I’ve just come back from camping in Hebden Bridge. Four days of walking. A bit of reading. Three haiku written. Happy days and cold nights, especially Sunday when the sky was clear. Having camped on the top of the hill, just off the Pennine Way, it felt like we were that bit nearer the sky than anywhere else in the county. Fantastic.
Walking, even if you’re only out for the day, makes you very conscious of weight and what you can comfortably carry. Poetry pamphlets are ideal walking companions. Slim, lightweight, easy to dip in and out of. I was happy to take When All This Is Over (Calder Valley Press) with me, as it arrived last week. Put together by John Foggin and Bob Horne, with editorial input from Kim Moore, this pamphlet is the result of a project that started in lockdown, where John put out a call for poems responding to Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem ‘Swineherd’. Three months on, here we have a pamphlet that reflects that response, not just to the poem ‘Swineherd’, but to that peculiar time.
It was interesting to be reading these poems whilst out walking, as so many were about a longing for freedom, a desire to hit the open road and get away from it all. ‘I’ll become a nomad and travel/ where everyone goes wild about birdsong‘.
We weren’t on a campsite, but pitched in a farmer’s field (permission granted, I assure you). Roughing it might present some challenges, but it really does allow you to get back to nature. ‘I want to lie on my back in a field/ of black clover under a scarlet sky’. And ‘I long for an open road, a mandolin/ and an apple, snug in my pocket’.
Many of the poems in When All This Is Over refer to giving something up, either the tools of the trade, ‘I’ll give my scalpel/ Stanley knife,/ and cutting mat/ to my red-haired daughter‘, or the way of life that the job demands, ‘When all this is over, I’m not answering any more questions’. Accompanying this need to get back to basics is a commitment to seek out new experiences, sometimes tinged with danger: ‘I want to be stalked by wolves, to be prepared/ to drive on bridges that might not hold’. These risks heighten the senses. We become more aware, more alert, more alive: ‘scent is a language/ I shall relearn‘. Or perhaps we become oblivious to the bigger picture, ‘grant me instead the bliss of ignorance‘.
Many of the poems seem to reflect a desire for Utopia, ‘no more crimes/ no gutting/ being sympathetic/ to the original‘, although I realise I’m taking words out of context here. The poems are about individual experience, imagined yes, but refracted through the lens of a time lived in lockdown. They ‘praise the toil of smaller lives‘ and, in part, romanticise those lives too. Given the climate these poems have been written in, that’s of no surprise. In fact, I was glad there was such a sense of hope and optimism.
On the whole, in these poems simpler worlds are imagined. This, in itself, is interesting, given the amount of information and news (fake or otherwise) that comes our way. I’ve purposely not named individual poems and poets here as the pamphlet really is a collective effort and should be read as such. John Foggin, Bob Horne, Kim Moore, you are all incredible people who have given up many hours of your time in order to bring this pamphlet out into the world. Medals the size of bin lids are in order!
I would however, like to draw attention to Ian Parks’ prologue. This introductory sonnet manages to tap into the unsettling backdrop to the pandemic, the sense that we are, all of us, ‘huddled in our places’ … waiting for the hush that daylight brings‘.
When This is All Over
While we were sleeping they were still awake.
While we were hiding they were in the light.
The cold dark angel passing over us
left nothing but the flutter of its wings.
We huddled in our places, locked from sight
each waiting for the hush that daylight brings.
So empty out the squares and thoroughfares,
make criminal the handshake and embrace.
There is no other future except this:
the bolted door, the window and the face;
all of our journeys cancelled or delayed –
and if we meet we cough instead of kiss.
When all of this is over we’ll creep out
astonished by the new world they have made.