Tag Archives: memory

‘Times Like Places’ by Sheenagh Pugh

A poem for the weather, for how it links us to our own memories. Forceably, at times. Wherever, whenever you are, there the world is. Sleeting at you. Rustling under you. Looming its mountains over you bracken brown, or ice-white or black. We live in the weather, in a way we do not live in the moment. Poem in a post by Tamar Yoseloff on the lovely Invective Against Swans

Times Like Places

 

There are times like places: there is weather
the shape of moments. Dark afternoons
by a fire are Craster in the rain
and a pub they happened on, unlooked-for
and welcoming, while a North Sea gale
spat spume at the rattling windows.

And most August middays can take him
to the village in Sachsen-Anhalt,
its windows shuttered against the sun
and a hen sleeping in the dusty road,
the day they picked cherries in a garden
so quiet, they could hear each other breathe.

Nor can he ever be on a ferry,
looking back at a boat’s wake, and not think
of the still, glassy morning off the Hook,
when it dawned on him they didn’t talk
in sentences any more: didn’t need to,
each knowing what the other would say.

The worst was Aberdeen, when they walked
the length of Union Street not speaking,
choking up, glancing sideways at each other,
but never at the same time. Black cats
and windy bridges bring it all back,
eyes stinging. Yet even this memory

is dear to him, now that no place or weather
or time of day can happen to them both.
On clear winter nights, he scans the sky
for Orion’s three-starred belt, remembering
whose arms warmed him, the cold night
he first saw it, who told him its name.

 

- Sheenagh Pugh

 

dusk

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First pack

 

Something different today: a little gallery all taken in the last few weeks, on Impossible Project Film, using the 30+ year old Polaroid camera (a Supercolor 635, for those who like to know these things).

 

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Rhododendrons seen from the window of the Lochranza Youth Hostel, Isle of Arran (first image taken)

 

003

 

The Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow

 

002

 

Dusk at Dalry Graveyard, Edinburgh

 

001

 

A reflection of the Polaroid camera and my hand, taken through the window in our new flat, Fountainbridge, Edinburgh

 

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The Union Canal, Polwarth, Edinburgh

 

As you can see, the images have a few colour leaks, and a dreamy look to them. Possibly that means I have to clean the rollers on the camera. Or, in the case of the last picture, refrain from stuffing it into the pocket of my trousers. But anyway, using the Polaroid is a treat, and one that I take full care to enjoy. I like the wooziness. The unpredictable qualities. And being able to have a physical thing to hold. To watch emerge over minutes (long minutes, hidden in a safe unlit place) as I once watched darkroom films swim into clarity.

 

I have to be mindful with each shot, since the film costs £24 for 8 images. For the next two days, there’s a discount code for five euros off, though I’m not sure if it will work in the UK. As of right now, I have one pack left, tucked into our tiny fridge.  What would you like me to take a picture of out and about Edinburgh? I’m thinking the castle from down near St Cuthbert’s Kirk. I’d love to hear your ideas. And of course, have an excuse to go roaming.

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Old Stone

 

Here’s a song for this post: Laura Marling’s ‘Old Stone’. I like to think the ‘you’ she is addressing is the city itself, and the volcanic rock much of it sits on.

 

 

 

A refrain of rock and clinging moss. The ground under these leaves I think where once the Nor loch stood. Outcasts – unwed mothers, ‘deviants’ and like criminals were occasionally thrown into the loch to drown, and their bones lie under the bones of the respectably buried. But this time let’s not linger. The city is not all steeped in such a mood.

 

 

Most early afternoons I walk back from work thinking of the way the wind and cold have stripped back the greenery and darkened, higgledy stones. Here the ivy persists on one side, forming a contrast that highlights the absence, the dying, elsewhere. Environment as editor, removing excess. Elsewhere, humans have more actively written themselves onto the canvases of near ruined space:

 

 

This is up behind the University of Edinburgh main campus. I can’t help but feel more could be done with these mews. Maybe because I’d like to live in one myself. Little cottage in the city.

 

 

 

I love the way the shadow covers the cobbles and washes against the side of the mechanics. I love the difference each cobble carries, the breakages, the inconsistancies which mark a lingering presence, something repaired and patched over time. The road was not the only thing I found repurposed but left fragmentary, left with its half-sentences intact. The grammar of this city might have changed over time, but the words don’t always alter.

 

Closer to home I came across a mysterious sign -

 

 

Clearly, in this area, there was no longer a bowling club (that’s the more frequently found outdoor lawn bowls, rather than the American indoor style).

Behind it, there is some kind of official looking building – perhaps Crown Lands or Parliamentary business. And yet, the doorway to this non-existent place remained:

 

 

Did I push the doorbell? Of course! It went in, and though I listened, I couldn’t hear the bell. No admittance to the club, this time.

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Overlap the little farm and the wood

 

It’s remembrance Sunday here, and it seems fitting to think of memory. I have been reading a very interesting article on The Frailest Thing, about how memory, place, and new technology are overlapping. About the loneliness of remembering something. Read it here.

