This is by the brilliant Gillian Clarke – Welsh Poet Laureate – who published the collection Recipe for Water (On our book wiki)
I copying it here from the Gaurdian
Go there to link to other climate change poems
A climate poem for today: Cantre’r Gwaelod* by Gillian Clarke
UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy curates a series of 20 original poems by various authors on the theme of climate change
The morning after, the beach at Borth
is a graveyard, a petrified forest
thundered out of the sand by the storm,
drowned by the sea six thousand years ago
when the Earth was flat,
the horizon the edge of the world.
Remains of stilted walkways tell their story:
how they walked over water between trees,
longing for a lost land when the sea-god stole it,
how they shouldered their children and fled
with every creature that could crawl, run, fly,
till time turned truth to myth.
It’s how it will be as world turns reflective:
seas sated with meltwater, craving more;
a cliff-fall takes a bungalow; a monstrous
tide rips up a coastal train-track;
storm fells a thousand-year-old oak,
smashes a graceful seaside promenade.
Grieve for lost wilderness – for the lovesick salmon,
lured by sweet river-water sleeved in the salt,
homing upstream to spawn at the source
where it was born; for mating hares
in love with the March wind; for thermals
lifting a flaunt of red kites over the wood;
for bees mooning for honey in weedless fields;
for sleepy Marsh Fritillary butterflies
swarming the ancient bog of Cors Llawr Cwrt;
for the Brown Hairstreak in love with blackthorn
and the honeydew of aphids in the ash;
for the blackbird’s evening aria of possession;
for Earth’s intricate engineering, unpicked
like the flesh, sinews, bones of the mother duck
crushed on the motorway, her young
bewildered in a blizzard of feathers;
the balance of things undone by money,
the indifferent hunger of the sea.
*Cantre’r Gwaelod, (The Drowned Hundred) a legendary land lost under Cardigan Bay.
The storms of February 2014 uncovered a petrified forest and evidence of ancient habitation from the beach at Borth.
Borth Beach looking towards the South
View of Borth Beach, looking North
The Hydro Project team visit to the Welsh case study area gave multiple opportunities for watery reflections. I arrived in the quiet of the evening on the single track train at Borth. A first view of the bay was of a wide sweeping beach with a narrow row of houses parallel to the railway line. At first, everything here seems to relate to the railway – the morphology of the village, the need for the new sea defences to protect the line to Aberystwyth, and the character of a sleepy rural village. The taxi man suggested that ‘things’ had changed in the village as a result of the sea defences; that it had grown quieter as the former wide sandy beach had been lost to a mixture of rock armour islands and pebbles. The medieval settlement at Borth was called ‘Portuherad’, now subsumed by the existing village. Along the high street, the houses in Borth are mostly modest, many look like they were once fishermen’s cottages; some are painted in a lively mix of pastels reminiscent of the much-postcarded images of Tobermory on Mull.
Views from Borth Station
What a place to consider water! A ribbon of houses aligned between coast and
river, sitting between flood plain and the Irish Sea. By any logical thought,
this is probably a village that should not have been built where it is. What is apparent in the landscape is the
physical evidence of a fascinating story of engineering and community action to
create the new defences against the wrath of the sea. These include a multipurpose reef (MPR), rock
groynes and breakwaters, and beach ‘nourishment’ with shingle and sand. These are identified in Meek’s (2012) report
which also lists much of archaeological interest in this area. The defences are best viewed from the cliff walk to
the War Memorial. From here you can see along
the Heritage Coast to the south, and right across the bay and out to sea. As I walk, a pair of Oystercatchers
(Haematopus ostralegus) scream at a
group of teenage boys messing about on the rocks below the war memorial cliffs; the birds are enraged by the incursion to their nesting site. In the dry meadow grasses of the coast path
the Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa
cardui) are fluttering amongst the wildflowers. Newly blown across the water from Europe they
look far too fragile to have survived that journey and are being chased by the local Meadow
Brown butterflies (Maniola jurtina)
apparently jealous of the food.
