Sunday, 1 January 2012

(32) Huntly

High grew the hills and the mountains,
Cold grew the frost and the snow…

Anon, 'The Duke of Gordon's Daughter'

Our high mountain to cross was Ken’s low hill, The Clashmach, and Eck’s little mount, Battlefield Hill

Our region of Mogami is the red earth of Strathbogie

Our strapping young fellow who looked like he could take care of himself, with curved short-sword at hip and oaken staff in hand is Claudia Zeiske, who we’d choose to guide us if we were in the deep forest darkness atop a lofty peak

Our shino brush is gorse in bloom

Our just the day for is Kate & Will’s Royal Wedding

Our hearts beating faster is delight at being on the road again

32 Aberdeen
Alec Finlay, 2011

audio, basho's station 32
ken Cockburn, 2010

Deveron Arts

32 Huntly
Alec Finlay, 2011

32 The Empty Shop
Ken Cockburn, 2011

On a light Thursday evening we walked down to The Empty Shop in the heart of Huntly to give a show-and-tell on The Road North for a warm-hearted audience of about two dozen people. Sat in armchairs, Jackanory-style, it’s always pleasing to talk to an audience with many ages. Some old pals – Angus Dunn has come down after finishing his fence – and new ones – Mary Bourne who Ken’s been working with in Dufftown.

And there’s the current Huntly team: Anna, Anthony (met briefly earlier as he was shepherding a group on teenagers on Jacqui’s rickety bikes at the start of his Get Lost session, when the aim was to end up… somewhere), Norma, Gayle, Eric and Amy from Canada.

32 hokku-label (for Jacqui)
bikes by Jacqui Donachie, for her slow art project, Huntly, 2010
(‘chalked wheels / fetching messages’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2011

We read our beginning poem that describes our first forays from Edo, and dip in and out of verses that wander along the way, sensing those little nods of appreciation as someone recognizes a loved glen, beach or ridge, then flip through some photos, holiday-snap style.

We're asked about what we’ve learned, if we were influenced by any other British poets, why we choose remote places, why we’d (till now) missed out this north-east corner of the country. We tell of our aims, to seek out artists and creative communities along the way, people based outside the cities – Kevin Henderson, Ruth MacDougall, Andy MacKinnon, Alistair Peebles, Pat, Andy & Kirsty Law, Eddie Stiven, Jon Thomson & Alison Craighead, The Administrator, Alexander Maris, Jayne Wilding, Edna Whyte, Jen Hadfield, Beka and Nickolai Globe – and small institutions, each defined by the folk that run them, such as HICA, Cairn Gallery, Taigh Chearsabhagh, Atlas, Brae Projects, Outlandia, and here, Deveron Arts, mapping their philosophies and common experiences.

Always there is that common factor, which we share, that the journey to a place is intrinsic to the experience in and of a place.

32 Anthony Schrag, Huntly Castle
Alec Finlay, 2011

Under Claudia’s guidance, Huntly’s become the author of a forthright and confident narrative, one that she defines, which is extended and refined by everyone who visits. On our tour we have visited structures which were spaces in which people can meet and share, such as Neil Bromwich & Zoe Walker’s conch, or London Fieldworks & Malcolm Fraser’s hut at Outlandia, but here the architecture in which art pulses is the town itself. Claudia’s emphasis is on social roles, and among the Huntly art-clan there is a ‘shadow-curator’, to argufy with her in periodic reviews.

at their review
the single criticism
Claudia had

was that B—
did not criticize
her enough

Call it ‘socially engaged practice’, toun-art, Beuysianism, or a position akin to community art; each term suggests an era, position, stratification, but the terms never make a static geology. Enough to say, in Huntly art is about artists, people and the effect they have on other people. And the folk we are most interested in are the practitioners themselves, for all but Claudia are visitors here, and we want to see what their stay means to them. Some make it home, as Anna has.

32 Portrait (Anna)
(‘fresh from gardening / in her fancy dress and hat / Anna and I agree / her rough hands are true’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2011

Claudia interrogates us, in her Germanic manner: have we visited peopled places, how have we interacted with communities? What was the social aspect of our project? We understand her desire to compare our relation to community with theirs, to examine and contrast philosophies, but we were travellers for this journey, as Basho was – being passers-by or passers-through, we had not the purchase to erect a scaffold of critical analysis. We observed ‘participative relationships’, but accepted that what these depend on are the old verities of hospitality, which means having a big enough tea thermos. We’ve bent over tables to look at maps together and listen to local advice on the best route; been lent books to get read up on the local; shared rides and invited folk to be part of the rituals that framed each station along the road north.

