This slim, elegant pamphlet is one of the artistic outcomes from an expedition to Greenland in August 2016 undertaken by poet Helen Mort, composer William Carslake, filmmaker Richard Jones and writer Robert McFarlane, each of whom was going to respond to the glaciers and landscape they experienced in their own artistic way. Thus, there also exists a film with a musical score, with inspiration derived from the same source as these poems, they can be seen as companion pieces but they are not interdependent. The book also contains reproductions of some artwork by Emma Stibbon.
A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to see Mort read from this small collection, she also played a section of the film. It was a touching experience. The underlying thought behind all the pieces seems to me to be two-fold: to celebrate these vast, barren landscapes that are simultaneously beautiful and dangerous; and also to illustrate their extreme vulnerability, the rapacious damage being done by global warming…humanity.
The poems are meditations on this beauty and fragility, they touch on the lives of the people who live in this region and of the fauna, such as the Arctic Fox the ‘living cinder’ of it, ‘running quick rings around the day’. Polynya – a stretch of open water surrounded by ice – is reused here as a gentle love poem, musing that hearts too must have places not yet hardened by experience. But it is the two longest pieces that capture the spirit of the exercise, ‘Glacier Song’ and ‘The Glacier Speaks’, by giving voice to natural environment,
‘the Glacier has not slept/ for centuries/ The Glacier is restless, lithe/ insomniac/ articulate/ and doesn’t need/ a word for itself.’
You can’t help but feel the poet’s awe, when adrift on a fjord, the boat’s engine has cut and ‘the two minute silence/ that felt more like vigil/ than anything you’d ever known’
The pamphlet, which is a limited print run, is rounded off by a delightful essay by David Cooper, ‘Sounds & Silences: Acoustic Geographies & The Poetry of Place’ which amongst many other insightful things introduces a phrase that I’ve not heard before – landscape punk – but which I will be plagiarising without shame in the future.
It’s a lovely thing and should be treasured: as of course, should the Earth.