Friday, 21 January 2011

(47) Stonypath

‘An Autumn thought: Stonypath’

– IHF, Domestic Pensees



like a garden.


like a stone.

Jerome Rothenberg, 'Gematrias 12 x 22'

47 Autumn (Fallen)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Our temple of Zenshoji is Stonypath, Little Sparta

Our castle town of Daishoji is Glasgow where Jerry & Diane Rothenberg stay with Jeffrey Robinson

Our Sora for the day is Orcadian poet Alistair Peebles

Our single afternoon in the garden feels like a thousand li

Our daybreak voices chanting sutras clearer, gongs is the sound of rain on the porch roof, the tinkling of the Little Spartan Virgilian spring and the Stonypathian source

Our willows in the yard shedding leaves is the old ash tree finally fallen

Our sandals are the bucolic welly boots of youth

Our hokku-labels are jotted down hastily in the rain

47 Autumnal Stonypath
Alec Finlay, 2010


all that night
the autumn winds being heard
beyond the mountains

Basho, tr. Corman

The wind, roaring in the night, is
both stranger and friend.

IHF, Detached Sentences on Friendship

sweeping the garden
but letting the temple keep
the willow's droppings

Basho, tr. Corman

‘A small grove composed of young pine trees and delicate columns. All the needles which fall from the trees are carefully swept into heaps around the foot of the columns.’

IHF, Images From the Arcadian Dream Garden

This rite was performed by Ian, Sue, Eck or Ailie, before any visitor arrived at the garden, in the pine grove that shelters ‘WOOD/WIND/SONG’, along with other tasks – sweeping the paths, opening the gate and picking wild mint for tea.

It’s Raining Calligrames & Monostich

like I’ve not seen

with big gaps

A day of waters. Orcadian on-ding of rain, big, BIG drops that Peebs – Alistair Peebles – must’ve brought down from Stromness – soaking as much from the splash when they hit as the general film of wet. Fitting then that the sea has been turned upside down: MARE NOSTRUM.

The front garden at Stonypath was dominated by the shadow of an old ash which finally fell this Autumn – Ann Uppington’s email with the bad news reached me in Dunkeld, when Ken and I were on our road north. I left an arboreal elegy tied outside the Taybank Inn.

The ash and 2 lilac predated Ian and Sue’s planting of the garden. They speak of the era of the shepherd’s kail, currants and tatties. The pink and blue lilac, like liquorice all-sorts, stood by the original wooden gate opposite the house; the ash loomed over the far corner, opposite my bedroom window.

47 Mare Nostrum
Alec Finlay, 2010

‘MARE NOSTRUM’, meaning ‘Our Sea’, as the Roman imperium knew its Mediterranean.

47 Fallen ash
Alec Finlay & Alistair Peebles, 2010

‘Except on very calm days, (which are few, as you know), the ash fills the garden with its sea-sound. When people ask why so many poems refer to the sea, or comment that it is odd to find so many sea-references so far from the sea itself, I often point to the Ash Tree and say, That is our sea.’ (IHF, letter to Nicholas Sloan, who lettercarved Mare Nostrum).

the ash tree
's the garden's

sounding waves
in its dark-tipped
............. branches

Dipping a finger in the pond, rippling time in circles, today we’re here to open the gate for Jerry & Diane Rothenberg, who first visited in 1967 before the garden had really begun. Benevolent spirits, precentors of tradition and innovation. Jerry’s anthologies were among the first poetry books I read. His radical America: A Prophecy lived on the low bookshelf in the porch, by the phone – the coldest dustiest place in the house. Sometimes I’d flick through it's pages while a number dialed down the clicking phone-line in the dark. That evening Valerie Gillies recalled another seminal anthology, Technicians of the Sacred, with it's blend of Dada and Ancient Esoterica.

47 Greeting Jerry
Alistair Peebles, 2010

47 Jerry
Alistair Peebles, 2010

Hölderlin's wish

Jerry’s gift was to hear Hugo Ball in a Navaho chant, Artaud in Aztec Ritual. How like and unlike IHF’s intuitive seeing through time Jerry’s is and was; how similar and opposed their fascinations with rite and ritual. The one civilizing Dada, the other Dadaing the Ancient.



the thought of their confluence is a delight of contradiction and affection.

