Posts Tagged ‘Alice Oswald’

Falling Awake and birds at Belhaven Pond

March 3, 2017

The Poetry Book Society Choice for Autumn 2016 was Alice Oswald’s  new book – Falling Awake. This is an astonishing book of poems and has won some literary prizes. In the book, Oswald is not just close to nature, but inside it, and she demonstrates how elements of nature are interlinked, and how nature affects our lives , but also has a life of its own. The first poem A Short Story of Falling begins “It is the story of the falling rain/ to turn into a leaf and fall again/ it is the secret of a summer shower/ to steal the light and hide it in a flower”. These dramatic images – a shower stealing the light – continue in all the poems. In Fox, the narrator hears ” a cough” in her sleep and it is ” a fox in her fox-fur/ stepping across/ the grass in her black gloves/ [which] barked at my house”. In other poems, we hear of a badger “still with the simple heavy box of his body needing to be lifted” being “hard at work/ with the living shovel of himself”. In “A Rushed Account of the Dew”, there’s an amazing image of water on a plant, as the poet imagines the dew “descend/ out of the dawn’s mind”, and affix “a liquid cufflink” on to a leaf. In Shadow, the poet describes the shadow as having ” a flesh parachute of a human opening above it” – as you see, there’s a vivid imagination at work here. There are many more images of falling in the subsequent poems. I’m only half way through the book and will return to it in the blog. I agree with the Guardian reviewer that “I cannot think of any poet who is more watchful or with a greater sense of gravity”.

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“Falling Awake” by Alice Oswald

This week, we’ve had cold, but very bright days, especially in the morning. Having cycled past Seafield Pond (good photos) on Monday and seen a gathering of ducks on the grass verge, I ventured back there on foot on Tuesday – in the morning sunlight. The ducks were gone, but over the wall on Belhaven Beach, there was a scattering of seagulls, some oystercatchers and curlews, but also 2 little egrets (photos, video and bird call). As I got my camera ready, there was a sudden squawking, a brief flurry of wings by both birds, and one took off for the pond. I managed to get two photos of the constantly moving little egret. They are not the clearest of photos and maybe, I should have used a sports setting on my camera. However, they do show the elegance of this bird, with its long beak, tiny eye and large yellow feet, which help them to steady themselves on the slippery sand below the water.

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Little Egret on Belhaven Beach (Click to enlarge)

In second photo, I like the shimmering reflection of the bird’s body in the water, its shadow (with flesh parachute of a bird opening above it, as Oswald might have put it) and the corrugated sand.

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Little Egret and reflection on Belhaven Beach

While the egrets and oystercatchers are nervous birds and will fly off if you get anywhere near them, the swans on Seafield Pond simply float towards you. OK – they are looking for food, but I also think that swans are narcissistic birds. They glide toward you, inviting you to photograph their haughty serenity. They move slowly, like elegant models on a catwalk, then dip their heads in the water. The first photo shows 2 swans coming towards the bank, where I’m standing at the water’s edge. There are other birds, such as coots, but these have swum away in panic and have hidden behind the tall reeds (2nd photo). See the causal elegance here, with the swans more interested in their own reflections than the presence of a would-be photographer.

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Elegant swans at Seafield Pond

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Coots behind the reeds at Seafield Pond

The first swan pushed its head under water a few times and after several attempts, I managed to get a shot with water dripping from its beak. Look at the perfect outline of its body, the giraffe like neck and its body like a small iceberg. You can watch swans all day.

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Swan with dripping beak at SeafieldPond

V&A exhibition and TS Eliot Prize readings

January 19, 2017

A delay in the blog this week as we were in London for a few days. We both went to the outstanding Victoria and Albert Museum to see the exhibition entitled You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 . This is a fascinating exhibition, particularly for people who remember the 1960s and the bands such as The Beatles, The Animals and The Who, amongst many others. When you go into the exhibition, there is a free audio provided. This is not your usual audio guide to exhibits, but is a soundtrack  (list of songs here)of the music of the middle and late 1960s. Some people found this distracting e.g. looking at John  Lennon’s written lyrics to Help while the soundtrack is playing Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction. The exhibition covers the 1960s revolutions in music, protest, fashion and consumption. It has a vast number of exhibits, perhaps too many to take in during one visit, including photographs, letters, TV coverage, film, clothes and consumer items. It is a very stimulating exhibition, taking in the trivialities of some pop music to the horrors of the Vietnam war and civil rights violence. The V&A of course is always a pleasure to visit, with its numerous rooms and hallways full of statues. Even if you only visit the ornately decorated tea room (good photos), with the William Morris room adjacent to it, you are assured a superb aesthetic experience. No photos were allowed in the exhibition but I took one on my mobile phone’s (not very good) camera of the entrance.

