Guest Post: How I put The Art of Falling together, by Kim Moore

If you think you might be stalled, if you’re feeling sorry for yourself, if you want to be a writer….read this. It’s great.

Anthony Wilson

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How I put The Art of Falling together

In May 2012 my first pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves was published by Smith/Doorstop.  Having the pamphlet published felt completely different to having my first full-length collection The Art of Falling published by Seren in April 2015.  For a start, when the pamphlet was published, I didn’t stop writing.  It felt like I was just getting started with working out what I wanted to say.  From what I remember though, I didn’t carry on writing poems with the aim of getting a collection together.  I just kept writing.  When I had what I thought were enough poems, I started to make a list of the themes I was writing about:

The Body

Relationships

Falling

Violence

Famous People

Music

Wolves

Cumbria

I put these words into bubbles and then drew a line to link each poem up with a word, sometimes…

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A river runs through. A polished gem [6] : Jane Clarke

the river

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know things are different these days, and I know that it’s a shame and a sin, and I know it wasn’t entirely normal, even then. But here’s the thing. When I was teaching in schools, through the 70’s and 80’s, I couldn’t wait to get back after the summer holidays. I liked to go back into school maybe a week before it reopened and get stuff sorted, organised, printed. I think Primary teachers were even more likely to be doing the same thing. I liked the buzz of possibility. Bear in mind that I was working in a system where we wrote our own curricula, our own schemes of work, our own exam syllabuses, where we had 100% coursework exams. In the 16+Exams I’d known no other system since 1969.

I loved the start of that term straight after the summer break. It felt like we all had a clean slate and that anything and everything was possible, that all our sins were forgiven, and that we could be whoever we wanted. That feeling would last for about three weeks, and, in general seemed to be shared by by most of the students I taught. (didn’t call them students then; called them kids. Ah well). It lasted until the marking started to come in and pile up, and Sundays became marking rather than planning and inventing. But every year, without fail, there it was. The anticipation. The buzz.

Which is precisely how I feel after a two week lay-off. Man, it feels like months. It’s lovely to see you all again, all refreshed; thirteen guest poets signed up, and ideas fighting for space. If it all turns out a bit incoherent, well, that’s why. I’ve spent some time reviewing the poems I’ve written over the last three years …round about 300….and unnerving myself by noticing the regular appearance of a small number of words that seem to be a kind of default thinking. Dark (with the corollaries of white and grey and black); stone; cold; hill(s) and hillsides. Oh, and a lot of wind, rain, sky, sleet, snow, ice, and cold. Why should that be?

I’m not of a morbid frame of mind; I like to think my world view is mainly optimistic. I think it comes down to the landscapes where I feel comfortable. They’re almost always hilly, rocky, uncompromising; they ideally involve sea. I can write about hot places but not lush ones. I don’t know what to make of woodlands and forests and greenery. I can make even less of flat places, saltmarsh, estuaries. I’m starting to wonder if it’s because I grew up in relatively (though undramatically) narrow valleys. I live on a hillside where I can look up and down the valley, or across the valley to the opposite hillsides, and beyond to the Pennines. I begin to think that what I’m conscious of is hillsides and gradients and the stone underneath them. It’s as though what I’m aware of is ‘valley’, and that the river is incidental, as though it came from the hillsides and not the other way round. I’d not considered this until I was reading and re-reading ‘The river’ , the first collection by today’s Gem, Jane Clarke. I began to wonder if growing up by a river among green fields under a wider sky than mine might be a key to poems that are full of time and the passage of time, of transience and spaciousness. I suspect this will not hold water, but maybe there’s a sort of truth in there somewhere.

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And so we find ourselves by the River Suck, that flows through Roscommon. ‘It was where  /  we’d go to talk, or cry, or be quiet  /  in the company of the current’, writes Jane in her poem, The Suck. It’s a river, she says, that flows, rolls, that drifts, smooth and slow. The Suck, An tSuca, the origin of whose name is lost (says Wikipedia) in the mists of time, and may be derived from an older Irish word for ‘amber’. Or not. Nobody knows. It flows and rolls and drifts through limestone country to the Shannon. Lakes appear or disappear in rain or drought. Turloughs. Lakes that  swell and shrink as though the earth was breathing. What a lovely word. I don’t know how it’s pronounced. I imagine long vowels. A soft fricative ff, or an even softer glottal.