32 Nadokoro Beech (CHIEF)
Alec Finlay, 2011

We meet someone for a walk; we make a little art together, we learn some names and come to a better understanding of the lie of the land. If a poem lasts an hour, fine, if it stays tied on to a branch, fine.

This doesn’t mean we are idlers or that we work in an unengaged way; but, as much as taking Basho’s text, we took his practice as our guide and, through him, for this year-long path we have come to understand that our philosophy is defined by lightness.

Our stops are brief; we leave a few poem-labels fluttering in the breeze; a wordless wish attached to a tree; or a libated dram to strengthen the water-table.

32 hokku label, after Paul Celan
('what is a cloud? / a cloud is a thought / waiting for rain', AF)
Photograph: Loch Eilt, KC, 2010

Our faith and discipline lies in the journey itself, which we know that anyone can share, or recompose, in their own way. We are only trying to learn how to see prospects better and respond with immediacy and openness to the here-and-now, connecting the moments we spend here, wherever here is, with the long-gone, the elsewhere, and the other, in those particular ways that literature makes possible.

32 wish, pear, Garden Zeiske
Alec Finlay, 2011

We cannot sketch a town. We don’t set words in stone. Perhaps our brief visit to Huntly can touch a few people, catch the gist of a handful of places – the orchard in Claudia’s garden, Anna staking-out the new beans, the newly planted oak saplings among the waste of Battlefield Hill, the path over the Clashmach – reflecting a brief image of our take on their lives.

32 Clashmach
Ken Cockburn, 2011

Given Claudia's innate feeling of troubledness that we did not do it quite her way, these are some portraits of folk we met along our journey.



elegy for Martyn Bennett

though the instrument
lies broken

Martyn's playing still fills
the silence of the glen


elegy for Tom McGrath

at Ash Villa
passenger trains are short
goods trains long

if a blackbird
comes to join us
that’ll be Tom


Annie Briggs of Kilmiddlefern

being the music
while the music lasts

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 I have one.


Kevin Henderson

on the bike
did Kevin say
it was space

became time?
or time
became space?


Jayne with a why

there’s my old pal
waiting at the bus-stop
her hair touched with frost
humming Corcovado for breakfast

finding words to lighten darkness
and, when the tide’s high,
showing me the safe path
that leads through the graves


Tom Clark

come over
have some tea and cake
but no poetry


Alex & Mary

Alex & Mary
renew their octogenarian
vow of love

at their yearly camp
on the summit
of Ben Nevis


Annie & Jessie (Berneray)

i.m. Jessie

how many folk were offered
scones, pancake spreads
and strawberry jam
with the lilting refrain

.....very good
.....very good

windbent in faded blue macs
herding the sheep
with their handbags
shearing them by hand

Annie's place’s not right
for us to come in
but she'll sit a while
with us at the door

her hands are shaky
but she's still the wit
to gently tease
Eck, are you not married yet?


Suzanne Piper: Robespierrist of The Mountains

ethics and geology
aren’t for confusing
rock’s rock: ergo inhuman

despite the bitter rages
of those who perceive
unpeopled moors

as the only things
that are worthwhile
their being wild,

their being all that
isn’t us – for all
their lonely at-one-ment

no peak ever felt
such an apartheid
of the spirit

Mesostic Claudia

32 Portrait (Claudia)
Alec Finlay, 2011

And this is our portrait of Claudia as (some of) the mountain’s that she loves.

.............cArn gorm
...........sgUrr alasdair

(KC, AF)


32 Yu
Alec Finlay, 2011

James Legge, missionary, Sinologist and early translator of the I-Ching – part of the monumental Sacred Books of the East series, intended to encourage mutual understanding between Christians and Chinese – was born in Huntly in 1815.

Legge collaborated with a number of Chinese, including the reforming writer and publisher, Wang Tao, who came to stay with him in Scotland.

In their honour, I consulted the I-Ching, casting a reading for Deveron Arts on my i-Phone. The outlook is good.


Yü indicates that, (in the state which it implies), feudal princes may be set up, and the hosts put in motion, with advantage. Commentary: The Yü hexagram denoted to king Win a condition of harmony and happy contentment throughout the kingdom, when the people rejoiced in and readily obeyed their sovereign. At such a time his appointments and any military undertakings would be hailed and supported. The fourth line, undivided, is the lord of the figure, and being close to the fifth or place of dignity, is to be looked on as the minister or chief officer of the ruler. The ruler gives to him his confidence; and all represented by the other lines yield their obedience.
(II). The second SIX, divided, shows one who is firm as a rock. (He sees a thing) without waiting till it has come to pass; with his firm correctness there will be good fortune. Commentary: Line 2, though weak, is in its correct position, the centre, moreover, of the lower trigram. Quietly and firmly its subject is able to abide in his place, and exercise a far-seeing discrimination. All is indicative of good fortune.

tr. James Legge

32 Yu, I-Ching
Anna Vermehren, 2011


Red Earth, Red Flags

The weather is scorchio. Today was the right day for republicans to be up on the hills. I prefer Gala Day bunting to all these Union Jacks.

