Avoiding the Urge to Conquer: Nature as Experience

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This week the geese began to fly over the house. They’ll go back and forth between two lakes in the area for a while yet. They will be strengthening wings, practicing formation, presumably getting newbie geese into the rhythm of long flight. Then one day soon they’ll go over the house in a great skein and not come back. It will be dusk and the nights will be drawing in and it will be early autumn rather than mid or late summer and I will have to put my sandals away and wear proper shoes. It will make me both happy and sad, as season changes always do. There are already crisped leaves lining the road to the back lane. Soon we’ll be turning our faces towards the dark months; cosy months, months of thick socks and jeans and boots and scarves, but also months of little light and rain and cold. When I think about my life I think about it in terms of seasons. When I look forward I’m always looking forward in terms of ‘what will I be doing in winter/spring/summer next?’ Changes are afoot. Over the summer I decided to take a big risk and launch a big project with Spelt. To run this (unfunded) project properly I need to find time from other areas of work, so the risk here, as a freelancer, is reducing the certainty of my paid incomes to almost nothing in the hope that this new project will fund itself, pay for my time running it and help to fund the magazine. It’s a big risk. It’s an anxiety dream invoking risk. I don’t know how many more times I will dream I’m at Everest base camp wearing flip flops with people behind me telling me to hurry up and get climbing. I’ll feel better once it is announced officially and I can begin all the marketing stuff that goes into launching any sort of project. I hope that by September, by autumn, when the project really begins, I will be settling into the routine of it, focussing on that alongside running just a couple of my favourite courses, and working on writing of my own in the mornings. Talking of courses, this week saw the last week of the first series of my Writers on Writing courses. It’s been fantastic. I have absolutely loved working with the writers, and I have loved having the opportunity to discuss process and poetry with Danial Sluman, Polly Atkin and Kim Moore. I’ll be running this series again, probably from September with a new set of writers whose work we’ll be deep diving into. I find that what I enjoy most are the small groups of writers who are focused and serious about moving their work forward. There’s a pleasure in dissecting, discussing and having the time within the group for talk to wander outside of the poetry and to touch on the world around us because that’s where poetry comes from, it comes from the place of observation and interaction, the lens through which we view the world and our place in it. It doesn’t come from a muse, there is no elemental strike of inspiration, the poems grow from you; the writer. They’re not magical fairy dust scattered towards you, they’re an organic language that describes where you fit into the world, even when you are not writing about yourself. That language needs tending in order for it to thrive. I hope that that’s what happens in my courses: that nurturing of self that leads to poetic growth. My Fettling course begins again in August, I have two places left on it, so if you are thinking about it, now is the time to book as I’ll be contacting the Fettlers and taking down the payment button next week. I’m looking forward to weeks of reading and writing, workshopping and chatting. The Fettling courses are very good if you need a bit of a boost to your writing. Writers are encouraged to think about how they might take risks with their work and push at their own boundaries, and we have great workshopping sessions.

I feel like I am rolling with the seasons at the minute. Autumn is always my most productive season, writing wise, and I’m excited to be finishing the new collection off. Nearly there. After I decided that my sonnet crown wasn’t working and lopped it off like a diseased tree limb the collection really started to come together, the poems seem to have been waiting behind the dam of the sonnet crown and now they are pouring out of me. I’d forgotten how good that feels. It means I’m ready to get some trusted feedback on it, get it polished, send it to the publisher. I had a poem published on the Friday Poem, the first from this collection to be published. Nice feeling that. You can read it here.

And now that the poetry collection is at the finishing stage, I can spend the next few months immersing myself in the non fiction book. I am looking forward to research, and walking and writing with the window open and listening to the trees in the breeze. I’ve just finished reading Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain. I’m surprised I’ve not read it before. It’s been on my reading pile for a while. What a book. What a woman! I felt connected to her through her sense of place. She doesn’t just describe the flora and fauna of the mountain, she describes her place in it, her presence next to the presence of the mountain. My favourite parts were the parts in which she describes wild sleeping. As a child I loved sleeping outside. Odd thing that I was, I would take myself away to a field or some overgrown wasteland and curl up to sleep on the ground. When Nan Shepherd describes the mountain, she is doing it from the viewpoint of someone who has had this place as background to her life, as someone who connects to the small details of this background. When she talks about the mountain she talks in terms of avoiding the desire to conquer nature, and instead embracing the experience of that place. That’s one of the most important parts of my own sense of belonging, and is really what I’m trying to capture in my own book: the experience of being within and exploring a place that you know like the back of your hand and still finding nature that surprises and engages, nature that reflects your own self. It is important to connect to your own nature, and that doesn’t necessarily mean climbing Everest, it could just as easily be about noticing the small details on an early morning walk, smaller still : it could just as easily be noticing and experiencing the nature in your own garden. We are not tourists to nature, we are a part of nature whether we like it or not, whether we see it or not. I find that, for most people, the more they recognise the importance of nature and place as a part of them, the more joy they are able to take in the world, despite the horrors. I think that’s partly what we are trying to do with Spelt too. Create that connection, celebrate the lives of people living in and connecting to the rural, to nature.

I have waffled enough. It’s Chris’s birthday. We’re just back from a lazy Sunday dinner in a pub in a nearby village and now it is time for the sofa, films, maybe a glass of wine later. Life feels good at the minute.

Until next time


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