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The Beatles’ at the entrance to the V&A

My treat on Sunday evening was to go to the Royal Festival Hall for the T S Eliot Poetry Prize readings. The competition for the best collection is worth £20,000 to the winner. One of the best things about this event is that, while the 10 poets read from their collections, the winner is not announced until later – no annoying Masterchef  pauses here. The readings were compered by the irrepressible Ian McMillan whose amusing but very perceptive introductions to each poet added much to the occasion. In one introduction, he referred to his Uncle Harry who had “sticky-out false teeth  – like a pub piano”. He also summed up the quality of the evening by pointing out that despite the vast hall and the hundreds of people in the audience, when each poet spoke, it was like being in a small room with only a few people. Two of the poets, J O Morgan and Alice Oswald (the favourite to win) recited their poems from memory and made a substantial impact on the audience. The winner, announced on Monday, was Jacob Polley’s collection Jackself which the judges called “a firecracker of a book” in which the main character can change into different shapes and things. I intend to buy this book, so more on this later.

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Jacob Polley’s collection entitled Jackself

 

 

Hospital, haws and spring flowers

April 2, 2016

A delay in the posting of this blog as I’ve been in hospital for the past week after a bizarre accident. I tripped and fell down the steep slope of our back garden while bringing in the washing and toppled over the 1.5m wall at the bottom of the garden. I broke 10 ribs and punctured a lung. I was rescued by golfers leaving the nearby golf course and some neighbours and taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary where I was treated by world class staff in the High Dependency unit and the Cardiothoracic ward. The attention and care given to me were truly outstanding and a real credit to the often criticised National Health Service. It’s a strange experience being in hospital as (in my case) you are taken there and transported into a totally different environment. Suddenly, your world shrinks to a hospital ward and you are severely restricted in your movements. You lose your privacy, your ability to make decisions (mostly) and cook for yourself. You spend your day in your pyjamas and slippers but it all seems natural, as your key concern is to lessen the pain. So, a few weeks to fully recover and get back on my bike again. I’ll get there.

Before the trauma, we drove up to the village of Stenton to take photos of the hawthorn trees which are just coming into flower. The hawthorn tree is very common in the UK but it at its most spectacular when the blossom arrives in the spring. Around here, the trees are referred to as haws although strictly speaking, this refers to the berries which appear later in the year. Siegfried Sassoon refers to the tree in his poem The Hawthorn Tree and writes “I know my lad that’s out in France/ With fearsome things to see /Would give his eyes for just one glance/At our white hawthorn tree”. The photos below show the lane in Stenton where there are numerous hawthorn trees and also a close up of the blossom.

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The haws at Stenton

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The haws at Stenton

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Hawthorn blossom

My garden has come into full spring colour again with a lovely spread of yellow daffodils but these are outshone by the polyanthus and primroses. These two plants look very similar but there are differences, outlined in this article. The following photos are of polyanthus although I think that the second one could be a primrose. On my bookshelf is  Alice Oswald’s wonderful book Weeds and Wildflowers which has exquisite greyscale etchings by Jessica Greenman.The poem Primrose begins “First of April – new born gentle./Fleeting wakeful on a greenleaf cradle./Second of April – eyes half open,/faint light moving under the lids. Face hidden./Third of April – bonny and blossoming/in a yellow dress that needs no fastening”. I’m writing this on 1st April, so a nice coincidence. You might look at the third photo differently now.

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Polyanthus in my garden

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Primrose/polyanthus in my garden

 

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Polyanthus in my garden

 

 

Snowdrops at Pitcox and trip to Aberdeen

February 18, 2016

It’s February again, so my annual trip to Pitcox House to photograph the snowdrops and aconites. Pitcox is a hamlet about 4 miles from Dunbar and is on one my regular cycling routes. The big house (aka big hoose) is a feature of farms in Scotland and is the place were the (usually wealthy) farmer’s family would live. In contrast, the workers’ houses would be much smaller but this would depend on status. Across the road from the big hoose in Pitcox is the Grieve’s Cottage and opposite is the Gardener’s Cottage. The grieve was the farm manager or farmer’s right hand man and was the chief employee. The origin of this meaning of grieve has nothing to do with sorrow but is from the Old English graefa reeve. A reeve was an officer or King’s representative in a locality in medieval England, so graefa reeve was presumably a senior officer. If you know different, let me know.

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Pitcox House

The snowdrops are in profusion here. As I’ve noted before in this blog, lovers of snowdrops are called galanthopiles and, as the highlighted site shows, it is a very serious and often very expensive hobby. On the literature front, my favourite snowdrop poem is by Alice Oswald, and it’s simply called Snowdrop. The full poem can be found here – I hope this blogger asked for permission. Oswald sees the snowdrop as a sad girl and “One among several hundred clear-eyed ghosts/ who get up in the cold” but although the girl may be grieving (that word again!) she is “a mighty power of patience”.

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Snowdrops at Pitcox House

The other splash of colour – this time yellow – in the garden at Pitcox House comes from the aconites. These perennial plants are lovely to look at but most species are poisonous and shouldn’t be handled. They look like large buttercups and provide a nice contrast with the dazzling white of the snowdrops.