A visit to the bog – what in Northumberland is called the ‘moss’, and in Yorkshire the ‘waste’ – was a really ethereal experience bringing together the natural world (Sphagnum Moss, Nightjars, Asphodel, and peaty water) with science (core sampling, species management) and artist interpretation (songs, music and stories). Water here is part of the structure of the landscape – the essential composition of the physical and cultural environment, giving life and form to the peat, the moss and the underlying clay. Here we hear stories of plants and medicinal use: Sphagnum moss, with its mildly antiseptic properties is recorded as being exploited since at least the 11th century. It was used in both the First and Second World Wars for wound dressings. It absorbs moisture from the air as well as the ground and has extraordinary water-holding properties. It has had many other practical uses including cushioning broken limbs, babies’ nappies and lamp wicks. Peter Ayres in his (undated) essay Wound dressing in World War 1: The kindly Sphagnum Moss, suggests that it should have recognition for its significance - along with the Flanders (field) poppy (Papaver rhoeas) - for its extraordinary life-saving practical role in the First World War.
The Bog Myrtle is all around us, growing in low glaucous green shrubby clumps. Crush a leaf and the sweet scent is easily liberated. According to Mabey (1972 & 1996) Sweet Gale or Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale) was traditionally used for flavouring a kind of beer before hops were used. Evidence indicates Myrtle was used by the Anglo-Saxons and its location, often growing near monasteries and other early settlements, indicates it was sometimes cultivated. It can be used to flavour existing drinks and gives a retsina-like tang to wine. The leaves are good as stuffing for roast chicken, or can be used like lavender in sweetly scented bags to put in wardrobes to keep moths away. A volatile essential oil extracted from the leaves is good for keeping midges away. Some of us could certainly have used this particular property for our ‘bog-trotting’. We also discover that the Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragrum), which has a beautiful bright yellow flower, was believed to make the bones of animals brittle. However it was the peaty land – or calcium-poor land – that was the actual culprit here. According to Mabey (1996) it was apparently sometimes used in the North of Britain as a substitute for saffron and as a yellow hair-dye.
I was very excited to see a young Nightjar (Caprimulgus europeaus) on this bog trip. This is a very rare migrant sometimes known as a fern owl, or churn owl. Nightjars feed at dawn and dusk and often roost along a branch or on the ground. I was lucky enough to see Nightjar species in Ecuador earlier this year roosting like statues high in the rainforest trees. Mabey describes the strangeness of Nightjars and their song: ‘there is something powerfully mysterious about the birds, particularly the sudden inverted awakening at dusk, the wildly erratic flight, even the huge eyes and immense rose-pink gape….The dry, throaty mechanical notes pour out at a rate of 28-42 a second’ (2005 p.295). Gilbert White in The Natural History of Selborne (1788) also gives a good indication of the mysterious character of the Nightjar, which he describes as a ‘wonderful and curious creature’. The bird he studied was ‘most punctual in beginning its song exactly at the close of the day; so exactly that I have known it strike up more than once or twice just at the report of the Portsmouth evening gun, which we can hear when the weather is still. It appears to me past all doubt that its notes are formed by organic impulse, by the powers of the parts of its windpipe formed for sound, just as cats pur’ (sic). He goes on to relate a story: ‘as my neighbours were assembled in an hermitage on the side of a steep hill where we drink tea, one of these churn-owls came and settled on the cross of that little straw edifice and began to chatter, and continued his note for many minutes; and we were all struck with wonder to find that the organs of that little animal, when put in motion, gave a sensible vibration to the whole building!’ (Letter XII Selborne, Jan 2nd 1769). Indeed Cocker and Mabey suggest that the song ‘seems at times that it is emerging directly from the landscape itself' (p.296). This mirrors my own feeling of our whole visit to the bog, with the ethereal playing and singing of musicians and stories which seem to emerge and merge with the landscape around us. When I get home I consult my 1907 copy of The Welsh Fairy Book by W. Jenkyn-Thomas and am surprised (or perhaps not?) to find that the majority of the stories involve water in one form or another, and reflect the senses, associations and yearnings that our artists portrayed so well out on the bog.
Pages from 'The Welsh Fairy Book' by W. Jenkyn-Thomas (illustrated by Willy Pogany) (1907) pub. Fisher Unwin, London.
