What Is Freedom? #nationalpoetryday

What Is Freedom?

Insidious, drip, drip, drip,
manipulation,
until normality
is life in a cage
of words and looks.
Like a dog that stands there docile,
the rope untied.

Some words do hurt,
do stick.
The most powerful,
parasitic,
worm into the mind,
unnoticed, unchallenged,
apparently innocuous,
sugar coated lies
on the nature of reality.

But a mind awakened
in the vast realms
of consciousness,
can no longer be seized,
for seeing true nature,
sees the rope,
untied.

© Janey Colbourne 2017

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A Message for Girls

Girls, when you are finding your feet in this world, on the cusp of being an adult and looking for ways to show it, you have no idea how beautiful you all are, in your individuality. Don’t let the world tell you how you need to change; remove hair here, paint it in there. Do not judge each other harshly. What is most beautiful is your soul shining through, expressed in your unique shapes and gestures, the sparkle in your eyes, and your fresh faced youth. No need to hide behind a mask. Beauty is greatest in self acceptance, for then our souls truly inhabit our bodies and make us glow with life. This is not just platitudes, it is truth. Enjoy who you are now, for youth does not last. Our bodies stop growing, but if we allow it, our spirits just keep on expanding.

© Janey Colbourne 2017

A Book Review: ‘Uncommon Ground’ by Dominick Tyler

Uncommon Ground Uncommon Ground page

‘Uncommon Ground: A word lover’s guide to the British landscape’ by Dominick Tyler, and published by Guardian Books and Faber & Faber, is one of those gorgeous books to dip into with delight. For me, this book is perfection. Dominick has travelled around the British landscape, taking beautiful photographs and collecting old and often obscure words that refer to the features of nature and the landscape he encountered. As it says on the sleeve, “Here Dominick Tyler gathers them into an enchanting visual glossary of the British landscape.”

This is far from a mere glossary, ‘enchanting’ is certainly the word for it. The book is a beautiful weaving of natural history, discussion and personal observations, and an exploration of the origins and meanings of a collection of words, some familiar, and some obscure, but all useful to describe precise manifestations of natural phenomena. These words enrich the language, but more significantly, they name the places and features of the landscape. When we name something, we enter into relationship with it. This book is important as part of the movement to bring us back into real connection with the more-than-human world. Dominick doesn’t take us on a journey deep into the unknown and perilous wilderness. He takes us on a journey into a world where we belong in the landscape. He takes us on a journey back into ourselves, back home. These places are familiar, yet he can tell us fascinating details that make us look afresh. Looking at the origins of words takes us into our own history, a history tied to the land and to making a living from it. But this is no museum piece. Our relationship with the landscape is forever evolving, our impact is greater than ever, and Dominick doesn’t shy away from this, yet still his book is delightful. ‘Tidewrack’ is a word to describe the line of remnants left on a beach, marking the high tide. The photograph is strangely beautiful, yet poignant, showing a plethora of colourful plastic, along with the natural debris. In this tidewrack Dominick sees a symbol of our guilt, fulfilling an archaic meaning of the word ‘wrack’ as ‘retributive punishment’.

To intergrate the narrative of human life with the narrative of nature, as if it has never been parted, as if we had never forgotten, is a skilful art, in the Age of the Anthropocene, an age when the majority of human beings live in cities. Dominick succeeds in doing this, in gentle fashion, acknowledging the modern farmer on his mobile, imagining that like the ancient art of fisherman sharing knowledge of the tides, locals now share knowledge of where, in the hills of the Lake District, one might get a signal on a mobile phone.

Dominick compares the British knowledge of mud to the Inuit knowledge of snow. Mud is our default medium here in Britain. As adults we lose our fascination with it. It becomes an inconvenience. Dominick reminds us of the many uses of this humble material. He brings us back to an appreciation of the elements we take for granted. Who knew there were so many words for mud? ‘Loblolly’, I think, is my personal favourite, which means, “a mud hole, especially one with a deceptive dried crust on the surface. Also a name for a thick stew of similar consistency.” As well as providing definitions, Dominick engages us by playing with new ways of using these ancient words, for example, “I loblollied about for half an hour before I got free, and lost a boot in the process.” And yes, Dominick, I too would buy a ‘dictionary of mud’, if there were such a thing.

I like his gentle humour, and his honesty at personal vulnerabilities, which make the book all the more endearing and relateable. He tells of his moment of primal fear swimming in a lake, when his foot struck colder waters beneath, reminding him of the depths beneath.

The book contains OS map references, where relevant, so that we can go and see the landscapes for ourselves. It also includes standard dictionary pronunciation guides for the main terms. George Monbiot, of the Guardian, described ‘Uncommon Ground’ as, “an astonishing book of heart-wrenching beauty”, and that sold it for me. If you are a lover of nature and of words, this book is a perfect synthesis of all that is good.

I am the Earth

The Island Within

“There is nothing in me that is not of earth, no split instant of separateness, no particle that disunites me from the surroundings. I am no less than the earth itself. The rivers run through my veins, the winds blow in and out with my breath, the soil makes my flesh, the sun’s heat smolders inside me. A sickness or injury that befalls the earth befalls me. A fouled molecule that runs through the earth runs through me. Where the earth is cleansed and nourished, its purity infuses me. The life of the earth is my life. My eyes are the earth gazing at itself…I am the island and the island is me”

Richard Nelson 1989 ‘The Island Within’

image © Janey Colbourne 2016

I have a relationship with books

Reading

I have a living relationship with my books. They are not museum pieces. I underline, write notes, fold the corners of pages, fill them with a forest of post-it notes and improvised bookmarks, without hesitation or apology; they are my friends and my colleagues. I am unlikely to part with them until I die.

© Janey Colbourne 2016

The book in the photograph is ‘The Lost Language of Plants’ by Stephen Harrod Buhner, published by Chelsea Green 2002