47 Present at the Present Order
(Nigel Leask, Elizabeth Robinson, AF, Jerry, Jeffrey Robinson, Diane Rothenberg)
Alistair Peebles, 2010

Our day is homely and cosy. A recovery to. Stonypath’s still a place to walk around and then have tea and a chat. At the same time, the day is intentionally, on my part, a playful interrogation, bringing our different rites to the garden – Jerry’s incantations, my wishes and hokku-labels, Peebs’ inquisitive and friendly framing of it's history. The uprooted remnants of the old ash the storm has prised open are themselves a catastrophe that seems to open the door upon the garden’s past. Do we even see into some future unknown?

47 Hölderlin's wish
Alistair Peebles, 2010

47 audio, Fragment
Alistair Peebles, 2010

As someone who grew up here I fee; that I have a right to the cheek of tying a wish onto the Hölderlin tree. The introduction of a rite, though it is not Little Spartan, is no affront. The most estranged accounts of the garden are those written by people – including former friends – who suppose that to be true to IHFs improving genius requires them to idealise, thereby confusing the relationship between life and art, muddying the source.

The silver bark, the rippled pond, the paper knot, accepting of its own passing. A ribbon of time and passing. Companion to Jerry’s wide-ranging love of and respect for mysticism and ritual.

And what is the garden poem if not an invitation to compose other poems for other places? What was Ian and Sue’s work, if not an encouragement, a suggestion, an invitation?

the poet's wheelbarrow


the gardener's trug


Today, at Basho’s invitation, I record what I can find of the Stonypathian, the homely and the mossy, in these few hours, grasping what memories I can in-between the showers.

47 Self-Portrait (myself as a boat in my childhood window)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Stonypathian Hokku-Labels

To set the scene, here is Sue's memoir of the beginnings of the garden.

"Spring came [1967] and I can see myself digging the borders, sod by slow sod, in the weak March sunshine, with the baby in the pram nearby. There was no wheelbarrow so I made a great heap of stone and weeds… Ian by now had made the pond that in my faithless eye was to inundate the kitchen – it never did! He had by now dug another hole in the centre of the front garden. This time it was the makings of the sunken garden. I remember ordering the Spring Beauty Pinks that were to clothe its walls for many years to come… For a long time the garden at Stonypath consisted only in the area at the front of the house. For many years this area was a patch-work of cultivated beds, mown paths, and uncultivated wild places not yet tackled by fork or spade. Difficulties – Chiefly our relative poverty and my lack of time. The potential of ‘ground’ – Ian’s desire to make works for the ‘outdoors’, for gardens. Our ignorance of gardening, of siting these works. The learning process. The love involved in this process. That loving absorption – the day to day tending of the poems. Their immediate surrounding areas, whether paved, grassy or covered with plants, always needed a lot of individual attention in the summer."

47 Tying a label on the sacred rhubarb
Alistair Peebles, 2010

47 hokku-label, the old ash
(‘tapsilteerie / this sea’s / run dry’, AF)

47 hokku-label, stone-moss
(‘what was grass / is stone / and now moss’, AF)

47 hokku-label, current-currant
(‘the current of time / or / currant time’, AF)

The blackcurrants were planted by Ian and Sue as one of their early garden compositions, to shape native verticals, splashes of colour lapping around a sundial which imagines the seasons as types of sailing boat.

47 sundial
Alistair Peebles, 2010

47 Wet Water
Alec Finlay, 2010

Today even the water is wet.

47 hokku-label, sacred rhubarb
(‘these are the dry eyes / of the sacred rhubarb’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

Like the blackcurrants, this domestic rhubarb was adopted as a compositional element; a native decorative shading, one which was, as Ian would say, ‘Sacred’ – especially so when I harvested the best of it to make pudding, misunderstanding it as merely ‘rhubarby’ rhubarb.

