I’ve been asked by the local nature reserve to run a poetry event in early September as a kind of precursor to National Poetry Day on the 28. So I’m deep in research trying to learn a little about all the species we’re likely to encounter. The idea is to walk round the reserve as a group pointing things out, talking about them, telling stories, and generally experiencing the space and its inhabitants. After which we’ll go and sit in the gazebo to distill our thoughts. Darren, the reserve’s project officer, has a leafless tree in a pot and leaf sized labels to artfully hang on its bare branches. Thus each participant will be given the opportunity, and help, to write and polish a poem (or several) which they can then transcribe onto a ‘leaf’ to become part of the ‘Poet-tree.’
Darren has also supplied me with a list of everything we’re likely to see at that time of year. So I’ve been researching the multiplicity of localised common names, myths, and folklore attached to them. Just in case it falls to me to keep the dialogue going as we walk, to aid inspiration, or simply to have as back-up for those who get stuck. I like to have much more information that can possibly used for these workshops, because you just never know what will come up.
And anyway, I love this kind of research, you can get lost in it, and learn things you didn’t know you needed, but which help in all sorts of random ways. You are reminded, also, of things you once knew. You begin to experience the world in a much fuller way. I really ought to do it more often, I’m revelling in the books piling up on my work-table, and the fascinating connections making themselves in my head.
Amongst the plants we’re likely to see are: valerian; spear thistle (edible stems, who knew?); common toadflax; angelica; selfheal; hawthorn (my favourite tree); rowan (pregnant with myth); willow; alder, and bulrushes (another favourite, a big feature of my childhood).
The birds should include buzzards; dab chicks (little grebes); oyster catchers (oiks); cormorants (I love these, there’s something charmingly primitive about them). And though it will likely be too early for migrants such as pintail, pochard, and wigeon, who come to spend the winter, we may hear snipe in the bulrushes.
With luck it will be dry and sunny which will bring out the last butterflies and dragonflies. Otherwise we’ll just have to close our eyes and imagine them.
As the poems are to go on leaf sized labels I’ve been revisiting the haiku and tanka, small poems that, when done well, capture the emotion of an experience. Here’s a rather lovely one from Monk Ryokan:
Within this serene snowfall one billion worlds arise. In each, flurries come floating down.
I like the Zen concept of one billion worlds, it’s a way of describing the universe, and a nice way of showing the the importance of small things.
So that’s pretty much where I’m at with this project – researching, noting things down, generally pootling in the local natural world, and exploring the options. For a week or more I typed out nature poems from every poet I could think of, thinking I’d give everyone copies, and maybe read a few of them out loud, just to give participants an idea of the possibilities. But now I think that could be a bit too daunting, so I’ve ditched that idea. I’ll probably just give them a few haiku and tanka as examples, and let them get on with it. In a week or so I’ll begin to piece it all together into some sort of worksheet. Which is also something I really love doing, brining all the work I’ve done into something concrete, shaping it. So all in all it’s a nice little job to be given.