Skip to content

How Every Breath May Count


What a lot we have to catch up on! It’s almost a month since I last gave you an update proper, and the past few weeks have certainly been … well, significant for me, to say the least.

How do I describe the week I spent at Cove Park? It’s hard enough to do the place justice, let alone the residency. The retreat sits on a hillside on the west side of the Rosneath peninsula, overlooking Loch Long. (You can easily forget that the UK’s nuclear arsenal is nestling over the other side of the Gare Loch at Faslane and round the corner in Coulport — until the night time, when you see the unearthly glow like the glory of the LORD stopped for a rest. ) The view is breathtaking. I woke up every morning to this out my front window, except with sunshine:

Atmospheric last-morning shot from the pod

No bad, eh? I chose that one because the sunny shots — every other day was glorious sun — didn’t come out quite so atmospherically. This sunset shot is taken from the centre, the main administrative building up the hill from the accommodation, where we had our workshops with Kristin Linklater:

Sunset from the Centre

On the Monday evening, when we all arrived, Cove Park laid on dinner for us. All the poets were there, plus Kristin; the centre directors Polly Clark (who took Claire Quigley’s place, as Claire was ill) and Julian Forrester; the film-maker Pamela Roberston-Pearce, who was recording the residency for a film she’s making with Kristin; and Gavin Wallace, head of literature at Creative Scotland, which had funded the venture. Dinner was followed by a read around of one-poem apiece (even Gavin participated, with MacDiarmid’s “Bonnie Broukit Bairn” from memory). Everyone certainly read well but, when some of the same poems were presented again later in the week, it was startling how much richer and stronger the performances were.

Our accommodation, seen from the path to the centre

The rest of the week consisted of three hours of workshop in the morning, a three-hour lunch break, then another three hours of workshop in the afternoon, with the evening off, although there was homework too some nights! It was certainly intense. Kristin began by getting us to pay close attention to our bodies and our breathing, getting us in touch with what actually goes on in the body when we breathe. The mornings often focused on this type of work, on becoming aware of the range of resonances possible in one’s own voice, becoming au fait with the resonators in the body and how to wake them all up.

Drawn by Theresa Knott. Used under a Creative Commons licence.

Kristin also took us through some methods for embodied learning — that is, how to learn lines of poetry (or other text) taking advantage the whole nervous system’s capability for remembering, not solely relying on the brain. On the Tuesday afternoon, we got on to working on our own poems. Kristin insisted that we memorise, rather than read. The reason being that working from memory enables one to focus on breathing the poem and getting back to the emotional impetus behind its writing.

Having gone through that and watched the others go through it, I buy that idea. It was remarkable how everyone’s voice deepened and enriched as we accessed the lower range of frequency and timbre. What was even more remarkable was how much more powerful and nuanced everyone’s renditions of their poems grew as Kristin loosened us up, had us read them bent double or lying on the floor. I won’t forget in a hurry what happened when she got Ros Barber to whisper through one of her poems. The emotional power that was unleashed in the subsequent speaking was incredible.

Cove's hielan kye grazing by the pods

The week was transformative for me. It has changed my “reading” permanently. If you see me “read” now, you’ll see me speaking the poems from memory. (“Speaking poetry” is the term Kristin insists on. I like it because it’s ambiguous as to whether I’m speaking the poem or the poem is speaking through me, which is what should happen when this approach works.) I’m confident you’ll also hear a much stronger, more powerful rendition than you would have done in the past and I think the folk who heard me last week would attest to that.

It was also a real pleasure to work with everyone. I came away with deeper respect and admiration for the poets whose work I already knew and equal respect and admiration for the others whose poetry was new to me. Making new friends and deepening existing poetry acquaintances was one of the glories of working so closely together. I can tell you that Ros Barber’s next book will be tremendous, Clare Pollard’s, which is out soon, will be a cracker. I can tell you that you really should get your hands on Liz Berry‘s pamphlet and hear her speak her poems. Likewise with my podmate Michael Pedersen, who simply went from strength to strength. I can tell you that, if you’ve heard Gerry Cambridge read before, you’ll hear a greater richness in his voice now. I can also tell you that, if you have the opportunity to work with Kristin, you should grab it instantly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: