(Poem) Lozenges of Responsive Eye

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Poem co-written with Kirsty Dunlop on 30th July, in response to Bridget Riley’s exhibition at Edinburgh’s National Gallery of Scotland. Sketches by Maria Sledmere.

Lozenges of Responsive Eye

i.
A jail cell of pin-striped trousers
And jelly is stretching
Ben and Bridget’s collaborative secret:
Stripes vs polka dots; battle of personality
For personable sense
A ballet of silk as scream
All Jack Wills plagiarists
Pluck a little learnèd relief,
My trypophobic kitsch.

ii.
The over-blunt rust of the pencil takes over
With Anthropologie’s rich, ornamental fruit
All that plasticine:
infinite optic nude.
E= Mc2= seafoam equalities
Teeth keys,
No,
Keys having sex
Some sexy metal grinding grind core
Towards the yonic aporia.

iii.
Runway & Egyption palette of
Patchwork architecture w/ international sunset
Peach plastic, has to be fantastic
Too many black hole doors of exhibited thrill.
& Wind massage
Pulses the butterfly, connects such dots.

iv.
Ribbony eel of clandestine dreams:
Gel pen explosion, want that scented mint,
Bubblegum and banana
=> Warp nostalgia
Almost forgot about my cola phobia
Piña colada for the pleistocene.

v.
There’s a woman reading behind her triangles,
Meeting the tender tremble:
Slimy triangulation overlaid
Blurring pyramidal bluntness
Blooming bud above belly a bus of mixed feeling;
Keep looking, unhooking
The ghostly room and pastel pleasures.

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Playlist: June 2019

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This time last year, ‘I would look up, intermittently, through a canopy of light-filled leaves’. The unrealism of a momentary viridian, admitting I could not partake in. The nights went on and on in those days, there was a quality of sorry-not-sorry to the usual erasures. And asking for numbers, and watching shambolic ones fall into chairs and windows; the ceiling tilted.

Serotonin is my friend. I want to invent a character. The pressure front hurts my head.

We enter the gallery and there are the nymphs, the lilypads. You have told me a dream in which you ascended the lilypad stairs to heaven, was it heaven, and each one made a satisfying sound and sway when stepped on. I am thinking of Deku leaves and swirls in the ochre night. Here we go with synonyms. ‘There may be lunch’, Anne Carson says, ‘Or we would eat / many more paintings’. As it stands, I order jasmine tea. The paint drips green from the edge of the lilypad, chromium oxide staining the lake. At some point I refused to live without sleep. I surrendered to what its depth could do. A man told me, every time you blink, you refresh your thoughts. I have my muscles set to Command+R with cool deliberation, but all that fluttering won’t get me served. The rain washed all the mascara away. So I order into warmth again. Tequila Maria, something bloody with spice and celery, black pepper’s vast and negentropic heart. Did I mean to say negative calories. Tom McCarthy has this essay about Toussaint called ‘Stabbing the Olive’: ‘We don’t want plot, depth or content; we want angles, arcs and intervals; we want patterns’. A flat asymmetry of energies. I used my pinkie to lick the rim of red dust from the glass, like the last of a meal. Circumferential intimations of love. I was hungry, the night was not warm. Moments of aloneness. Who is McCarthy’s ‘we’? All these lit-critics, clamouring to borrow the spirographs of the twentieth century. I lose a pen.

Thom Yorke is getting on a subway somewhere. 

I thought that taste itself formed an interval, a thickening of presence. Crocheted objects appear on my wall like the lacery of untranslatable dreams. Red, blue and yellow. These are the primary materials of my current research: 

  • Instagram
  • Gifted books with signatures
  • Colours of sky and cloud
  • Seagull transposition 
  • Conference sandwiches
  • The question of ambience in poetry
  • Oil pastels
  • Clay
  • Absences in friendship
  • Tropical levels 
  • The inbox
  • Scotrail

Paranoia is former. As if I could not align the tulips to the complementary turquoise wall, the lilt, the residual. The animals depart when we start writing, a narcissism for darkest_. 

 

~

 

In the late Tesco he jumped me, the former doorman, halfway through a dj shift with the Haribo fizz and the bottles of whisky. I wondered what music he would play nextdoor. If you could make a vinyl of sunlight, how I would live for the interminable patterns of notches, solarity catching and catching on loop. Fingers tracing sugar dust over the records, a sourness in his mouth. I was wearing this purple-pleated skirt, five years ago, and a man outside Tesco, another Tesco, asked if I was pregnant. I only wanted the placenta of his mean stare and I wanted to salt it and eat it hard. My twenties recede without drop.

She describes the effects of gluten as a sanding down, an erasure; inside her the tangles made desert. We want clustering, sway of villi, performance. I eat bread and think less; my head fills up with fog.

Soreness in coccyx equals aporia. I awoke to the pent-up throb of the washing machine. Let’s talk about the arbitrary constraint of 30 days. Clusters of black tights as the serpentine symbols in Turner.

 

~

 

Something from a solar poem, a thing for the solstice: 

if I go

grassily

drunk in June

it’s just sky

in our lungs

What I meant was, maybe something in the difference between the length of our breaths, and is this a question of the daylight hours, a quantified tiredness, or is it the smoke. My laconic lungs suck in. The grass comes away in tufts where we pull it, like the fluff from a dog’s back in moulting season. I have this dream about reaching the end of a lawn, like I’m staying in a house where the garden is seen from the window only, it looks unreal. You could not exhaust it. Anne Carson says a pilgrim always seeks a horizon, is never satisfied. The dog I had would run round and round, until the grass wore down into dirt. There would be a ring, a halo of ruined earth. She was not looking for anything particular. Instead, she ran around.

I remember the basement party where I sat between two boys, holding a sparkler and watching the smoke trails recede.