What I do know is that I have met Jane twice,  both times on a writing course in Almaserra Valla, in Relleu, in Alicante. The first time was among a group of people with whom I felt out of my depth. I was quite happy with that. A zone of uncertainty is what I need if I’m ever going to get anywhere. But I wasn’t noticing people much, until I had to notice Jane. First, because of her reading a first draft of The suck. It was spacious and intimate and she read it quietly, with spacious vowels. And then, the second time, because of this poem I asked for specially, and which doesn’t appear in the collection.

Circle of Stones

It was ages before you took me
up the hill behind your house,
over tumbling walls,
through gaps in hedges
to the circle of stones
where no wind ever blows
through gaps in hedges,
over tumbling walls,
up the hill behind your house,
it was ages before you took me.

Out tutor, Jane Draycott set this quick exercise involving creating a place and a journey in five or six lines, and then reversing them. I guess we were tricked into writing a speculum. It’s the kind of exercise I instinctively resist for no reason that I can fathom. But this lovely short poem taught me to be more open-minded, less resistant. What struck me was not only the sense of revelation, or epiphany, but also the way the poem is simultaneously about a quite specific place and about quite specific people, and about the way in which the who, and the where and the why are ambiguous and mysterious. A circle of stones will always be magical, but the resonance of a place where no wind ever blows, no matter how high you are,  stays and stays in my mind, as does the sense that we can never go back. Or, more precisely, that when we do it won’t be the place we left, and we won’t be who we were, and that this is what a specululum can do. It also makes me think of the epigraph to the whole collection: We cannot step into the same river twice. Exactly. I know this poem didn’t find its way into The river but its spirit is right at the heart of it. So thank you, Jane, for letting me print it here.

That was the first time I met Jane. I remember, too, that I managed, by the imprecise description of a route round a hill called Beni Sur, to get her half-lost on a scrubby, thorny, steep stony hillside. Poor thanks for a great poem. Sorry about that. The second time was like meeting a different person. This one had a grin that wouldn’t come off. I’m very tempted to put a picture of it in here.Her collection had just been published. It’s the second time this year I’ve been on a writing course with someone whose debut collection has just been published. Kim Moore and Jane Clarke. If you ever wonder what joy looks like, well that’s what it’s like. But you’d have to be there. At which point, I realise I haven’t introduced Jane to you . I suppose it’s possible that there are readers out there who haven’t met her yet. Though not in Ireland, I should think.

Anyway. Ladies and gentlemen! My guest poet for the start of a new term!  Originally from a farm in Roscommon , Jane Clarke now lives near Glenmalure, Co. Wicklow. Her first collection, The River, is published by Bloodaxe Books. She has had poems published in Acumen, Agenda, Abridged, The North, The Rialto, Ambit, Poetry Wales, The Irish Times, The Irish Independent – New Irish Writing, Mslexia, Envoi, Southword, THE SHOp, Cyphers, The Stinging Fly, Crannog, The Irish Literary Review, The Stony Thursday Book, Skylight 47, The Interpreter’s House, The Galway Review and Revival. She won the 2014 Listowel Writers Week Poetry Collection Award and also the 2014 Trocaire/Poetry Ireland Competition. Shortlisted for the 2013 & 2014 Hennessy Literary Awards she also won the inaugural Poems for Patience, 2013; Listowel Writers Week (2007) and the iYeats (2010). She was commended in the 2013 Hippocrates Poetry Prize and was runner-up in the 2012 Mslexia Poetry Prize , the Fish Poetry Prize, 2009 & 2012 and the Dromineer Literary Festival 2012. She has two poems in the Tokens for the Foundlings anthology published by Seren, three poems in The Roscommon Anthology and a poem in a Theory of Knowledge textbook published by Oxford University Press. So now you know. She’s put the hard miles in, and now she’s earned the right to that wonderful wide smile.

The river is a collection of poems that are sure-footed, tough and tender. I’m going to use that word ‘spacious’ again. Jane will often use couplets, or three-line stanzas, always with a focussed economy that makes me feel the space around them, and the resonances of the spaces. She writes about her life on a farm by a river; she writes about her mother and father, she writes about the working fields in a way that never once forgets the work and the toil, and the toll it takes, say, on a man’s hands. Jane Clarke writes with a fine eye for remembered detail in language marked by good farm words like “slane and sickle”, “clout and stud nails” says Gillian Clarke, in her endorsement of the book, and Paula Meehan writes: This is not pastoral poetry though there’s plenty of pasture in it, and hens and hay and alders and willows and heifers. There’s not a shred of sentimentality in any of these poems, but there’s wistfulness, and unbounded love, and, always, the river that:

We could dream of leaving, making lives

of our own, ask the river to bless us, let us go’

I think what I found most significant was that prayer for the river’s blessing, a prayer that it will ‘let us go’. There’s the toughness. We”ll not be tied or restricted into a fake nostalgia. There’s a wider world out there.