At a lunch break the Hydro team watch the ‘boil’ of fish in the bay at Borth. This is indicated by a flock of feeding shearwaters and gannets and the fin of a dolphin slicing the water in smooth arcs. At low tide in the sand the roots of the sunken forest lie revealed along the shore. The trunks strangely soft and spongy to the touch; they are scattered around with the translucent pink and grey shells found all along the west coast of the UK. Meek’s (2012 p.8) Archaeological Watching Brief quotes a fascinating account from the Lost Lands of Our Ancestors publication: ‘The remnants of fallen trees and stumps around the coastline are perhaps the most enticing evidence we have for the existence of long lost lands. They offer a tangible link to our ancestral landscape and have helped inspire numerous myths and legends of cities and countries swept away by the sea. Indeed, before their true nature was understood, they were believed to be the result of the biblical flood and were referred to as ‘Noah’s Trees’. They are revealed at low tide at many locations around the Welsh coast, from Rhyl and Abergele in the north, Borth and Newgale in the west to Amroth and Newport in the south. The preserved stumps of willow, hazel, oak, pine and birch are evidence of former woods and forests swamped by the encroaching tides and irrefutable testimony to the devastating effect of climate change. The tree stumps are rooted in peat levels lying below the marine sand and have been preserved by the continuous waterlogged conditions. The sites around the Welsh coast do not represent a single phase of inundation. The radiocarbon dates from the trees at Ynyslas, Cardigan Bay, suggest that they died around 5,500 years ago, while those just over a kilometre to the south at Borth died some 2,000 years later. The remains of animals have been excavated from the deposits around the tree stumps, including auroch, red deer and brown bear from Whitesands and pig from Lydstep, both in Pembrokeshire. Although observed and commented upon through the centuries, including by Gerald of Wales in 1188 and Samuel Pepys in 1665 no serious study of the submerged forests was made until 1913 when Clement Reid, a geologist, published a book on the subject. His 'Submerged Forests' was the first survey to put these trees into a wider archaeological context and to argue conclusively that they were the result of a rise in sea level.’
The report goes on to suggest that further along the beach to the south more peat deposits have been recorded and these are thought to date to the Bronze Age (c.2000BC). It also says that ‘human and animal footprints as well as probable archaeological features were recorded in an area of peat exposure to the south of the Phase 1 Borth Coastal Defence Scheme……………..This submerged land would have originally been established during the last Ice Age, which ended some 12000 years ago. The lands seem to have been good hunting grounds for Mesolithic hunter/gatherers. The land was evidently waterlogged enough to enable peat levels to become established. Following the end of the last Ice Age ice sheets receded and sea levels rose and these low lying lands around the coastal margins became inundated. The apparent late date of the final inundation at Borth during the Bronze Age would suggest that other factors delayed the progress of the sea. It is possible that this could have been due to a large land form, sand bar or similar which slowly eroded over a few thousand years, eventually letting the sea break through and cover the land to form the coastline, roughly as exists today. It is notable that at Borth there is still a low lying bog on the eastern side of the town, which would become quickly inundated in the event that the existing sea front were breached.’(sic) (pp.10-11)
Today (as I imagine there have been all down the ages) jellyfish
the size of dinner plates lie stranded on the shore at Borth. These are organisms that are the perfect
utiliser of the water as structure, but now bereft of that support, they lose
their own structure. Amongst talk of
watery imaginings and project achievements and futures there is much
consumption of liquid. Conversations
make you thirsty, and thirst provides opportunities for sociable interaction
over coffee machines and water taps as well for as new understandings and interpretations of water.
Ayres, Peter (undated) Wound dressing in World War 1: The Kindly Sphagnum Moss, Field Bryology No. 110, Nov 13, pp 27-34. Available: http://rbg-web2.rbge.org.uk/bbs/activities/field%20bryology/FB110/FB110_Ayres_Sphagnum.pdf
Cocker, M. and Mabey, R. (2005) Birds Britannica (London, Chatto & Windus).
Mabey, R. (1989, orig. 1972) Food for Free (London, Collins).
Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica (London, Sinclair Stevenson).
