Lifeboat, wood rings and Michael Longley’s poems

A walk through Dunbar harbour last Sunday coincided with the arrival of the local lifeboat from its moorings at Torness Power Station. The lifeboat station at Dunbar has a long history and includes some famous rescues. The modern lifeboats is a sleek, orange,  vessel which appears to float across the waves and this is a huge contrast to the original lifeboats which were rowed out to stricken vessels. Those rowing the lifeboats were often in danger of losing their own lives, as in the 1810 rescue of HMS Pallas. Despite the potential unsinkability of modern lifeboats, rescuing people in heavy seas is still a dangerous mission for the volunteer lifeboat crew seen in the photos below.

Dunbar lifeboat

Dunbar lifeboat

Dunbar lifeboat

Dunbar lifeboat

Dunbar lifeboat in Dunbar harbour

Dunbar lifeboat in Dunbar harbour

On another visit to Yellowcraig beach, there was tree felling going on in the nearby wood and large stacks of both hardwood and softwood sat by the roadside. I was fascinated by the detail in the tree rings at the ends of the fallen tree trunks. Looking up “tree rings” I discover that the science of tree rings is dendrochronology but I was more interested in the visual aspects and further research showed examples of tree rings in art and photographic images in tree ring research. I like the abstract quality of the tree rings, seen as collection of shapes rather than as an object. In some photos, you could be looking at a photo from space, perhaps at some previously hidden archaeological site. The photo of the hardwood logs below reminds me of the wood stove we had in one of our houses. We got them delivered in the lane next to the house and I would cart them into the shed on a wheelbarrow. Inevitably, someone coming down the lane would tell me that the logs would heat me up twice.

Tree rings as abstractions

Tree rings as abstractions

Tree rings or photo from space?

Tree rings or photo from space?

Hardwood tree trunks

Hardwood tree trunks

I’ve now finished Michael Longley’s glorious collection The Stairwell, featured not that long ago on this blog. The collection features a range of poems including sections on his granddaughter, his father who fought in the 1st World War and his recently deceased twin. I found the first section the most powerful with the latter two rather uneven. Having said that, Longley sets such a high standard that even what might appear his “lighter” poems, might stand out in another collection. One poems talks of his father remembering “.. at Passchendaele/Where men and horses drowned in mud/ His bog apprenticeship, mud turf”. In the poems about his twin, Longley refers to Achilles and the man he called brother Patroclus, to great effect. He also sees his twin as possibly “.. skinny dipping at Allaran/ Where the jellies won’t sting …” and the poem ends with him protecting his brother against accident “I’ll carry the torch across the duach”. Longley explains that duach is “the Irish for sandbanks or dunes”. If you’ve never bought a poetry book, buy this one, as you’ll read it again and again.

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