Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Last of England - for a while anyway!

Deep breath . . .   here goes . . .

Keep your fingers crossed for me!  I'll try and put up some pictures as often as I can. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Tuesday Poem: Inversnaid by Gerard Manley Hopkins

This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry hearthpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness?  Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 - 1889)

I love Gerard Manley Hopkins' poetry and I thought this one was quite a suitable Tuesday poem for someone about to go out into the wet and the wildness of extreme north west Canada.

One of the things I love about this poem is Hopkins' use of unusual words, some of  his own making, but some of them dialect terms.  I've been reading Robert McFarlane's book 'Landmarks', about the relationship between language and landscape.   Where now do you hear 'degged', 'flitches', 'twindles'? My father used the word 'degged'  or 'dagged' when talking about sheep fleeces.  'Braes' and 'burns' are Scottish, but 'fells' are Viking-speak - definitely from my own home territory in Cumbria.  The rivers and streams are 'horseback brown' here too at the moment, all roaring down to the sea.

Gerard Manley Hopkins was one of the writers who recorded an account of the 'Krakatoa Sunsets' - the amazing visual effects of the gigantic explosion of the Krakatoa volcano in 1883.  It was both poetic and scientifically exact - published in Nature magazine and you can read it here. 

The Tuesday Poets are an international group who all try to post a poem every Tuesday and take it in turns to edit the main website.  Why not click on this link and take a look at what the other Tuesday Poets are posting?

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Wilderness Wear - madly packing!

I'm tearing around trying to pack for my flight to north west Canada later in the week.  No fancy clothes this time - I'm packing for boats and treks through the forest, encounters with wild animals, sleeping in lodges and changeable weather.  So, it's fleeces, t-shirts, waterproof trousers and walking boots. And plenty of blister remedies, insect repellent for the mosquitoes and cream for the inevitable bites.  The small planes, and the ferries, ask for duffle bags or back-packs, - no suitcases.  I'm trying to travel light, so no room for books - only my trusty Kindle.
Balance Rock, at Skidegate - one of the places I'm hoping to visit. 
The itinerary has changed quite a lot.  On Wednesday morning I got an email to say that Martin Shaw would not be able to do the workshop next week (my main reason for going!).  Fortunately the organisation refunded my accommodation and workshop fees, but I couldn't get the money back on the flights I'd booked.  I was gutted at the time - I'd been really looking forward to doing workshops on North American mythology in the landscape the myths relate to.  But that isn't going to happen. I'm out on a discovery trip of my own.

So, I've booked three days in Vancouver (the pink bit on the mainland r. above)  to go to the Anthropological museum and some Haida art galleries. And then I'm taking the ferry to Victoria for three days to visit Emily Carr's house and the Museum of British Columbia, allowing myself a few days to wander up to the north end of Vancouver Island - possibly to Alert Bay, where Emily painted the Haida canoes.

Then I'm back on schedule with a flight to Masset at the northern end of Haida Gwaii, 'on the edge of the world'.  The islands are much, much further north than Vancouver Island, which is off the south coast of British Columbia, and I'm going to the northernmost part, more than a thousand miles from Vancouver - almost in Alaska.

Now, back to the packing and wondering what else I might need!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Tuesday Poem: Paeon to Place by Lorine Niedecker

This is an excerpt from Lorine Niedecker's wonderful long poem 'Paeon to Place', which you can read in full here, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation.

'. . . I grew in green
slide and slant
      of shore and shade
thru weeds

Maples to swing from

Grew riding the river
      at home-pier
            Shelley could steer
as he read

I was the solitary plover
a pencil
      for a wing-bone
From the secret notes
I must tilt

upon the pressure
execute and adjust
      In us sea-air rhythm
“We live by the urgent wave
of the verse” . . . '

The Niedecker cabin, flooded in 1979.  Photo Jim Furley
Lorine Niedecker was a very unusual poet, living in a cabin on Black Hawk Island, Wisconsin, in the centre of marshland, in almost total seclusion, and is sometimes referred to as 'the Emily Dickinson of the 20th century'. She died in 1970 but her poetry has gained in reputation since her death because of its strong sense of connection between the poet and place, between humanity and the natural world it is part of. There's a good article here about Lorine Niedecker's new status as an 'ecopoet'.

