Motorway

It feels odd
to be this close
to the motorway
at night when
there’s not much traffic
going by
and I want to go to sleep
but at the same time
I want to stay awake
because I want to remember
what it’s like
to sleep in a cheap
hotel
which I don’t do that often
they provide you with teabags
and sachets of coffee
and it seems a shame
not to boil the kettle
and sit
looking out of the window
watching the articulated lorries
making their way
slowly
up the hill
and the occasional car
overtaking them
and then the road
empty
under the streetlights
waiting

 
(c) Sackerson 2020

 

 

 

Thresholds

For centuries, city-explorers have found themselves drawn to the edgelands, the zones that lies between a city and the land that lies beyond it. In the edgelands, the inner workings of the city are exposed. There you’ll find sewerage farms, electricity substations, landfill sites, areas of “waste” ground. Waterways that further into the city are channelled through invisible concrete culverts are, in the edgelands, open to the sky.

These explorers often use the word “liminal” to describe these places. Liminal is the adjectival form of the word “limen”, a word usually used to describe the threshold of consciousness. It’s easy to see how the word came to be so overused. In a sense, when we enter a city, we enter a waking dream. However, as we pass through the edgelands, we can see the machinery of the city, the means by which it induces the dream-state, exposed. The substations of the edgelands channel the power that illuminates the streetlights and the plasma screens that in turn illuminate the dream. The substations are fascinating in their own right but they do not beguile us the way the plasma screens set out to. When we look at the pylons and the transformers, we’re invited see the things themselves. The same goes for all the machinery that exists in the edgelands to fire up the spectacle in the city. The edgelands are like the perimeter of a travelling fairground, where the engines that drive the generators roar and the workers’ caravans are drawn up in the dark, out of sight of the brightly-lit illusions of the centre.

Whenever I read accounts of urban wanderings I feel the urge to go and explore a city for myself. This is a little difficult for me right now, “locked down” as we are in the middle of an epidemic. We live in a village, down an unmetalled road by the side of a beck. A few yards past our house, this road crosses the beck and turns into an even rougher farm-track. Here, the houses end and the fields begin. I went for a walk that way the other night. I found myself thinking about urban exploration and it struck me how villages, too, have their edgelands. They don’t sprawl for a mile or so like the edgelands of cities – in fact, blink and you might miss them. As I walked away from our house I realised I was walking through ours.

When the road turns into a track, the verge widens into a small area of “waste” ground. At the moment, it’s merely overgrown (I say merely, but it’s good to see it that way) but for several years it was used to store a number of huge concrete pipes intended for a land-drainage project. When they were finally taken away, it acquired a mound of hardcore that resembled a miniature Silbury Hill. I have to admit I played a small part in building it. Over the years the heap got used up. You can still see a low mound there, in the winter, when all the vegetation’s died back. Over the years, people have also dumped garden waste in the undergrowth hereabouts. A few yards beyond the remains of Silbury Hill I spotted a lone daffodil growing on the bank of the beck. Not far from it stood a large-leafed, exotic looking plant I couldn’t name. Fortunately, no-one has dumped anything invasive. I think people here know better than to shit in their own backyard. The daffodil marks the end of the edgelands here. Beyond this point, everything is farmland.

Back home from my walk, I’m sat writing this in our conservatory – a grand word for a lean-to structure built on one end of the house. Boiler-room would have been more accurate, had the boiler not been taken away. There are no hot-house plants here. This is a place to keep bicycles, wellington boots, a tumble dryer, the odd piece of garden furniture which might be taken outside on warm days. The wall opposite the windows is the stone wall of the house It’s built of irregular-shaped pieces of stone and roughly pointed. Part of it has been plastered at one time and there are traces of green paint on one of the stones. An elaborate system of copper pipes which once connected to the boiler still run down the wall. I often sit staring at all this. Anyone attuned to the Japanese concept of wabi sabi (of seeing aesthetic value in imperfection and decay) can sit here for hours. The point I’m getting round to here is that this space is our “edgeland”. One door (the window in which is filled with a piece of salvaged stained glass which, like the wall, can hold one’s attention for quite a while) leads to the outside world. Another leads to the carpeted, centrally-heated world of the kitchen. Wherever we establish ourselves, on whatever scale, we create some sort of liminal space around us. Such spaces serve to sustain the illusions we create within their borders.

