Monday, May 11, 2015

Water, Walls and Words

The opportunity to have a poem engraved on stone was too much to resist.  All that was required was a pencil, a note book, a camera, a packed lunch and a Saturday workshop with Ken Cockburn.an Edinburgh based poet.

The project, River Connections, is all about the flood management scheme – that’s a wall to you and me along the River Ness. 

My husband used to live in the bedsit in Douglas Row.  Once or twice a year he would be issued with sandbags.  Continual rain for days or weeks on end, or the spring thaw of snow on the mountains, would cause the river level tor rise and spill out onto land. I’m kind of curious why the canal doesn’t overflow but it doesn’t.

I had my doubts about the wall.  I seem to remember a video from years back about a project in a developing country.  They had times of continual rain for weeks, spring thaws and rising river levels.  They didn’t have houses along the river but fields of crops.  The river bursting its banks destroyed the crops.  A do-good charity raised money to build a wall along the river.  What they neglected to do was to talk to the local people – the older generation. One year, not long after the wall was finished, the river suddenly changed course.  It happened every so often, but would eventually find its way back to its usual route over the weeks.  Trouble was the wall the charity had built stopped the water from making its way back.  The fields that wall intended to protect were back to being under water but with no way for the water to drain back into the river bed. Their wall had done the opposite of what it intended and all because they thought themselves to be the experts. 

I don’t think the River Ness is likely to change course but that doesn’t stop me being suspicious of walls.  Sometimes it is all a matter of height – I’m not a tall person and have had more than my share of too-tall walls.

Anyway, it appears that the wall is more than just a wall.  It’s intended to be a bit of a gallery.  Lines of poems will be carved into some of the stones on the wall.  There are plans for seating areas with stone tables with lines of poetry carved into them.  For the end of the wall they have planned a display of circle poems.  This is what the workshop was all about.

A circle poems is
a) something more than a poem about circles – googling “circle poem” leads to sites of poems about circles.
b) not just any poem written into a form of a circle.
c) a short poem, written in the form of a circle, that can begin at more than one point.  It’s like the Disney song “This is the sing that never ends…it goes on and on my friend...” as taught to us by a very precocious six year old who later was invited to be a bridesmaid at our wedding.  The poem can phrases that relate to one another in a theme, or involve a cycle of events, for example, the changing seasons.

The teaching part of the workshop was full of examples of circle poems from other workshop that Ken had led.  He took us through a huge variety of ways to structure the poems. Sometimes it wasn’t a poem at all but a selected word repeated over with the visual impact of a particular font.  There were double circles too – one line of thought on the outside and an opposing line on the inside going in the opposite direction. It’s all very clever and very imaginative.

There was a walk involved, quite a slow amble for some of us, more of a swift march for others, to the end of the wall.  It’s still under construction.  There’s no grassy bank as yet, just a big digger and lots of soil.  We had a sheet of boxes to fill in identifying sounds and sights and colours and stuff – an aid to writing the poems later on in the afternoon.

I really don’t shine with time constraints and other people in the room and no access to a thesaurus.  Rather than just enjoying access to a table and empty pages in a note book, I add the “comparison” factor.  Are the other people in the room writing something better than me? With only a few circle poem spaces up for grabs on the end of the wall, will mine make the grade? The desire to impress the workshop leader runs deep in my veins.  I also have a tendency to struggle with a single idea that I insist will work if I play with it long enough rather than casting a wider net.  When it’s time to share I always feel like the foundation pupil in the higher English class.

My one idea was a good one, but I ended up with too many words.  My friend, Karla, listened with awe, which was nice. It is certainly a format I shall continue to play with.  Here's my edited version in the circle format.







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