The Tuesday Poets are an international group who try to post a poem every Tuesday and take it in turns to edit the main hub.  If you'd like to see what the other Tuesday Poets are posting, please click on this link to take you to the main website.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Setting off into the unknown

And not just politically.  It's been a scary week. As a committed socialist the recent election results have been hard to take. But I've also been focused on a long distance trip.  Yes, I'm leaving the country - but only for 3 weeks!  And it's one of the scariest trips of my life.  I'm heading for the wilderness,  more than 1,000 miles north of Vancouver, off the coast of Alaska.
Some of the old Mortuary poles I'm hoping to see
For the past 3 years I've been working on a new poetry collection, centred round the mythology, and the history, of the Haida people who lived on islands off the Pacific coast of Canada and Alaska for more than 8,000 years (until we arrived).  Within a couple of decades of our arrival as colonists their population was reduced from more than twenty thousand to less than five hundred. They have a unique culture - both art and poetry - which I'm hoping to experience at first hand rather than just through books.  Like most hunter gatherer societies they had a holistic approach to the environment they lived in and depended upon.  They had a saying 'Everything is connected to Everything'.  That has a very strong message for us today.

A Haida Raven
The journey is epic - seaplanes, boats and on foot.  A nightmare to book over distances online.  Every booking I make seems to be dependent on the weather, so nothing is certain.  I'll be reporting back whenever I can, via the Blog and Facebook.  This documentary trailer gives you an idea of what it's like.

I'm starting off by going to a workshop run by Martin Shaw, on Cortes Island (small seaplane to Campbell River, 2 ferries and a shuttle!) in the south.  The workshop is called 'Mythteller'.  I'm looking forward to exploring the mythologies of North America with such an expert and hoping that this retreat will help me to finish the collection.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Tuesday Poem: The Shipwright's Love Song - Jo Bell

Oh, but the lines of her!
The curve and glinting swell –
the smell, as sweet as pitch pine,
thick and hot as tar.
Oh, I was launched and splashing in the slipway,
happy to be rudderless
and yawing, mast head
touching to the foam.

Oh, but her skin was salt,
was starred with gasping salt beneath my tongue,
and slowly
she came round to me –
bucking and slipping at my touch,
making way in fits and starts
to reach me and be calm.

Later, long before she rocked me into sleep
I saw the seas, saw all of them in one blue ache:
unlandmarked, vast; horizonless.

© Jo Bell 2003
from Navigation, published by Moormaid Press
Listen to Jo reading the poem on YouTube here.

Jo Bell was born in Sheffield and grew up on the edge of the Peak District.  She became an industrial archaeologist before being seduced by boats.  Narrow boats.  She now lives on a narrow boat and is Britain's Canal Laureate.  Jo has won several major poetry prizes.  Navigation was her first collection, and her second - Kith - has just been published by Nine Arches Press.  Listen to Jo read some of the poems from the collection on Sound Cloud. 

She blogs at The Belljar

The Tuesday Poets are an international group who try to post a new poem every Tuesday and take turns to edit the main hub.  Today it's my turn to be editor and I've chosen the poem 'Taken' from Jo's new collection Kith.   Click on this link to take a look.

Austerity: Moving Money from the Have-Nots to the Have-Yachts

Lately I've been reading a gripping and addictive book that has at times shocked me so much I've had to put it down.  But this is not fiction, it's cold fact.

I'm reading Austerity by Kerry-Anne Mendoza who left a successful and highly lucrative career in banking to be part of the Occupy Movement.  She has insider knowledge of the economic system that is returning us to levels of inequality not seen since the 19th Century. Whatever your political persuasion, the evidence - the facts and figures - are indisputable.  This book has 5 star reviews and - if ever a book should be able to change the world - this book is it.  Everyone should read it, but the people who really need to probably won't.

Mendoza traces the origins of the Austerity movement to 1944 and the political and economic measures that were set in place to rebuild the architecture of the post-war global economy. It was rooted in neo-liberal capitalist ideas based on unlimited growth which was to be accomplished through de-regulation of the financial system and the international trade network.  These ideas were to be implemented by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation and it was in reality Economic Colonialism. Countries in Africa and Latin America were sucked into the Debt Trap and laid waste by Austerity, long before it happened in the West.

Created to rebuild shattered war time economies, these institutions 'continue to set the roadmap for domestic and international policy to this day', over-ruling democratically elected governments and environmental groups.  There has been a gradual transfer of power from the State to private corporations.  We have now arrived at a point where individual global corporations are richer and more powerful than governments.

