In 2017 The GMB Fellowship collaborated with the RSPB to devise an event for the Orkney Nature Festival. The session was led by Yvonne Gray of the GMBF, Alison Nimmo of the RSPB and David McNeish, Chair of Orkney Pilgrimage. It explored themes of landscape, pilgrimage and time through walking and writing in the stretch of coast between the Point of Buckquoy and St Magnus Kirk, Birsay.
In Birsay, centre of ecclesiastical power at the time, the surrounding landscape is rich in natural heritage: seals watch from the bay, Arctic terns nest nearby and the rocks of the shore expose fossils that predate such human happenings.
Taking inspiration from these layers of place, the participants created a renga, a collaborative form of poetry that is itself 1000 year old. As the day went on the verses grew to form a group piece following the cycle of seasons.
Renga in Summer
Below a lark-split sky
序 Seals in the arc of the bay follow us along the shore. Inky grey a curlew bubbles overhead. Below a lark-split sky the old song echoes along path and strand. Liquid eyes. Blind fossils. 破 A concrete ribbon cleaves the sea. Lifolf's axe shears death from life. Grass jewelled with flowers – food for sheep and cows. Bairns gleefully play in sand and sparkling water – search for groatie buckies. Mustard lichen clings to headstones along slate roofs and boundary wall. Sounds of pilgrims' feet – clouded eyes see the light again and dull minds shimmer. So many misremembered griefs among the dying embers.
No leaves to fall but the crackling fire makes my heart swell. At sea the year's fledglings meet waves like claws. Then leave me to cry and call and hear again your haunting voice. In any season there is turning to be done. Cathedral the colour of a fading rose upheld by a broken skull – witness of changing times. So from darkness and despair to embrace long nights, short days. 急 Rasp of a keel on the shore – shoulders strain to drag the boat to the noust. An ancient sound from the saga as ravens roll on shifting wings. Scurvy grass, travelled feet. Sea foam blooms on sand. This crocus from Turkey's mountain slopes brightens palace grounds.
Babette Barthelmess, Graham Brown, Fraser Dixon, Yvonne Gray (Master), David McNeish, Alison Nimmo, Jenny Sturgeon
Orkney Nature Festival, Point of Buckquoy & St Magnus Church, Birsay Monday 15 May 2017