Meek, J. (2012) Borth Coastal Defence Scheme: Phase 1 Borth, Ceredigion: Archaeological Watching Brief, Dyfed Archaeological Trust Limited. Available: http://www.dyfedarchaeology.org.uk/projects/borthcoastaldefence.pdf
SNH (undated) Sphagnum Moss Fact Sheet: http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/education/sphagnum%20moss.pdf
The Lost Lands of our Ancestors: Exploring the Submerged Landscapes of Prehistoric Wales, website: http://www.dyfedarchaeology.org.uk/lostlandscapes/index.html
White, G. (1941, orig. 1788) The Natural History of Selborne (Harmondsworth, Penguin).
Wales Marine Planning: http://lle.wales.gov.uk/apps/marineportal/#lat=52.4769&lon=-4.0466&z=13&layers=54,55,56
Sara: For the person who doesn’t know you at all, how would you summarise your relationship with Borth?
Boz: I almost lived in Borth by accident, the first time, and we lived right on the seafront. It was somewhere cheap to live, and it was out of season, and windy, and winter. Over those few months, I suddenly realised that I had to get in the sea nearly every day. Then, when I moved inland, I missed it, and the people. I missed the kind of attitude that was around the village that didn’t seem to exist in other places anymore. I juggled things around to be able to come back, and I made it work, and discovered that there were people that were willing to do things here. There were a whole range of different people who normally would be separated into their little communities: 'we do this activity and that’s what we do, and we don’t mix with those people'. But in Borth, people don’t care about that. We were a bunch of penniless students, and there’d be a millionaire next door who used to come down once a month, and throw lavish parties, and he didn’t seem offended by what we were doing. A lot of people mixed, basically. All the community seems to mix together. The things I started to draw, and the things that I started to look at, affected my outlook quite a lot as well, and the way that I thought about things, and this wanting to constantly be around the sea. Because in winter, if there was good surf, you spend six hours in the water, and it’s a long time to go into one environment, and not really talk to anyone, encased in a hood, and completely shut off from the shore-based world, and then you come back, and you’ve thought completely differently about things for a while. So you have that break. For better or worse, you start needing that sort of break from things, so that started me thinking about things differently.
Sara: How would you characterise the artistic work that you do?
Boz: I’d explain my art by saying that at one level it is illustration, and that’s what I always veer towards, but also I like to think that because it's quite accessible, you can get people in who say ‘that’s a pretty picture of something’ and then it makes them look a bit deeper and maybe there’s other comments or something within that that they’re not seeing normally, or that they wouldn’t expect that type of drawing to have. I don’t think I’ve gone anywhere near far enough with how far you can take that sort of thing. I’d describe it as children’s illustrations, gone wrong, into a different arena in some ways.
Y Borth. Image/Artist: Boz Groden.
Sara: Is subversive a word that you’d use for it?
Boz: I’d like it to be subversive, without being pretentious. I like to surprise people, but at the same time it can be something pretty, attractive, and humorous. Especially humorous, because if you can make people laugh at something, or even laugh about an aspect of something, at some picture where they agree with one thing, and say: ‘that always happens to me, but I disagree with this part’ then you’ve got a debate, in a way. I’ve had people pick something up and say ‘that’s lovely’ and then ‘hmmm’, and put it down, and that’s great. I’d much rather have that. I’ve changed things as well, if people say that they are really offended by something. I don’t mind that, because you’ve talked to them. You’ve had a kind of relationship with them, and they’ve explained to you why they find it annoying that you’ve characterised their area as full of chavs or whatever.
Sara: It seems, from what you’re saying, that it’s really important to you that your work is naturally interactive in some way?
Boz: Yes. It’s quite lonely sometimes, just sitting, drawing, and it’s like anything when you get obsessed with your own ideas. It’s good to get out and test them, so I’m trying to work more with sketches, and get those out in front of people and I think that's particularly good for this project; it will be really useful, to say ‘what do you think of this’, and get that feedback. The ideal would be everyone saying ‘I want this in it’ and to get them all arguing, and telling me what they want, so I just have to draw it. But obviously I first I have to start that conversation.
Boz Groden. Photo: Sara Penrhyn Jones, June 21, 2015
Sara: Have you got ideas about how to start that conversation with people?