I am thinking about foam, immortality, fractal gifs. Coffee opens me up, so I don’t have to look. 

No-one knows. On Fridays I listen to Gardeners’ Question Time, I cut rice cakes into quarters.

 

~

 

There was this girl, she lived in the orange-painted room. Her name sounds something like citrus. A long time ago, I wrote a story about her. I was in the library with a stack of philosophy books. I can’t do it. She skips ballet class to eat blueberry muffins in the local café, to flirt with the waiter. She wears a yellow raincoat, even when it’s sunny, and he calls it her famous raincoat. She never gets the joke but she likes how he twists a smile at the same time as he twists his break-time cigarette into something thin and perfect. He always wears blue, regardless of uniform. She wants to be that cigarette, she wants to be rolled into one straight line, but she likes her sugar too much. His smile, surely, is for her alone;  it looks delicious. She imagines the taste of ash, smouldering in her mouth if she kissed him and the trace of the cigarette and the one before that would glow like the orange in her room. 

Adrianne Lenker sings of ‘fragile orange wind in the garden’. 

Should we go outside? And for what.

There was a time when every story had to end, which was fiction. Poetry is getting to have your loops, to sweeten and eat them profusely with silver spoons: imitation privilege. I could keep stirring and stirring until they melt into milk, this miasma of found words, of nourishing. 

Kathleen Fraser: 

Everything is so agreeable, tangential, so light

of foot.

               Tangerine, all pungent with its leaves intact.

The way the egg yolks look when they split, the shit on a watch face, the intimate pixels of a harp up close, a part song. Selective arpeggio carriage to morning. I’m so grateful I’m basically grapefruit, this single devourable bauble of flesh. My skin is thick and explicit. It’s a time in the month. That there, that’s not me. You can peel off the sticker to see. 

In the park, the weekdays fill up with hormones.

 

~

 

I played Everything. I was a mushroom, a jet-ski, a palm tree, a planet, a hawk and an oil rig. I rolled and shuffled; scale itself became a sort of music. At once, I soared in threes and sevens. My favourite world was streaked with pink, cacti and celadon rivers. Time was a trick of the hard-drive. 

We collect the cherry-chocolate cake. Later he says something like, The ocean is an orca. Which is much better than, We are all Earth; or, I am what I eat. The literalism is looping its way around cornfields and train delays, better to solder the evening with marmalade light and a buttery spread of new messages. 

 

~

 

I have hardly been listening to music at all.

 

~

 

The weather was briefly incidental.
Vague plans to read Plato’s Timaeus
scarpered by the way the roses look
in ache, my dream alarm of cascade
is softened by limbs and transport.
We take a lot of time to take the river
in us, hungering girls in old movies
as though they could speak the end
of a call, prior to numbers. We eat
plainly in several vegetal airs, our
cutlery shines like a weather vane.
The intermediary function of skin
is just this much. You glow inside
a tentative plan, the sparkle of re-
grettable voice. I paint my nails a
venus flytrap green. Who decides
what grows inside you. Should eat. 

 

~

We reply, that it is the receptacle, and in a manner the nurse, of all generation. I have spoken the truth; but I must express myself in clearer language, and this will be an arduous task for many reasons, and in particular because I must first raise questions concerning fire and the other elements, and determine what each of them is; for to say, with any probability or certitude, which of them should be called water rather than fire, and which should be called any of them rather than all or some one of them, is a difficult matter. 

Socrates

The secret mysticism of nicknames
and particle physics. If we are just water.
And what if this water never smells like shame.
And what if the water turns red
like Topshop lipstick, or the gilded cover
of my Kathleen Fraser. Chili flakes assemble
upon the soft lawn of your fruit, a stone
falls out in lieu of the heart. I try particulars:
99p filter coffee, office politics, the milk
chocolate bunnies on campus. I mean they were real
as morning. Star power. When the beach breaks out
to cure, the lovely scrambling of a darkness shared.
Say a soundtrack feels special because it bristles.
I fell asleep in the workshop. My hair all huge
in the hotel mirror. We collect red words for green
and call it geometry. The trad effects of earnestness
and other lyric qualities of indie
I tried to recede like my twenties
I tried halloumi, salt, breakfast vodka.
The longest day of the year
was shorter than anything
I could bother to write. 

 

~

 

On my birthday we visited the island, eight of us on the ferry. Kitsch displays of gifts without crystals, trying to fit ourselves into the minigolf. We shared red wine on a jetty, alas not spiralled; we wrote a poem, according to the economy of one red word for a sip. 

sultry walks seem elusive to those players of croquet taking milliseconds out of capitalism or inducing epilepsy, throwing linguini into darkness and leaving finite symphorophilia to the gannets

The water was cold and clear, the barnacles softened the soles of my feet. The sky broke an almost symmetry of peachy leakings, yellow colours spilled on the sea. Gloria stood with her scarf to the wind; we brushed the horizon on the swings. I sang and sang. We ran for the last ferry, in usual fashion, salt and Tennents. The tide came in. 

We sat on the picnic bench of the terminal, singing ethereal Judee lyrics. Heavy in my throat, a halo; the mists. A pleasurable tiredness.

 

~

A. describes how the glaciers are moving. The surface of the planet rearranges itself, and my impression of the continents sinks like wax. I melt the very edge of a tectonics, craving stories. The citrus girl is so much older and younger, she exists as though only in song. Her raincoat is made of honeybees.

A rushing sound I attributed to rain but then not

She sits in three kinds of tree and fingers her decorative suggestion of dawn, worn as a necklace. I can’t sleep for the gulls and the lines of unmannered flight, the concept of ‘politics’ filling the air of my kitchen. The pearls burst everywhere. I draw a radio silence around each project, I try to choose. 

 

~

 

Never have I ever asked Siri. 

 

 

I get stuck on a train. We move south, but only gradually.

