, uncaused, beautiful, chaotic, deeply ordered.  Earlier we passed over the Davis Strait, ice floes and water reflecting a golden sun.  Not a hint of symmetry, but a glimpse of… something.


Standing at the corner of Linlithgow Palace looking out and over, a meditation, my mind moving across time.

On the ridge in the distance a phone-mast.

On the loch two fishermen in a fibre-glass boat.

The parkland round the loch, recently laid out, mowed, planted with young trees.  Over there a Victorian lodge in its grounds.

The farmland shaped in the last three hundred years or so, corn, mature trees.

The 500 year old palace.  The loch, probably formed as the ice melted.

Rooks and gulls.

I was meditating on all of these when a blast of wind came up from the loch and, like a Zen master striking a questioning novice, hit me full on the face.  The wind – what could be more ancient?  Bringing me right back to the here and now!


For all I think of myself as a folk musician, I take pleasure in the Great American Song Book, and not just for the tunes, the chords, the often witty lyrics, or the opportunity it offers for improvisation and thus some of the 20th century’s greatest music.   It’s also that I can occasionally find what seems to be a critique of the way we live, that I can project on to the otherwise oblivious lyricist’s work a concern or a preoccupation of my own.  There will be a line or an image that hints at something beyond the stock-in-trade of love relationships, something going beyond sentiment to, let’s call it sensation.

One example would be Rodgers and Hart’s Little girl blue, where Nina Simone sings with ineffable sadness ‘All that you can ever count on are the rain drops’ – a banality at first sight.  Sure, the song itself is sentimental.  How many times in these old show tunes have ‘rain drops’ been a component of slush?   With its ironic Christmas carol counterpoint, and its crowd-pleasing pay-off line (‘why won’t somebody send a tender blue boy to cheer up little girl blue’), the song is redeemed by a beautiful melody, and in Simone’s version by the sympathy in her voice, and an edge glinting through the smoky softness, a determination not to be defeated.

It may be that it’s the seriousness and portent of Simone’s voice and delivery that allows me to give the song, or at least that one line, more weight than it really wants to bear.  Yet I fancy that it’s possible to propose that the song could be saying that, at a difficult time, when human relationships seem to have let you down, the only solace is to turn up your face to the sky and rely only on the sensation of natural things as a guide to what is real.  The human world, the world of culture, is not to be relied on.  Only in nature will we find truth.

Up until recently, and even now, in some powerful strands of Western thought, turning to nature, counting only on the rain drops if you like, might be seen as unwise counsel indeed.  Nature is not to be trusted.  It is to be subjected to human will and brought to heel.  But it might be that in these times, trusting to nature is the only chance we’ve got.   In fact we have to go beyond trust, and start seeing ourselves again as indivisible from nature.  How to begin?  By opening our senses to what nature is, to the reality of the world.   And any of us who lay claim to the term ‘artist’ have an urgent duty to explore that contact and express it.  We have to become naturalists, not with a safari suit, a sample jar, and a magnifying glass, but with the creative tools at our disposal, in order to encourage others to re-examine their relationship with nature.

Here’s an example of writing that’s a long way from Lorenz Hart’s world, the second stanza of Kenneth White’s Ludaig Jetty.

now here at Ludaig jetty
there is only
the wind and the light
the cry of a peewit
and the lip-lip-lipping
of grey water on white sand

Camille Pissarro, the painter, said: ‘You have to have sensations in order to have ideas.’


Kenneth White: Paraphrase 2.

A local context, for example a country like Scotland, is a microcosm, or a bio-region, which begins with a ground, a geology – the archaic ground.  Contact with and consciousness of that ground – thinking-in-the-territory – is fundamental for a reconstitution of the full mind, for the renewal of culture.

The question of and obsession with local, regional, national identity arises when a field of energy, deriving from contact with a ground, is lost.  There is no point in talking about roots unless you also talk about ground.   However, once you have regained a significant centre, you can map out the rest, re-set the co-ordinates after wide-ranging reconnaissance has opened up new perspectives, delineated new space.  By opening out we do not lose roots and identity, but extend and enlarge them, recovering scope and energies.

