Listening to What the Earth Says

I have been exploring a bit about different approaches to taking photographs.

Sometimes this kind of learning and exploring makes me feel wide eyed and excited, but sometimes it leaves me tied up in knots and feeling more confused than when I started. Having got into one such tangle by the end of the week, I decided just to go for a walk, down to the lagoons as I had but an hour or two before the light went, and to try holding two different questions in my mind:

  • What is it that the earth is wanting to show you?
  • If you listen, what might it be trying to say?

Photography like this is easy, it’s more like a conversation than anything, just watching and noticing and responding with a nod of the head and a smile and a thank you.

spring equinox, lagoons

Later that evening I was looking into the work of a poet, William Stafford – I’d seen his name in two side by side posts in my feedreader and it seemed like too much of a coincidence.

The first poem I found was called ‘In Response to a Question: What Does the Earth Say?’

The last verse goes like this:

“The earth says where you live wear the kind
of color that your life is (gray shirt for me)
and by listening with the same bowed head that sings
draw all things into one song, join
the sparrow on the lawn, and row that easy
way, the rage without met by the wings
within that guide you anywhere the wind blows.

Listening, I think that’s what the earth says.”

And I think really if I aspire to anything in my photography, or writing, or indeed my life it is that, listening with the same bowed head that sings.

bulrush reflections

In the Footsteps of the Poets

Finally, I made it to Little Sparta, the garden and home of the writer, artist and poet Ian Hamilton Finlay.

He had a particular interest in concrete poetry: from the Little Sparta site –

he became interested in Concrete poetry, in which the placing of words is not dictated by syntax, instead laying out on the page an image which discloses its meaning by juxtaposing sounds, shapes or references.

The gardens, which are a thing of beauty in themselves, are full of this concrete poetry, woven into and part of the gardens, and the landscape beyond.

It’s not an easy place to visit and it’s only open sometimes, but if you get the chance, do go.*

I found it peaceful, inspiring, uplifting and energising. It made me want to write, and create, and sit and watch reflections in a pond.

It made me want to share the beauty of this place with you – which is a challenge in itself, since photography is not allowed, except by permission. To be honest, this adds to the charm of the place.

People were not wandering around snapping and consuming, but moving quietly in and out of the spaces in the garden, of the poems.

I am however very grateful to have been given permission to share these photographs with you, here. Please note and respect that these photographs are NOT to be downloaded. They are shared here by courtesy of the estate of Ian Hamilton Finlay.

The lines of a poem lining a bench –

One of a series of benches that line a lane.

Boat reflections in the lochan

A statue in amongst the reeds

Reflections of the temple pool garden


With grateful thanks to all at Little Sparta


* take midge repellent with you though

Blowing Your Heart Open

Poems are strange things.

Like most people I find there’s a lot of poetry that leaves me cold, or baffled.

There are poems you can read and think ‘that’s good’, but they don’t stick, or move you.

Then there are poems that speak to you, that grab you, that connect to something inside that you didn’t know you had, but recognise instantly on reading.

Postscript‘, by the late Seamus Heaney, was one such poem for me.  I can’t remember where and when I found it (or rather, it found me), only that I was browsing the internet one day, and stumbled upon the words.

I loved the poem, and knew instantly that I had to go and see for myself this place of which he talked: the north west corner of County Clare.

The Flaggy Shore.

Oh, even just typing the words makes my heart skip a beat!

It’s the edge of the limestone pavement of the Burren, the place where the limestone meets the sea.

The Flaggy Shore.

The poem took me there last early summer, and again in November.

I walked the loop of the Flaggy Shore, up to the loch of the swans, over and over, and over and over. I could walk it now in my head, in my heart, every inch familiar.

I’ve written so many times about this limestone pavement and what it means to me, and yet I’m nowhere near being close to explain it. Perhaps it’s one of those things best left to the great poets to find the words to tell.

Anyway, the death of Seamus Heaney the other week reminded me of Postscript, and the Flaggy Shore, and how it was the poem that took me there, and how grateful that makes me.

It reminded me of how many times poetry can play this part in your life: give you a nudge, wake you up, remind you of what matters, dissolve you in tears as it blows your heart open.

And it reminded me that there’s not as much written about this thing that poems can do as there could be, and I’d like to see more of it. I’d like to write more of it myself, to share some of the ways that poetry has changed things for me, and highlight some of the poems that are part of my story, my landscapes.

So, this is the opening to sharing some poems (over time, and not too much, as I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) and talking about why they’re important to me.

Last but not least, here’s the poem, for those of you who don’t know it, and a photograph from one of the dark-light days of last November, walking the limestone at the Flaggy Shore.


And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

Seamus Heaney

From THE SPIRIT LEVEL (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996)

the flaggy shore

Why We Need Poetry

I don’t know if it’s because poetry is the language of rebels, artists and mavericks,

confounding expectations, breaking rules and saying this, this is how things might be

or maybe that at times of the deepest emotion, we turn as if by instinct,

back to poetry

Of course perhaps it’s the invitation to play, to dance, to make words sing or

simply that we need to express a deeper truth

Perhaps it’s because we understand that poems are born from the words of the heart

or maybe, as one who’s found this,

that once you get started you can make your own rules

And yet I know it’s not form, it’s that some things are too beautiful,

or too terrible,

not to be spoken in verse

Which means I believe to my core that

however much some poems baffle us,

others can reach us at the most human, most universal level

and that we are human, and long to say:

this, this is how it was for me.

and we will keep exploring and experimenting with ways to say it, share it, make you feel it too

Or maybe it’s simply that poetry has a pulse.

and sometimes we need reminders of how it feels to be alive.