‘Where does it hurt?’ – #lettersfromladyn #Herodotus

One Eyewitness

Where does it hurt?

Not here in Eygpt

where, with an enthusiastic mind,

our son of Mnemosyne

is blown away by Nile boats.

“Their boats with which they carry cargoes” he reports “are made of the thorny acacia, of which the form is very like that of the Kyrenian lotos, and that which exudes from it is gum. From this tree they cut pieces of wood about two cubits in length and arrange them like bricks, fastening the boat together by running a great number of long bolts through the two-cubit pieces; and when they have thus fastened the boat together, they lay cross-pieces[81] over the top, using no ribs for the sides; and within they caulk the seams with papyrus. They make one steering-oar for it, which is passed through the bottom of the boat; and they have a mast of acacia and sails of papyrus. These boats cannot sail up the river unless there be a very fresh wind blowing, but are towed from the shore: down-stream however they travel as follows: they have a door-shaped crate made of tamarisk wood and reed mats sewn together, and also a stone of about two talents weight bored with a hole; and of these the boatman lets the crate float on in front of the boat, fastened with a rope, and the stone drag behind by another rope. The crate then, as the force of the stream presses upon it, goes on swiftly and draws on the “baris” (for so these boats are called), while the stone dragging after it behind and sunk deep in the water keeps its course straight. These boats they have in great numbers and some of them carry many thousands of talents’ burden”. (Herodotus: Histories Book 11: Euterpe)

But here where time has travelled far

beyond the reach of memory.

They haven’t seen so don’t believe.

‘No ribs’ what did that even mean?

And here – 2,469 years hence –

where a ‘shipwreck’ breaches

the Nile’s surface, and fits the description,

as set down, of the mythical ‘Baris’.

Not here, stranger

but no fiction, Herodotus

dead, his credibility long defeated,

sings with Arion, the renowned harpist –

and one recounts to the other that fabled journey

on the back of a dolphin to safety at Taenarum.

Note: I wrote this earlier in the year – inpsired by a tweet or an article ‘exonerating’ Herodotus following the refloating of the shipwreck of what is very likely a Baris in the Nile. I’m not sure why I had a fancy to share it here today.

Mound of Down Minotaur – #lettersfromladyn

The mound, we could say, exists in its mounding. This is to think of it not as a finished object, standing on foundations and set over and against its surroundings, but as a locus of growth and regeneration where materials welling up from the earth mix and mingle with the fluxes of the weather in the ongoing production of life. The mound has not turned its back on us, as we might suppose, hiding secrets within its dark, enclosed interior that we can discover only by tunnelling in. On the contrary, it is open to the world. As the ever-emergent outcome of the interplay of cosmic forces and vital materials, the mound is not bulit but grows.

extract from chapter ‘Round mound and earth sky’ from ‘Making‘ by Tim Ingold

MoundofDownPerduranceFor various reasons, I am not doing my usual round of the Mound of Down today, despite the weather being glorious here. Instead, I am considering it as an anthropological proposition. I might have overstated the case when I said that Tim Ingold had covered all of my favourite things in his ‘Life of Lines’ volume in an earlier post.

It seems that my current fascination with anthropology á la Prof Ingold continues with an earlier book – Making‘. I had been slow to read this because of the title (it doesn’t mention lines or being alive) but, in fact it is the backdrop to the ‘Knowing from the Inside‘ work. But more importantly there is a significant part of a chapter on…MOUNDS.

Of course, the Mound of Down is not specifically mentioned – but it is, to be fair, a poster child for perdurance – and of not coughing up much in the way of archaelogically sound information about what the hell it was/is actually all about.

And, of course, it is always work-in-progress. Yes, like it’s brackets – the Down Cathedral and Inch Abbey – it is a little bit fixed in place by our attempts at preservation. But, unlike both edifices, it is a growing thing. How strange it would be if we found that the Cathedral had an extra layer of bricks that nobody could account for in the time between they were and weren’t there. But it would be much stranger if we came back to the Mound – even after a short absence – and found that it was absolutely the same as we left it.

