The meetup on Saturday 20th July was so extraordinarily successful – and so extraordinary – that we are using this entire post for subscribers’ memories and thoughts. The morning was devoted to ANN CULLIS’ collaborative almanac project. In the afternoon, with PETER REASON, we revisited our earlier meetup on the climate catastrophe, opening with a slideshow of catastrophic images showing the tragedies which, thanks to human egotism and negligence, are befalling so many species other than our own. The music was Henry Purcell’s Dido’s Lament.
from the subscribers
On an unexpectedly sunny day in rooms where we have delivered our well-honed words before, this day seemed to have added significance. We had been primed for it since March and asked to speak our truth. In many venues locally and worldwide the ‘Climate Change’ words have resonated, so that the choice of this day seemed prescient for the group that gathered. The date had extra poignancy for me as it was on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, the occasion upon which not only did man step onto the Moon , but the sight of Earth fired our imaginations and brought the indelible image of a singular planet.
In addition the date co-incided with another anniversary when climate scientists had first given dire warnings about earth’s systems and climate being affected by unsustainable behaviours. Now, thirty one years later, we were describing and lamenting situations in the world that have become intolerable for many, and in which we feel complicit and yet powerless. Human and animal suffering, species loss, and climatic effects were the threads throughout the afternoon programme.
Our words were powerful in the way that only the spoken word can achieve amongst those with ears to hear. In the morning’s Almanac entries about the month of June we celebrated our joy in the world, its beauty and quirkiness. While ‘climate change’ bells are being tolled, we as writers and artists have the skill and the capacity to show those aspects, and to dwell on our good fortune to have it within our grasp to describe them, and perhaps in that way to help preserve them. Although our group was contained, with people who were mostly familiar to each other, we were performing an act similar to lighting beacons on hillsides to signal to others, so that with each new flame being lit the light of the message spreads further and further.
The responses to the video Rise and the poems that resulted were rich and moving. All the readings carried such charge that it was hard to keep up with the energy and attention required to absorb it. I felt completely at home with the natural choreography that arose out of expecting readers to go forward when the moment was right for them. That was a good decision and shows we can be trusted to co-operate and give the subtle signals that enable a smooth flow. This in itself was the lesson we could take as template for future action in the world we live in. After all we had read these words together:
Sisters and brothers
We read our poems
as a reminder
that life in all forms demands our respect
that these issues affect each and everyone of us
None of us is immune
and that each and everyone of us has to decide
The final poem delivered by Conor Whelan was a truly bardic moment, where he intoned The Lake Isle of Innisfree from memory in an inspired decision to deliver those familiar words and not to read something heavier by Rilke. It reminded us what to value. Peace came dripping slow as we sat and contemplated for a while. More of those silent moments would be valuable.
It’s not my habit to introduce my posts with biblical passages. But the chilling verses from Genesis, quoted by Sue Boyle at the start of her audio-visual presentation on Saturday afternoon, do sum up pretty well how our species has used the earth and the other species with which we share it.
Sue’s presentation, of moving slides accompanied by Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas”, came to an end in stunned silence. It was magnificent, but applause would have been inappropriate.
For me, this was the high point of an outstanding meet-up.
At our meeting on 1st June, Ann Cullis proposed a project called The June Almanac. The object was to write a short observational piece for each day of the month, avoiding similes and metaphors and the use of the first person. Fourteen of us took part, and later submitted our choice of ten entries, which Ann collated and anonymised. They were read during the morning session by a team of five readers. Later, some of us read a few more entries. They were, on the whole, just as good as the chosen ones. Overall, a very high standard of observation and writing, taking in all the senses, and including notes on weather, human foibles, and activities of birds, animals, insects and gastropods. Each one was complete in itself, and together they gave a wide-angled view of our lives over the previous month. All the participants enjoyed the process and felt they had benefited from it. We are grateful to Ann for proposing this project and for seeing it through. Below is a photo of the submissions laid out in date order.
The afternoon session of environmental writing was introduced by Peter Reason, starting with a showing of the film “Rise: from one island to another“. Do take a few minutes to watch this film, unplug from your daily distractions, immerse yourself in the beauty of our shared home, and let the poetry heal.
Sue’s presentation (mentioned above) was followed by an unrehearsed ceremony of readings in response to “Rise”. Each reader came to the lectern at what felt the right moment.