Mendoza is particularly lucid on the financial crisis of 2007/8 and the part played by de-regulation of the financial markets, the growth of derivatives and the selling on of bad debts to institutions who then took out insurance policies to protect themselves against defaults.  When the bubble burst, the banks were bailed out to the tune of £850 billion in the UK alone - twice the nation's annual budget.  So a toxic private debt was converted into public debt.  And we're the ones paying for it. Austerity was then wheeled in to make sure that we did.

It's called the Zombie Economy - the dark side of our financial institutions, sucking all the value out of them and leaving us with the bill. Only the 1% at the top make any money.   Mendoza uses water to illustrate how it works.  We all need water, but there are only a finite number of people drinking it and using it.  How to grow your market and increase your profits?

1.  Set out to gain control of the water supply and production. Now what?
2.  Then you get people to buy shares in your company.
3.  Then you can pay people to work for you and you can cream off a profit.  But it needs to carry on growing.
4. You get people to bet on whether the price of water will go up or down (futures - a favourite derivative).
5.  You can now manipulate the market in order to make more profit. You can even place bets yourself on whether the price will go up or down.

But for the consumer the price is always going up to pay - not just for the water - but for the profits and losses of all the people now in this corporate chain.

Almost the whole of our lives have now been swallowed by the corporate monster - our hospitals and schools (most of us are unaware of  the mechanics of PFI in the health service or the funding of Academies).  Mendoza is particularly scary on the facts and figures of the destruction of the NHS as is it sold piece-meal to private providers.  How many of us know that our GP practices are privately owned now? Only a few remain as originally intended. Education is going the same way, alongside the welfare system which is the safety net for those who are less fortunate.  'You can't run a public service like a business', Kerry-Anne wrote in a Guardian article.  They were created to 'serve' a public interest. But -

"The reality is that, wherever we look, all our major institutions meant to protect and serve the long-term public interest are stuffed with individuals who have abandoned this role in favour of their own short-term self-interest."

She quotes the Stafford hospital case as an example of what happens when commercial values replace the values of healthcare, when meeting a target is more important than whether a patient lives or dies. Using material obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, she reveals that in 2013 52 NHS staff have been paid £2 million in gagging orders, banning them from reporting 'significant failures of private healthcare providers operating NHS contracts'.  Prior to 2013, 'more than £15 million was spent silencing 600' staff.  We should all be worried.

When I read the facts and figures of what is happening to the social security system, I wept. The numbers of suicides, of hungry children having to be fed at school (this is making a huge hole in school budgets), of desperate single parents whose benefits have been stopped because they missed appointments, people with disabilities denied care, people dying of cancer being told that they had to work or have their benefits cut (one received the letter the week before they died).  The scandal of the Atos assessments (for which it was paid £206 million).  There are a number of case histories, all carefully documented and figures that can be verified. Foodbanks, once rare, are now operating in almost every county of Britain.

Meanwhile corporate salaries have continued to increase - bankers salaries and bonuses are back to pre-crisis levels.  The Sunday Times rich-list recently revealed that the rich are now twice as rich as they were before the crisis.  And Austerity has failed to restore the economy - growth is slowing (0.3 now, down from 0.6 in the previous quarter) and there are negative interest rates in Europe now - which effectively means paying people to borrow which is so crazy you can't imagine anyone doing it.  They haven't reached the UK yet, but the only thing keeping things from going under is the printing of money to fling into the wild waters of the economy - called Quantatitive Easing - but perhaps better known as Questionable Economics.

"This is not an economic recovery by any reasonable definition of the term. What is the point of GDP growth, if the benefits are not increasing the quality of our lives?  . . . Hunger, poverty and homelessness rising exponentially in a time of economic growth can only ever be a political choice. . .  It is the deliberate destitution of the many, to benefit the few".

I don't like corporate Britain where the only values are profit and infinite growth, where the environment gets plundered for diminishing returns and people simply become units of consumption. I want a fair society which benefits us all - one in which we preserve the environment, our heritage, for future generations.  Where the sick get the treatment they need and children get the education they deserve.  Where everyone has a roof over their heads and everyone has enough to eat. We have the resources to do it, we just need the political will.  In a democracy that means US.

Kerry-Anne Mendoza is a left-wing economist and journalist who blogs at the Scriptonite Daily