by Nell Farrell
A woman watches transformations from the shoreline. It is a place where nothing is definite but she is not afraid.
A golden mirror against a blue lake – the truth or magical enhancement? It looks a little like a keyhole though – inviting us in or forbidding entry.
A ladder links the land, the sea, the sky.
Hands like wings preparing for flight. Hands readying themselves for the work of bidding farewell.
Intersections between my work and Tracey’s date back to 2001 when I wrote the foreword to the catalogue for her exhibition Magic, Murder and the Weather. Tracey then designed the covers for two of my poetry pamphlets – gorgeous images which still delight me, distilling the essence of my poems and connecting our work.
The Zennor Forever inspired images seen interwoven into the latter half of Holland’s film House of Breath –Guiding Lights grew out of mutual interest in themes of loss and were a continuation of design work she did for the cover of my pamphlet Mermaids and Other Devices .
Zennor Forever is the penultimate poem in a sequence about three mermaids who are adopted by a woman in Sheffield. They are of the sea but live far from the sea. They embody all the outrageous daring and magnificence of teenage girls but are ancient and mythical creatures of effortless metamorphoses. Zennor is a key place of connection with their sea selves and the place where their mother realises that she will soon be losing them. Glimpses of loss and longing from the poem are mirrored in the images.
House of Breath – Guiding Lights
Sea, wind, breath. Sounds that are any and all of these.
A pathway leads us through long grass, tall weeds. The water is a playground. Trees branch out and lungs have their own internal tracery of arteries and veins.
Dry sand, compacted, imprinted with skeletal ribs.
Wind flickers. Images flicker. What I think is a swan is a flower unfurling.
In passing we catch the only words: Fairhaven Lake. Fair haven, safe space to breathe and play.
Knots of anatomical activity, decay, parched earth, scratched lines, children running on the edgelands.
Sand dunes fall away to the sea. We plummet to loss and memory. Sycamore keys spin like feathers.
The photographic quality of the film gives it the appearance of something very old or something found. Taken from someone’s subconscious, made of dream and memory. Along the way a chaise longue hinted at the psychoanalyst’s couch. The visual symbolism and mad logic of dreams enable poets and artists alike to smuggle in disguised pieces of our lived experience.
As some of the Mermaids cover images start to arrive towards the end of the film, I feel my heart rate speed up in delight, recognition and remembrance.
Those opening scenes of wind through grass evoke the mermaids of my poem so vividly – rushing down to the sea in Zennor, protected by the tall growth edging their path, transforming as they run. Liminal space where they are held between land and sea, between their different states, between being here and being gone.
A village with its own mermaid story.
I was anxious that people
would know or notice something.
But they longed to see the cove,
had T-shirts printed for us all
which read Zennor Forever.
And nothing ever went amiss.
Every time there was chocolate cake,
stroking the Mermaid Chair,
then running to the beach through grass
so tall that as they threw their clothes off
there was nothing naked about them
and as they dived into the sea
there were girls with tails swimming,
and a woman crying on the beach.
So I think it will be here,
and I think it will be soon.
They’re singing round the house now
sounds I’ve never heard before,
something beyond normal.
I’m trailing them, folding things away –
clothes they may never wear again
and my questions What happens next?
Will I ever see you once you’ve gone?
Mermaids and Other Devices 2015