Boz: I think that the easiest way to try it is to try and get my rough ideas in front of people by posting them up on the web, and I’m going to go round the village, and maybe have some open days, and say to people, this is what I’m doing, what do you think abut this? And I probably start quite gently with just a few of ideas, and see what people come up with from that from that so that if somebodv is very much against something being portrayed in a way that they see as negative, then you can talk about that. You can refer them to someone down the road who’s already said: I think it’s great. So you’re slightly causing trouble, which is enjoyable, and then people are talking about it and I think that’s great. I’ve already discovered that, with trying to find people’s stories, trying to ask people about their relationship to water, that some people will say, 'This and that happened to me and I’ll give you this great big story about how this amazing event changed my life'. And then two minutes later someone else will say, ‘I remember when this happened’, and it completely contradicts what the first person said. It's all part of the process, and good in itself.
Sara: If there was a person who didn’t know about Cymerau or your own work, how would you explain to that person what you’re doing for Cymerau?
Boz: For Cymerau I’m going to create a visual map of Borth and the area, all the water around it, the sea, the bog and parts of the estuary. I’m going to try to incorporate people’s stories and relationship to water into that, by using like a cartoon format, with these simple events that have happened to them, and make them interrelate as much as possible so that someone might be having one experience within that map, and possible they may be having a terrible time. They may be flooded, and someone else who is crossing that line of experience within that cartoon may have a completely different view of that. Hopefully, that will show at the end of it, as much of the relationship that people have got, as is possible in a two-dimensional space.
Surf History. Image/Artist: Boz Groden.
Sara: You’re already working in Borth, and you’re already living with water, and exploring that in your art as well. What’s the value for you in being involved in a larger project like Cymerau, and being part of a group of artists working over a year. Is that different to what you’re already doing?
Boz: I think it offers me the experience of working with other people, and moving away from the quite insular aspect of just drawing something and then presenting it to the world and seeing what people think. The process of collecting people’s experiences will be really great in that way, and also seeing what the other artists are doing is going to influence what I do, as it evolves. I’ll be looking back at what they’ve done, and thinking that perhaps I need to be staring at this in a more direct way. As events happen, I’ll see people’s reactions, and think perhaps there is much more value in people seeing it in a different way. I think it's going to be great to be part of a community, to have a community of artists who are doing stuff. Apart from being able to bounce ideas off each other, and just having that drive to respond to what others have done. If I I just love what someone else has done, I'll ask: can I incorporate it, can I nick a bit of that idea and put it in mine? It's also just pushing yourself. Someone might find a really good way of tapping into something - and I'll think this must be really important, people really cared about that. I realise that I have to find a way to reflect the same feeling in what I do.
Aberystwyth University. Image/Artist: Boz Groden.
Sara. Am I right in thinking that in your work, as a general principle, you really like the idea of provoking a response? Can you try to explain your own motivations and goals, that thing in you that makes you want to provoke people? What’s behind that, and what are you hoping to achieve?
Boz: I often struggle with people who don’t express an opinion or don’t want to talk about something, like it’s too much trouble. It’s people who should know better, in my opinion. They have money and power and they could in fact acknowledge that and change things. On a smaller scale you’ve got groups who use the water around here, like the surfers. There’s a whole community of surfers who just see the sea as, 'We go out, do our thing we do some tricks'. You’ll notice, most of them run straight up the beach, towel off, get into their camper vans and drive away. Very few of them spend any time on the beach, really experiencing it, and if you talk about the sea or the coastal environment as anything more than a playground that’s been put there for them to play with, there’s a blank look and they move away from that. I think that the whole thing has been consumerised so much that you’re supposed to go there and have this experience, with these brands on, and this equipment. No one wants to ask: what’s actually out there? Did you see any marine life? Did you see any birds? How did it make you feel? Did you have a good day or a bad day, what was the point of it all at the end of that? So I get frustrated with those people who I know really well, who you’d think would have a deeper understanding of things. I suppose it’s a bit like climbers, who may just climb a mountain because it’s there, and it’s all about that achievement, and it’s all about them. They’ve done it and then they go down, and they might just throw all their litter, and just leave. It’s has that same kind of vibe to me.
Surf school, Borth. Photo: Sara Penrhyn Jones August 26, 2015.
Sara: This is really useful in the context of talking about Hydrocitizenship. Do you think that what you’re describing is - and I don’t know if you’ve thought about it in these terms before - a form of ecological citizenship? It’s not just the aspect of enjoying something, but of taking care if it, taking responsibility. Could you try to make some of those connections between what you’ve described and what we might think of as being holistic eco-citizenship?