47 Angelic Goosehut
Alec Finlay, 2010

Two Sources: The Little Spartan

People sometimes ask me what I mean by the
Stonypathian: a term which stands in contradistinction to the Little Spartan. IHF’s work is a lifelong dialogue between oppositions. The two terms can be seen to be wedded together, speaking to the home and the imaginal domain it became. The Stonypathian is a recuperation of the domestic, so crucial to IHFs work, so that Little Sparta is not an act of Imperial overwriting, as The Roman ‘Mare Nostrum’ was for the Mediterranean.

The tea I chose for this visit is appropriately named: ‘Iron Warrior Monk Tie Luo Han’.

47 tea-moon, Iron Warrior Monk Tie Luo Han
Alec Finlay, 2010

The ash tree is Stonypathian; the carved poem attached to it Little Spartan. The poetic impulse arcs between the given tree – which would have seen the horse-drawn plough till the fields here-around – and the addition of that distant name to the bark, embedded in stone, with its desire to speak to ages past and future. Now the tree has fallen and the poem, which bears 25 years of lichen, has no home.

47 Libating the Virgil Spring
Alistair Peebles, 2010

Today I will walk between the two sources. I begin by libating the Little Spartan freshet, The ‘Virgil’ Spring, which feeds the top pond, pouring in an offering of GlenDronach. Passing the bottle around I ask Jerry for a blessing to give these waters. For all that Little Sparta is filled with altars and devotional nomenclature there were no religious rites here. He kindly offered this Hebrew prayer:

47 audio, Jerome Rothenberg

Alec Finlay, 2010

in a cocoa tin

a fine filter
for the spring

Later, after the others have gone back to Glasgow, I take Peebs up the hill onto the moor. I want to show him the true source, a little spring that rises among the heather, which has fed the farm for hundreds of years. It is from this little water that the Virgil spring bubbles and gurgles, and the lochan, and all the ponds, and the taps that used to fill our baths. Talk of which turns on a wild shower chasing us downhill to the car. Basta!

47 Stonypathian Source
Alistair Peebles, 2010

47 hokku-label, the source
(‘the beginning / and end / is water’, AF)
Alistair Peebles, 2010

The Valley Source

That night Peebs and I dried off at Valerie Gillies’ place on Braid Hills Avenue, and she told me the whereabouts of St Bride’s Well, which I’d often seen on the map but never found. Valerie dowsed for it, locating the remnant cusp of earthworks in the field beyond the old railway line at Dunsyre. More old knowledge renewed.

Stonypathian verses

Brownsbank–Little Sparta

the side road

up the
stony track


his spade
dug out

the smallest

to float

a sailboat


the far side
of the Black Mount

was the near side
to Amy

now her ashes
lie scattered

among the
pale grasses

(i.m. Amy Page)


Ann Says Eelco
brought some
Japanese monks
to the garden
a summer ago
and they were
so moved
the garden brought
tears to their eyes


Northern Elevation

tiny hard pears
& wooden apples

neat green-striped
& purple gooseberries

like blood blisters;
wrinkled golden quince

nothing that ripened
unless determined


Inland Island: An Orcadian Stonypath

47 audio
: Alistair Peebles, Finlay’s House (on Rousay)
Alec Finlay, 2010


on the same side again
– and so that, says Diane,
’s how a stile works


in burn
out burn
all down
the same
old hatch






mare nostrum


Alistair Peebles

Coda: The Valley

It was always just known as The Valley to us and I haven’t found another name since I left. I half expect to read the title on the OS, south of Lochan Eck.

A shawl of fields and the strip-woods – planted by Sue’s father Simon after The War – folded between the twin White and Black Mount. Stonypath’s on the cusp of the northern moorland flank, the Covenanters’ open church, Black Law.

The Valley’s arable, farmed by timeless families – Allisons, Kerrs, Wallaces – whose children Ailie and I went to school with, each with our own seats on the school bus. They farm there yet. The moors are ling, screen for grouse and pheasant, dotted with sturdy ewes.

