Under a marvellously vaulted ceiling and the squinting gaze of stone
griffins and assorted mythical creatures, we scratch on paper in
silence. Not with quills though it feels as if we might be. Circles
in the stained glass windows look like stacked bottles, a greenish
light pooled in each centre. A December afternoon hums around us in
the Gothic sanctuary of the John Rylands Library.
We are gathered for a Polar Poets writing workshop, preceding our evening performance. Inspiration comes from polar travellers, images of blue ice cliffs, orca whales and the inevitable white bears. And our imaginings of the 'White South within us all'
are grounded by the dark varnished oak table we press on. This is the kind of library where explorers once sketched out expeditionary
mission statements and consulted unfinished charts of 'Terra
Incognita', our theme for today.
Our workshop participants, who have never been near Antarctica, were
surprised to discover what vivid sense they had of the white
continent. The poems and prose they wrote in that wood-panelled room
could have come from the pens of Shackleton's men. We also created a
collective poem titled 'Frozen Planet', drawing on images from
a stunning BBC series and from a 'palette' of Arctic words. It was
the more unfamiliar words, like frazil ice and sastrugi,
that most caught the imagination and kabatic winds evoked a
powerful response, howling through the cloistered hush around us.
in the intimate space of this Potteresque room at night. The JRL
librarians set things up beautifully with a wide-screen TV for our
projected images and a circle of chairs brought our audience close up to the action. As we roved on reindeer migrations or Viking
explorations and watched for northern lights, undoubtedly they came with us. There was also a lively Q & A session afterwards
focusing on our own travels and how we responded to the Arctic
environment as poets.
Manchester that night. For those escaping the mayhem of a city in the
throes of Christmas shopping, our programme had a very seasonal
appeal. And it was particularly heart-warming to perform our 'winter
tales' at John Rylands once again. Librarians are the best hosts and
we were made so welcome, thanks especially to Jacqui and John. The
building as ever worked its magic and the gargoyles have not lost