 

~

Pip Blom – Daddy Issues

Holiday Ghosts – Thinking of You

Bat for Lashes – Kids in the Dark

Katie Dey – Solipsisting 

Jay Som – Superbike

Beach Fossils – Be Nothing

Hop Along – Waitress

(Sandy) Alex G – Gretel

Jai Paul – Do You Love Her Now

Thom Yorke – Twist

Gross Net – Gentrification 

Sylvan Esso – Die Young

DOPE LEMON – Salt & Pepper

Crake – Glycerin

Big Thief – Orange 

Silver Jews – The Wild Kindness 

Jessica Pratt – Mother Big River

Claire Cronin – Wolfman 

Yo La Tengo – Green Arrow

Galaxie 500 – Summertime

Kelly Moran – Water Music

Yohuna – Fades to Blue

Karen Dalton – Something on Your Mind

Judee Sill – The Kiss

Manchester Orchestra – My Backwards Walk (Frightened Rabbit cover)

Crianlarich 2019

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For Patrick and everyone in o.p.s 

This sweetness had not been said before, of powder and dust, how gorgeous perhaps. Perhaps. Remnants to look sharper, look over the tennis court, embrace from faraway, as if he could say he was waiting to enter, as your palm and it hurt. Berrying friction. Possible to collide if not to ruminate, he would be ghost-like. What makes this momentary encounter a landscape; what if only it was crisp like this all the places in your palm where the sleep craters, slosh of white wine yes crisp yes up my eyes, yes to the whites coming off, fir trees sheltering and catch the triangle tips that, crumbling signage is nice that yes he said be there, which is as it is when the cold train noise you were showing me scoop of honey in the centre of the ! and speaking just so, that hesitant drunk speech bottles of varying price, ask how so without summit. Summit about it. Can you imagine him here, to think of him here even impossible; I say it again, yes he said therein, you are climbing a wall and under the dark, which draw themselves in as body. Body of log. What we can’t know, googling maps of googling blue. Considerations of the scent of a seashell, Powdery, illuminations demand attention to muscle, chunk a spiral: elasticity of neck, you showed me a rub of the whites is milk, you lighten, too little, we crossed under the bridge and the coppery stream I could say a true adoration of crackle, powdery beautiful snow, they came between each other we look into, the water in solacing descent not want to exchange, having the sweet point say hello to a stranger, infinity pool; steam rising from that is sheer attention, that shelf’s arousal into plain scraping of surface, the moss comes off, the sleep was possible, it was a possible select a purpose and the making is as ever he was, subtly clicking away, you even if without plans for lunch, the big soup, solace to say, yes therein sweetness, nutmeg and it swills in the glass, you realise there was a theory I nourished but did fennel tea and the streak of blood would be it, turn up with several cumin into your eyelids nicely, bay leaf for girls. In his tangerine hat, imagine the dusk this is pure exclusion, no reason to argue, use this, brokered semi-colonic kind of weather; no degree of flesh. Fresh. The hills here coated in | if he had not entered, very sweet it snow, the moment you relayed to me coated in shoe to climb harder, ascendance is yes pale pink streaking a trace of the eye, adjacent to rain, people were waiting in clear and crispness, mushrooms to compliment everything, more cardamom, more sumptuous; is there a place around here where people arrive. They were green and rosy, he got webs of the pipes which rose all green, speak each to each this way, ground down in snow; a certainty of shame to fill. Imagine he was here and burning up lichen yes where you get the blood in, accidents to reach the end of the day and lifting just is. Icicle treacle. Layers of rice eat bourbon girls. Small label comes off where harmonic lift and another dropped pencil. Sentient crumb. Very sensuous in time; there was such overlap as to the time, if only the powdery blue like landscape, as if it was over there, as way, just hold enough of your body to lie supine, you stay awhile. They kept going here, not there, as if it was then. Then. Of it, dusted just so, moving to short have to nourish it, you have to let up wanting, which fear the light as much body here moving, his figure just entering the around, it wants a certain positing of the window ledge shell and wanting to say so pure, thinness and slender you stay awhile out, mint, expedient kitchens inside the illumine. Autechre farm. Oat cakes and whisky. It is the brain away. Away. Slowness comes over, long the glass whose origins meant nothing, whose origins the haze of shiraz & something about Neil Young on Christmas Day, where the ear just works, and lift, and and that is exactly what break occurs, riverrun, your skin had sloughed off, friction by friction, and clack and we don’t want to return. Fall thru room. What morbid yes waiting for you, time not of the air you said was petrichor; it on a slick perpetuity, you ascend the aquarium just so, we would provide a likeness, the moss softens, it invites us to roll. Roll in bars. The clouds in the photograph went bananas. We’re 75 metres away according to this or that china-white bathroom in your grandmother’s house; the taste is there to catch up on, slide over snow, far away people were meeting in cities with rosy cheeks and we watched the was not was sweet winter air, prior January, dark & sweet. We were so warm in the sun despite happening here, as if it was always to pylon, the lameness of brown-eyed moths which rise a light place, it is a crisp place. Heroin, your best friend vomiting all over the ice, that is all of a break-apart language. Language. Massif you could slip, don’t hold me that ill between fingers; you could reduce to a sort over there, knowing this isn’t the way, dipping as it was on Christmas, you message through with sugar, the sky was sugar on the bread of a sentence, golden pool, nothing we could say weather you could pinch and rub and dissolve rich onion scent, cutting the eyes into weeps. We are to get apart, as if this was happening from which we might see sunset? Sunset? The sky tongue and strain. No rain, like politics. Cherry sleep collapse in the snow. Sky of depleted lozenges, horizontal. Mountain chord. Imagine he was just here is the way as if the way was. Was.

