It seems that lately, whatever I am reading, jellyfishes are floating somewhere nearby. The first encounter was in PNReview 223– a beautiful translation by Marilyn Hacker of Jean-Paul de Dadelsen’s Bach in Autumn. The final stanza starts:
God goes through us
As the sea through a jellyfish, in one movement that swells it
And shrinks it at once. The galaxies whirling is the phosphorescence of His wave.
The hordes of souls are plankton floating on His surface.
He is the slope of our blood towards death’s estuary. He is
The tide of our spirit. He is the orbit and our madness.
Vaster than our infinity, tinier than an atom, this universal I
Is within us more than ourselves.
Next, in the serendipitous manner of things ‘turning up’, I read Alyson Hallet’s new book, ‘On Ridgegrove Hill’, written about her time as Charles Causley Poet in Residence living in his house Cyprus Well in Ridgegrove Hill in Launceston. I know Launceston well and once spent an afternoon with Charles Causley in The White Horse. I loved Alyson’s book and it reminded me that I had, a long time before, asked her if I could read her Ph.D thesis. I looked through files and there it was, unread but still there. It is called ‘Geographical Intimacy: exploring the relationships between poet, poetry and place.’ It was an epiphany moment. For two days I read and re-read, thought and dreamed. And there were the jellyfish. A quotation from William Reich:
‘It took many million years to develop you from a jelly-fish to a terrestrian bi-ped. Your biological aberration, in the form of rigidity, has lasted only six thousand years. It will take maybe a hundred or five hundred thousand years before you rediscover nature in you, before you find the jellyfish in yourself again. Reich (1975) ‘Listen, Little Man!
Alyson develops this by saying that ‘Reich equates the rediscovery of his own ‘jellyfish’, or personal nature, with enabling people to question, rather than blindly accept, what they are told to do.’…..’is it possible that we are not fully alive when we are not conversant, and intimate, with the landscape of our ‘natural, inner world’?’ It was Kathleen Jamie who used this phrase.
Later Alyson considers the possibility, through analysis of different poems, that the intimacy between the self and nature is what Jeremy Hooker has called ‘the dark channel’ .
Analysing a poem by Rebecca Elson, an astronomer whose are of research is ‘dark matter’ that begins:
‘That was the week it rained
As if the world thought it could begin again..’ Alyson writes
‘The poem continues by revealing what is hidden in the feeling of dissatisfaction, and what they have lost by being aloof from amphibious desires, namely:
After buoyancy, of weight,
Of belly scraping over beach.’
She goes on ‘Can Elson really be suggesting that inside our bodies there is a latent memory that tells us what it was like to crawl out of water and onto land for the first time? That buried within our mistaken feelings about the weather are histories so old they might stun us with their knowledge? It is perhaps no coincidence that a poet who is habituated to searching the outermost regions of the universe for dark matter, something that cannot be seen but which must be there, is able to turn her gaze inwards and espy the oldest, amphibious memories inside the human body.’
I am very excited by this whole concept of the broken connections to what is buried, below, hidden and that can be accessed by getting in touch with the nature in ourselves. Alyson refers to Jeremy Hooker and his description of the ‘deep channel’ that is not only in the world but also in the human body.’ Jeremy has kindly sent me a copy of his inaugural professorial lecture ‘Putting the Poem in Place’ which refers to this ‘deep channel’ and looks at the way in which place can be a poem of being.
Intimacy and being, being prepared to go down into the unknown – to try and find ‘the river under the river’ – the job of the wise old woman in American Indian folk lore – I realised that this is a central theme of so much that I write. I have been fumbling around looking for an entrance when really, I think, I am feeling the crumbling walls of the tunnel as it slopes down into the earth. To be ‘at one’ – with Nature, with God, with the ones that we love – this is the intimacy of living in the world.
My long series of poems about late love is called Field Grammar and has a central theme of a field where seeding, watering and blooming are the means of capturing the nature and growth of intimacy and the struggle to capture that in words. I am going back to it now with a kind of new understanding – both about myself and about the way in which that writing has tried to express love and nature both.
I cannot do justice to Alyson’s thesis – it is beautifully written, erudite and draws threads between many different poets. I hope that I might excite some readers to want to know more.
I added two words to this poem that I wrote recently after reading Alyson’s thesis!
The day the world broke open
The crocodile of boys
in boarding school
corduroy, two by two
crossing the field in the sun.
One at the side of the path
swishing a grass head with a stick.
Another, leaning back to talk,
stumbles on a dry rut of orange mud.
Boys, sun, grass, field, hedge,
an expanse of air opening,
I’m lost in the breaking
edges of the world,
like an autumn acorn
Copyright Brigid Sivill – for private distribution.
Alyson can be contacted at email@example.com if you want a copy of her thesis.
Jeremy Hooker’s new book of poems is called Scattered Light: Enitharnum Press
Alyson Hallett’s On Ridgegrove Hill is available from Atlantic Press, Penryn
All the poets referred to in the thesis can be found online.