Saturday, April 08, 2017

Rhythm, River and Roads

Saturday afternoon and the sun was shining. People everywhere were peeling off winter layers. Sunshine has that habit of fooling you into thinking it’s warmer than it really is. The queue at the ice cream shop was a long one.

Creativity in Care’s “Poetry in Motion” monthly meeting met in the Dunbar Centre in Inverness. Clip boards and pens, poems and prompts – we talked poetry. Some of the usual suspects hadn’t been able to come. The Easter holidays had started and the qualified minibus drivers were somewhere warm and exotic. There were other new and unfamiliar faces, and one or two can’t-quite-place-where-I know-you-from faces. My Polish friend from Pol-UK, Joanna, joined us.

We read through a couple of poems to get us thinking about roads and rivers. The poems themselves – “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost and an extract from “To The River Charles” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – provided us with the rhythm.

We began thinking about our own rhythms as we paid attention to our breathing. I am not a deep breather, dragging enough oxygen into the lungs to function, but with nothing left over. My blood isn’t as oxygen rich as it could be, I suspect. We then felt our pulse, another rhythm of the body. It was nice to sit so quietly and be relaxed.

We set off for a twenty minute walk with a list of things to look for and think about.

·         Notice the rhythm of your footsteps
·         Look for texts in the pavement
·         Simply record colours, smells, sights and sounds
·         Notice how you feel about the place
·         Write down any odd ideas that pop into your head even if they are not related to the rhythm, road or river theme
·         Capture a passing piece of conversation

Standing on the Grieg Street footbridge always evokes a certain memory. I came up to Inverness to be a part of a Gospel Outreach team in October 1989. The very first morning, after the very long journey up the A9 to get to Inverness, I stood on the bridge. It’s a suspension bridge, rather wobbly, as people cross – their own particular rhythm making you constantly adjust your own stance so you don’t fall over. I stood on the bridge that first morning and looked upriver. I had such a sense of coming home. I never felt a stranger.  If the city could have spoken it would have said, “Ah, at last, you have arrived. I’ve been waiting.”

The captured conversation was not quite a passing one. I was standing on the bridge, with my clip board, my mind acting like a thesaurus, staring at the water passing underneath. A friend, Athol, stopped and touched me on the shoulder.

“Are you OK, love?” he asked, perhaps thinking I was contemplating throwing myself off the bridge as some unhappy people are inclined to do. I showed him the clip board and my scribblings.

“I’m writing poetry, Athol.” I answered and he left.

Our time was up and we returned to the centre for tea, chocolate brownie squares and a quiet space to see if a poem emerged.

There was a sense in which I felt I was cheating a little. A couple of years ago I had been involved in a poetry project connected to the river. A group of us, along with a local poet, were composing circle poems to decorate the flood wall that was being built at the time. We had explored all of the sense ideas. I had thought about settlers and sojourners, trying to link it in to the idea of the river inhaling the settlers and exhaling the sojourners. It wouldn’t fit into a neat circle poem. So, I wrote about a fisherman instead.

We read around the table. We mumbled about the lack of time and said we were not sure that we had done a good enough job, as you do. But what creative people we turned out to be! Faced with the same river and the same road, we had seen such different things – it was awesome. The green man from the road crossing walked into every poem.

I tried hard to make my poem rhyme but it didn’t want to so I didn’t insist. I had written down a phrase early on in my river stroll – “always moving somewhere” – people, the cars, the river itself – always moving somewhere.

I think sometimes that poetry is about making the reader, or the listener, stop for a moment, catch a glimpse of something extraordinary. Good poetry leaves its mark somewhere.

The River of Life

Road like blood vein through the city
Cars and bikes and taxis moving
Red light halting, green man bleeping
Waiting drivers, fingers tapping
Hop on, hop off tourists staring
People posing, cameras clicking
Noisy bustle interfering
Masking urgent conversations
Cycle riders pavement weaving
Push-chair mothers scolding babies
Ice cream licking, melting, dripping
The river of life flows shifting, glinting

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