Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks. From ‘Riprap’ by Gary Snyder
Writer-in-Residence, Swarthmoor Hall, Ulverston
For many years now, the connection between creativity and spirituality is something I’ve been pondering. Add the land and how we dwell in it on it with it and you have three things that ignite my imagination.
Being invited to contribute new poems and a short essay to David Hart’s anthology “Is a religious poem possible in the early 21st century?” (Flarestack 2004) was one of the rocks along the riprap path of my journey from there to here. ‘There’ being an encounter with silver birches when I was a child. I thought the birches wanted me and if I let go, I’d never get out…what was that about?! I had no idea, but it’s been something that’s been an itch to be scratched, a mystery to be solved.
Such encounters with the ‘other’ is something writer John Burnside also talks about in his article ‘Celebrating the animal encounter in poetry’ http://www.newstatesman.com/sci-tech/sci-tech/2012/08/celebrating-animal-encounter-poetry
Along the way I encountered ‘Touch the Earth – a Self-portrait of Indian existence’ compiled by TC McLuhan. This book spoke to me like no mainstream religion had, speaking as it did through stories of life spent in and of nature. Why worship ‘something’ indoors when you can find wonder all around you and we’re part of that wonder?
As Oklahoman writer and Kiowan Indian, N. Scott Momaday says when he talks about Oklahoma: “To look upon that landscape in the early morning, with the sun at your back, is to lose the sense of proportion. Your imagination comes to life, and this, you think, is where Creation was begun.” (From ‘Touch the Earth.’)
So, after completing my PhD in 2011, “An Exploration of Identity and Environment through Poetry” I felt the need to explore the connections between poems and prayers, creativity and spirituality and how, perhaps, just perhaps, if we rediscovered a sense of wonder, a sense of the sacredness of the land and our connections to it, we might, hopefully, not destroy it.
With these ponderings in mind I contacted Jane at Swarthmoor Hall, former home of Margaret Fell who married George Fox after her husband Thomas died. Fox was the founder of the Quaker Movement. Not that I know much about Quakers, except they are pacifists. I know the Hall though and especially the fields, beck and woods close to it. They were our childhood playground, where my Barbie doll, called Jane Bond, was regularly dived into the beck as I pretended she swam underwater on some mission in her role as a spy… where ‘me and my friends’ would paddle, laugh, argue, swing from trees, pick bluebells and blackberries and muse on life from the ages of 10 until we were 16.
In an email to Jane I shared my ideas. She invited me to meet with her and, after a positive meeting last week, agreed that I could be writer-in-residence at the Hall. Part of my role will be spent writing in response to time spent there, its grounds and gardens. In 2014 I’ll be tutoring creative writing workshops themed around the musings I wrote about earlier.
Having Swarthmoor Hall as a base from which I can draw inspiration, create new writing, share my discoveries with others through my own work and through creative writing workshops, is something to be treasured. I tend to think of poetry as a form of compost, recycled energy; that we create something out of nothing and give it back to the universe in a poem, or in a prayer – or perhaps poems are prayers? I don’t know. I think the residency may prove to be a valuable rock on the riprap journey.
Geraldine Green 1.3.2013