Geopoetics is out to speak, play, or graph the ground-tone (‘the pure music of the landscape which announces nothing’) which can be heard all over the Earth, to get on to its wavelength.  Geopoetics aims at a new mental geography and a new language of communication.  The geopoetician goes for direct perception moving up, via description, into graphic thought, a language of earth and sea dynamics; as writer tracks and traces, practises writing as itinerary and as cartography, out to delineate new space, thereby enlarging mental categories and increasing the sense of world.   Writing is a power, a fundamental activity, and that activity is linked to the phenomena of nature.  The line made by a mountain-range or a sea-tide, and a line of writing are analogous, in terms of the forces at work which have brought about these similar forms.

(Compare this from poet Robert Bringhurst: ‘Reading, like speech, is an ancient, preliterate craft.  We read the tracks and scat of the animals…We read the horns of sheep, the teeth of horses.  We read the weights and measures of the wind, the flight of birds, the surface of the sea, snow, fossils, broken rocks, the growth of shrubs and trees and lichens…This is a serious kind of reading, and it antedates all but the earliest, most involuntary form of writing, which is the leaving of prints and traces, the making of tracks.’)

This writing works on a threefold process of eros (energy in movement), logos (gathering together what’s there, finding adequate language) and cosmos (the composition of unities).  What counts in a poet is what he gets back to, and what he goes out to.  Between these poles is generated a complex field.


People in Scotland today are born into a cultural ecology in which the stories that were told, songs that were sung, music that was played and dances that were danced find contexts where they are still told, sung, danced and played.  Those contexts may have altered and look different to those in which the original material was made and shared, but they still have meaning for many today, although for many more they are hidden and obscure.

You may have been fortunate enough to have been born into a family or a community where the traditional arts are valued and practised, where the benefits of sharing them in fellowship and conviviality are known; where a deep connectedness to the social life and world-view of our forebears is felt as a shared identity with the dead and the living.

You may not have been born into such a family or community, but nonetheless feel the resonances.  You want to find out more.  You may not have been born into such a family or community and are glad of it, seeing in those traditional arts an unwelcome reminder of a past you are trying to forget as you make your way in a globalised world of modernity and progress.  You might even be a bit embarrassed by it.  You may not have been born into such a family or community, know nothing of any traditional culture, and feel no resonances from it.


From Alexander Smith, ‘A summer in Skye’:

“There was a huge dresser near the small dusty window; in a dark corner stood a great cupboard in which crockery was stowed away.  The walls and rafters were black with peat smoke.  Dogs were continually sleeping on the floor with their heads resting on their outstretched paws.  The door was almost continually open, for by the door light mainly entered.

“When Peter came in with his violin the kitchen was cleared after nightfall; the forms were taken away, candles stuck into the battered tin sconces, the dogs unceremoniously kicked out and a somewhat ample ballroom was the result.  Then in came the girls, with black shoes and white stockings, newly-washed faces and nicely smoothed hair; and with them came the shepherds and men-servants, more carefully attired than usual.  Peter took his seat near the fire; McIan gave the signal by clapping his hands; up went the the inspiring notes of the fiddle and away went the dancers, man and maid facing each other, the girl’s feet twinkling beneath her petticoat, not like two mice but rather like a dozen; her kilted partner pounding the flag floor unmercifully; then man and maid changed step, and followed each other through loops and chains; then they faced each other again, the man whooping, the girl’s hair coming down with her exertions, and with a cry the dancers rushed at each other, each pair getting linked arm in arm, and away the whole floor dashed into the whirlwind of the reel of Hullichan.  It was dancing with a will – lyrical, impassioned; the strength of a dozen fiddlers dwelt in Peter’s elbow; McIan clapped his hands and shouted, and the stranger was forced to mount the dresser to get out of the way of whirling kilt and tempestuous petticoat.”

Contact with the earth, conviviality, an erotic charge – it’s all there!