Poem: Chrome

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Chrome

Wish you would tell me where we’re going
as though in a car, snaking down the road
instead of waiting for breakfast
waiting to say this and chewing your oats
It’s dark outside, gets darker every day
this isn’t supposed to happen
I only listen to radio on Fridays why is that
like a song or something
everyone is leaving the party already
afternoons are reminiscent
of last week’s afternoon, come over later
and tell me what you did
I feel quite sick when I think of a lyric
and a stranger asking if I have any filters
You could put a white tip at the end of the poem
like pushing oil into cuticles
Nobody glides down the rain like you do
Which is lifted all bent from a love song
milder than cheddar
You listen on Sundays for wine, she comes out
of the willow to speak to you
coyly undoing her hair or herself
There is no reply, I hold in my grammar
with a bell for the wheel of the eerie freedom
something better than nothing
is like aaah is like aaah
I think this is the song you wanted
me to send, edgewise
sounding the commute back to verb
and speaking in frail duration
send me the book
like send me the lemons in nets
I tear up my tights on your thorny gaze
said nobody ever
one or two poems to think of the future
coming all orange across my eyes, ode
to the hairbells, ode to spring
Nobody does better the song of your loss
becoming this twice
aligned with health, somebody calls
the corner out
Even circles of knitwear have their factions
This is what it is to order a reef
when the coral runs out
Nobody will visit
wherein all the albatrosses start to sing
of plastics, clattering outwards
the slick of your thong is a sorry
I did not want to include
in modes of deception, lesser
named firs for timelines
going on to wherever
the trees can’t stop like dubstep
I know he’s still alive because he updates his tumblr
with black and white versions of parisian film sets
What is the speed of your smile times time
I’m the you in the nobody, ask me a question
Twitter matters
Align with astral cancellation
very bad glasses occurring small
sweet sertraline as if we—
dream in which on the hill you kiss me
and I can’t call a doctor
rolling over the hunger
looking at anything for the memory
sparkle chips click in my eye like granite
Haven’t felt this good about feeling for ages
I could say there’s a veil
dragging the face into thrill of the lyric
repulsive sense just is
ice jam
made to appear like sickness
lifting weights in little reps
Always seven or ever eleven
salve for lateral acid
lifting my arms for the shape of you gone
I don’t want to leave the house today
I don’t want to stay
I don’t want to leave my dreams tomorrow
Who was it that wanted their post just so
and tripped over horses
how clean he looked, sans cigarettes
we look better like light I suppose
castles are glass apparitions
when pressed against cereal
somebody lighting a candle at noon
This final luxury, fold me fast
my wicked friend how are you how are you
I ate all the rotten satsumas
a cascade of raisins
You see of the sky is it stars
or loops of moon
coming everywhere over like fruit
A bike ride, spectacular orbit
undoing that future
share of negative, however pristine
you will your spirits
they glide, authentic
collapse is verse of vice
Dark logs in the fire of order
sharing a wary winter
therein you see me not as it seems
not as in dust or starry application
this diminishing
dictionary effect of your all-sorts
soft liquorice next
sorting the necklace
It got really great before it stopped being anything
the girls are just men
and the men are waves like william said
is it the string that fallates a sea
change in me
the cloud is light
the cloud is heavy
something comes on in the breath of the lethe
I wish I could write like her it seems
wingless to admit this
Drowning dreams me
A pallor of belly and sound
What we read then we read only as extract
locked in the lyre of mind
a fragile cant of flint and ticket
a voice comes out of the hurricane
like sugar and the serenity tint of your missive
I would be wreath and tea, I would be holly
and berry your eyes just so I like them
shinier on high apparitions of pills
pain-wise it’s easy to breathe
absently-minded the child again
sits on the hill, stirring a little
leaf with its fist
and singing of latitude, sisterhood
lustres of puberty hurt
a poem rolls up
a play in the middle like sequins of toffee
all cooked up
heroin-rich continuum
babies are blue and twirling their words
fertility is lyric
lately a georgic thought
updates the landscape, refresh of its disk
in embers, cabling dark a sigh
a fish hook, best to cock
one’s eye at the sun for money
evolving lizards
caress the sand
and scatter monopoly houses
if I were so young as a werewolf rage
and twang of your green-red tongue
and sunwise; no matter for affect
aphexxing light without face
and girls of the sea
and boys of the sound
resting, newness is blue and plenty
writ of the world for day
and rage, opening indie
pseudo confusions of listening
imperilled chicago
What nobody has is time
or velvet, less of you
is always the bulb of next year’s
failing spring
and how did the system get so notorious
coming everywhere glowing like solar
panels in squares of gardens
making this civic
bliss of the window, fifties
kiss-catching my way into the country again
how did it get this mild
cradling the absent children as lambs
the way we did then
sweet green midnight
je suis shepherdess
a ridiculous landscape
clatters upon the stereo, two hours ago
hold out for multiple eclipses, active now
man you taste like whisky I love you
better in nuclear energy
a plantain reply
it doesn’t matter which outlook you use
the tax is similar
season three was a language parasol
being small again eating polos off your toes
I’ll be in that bed forever
better apple of revolutionary england
did not occur
let milk shake
I hate to say all general evie
and everything made for you
everything hurts
A big star fell on your pillow again
traded the oolong for tooth
this is february fifth forever and ever
do you want to come under the duvet again
as if it was made of straws
do you want to come over
threading first storm of loss
the adequate tapestry
Mostly recyclables, hold out the phone
as saul does a melt
to speak as surface
gliding nightly a rare casino snow
soldering palms for oil
and dairy dream of cold pastoral
drunk radiation
flays me, such nexus flesh
equivalent fern
in the kitchen
lunarium death and starving time
the driver was listening to angel of harlem
a fair blue world
a bluer fur
who would crowd now the pale critique
closing all windows
the way you fell over.