If you’re not Irish it’s possible that you’ve not bought the book yet. You should put this right forthwith. If you still need persuading, here are two more poems. Neither has a river in it, though one has a boat. The first one says what I mean about the nature of work in Jane’s poetry, or, specifically, about the work of hands. I think it’s also about legacies and about moving away, about becoming, about why we can’t go back. And also, perhaps, why we shouldn’t want to.

Every tree

I didn’t take the walnut oil,
linseed oil,

the tins of wax
or my lathe and plane

when I closed
the workshop door.

I left the grip of poverty
on the bench

beside my mallet,
whittling knife

and fishtail chisel
with its shallow sweep.

I quit the craft
my father had carved into me

when I was pliable
as fiddleback grain,

left all at the threshold,
except for the scent of wood,

a different scent
for every tree.

I’d give a lot to learn the art of that quiet economy. The weight that a short sentence can bear. I left the grip of poverty / on the bench. Do you see what I mean about spaciousness? About resonance? And I’d give a lot to write a love poem as sure and tender as the next one.

Vows

I can´t promise it´s chiselled from gold
in spirals that speak of forever.

I can´t tell you it´s wise as a mountain
with pines that reach for heaven.

I can´t promise it´s flawless as honey
gathered by bees in bell heather.

I can´t say it´s simple as silk
spun from cocoon into treasure.

But I promise it´s rooted as rowan
with berries that sing to September.

I promise its to and its fro
will surprise like Glenmalure weather,

a seasoned row boat,
moored or unmoored at your pleasure.

Now, apart from the fact that I read this as one sentence that leads joyously to that ‘But’, and because I love a single sentence poem for its rhythm and rhetoric and the need for breath, I’m totally hooked by the rowan. I look back through my own poems, and which tree gets the most name-checks? The rowan. A mountain tree and a magical tree. Here in Glenmalure. Where I imagine I would feel at home. Hillsides and stone.

glenmalure

It makes me wonder again how the place where you live forges or nurtures the language of your poetry. Heather and rowan and celtic gold. But after all, it’s a valley, and a river runs through.

Thanks for being my guest, Jane Clarke. Thank you for The River. Thank you for the grin. Thank you for forgiving me for imprecise directions.

Because we’ve had a holiday, and because you did your holiday reading, we’re having a guest next week, too. So, queue up nicely with your £9.95, and Miss Clarke will sell you your copy and she’ll sign it like a proper poet. What’s that? you ask. What she’ll do is put a stroke through her name on the title page, and then sign it. Why? I have no idea. But apparently Seamus Heaney says you have to.

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Only a story

Now with updated holiday reading list. Don’t be caught out when we return after a short vacation. There will be tests and questions Oh yes.

The Great Fogginzo's Cobweb

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Perhaps it’s all the years of teaching, but I’m feeling end-of-termish. We’ve done all the hard work and revision and tests. We’ve had the concerts and the trips to Flamingo Park. We’ve tidied the stock cupboards and taken down the displays, and we’ve read our reports and we all got gold stars and smiley faces. Everyone’s thinking of poetry and poetry festivals, like Chaucer’s pilgrims. It’s time for a story before we all go home.

I’ve been looking back at what we’ve done and who we’ve met, and  because Kim Moore chose one of his poems from ‘Talking to the dead’ for her Sunday Poem last week, I looked again at one post about my friend Gordon Hodgeon. Bright star.  I was writing some months ago about my circling obsession with myths and with tyrannical gods. Recently, for reasons I cannot fathom, I’ve been writing translations and adaptions of…

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Only a story

120410-LightsPhoto-hmed-0820a_files.grid-8x2

Perhaps it’s all the years of teaching, but I’m feeling end-of-termish. We’ve done all the hard work and revision and tests. We’ve had the concerts and the trips to Flamingo Park. We’ve tidied the stock cupboards and taken down the displays, and we’ve read our reports and we all got gold stars and smiley faces. Everyone’s thinking of poetry and poetry festivals, like Chaucer’s pilgrims. It’s time for a story before we all go home.

