“Know your place”
My friend, PhD tutor, poet, essayist and psychogeographer, Nigel Jenkins died on 28th January this year. Though I no longer have his physical presence at my shoulder, his words live on.
This weekend, his poem “Advice to a Young Poet” came to the fore as my husband and I took advantage of both the weather and tides to tramp to Burry Holms, the tidal island we look out at from our home at Llangennith.
Perhaps some lines from Nigel’s poem to set the scene:
“know your place – its rocks, its soils,
The movements of its waters –
Not only by maps and histories
But by body and residential mind.
Walk it, eat it, drink its rain,
Ask among its breezes
For sign and sound
Of those who filled their lungs here
When mammoth roamed
Or when coal was a possibility of tree –
Dis – cover your community.
Know your place. What legends and myths
Have had their shaping here?
What stories, novel histories?
And who have been denied a voice?
What songs, here
Await their singing?
And how, in this place, worker of the word,
might you make yourself useful?”
I am not a poet. And I’m by no stretch of the imagination young. But I am a novice; and if I am to make myself useful through the short stories and haibun I am working on, then I need to get to know my place, deep down, as Nigel advised.
Until Saturday, I thought I knew Gower more than I actually did: I know the tides, the south-westerly winds, I am getting to grips with the seabirds and I have limited knowledge of local myths and legends. But Saturday was a revelation.
Never before had I walked to the western tip of Burry Holms and seen the poem inscribed there in stone. It was an emotional experience. Written in English, it has an Irish phrase underlining it. Nigel had told me it was there and we’d planned to track it down and try to discover its provenance for his pscychogeography RealGower which he was working on at the time of his death. Sadly, we never did it together; though I think he would like the fact that I am taking his advice.