On 8 March 2017, Plumwood Mountain journal hosted an ecopoetry reading and discussion with Scotland-based UK poet Helen Moore, and Australian poets Bonny Cassidy, Stuart Cooke and Michael Farrell, at Collected Works Bookshop in Melbourne’s CBD. Bonny read from recent work in response to the Art and Herbarium project in collaboration with New Shoots, Stuart Cooke read from his new collection Opera, reviewed here by Caitlin Maling, and Michael Farrell read new work (an example of Farrell’s recent work ‘Settlerismo‘ appears in Cordite Poetry Review). Helen Moore read from her collection Ecozoa, reviewed here by Mary Cresswell, and from new work. Anne Elvey chaired the event, also reading two short poems from her forthcoming work ‘White on White’ (Cordite Books). Helen has graciously allowed us to publish her poem,‘A State of Possession Already Existing Beyond the Memory of [Hu]Man[s]’, relating to the notion of the commonty. The evening concluded with a short discussion on the meaning of the term ‘ecopoetics’, something that takes on different nuances in the UK and Australia, being more elusive in the (post or rather ongoing)-colonial context of Australia.
‘A State of Possession Already Existing Beyond the Memory of [Hu]Man[s]’
After Andy Wightman
“It will manifestly be rendering essential service to the tenantry and lower classes of cottagers in this district to deprive them of the privilege of misspending… so much of their time and labour… in collecting their miserable turf for firing, which is the chief and in fact the only benefit… that they reap from this common.”
Sir John Sinclair, re. the Commonty of Millbuie, Scotland, 1795
The commonty for building the complete
house: stones, clay for mortar, timber roofing & fixtures,
the fail & divot for walls/roofs, & a fine selection
of renewable thatches: heather, broom, rushes, bracken.
The commonty for fuel: peat & turf, gorse & broom,
sometimes wood, occasionally coal. At the heart
of the house, the hearth rarely extinguished,
extending warmth & heat for drying, boiling, cooking.
The commonty for grazings, & from Beltane, the flitting
of women & children to the sweet meadow grasses
up at the shieling – lumbering tongues of black Cattle
browsing flowers; rich milk in butter, cheeses, songs.
The commonty for mulching the kail-yard: kelp, limestone,
marl & turf. For cordage, the commonty’s Heather & Reeds;
the Birch, Rowan, Ash from the commonty for carving
quaichs, spoons, spindles, pipes, spurtles.
The commonty for yielding food & natural medicine:
sap, blossoms, leaves, berries, roots, mushrooms;
tonics of Heather & Thyme; Nettles rubbed on rheumatic
knees, cooked up for broth; root of Tormentil for fever.
The commonty for water: drinking, washing, work
at the clear-sighted burn; for dye plants, the commonty’s
colour-map in the warp & weft of the plaid. For
comings & goings the commonty; markets, fairs, worship.
Note to poem – the title is adapted from a chapter heading in Andy Wightman’s book, The Poor Had No Lawyers.
Com´mon`ty: n. (Scots Law): a common; a piece of land in which two or more persons have a common right. In Scotland currently just 2.5% of the land is community-owned, while large-scale private land ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals, including the Queen.