We live not far from an Iron Age hill fort. Fortunately, it’s quite remote and rarely visited. Finding it is a test of map-reading ability and many visitors to the area complain that they failed to find it. Being local, I’ve been there many times and so far I’ve always had it to myself. It strikes me now that what remains of it –the mound and the ditch- probably marked the edgelands of the community that settled within it. It seems that the thresholds we create are often the most enduring part of what we leave behind.

(c) Sackerson, 2020

IN FAR AWAY LAND from andrew kotting on Vimeo.

Reading Aloud

Since getting together for poetry readings isn’t possible right now, I thought I’d post myself reading here. In this video I’m reading a poem I posted here recently, Geography, together with a more recent poem, Going Away.

It would be great if more people who posted their poetry on blogs and other social media posted videos or sound files of themselves reading, to make up for the lack of live opportunities at this time. There again, perhaps it’s happening and it’s just that I haven’t discovered it yet!

Going Away

He’s coming round this afternoon
I didn’t think he’d come so soon
he says the mind is not enough
there’s nothing to be frightened of

that people get the wrong idea
(they want to stay, they like it here)
that once they reach the other side
they’re pleased he took them for a ride

Yesterday he called next door
they found the old man on the floor
I wonder where he’s taking us
the driver in his old, black bus

(c) Sackerson, 2020

Geography

Forget it. There is
no trail to follow
through the trees no ginger-
bread house in the centre
of the forest although
there’s no way of telling
where that might be as
we’ve never found our way
to the edge to stand
looking out at the unbroken
sky and perhaps bare hillsides
sloping down to the sea. There is
a map but it’s of little use as
there are no distinguishing features
only the trees and the compass spins,
erratic, leading us nowhere
except to the conclusion that
anywhere might do. Also,
there are so many hiding places
depressions in the ground
where one might lie down
invisible it is impossible to tell
how many people there are
lying low though sometimes
you hear or think you can
the sound of voices that fall
silent the moment you begin
to listen. One could say
that nothing here is what it seems
but that implies we think
we understand the things
we’re dealing with.

Let’s take a walk then,
you and I, among the trees
in the absence of certainty
for sure, knowing only
that we know nothing
except for the smell of resin
and the distant surf-sound
of the wind in the treetops
and the possibility of
an encounter with a creature
not unlike ourselves
but different.

 

(c) Sackerson, 2020

 

 

 

Summit Fever

Where is the top, exactly?
There’s nothing to tell us and
the rise and fall of the ground
is deceptive. It’s not as if
we haven’t walked across it
many times. We have,
only each time we settle
on a different place.

We’re not the only ones:
someone has left a clutch
of pebbles in the grass.
Another, to the East,
has driven in a stick
but as we walk around
we’re not convinced. Today’s
your turn to choose. Choose well.

(c) Sackerson, 2020

 

Bait

Recently, I got round to watching Mark Jenkin’s new BAFTA award-winning film, Bait. It was shot in black and white, without sound (all the sound was dubbed in later), on a clockwork 16mm camera. The film stock was developed with home-made developer, giving it a grainy, imperfect look which, along with the sound, is an essential part of the atmosphere of the end result. It has a sharp edginess about it that reflects the times and it’s hardly surprising that Jenkin cites Derek Jarman as a formative influence.

Martin and his brother, Steven, are fishermen. Business has been so bad that Steven is reduced to offering sea trips to tourists on their only fishing boat. Martin doggedly continues to fish from the beach. They’ve had to sell their old family home to a rich couple who go on to buy up other former fisherman’s cottages in the village and turn them into Airbnb holiday homes. One brother tells the other that the rich incomers’ living room, decorated with pieces of tastefully arranged rope and fishing net, “looks like a sex dungeon”. The real world the brothers have known all their lives finds itself in a head-on collision with the fantasy worlds inhabited by the holidaymakers. After the inevitable rows about parking, everything goes downhill. Tension runs high. Most of the characters make an effort to show restraint and there are even some furtive sympathies and fraternisation across the divide. Not wishing to drop in any spoilers, I’ll stop there.

There are not many films I’ve enjoyed watching as much as I enjoyed watching Bait.

I also came across this on the internet. The lady with the Long Brown Hair is a one-minute long short film Mark Jenkin made in 2016:

Water at Night

Where it moves
over the stones
you can hear it
but where it stands still
reflecting the darkness
there’s no way of telling
until you yourself
are submerged
at which point
the sound of its movement
recedes into silence
and all you can do
is wait for it to find you
again, which may
or may not happen.
Who can gainsay
the submarine logic
of it all, the way
these things fall out?

(c) Sackerson, 2020