Three Things... books - politics - walking by Kristian Evans

three things…

 

books - politics - walking

Books. He’s got too many books. There are well over a thousand volumes of poetry, philosophy, history, ecology and so on and on crowding every available space here and even colonising spaces that should be kept clear – the stairs, tables, kitchen cupboards, chairs, windowsills – all are crowded over with stacked books. The Táin Bó Cúailinge is in a pie dish and Henri Michaux is in the herb rack. Most of the books just sit there, waiting, gathering dust. Katharine Briggs' fairy survey is rescued from the coal bucket. A large number have yet to be read. Some follow him daily from room to room like permanent dreams.

Should he get rid of a few of these old tomes? Impossible; they are all valuable and deeply necessary and who knows? We might need every particular page one day. For example, here is a book on the uses of conscience in the poetry of George Herbert and Thomas Vaughan. It is a beautifully made object, and thoughtfully written, years of work, and altogether an unfailingly interesting thing to consider. How could he possibly get rid of it? When he puts it back on the shelf it might well stay there until he is dead. Yet Herbert and Vaughan were profound and humane and wrote at a time of great social upheaval, not unlike our own. We can learn from them. The same applies to so many of these books. The poetry of Iolo Goch, anyone? What use can we find for a localised theurgy in the philosophy of Iamblichus? Or essays on the bioregional imagination in Canada? Ah, look, a study of the evolution of the roundhouse in bronze age Britain, hidden under a memoir of a life obsessed with red foxes.

Some people live in cosy, snug, comfortable hutches, homely and organised. Alas, we have to conclude that this man shelters in a library. Yes, one of the most important functions of these four heavy old walls, this house, is that it’s a place to store books. The hour is getting late, it’s dark outside, you’ll have to balance your wine glass on the shoulder of a ghost, but at least we are keeping a candle or two lit for learning, here in the library, lodged like a chilly monastery among the shifting dunes on this faraway edge of Glamorganshire coast.

Politics. “I shall be involved in politics…saved!” So wrote the great French poet and heretic Arthur Rimbaud in his savagely self-critical testament, ‘A Season in Hell’. Once, long ago, a sane human might have hoped to live adrift from the concerns of politics, quietly cultivate the garden, raise children and write songs maybe, and laugh at the wild boar snuffling in the orchard. Now though, politics has come for us all, and will not leave us alone. We are all utterly involved, and there is no escape. Time, we discover, is not running out; it is speeding up. Power and the performance of power insist on dancing upon our attention, attempting to entrance and ensnare us with visions of salvation that are of no profit to anyone but warmongers and vampires. You must play the game. You really must. The only way out is through. Because none of us has a sure grip on reality any more. And how can you possibly hope to grow anything in your garden, or raise the next generation, as the world dissolves and disappears all around you? And you there, yes, you also are fading away, gone as the lapwings are gone, and a thousand other species are gone, leaving what else to the future but silence?

Walking. We follow the dog, a lively affectionate collie, along the dried out dune slacks to the ruined haul road, and on to the vast empty miles of beach. A desolate place at the best of times but we love it and come here as often as we can. We struggle into the rippling gale and shout nonsense words to each other and to the grinning dog and then wander on to find shelter in the lee scoop of a pile of driftwood and ripped nets and dolphin bones and shards of plastic jumble. Quieter now, we eat our sandwiches and crisps. I like pouring the tea, strong and sweet, hot and steaming from the old black flask. Sal, the collie, dances in breathless, nuzzles at us, looking for a cwtsh or a crust or a chuckle, then rushes off again scattering sand and ozone to chase an oystercatcher or a gull, or to sniff at the old wrecked cargo boat exposed by the tide. My son cuts a bit of good rope free from a half-burned tangle of junk to keep for later. “You’ll ruin the knife edge” I grumble, but I’m glad he has a scavenger’s instincts. I waste three matches to light my cigar, huddling deeper under the snapped chunk of a twisted old ash tree, and watch the blue smoke flow as it settles my mind.

We talk about school, and sport, and wild animals. I tease him by quoting poetry – the wind flung a magpie away and a black backed gull bent like an iron bar…slowly – he pretends he thinks this is rubbish, but I know he is intrigued. He teaches me Welsh words I have forgotten, or never knew -- pioden y môr? – and the hours go by and we’ve done nothing difficult and soon the late September sun is leaning into the sea. Rain clouds are clotting over Gower and advancing across the bay towards the steelworks, hauled and hurried by the west wind towards Sker point and Porthcawl.

We pour one more quick tea, then call the invincible collie in from the waves, and set off again on the rough trek across the restless dunes, along the slacks, leaving our bootprints among the goat willows and birches, hastening from the rain and the wind to get back to the warmth of the cluttered old library where we live.


by Kristian Evans

Kristian Evans is an artist and writer from Bridgend interested in ecology and the ways we think about and interact with the “other-than-human” world.  Unleaving published by Happenstance Press.

