Forth Valley Open Studios and New Poetry

The new header image on the blog is taken from this view across Flanders Moss, a place I find myself increasingly drawn to.003Later that day a heavy shower came roaring over the empty space, flattening everything. It was such a spectacle that we were almost caught in it, rushing for shelter at the very last minute.

Not far away is my favourite destination in the annual Forth Valley Open Studios event – West Moss-Side Farm. It is a working organic farm, with yurts for holidays, but also houses a gallery and studio space where craft courses and exhibitions are held. Itis a beautiful building and the studio space is full of light and the view over the moss. Please do go and look at the website, which features the range of activities and talents on offer, but for the moment I want to focus on Kate Sankey, who makes wonderful baskets from the plants grown on the farm, and artist Charmian Pollok. She produces a lot of beautiful cross-media works from local materials under the title of the Ghost Croft archive, and her work was a great inspiration to me in working on the Territory of Rain poems. In particular there are some stark and evocative black and white photographs of an abandoned croft which really spoke to me. I had the great opportunity to meet and talk to both Kate and Charmian on this year’s visit, and share some of my poems, and I am really grateful to Kate for organising the event.

On the poetry front, two new books have come my way. Maurice Riordan’s anthology of early Irish poetry The Finest Music, is a luxurous hardback. It has a mixture of poems, from the very familiar Pangur’s Cat (though the translation by Paul Muldoon is new to me), to the small gem The Bee (translated by Patrick Crotty) which I’d never come across, and the introductory essay by Riordan is invaluable.

The second is  a ‘tryptych’ by Vagabond Voices, Our Real Red Selves, which comprises three sequences of poems by Harry Giles, Marion McCready and JL Williams. Harry Giles’ work imagines a military drone as a sentient human being, which allows him to comment about the nature of human life and work in our over-technicalised society (is that a word? I guess it is now!). Marion McCready writes about the objectification of women during the event of childbirth, reclaiming in a very powerful way the personal perspective on a part of women’s history which was almost surrendered to medical science and manipulation. JL Williams writes about war in a way that many have found contentious, as she does not advert to the individual experience of those who have actually participated, and yet I did not feel on reading it that she had misappropriated or exploited their histories. It is as if she is the universal human watching  the televised replaying of any military action anywhere in the world, recording the core psychological responses we might all feel in seeing what is done, without judgement or partiality. The whole thing adds up to a many-sided enquiry into the mechanics of dehumanisation of our society. A magnificent achievement.

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