— 5/2/19

You Can’t Even Hear the Sound of the Traffic

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~

I never learned what a lark would sound like
until too late it would be as it would

Be unlike our favoured motorways, dear
that could core the fleshy pulp muscle of

Forests as far as we’d see, there is light
where the prairie ekes off into this rain

And no other rain you could manage, exactly
as it is, the slur of pianos and pixels

I covet a reply to the question
shot in my neck, its curl at the top, full

Of petulant heroin. These songs were
not destined for the corolla of a sunflower

Nor were they minted from solo acousmatic
versions of rainbow, appearing over

Responsible as winter slips into this code
eluding a certain exigency

In place of gold, a solid heart will not
do anymore than look back at itself

In silken mirrors of the skin’s extinction
that throbs in time with the land, and so hurts

As pearls fall from succinct apparitions
and the sound is on my phone, like a call.

~

neil young

Honeycrisp

Honeycrisp
The woke press gold upon the roar
which is easy to peel, like stickers off apples
a clarity of variety

Dwells in the shroud and often appears
on perfect nights, the right condition
for service, meekly ordering
scores of dishes
sweet to the eye then returned

Who would suppose her lachrymose smile
meant the plume was rising over

Against that cloud, your palm aglow
on the boulevard raging head of flame
I could only stop for coffee with you
refusing the questioning wallet of thought
that you might draw the sour tree

Some time in your sleep, its droop
upon us, our bodies as fronds in banana-
coloured dawn, peeling freckles
like stickers in the apple-bright daylight.

 

~

This poem grew out of a procedural writing exercise from the first poetry workshop run by Callie Gardner at the new Category Is Books

Mining the Light: My Time in Orkney

 

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I always have this sensation, descending the steps at Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, of narratives colliding. It’s a kind of acute deja vu, where several selves are pelting it down for the last train, or gliding idly at the end point of an evening, not quite ready for the journey home. The version that is me glows inwardly translucent, lets in the early morning light, as though she might photosynthesise. I remember this Roddy Woomble song, from his first album, the one that was sorrow, and was Scotland, through and through as a bowl of salted porridge, of sickly sugared Irn Bru. ‘Waverley Steps’, with its opening line, ‘If there’s no geography / in the things that we say’. Every word, I realise, is a situation. Alighting, departing; deferring or arriving. It’s 08:28 and I’m sitting at Waverley Station, having made my way down its steps, hugging my bag while a stranger beside me eats slices of apple from a plastic packet. I’ve just read Derek Jarman’s journal, the bit about regretting how easily we can now get any fruit we want at any time of year. He laments that soon enough we’ll be able to pick up bundles of daffodils in time for Christmas. The apples this girl eats smell of plastic, of fake perfume, not fruit. I’m about to board a train that will take me, eventually, to Thurso and then on via ferry to Orkney. I wonder if they will have apples on Orkney; it’s rumoured that they don’t have trees. Can we eat without regard to the seasons on islands also?

I needn’t have worried. Kirkwall has massive supermarkets. I check my own assumptions upon arrival, expecting inflated prices and corner shops. I anticipated the sort of wind that would buffet me sideways, but the air is fairly calm. I swill a half pint of Tennents on the ferry, watching the sun go down, golden-orange, the Old Man of Hoy looming close enough to get the fear from. Something about ancient structures of stone always gives me vertigo. Trying to reconcile all those temporal scales at once, finding yourself plunged. A panpsychic sense that the spirit of the past ekes itself eerily from pores of rock. Can be read in a primitive braille of marks and striations. We pick our way through Kirkwall to the SYHA hostel, along winding residential streets. I comment on how quiet it is, how deliciously dark. We don’t see stars but the dark is real, lovely and thick. Black treacle skies keep silent the island. I am so intent in the night I feel dragged from reality.

Waking on my first day, I write in my notebook: ‘the sky is a greyish egg-white background gleaming remnant dawn’. In the lounge of the hostel, someone has the telly on—news from Westminster. Later, I’m in a bookshop in Stromness, browsing books about the island while the Radio 2 Drivetime traffic reports of holdups on motorways circling London. Standing there, clasping Ebban an Flowan, I feel between two times. A slim poetry volume by Alec Finlay and Laura Watt, with photographs by Alastair Peebles, Ebban an Flowan is Orkney’s present and future: a primer on marine renewable energy. Poetry as cultural sculpting, as speculation and continuity: ‘there’s no need to worry / that any wave is wasted / when there’s all this motion’. New ideas of sustainability and energy churn on the page before me, while thousands down south are burning up oil on the London orbital.

When we take a bus tour of Mainland Orkney’s energy sources, we play a game of spotting every electric car we see. Someone on the bus, an academic who lives here, knows exactly how many electric cars there are on the island. There’s a solidarity in that, a pride in folk knowledge, the act of knowing. On the train up to Thurso, I started a game of infrastructure bingo, murmuring the word whenever I spotted a pylon, a station or a turbine. Say it, just say it: infrastructure. Something satisfying in its soft susurration, infra as potential to be both within and between, a shifting. Osmosis, almost. The kinesis of moving your lips for fra, feeling a brief schism between skin and teeth. A generative word. Say it enough times and you will summon something: an ambient awareness of those gatherings around you, sources of fuel, object, energy.

The supermarkets in Kirkwall seem like misplaced temples. This was me idealising the remoteness of islands, wanting to live by an insular, scarcer logic. The more we go north, the more scarcity we crave—a sort of existential whittling. Before visiting, I envisioned the temperature dropping by halves. On the first night, warm in my bed, I write: ‘To feel on the brink of something, then ever equi-distant’. The WiFi picks up messages from home. Scrolling the algorithmic rolls of Instagram, I feel extra-simultaneous with these random images, snapshots of happenings around the world. Being on an island intensifies my present. In Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun (2016)a memoir of recovery and return on Orkney, Liptrot writes of ‘waiting for the next gale to receive my text messages’. On the whims of billowing signal, we wait for news of the south to arrive. Maybe I was an island and I wanted my life elsewhere to vanish, disappear in a wall of wind; I wanted to exist just here, in a hullabaloo of nowness.