After two dear deaths in the past two weeks I was rather emotional, but even without this I think I would still have been moved to tears by many of the readings, and especially by Eileen Cameron’s short poem “A land laid bare”.
Conor Whelan brought the afternoon to a close with a performance from memory of Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”. The day was a heartfelt sharing of our deepest concerns. As a group we are moving forward into new territory, growing into a deeper knowledge of ourselves and of one another.
I was going to write to you to thank you for yesterday. You were right. It was worthwhile doing the whole of my response to ‘Rise’ in one go rather than break it up among the other readings. Thank you for that platform and thank you too for letting me read ‘The Land Laid Bare’. I have to confess, I am a little amazed at how much I have suddenly enjoyed reading in public. I think the microphone session you organised definitely helped, but perhaps what helps most of all is the lovely supportive atmosphere which members generate towards each other.
Your opening remarks and bible reading before the afternoon session were very apt. Congratulations on your images and choice of music. They worked together in a very powerful way.
Connor’s choice of the’Lake Isle of Innisfree’ to end the afternoon was perfect, as was his performance.
What I cherished most about the day was the fact that we worked as a team in both the morning and afternoon sessions. It seemed to bring out something special in everyone. I enjoyed the sense of togetherness – of being a part of something.
Thanks again to you, Peter and Ann for being the driving forces,
The morning showed one form of collaboration between writers and delivered a feast for the senses, with wit, tenderness and compassionate close observation.
The afternoon’s beginning with Sue’s quote from Genesis and the film slide show with that moving song (may I have a copy of the words – or reference to find it please- ) and the heart-breaking images broke my composure. Then the Rise You Tube with 2 sisters in humanity paved the way for Bath writers’ responses to this.
The ringing bell between readers, and the mastery of the poems, created a deepening sense, feeling, resonance of something I will not name, but something flowered as evidenced by the smooth improvisation of who will rose to read, and how the silence lingered after.
It felt a relief to discuss how to use this afternoon to widen the work of artists in a time of catastrophe.
The afternoon closed with another set of wonderful poems and clever Conor giving us the Lake Isle of Innisfree “in the deep heart’s core” .
THANK YOU for a moving and inspirational day with our community of poets.
The images flow
the poems sing
down the skin
as we face
the rise and rise
and the bell rings
for each poet
who tells their truth
who stand up
and after whom
we sit in silence
After an early start, it was lovely to come in to a sunny room and such a warm welcome – and to now know so many of the group. But the best – the absolute best aspect of the morning was that fourteen of us – or was it seventeen in the end? – had written each day and submitted their ten best from their almanacs. And that June had been carefully observed, the results opening up into a fascinating kaleidoscope: some funny, some idiosyncratic, some focusing on a particular interest, many showing what a wealth of interest is out there, once you look. And knowing that we’d all had our ears, eyes and noses alerted to the details around us – and that we’d all been in it together… well that was truly wonderful. Then to hear them read out … both the best and the second best … it really was as if we’d each brought a variety of patches to the room which were then sewn together to make an amazing and all inclusive quilt – our quilt. Ours.
What I liked was the mix of thoughts and ideas drifting together in Ann Cullis’s compilation – lovely to hear other people touching on one’s own feelings and without knowing who they were. And then the strong contrast with the serious issues being dealt with in the afternoon. Having the film was an excellent addition, despite the impossibility of hearing the speech in the soundtrack.
I would certainly be in favour of future events focusing on the climate crisis etc.
After living with the almanac for a whole month it was very rewarding to hear my ten choices integrated with other people’s in a concert piece. The recurrence of subjects like roses, birds, bees and caterpillars has already been pointed out – June is a busy month for gardeners. I noted a tendency of all writers to look to the outside world for inspiration resulting in a marked contrast between the entries of urban and suburban/country dwellers. Few of us took much notice of domestic interiors – no dust on cobwebs or headlights fanning across bedroom ceilings.