I wrote the below a couple of months ago. I think it will have been May because of mention of burning gorse.  Speedwell (veronica) appeared in the burnt places quite quickly. I also notice – this is in general – that the Mound of Down tends to spit people out. I don’t know how many conversations I’ve had about how it should be a big tourist attraction in the town but I always get the sense that the Mound is not over welcoming –  siphoning walkers off by a new gate this season.

It is, I am sure, labyrinthine in its history. It has to be, whether abandoned stronghold or other lost earthworks, because it has centuries of all things of this local world tamping it down, shaping it, mounding it. I’m always surprised – perhaps I’ve said this before – that it’s never assoicated with those that are rumoured to live in mounds.

Mound of Down Minotaur

Everything moves in circles here.

Ariadne keeps count of the turns
with different coloured threads.

Growing by burned gorse
blue veronica. Orange tips

and their black-lace ladies fly
above unconcerned. Who knows

what moves below the surface
of these ancient earthworks.

People come here once, then
don’t come back. Mean to,

ought to, but somehow
don’t make the journey.

Except Theseus who wants
it to be a tourist destination.

He needs it clear of menace –
means to get to the bottom of it.

He beats back the overgrown paths,
but they are moats and lead back

to their openings:
first a small descent,

then spit him out,
and he must start again.

Framing the Landscape #Knowing the Dance

As part of the ‘Knowing the Dance’ project, dancer/choreographer/researcher Paula Guzzanti and I have been meeting up to create a performance which explores innovative ways that movement/dance and poetry can meet where there is, what I am calling, parity of esteem between the two artforms and where the base of inspiration can move backwards and forwards between the two artforms.  Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick, have been the most generous hosts in providing studio space for us to conspire, inspire, experiment and create what I hope will be very interesting and affecting pieces.

Quoile Pondage


WP_20170309_14_52_25_ProOne of our experiments is to use the same landscape as a base of inspiration for a piece of work, where Paula would take the movement forward and, I, the poetry. March, here, can be so fine and last Thursday (9 March) provided the ideal conditions to try this out. Paula and I installed ourselves at Steamboat Quay right at the end of the Pondage – and took a half an hour  with our own process. It was lovely that walkers on the Pondage that afternoon seemed very content with us being there.

An interesting synergy emerged when we shared our work. Both of us had been considering where our attention was being drawn to, and how we we responded to that. When we moved to the studio to work on the piece of work which will, I think, be a key piece, this question stayed with us, acting as a kind of binding of sorts between the two artforms. This is very, very inspirational work. It is a real privilege to be working with Puala – including the fact that she has a writing practice and her current PhD research is examining ‘affect’ and this is adding a dimension to the work which won’t be there without this collaboration – a more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts situation entirely.

Arts Council NI – ACES Award 16/17: #knowingthedance

Who can know the dancer from the dance? – Yeats

Thrilled and very appreciative to be one of the 17 artists who have received an ACES Award 16/17 from the Arts Council NI and very excited to begin work on #KnowingtheDance which is looking at the places where poetry and dance/movement meet.

Full details of all the ACES awardees can be found on the Arts Council NI’s website HERE.

My work programme for the coming year (hardly feels like work) is roughly like this:

(1) Research phase – finding places where dance & poetry currently meet and seeking out innovative approaches

(2) Masterclass with a choreographer/maker who is doing really interesting work bridging the gap between dance/movement and other artforms

(3) A new ‘body’ of work exploring the concepts behind ‘Knowing the Dance’ – I’ll be looking at some technical things here as well around how we write ‘the body electric’ – as it were – via rhythm, use of language and grammar etc

(4) Performance piece in collaboration with a wonderful dancer/choreographer

(5) Creative Writing Workshop based on the above for sharing with the groups that I work with

(5) Launch of my collection with Templar Poetry, Spring 2017

(6) General writing development in tandem with the above. I’ve been very impressed by developments by previous ACES recipients and hoping to add to that.

I’ll be sharing and documenting #knowingthedance through this blog through the year.

Thanks to Down Recorder for a profile this week (16 November) on my writing, ACES and the Lagan Online/Reading Room initiative ’12NOW’.  Great to be doing this in Downpatrick and working on the ACES project with Down Arts Centre.