I’ve been looking back at what we’ve done and who we’ve met, and  because Kim Moore chose one of his poems from ‘Talking to the dead’ for her Sunday Poem last week, I looked again at one post about my friend Gordon Hodgeon. Bright star.  I was writing some months ago about my circling obsession with myths and with tyrannical gods. Recently, for reasons I cannot fathom, I’ve been writing translations and adaptions of myths. Maybe ‘plundering’ is a better word. I’ve even been inventing myths about owls, and about why there are no clouds of starlings on the twilight roofs and ledges of our great industrial cities. I’ve been re-telling Prometheus and Jesus to myself. A couple of weeks ago I was at a Stanza workshop in York (thanks for the invite, Carole Bromley) and one of the poets read from a new retelling of Finnish epic poem, The Kalevala. Recently, too, I was reading Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks. and rediscovering a memory of Vainamoienen, the epic’s hero. There’s an extract from the tale in Penelope Farmer’s Beginnings [Creation Myths of the World]. It tells of how man was given the gift of fire. If we have fire at all, I would rather it was won for us by Prometheus. I love Prometheus as much as I hate most of the Greek pantheon (Apollo, particularly). However, the extract snagged my attention, since it pivots on the notion that fire is spilled from the sky by a Virgin of the Air in a moment of careless inattention. Not even ‘transgression’, like Pandora or Eve. Just clumsiness. I had to deal with it somehow, and though I don’t write much prose, I batted it out. And who ironed out its creases for me? Gordon Hodgeon. He probably won’t remember. But I won’t forget.

So, here we are. End of term. Sit back. Close your eyes. Let’s have a story.

How the Finns got the gift of fire

This is how it was.
Once, a sun shone on the Finns every day, and a moon every night, and each day and each night there was a new sun and a new moon in place of the ones that burned away. Louhi stole Sun and Moon; she stole fire, and she hid them in the far Northlands.
The Finns could not dry the flesh of the fish they caught nor the flesh of the deer they hunted, and they ate their food raw. They shivered in their birch cabins, and listened to the snow as it slid from the pines in the black forests; they listened to the howling of wolves in the endless night. Only the wolves loved this land of the Finns.
Ukko, lord of the skies , master of the flaming sword, maker of stars looked down and saw how the Finns tholed their darkness and cold. It puzzled him. As stars burn out and blackness takes their place he breathes a long breath into the heart of his furnaces until they roar in the forge of the sky. He thrusts the great blade of his sword into the fire’s blue heart so it blazes silver and gold and crimson. His eyes burn with reflected fire, his thoughts all flame and sword and anvil and stars, stars, stars. He swings the white-hot blade in great circles, faster and faster and the sky is a halo of strange and beautiful light.
At these times of starmaking the Finns would stare at the trembling bands of light and tell each other: Ukko is making new stars. Sometimes they would wonder: Ukko is making new stars; why does he not make new suns and moons? But he never did. he was the Star Maker.
He clashed the flaming sword on the anvil of the sky and sparks flew like dangerous gems; before they could fall to earth, sky-maidens caught them and put them in their right places in the endless dark. It was a fine fierce thing. Faster and faster the sword spun and circled and clashed on the anvil, the jewel sparks flew and flashed, and the sky-maidens laughed with delight, and caught them, and put them in the sky, and in their hair, and around their arms like bracelets, and they shone. Over and over the sword went to the furnace, and swung and clashed until the forge of the sky was a brilliant mist of stars, and the sky-maidens laughed, and caught them, every one, and locked them fast in the vault of heaven.
But when the new stars were made, and shone in their places, when the furnace cooled and grew dim, and the sword of Ukko was cold and blue as old stars, then he would look down on the world and wonder at the life of the Finns. Who could bear so much dark? Why did they not fill that darkness with the light of their own stars? He could not understand it. It was none of his business, though. He was the Star Maker. There was nothing he could do for them. They were too far away and below.
And sometimes the starmaidens looked down to where he looked; they were curious, too, but not for long. They were the starmaidens, virgins of the air, and they served Ukko the Starmaker. It was nothing to do with them.
But one was different. She loved the dance, the pure starfire she dressed herself in. She could not bear the thought of darkness. Neither could she drive it from her mind. She did not want to look down at the land of the Finns. But its darkness was always there at the edge of her mind.

This is what she thought:
We fill the dark space of the sky with stars. To light the long night of the world would be a small thing. The smallest spark from the forge would serve.
She thought: Star fire is beautiful but soon it grows cold.
She thought: We give the fire of our dance to an empty sky.
And so her delight in the brilliant dancing of stars grew less, and her thoughts filled with the cold darkness of the land of the Finns, and the starmaking could not warm them.
She said: We give our fire to the sky.
Ukko looked up. Whether his eyes burned red from long staring into the furnaces of his forge, or whether they smouldered in anger she could not tell. But she was afraid.
–Tell me what you said.
— Nothing. I said nothing.
— No. It was not ‘nothing’. Say it to me.
She was truly afraid. She said:
–We give our fire to the sky.
The furnace flared and Ukko was standing, black and huge, a great shadow.
—I am the Starmaker. I give nothing. I make stars.
–Then what am I?
–You? You make nothing; you give nothing. You put stars in the vaults of the sky. You dance. That is enough.