I say an island, but of course Orkney is more an archipelago. And I’m on the Mainland, home to the burghs of Stromness and Kirkwall. Here for the ASLE-UKI conference, there wasn’t time to visit the harbour at Scapa, or the neolithic village of Skara Brae or the stone circle Ring of Brodgar. I spend most of my time in the town hall opposite Kirkwall’s impressive, sandstone cathedral, aglow by night with fairy lights strung in surrounding trees. Yes, trees. Orkney has trees. They are often gnarled-looking and strange, stripped by wind or held up inside by steel plinths. Anthropocene arboreal hybrids. But still they are trees. Using my plant identification app, I find hazels and birches. Autumn is traceable in the swirls of thin leaves that skirt the pavement, tousling our sense of a general transition.

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At one point in the trip, we visit the Burgar Hill Energy Project in Evie, alighting from the bus to stand underneath several massive turbines. The sound is wonderful, a deep churning whirr that feels like the air pressed charge on repeat. Under the chug chug chug of those great white wings we gathered, listened, moved and dispersed. I watch as our tight knit group begins to fragment; we need time apart to absorb this properly, little cells bouncing off and away from each other, quietly charged, loosening dots of pollen. Some of us finding the outer reach of the hill, looking for a view or panorama, leaning back to snap a photograph. I film the shadows windmilling dark the rough green grass. Capturing the turbines themselves seemed almost obscene. I don’t know why I was making them into idols, afraid to reduce them to pictures. It was easier to glimpse them in pieces, a flash of white, synecdoche. My friend Katy and I agreed the best photos were the ones out of focus, a bird-like blur against the blue.

Places I have been hit by wind:

  • The cloisters at the University of Glasgow, a wind-tunnel roar to blast out your thoughts post-exam.
  • The hills of Aviemore, my first and last time attempt to ski.
  • Ayrshire beaches in winter, icy particles of hail cast into my eyes and ears.
  • The last day of the Wickerman Festival, wrestling with tents that needed drying and folding, the wind blasting against my cliff of a hangover.
  • On the deck of a ferry, mascara stinging the black black veil of my lashes.

I am an air sign, Gemini, and there is something about losing your breath to elemental forces. I think I once finished a poem with a phrase like, ‘lashing the planetary way of all this’. We used to stand in the playground at school, brandishing our jackets like polyester wings, letting the wind move us forward, staggering in our lightweight bodies, our childish intuition of the way of the world. The pleasure in surrendering. Making of your body a buffeted object. Returning to Glasgow, I soon find myself hit with a cold, preemptive fresher’s flu; a weight on my chest, a diaphragm lag. A sense of my body heaving against itself.

On Orkney, I can smell the salt from the sea. Earlier in the summer, I was struck with wisdom tooth pain, the kind that requires salt-water rinses every half hour, not to mention agonised gargles of whisky. Wasting my precious bottle of Talisker. Amid the haze of those painkiller days, I felt closer to an elemental heat. Metonymically, I was inhaling islands. The taste of self-preservation, of necessary self-sustenance, is never as strong and unwanted as when you want a part of yourself to be wrenched out of you. Pulling teeth is an easy metaphor for lost love, or other forms of psychic distress. Breaking apart, making of the self an archipelago. There’s that song by The National, ‘I Should Live in Salt’, which always sticks in my head in granular form, occasional line. Refrain of refrains, ‘I should live in salt for leaving you behind’. I never knew whether Matt Berninger was singing about preservation or pain, but I saw myself lying down in a kelp bed, child-size, letting the waves lap over my body, salt suffusing the pores of my skin. Begin again, softer.  

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The rain here is more a tangential shimmer. I wake up to it, dreaming that my window was broken and no-one would bother to fix it. Fear of boundaries loosened, the outside in. The future as a sheet of glass, a shelf you could place your self on and drink. Salt water rinse and heat of whisky. We leave the hostel early and wander beyond the Kirkwall harbour, to the hydrogen plant bordering an industrial estate. Katy and I discussed our fondness for industrial estates as homely reminders. She would go running, and wherever she ran the industrial zones were inevitable. As if in any city you would reach that realm, it called you in with its corrugated fronts and abrasive loneliness. My love for the canal, biking up through Maryhill where the warehouses watch serenely over you, loom behind trees, barely a machinic rumble disturbing the birds. We traced the edge of a man-made waterfront, a crescent curving lip of land. The way it curled was elliptical, it didn’t finish its inward whorls of land upon water, but still I thought of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, or the cinnamon buns I bought from the Kirkwall Tesco. Finding a bench, we ate bananas for breakfast, looking out at the grey-blue sea, our fingers purpling with the cold. I like to think of the banana, Katy said, as a solid unit of energy. Here we were, already recalibrating reality by the logic of pulse and burn and calories. Feeling infra.

I love the words ‘gigawatt’, ‘kilocal’, ‘megabyte’. I like the easeful parcelling up of numbers and storage and energy. I am unable to grasp these scales and sizes visually or temporally, but it helps to find them in words.

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We learn about differences between national and local grids, how wind is surveyed, how wave power gets extracted from the littoral zone. My mind oscillates between a sonar attentiveness and deep exhaustion, the restfulness gleaned from island air and waking with sunrise. I slip in and out of sleep on the bus as it swerves round corners. I am pleasantly jostled with knowledge and time, the precious duration of being here. Here. Here, exactly. This intuition vanishes when I try to write it. A note: ‘I know what the gaps between trees must feel like’. Listening to experienced academics, scientists and creatives talk about planes, axes, loops and striations, ages of ages, I find myself in the auratic realm of save as…, dwelling in the constant recording of motion, depth and time. Taking pictures, scribbling words, drawing maps and lines and symbols. We talk of Orkney as a model for the world. Everything has its overlay, the way we parse our experience with apps and books and wireless signals. Someone takes a phone call, posts a tweet. I scroll through the conference hashtag with the hostel WiFi, tracing the day through these crumbs of perspective, memories silently losing their fizz in the night.