Also by Kristian Evans on this site: 

A Kenfig Journal

 

 

PLASTIC PLAGUE

Worldwide, it's calculated that ONE TRILLION plastic bags are used and disposed of annually.

Since October 1 2011, Wales has placed a charge on the distribution of plastic bags. In the campaign running up to the imposition of the charge, Sustainable Wales carried out a huge amount of preparatory work, centred round employee Joe Newberry, who became known as ‘the bagman’.

Plastic bags are an important constituent of global plastic pollution. Countries are taking action to try to tackle this serious issue.

In May 2016, the state of New York in the USA agreed a five cents charge for every plastic bag distributed. Here, writer MARGOT FARRINGTON writes a very personal account of how she viewed just one plastic bag.

 Margot Farrington

Margot Farrington

Margot Farrington is a poet, writer, and performer. She is the author of three poetry collections, most recently "Scanning For Tigers" (Free Scholar Press).  Her poetry has appeared in The Cimarron Review, Tiferet, Academy of American Poets (online archive) and elsewhere.

Her essays, reviews, and interviews have been published in The Brooklyn Rail, Delaware County Times, ABR: American Book Review, Art International, and Poetry Wales.


 

Black Plastic Bag

Wind of March 11th brings a plastic bag to spoil the view, to fasten insult to the big cherry at the back of the garden.  Tony makes the discovery and comes to tell me.  We go to the window and stare out.  Grimly, I remark that it’s the durable kind, not that flimsy, ghostly plastic wind pulls to pieces over time.

We see how high it’s snagged, three quarters of the way up.  The cherry’s height exceeds the two story building just behind: no ladder we own can bring us close enough for removal. Perhaps with a pole, I think, with some sort of hook on the end.  In more than three decades here, I can’t recall this happening, because our garden shelters within a long rectangle of neighboring yards, enclosed all round by the buildings of our block. 

Meanwhile, bags appear on the streets everywhere. Just three weeks ago, one plaguing a plane tree had torn to remnants and let go.  We’d watched that bag from our front windows for part of the winter, now the coming of spring was blighted with this black flag.  It waved, piratical and impenitent, frightening the cardinal that frequently perches near the top of the tree. Each spring he chooses the cherry to sing his clear-welling song, announcing to all his intention to mate and to nest and to raise fledglings.

I sulk at the sight of this intruder, I who am bag conscious, taking with me when I shop a canvas bag wherever I go.  Almost fanatic, nursing my hatred of the plastic ones dominating the city.  Stomping upon skittering sidewalk bags to arrest them, stuffing them into the trash. Tearing those within reach from street trees. Plucking them from plantings in the park.  I can’t do this everywhere I go, but mentally I chase, pinion, and correct.  And now, in disgust and at a loss, I turn away from the window.

The next day, I study the bag again, and the slender branch it’s slung over.  March has entered in reverse, that is to say, lamb-like: no buffeting winds and little of the raw chill typical of the month.  Instead, balmy days and the temperature easing up past 60, have brought spring on early.  I can see the blue-green leaves of the pearl bushes pushing out, hungry sparrows beginning to dismantle the pussy willow catkins.

Someone would have to climb part way up the tree, be agile enough with a long pole to dislodge or rip the bag from the branch.  I am not that person, nor is Tony, though once we could’ve done the trick.  I don’t want to see that bag as the cherry leafs out, don’t want to watch the birds shy from the flap-monster come to roost.

The following day the bag has wrapped itself into a black chrysalis, and maintains this form the entire day.  Someone will have to climb the tree.  I try to think of someone.  Or might the wind suddenly undo what it has done?

March 14th.  I try not to obsess, can’t help imagining that ugliness among the blossoms early May will bring on.  This cherry I call The Black Dragon (for a limb suggestive of a dragon climbing skyward) is of the species Prunus serotina. Planted by a bird, preserved by us when we took down the mulberry tree that overshadowed it.  Cherry all the birds enjoy, owing to the vantage point the tree commands, and of course for the fruit itself.  Why must our Black Dragon wear a black plastic bag?

March 15th, I’m sitting down to lunch at our dining room table, and I’ve looked out the window, as I have several times earlier, met each time by the presence of the bag hanging in space.  It has abandoned chrysalis form, regained shopping mode.  The garden lies wetly dark from rain earlier on.  At the end of lunch, I glance idly out, not with intent to check.  Something is missing—I scan the tree, convinced I’ve overlooked it somehow, but no, it’s really gone. 

Tony joins me and we look together, gazing from our third floor window, thinking we’ll spy the wretch caught in some other tree or bush, still asserting itself, still hateful.  But oh, how lovely, no trace.  No trace at all.  How foolish—I should have had more faith in the wind of March.  An errant puff: breath of the lamb at the perfect moment.  A black sail headed off to wherever.  Happiness restored.