It is not enough, she thought, but she was afraid and she said nothing.
The fires sank and Ukko brooded over them, dark.
The skymaiden sat alone. Far below her, the land of the Finns lay cold and bleak. It filled her mind with a cold darkness as big as the sky. And then came a thought. Something small and bright in a big darkness.
It is not enough just to dance. It is not enough catch a fire I cannot make.
Ukko’s huge shadow hulked against the fireglow; she was afraid, but her thought burned in her mind and in her heart like a star. It was her own star. Then she knew she was a starmaker, and, being a maker, she had something to give, and she knew it was her right to give it.
–I am a star maker.
She whispered it softly.

Ukko sat before the red fire; he was black against it, and his shadow lay across the night. She sat alone in his shadow, but she was lit by the star she had made herself.
Time passed. Stars flashed cold and blue and shivered and winked out, and darknesses grew in the sky. Ukko stirred. It was time for the making, furnace heat, the dancing light of the forge, the dangerous sweep of the sword and the wild joy of the dance. It was what he lived for. A fierceness took him and shook him, and his breath made the furnace roar, blue and brilliant, and he thrust the great blade into its hot heart.

The dance began. Gravely and slowly it began, the slow pattern as the starmaidens circled the forge and the Star Maker. The sword glowed red, orange, gold, silver; the furnace light streamed past Ukko’s haloed dancing shadow, and dance grew faster, wilder. Ukko laughed a great laugh, and the skymaidens laughed too, and lost themselves in the dance.
Only, one did not. Though she danced with others, she was herself and not the dancing as the others were.
They were nothing but dancing, and Ukko was nothing but fire and forging, but she saw one bright star that shone in her mind with a different light. She spun and whirled and laughed with the rest, but was not lost with them. She knew herself different, and she knew what she must do. It made her afraid, but her fear was a strange excitement that was more than the excitement of the star dance.
With a great shout, Ukko drew the flaming sword from the fire and swept it in great arcs, and the dance was a dance of light, a great dome of beautiful light.
Far below, the Finns looked up from their darkness. Look! they said. Ukko is making stars! How far above them it all was. It brought them no warmth, only wonder.
Ukko brought the hot blade hissing down on the anvil. It clashed and rang. His eyes were full of stars. The flew from the beaten sword, and the sky maidens caught them, and laughed and danced and shone. It was brilliant.
Far below, in their cold dark world, the Finns thought: Ukko is making stars. And some thought: Why does he not make stars to warm and light us? But he never had done.
The dance grew wilder and breathless. The sword went again and again to the furnace, and rang and, splashed fire. The starmaidens put stars in the vaults of the air, and dressed themselves and shone.
Only, one, though she danced, was not of the dance. A star shone in her mind and she held one star clenched in her hand. Though she moved in the dance she was more than a dancer. It was time.
–I am a starmaker. I am a giver of stars.
It was a shout of joy. It was her shout.
The dance faltered; the sword stopped at the highest point of its arc, flaming and dangerous. Ukko was shadow; she could see nothing but his darkness and the great sword poised.
–I am a star giver, she said.
She was all alone in Ukko’s darkness. With a great cry he brought down the sword, and with a great cry she leapt from the sky, and it was one cry.
She fell from the skies, out of Ukko’s darkness and shadow, down and down through the the nine vaults of the air. The star shone in her hand and the giving of it shone in her mind, and it was one shining.
The Finns looked, spellbound, as the one star fell out of the night, brilliant and wonderful.
The hero Vainamoienen caught it and made it safe and made fire from it, and so the Finns had fire and warmth in their long night.
–Ukko the Starmaker has given us fire, they said.
And they worshipped him.

artist-representation-

Enjoy your holidays; enjoy your pilgrimages.   I’ve got to start thinking about a new term. Here’s your holiday reading. There’ll be tests when we all start again. Think on.

Jane Clark:  The River  Bloodaxe Books  £9.95

Jonathan Davidson Humfrey Coningsby Valley Press poetry £6.95

Christy Ducker Skipper  SmithI doorstop  £9.95

Gordon Hodgeon Talking to the dead Smokestack Books £4.95

Gordon Hodgeon Old workings Mudfog £8.95

Kim Moore The art of falling Seren Books £9.99