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January 2016

Turning our attention to water

Water 1

From The Woman Who Watches Over the World: A Native Memoir by Chickasaw poet, novelist, and essayist Linda Hogan:

"It must have been a desert person who said from dust we come to dust we return, because, for most of us, water is the true element of our origin. Broken birthwaters signal our emergence into the air world, and through our lifetimes it is water that sustains us, water that is the human substance, the matter of cells.

"Some years ago I turned my attention to water. Perhaps, as people have done since the beginning of time, I went to the water to seek a cure, and became enamored of the deep. I was drawn to it in all its forms, ocean, river, lake, swamp.

Water 2

"In the dry country where I live, water comes to us as rain and snow and trickling creek, so I paid frequent visits to this mother element in her other shapes. I swam in the ocean, overcoming -- but only cautiously -- my fear of the depths my human feet could not touch.

Water 3

"I sat in mangrove swamps watching as the trees changed salt water into fresh. I waded around the 'eye of water,' the entrance where spring water rises from beneath the surface world, and floated underground rivers inside white limestone caverns. I paddled kayaks in the unsought but welcome presence of dolphins and wales, including a female humpback who gave birth where my friends and I sat. I submerged myself in hot springs and visited glaciers, and looked into the tragically endangered world of the paling, breathing coral reefs. I looked into a kelp bed, down into the dark, cold water, at thumb-nail sized jellyfish, white and pulsing. With my sister I walked from the edge of the sea to the black caves that, at low tide, are full and open with life as the tide goes out in its endless back and forth. There, in the tidepools at the edge of the sea, were worlds of beauty, starfish, orange and alive, anemones, seaweed, and patient waiting, a sort of creature faith that water would return.

Water 4

"I myself am a failure at faith. And also impatient at waiting. But I do know this, that thoughts and visions of water are always the same. They are beneath and inside, like the watershed which travels underground and the water that falls into it. And so, despite all my outward journeys, mostly I frequented water in an inner way, looking at the depths of my own life, my body of brine moisture and blood rivers. But there, too, in keeping with the nature of water, I realized my feet would not ever touch bottom.

Water 5

"The inside of a person is more mysterious than the inside of the world. It's just that we seem to inhabit it more plainly. Still, who knows it? Our human theories do not stretch large enough to pass easily through the inner territory. We are too fluid to pin down, and passing through our lives like water, we cannot easily be called back as we fall into self, time, and what seems like destiny. Like water that, in its oceanic destiny, follows a fierce journey of its own desires through rivers, sea waves, and even beneath ground, we each have our own journey too.

Water 6

 "It is only now, from within my own body, and from the other half of a century, that I can begin to see myself. I am just now becoming a human being, as many tribes say. And I am becoming a person old and joyous and vulnerable in new ways. Half a century is a great beginning and still the mystery of the self is there. Like water, I rush toward a destiny, a balance, a harmony. I call it sea level."

The Woman Who Watches Over the World by Linda Hogan

Our hill this winter is green, gold, and soggy, the streams white and wild with winter rain. My studio, though a dry, warm haven, rattles in the wind like a ship at sea. Rain drums on the roof, knocks on windows and enters in muddy paw prints criss-crossing the floor....

Water 7

Water 8

"Water does not resist," writes Margaret Atwood . "Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does."

Water and welliesThe passage by above is from The Women Who Watches Over the World by Linda Hogan (W.W. Norton & Co., 2001), a painful, brave, and beautiful memoir that I recommend reading in full. The quote by Margaret Atwood is from The Penelopiad (The Canongate Myth Series, 2005). The poem in the picture captions is from Jane Hirshfield's collection  Gravity & Angels (Weslyan University Press, 1988). All rights reserved by the authors.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Photograph by Dafydd Thomas

Selkie drawing by Alan Lee

Today's music has an ocean theme, with songs of selchies, sailors, and ships lost at sea.

Above, "The Great Selchie" (Child Ballad No. 113), performed by American folk singer Judy Collins and Tommy Maken (of The Clancy Brothers) on a 1992 television program, Songs Of The Sea. (The second guitarist is uncredited.) Collins recorded the song on her second album, The Golden Apples of the Sun, way back in 1962. The ballad's words are traditional, and the tune is by Jim Waters.

Below, "Cruel," performed by Yorkshire singer/songwriter Kate Rusby and her band (including John McCusker on back-up vocals). This traditional song, set to new music by Rusby, appeared on her lovely sixth album, Underneath the Stars (2003).

Illustration by PJ Lynch

Above, the great English folk singer June Tabor performs Cyril Tawney's "The Grey Funnel Line" for BBC 4 in 2011, backed up Andy Cutting, Mark Emmerson, Tim Harries, Mark Lockheart, Martin Simpson, and Huw Warren. June first recorded the song with Maddy Prior on the first of their two collaborative albums, Silly Sisters (1976).

And to end with, original songs from two of my favorite songwriters, both of them from the West Country:

Below, "Lady of the Sea" by Seth Lakeman, who lives here in Devon on the other side of the moor. The song, a long time favorite, is from his third album, Freedom Fields (2006).

Storm at Sea illustration by PJ Lynch

Below, "Bow to the Sailor" by Ange Hardy, who hails from Somerset (the county just east of Devon). The song can be found on her gorgeous third album, Lament of the Black Sheep (2014).

East of the Sun, West of the Moon illustration by PJ Lynch

The photograph above is by Dafydd Thomas, the selkie skin drawing by Alan Lee, & the three paintings by P.J. Lynch.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

In a decade marked by displacement and migration due to war, poverty, and climate change, the emigration songs of Ireland are sadly relevant...and particularly poignant.

Above, the great Irish singer Seán Keane (from Caherlistrane in Galway) sings "Exile" by Kieran Wade, accompanied by Pat Coyne and Sean Regan. The song was recorded for Keane's emigration album The Irish Scattering (2008), but it could equally apply to those fleeing Syria and other troubled parts of the world today.

Below, Sinead O'Connor (from Glenageary, Ireland) sings "Skibbereen," a classic song about Ireland's Great Famime and the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. First published in The Irish Singer's Own Book (Boston, 1880), the song is attributed to Patrick Carpenter.

Irish Emigrants Leaving Home

Irish ''Tunnel Tigers''

Irish emigration didn't end with the potato famine, of course. Lack of work (particularly in rural areas) continued to break up families throughout the 20th century...and young people are still leaving Ireland for jobs in England and on the continent today.

Above, "England Has My Man" by Lisa O'Neill, a young singer/songwriter from County Cavan. The song is from her second album, Same Cloth or Not (2013).

Below, "Miles to Tralee" by Kelly Oliver, a young singer/songwriter from Herefordshire, England, telling the story of her Irish grandmother. The song will appear on Oliver's second album, Bedlam (March, 2016).

And to end with:

The song above is "The Exiles Return"  by Karan Casey (from County Waterford) and John Doyle (from Dublin). It comes from their lovely 2011 album of the same title.

Ellis Island

Syria refugee families, early 21st century

The images in this post: "Irish Emigrants Leaving Home," a drawing from The Illustrated London News (mid-19th century); "Tunnel Tigers," Irish migrants employed to do back-breaking, dangerous work on the English/Scottish subway and tunnel systems, mid-20th century; families in the Ellis Island immigrant processing center (New York harbor), early 20th century; and Syrian families in a refugee camp, early 21st century.

For more music on the subject of emigration and displacement, I recommend the "Homesickness" and "Exile" episodes of Ellen Kushner's brilliant radio program Sound & Spirit.