Monday, 16 May 2016

Gardening, Poetry and thoughts on Belonging.

No Sunday book this week - I've been too busy trying to salvage the flood-wrecked garden while the beautiful weather lasts, and putting together a workshop on Home and Belonging.  There's nothing like gardening for making you think about the latter.  It's a long-term occupation. A magnolia tree I planted twenty years ago has only recently grown as tall as me.  It has survived, though I've lost a wisteria that took seven years to flower but died because it didn't enjoy having its roots in a swimming pool.
That was my garden under there - 4 times in December!

This is what it looks like now, with a temporary fence
I've lost most of my beautiful old roses, a thick flowering hedge more than two metres high, nurtured for a couple of decades.  I mourn their poetic identities.  Mme Albert Carriere, Cardinal Richelieu, the Queen of Denmark, Park Direktor Riggers. My Scottish rose, Stanwell Perpetual, appeared to be making a recovery, but has since had a relapse. Only the deep red Dublin Bay (pruned to a skeleton) and the French aristocrat Giselaine de Feligonde seem unperturbed. The Rambling Rector is still rambling and Paul's Himalayan Musk as rampant as ever, though both had to be drastically cut back to untangle flood debris.
Parkdirektor Riggers RIP

Stanwell Perpetual in better days
Meanwhile, I've been preparing for a workshop on Home and Belonging and what they mean to us. It's such a complicated thing - we use 'home' in such a loose way and although it ought to be a comforting safe environment, often it isn't.  Belonging is very personal - why do we feel, passionately, that we belong in particular places - places we may not have any close connection to?   It made me think very deeply about cultural identity and environmental attachment and migrancy and exile and how we can carry the knowledge of who we are with us wherever we go.  American author Barbara Kingsolver, writing about the displacement of First Nation people by western settlers, put it this way: ‘They called their refugee years The Time When We were Not, and they were forgiven, because they had carried the truth of themselves in a sheltered place inside the flesh, exactly the way a fruit that has gone soft still carries inside itself the clean, hard stone of its future.’ 

Place seems particularly important to writers and so many of the great writers have been exiles - James Joyce in England and France, Katherine Mansfield in Europe, D.H. Lawrence in Italy and Mexico -   it's a very long and interesting list. Is there something about exile and 'not-belonging' that inspires writers to create?  The philosopher Edward Said said that we are all 'creating a house of words to dwell in', and I love that image.

On Saturday evening, after the workshop I drove north into Scotland to Dumfries, to an evening of 'eco-poetics' called Wheat, Otter, and Stone, featuring three amazing poets, Susan Richardson, Em Strang and David Mark Williams. One of the things I loved best about the reading, was that it wasn't a reading but a performance.  Seeing and hearing poets perform their work from memory is a whole other experience! The theme fitted with everything I'd been working through in the morning - our relationship to the landscape around us, and the way we interact with it in the process of 'belonging'. Eco-poetics, I've discovered comes from two Greek words: oikos [meaning household or family] and po├»esis [making, or creating], so that it quite literally means the creation of a dwelling place, or home-making.

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