I grew up by the sea, in Maybole, Ayrshire (with its ‘blue moors’, as W. S. Graham puts it), but a lot of my thalassic time was spent virtually. I loved video games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, where the narrative happened between islands, where much of the gameplay involved conducting voyages across the sea. The interstitial thrill of a journey. There were whirlpools, tornados, monsters rising from the deep. On Maidens Harbour, I could hardly reach that volcanic plug of sparkling granite, the Ailsa Craig, or swim out to Arran; virtually, however, I could traverse whatever limits the game had designed. The freedom in that, of exploring a world already set and scaled. Movement produced within constraint. In real life, mostly our bodies and minds constrain. What excites me now is what I took for granted then: the salt spray stinging my lips, the wind in my hair, the glint of shells bleached clean by the sea; a beautiful cascade of cliches that make us.

‘To wake up and really see things…passages from a neverland.’ Back in Glasgow, fallen upon familiar nocturnal rhythms, I find myself craving the diurnal synchrony I achieved in Orkney. Sleepy afternoons so rich in milky light. The vibrational warmth of the ferry’s engine, activating that primitive desire for oil, the petrol smell at stations as my mother filled up the car for journeys to England. My life has often been defined by these journeys between north and south, born in Hertfordshire but finding an early home in Ayrshire. Swapping that heart for air, and all porosity of potential identity. Laura Watt talked of her work as an ethnographer, interviewing the people of Orkney to find out more about their experiences of energy, the way infrastructural change impacts their daily lives, their health, their business. Within that collaboration, she tells us, there’s also a sense of responsibility: stories carry a personal heft, something that begs immunity from diffusion. Some stories, she says, you can’t tell again. The ethics of care there. I wonder if this goes the same for stone, the stories impregnated within the neolithic rocks we glimpse on Orkney. Narrative formations lost to history’s indifferent abstraction, badly parsed by present-day humans along striated lines, evidence of fissure and collision. All that plastic the ocean spits back, co-evolutions of geology and humans. Plastiglomerates along the shore. But Orkney feels pure and relatively litter-free, so goes my illusions, my sense of island exceptionalism. I become more aware of the waste elsewhere. The only person I see smoking, in my whole time there, is a man who speeds his car up Kirkwall’s high street. Smoke and oil, the infinite partners; extraction and exhaustion, the smouldering of all our physical addictions. Nicotine gives the body a rhythm, a spike and recede and a need.

We learn of a Microsoft server sunk under the sea, adjacent to Orkney. There’s enough room in those computers, according to a BBC report, to store ‘five million movies’. And so the cloud contains these myriad worlds, whirring warm within the deep. Minerals, wires and plastics crystallise the code of all our text and images. Apparently the cooler environment will reduce corrosion. I remember the shipyard on Cumbrae, another island; its charnel ground of rusted boats and iron shavings. The lurid brilliance of all that orange, temporal evidence of the sea’s harsh moods, the constant prickle of salt in the air. The way it seems like fire against all those cool flakes of cerulean paint. I wrote a blog post about that shipyard once, so eager to mythologise: ‘Billowing storms, sails failing amidst inevitable shipwreck. It’s difficult to imagine such disasters on this pretty island, yet there is an uncanny sense to this space, as if we have entered a secret porthole, discovered what was supposed to be invisible to outsiders…The quietness recalls an abandoned film set’. Does tourism lend an eerie voyeurism to the beauty we see, conscious of these objects, landscapes and events being photographed many times over? Perhaps the mirage of other islands and hills glimpsed over the blue or green is more the aura of our human conceptions, archival obsession—the camera lights left buzzing in the air, traced for eternity.

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I come to Orkney during a time of transition, treading water before a great turn in my life. Time at sea as existential suspension. There have been some departures, severings, personal hurts, burgeoning projects and new beginnings. A great tiredness and fog over everything. ‘Cells of fuel are fuelling cells’. At the conference, my brain teems with this rich, mechanical vocabulary: copper wires and plates and words for wattage, transmission, the reveries of innovation. There is a turning over, leaf after leaf; I fill up my book with radials, coal and rain. My mind attains a different altitude. I think mostly about the impressions that are happening around me: the constant flow of conversation, brought in again as we move between halls and rooms, bars and timelines in our little human estuaries. We visit Stromness Academy, to see Luke Jerram’s ‘Museum of the Moon’: a seven-metre rendition of lunar sublimity, something to stand beneath, touch, lie under. I learn the word for the moon’s basaltic seas is ‘Maria’, feel eerily sparked, spread identity into ether. We listen, quietly, in the ambient dark, taking in composer Dan Jones’ textures of sound, the Moonlight Sonata, the cresting noise of radio reports—landings from a future-past, a lost utopia.