WRITERS’ ROOMS: ROBERT MINHINNICK

Robert Minhinnick is an award-winning poet, essayist, novelist and translator. An environmental campaigner, he co-founded Friends of the Earth (Cymru) and charity Sustainable Wales. He has published seven poetry collections and several volumes of essays. His editorship of Poetry Wales from 1997 until 2008, defined by an edgy, outward-looking philosophy, marks perhaps the most exciting and progressive period of any Welsh periodical. His latest novel, The Limestone Man, is out now from Seren.


The boy and the ape look down at me. Beside them the man in the smock already seems convinced. Or enchanted.

In this attic room a desk. And dust.

The attic room

Paper dust and the dust of human skin, dust from the fossil corals found on Cog y Brain one mile to the east. That summit was once underwater but today is amongst the highest sand dunes in Western Europe. This coral dust and the sulphur-smelling conglomerate limestone I have collected from the same dune litter the desk. A desk dominated by an Apple and its black screen.

Behind that, amongst the shells and the seaglass and the words that might have meant something, is another computer. Derelict yet alive. If I press a switch it will reveal sites like ruined temples. Which gods were worshipped there? What foolishness pursued?

Strange to remember that four people worked in this room, three of them salaried. This used to be the office of Sustainable Wales and some of its documents are still stored here.

On the wall above the screen, further archaeology, passwords and phone numbers in indelible ink. Once these were so familiar I used them without thinking. The worlds they unlocked I took for granted. But those wonders have been supplanted by newer marvels.

Pinned to the rafter above the screen is a postcard of El Greco’s ‘Fabula’. The painting depicts a boy in darkness blowing on a flame between a man and a monkey. I have not thought of this image for years, knowing only that I was arrested years ago by the painting and wanted it close by. ‘Fabula’ remains a puzzling parable for all of us seduced by the modem’s green eyes.

Four feet above the desk is a slate roof. Attached to these slates are thirteen solar panels fitted in late 2015, ‘mono black solarworld’, six at azimuth 270 degrees and seven at 180. German made, these panels sleek as an Audi or the latest Beamer are hard to distinguish. Even if I’m in the gwli behind the house they’re difficult to spot.

The lights are off and there’s daylight from two pivot windows fitted twenty years ago. To the south-west is the deserted fairground, itself a kind of computer screen. On a clear day I might see Exmoor to the south, in the north Stormy Down, where a renewable energy ‘cluster’ is being assembled on what is an old RAF base. Maybe the charity I help administer will film there this winter, on its community energy project, ‘Strike a Light?’

Also on this desk is a leaf from an evergreen oak on Cog y Brain. Rough as a cat’s tongue this leaf, the tree stoical in salt. Books describe it as a typical Mediterranean species, and it was picked this week as a talisman on the shortest day. From that summit the dune slacks lay scattered like silver hubcaps, the emergence at Ffynnon Pwll roaring out of the limestone, its outflow having travelled fifty miles.

In the past I have drank from that water. It allowed the first identifiable people of the area to flourish and I have tried to think about their lives and language, researching them on the black screen’s portal, but also sipping at the spring where it leaves the labyrinth, my knees in the sand where their bones were discovered.

And all the time El Greco’s boy is still blowing on a flame, much to the fascination of the ape and the man who watches.


Originally published by Wales Arts Review February 2016

Photography by Peter Morgan

New Podcast - HappenStance comes to the Green Room

A new audio podcast from The Green Room -

 

More podcasts can be found on our podcast player or at SoundCloud. They can be downloaded for listening offline.

HappenStance Press Comes to Porthcawl

Poet and editor of HappenStance press Nell Nelson travels from Fife to Porthcawl to launch two new books by Welsh poets.

'Unleaving' is the first collection of poems by Kristian Evans, a writer and artist, originally from Bridgend, who currently lives among the dunes at Kenfig on the south Wales coast with his wife, two sons and a border collie. A close observer of the expressions of the natural world, and its dialogue with poetic tradition, his work is nonetheless willing to take risks and test our conventions. Even in his prose, there’s poetry, the borderlines blurred and burnished. He is the author of the popular Kenfig Journal.

Stephen Payne’s day job is in academic cognitive science. He is currently Professor of Human-Centric Systems at the University of Bath. He’s always been fascinated by language and lyric, and here, in his first full length collection, 'Pattern Beyond Chance', scientist and poet meet and strike sparks. It’s no surprise to encounter poems that think, and think about thinking. They’re playful, provocative and lyrical, and the poet’s continuous pleasure in sound and pattern is curiously infectious.

Nell said, ""How lucky and lovely it is to have debut publications from two excellent Welsh poets at the same time! It's a delight to be launching HappenStance books in Wales -- for the first time, but definitely not the last."

Originally recorded in November 2015, more podcasts (with Twm Morys) soon.