Boz: There has to be a reconnection between people and the environment that they live in. The sea seems like something that should be a bonding experience for a lot of people, and I think it is. People go in there and they do have an experience, but I don’t know if they have the encouragement or the words to actually express it in a way that they can talk about it as the environment. They may say, 'I’ve had a great surf, I did this and this, and it was brilliant', or 'We went sailing, it was great and we and caught loads of fish'. But very few people seem to say, 'We went out, and there weren’t many fish, and I wonder why that happened' or 'The sea smelt funny today, why did it smell like that?' I’ve often raised things like that with people and say: Didn’t you think it was weird that we saw that froth floating there', and people just shrug. It’s hard for everyone to acknowledge that our lifestyles damage everything, but I think you have to start having that debate with people and hopefully, one of the things that I like about cartons, and very accessible illustrations, is that you can get make laugh, and then they say, 'Oh that’s me, I’m doing that'.
Fish Sculpture. Artist/Image: Boz Groden
Sara: That sounds to me like what hydrocitizenship could look like, if you were to pin it down.
Boz: If I had to pin down it down, what hydrocitizenship looked like, I’d say that at the very least, you're acknowledging the implications of water, and acknowledging that everything you do is connected to it in some way. Especially living in a place like Borth, to have a respect for it, and have an understanding that all this stuff doesn’t just come for free. You can’t just endlessly take, and expect the sea to present you with all these opportunities for recreation and so on. It would be great if hydrocitizenship was something where people bought into an idea, that they all cared about something, and protected it. That it gave them back far more than that small effort cost them. I think it’s there in people, in some way, but they don’t know how to express it, or they’re not encouraged to say to someone, 'I really enjoyed doing that in the sea today, and I feel like want to do something about it'. That next step doesn’t seem to exist for people. It would be great if people were connected and felt able to say: 'I’m seeing something that I don’t like happening, and it’s my right as a person to talk about this', and just everyone was able to do that. There were kids on the beach burning tyres the other day, and one of them wasn’t into it and knew they shouldn’t be doing it, and it would have been great if they could have had that conversation. As it was, it was a bunch of adults pointing and shouting at them to stop, which didn’t really help. What if that kid had a voice and was able to say ‘what are we doing here, we shouldn’t be doing this?'
Borth Sea Defence Construction. Photo: Sara Penrhyn Jones June 2012
Sara: Tell me something about your knowledge of sea level rise, and the idea of Borth as embattled.
Boz: Some people think that Borth has a limited time, and will be inundated, and some people don’t want to think about it. Subconsciously, people know it isn’t forever. It may not even be for the next twenty years. There’s a kind of ‘well, we might as well get on with it, what’s the point of making our lawns perfect, and tutting about our property value if secretly we know that we may as well just enjoy it - they seem ok next door'. That’s my theory: because it’s threatened, it builds a different attitude.
Boz Groden participating in and observing Esther Tew's workshop 'Water, Water, Everywhere'. August 26, 2015. Photo: Sara Penrhyn Jones
Sara: Will the issue of sea-level rise and displacement frame some of the mapping that you do, or do you think it will emerge organically?
Boz: Displacement and sea-level rise will inevitably come up, because people are going to have an opinion about it, and I’ll make sure to ask them about it. It will come through in their views and stories. How they feel about the place. When the sea defences went in, there were a lot if people against it, and people said that they destroyed everything in order to save it. There’s an element of truth in that. I’m still going to dig at that sort of things. I’ll ask a few questions, and I think it will influence things- it has to. You can’t really talk about a place that’s sub-sea level without asking those questions.
Esther Tew's workshop 'Water, Water, Everywhere', Borth beach, August 26, 2015. Photo: Sara Penrhyn Jones
Sara: There’s this idea that time is different here - with petrified forest, Bronze Age walkways exposed by crazy storms, and so on. It feels like a place where time plays out dramatically, or more tangibly, don’t you think?
