Throughout 2016, I’ve been trying to respond to artwork about landscape in more ways than simply essays. I found that in trying convey work that I liked, there was only so far I could go with conventional journalistic and essay writing. At the tail-end of each response article, I’ve been sneaking in a poem about the work and its themes so thought it would be right to give them a bit more attention. There’s another reason for this in that, in hindsight, the work really seems to provide a snapshot of the melancholia that has prevailed with the many idiocies of 2016. I can personally chart a number of events happening in these poems, even though they’re essentially responding to artwork made sometimes centuries gone by. I wonder which direction they will go in next year…
Wavelength Pebbles – A Response to Jane and Louise Wilson’s Blind Landings
The skyline broken by a measured yard,
Haunted by rusted machines, humming with the wind through perforated alloy.
It could count the concrete inches of the target site,
but lost track when counting its wavelength pebbles.
Quantify the distance between each path,
Gauging the gauge of the sandy dust,
Mingled in the bodies of the could- have -been,
Under the sonar glare of the Marsh Harrier
On graveyard duty.
Perspectives shadowed upon the meadow of iron,
The extinction measurements logged upon a tarmac fen.
A pagoda roof designed to collapse,
inwards upon its occupants, upon civilisation contortioned.
Will the sea or the atom ignite first?
Watching of Stones – A Response to Paul Nash’s Avebury Photos
standing in a field copse,
Ages from an age away,
Cast shadows on the ground,
Shapes on the meadow’s grass.
A giant’s fingers breaking the earth with an unseen hand.
Pastures morph, the textured grain,
Stones perch always, always here
They cry back, aghast,
a visitor, snaking and fencing off their menhir orchard.
A camera clicking yet may miss,
that rock is really chrysalis,
and when the sad man turns back,
To a parked car on the gentle verge,
Who knows what may hatch,
A conspiracy of rock.
The stones gaze on,
Ebbing – A Response to Tacita Dean’s Disappearance At Sea
Light will not find me,
Deep under hidden depths, rippling goodbyes through the
Blue murk on foaming ridges.
I see the passing beam and fail forever to reach its burnished gaze.
You climb the stone steps,
Downwards to shine your light and search again for marine condolences.
Climb down lower to a tidal level,
Swelling waves cleansing curl-and-crush loneliness.
Our path is shared,
You on your rock looking out,
And I under my rock-salt water,
Ebbing in gratitude for the calmness of your grief.
That’ll Do – A Response to Henry Moore’s Sheep Illustrations
Zigzag wanderers outline the pasture,
Gateposts marking boundary and domain,
Out of the dazed eye-line,
Awash with ink eddies, itching ked.
Revolving knolls melt into woollen wisps,
Ghost mammals eating their way through,
To the other side of a rocky outcrop.
Moss in the Dewclaw – kick, flit, sketch, limn.
Ad hoc, dock and hock. Come-By,
In Here, ink to shape, silhouette,
Bell Jar Human – A Response to John James Audubon’s Bird Paintings
Torn feathers floating downwards,
Away from the ravaged object,
Shackled, twisted necks and tails,
Paws and feet bloody.
Earnest interest, blinded,
Sold away to cabinets for the Cabinet,
Specimens, social and science, the social science.
A slave to indifference, indifferent of the slave’s glass eye,
Wiring the bodies, stuffing the fur,
Dragged back to life, reliving a last cry,
Owned, away in glass, jarred, wracked, sold, specimens.
Animal or human,
Water Rock – A Response to Andy Goldsworthy’s Ice Arch
Glimmering light through solid water,
Drips slowly onto the cold grass below.
I long to walk under and over the arch,
But fear of its translucent honesty,
Not the falling
Sharp shards soon drip away into the dusk,
Behind a black forest in a Cumbrian winter.
The melting of dusks and dawns,
Falling away like the ground before, the stone after, the water now.
The stone, white shadow-wood, melt together like people.
Equally as stuck, equally as fleeting.
I want to capture that moment before the dawn again breaks,
But I fear that my bones have lost their stone supports.
Smoke – A Response to Jeremy Millar’s A Firework For Sebald
A face in the smoke,
At the roadside verge.
Dying firework smoke brings life
To the underworld margin’s latest spectre.
Wisps of personality disperse into the grass,
The smash of a gunpowder memorial,
Reverberating through to the lighthouse and beyond.
On the brink of being and becoming,
Your semblance climbs the air,
Before fading off to haunt Benacre and Dunwich.
The imprint of your melancholy, forever authored onto the land.
Signature – A Response to Richard Long’s A Line Made By Walking
Footing through the grass,
A straight line ahead and back.
Before came the back – the back of a photograph, the back of a gallery, viewer admiring.
After came the forest – nothing more.
Measured and mapped onto the grain and field,
I carve my path into the land,
My signature, underfoot’s ghost trail,
scribbled with my strict meander forwards, nothing more.
The light falls upon flattened scrubs,
Already starting to grow and reset.
My time here is measured,
Like the path, a chalk line in the grass,
Evidence I have been here but soon to fade, nothing more.
Dead Building – A Response to Alison and Peter Smithson’s Architecture
A man is glued to a corridor,
Perspective blurs as he steps over the boarder page, taller than the doors,
Through a glassy concrete yet to be conceived and nurtured.
Windows blink in the bright sun before engulfed by the clouds of ballast.
Sinking into the ground, the curved wall overture reverts to its present tense; defunct, keep out.
The sound of people past, laughing at the new future before its aged withering,
Moss on the walls.
Cold and dead before the decade ran dry,
Violence brewing in the lift-shaft luminaries – the experiment gone awry.
Street lights send out Morse code, grafted into the ground,
Crying for help; they didn’t ask to be here, they didn’t ask to see,
What they alone and in the end of all things,
Were forced to see.
The Other Landscape – A Response to Keith Arnatt’s Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Empty lanes trickle down to the public house,
Whispering sweet nothings to the car park ivy.
You stain the landscape,
Steel bin calling cards, a refuse farewell.
Fly-tip your soul into the heartland of the edge;
The only safe refuge for rotting rubbish.
Rancid on the verge, passing cars’ chiming voices,
Through the waste of a moment.
It was a beautiful view,
For a time.
Silent Majority – A Response to Tessa Farmer’s La Chasse
Chasing through the air on dead invertebrate,
Hastening its locking of an ant’s antennae.
Dressage for the rotting dead and their feasting,
A battle-ground cadaver for an unseen war.
The dusty scales of lepidoptera,
And the broken spines of the porcupine,
Turned to shield and sword,
Stabbing at the writhing, the life clawing on.
Chirruping turns to a death cry,
For a blackbird, eaten alive by ants and worse,
Its feathers toiling over air, plucked out one-by-one,
Downy barbs torn as it downs into barbed thorns;
The little people have won.
Sighing – Bunhill Fields In The Rain
I visited Blake’s grave.
The throughway for the suits, statistics in hand.
Their own madness, beyond the vision of angels.
Someone was sat on Bunyan’s monument, listening to a telling as foretelling.
Droplets of rain fell, dampening the spirit, the final flourish of a year of madness.
Albion breathed its last sigh,
On the day I visited Blake’s grave.