My working life has been in public and social services at the various levels from front line social work through academic teaching to being in charge of complex inner city welfare provision. And then stravaiging the world for a couple of decades, often as the hired hand of the big inter-governmental ‘donors’ to the disadvantaged of the world or ‘beneficiaries’, as they are designated. But having grown up first by the Clyde and then nestled between Maxwellton Braes and the Galloway hills, the interaction of people, place and world always captivated me; I studied geography, and social anthropology, and geomorphology, and English literature [two cheers for vaunted Scottish education]; I then tried public administration, and politics and government. Some things tied together – mainly the commitment to tackling social injustice and eradicating poverty, which I always thought were necessary precursors to a better, more fully human, and more naturally understood world. I have not forsaken that.
My interest in geopoetics
However the knowledge from the experience of living – ontology, they call it – and the inter-disciplinary search do not easily combine, not in the terms presented by conventional systems of western thought, not by the academic world in general, nor either usually by particular association, be it economic, political or social. This personal journey and recurring reminders of the constraints of disciplines and that pervasive modern invention of ‘silos’ of expertise, along with the overtaking of cultural aims by the global outreach of consumerism, led me to read more of Kenneth White’s work, after I first came across him at the end of the 1990s, and both to relate to his intellectual nomadism and the idea of geopoetics. I have been increasingly struck in my travels and thinking of how inter-human valuing [taking people from other places and cultures seriously and on their own merits] and the valuing of the interaction with nature itself are debased by the dynamics of power. Caring for people as they are [and in doing so only then encouraging their real potential] and caring for the planet are not just altruistic or environmental strands of life – albeit often against the stream – but need to be wrapped together, enrapt, and it is the all consuming, extractive and indeed alienating world that has to be ‘deconstructed’.
I do not see geopoetics as some kind of new pantheism, theosophy or even some other meta system name like liberation philosophy. I see it as an opening of thought, a call to reawakening mentality, and to reconnecting with patience and mindfulness to the actual nature of which we are part and to our own natures in that; this is not too far from some previous thinkers and actors, like Emerson and Whitman in America, Geddes and Tagore in Scotland and India, the educationist Freire, the psychologist Fromm, the freedom fighter and psychiatrist, Fanon. I am sure there could be quite a significant list which other geopoets could bring. White has shone a strong light across cultures and places: a Stevenson’s lighthouse catching newly seen gullwings and nearly missed reflections from water and land.
My own work has been in social welfare in many different settings – Islington and Hackney in London, in Shetland briefly, with Northern Ireland Health Service working overseas, and in Romania, Latvia, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, India and Bangladesh, helping redesign social welfare systems which has both an abstract [policy] dimension and a very practical one: that of seeing and talking to people who are in very vulnerable situations. Social development is an entangled business, tending to be both technically and ideologically led, although these things are seldom equally acknowledged. I have found the crossing of boundaries in various ways important. Facilitating the self expression and agency of the most vulnerable is an antidote to the dynamics of power, but it can only really be done with diminishing ego, respecting humanity, and understanding the true nature of any place.
At best I might say that some of my reports may have been helped by a geopoetic sensibility, but I make no claims for synthesising the experiences and the knowledge and values involved. Now I write poems from time to time. I intend to revisit some of my waystations with more geopoetic insight than contractual considerations were able to encourage, and to explore where the human relation component of life fits into or along with the higher mentality of finding the world. As a coda to this, I find discovering more from, and in, the southern hemisphere a developing fascination, or perhaps more challenge to the imagination, as there things go round differently, even the sky is other, and the very fact of them having been by and large ignored as sources of intellectual development has put them in less restrained thinking horizons now that the ‘globalised world’ continues to accelerate its own mess.
Ode to the M8, or a beautiful day in the central belt
Paraffin Young’s pink slag heaps are sloped in sun-drenched
the green pyramids rise in a modesty presumed
by Livingston’s angular spread;
magpies cleanse the verges of a motorway becalmed,
and the bold Campsies broadcast
their curving air to Kirk o’ Shotts.
A hoodie crow is showcasing in the pure blue sky
Looking out on Easterhouse, the play’s the thing,
where the Scots no longer pine.
An Empty Plot
A last late loganberry clings
—– pink and delicate
in a frost-crystalled nano-second sunbeam.
The speed of light helps
you through the dark side.
The memory of sister berries seeping
through white bread ——
the only sacrificial red worth knowing.
In the park in Chisinau
Nothing happens –
a dog barks
the reeds shake in the wind
a crow is doing its nut
the woman leads four dogs
a family strolls
the radio mast does nothing to see
the sky stays blue
mechanical cranes hang loose
white butterflies flap over lavender.
Was that choral singing faraway?
That man saunters
whistling starts and insects feed wee birds;
nothing continues to happen.