Saturday, 14 February 2015

Poem as document

The burn
with the trunk’s gurgling reflection
in the shallow water and the shadow play
of trees on the opposite bank –
a place perfect
for salmon to spawn

After weeks of ice and snow I finally managed to do my second and third walk along Gormack Burn earlier this week. North of Drum Estate the valley has opened up and given me a clear view of the foothills of Hill of Fare where the burn well up. Miles pass, and the view of the hill sharpens up. As I’m approaching the source, the burn has become shallower with the shadows of trees spanning its entire width. The stony riverbed is clear now. 

Documenting the walk through poetry has proven to lift out and intensify my experiences. After capturing initial impressions, I choose a prompt - drawn from my background study of, and my own reflections on Neil Gunn’s novel Highland River - randomly to focus my observations, direct me into the direction of new interpretations and deepen my thoughts. Sometimes ideas for lines or a particular voice or form emerge naturally, sometimes I have to wait until I’m behind my desk before I’m able to create a poem.

Linger, like a magpie in flight –
do not think you know its slight already

The walk influences the poems and the poems influence the walk. What I see, hear and smell serves as a background, metaphor or other vehicle of experiences and thoughts expressed in the poems. Vice versa, my intention to write poems, and the time spent to take notes and develop these into poems, intensifies these observations, experiences and related thoughts and the poems serve as a vehicle to remember these.

I see the poems resulting from my walk along Gormack Burn as working documents rather than finished products. Inherently, they are vehicles for capturing, intensifying and remembering observations, experiences, thoughts. For The Light of the North Festival in Dunbeath in November 2015 I’m creating a longer work of poetry and music. I have started to write the first part of the poem and have drawn on images, experiences and thoughts generated through the prompts and poems - sometimes an image, sometimes a line or two, at sometimes a full stanza.

From 5 to 7 March the Helmsdale-based arts organisation Timespan will host the True North Conference ‘Recording the Past, Present and Future’. As part of this conference I’ll give a short presentation on my walk along Gormack Burn and the way I’ve used poetry to document it. More information about the conference can be found at Timespan’s website.

Copyright text, poems and image Petra Vergunst

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