So the clay tablet project, which I have chosen to title Tide, isn’t done yet, or at least it needs to be redone, at least in part, and it’s being folded Russian Doll-fashion into the next project I’ll be doing, which I’m provisionally going to call Diagrams, and which will be done with, among others, the people from CMPR, especially Dr Sergei Shubin, who is a man who is making me raise my game every time I talk with him.
But I need to talk about Tide a little before it gets lost inside other projects within projects.
So. When I started talking with Ian in the Marine Energy Research Group about his work and that of his colleagues, it struck me that I wanted, in my response to the work, to explore movement in terms of fluidity, of change, of a constructed thing that offered transformation, that was not itself wholly static, that moved in both transitive and intransitive senses.
I wanted to make concrete poetry, which is, if you don’t know, where you create poetry in which the mode of transmission, the artefact if you will, is part of the poem itself.
I decided very early on — before I even scored the residency, in fact — to use as my raw material some Swansea blue clay. Since the Council policy of moving the sand on the beach to prevent erosion and flood risks ended, the blue clay, constantly covered and uncovered by the tides, has become easy to find.
For many years, Engineering students in Swansea have been asked to go down to the beach and borrow handfuls of clay in order to practice soil analysis on it. So my raw material reflects not only the coastline itself — that will be affected, in terms of its life and its very shape, by the very turbines that might preserve our way of life, that might force us to make very tough choices as some species live and some species die — but also the work of a researcher in the University from its very beginning.
When Ian was a first-year student at Swansea, he was one of those students who had to dig the clay and experiment on it. It’s a tiny part of his work and story. And part of the story of his project in a tiny way. It represents the coast; it represents the life of a researcher.
With the clay, I fashioned eight tablets; on each I inscribed one of eight lines of a fragmentary, non-linear poem, which I intended to make the same degree of sense in no matter which order they were read.
I’ll think it right to make my choices harder
I shall change the coastline by degrees
Our future might extend beyond the lights
On a curve on a ridge in the sand in the sea
Fish will swim between my arms
If I could revolve here
Beneath the driving waters I will stand
Beginning with the sand above the clay
Once the tablets were fired, they would be placed on a table or tray and the public would be invited to move them and to read them in a fashion that if not open, would be fluid and at the same time prescripted; the options for the reading of the poem are manifold yet finite; some options are more hermeneutically satisfactory than others. The poem poses a puzzle and a problem, just as the land problematises the research.
The audience moves and interacts; the audience is moved, literally, as the poem demands to be touched. The audience participates.