Ringed by a single red road which I can still play out from memory: from Stonypath road-end The Valley loops by Anston road-end, the gorse and scree of Corbies Crags on Dunsyre Hill, through Dunsyre village, with its single highlight, the phone-box. Over the River Medwin at Newholm, the Big House of the Lockharts’, where Sue grew up. At the T-junction head along the brow of the hill by Keeper's Cottage and Boreland, to Walston. Here we turn back down into The Valley, across The Flats, climbing up to Weston and the main road, back to Stonypath road-end.

The Valley of Ailie and my childhoods seemed an enduring entity, where change came in the year-wheel of farming. In those days we seemed woven in with the crops and the beasts, a generation unfolding in unison, carried along through the successive years of schooling. We registered no interruptions to this pattern – no deaths or births, no new houses built, precious few incomers.
The contrast with life on the hill grew stark. There was never a time we were unaware Stonypath was set apart from The Valley. Without asking or understanding, we knew the reason must be Ian. The 'stony path' that led up from The Valley to The Garden – marked by the ash tree – bled between two separate realms. Each gate marked our road home.

When Ian appended the name “Little Sparta” at the road end, adding a painted wooden sign, it was no more than nomenclature catching up with the split we had been negotiating all along. A line drawn territory which Ian didn't travel beyond.

The Garden was where we made our forays into the wider world from: hurrying down to the school-bus in the mirk of a Winter morn, fetching the milk from Kirklands in plastic pails, bringing up the groceries from the box at the foot of the road when the snow was too deep for Paul the grocer bring the van up. There, by the sign, where the tarmac world began, was our terminus to wait, wind, sleet, shine, for endless lifts. Dark winter evenings sat on the cold top bar of the gate listening for this or that car which would carry me away for a few hours, somewhere warm, peopled, exciting, watching for the headlights to strobe through the avenue of beech, fanning in wild beams across the hill behind.

In my youth I walked up the Stonypath track in the pitch dark when, as they usually did, the batteries in the bicycle torch dimmed, flickered and failed. There was liberation, striding through my fear of the dark, exchanging a world that was and wasn't there – fence-posts, wireless poles, molehills, sleeping sheep – for the black Pentland night. I found my way with the soles of my boots, feeling for the texture of loose gravel that told where the ruts of the road were, imagining precisely where I was at each point so as not to clatter my knee into one of the metal gates. Ploughing my face through the warm fog of my own out-breath; eyes taking in the stars, pitching down to the lowest, the single yellow one-eyed light of home which shone out from the Front Porch, blinking through the screen of trees.



Ian Hamilton Finlay: Selections, edited and with an introduction by Alec Finlay. Due for publication January 2012.

Alistair Peebles: Brae Projects

Jerome Rothenberg: Poems and Poetics

Ian Hamilton Finlay & Sue Finlay’s garden: Stonypath, Little Sparta

Valerie Gilles: The Spring Teller project

Sunday, 16 January 2011

(50) Kilmiddlefern

'You are the music while the music lasts.'

– T. S. Eliot

Our Fukui is Kilmiddlefern, Argyll

Our old recluse called Tosailooking like someone straight out of legend is Annie Briggs

Our quiet spot off the road a piece, modest weather-beaten house, is her house tucked round the back of the shop & post office

Our yugao and hechima, keito and hahakigi are gourds and scallions, marjoram and viper's bugloss

Our Tsuruga harbor is the Oban ferry terminal

Kilmiddlefern’s Annie

The back-story is that I met Annie not knowing who she was, years ago on a trip to Kerrera, my Inland Sea equivalent to Berneray. Pat & Annie had planned out a bunk house and tea garden – yes, a Hebridean Tea Garden – at Ardmore, which, Annie being Annie, is at the very end of the road. I’d found it by chance, following the memory of a childhood day-trip from Oban, when my Gran took Ailie and I for a traipse along the track to Gylen Castle.

On my second or third visit I mentioned my friend Hamish, the folk-singer, and we got talking about songs, and, Annie being Annie, she didn’t say she was Anne Briggs, but I pieced her identity together when I got home.