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On Friday night, Katy and I catch the overnight ferry back to Aberdeen. Sleep on my cinema seat has a special intensity, a falling through dreams so vivid they smudge themselves on every minute caught between reading and waking. Jarman’s gardens enrich my fantasy impressions, and I slip inside the micro print, the inky paragraphs. I dream of oil and violets and sharp desire, a pearlescent ghost ship glimmer on a raging, Romantic sea. Tides unrealised, tides I can’t parse with my eyes alone; felt more as a rhythm within me. Later, on land I will miss that oceanic shudder, the sense of being wavy. I have found myself like this before, chemically enhanced or drunk, starving and stumbling towards bathrooms. We share drinking tales which remind me of drowning, finding in the midst of the city a seaborne viscosity of matter and memory, of being swept elsewhere. Why is it I always reach for marinal metaphor? Flood doors slam hard the worlds behind me. There are points in the night I wake up and check my phone for the time, noticing the lack of GPRS, or otherwise signal. I feel totally unmoored in those moments, deliciously given to the motioning whims of the ferry. Here I am, a passenger without place. We could be anywhere, on anyone’s ocean. I realise my privilege at being able to extract pleasure from this geographic anonymity, with a home to return to, a mainland I know as my own. The ocean is hardly this windswept playground for everyone; many lose their lives to its terminal desert. Sorrow for people lost to water. Denise Riley’s call to ‘look unrelentingly’. I sip from my bottle, water gleaned from a tap in Orkney. I am never sure whether to say on or in. How to differentiate between immersion and inhabitation, what to make of the whirlwinds of temporary dwelling. How to transcend the selfish and surface bonds of a tourist.

The little islands of our minds reach out across waves, draw closer. I dream of messages sent from people I love, borne along subaquatic signals, a Drexciya techno pulsing in my chest, down through my headphones. My CNS becomes a set of currents, blips and tidal replies. A week later, deliriously tired, I nearly faint at a Wooden Shijps gig, watching the psychedelic visuals resolve into luminous, oceanic fractals. It’s like I’m being born again and every sensation hurts, those solos carried off into endless nowhere.

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Time passes and signal returns. We wake at six and head out on deck to watch the sunrise, laughing at the circling gulls and the funny way they tuck in their legs when they fly. These seabirds have a sort of grace, unlike the squawking, chip-loving gulls of our hometowns, stalking the streets at takeaway hour. The light is peachy, a frail soft acid, impressionist pools reflecting electric lamps. I think of the last lecture of the conference, Rachel Dowse’s meditations on starlings as trash animals, possessing a biological criticality as creatures in transition. I make of the sky a potential plain of ornithomancy, looking for significant murmurations, evidence of darkness to come. But there is nothing but gulls, a whey-coloured streak of connected cumulus. The wake rolls out behind us, a luxurious carpet of rippling blue. We are going south again. The gulls recede. Aberdeen harbour is a cornucopia of infrastructure, coloured crates against the grey, with gothic architecture looming through morning mist behind.

Later I alight at the Waverley Steps again. Roddy in my ear, ‘Let the light be mined away’. My time on the island has been one of excavation and skimming, doing the work of an academic, a tourist, a maker at once. Dredging up materials of my own unconscious, or dragging them back again, making of them something new. Cold, shiny knowledge. The lay of the heath and bend of bay. I did not get into the sea to swim, I didn’t feel the cold North rattle right through my bones. But my nails turned blue in the freezing wind, my cheeks felt the mist of ocean rain. I looked at maps and counted the boats. I thought about what it must be like to cut out a life for yourself on these islands.

Home now, I find myself watching badly-dubbed documentaries about Orkney on YouTube, less for the picturesque imagery than the sensation of someone saying those names: Papay, Scapa, Eday, Hoy. Strong names cut from rock, so comforting to say. I read over the poems of Scotland’s contemporary island poets, Jen Hadfield for Shetland, Niall Campbell for Uist. Look for the textures of the weather in each one, the way they catch a certain kind of light; I read with a sort of aggression for the code, the manifest ‘truth’ of experience— it’s like cracking open a geode. I don’t normally read like this, leaving my modernist cynicism behind. I long for outposts among rough wind and mind, Campbell’s ‘The House by the Sea, Eriskay’: ‘This is where the drowned climb to land’. I read about J. H. Prynne’s huts, learn the word ‘sheiling’. Remember the bothies we explored on long walks as children. There’s a need for enchantment when city life churns a turbulent drone, so I curl into these poems, looking for clues: ‘In a fairy-tale, / a boy squeezed a pebble / until it ran milk’ (Hadfield, ‘The Porcelain Cliff’). Poetry becomes a way of building a shelter. I’m struck with the sense of these poets making: time and matter are kneaded with weight and precision, handled by pauses, the shape-making slump of syntax. Energy and erosion, elemental communion. Motion and rest. My fragile body becomes a fleshwork of blood and bone and artery, hardly an island, inclined to allergy and outline, a certain porosity; an island only in vain tributary. I write it in stanzas, excoriate my thoughts, reach for someone in the night. I think about how we provide islands for others, ports in a storm. Let others into our lives for temporary warmth, then cast ourselves out to sea, sometimes sinking.

Why live on an island? In Orkney we were asked to think with the sea, not against it. To see it not as a barrier but an agential force, teeming with potential energy. Our worries about lifestyle and problematic infrastructure, transport and connection were playfully derided by a local scholar as ‘tarmac thinking’. Back in a city, I’ve carried this with me. The first time I read The Outrun was in the depths of winter, 2016, hiding in some empty, elevated garrett of the university library. I’d made my own form of remoteness; that winter, more than a stairwell blocked me off from the rest of existence. Now, I read in quick passages, lively bursts; I cycle along the Clyde at night and wonder the ways in which this connects us, its cola-dark waters swirling northwards, dragged by eventual tides. I circle back to a concept introduced by anthropologists at Rice University, Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, ‘sister cities of the Anthropocene’: the idea that our cities are linked, globally, by direct or vicarious physical flows of waste, energy and ecological disaster. This hydrological globalisation envisions the cities of the world as a sort of archipelago, no metropolis safe from the feedback loops of environmental causality, our agency as both individuals and collectives. On Orkney, we were taught to think community as process, rather than something given. I guess sometimes you have to descend from your intellectual tower to find it: see yourself in symbiosis; your body, as a tumbled, possible object: ‘All arriving seas drift me, at each heartbreak, home’ (Graham, ‘Three Poems of Drowning’).