32 hokku-label
(‘lovely day / for a wedding // better day / for a walk’, AF)
photograph by Ken Cockburn, 2011

They’ve upgraded Kate to Catherine and awarded her some extra shield.

3 of the admiral’s oaks
turned to gold

ready to be impaled
on a divided shield

per pale azure & gules a chevron or

The new Middleton heraldic coat has oaks to represent her family’s purchased home, Bucklebury, Berkshire. The trees are said to have grown from acorns scattered by Admiral Collingwood on his return from Trafalgar, in order that the English Navy would never be short of ship’s timber.

Kate-Catherine’s arms will by now have been ‘impaled’ with those of her new husband, the right-royal yellow-budgie pilot.

32 wedding
Alec Finlay, 2011

There’s a Huntly Royal garden party and wedding viewing at Claudia’s, everyone dressed to the nines, some marking their service in the forces, others dolled up with humour.

Here’s another philosophical challenge for Ken and me to think through, whether or not to respect local custom, how to define ritual: our politics is a fondness for shared acts, but we keep pomp at farther than arm’s length.

I’d used the word rite last night, in the chat after our reading, saying I knew it had an air of embarrassment, but no other term would seem to serve. Our rituals are everyday; they became so only through their repetition – as I like to joke, if it happens twice, then to the poet it’s always, as in, we always stop here for tea, we always listen to Jimi Hendrix in Glen Nevis, etc. Most folk have such customs for their journeys.

What we share is the observation – seeing, sharing, recording – a willingness to mark certain intersections to folk, time and place. Rites in stone place holy buildings at the intersection of two rivers. Apples are found in an orchard, alders by a river, rowan at the gate, each with a wish tied on its branches.

32 wish rowan
Ken Cockburn, 2011

Our rituals are pocket-sized; a spring or burn, libated with whisky.



32 Coynachie
Ken Cockburn, 2011

We’re staying out of town, at Coynachie. Next morning, after his fine bath, Claudia drives Eck back into Huntly for his tour of the toun.

32 Basho’s Bath
(‘life’s lived / in bet- / ween / long baths’, after Issa, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2011

Ken’s decided to walk and this is his account.

Setting out across the bridge and up the hill below the small conifer plantation, given landscape and weather, I anticipate, rightly, an easier journey than Basho and Sora’s deep forest darkness.

32 Sora’s departure from Coynachie
Alec Finlay, 2011

to get my bearings
I have to go back
for the compass

two boys and a wolfhound
play football in the garden
at Burncruinach

the hills roll gently
one into the other
which is which?

32 hokku label
(‘the daylight constellations / of the verges’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2011

The anxiety to avoid fields with cattle, especially those with calves, leads to detours, scrambles and legs hoisted gingerly over barbed wire.

32 The Clashmach
Ken Cockburn, 2011

It’s hard to pick out Clashmach among the other hills until close to. The weather is fine, and when at the top of the Clashmach I take off my rucksack to find myself drenched in cold sweat it’s heat rather than terror-induced.

I meet no-one until nearly back in Huntly – a couple I, slightly startled, hear before I see, on a bench just up from the Mart’s road-end. Walking through town, I see next to nobody – a few cars round Asda, but the playpark’s deserted. Perhaps they’re all inside watching tv? But outside the only nod towards the wedding is a house flying a pair of Union Jacks; if the rest of town has monarchist sympathies, it’s not making a fuss about it.

We set out mid-May last year, so later than this: it’s good to catch up with the blossoms and wildflowers we missed.

32 Compassing Huntly
Alec Finlay, 2011


Deveron Arts HQ

32 wish, apple
Alec Finlay, 2011

For Eck first stop is Deveron Arts HQ, from where he sent this report. The morning tasks have been divvied up. While Anna’s fetches out the beans for planting I tie a wish in the apple. Different yields.

32 hokku-label
(‘better to fall / than cling on / and rot’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2011

I compose a bean poem for Anna, summarising a brief poetic lineage

Vicia faba




Then Anthony – Schrag, who is in residence – takes me up to Huntly Castle, one of the many Gordon strongholds that have stood or fallen hereabouts.