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Aconite at Pitcox House

At the weekend, we travelled north to the city of Aberdeen (good photos) for a wedding reception on Saturday but we made a weekend of it, driving up on Friday. We used to live in Aberdeenshire in the bonnie village of Kemnay and I taught at The Robert Gordon University in the 1980s. On Friday evening, we went to an old haunt, Poldino’s Italian restaurant in the city centre. We shared the Antipasto Vegeteriano – a very tasty ” selection of marinated and grilled vegetables, salad, olives, cheese and grissini”. I learned that grissini are breadsticks. I then had Panciotti Cappesante e Gamberi : “Scallop and prawn spherical pasta parcels through a fennel and smoked salmon sauce” which were light, with a delicate taste and an excellent sauce. My wife had Sogliola Certosina : “Fillets of lemon sole pan fried with, prawns, lemon, dill, cream and tomato”, which came as a very good sized sole fillet with a sauce that complimented, but did not overwhelm the fish. We finished by sharing a dessert – Montenero “First we drench sponge in Marsala then we add vanilla ice cream, over this we pour our own rich chocolate sauce” and this has not changed in 30 years with high quality ice cream and a delicious chocolate sauce. So, a nostalgic evening and a very enjoyable one. If you are in Aberdeen, this is a fine place to eat.

Poldino's restaurant in Aberdeen

Poldino’s restaurant in Aberdeen

On the Saturday, we were picked up by friends outside Marischal College. This magnificent building has recently been cleaned up and the granite was sparkling in the sun when we were there. When I looked up at the numerous spires, it reminded me of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, although Marischal College’s gothic design is more traditional. Outside the college is a statue of Robert the Bruce who was King of Scotland in the 14th century and the 5.6m high statue adds grandeur to the impressive college building behind.

Marischal College Aberdeen

Marischal College Aberdeen

 

Gothic spires of Marischal College

Gothic spires of Marischal College

Statue of Robert the Bruce at Marischal College Aberdeen

Statue of Robert the Bruce at Marischal College Aberdeen

After lunch, we went for a walk with our friends to the nearby Brig O’ Balgownie which in past times was the main entrance to the city. Further on, we visited the historic St Machar Cathedral, a 12th century building. The very helpful guide gave us a history of the church which was  a catholic cathedral until the Reformation in Scotland. It’s an unusual building because the walls are made of rough granite, which was gathered from the fields and this is different from usual cut granite or stone you see in other large churches. The pillars are cut granite and of a smoother appearance. Another distinctive feature is the flat, heraldic ceiling whereas you might expect a vaulted ceiling in such a building. The large organ dominates one side of the kirk where this is a different ceiling. This is another of these remarkable buildings which were erected with little available technology and often in hazardous conditions, and you have to admire the work of the stonemasons and labourers who built it.

Twin towers of St Machar Cathedral Aberdeen

Twin towers of St Machar Cathedral Aberdeen

 

Interior and heraldic ceiling in St Machar Cathedral

Interior and heraldic ceiling in St Machar Cathedral

 

The organ in St Machar Cathedral

The organ in St Machar Cathedral

First snowdrops, snowy fields and snowy graveyard

January 19, 2015

It’s January. We are having a very cold spell here in Dunbar, with temperatures not rising above 3 degrees all day. OK – this may be a mild winter for some of you, but it’s counted as cold here. In Scots, the word cauld (pr called) is used for cold and there’s a take-off of the biblical saying “Many are called, but few are chosen” (the equivalent of Private Fraser’s “Wur doomed”). The take-off is “Many are cauld, but few are frozen”. January is also the month when the first snowdrops appear and I paid my annual trip to Pitcox House  which is about 4 miles up country from Dunbar. This is traditionally where people first see snowdrops. As in previous years, I urge you to find Alice Oswald’s poem Snowdrop from her collection Weeds and Wild Flowers (with superb etchings by Jessica Greenman). Oswald describes the snowdrop as “A pale and pining girl, head bowed, heart gnawed”, so a tragic figure who brings “her burnt heart with her in an urn/ of ashes, which she opens to re-mourn” and is “no more than a drop of snow/ on a green stem”. Despite this, the poet sees the snowdrop as having “a mighty power of patience”. I think that most people delight in seeing the first snowdrops, The photos below were taken at Pitcox House which has a dazzling array of winter trees,

Snowdrops at Pitcox House

Snowdrops at Pitcox House

Snowdrops among the leaves at Pitcox House

Snowdrops among the leaves at Pitcox House

Sun on winter trees at Pitcox House

Sun on winter trees at Pitcox House

Pitcox House and trees

Pitcox House and trees

From Pitxox, we drove on past Stenton and on to the road to Gifford. There had been a snowfall the night before and the snow still lay on the fields we passed, highlighting the lines of the spring wheat, which is temporarily dormant in the icy conditions. There was more snow in the Lammermuir Hills in the distance, as the photos below show.

Snowy fields near Garvald

Snowy fields near Garvald

Snowy fields near Garvald

Snowy fields near Garvald

In the bonnie village of Gifford (good photos) the wintry scene was most noticeable in the grounds of the historic Yester Parish Church where the snow still lay amongst the gravestones, as in the photos below.

Yester Parish Church graveyard

Yester Parish Church graveyard

Yester Parish Church graveyard

Yester Parish Church graveyard