Windy afternoon

Went for a walk down to look at the bay after work tonight, with a strong easterly blowing almost straight offshore from the cliffs, making the bay look cold and blue, like metal, and swirling, eddying shapes on the water as the wind rushed over the cliff where I stood.

There was a boat anchored just offshore, just where the wind would have felt a little uncontrollable, and nobody seemed to be in it. Maybe they were diving off it.

Then, walking back, I was struck by the wind high in the gum tree and the sounds the wind made as it filtered through the leaves. I took some videos on my phone and put them together.

There may even be a poem in it.

 

Remembering Dylan Thomas

thomas_grave

I couldn’t let this year slip away without dedicating something to the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, who was born 100 years ago in 1914, and who meant a lot to me when I was a young writer trying to develop my own voice, or grow out of his.

Thomas is a bit out of fashion now; that lovable, hard-drinking, hard-partying, womanising? thing looks a bit self-indulgent now, and his poetic legacy remains in some uncertainty; a lyrical poet or someone too in love with the sound of their own voice?

Still, for me, some of Dylan Thomas’s poems were always important, and I was drawn to their voice and lyricism as well as the sense of ‘place’ and the sea that has always mattered in my own writing.

For a little while, when we were first married, we rented an old weatherboard place that overlooked Port Phillip Bay and I spent a charmed summer writing poems that tried to sound like him. While I hope I eventually found my own voice, I still admired Thomas, and even named him in my 2011 list of My Top Ten Poets (though I might revise that list now a bit: Auden up, Donne down)

And, in that first literary pilgrimage, that first trip to Europe when the kids were little, Dylan Thomas was firmly on the trail, along with Wordsworth, Yeats, Eliot, Hardy, Austen, Shakespeare and Bronte. We travelled to Laugharne especially: had a pint of Guinness at the local (I did, the kids didn’t!) and then walked up the hill to the The Dylan Thomas Boathouse and the small, humble white cross of his grave.

Later, I taught Under Milk Wood to senior students and dragged my tattered old Everyman paperback version of his Collected Poems around with me a lot; I even remember someone asking me what I was doing with a book of poetry at a surfing competition at Bells Beach a one stage.

There’s some links below, if you want to read more about Thomas, and below that, one of my favourite Thomas poems, Fern Hill: the text and an audio of Thomas reading that poem.

And, I’ve dragged that copy of his Collected Poems out to look at again today too, before the year tilts away.

The Dylan Thomas Official Website

The Poetry Foundation site on Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas 100 Years Festival Site

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Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,

The night above the dingle starry,

Time let me hail and climb

Golden in the heydays of his eyes,

And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns

And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves

Trail with daisies and barley

Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns

About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,

In the sun that is young once only,

Time let me play and be

Golden in the mercy of his means,

And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves

Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,

And the sabbath rang slowly

In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay

Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air

And playing, lovely and watery

And fire green as grass.

And nightly under the simple stars

As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,

All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars

Flying with the ricks, and the horses

Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white

With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all

Shining, it was Adam and maiden,

The sky gathered again

And the sun grew round that very day.

So it must have been after the birth of the simple light

In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm

Out of the whinnying green stable

On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house

Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,

In the sun born over and over,

I ran my heedless ways,

My wishes raced through the house high hay

And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows

In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs

Before the children green and golden

Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me

Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,

In the moon that is always rising,

Nor that riding to sleep

I should hear him fly with the high fields

And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,

Time held me green and dying

Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953

Walking in nature

I’ve spent the last five weeks or so travelling, in England and Scotland mainly, doing lots of walking, thinking and some writing. The walking has helped a lot, even though I’ve come back with a sore knee which I think was due to all the steps on Arhur’s Seat.

I’ll post some more about this later, but the two most memorable places for me were the Lake District, with its wonderful walking and Wordsworth connections and Skye (see below) for the sheer beauty of the landscape.

Walking in nature is refreshing, reviving, consoling and inspiring. And, even if it makes your legs sore, or because it does, so so important.

Skye, Scotland

The Eye

I’m sure this will be a poem sometime: sitting in the bird hide in the Briars late yesterday afternoon, after a walk in the cold and wind, just enjoying being inside and watching some cormorant drying their black wings, suddenly a white egret flying in and sitting inches away, feathers rustling, holding itself close against the wind and the cold, it’s bright, unblinking eye.

Egret in the Briars
Egret in the Briars

Surf stories

I caught up with a lot of surfers yesterday at the 40th anniversary of the Peninsula Surfriders Club; a surfing club I joined in Year 12 in 1974. I don’t surf much these days but it was great to meet up with some faces from the past and to hear how many are still surfing, lots of them seeking out warmer climates now that the old bones don’t enjoy the cold waters of the Mornington Peninsula so much.