Boz: I think that time is more exposed here. There’s history all around us, but in the hills, it’s easier to ignore. Here, when the tide goes out, or when the 2013 storms opened the beach up, people were finding fire pits with children’s footprints from the Middle Bronze Age, from two and a half thousand years ago. It’s all there to be seen, and that affects people’s thinking as well. Someone I asked already described it as: there was a point in the Bronze Age, when suddenly a lot more people came to this estuarine flood plain, where there were small communities, and suddenly there was a huge influx of people from the East. They described it as the Middle Bronze Age Birmingham Invasion. I might try to use that in some of the cartoons, and I might share it with people in the caravan parks.
In terms of working with the community, I’m
really looking forward to producing some of these stories as postcards. I’m
really hoping that some of the people who get them may not have any interest in
art, or may not normally want to be involved, but will take something away.
They may remember that they were part of that project, and keep the postcard
around like a physical thing for some time, rather than just something else on
the smartphone that they’ve got rid of. I think it's great to reach as many
people as possible, and not always the same groups, because there are people
who are politically engaged and reading things and are aware. But if you can
get to people who are on holiday, or just passing through, who remember that
experience and place, and connect it to other things in their life, I think
that’s really important.
Reflections on Cymerau in the Spring - Katherine Jones and Tom Payne
From May 26th to 29th the Cymerau artists and community members showcased creative projects devised with and for people in the Borth and Tal-y-bont area in Ceredigion, mid Wales.
This included Beached: The Final Landing by Jane Lloyd-Francis and Gwilym Morus-Baird; Water Surgery by Jess Allen; Y Gors by Dafydd Sills-Jones, Anne Marie Carty and Nick Jones; Edafedd-dwr by Ffion Jones; The Water Shed by residents of the Borth Community Allottments and Stories, Songs, Science and the Sea by Peter Stevenson, Erin Kavanagh and Lynne Denman.
The following is written conversation between two participants in these events. Tom Payne was involved in organising the Spring Gathering with other members of the local team. Katherine Jones is a former Aberystwyth resident and is a Towards Hydrocitizenship team member working on the Water City Bristol case study.
Ar Lan y Leri
The weekend began on Thursday evening with Beached: The Final Landing, which was the last installment in a series of walks and public events organised by Jane and Gwilym under the title Ar Lan y Leri (beside the Leri). The Leri is one of three rivers that run through the Cymerau Case study area; the others include the Ceulan and the Dyfi, all of which combine in the waters of the Dyfi Estuary which flow into the Cardigan Bay.
Katherine: A group of mainly Borth residents assemble at the Ynyslas nature reserve for a short walk inland along the edge of the main Ynys Las car park and along to the river Leri. At this point, the mouth of the river, we are treated to Suzanne Iuppa reading some beautiful poetry. Suzanne has come down from Mold, and has an American accent. Her poems are a response to a landscape initially unfamiliar to her, but they have bubbled up through impressions and conversations gathered through walking some of the Leri. For my own part, having grown up in this area, I never knew this particular river which runs past the back of the Borth train track, and along part of the coastal path which I have walked, is called the Leri.
Tom: I have never walked inland at Ynylslas. Every other time I have been here I’ve followed the boardwalk through the dunes out towards the sea. I am reminded of a time many years ago that I had a brief part in a film playing Timothy Spall’s body double. I had to sit on a bench in a long trench coat so that the filmmakers could film him/me from behind looking out to the horizon; not the most flattering casting decision. Further inland, close to the boat yard at the mouth of the Leri, I’m taking in the awesome view that stretches eastwards beyond the flat esturine landscape to the hills above Tal-y-bont. I can see small white windmills spinning briskly on and between the green peaks as I listen intently to James Meek talk about the wrecked ships that lie below the surface of the water in the estuary. Small wooden posts jut upwards, some distance away, marking the location of one of the vessels. I can hear James’ voice clearly, even at a distance, like he is speaking to me in a small room, which is surreal, given the backdrop. It’s difficult to bring our immediate location into relation with the enormatiy of the vista, which seems somehow like it might be a painting on enormous stage flats.
Katherine: We meander back to the nature reserve centre where chairs have been set up for an audience, to watch Jane and Gwilym share their impressions from their three-day journey from source to sea of this river. The walls are adorned with pictures of snakes and birds, and a list of birds recently spotted in the Ynyslas nature reserve. Jane and Gwilym’s impressions involve recorded conversations, recounted stories of encounter (with the owners of a watermill, with a hare…) and musical compositions ranging from electronic loops of mbira music, and folk songs in Welsh with accompanying ukulele or mandolin.
