“The igloo lingers as an Empire-tinged symbol for a half-imagined northern world, the uninhabited and uninhabitable—a place of extreme isolation, cold, and dark, indifferent wilderness and general savagery—not for the seamless interweaving of surface and content, past and future, that these structures both represent and exemplify.”
from “Operation Northern Shield” by Lance Blomgren, published by dANDelion, V37.1
I am at work on a new manuscript of place-oriented poems, From Place(s) to Place(s) (that don’t exist anymore). The drafting process utilizes, in part, the fort I created in 2012 for the performance installation series Notes from the Fort: a poetic of inhabited space (see posts: Reykjavik). Over the next few months, I will be visiting a few of my ancestral homes in order to document those places through poetry. It all begins with a week Rathven, Scotland, where the last Scottish Elricks of my line lived before they immigrated to Canada in 1862. I was there last year around this time, searching for Alexander Elrick–or what is left–a black marble stone in a tumble-down graveyard over looking the burn. Toward the end of May I will be in Salzburg, Austria, the city where my mother was born and where my grandparents met and married. Following this, I’ll be spending a week in my hometown of Abbotsford, British Columbia, where I learned how to build forts.
Lance Blomgren’s “interweaving of surface and content” sparks an idea of further entwining the fort structure with the natural habitats of the places I visit. Thoughts of building out of peat in northern Scotland, out of linen, leather and brass in Austria, out of wet fir boughs in Abbotsford—these are unreasonable ideas for my short visits. However, there is something here that is working on me. Language is a surface at my disposal. Regional words, proper nouns and the myths of local history—I walk upon these with a careful tourist step, or in the case of Abbotsford, the step of the meek-footed prodigal. In building poetic documents of place, my materials are words. It is these words that I want to lift from the earth like an igloo.
space and time
It occurs to me that in choosing to write about space, I am writing a filter through which to view time dilate and compress, wrap and fold and loop. It’s right there, in the title From Place to Place, a spatial demarcation, and (that don’t exist anymore), a temporal one. I remember Doreen Massey’s proposition that places are experienced as spatio-temporal events, that they are unique to the perception of the dweller, that there is no here without now, no then without there, and that one can never go home since the temporality of that once place will have rendered it foreign in a new present time.
This type of reductive thinking threatens to rob my project of it’s resolution even before I’ve gotten it off the ground. Especially if I expect to find something that once was in these place that once were home to myself and my ancestors. Better to approach these places with an eye on the rise of the igloo, where the past and future, the perceivable surface and hidden content, are seamlessly interwoven in a bodily, lived experience of place.
How to document place with temporal awareness? How to pause and record fixity? how to stop time: edge a squared inside a circle. dream only to wake up.
The fort itself is a visual translation of my personal home mythology. It caricatures the most prominent elements of my history, recreating an essence of home as a wildly temporary, changeable structure. The crowning feature is, of course, that it is also playful. Throughout all this, I play.