I’ve always thought surfing was more than just something to do at the beach when it’s hot. Maybe more than a sport.  When I was surfing a lot, I wrote about it a lot too, not so many poems but stories, articles, journal entries, trying to understand it all. I’ve got still a eighty page poetry sequence sitting in Scrivener waiting to be turned into an ebook, or a major section of some larger book someday. Maybe I should get back to that.

One of the surfers told me about a journal they liked called PaperSea, which looks part-travel writing, part surf-writing, photography and counter-culture.  Looks interesting, and good to see others interested in the subtler nuances about surfing and the sea. They write:

Creative men and women with an appreciation for hand-crafted quality will find honest stories and critical pictures about surf, travel and art from the world over.

We saw the need for a creative alternative and so we present to you a quarterly book for people who share our affinity for the ocean, creativity in its infinite manifestations and the thrills and perils of travelling amongst far away cultures.

Full-bleed images by the world’s best minds accompanied by their stories behind the moments are set alongside in depth interviews and stories. We are publishing first-hand experiences as we explore not just the beaches but also the cultures of far away countries.

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It made me go back to my own work too, and see what about surfing was there already. This poem, from my collection The Colour of Maps, probably owes as much to Gerald Manley Hopkins as it does to the waves, but celebrates an early surfing moment:

The Waves in the Bay

These fine light pulses
flicker across rippling sand,
perfect solids, half-lit wedges,
tubes unravelling continually
like pvc, along a precise depth of moment
and the spilling forward motion
is thrown out and over along an angling
vortex, punching out air like engines minutely,
crackling like small arms fire
along calf-deep edges
of sandbank promontories.

Or, on still days,
with the bay
stretched taut as glad-wrap,
wrinkly, oily looking,
and strange sets,
yes waves arrive in sets
like Meccano, assembled,
dark stacked mounds of water
appearing from somewhere abruptly,
unexpectedly complete,
the bow waves of some great tanker
that passed by ages ago, perhaps,
or merely the sea itself, its slow stretching
sending children skittering
from their floatables, new water
running up the smooth sand,
lapping at towels briefly like affairs,
the old tales of the seventh wave
that sinks ships: ask sailors about it.

And then, that perfect day, the miracle,
when, after the strong wind had finally
transformed the bay’s wayward cross-chop
into lines of swell that darkened
and caved out of the cold depths like bears,
the wind swung around, and while the pulse still beat
strongly in for an hour, fading at last by degrees,
with the sun,
those perfect waves
pushed still against an offshore,
smoothing before our amazed eyes,
these natural things becoming startling,
in surfing dreams come true at last
in the temporary crossing of energies.

And as they beat, still more faintly
from the yellow sunset
and we turned for home,
they were already depleted,
and we, rubbing the salt from our eyes
as if in a dream,
could already barely recall
the moment at all,
or the first fine lace spray
off an offshore in the bay.

WW

Winter landscapes

I must admit that, though I’m often a bit envious to see friends heading somewhere warm for the winter break, there is something I like a lot about winter landscapes.  Here’s some images from the last couple of weeks on the Mornington Peninsula.

The milky look of the bay early on a very cold morning at Safety Beach. It was so cold that the waves seemed sluggish.

Safety Beach

 

Below: another early morning. Sunrise,  near Martha Cove.

Mist near Martha Cove

Below: I’ve been wanting to take this shot for ages. This is Balcombe Creek, looking north from Bungower Rd. I’ve passed it often, and it’s been too busy to stop, and it’s a dangerous place with no roadside parking nearby. So, I made a special trip for this one.

Balcombe Creek

Below: And, in contrast to the stillness of the bay some days, this winter break we had three days of wild and windy weather. This is Mornington Pier.
Windy morning at Mornington Pier

 

Below: This day was so gloomy that most of the shots I took were bleak and undistinguished. This was the best of those I took walking in The Briars at Mt Martha.

Winter walk in The Briars

 

 

Bushranger’s Bay

I walked into Bushranger’s Bay this afternoon, a short track through a park near Flinders that takes you through Greens Bush to the sea. It’s a favourite walk of mine, short, but always interesting with kangaroos, banksia and slowly as you get closer, the sound of the sea. It follows the ridge above Main Creek and takes you to a wild looking little bay near Cape Schanck.  No poem yet, but walks like these, little immersions into nature, like diving into the sea, generally end up returning somewhere later on. Coming to the end of a busy teaching term, it was just what I needed.

Bushrangers Bay walk

Bushrangers Bay walk

Bushrangers Bay walk

Bushrangers Bay walk

Bushrangers Bay walk

If you want to do the walk, the details are here: http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/mornington-peninsula-national-park/things-to-do/bushrangers-bay