This September

Through the Downs, 7 September 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
I took this photograph whilst out among the hills, late in the afternoon.

I was transported to my childhood

“A Dream of Summertime” began as two stanzas, originally titled “Verses”. They were inspired by recollections from my childhood when (between the ages of eight and nine) I lived with my family in the great valley between the Babilonstoringberge1 and Kleinriviersberge2. There my mother taught at a small primary school for the children of farmworkers. I was one of her students in Grades Three and Four3, which she instructed together in one class.

The school was housed in two buildings. My mother and a second teacher shared a modest two-classroom building on one part of the farm, and the headmaster and a fourth teacher, one on another. Once a week, we would walk from one building to the other for subjects my mother did not present in Grade Four. On our way, we would pass through a forest with brambles and dandelions. These brambles and dandelions appear in the poem.

During that time, surely the happiest of my life, we stayed through the week in a farmworker’s cottage. It had two rooms, one door, a wood stove and four tiny windows overlooking the surrounding hills and valleys. Behind it was a ditch carrying water between a series of dams. It flowed fast in winter and hardly moved in summer. There I would marvel at dragonflies cavorting above the stream. The ditch and its dragonflies also appear in the poem.

I shared how my poetry comes about

Whilst “A Dream of Summertime” recalls images from the past, the majority of my poems are responses to the rural landscape about me now. Early in the month, I shared photographs of sights and the free verse they inspired in a set of five social media posts to demonstrate how my poems begin4. Were these lines to become a poem, they would undergo a significant transformation, since my ultimate goal is the composition of traditional verse.

Free verse is a powerful form of poetry, used to great effect by Richard Adams in the verses he conceived for Silverweed in chapter sixteen of Watership Down. Though his verses are a great inspiration to me, in the poems for this collection, I want to evoke the innocence and charm of simple rhyme on simple subjects—to hearken back to childhood, when poetry is uncomplicated, joyful, memorable and in its own way, profound.

Footnotes

  1. Babilonstoringberge (pronounced “bah-bee-lons-twuh-Ruh-ng-beR-guh” with the “o” in “or”, the “e” in “wet” and trilled “R”s) is Afrikaans for “Tower of Babel Mountains”. The range is named after its most notable feature: a great peak resembling (from some viewpoints) the Biblical tower as depicted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Lucas van Valckenborch in their paintings.
  2. Kleinriviersberge (pronounced “clayn-Ruh-fee-Rs-beR-guh” with the “e” in “wet” and trilled “R”s) is Afrikaans for “Small River’s Mountains”. The range often appears in my photographs, since I live near its eastern extension now. Indeed, it is one of its rugged spines you see in the photograph above.
  3. At the time (the mid 1980s), these were known in South Africa as Standard One (Grade Three) and Standard Two (Grade Four).
  4. The first of which can be viewed on Facebook here, Twitter here and Google+ here.

This August

Magnificent Malachite, 17 August 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
I photographed this exquisite Malachite sunbird. It lives in a nearby thicket but frequently visits the garden, posing in prominent spots, in the hope of attracting a mate.

I completed “Swallows!”

The South African spring is officially here, but it was already in full effect these past few weeks as the first swallows returned. This was providential because I spent the month revising “Swallows!”, a rhapsody about my favourite bird. After quickly evolving from a one-verse sketch into a four-verse ballad—the development of which I shared on social media1—the poem is now complete, and I shall start revising the next one directly.

I outlined new poems

Struck anew by the loveliness of the rural world around me, I was compelled by three sights to compose new poetic sketches: “Pear Tree” was inspired by a lonely pear tree in early bloom, the last of what was once an orchard2; “A Partly Cloudy Morning” by the mist floating above the wheat whilst I was out in the fields; and “A Blustery Day” by just such a day when the wind blew strong and made the pines sing as if they were a choir!

I embraced a longer artist cycle

Pleased though I was with the new poems, they brought the total number of new sketches to seven, and poems for this collection to thirty-four. It occurred to me that I shall never complete this project were I to continue composing new poetic sketches. I resolved, therefore, to stop writing new poems after “A Partly Cloudy Morning”; but a few days later, confronted by the pine tree choir, could not resist outlining the draft for “A Blustery Day”!