This spring, planning Basho, I tried to track her down. I’d heard she was living somewhere near Kilmiddlefern, so I wrote to the post office there, but, Annie being Annie, no luck. She was squirreled away. Then my pal Rhodri suggested I ask Barry Esson. Although Barry couldn’t help he suggested Alasdair Roberts. Alasdair texted that he was on a train reading Hamish’s biography, so that was a good sign, and he’d pass the word on to Annie. Contact.

We tried to stop by when we were on our Argyll leg, but Annie fell poorly. Now here we are on the September hosomichi to the Isles, with her singing on the car stereo, turning in 10 yards past Kilmiddlefern post office to her and Pat’s lovely garden hideaway.


The Singer & the Song

I don't know the name Anne Briggs when Eck first mentions it, but back in Edo I happen on two of her CDs in the music library. I play The Time has Come driving in the city, don't know any of the songs, find it charming but slightly fey. A Collection's traditional, mostly unaccompanied songs we play on The Road North and they're a real delight – hearing tell of the swan-maiden ‘Polly Vaughan’ at dusk as a rising full moon silvers North Uist lochans; or of ‘Willie of Winsbury’, which I know in a different version (‘Thomas O’Winesbury’ on Like the Milk by Mr McFall's Chamber, the CD title taken from the song); and ‘The Cuckoo’, whose lines echo Jerry Garcia & David Grisman's 'I'm Troubled', our soundtrack on the road to Loch Eilt. Annie’s version is first;

Meeting is pleasure but parting is grief
And an inconstant lover is worse than a thief
A thief can but rob me and take all I have
But an inconstant lover sends me to the grave.

Courting's a pleasure but parting is grief
And a false-hearted lover is worse than a thief
A thief will just rob you and take what you save
But a false-hearted lover will lead you to the grave.

On our first night I ask Annie about ‘Willie of Winsbury’, and she says Andy Irvine put the tune to the words, the wrong one as it turned out, which is why the McFall version is so different. Then she gives me some lines not in the McFall version and which struck me listening in the car, said by the king when Willie’s brought before him; ‘If I was a woman as I am a man / My bed-fellow you would have been’. Another metamorphosis, like Polly-into-swan.

Annie stopped singing in 1973, still in her twenties; like Rimbaud, her muse chose silence. She became a market trader in Lincolnshire, selling her own herbs and vegetables, and then she and Pat made the move to Kerrera. She still listens to all kinds of music, feels it deeply, thinks deeply about it. Her silence goes on.


Books, Music & Flowers

Home is where the books are, I read somewhere recently, and the house is full of them, several bookcases in each room, plenty reading material by our beds. I read the sections on Dunadd, Dundurn, Dunsinane in AHA Hogg's Hill Forts of Britain (1975), shelved next to Julian Barnes A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters.

We turn up a book by Rory McEwen, who Annie knew. I recall his botanical painting from an exhibition at Inverleith House about 1990, and how he went on to film Beuys on Rannoch Moor.

50 books & flowers
Alec Finlay, 2010


Morning brings heavy rain the conservatory roof just amplifies. Inside garlic and scallions and gourds dry beside fruiting tomato plants, big red onions on the sitting room's low windowsill; bunched lavender on the wall above the dining-table.

50 tomatoes bowl
Ken Cockburn, 2010

50 nectarines bowl
Ken Cockburn, 2010

There's a bowl of tomatoes, and one of nectarines, home-grown from a stone which germinated on the Kerrera compost-heap. Two years ago Annie reckons the tree gave 300 fruits; last year very few; this year enough to eat as you go along.

50 angels wings breakfast
Alec Finlay 2010

And this is our small contribution, angels' wings gathered along the boardwalk to Outlandia, with eggs from her neighbour's chickens.

Annie’s Garden

When the rain clears we step outside. The throng of finches feeding at the nut-cage scatter; after the downpour the burn-in-spate’s rushing over the stepping stones; late-summer leaves and fruit are wet with promise. This is our portrait of Annie in the guise of her garden.