Tom: The event takes the form of a staged conversation between the two performers. Opening occasionally to include the audience who respond with interest and offer corrections or additional insights. The autobiographical nature of their account is inviting and allows me to make connections with places that I have never been. Following their narrative, I travel downstream with them from location to location, imaging myself deep within the rural Welsh landscape east of the estuary. They weave music, poetry, anecdotes and historical facts into their personal accounts of the places that they passed through on their way from source to sea, and in doing so produce a layered account of this part of Wales.
Katherine: At the end of the performance, Gwilym plays the last conversation between himself and Jane, recorded at the ‘end’ of the Leri as it reaches and flows out into the Dyfi Estuary. They muse on what an ending even means, this is the end of what is called the Leri, but not an ending in any meaningful way for the water that flows, which will flow into the sea, evaporate, rain down again, flow again through the river, and so on, infinitely. It’s an ending though of a conversation begun by the Cymerau project, and they muse on this too. Is it art, they wonder? Particularly the representation that they have treated us to. The journey and the conversations along the way were the art posits Jane, but supposes that the outcome, this sharing, is also art.
Tom: In conversation with Suzie Gablik, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett refers to the ‘art of living’; this is not the art of the gallery or the museum, or professional artists, although she’s quick to point out that it’s anything but amateur, it’s the art of ‘domestic interiors, the table, food, language [...] the arts of sociability, conversation, etiquette and dress’ (https://www.nyu.edu/classes/bkg/web/gablik.pdf). For me, Jane and Gwilym’s representation of their three-day journey down the river Leri is a poetic construction of lived experience. It includes their encounters with people and place, the micro politics involved in spending prolonged periods of time in the company of another person, making decisions about which turning take, and so on. But its also much more than that, this lived experience has a poetic inflection constituted by Gwilym’s mindful act of composing music by the river or in response to the landscape, and Jane’s beautifully written prose. Their deliberate act of walking is artfully performed and represented here, in a mode of exposition that invites us to attend not just to the narrative, but to the place in which the story is being told. Two words/phrases that they used to decribe their journey - ‘honouring’ and ‘paying attention to’ really stuck out to me. Particularly when used in relation to water. The event is an ‘honouring’, a ‘paying attention to’ that invites us to do the same. It’s a gentle invitation, but it’s a political one too. For me it’s saying something very firmly about our abstracted relationship to the water that we use and the natural environment from which it comes. But it’s also one that speaks of a particular priviledge, which the artists themselves draw attention to, that of being able to step outside of everyday life and to spend time, watching, listening, thinking, ‘pay attention’, ‘honouring’...
Katherine: Later I have a conversation with Tom around the questions of ‘what is art?’ ‘what is participatory art?’ ‘what is community art?’. I remember back to a philosophy course I took a very long time ago with a reading list that included Tolstoy’s What is Art? Tolstoy’s argument, as I remember it, is that the best form of art is that which is the most common, that is to say the type of art that the most people can relate to. It shouldn’t be obscure, or refer to things or even spiritual or emotional senses that would not be easily identifiable to the person least interested in the study of art. Tolstoy’s argument is very much about inclusivity. The Cymerau project and the Towards Hydrocitizenship project as a whole, also aspires to this kind of inclusivity, and this is realized in the various sub-comissions emerging from it, though inevitably, events are prone to attracting the same group of people who happen to be interested in these sorts of things. Questions also arise around differing understandings of art and creativity. The constraint of inclusiveness can mean that more edgy and difficult creative pieces are excluded. In the Bristol case study for example, we have had rather an extensive focus on tides and tidal landscapes in Bristol without touching much on legacies of slavery, issues of flooding, or explicitly thinking about the effects of a tidal barrage, although at points in the programme all of these things came up and were talked about. Yet the creative work itself was not about engaging with and addressing these more difficult topics in a direct way, and I have wondered at times whether we are watering down (pardon the pun), the darkness as well as the light that is existent in all life. Rebecca Solnit talks about how life is a combination of dark and light, and that we need to embrace both in our understanding of it….
So is this art? Is it good art? Is it participatory art? Do the answers to any of these questions matter?