32 hokku-label
(‘trees / out-/ last / walls’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2011

Pat, the keeper of the ruin, happens to be dowsing, so we chat about that. She’d no idea that she had the knack with a diviner until her son started. It seems to be a divinatory place this, in the tradition of Legge.

32 audio, Pat dowsing
Alec Finlay, 2011

Battlefield Hill

The Wedding
Alec Finlay, 2011

Then, post-wedding, I’m passed on like a parcel, from Antony to Norma, and now it’s time to climb the hill named after no-one seems quite sure what battle. When the nation’s ruined it only leads to more ruin. The plantation woods up here were supposed to be thinned 30 years ago, and 15 years ago, but those jobs got forgot, until now, when the council’s need of cash led to a savage clear-cutting. Many folk would see the scene as one of utter waste, with scarred ground and heaped grey branches, dusty brown soil scored with tyre tracks and only few bare trunks standing, reminiscent of Ypres or Paschendale. It takes years for a forest to right itself after an industrial felling like this.

Basho, Battlefield Hill
Norma Hunter, 2011

Claudia feels the loss so keenly she hasn’t yet felt ready to survey the scene. I would have reacted the same, but Norma guides me to look farther, for she sees things differently. She’s helped create a new planting in amongst the ruin –5,000 natives, spiraling over the plateau. Best of all, she invited two of the original planters to help replace sitka with oak. It is Norma who hears more birdsong, sees the deer more often, so I learn to listen.

32 hokku-label
for Stan & Dan, who planted this wood, 1947, 2011
Alec Finlay, 2011

32 hokku-label
Norma Hunter, 2011





.......Stan & Dan
.......planted this wood

.......planted this wood

.......mono sitka
.......varied native


.......Ken’s over there
.......having a sun-

.......hat day
.......on Clashmach






.......the view stretches
.......4,500 years

.......from clearcut plantation
.......stone hut circle

.......and charred dun Huntly town






.......tony and I
.......walk slowly

.......either side
.......of norma






32 Nadokoro Beech, Battlefield Hill
Alec Finlay, 2011

32 hokku-label
Norma Hunter, 2011

Eck, Ken, Norma
Tony Hunter, 2011


Proposal for a Xylotheque Viewing-Platform (for Battlefield Hill)

As we walk through the ex-wood-&-woodland-to-be, Norma says she’d like there to be a tower up here, and I suggest it should go somewhere near the old dun, to pick out the prospect of the toun which has come clear again, freed from the thick screen of sitka branches.

After I get back home I sketched out an idea for a viewing platform, much in the style of a ladder stile, and sent it to Claudia & Norma. It adopts Norma’s wish for a place to look-out-from – always something that was done from this hill – and adds the idea of a xylotheque (a library of wooden books), to archive the wood past and wood future.

Xylotheque: a Library of the Native Woodland (the hidden gardens, Glasgow)
Alec Finlay, 2004; photograph Allan Pollok-Morris, 2004

I envisage a series of wood samples, one for each native species that populated these isles after the glaciers receded. The trees would be set in order, one per step, so that as folk ascend the ladder to the platform they are walking through the vastness of ecological time. A healing for the clear-cutting, which is such an unnatural way to manage a wood and, best of all, someday the view from the top of the platform will, once again, be engulfed by the trees.

I found it amusing that Claudia didn’t like this idea, because, as she explained, it was not Deveron Arts enough, being not for, or about, people. It seemed to me that a stile-platform was precisely for people, but I knew what she meant – it wasn’t an idea I’d had in the local bakers. Norma and I hope to make it happen someday, and, for Claudia, there is a different idea to work on, with Ken’s help, relating to the muckle sangs.


Ballads: Momus

Hereabouts the wives and daughters of rich earls were wooed away from them by black-eyed gypsy-laddies, despised outsider figures who queered the norms of farm life.

A contemporary Japanese twist to this balladeering tradition comes from Momus (Nick Currie), who stands in the same tradition, combining narratives of lust and betrayal with casio bleeps and techy glitches, as in ‘bishonen’. The map that I composed to summarise the road north (here), pairing Basho’s stations with our 53 equivalents, was a nod to Momus own rorsharch vision of Scotland, made with the designer Zak Kyes.

Momus gave his blessing and said my map reminded him of another mapwork he had made, which seeds Japanese towns onto Scotland. Funny how persistent this connection of the two cultures is.


Hambo Fulton

Hamish Fulton, 2011

The same connection is made, implicitly, in the work of Hamish Fulton – or Hermit Futon, as we like to byname him – who recently published a book with Deveron Arts, documenting his walks here in the toun, and, over many years, up in the Cairngorms.

