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poet ● novelist ● arts collaborator ● teacher

Notes From The Space Between

This isn't a blog. It's a place where stray creative thoughts and possibilities, experiments and questions will emerge from my notebooks now and then to see if they grow better in the light of day.

After Calvino

[What truer tribute to a book than to want, as here with Italo Calvino's endlessly hospitable-unsettling Invisible Cities, to walk around it and to add a glimpse of your own?]

There's no end to the travellers who have set out in search of the city of Agnosia. No one has reached it, or if they have, they have never returned. There is a whole department at the university whose job is to prove that it cannot exist... which lends a certain frisson to the tale of Professor Z, who packed his books and took the homeward tram one evening to find that his garden gate, by some accident of streetlight, seemed to open inwards onto a vast square, with formal gardens of silvery-white bushes round an ornate fountain gushing jets of pure dark. It was just a moment, long enough for him to recognise Agnosia, and the choice: to step in, now or never, for once and for all. Which he did.  

The Private Lives of Colours

.... sucking his favourite colour of pear drop till it was transparent, almost colourless ... holding the sticky brittle disc up to his eye, a monocle – seeing the world through it: a sweeter and sunnier place ...

... now, there's a guilty pleasure – creeping into his mother's room to filch her nail varnish – yes, that shade she never dared to wear – to paint his Matchbox Toy racing car .... a Maserati, he recalls...

... trying to Tippex out the red ink mark, the See Me - in his exercise book – the only one, but inexcusable – he dabbed and dabbed, until it turned to thick blancmange – but never, ever, blameless white ...


... the new tree, that the garden centre swore was it, blossomed at last… and was wrong – too fleshy-plush, a crude brash imitation of the one that had shadowed his childhood’s window, wrapping him up in its scent that was almost too much… until the day his father gave in to grandmother’s grumbles – it’s like a forest in here, she said – and chopped it down...

... the page he always turned to in his Observer’s Book of Butterflies – the one he never saw – half way to moth, as much Queen of the Night as Emperor – a colour shading to and glancing off the black as if the thing itself had fluttered close enough to feel, glanced off the moment, to its dark side, always almost or just gone...

... you couldn’t take the taste of me, unsweetened – or, having spilled me, ever get me out of your clothes – blunt my edge (please), mollify me with the custard, stir lashings of cream till I sit on your tongue with a sting that’s (only) half a pleasure, dressed like royalty: the king himself, or his velvet-clad Fool...

[The pleasure of this, of course, is writing your own. First that and then, if there are several of you, asking each other to guess. If you're like me, you will have colour-memories from way back, maybe before I had any words for them. Which is, incidentally, my riposte to the language-theorist's proposition that language, just language, is what creates our experience of the world.]

The eucalyptus ideogram (from Woodbrooke)

At the Voices of the Earth poetry-and-art workshop at Woodbrooke Quaker study centre last year, one thing led to another. First, finding/making some ephemeral art in the wooded gardens... One particular eucalyptus tree was offering shapes in its peeling bark.

I don't know very much about Chinese ideograms, but we seemed to be looking at one, which we could refine to this:

Now, imagine this as a character from an as-yet-undeciphered inscription. Or consider this as an I Ching kind of hexagram, waiting to be interpreted. There will always be different readings... which is of course the point. The group of us gathered together on the course gave one 'translation' each...





[... in response to a friend's slightly exasperated question at first sight of the sea: 'I know you're not meant to say 'sparkling', but it just is, isn't it? What else can you say?]

no, the sea isn't 'sparkling' –
it simply can't contain its excitement
at the rumours about light


Journeys with Haiku (with Lynne Rees and Philip Gross)

A 'weekend of calm alertness and serious creative play' at Ty Newydd Writing Centre, North Wales, 13 - 15 July  (tutors / Lynne Rees & Philip Gross) is already a good memory, with not just haiku but all kinds of testing of the edges of that form, with expansions and contractions, haibun prose, several lovely fluid rengas and a challenge to offend against as many of the conventions as we dared...

Tŷ Newydd is located in the village of Llanystumdwy, between the towns of Cricieth and Pwllheli on the southern coast of the Llŷn Peninsula. Reflective moment caught by Lynne Rees, of part of the group just where the river Dwyfor meets the sea:

the width of the world
is measured by the oystercatchers’ wheep

its centre, always
shifting, by the plop of sea trout
coming up for flies

Haiku speaks to haiku

The individual haiku started, after all, as the opening verse for a collaborative renga, so it's natural that the response to a fine haiku is to want to write yourself. A classic example from Buson -

on the temple bell

- prompted the poem Japan by Billy Collins (in which the butterfly, incidentally, becomes a moth):

Twelve people on the haiku course at Ty Newydd offered verse-responses, all quite different. I offered this -

the first quiver of its wings
will trigger the colossal clang

- to which somebody else said 'Chaos Theory!' So it goes.


Words for Rose Gamsa’s raven


Image in ink by Rose Gamsa (2018)

Words by Philip Gross (2018)

In praise of tardigrades

TardigradeThere are more than a thousand different species of tardigrades, a group of tiny creatures that has been on earth for at least 500 million years. Short, plump and eight-legged, they grow to half a millimetre long. They have been found in most environments on earth, and can survive most conditions (including the vacuum and radiation of deep space) by drying themselves out to a tiny capsule. They are also known as water bears or moss piglets.

(For more about tardigrades, look in the Dark Sky Park Zone. They are the real heroes of that book.)