Lagan Online new website & 12NOW – New Original Writers #lettersfromladyn

Congratulations to Colin Dardis and Lagan Online on the launch of their brand new website today. Looking fantastic. The Honest Ulsterman is incorporated within it, I notice, though the direct link is humag.co if you are looking.

Delighted to be included as one of the 12NOW (New Original Writers) – half poetry, half prose

12now-collageThe full twelve are:
Poetry:   Peter Adair  |  Olive Broderick  |  Tory Campbell  |  Patricia Devlin-Hill  | Matthew Rice  |  Ross Thompson

Prose:    Paul Doran  |  James Guiney  |  Anne Harris  |  Paula Matthews  |   David Mitchell  |  Claire Savage

Find out more about each at http://laganonline.co/12now/

Over the next number of months, they will be promoting each of us, showcasing our work, with exclusive interviews, and sharing published work and literary achievements. It’s wonderful to have this support and I look forward to seeing developments with all – and across the wider literature sector here which seems to be in an incredibly creative and growing phase. Long may this continue!

12NOW & Verbal Arts Centre’s Reading Rooms

12NOW as in initiative will see each of the writers working with Verbal Arts Centre’s Reading Rooms, a mobile shared reading programme that gives participants a voice, reduces isolation and anxiety, and promotes wellbeing. Using a reading aloud and shared reading setting the programme encourages participants to share personal experiences from their past, sparking memories, stimulating new thoughts and provoking conversation related to the short stories and poems from our writers, selected in advance and tailored to the needs of the group by the project’s Literary Guide.

Reading Rooms currently has five strands: Young People, Older People, Criminal Justice (working with ex young offenders), Schools Programme and Mental Health. Overall, the poems and stories from each of the 12NOW will be read by hundreds of people in dozens of Reading Rooms groups across Northern Ireland, catering to both adults and children. Additionally, each writer will also go out to visit selected groups to read to them and discuss their work.

I had a chance to chat to Colin about the wiritng and my ‘erstwhile’ blog recently for 12NOW – link to it HERE.

There are three associated poems in the current edition of the wonderful HU as well

  • Hot Water
  • Night Divers
  • Austerity Times

Read them HERE

Many thanks to Colin and Lagan Online for including me in this!

Collecting Myself

Lovely spring day here. A little breezy but there is a feel of cobwebs being blown away. The windows are showing up dirt, though, in the brightness.

Once again I’m struggling with the whole notion of getting THE (first) collection together. It just doesn’t feel right to get c.40 poems under one title.

I’m re-reading Pascale Petit’s ‘Towards a Collection’

I first came across her as a translater of Yang Lian’s poetry. In ‘Towards a Collection’ she advises ‘Read poetry in translation; it will broaden your outlook of what a poem can be and do.’

I love, and am unnerved, by reading in translation but there is always the feel that the translater has to strip the poem down to its skeleton and then rebuild it so that it has the same affect to the reader of the translation. It seems to me that a good poem is already a little whittled but not underwritten.

But what I am finding incredibly useful are her suggestions on editing individual poems and how to approach the problem of underwriting. I look forward to experimenting.

Those self-same skills

I had intended to write every week; and I didn’t intend to post any of my poetry. This overdue letter is in the form of a poem. I had been thinking about Lady Nakatomi writing tanka and collecting shells and a walk I’d taken with my sister at Tyrella beach.

Worse again – it had originally been a poem about writing and ended with the lines ‘I talk too much; don’t listen enough / were you thinking that about me’ but that didn’t work out either. It is strange how things take their own direction. Perhaps that’s what I’d been thinking about… and ghosts.  The good news is that I am to have two poems in Abridged 0-17 due out the end of July. It’s a visual arts / poetry journal  on the subject of ‘Time’ – really looking forward to hearing it. Anyway here is ‘Tyrella’



one part of the beach is covered

in tiny shells; precisely made

as tanka; fine lines of ochre

and lilac etched on ivory.

I select some as reminders

though I know their lacquer will fade

without moisture. There is nothing

 on the water, not even a

liner out on the horizon –

and what seemed to be shifting sands

is a low mist rising. I move

through it, as one might gently touch

the surface of old love-letters.