 

It’s made me think of how I was trying to use memory in Kilea – both in the construction of the book, and within the confines of it. Kilea takes place on a remembered, and therefore fragmentary and mythologised island. The similarities should be clear to anyone who has been to the real island – but perhaps not. Because of the experiential base of memory.

 

Within the book, the landscape is continually distorted and enhanced by individual memory, mixed with folk-memory too. The Highlands have so much folk-history present in their absent spaces, their Cleared land, their war-built forestry plantations.  The whole landscape of the book heaves with it, with poison and beauty and inaccessible places and roads that are frequently covered by soil slipping from the hills. The landscape of an island as more memory than reality. The tides move the borders, and the dead have moved the dead. The stones of crofters’ houses fall into the bogs created of long-dead forests.

 

Mrs Sabine, an older woman who looks after the young Kilea, has accrued decades of memories of place, though few people she can share these memories with exist. She remembers open fields, each rock and abandoned rusting plough, and gauges the passing of her life by them, by the way they appear unchanging and she so frail and mutable.

 

The town square’s war memorial, dating from WW1, causes her a lot of pain.  It is a touchstone of the past, wreathed in poppies, carved all over with names of people she has not known, and might be judged for even reading – a foreign, German-born woman of the WW2 era, browsing, consuming, the names of the dead. Nothing is known, precisely, about her involvement or culpability in Nazi Germany. She has self-effaced, though there are hints that she suffered greatly. A  desire not to be seen remembering that crushes her.

 

Remembrance. Acknowledgement, however painful. It is required of us, though we can go about remembering in all sorts of self-protective ways. We can lie to ourselves, about the glories of war. We can lie about our culpability in wars of recent past. We can lie about pain. Or we can sit still and take it in, these memories. We can stand and watch the landscape shifting under our gaze.

 

I think – moving away from the painful matter of war – of the setting of Kilea, and I think of the shape of absence within it,the great gnawing pain of unremembering and trying not to recall. Sometimes too I think of the book as an object of the past. An absence of concrete form. A space that is not even left empty on a bookshelf.  A phantom limb that never was.

 

But a book, even unpublished, is more than a memory. It has the near infinite capacity for creation, for sturdiness. We lose our oral histories all the time, but a book is hard to lose. It can become, it can endure. I just wonder how, with Kilea,this will enact itself. How it might become, transcend memory through memory’s opposite.

 

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The Now at the 24 Project

I have a flash fiction up at The 24 Project – a pop up online arts journal which only accepted submissions for 24 hours, and will only be displaying the pieces online for seven days. I thought ‘The Now’ was a good fit – seeing as that phrase means something like ‘this moment’ or ‘right now’ in English. It’s on memory and on how the internet cannot replicate the fleetingness of immediate experience. It was also published under a pseudonym in The Kelvingrove Review (as it shows in the link)

Here’s an excerpt:

 

When driving over the haughs of Fife there is that point when you pass the oat mill just outside of Cupar and the air billows with the smell of cooking porridge. The name of the town might remind you of bent copper coins, gold foil, fat leather purses, or you might have forgotten it after passing and now your head is full of the rapeseed fields and the striated sky overhead – light blue to dark to the clouds that have grown so heavy that they have sunk like river-carried silt to the level of the treeline. 

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Snippet: The Millennial/Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts

I still haven’t decided on which title. Whichever fits snuggest, when all is done. I’m putting up this snippet as another reminder to myself how far I’ve made it – how much the book has changed already, from when it was a fantastical desert-set piece, to this. Still a long way to go. In this part, the main character, Aida, is at a low point, far from home and alone on Christmas day. She begins to come around when she thinks back to her childhood, the narrative switching to second person to reflect this distancing and awareness (hopefully it achieves this). 

 

One word for those who know me – Non-autobiographical!

 

Draw the curtains, Aida, keep back the light. Walk with your voice back to your cousin, your role model, going towards a receding tide over gleaming rocks, with the light on your shoulder, and everything clear, children shouting to one another. Hurry up, you were always so slow, lethargic, delicate, putting on your clothes, though at that point no one outside the family had ever removed them from you. The purity exists not in the body of the girl you were, nor in memory. You were crude and dirty and stupid, but also you loved your mum, and hated her, when she was there to be loved and hated. You made eyes. You prodded around in the mud. You put the dinner on which was fish fingers and peas, with Maud monitoring the water, lighting the gas. You strove to make. You admired those who tried to obvious effect or none. Plurality exists. Possibility, that this past moment still enacts in you a brightness, a seaside blistering cold.

“The lido’s closed, Mum,”

“Well, there’s the whole sea, still open for business.”

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What remains and what is lost

Cherry Blossoms, Washington D.C.

A hillside shack, Catalonia

Dusk, from Arthur's Seat

Ideal Hosiery, Lower East Side, NYC

Lastly, one of both - Summer in the ruin, Poblet, Catalonia

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