“The North Chose Us” said Nils-Aslak Valk eapää, poet of the Sami people. I would never, ever say I am capable of evoking Sami identity, or the geography and ecology found where the Sami live in the far north of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and northwestern Russia. The furthest North I have ever been is Iceland, which I have visited five times, but I remain fascinated by those countries and cultures which lie near and within the Arctic Circle. Inuit, Sami, Greenlanders and Icelanders seem to me to be the ultimate survivors. Iceland alone has suffered not just the harsh cold, but earthquakes, volcanoes and disease that at one point in the country’s history seemed destined to wipe out the entire population, which even today stands at just 339,764. I hope on World Poetry Day to pay tribute to some of ‘The Peoples of the North’ not by writing some sort of poetic hagiography or cultural appropriation, but attempting to show how inspiring the cultures of the far North are to me.
Yes, I will highlight some of the problems, indignities and cultural destruction that have been forced onto these peoples. Most importantly however I will try to perform poetry that reflects the mystery, the beauty, and the culture that I have seen and read about.
Looking forward to reading my new six minute story 'White Nights and Darkness' set in the 1960's
White nights – in areas of high latitude the weeks in mid-summer during which darkness is never complete. The poet Boris Pasternak referred to “White Night, that all-seeing enchanter”
Image copyright June Palmer
Writers for the December 6x6 -In no particular order:
I will be reading my Winter Tale "The Essential Absence of Light"
Image by kind permission of J R Biddulph (copyright)
The Lighthouse Wives
There are three phases of twilight: Civil, Nautical, and Astronomical. Nautical is vital. In clear weather, the horizon is faintly visible and the brightest stars can be seen. I use their position to navigate. I am now an old sea-dog, sailing coastlines and islands, alone. Night is risky. Sometimes I have company - the aurora’s Merry Dancers or a full moon that works both for and against.
I remain tough and strong enough to make my living, overcoming naked young women dancing on beaches at dusk; tethering them to the deck as I sail toward distant flashes of light on dark seas. They cry for their seal-skins left behind on the shore, and refuse nourishment. They will adapt. Lighthouse keepers are happy to relinquish bachelorhood and don’t haggle over money; without their skins the wives are land-locked. I re-visit every light. Children are born, and loved, but lighthouse wives yearn to return to the sea. Some die young, broken-hearted. Good for business.
Lighthouses are numerous around treacherous coasts. I map them, discovering a remote islet with a towering light. Ever hopeful, slithering up rocks to the doorway, I’m disappointed to be met by a slender, wiry woman. Her man is dead, but she keeps the light. Her dark eyes laugh at my discomfort when she says she wants to buy a husband.
Snatching girls from groups of enchanted dancers is one thing, but the males look muscular and strong. I think of the money, selecting a slim laddie who has strayed from his kin. My fist smashes his face. He is surprisingly compliant when I haul him aboard. How wifey manages him is her problem. After two days we make land, barely visible through the sea-haar. The woman, dressed in her dead man’s clothes, pulls me up onto the jetty. I fall screaming as she snaps my arm. Her boot smacks my head like a mains’l boom.
He sails before dawn to reclaim his skin. A selkie with soft liquid eyes bobs beside the boat. The sun is 12° below the horizon, slowly peeling the lightening sky from the sea.
“Live Long and Prosper”
The Governance said it would make us filthy rich. Filthy as the planet’s tiny, pock-marked moons; misshapen asteroid chips where we mined Uranalite before processing it on this rusty, freezing wilderness. The Collectors never hung around. They loaded the Metamaterials, and disappeared faster than ice-caps. No pilot wanted to discover a stowaway on their ship, and have to jettison them.
We worked our asses off, vented frustrations on sex-bots and retired to habitation tunnels away from radiation, stashing forbidden stimulants grown in the bio-domes. On HiRISE cameras, a blue planet with its moon was visible, if desired. Hal was cool with this place – he was born here. The first. His mother died almost immediately afterwards. Hal had never left, smiling enigmatically when some-one called him an alien. Truth was, we were all aliens, reliant on supplies and medicines from “home”. Hal never got sick, even when accidentally exposed to raw Uranalite.
I fretted. What was this job doing to me? My body, my reproductive system? I still had my period. The night of the dust-storm I invited Hal over and sealed my door. His body was human perfection.
Almost ten months later, birthing was as painless as this century could make it. Medics formed a silent army. I screamed. The baby was long, slimy, with skin like grey-green lichen; the colour of Uranalite. I pulled Hal close to me.
“Kill it” I gasped
© June Palmer
And there have been lots! This sculpture The Old Sea Cat by Liz Watts at the exhibition Beached at Love Clay gallery in Stoke on Trent. This was back in April. Stunning and the best inspiration I've had for poetry in a long time. Absolutely buzzing when I came out of there. Many thanks to Dawn Gorman for a great workshop and to Liz for taking time to talk to us all. The readers evening was also amazing - just from this one sculpture I had the basis for poetry, a short story and a flash fiction. The December event is a must - just booked.
Featuring poetry by -
Emily Rose Galvin
Mel Wardle Woodend
Got my place in the Poetry Slam, Poetry Workshop and Open Mic. 3 days camping and only 40 minutes from home! Better get my sh*t together!
Author - June Palmer