On a personal note I was intrigued to learn of more than one Viking in the Bath area on June the first! The fascination with the exotic and evocative names of roses suggested ‘a rose by any other name’ would definitely not ‘smell as sweet’. That thought led me to another fascinating aspect of the exercise. Although I know we all stuck strictly to the guidelines, we nevertheless knew that we had to pick a ‘top ten’. I wonder how often the choices were based on style rather than subject matter. I found that, as the days went by, I was spending longer and longer mulling over the choice of words. This might have been down to boredom but I wanted to make those few words striking by injecting humour, personification, irony, surprise. I paid much more attention to style than I would have done in a diary entry.
I am already way over the word limit but I am including a list of possible spin-offs.
Repeat the concert in another venue (suggested by Ann).
Keep an almanac during a winter month.
Post some of the entries in the almanac section of the blog.
Compile an almanac for just one or two days with every entry illustrated by a slide.
Develop individual entries into poems, stories or flash-fiction.
Try to analyse what we have learnt from writing the almanac.
Repeat the process with journal entries, word ‘I’ allowed (suggested by Sue).
I truly appreciate the way in which the Bath Writers members have responded to my initial challenge about art in a time of catastrophe. You have been both generous in picking up the issue, I think demonstrating how the public conversation about climate and the ecological catastrophe has is changing.
Specifically thinking of the Sunday ceremony of readings, I first want to appreciate Sue’s initial idea of responding to Rise with our own poetics and made space for it in the calendar of meetings. Sue, Conor, Graeme and I then met and exchanged emails, thinking through just how to set up the ceremony. We had all kinds of thoughts and plans which in the end were not needed because those present responded in such a dignified and orderly manner. Plans are important, and have to be discarded!
I am sorry the soundtrack of the film is problematic. I was moved by the poems that were read. Because they all circled around a shared theme I was not overloaded with images as I sometimes am. I do now wonder if a little more silence between readings would have been good.
I very much liked Sue’s slideshow with music. We briefly discussed the choice of ‘iconic’ species, and I understand the reasons behind Sue’s choice. I suspect any choice of images will through up questions, since the issue of extinction is so very complex. But I thought the whole impact was strong and shows a different way of raising ecological issues through presentational form.
I will follow up on the idea of taking this work public in some way, and will explore different film stimuli, venues, the Festival and Fringe, and keep everyone in touch. Please contact with any suggestions; I will get back to you when I need help, which I will
‘The world is troubled by a lack of looking.’ A morning attending to the world as it is, in all its quiddity, in all its senses, through the pages and voices of an almanac of June, with impressions that have swum up it to the surface of consciousness. No reference to I or me, no mediation by simile or metaphor, just attending, as we sit in a circle.
Sentences and fragments conjure storylines; we talk about what worlds are hidden beneath all our surface lives, the ancestors that have brought us here and their absences, the lacunae: a bundle of letters in an attic, a young adulthood in Nigeria, a lost uncle. Worlds suggested by a fin here, a tail there, a swimming shoal that dips below the surface again but in our cells we know is present. Where are we migrating?
The face of a young woman from the Marshall Islands is tattooed – it is the story of her family and ancestors. She stands back to back with a young woman from Greenland and the sea is rising as their poem combines. One of them has tears on her face. How would it be for us to have this connection – as they have – to the sea and the land? To join our personal biographies to the flow and presence of the planet, so we realise we are part of something far bigger, far richer, far more radical, far more humbling.
To attend and know our place. Urgently. But to know we have a place.
This was my first visit to the group and I didn’t know what to expect. Within a few minutes I knew my decision to come was a good one. Everybody welcomed me kindly for a start. Then the presentations began. I was struck by the quality, originality and creativity of what I heard. The ensuing discussion was interesting and lively. Everyone’s contribution was thought provoking and considered. I enjoyed the respectful manner in which people listened to each other, showed a genuine interest in what others had to say and gave of their own experience. My only regret was that I was unable to stay the entire day. It was certainly a morning well spent.
I really enjoyed being involved in the almanac project and it was wonderful to hear the combined results read out and have a discussion around our experiences in taking part. It’s the sort of project that remains in the thoughts – not forgotten on completion.
This event felt significant. The generosity of the performers and the focused attention of the audience created a charged space. In the bowl that the audience created, sat as in an amphitheatre, the poets’ words took on an elegiac quality. I was reminded of Robert Macfarlane’s Lost Words; like in his work, the poems became spells that evoked the endangered species, people and places they named, as well conjuring the urge for change. The afternoon felt important and it therefore feels important to share the work beyond ourselves in future.