Strid and Sessile 1
I am striding through a deciduous artistic woodland of choices just now. I have four different public poetry commissions, three of which are not page-bound but completely open air - which readers of this blog will know I prefer.
One of these open air poetry commissions is coming to the fore over the next six weeks. It is set in a sessile oak woodland called Strid Wood. There are many other species of trees too, each of which will no doubt play some role in creating the wood-speech of these new poems.
The woodland is set in an historically interesting site, near Bolton Abbey. The River Wharfe courses through the woods reaching a narrow gorge called The Strid. On the far side of the woodland is a valley skittered across by a number of famous waterfalls (Roger Deakin has of course swum in them all). The valley is called The Valley of Desolation. Already I'm out of my seat and into my fell boots!
The excellent Chrysalis Arts, based in North Yorkshire, approached me a few weeks back to look at the site and see what I could come up with over the summer. I have lots of material, but one of the key challenges is 'setting' the poems in place within this woodland in such a way that we accord with Gaia principles - no carbon footprint, no disturbance of habitat. This means that I am having to look at the way I write and place these poems carefully. I cannot afford the Andy Goldsworthy approach of taking natural materials and reinventing them as new visuals. I can't really touch a thing! I am going to use my blog over the next few days and weeks to try ideas out, and also gain your views on how to write into the natural world without affecting it in any way - in fact to create art that increases species richness.
One of my tricks from last year was the creation of Bard Boxes - take a bird box; write a poem that fits the species that uses the box; place poem on the box in a subversive way; place the bird box and thus increase species diversity for that species. The fledglings emerge from within the poem as it were.
This one to the left is by one of my students and so is the example below. I have a patent pending on this idea so hands off, eco-capitalists!
However, this is the first idea for setting the poems in Strid Wood. We write the poems on to bird boxes.
We could have two types: the Bard Boxes with more traditional fonts and images from the natural world and/or another patented idea - the Bad Boxes.
Bad Boxes are the urban version of the Bard Boxes. They are birdboxes streaked with graffiti, poem-graffiti written by/for the species.
What, after all, are birds really 'saying' to each other through 'song'? They are saying 'I'm king (usually it's the males) of this patch and you'd better watch your step (or hop), sunshine, or I'll rip your guts out you m*****f****'.
Male robins get so uptight with other males that they kill each other on occasion. Male robins have been given to self-slaughter, murdering the male in the car mirror, not realising they are attacking their own image. Life in the woods is life on the street.
So I imagine graffitied bird boxes with graffiti-poems on them, poems that really describe what is going between those merry songsters, and these might be an imaginative, and even more honest, interpretation and intervention of the natural world and natural selection.
Yet, even Bad Boxes will increase species richness while 'advertising' the poems.
The problem is that they may be placed so high up that they are scarcely visible to visitors to Strid Wood. In that case, the text must be large enough to be viewed without needing binoculars, and the poems must be short and concise and super-resonant.