I’ve long admired Hamish’s work. Ken & I have found that our journey has refined the practice of our poetics, embedding words in the immediate experience of being & making, responding to particular places. And so I feel a deep kinship with the recent variations Hamish has made, in counterpoint to his longer walks, such as the slow walks, city walks, backwards walks and communal walks.


Another Shirakawa

Continuing the walking theme, we invited Robert Macfarlane to contribute his suggestion as to where that crossing into the wild places, Shirakawa, might be found. In the end Robert choose to place it somewhere between our Perthshire glens and Huntly. Again, he picks up the idea of rites of way.

Dear Eck, Ken,

You're making magic with your map. I'm checking back in often, watching the overlaps and the time-slips, while I fashion my own foot-atlas, my old-way-book. Many miles now tramped, many words now to write. Alec, you asked what my Shirawaka Barrier was, the transition or passage-point into a wild place, 'when the heart slips and a breath is exhaled'. Well it's here:

The southern gateway to the Lairig Ghru, the Cairngorm valley where snow lies sintering all year round. The Ghru is winter's fall-back point, its last fastness, the place out of which the cold musters itself again in the early autumn. Around about now, in fact. Entering the Ghru from the south, the sense of crossing a threshold or portal is unmistakable. The gatekeeper peaks­ are Devil’s Point to the west, with its diagonal flashings of scree, and the battleship flank of Carn a’ Mhaim to the east. They stand close, intimidating and sentinel. You must pass between and beneath them, and only then on up to the watershed.

I last walked the Lairig Ghru a summer ago, while crossing the Cairngorms from south to north on the way to my grandfather's funeral in Tomintoul. That was a ritual walk, and these were some of the things with which we met in its course – riverbed boulders – bog myrtle – pine-resin – a siskin’s cry – a salmon’s splash – sphagnum – fire on the pass; and these were the types of rock over which we passed – Dalradian limestone, diorite, quartzite, feldspar, granulite, granite, slate, phyolite and mica-schist – and of these the most durable is granite.


(Robert Macfarlane)

Garden Zeiske

After the wedding, dresses back on their hangers, Clan Zeiske are off to Skye for some more Munros. Before they leave neighbour Rae and son Ian look in with a regal strawberry cake, which we wash down (ceremonially) with Glenfiddich, chosen in honour of Claudia, who worked on the residency program there a few years ago.

Car packed, everyone departs, leaving the to poets hang-out in another lovely garden, rich with fruit trees, and do some poeming.

32 hokku-label
(‘some of us / have ladders / inside // some of us / have swings / inside’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2011

32 hokku-label
(overlapped/buds/unfold’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2011

32 hokku-label
(‘pear/appear’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2011

32 hokku-label
(fortunately / this beautiful / blossom // knows nothing / of Autumn's / poor yield ’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2011


Coda (I)

This is a selection of our Ballad Headlines, from the proposal for Deveron Arts. The form seems to be a kind of mélange of IHF’s HEADLINE poems of the 1960s, composed from the pages of Fishing News, with a feint echo of Harry Smith’s thematic summations, in his Anthology of American folk-song:



(I) (‘Son David’)



(II) (‘The Four Marys’)



(III) (‘Dowie Dens of Yarrow’)


(IV) (‘Mill O’ Tifty’)



(V) (‘The Gypsy Laddies’)




(VI) (‘Clerk Saunders’)


(VII) (‘The Fause Bride’)



(VIII) (‘Edom of Gordon’)



(For Deveron Arts)

(AF, KC)

Coda: Shadow Curator

The English artist Ben Jones was shadow curator to Clauzia Zeiske at Huntly for 6 months in 2011. Ben offers some thoughts and photographs taken in and around Huntly, reflecting his impression of the town and community.

As someone who has lived in a city for ten years but was brought up close to fairly rural countyside, it sounds ridiculous, but living in Aberdeenshire, I did feel as if I was in a different country – which I obviously was. A comment that has stuck with me is that in England there are rural areas, but in Scotland there is rural and there is also remote.

English remoteness rarely exists, as you are never that far away from easy access to a city or large town. However, for large swathes of the North of Scotland, towns are far apart, the combination of the rural landscape and the decimated transport system creates a strong sense of remoteness – something that I have never experienced before. This remoteness brings with it a sense of otherness, alterity, so some things that would not usually have any specific interest develop a level of, for want of a better word, exoticism.



Deveron Arts

Hamish Fulton

Huntly Woods & Norma Hunter

Walking and

Rocca Gutteridge