The Lewis bard, Murdo MacFarlane:

It wasn’t the snow and frost from the north,
it wasn’t the sharp withering cold from the east,
it wasn’t the rain and the storms from the west
but the disease from the south that blighted
the blossoms, foliage, trunk and roots
of the language of my people…

What links geopoetics and the folk arts is the figure of the bard.  Timothy Neat, the film maker, writer and biographer of Hamish Henderson, has made a particular study of the bard in Scottish culture:  ‘The childhood familiarity of the bards…- with wild nature, with chosen words, with traditional song and story, with religious values – has obviously been crucial to their lives and their development as poets, as has the relative poverty, the work, and the elemental grandeur of the environments within which they grew up.’

The bard articulates the concerns of the community, crystallises its aspirations and hopes, expresses its feelings, re-affirms its identity.

And then there’s The Bard…

The pairtrick loes the fruitful fells,
the plover loes the mountains
The woodcock haunts the lanely dells
The soarin hern the fountains.
Thro lofty groves, the cushat roves,
the path o man to shun it
The hazel bush oerhangs the thrush
the spreading thorn the linnet.

From the bard we’re not so far from the shaman, breaking through to another realm in order to bring back knowledge, but always returning to reconnect with the earth beneath his or her feet.

Hamish Henderson said: Artists must try to reach completeness again – though, in our age, they are unlikely to achieve it…Gradually the poet and the community must be threaded together again – and we must start here, where we stand – we can do no other.


So here is a kind of personal manifesto, guiding my practice.

We live on Earth.  We stand on the ground, our place, our Locus.


Begin with that ground – its morphology and its surface detail, its distinctiveness.  Map it out, write it, sound it.


Make art

This is an individual project, but humans are also social beings, dependent on each other for the fulfilment of our existential needs.  Moreover art needs perceivers who can share in the possibilities it offers.


Make community


The artist works with the community to open a new world.

The artist: the describer, the pointer towards truth, the shaper, the maker of myths, the opener of space, the cartographer.

The artist who feels allied to a community has a role not unlike the bard, or shaman.

Members of the community: the individual with a stake in their place, a stake in communal relations; the store of memory; perhaps the migrant who needs to establish a relationship with a place.

The teacher introduces the relevant skills, explores possibilities, brings out potentialities for expression.

Explore idea of living well, recognise the dialectic between individual and collective aims and desires in the community.  The dialectic between artist and community would be part of this discourse.


Make community by making art in, with and for the community


Focusing communal energy towards relationship with the Earth, sustainability, harmony, justice.  (A kind of politics)

Challenge alienation and a sense of meaninglessness.


Map the community by going to the store of memory (re-investigating the past), bringing out the layering of place (natural and cultural) (recovering resources), and by expressing it creatively (deploying energies)


engage with indigenous energy, the folk tradition, as  part of the exploration of that layering – some current, some latent – as expressed in music, dance, story, food, custom.


foster, sustain and renew aspects of that indigenous energy as part of that engagement.


I’d like to finish with a line or two from one of my own songs ‘There is a Light’, which maybe sums up what I’m aiming for.

Play the river’s sound
speak the falcon’s cry
write the touch of moss and bark and stone.
Hear the skylark’s song
falling through the air
touching the earth, its home.


Bohm, David. (2004). On creativity. Abingdon: Routledge.
Bringhurst, Robert (1999).  A Story as Sharp as a Knife: the classical Haida Myth tellers and their World. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Freire, Paolo (1972).  Pedagogy of the oppressed. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
McNeill, Marjory (1996).  Norman MacCaig: a study of his life and work.  Edinburgh: Mercat Press
MacMurray, John (1965/ 1995). The search for reality in religion.  London: Quaker Home Service.
Neat, Timothy, with John MacInnes. (1999). The voice of the bard: living poets and ancient tradition in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.  Edinburgh: Canongate.
Neat, Timothy (2007). Hamish Henderson: a biography.  Vol 1: The making of the poet. Edinburgh: Polygon.
Smith, Alexander (1865/ 1998). A summer in Skye. Edinburgh: Birlinn.

The Cast (2007).  There is a light. From Greengold.  Culburnie Records.
Simone, Nina (1958).  Little girl blue from Little girl blue.  Bethlehem Records.