As someone who tells stories for a living I find myself reading very widely, for background about material and to understand my audience. This was the first year I have managed to attend Stanza, the St. Andrews poetry festival. Reading alongside Meg Bateman in a stone undercroft was Clare Best, an English poet, whose pamphlet Breast Less (published by Pighog Press) is a candid account of elective mastectomy, undertaken for cancer prevention. This is illustrated by photographs by Laura Stevens with before and after images which reminded me of Kathleen Raine’s book and art exhibition which I had seen at the Scottish Poetry Library which majored on her own surgical scar. There is a delicacy of touch, not maudlin or self-pitying, observational, hingeing on the holding back of tears; it made me want to cry with her. From “Countdown”, where she is going to surgery:
His eyes clear as a newborn’s
close to my face, he holds my hand-
a moment of love, I will call it that.
I lend him this life, veins freezing
from the forearm up.
She ends with an exploration of new body territory, upbeat, in “Consolations”:
press your ear to this ribcage,
hear me live
Along the way I had picked up an ‘airport’ book. I have to admit to being impressed by the breadth of choice available to the casual reader flying from Glasgow. I chose Andrew Greig’s At the Loch of the Green Corrie (Quercus), which is at once a biography and exploration of the work of Norman McCaig, as well as about Greig’s self-discoveries while looking for an elusive and difficult fishing spot in Assynt. Perhaps the wild adventures chimed with my own love of improvised excursions in the Scottish wilderness which are somehow always punctuated by meetings with extraordinary people; the ones prepared to look deep into the waters and not be afraid of the reflections shining back on them.
it is not nostalgia, this feeding on air as certain plants do. It seems our roots are in the invisible
So Greig sets out in memory of his brief friendship with the lover of Assynt to honour a promise made to the old poet. A promise he begins to wonder may be more than a little mad, one last in-joke created by the old fisherman. This Loch may not exist, or at least the name may be wrong. The only guide is irascible, unhelpful, his companions more interested in cordial evenings and gourmet camp cooking.
There is gentle contemplation here, of life, the past and present, of the poet’s self and the poet’s friend; of the world around and the stars of the void, all interspersed with McCaig’s poetry and the stories behind them in alternating chapters affixed ‘cast’ or ‘retrieve’. He muses on the fragile nature of man. and on his companions along the way.
This meandering narrative gives no idea where it is going but is likeable enough to draw you along for the ride. There is little of Greig’s poetry but a good deal of McCaig’s but I liked Greig the more for that.
A wider journey I have been making is to explore what it means to be autistic. Original thinking or assemblage may be a hallmark of a different way of thinking. Debi Brown (AspieDebi publications) has written her own explanation of difference along with describing some useful definitions of Aspberger’s and autism seen from the perspective of her own difference and her PhD studies in autism. “Are you eating an orange?” is a self published paperback that I was introduced to by my optician, who specialises in the differently able. The dedication “for everyone on the spectrum out there, diagnosed or otherwise, and for anyone who walks to a different beat” says much. This book was a great help to me to understand what its like to be differently able, and helps those on the spectrum to be able to understand the neurotypical. There is a lot on self-help, there are chapters on the little explored effects of wearing coloured lenses, which I now have positive first hand experience with, plus a section on the brain/gut connection and importance of gluten and casein in the diet. Its good to have a book one can laugh along with, as in “oh i do that” and find out that one is far from alone.