Sarah Acton is the Jurassic Coast’s poet-in-residence. She is exploring the poetry of East Devon and West Dorset as part of a residency spanning the Jurassic World Heritage Site, taking inspiration from earth history, natural landmarks and the land, working with local museums, schools, and other organisations along the way to create participatory events and poetry that offers her own personal response to the land.
This Jurassic Coast poetry residency has claimed me: imagination, heart and pen. But I come from the West Midlands originally. When I recently made friends with a geological poet born in Worth Matravers, whose family worked stone in the local quarries for generations, I contemplated what it must be like to belong to stone story by bloodline. It raised thoughts about the meaning of belonging, and how we find our way to places where we feel ‘home’.
I remember that we all belong to this coastline of brine, slate, quartz, limestone, clay…It’s in our essential organic material, and perhaps memory reaches beyond lived experience when we come to this place and feel the familiar touch, voice, and body of the land as it communes in direct unmediated contact with our own. Take this a step further in the work of ecologist and philosopher, David Abrams:
“By Acknowledging links between the inner, psychological world and the perpetual terrain that surrounds us, we begin to turn inside-out, loosening the psyche from its confinement within a strictly human sphere, freeing sentience to return to the sensible world that contains us. Intelligence is no longer ours alone but it a property of the earth; we are in it, of it, immersed in its depths. And indeed each terrain, each ecology, seems to have its own particular intelligence, its unique vernacular of soil and leaf and sky.” (Spell of the Sensuous)
To stand on and in the unique Jurassic limestone cliff laid down in sediment layers 160 million years ago, with its own psyche, and from here stare out into the vast wilderness of seascape, becoming one with it in every breath, is a deep and whole experience. We may stand a brief moment, but we carry the connection in our daydreaming for a day, a year, or a lifetime. We’re not then ‘in’ nature, we’re ‘of’ and ‘part of’ its living existence.
A key element of my poetry residency with the Jurassic Coast is to engage visitors and residents to the land through creative writing, I’ve been busy with many workshops and walks during the last year along the coast. Every time I facilitate a workshop I’m struck by the surprising immediacy of how writing, and especially poetry, can open us up to alchemic transformations in a short space of time. The ability to connect (reconnect) nature and creativity is a powerful thing. Words are powerful. Through writing and thinking outdoors, and experiencing creativity outside in nature on ancient ground, we get perspective on what it is to be human in the world today, beyond our own tiny being, and delve at the same time into an excavation of our own stone selves. We are each a cliff of caves for the quarrying.
Stone is a living giant. This is how it was for me last week as I stood in a cave at Winspit, Worth Matravers (see photo above). Inside the belly of that cave, a sacred space. Outside of my own ego. Inside our collective story. Outside dry heat, and inside the cool dark body inhaling minerals and exhaling stillness. Outside tides and rock shelves, inside language unwinding itself from the coiled fetters of centre and into frontier thinking. Like fossils we were held a while, my friends and I, inside that stone, suspended for what may have been an hour, or a decade. When we emerged the world had shifted slightly. We headed back into the sunshine towards Square and Compass for a pie and a peek at the pub’s fossil museum. But something has changed, I feel slow pyrite transformation working into my fleshy thinking, and I’m drawn to return to those caves again….
Sarah’s upcoming participatory adventures in poetry and rock are in Weymouth and Beaminster. See the Stepping into Nature activities webpage for more information: https://www.dorsetaonb.org.uk/stepping-into-nature/guided-activities/1430-poetry-workshop-and-walks or email email@example.com to join.