50 hokku-label, Annie's garden
('the frost that stayed / the longest / stole the blossom / from the plum', AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

50 fork, Annie’s Garden
Alec Finlay, 2010

50 seedsail, Annie’s Garden
Alec Finlay, 2010

50 purples, Annie’s Garden
Alec Finlay, 2010

50 bowl of sticks, Annie’s Garden
Alec Finlay, 2010

50 frames, Annie’s Garden
Alec Finlay, 2010

50 Burn over stepping stones, Annie’s Garden
Ken Cockburn, 2010

50 Rosehips, Annie’s Garden
Ken Cockburn, 2010

50 Marjoram, Annie’s Garden
Ken Cockburn, 2010

50 Neroli kale, Annie’s Garden
Ken Cockburn, 2010

50 Viper's bugloss, Annie’s Garden
Ken Cockburn, 2010

50 meso-label (Weld), Annie’s Garden
('yelloW yiElds butterfLy fielDs', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

50 meso-label, Annie’s Garden
('kerNel kErrera's Compost germinaTed espAliered fRuitfully In aNnie's gardEn', KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

50 Garden bench, Annie’s Garden
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(AF, KC)

Annie’s Larder

And from the garden Summer’s harvest for Winter’s larder. Annie cooks a kedgeree spicy with conservatory-grown chili-peppers, and filled with garden carrots, courgettes, mangetouts, neroli kale on the side.

50 Annie’s Larder
Ken Cockburn, 2010

50 Annie’s Larder
Ken Cockburn, 2010

50 Meso-label, (scallions), Annie’s Larder
('Skin Comes apArt – Layers unpeeL Into anOther skiN', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

50 meso-label, (cepes), Annie's Larder
('riCh Earth sPonges thE Sun', AF)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

(AF, KC)

Annie’s Silence

Identity, they say, is ‘forged’. We bend our souls in new shapes in the intense heat of emotion, grief, love; subjects of deep song and balladry. Annie’s silence – she has not sung for years – reverberates with the rites Basho witnessed on Gassan, but would not reveal, as with the occasions he wrote no poem. Despite her gift, Annie’s silence is something to accept under governance of the muse.

Her listening is heart/mind open clear, her gardening has profound quietness.

It’s uncanny, this encounter with silence, with identity, encapsulated in the story Annie told, of how on a journey alone through Ireland she was carried away by the music of Willie Clancy.

Clancy’s piping carried her
so deep within herself

when he asked her name
Annie found she was beyond

knowing she even had one
but she knew to say

Willie Clancy, let me sing you
a song and I will find my name.

Alec Finlay 2010

50 Clancy
Alec Finlay, 2010

50 Clancy LP
Alec Finlay, 2010


50 Still life with Jonny & Lucy
Alec Finlay, 2010

Annie plays us some Clancy and an LP of the Northumbrian piper Billy Pigg, whose music she says is the landscape. Next night we watch a DVD of her son’s restoration stonework in Australia's Blue Mountains, and another of the Darbar festival in India, for she admires the mesmeric improvisations of devotional singer Sanjay Subramanyan, the way he gives himself completely to the performance. In return Eck leaves her a recent CD by Newcastle-based singers Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell, whose ‘Hares on the Mountain’ is on our oku jukebox.



When the time comes Annie stays in her chair, saying, I'm not very good at goodbyes. We contrived to leave our thermos on the draining board, so we’ll be back.

Sora’s hokku (station 37)

prohibited speech
at Yudono
wetting my sleeve

tales not to be repeated
rain-swelled allt
Sanjay's improvisations

within these walls
rain drums conservatory roof
forgetting oneself

what shan't be said
all-day rain
moves almost to tears



In a rare interview, Anne Briggs talks to Alexis Petridis about her ‘lost classic’ folk album - and why she has hardly sung a note for 34 years

Alasdair Roberts: the Official Alasdair Roberts Kailyard

The Newcastle-based duo Lucy Farrell & Jonny Kearney met while studying folk and traditional music at Newcastle University

Rory McEwen, a memoir by Christian McEwen