It was clear that my well-intentioned resolution was senseless. I realised that my original goal of publishing the poems by the end of the year was unachievable; and so, rather than subject myself to unnecessary pressure, decided to embrace a longer artist cycle3 instead. Where in the past I had hoped to publish poetry at least once a year in addition to releasing new music, I came to see that it was wishful thinking for work of this kind.

Writing traditional poetry is a time-consuming process, one I find deeply fulfilling, and I see no reason to go precipitously about it. There is value in living with one’s work for as long as one can in a period of reflection and refinement. Poetry—however simple (and mine is very simple indeed)—benefits greatly from this. I shall publish my poems when they are complete, be it this year or the next, and new music will come thereafter.

Footnotes

  1. I shared the evolution of the poem—from the initial sketch to the draft as it was on 11 August 2018—on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ (the most legible version).
  2. My village was once known for its pear orchards, earning it the nickname “Little Pears” Town.
  3. By this I mean the time it takes to conceptualise, create and release work.

This July

Paradise Cranes in a Field, 6 July 2018. Copyright 2018 Forgotten Fields. All rights reserved.
I took this photograph of two paradise cranes. Paradise or blue cranes live permanently in this part of the Western Cape of South Africa. They are my comfort whilst the swallows are away (it is winter here from June to August).

I completed my first essay

After several drafts, I completed “On the Nature and Purpose of Art”. The essay explains what I understand art to be and proposes a working definition: Art is the stylisation of essential elements from reality in Literature, Music, Painting and Sculpture to create an eloquent representational or abstract work that is not merely a reproduction, recording, documentation, illustration or decoration of reality but a transformation of it, imbued with meaning.

I intend to demystify the subject of art in a series of informal essays. Next, I want to investigate what informs an artist’s work. I want to answer, for example, what draws an artist to a certain theme and subject, and to a certain medium and technique. Why does the musician choose one genre over another? Why does the painter paint in this style and not that? I want, in fine, to discover “Why Artists Create What They Create” (my working title).

I completed “Zephyros”

Finding the perfect words with which to clearly and concisely express an idea in rhyming iambic verse is no easy task. The four verses of “The Robin-chat” took a considerable amount of time to complete for that very reason, as did the two verses of “Zephyros”. Its original title was “The Pines”, a lyrical ballad about trees moving in the wind; but the more I worked on the poem, the more its focus shifted from the trees to the wind itself.

Eventually, it was clear that the wind must be the subject, and so I drew inspiration from an earlier work: the couplet I composed for The Zephyr and the Swallow. The zephyr is, of course, the literary description of a gentle breeze. It comes from the Greek Ζεφυρος (transliterated as “Zephyros”), the personification of the west wind (and also of spring), which prompted a new approach to the subject (and from which I took the new title).

Unsurprisingly, this significantly altered the nature of the poem. Most challenging was the task of matching the second verse to the first (with which I was pleased early on) to satisfactorily conclude the composition. I came, at last, to two versions of the second verse. The first had an expansive quality (first line: “His ballad blows across the land…”), whereas the second felt more intimate (first line: “A sonnet sounding sweetly…”).

My chief difficulty was that both of these worked. I would eventually choose the latter, only to change my mind shortly thereafter. At the time I tweeted “[T]he verse I have rejected is, in fact, the one I must choose!” (27 July 2018). I am now confident in my decision, and the poem has become one of my favourites—but then, so are they all. I am now revising the first of three poems dedicated to swallows, a subject of which I shall never tire.

I revised my artist statement

The goal of my work is to extol the beauty of nature—the fleeting and near insignificant moments that seem to affect me most. The familiarly beautiful in my rural surroundings evoke within me a sense of awe that I must endeavour to capture in poetry and music. This is the essence of my artistic vision, a subject I consider in the “Context Matters” blog post. In its closing paragraph, I restate my artistic vision and adopt a new caption.

A summary of my artist statement.
A summary of my artist statement.

Previously “Ambient idylls”, I now describe my work as “Idylls in music and poetry”. I elaborate upon my meaning in a social media post dedicated to the matter thus: “It is my view that Man should not be silent when moved by the grandeur of Nature, that he should burst out in adoration, if his disposition allows it, and extol what he observes in art! This is what Forgotten Fields has become—an act of adoration!” (26 July 2018).

Mentioned in this post

“On the Nature and Purpose of Art” (Forgotten Fields Essay)
The Zephyr and the Swallow (Bandcamp)
“Context Matters” (Forgotten Fields Blog Post)
@forgottenfield (Forgotten Fields on Twitter)