Deep Time: Volume 1 by Black Bough Poetry is a powerful collaboration that immerses the reader into an underworld that stretches into the soul. Inspired by and dedicated to Robert Macfarlane, this anthology, edited by Swansea poet, Matthew M C Smith, with support from Guest Readers Laura Wainwright, Jack Bedell and Ankh Spice, resonates with the ethos of his award-winning book, Underland. In the first volume we are also treated to music composed by Stuart Rawlinson, which is available online on the ‘Deep Time’ Soundcloud playlist; a free resource that combines the book’s poems and music, curated by the Composer.
The book contains evocative illustrations by Welsh London-based Architect Rebecca Wainwright, including “Cueva de las Manos”. In this first piece of art the eye lingers over the multilayered approach of human form and skeletal underpinnings. Each hand print seems to offer the idea that we are all a multitude of connections, reaching out to one another and leaving impressions that never truly leave us. I found myself coming back to peruse the art long after I finished the poetry. The combination and selection of art paired with poetry is done so carefully it begins to feel like a natural segue between visual and verse.
Forging the River of Self
Hear rush in the underland, carve
of space by water’s progress;
it discovers as it sculpts.
–Our Deep Time, Paul Brookes, Deep Time: Volume 1
Though we think of ourselves as solid matter, the human body is on average 60% water. As a person who spent most of her life living in a landlocked state, my discovery of open ocean was a life changing experience. I found myself seeking all forms of water, in awe of its immense power to sustain life, heal and forge new paths.
The earth moves and changes sometimes in a great display of force, such as when tectonic plates move and create earthquakes. And while water changes the landscape with more subtlety at times, it is no less powerful. Streams turn to tributaries, they find spaces in rocks and can smooth away rough surfaces. Glaciers melt, sea levels rise. This poem by Paul Brookes makes me examine the similarity of my human tributaries, streams that sometimes begin in my brain or through my heart and ultimately change the internal landscape of ‘me’, if only I allow that to happen. This beautiful verse requires reflection on how we direct this water, what we allow it to sculpt and how we manage our internal selves.
An Ocean of Memory
Tuck proud thumbs, and hands recall easy the flipper in the bone
and that they ruddered for a living, five million years gone
And below, a starling rush of rays murmurs round a mountain too sudden
for their species’ long atlas, quaked up overnight, five thousand years gone
–Solastalgia, Ankh Spice, Deep Time: Volume 1
In this evocative poem, we are led into the underland of oceans and time by the poet. We are beckoned to engage in a bit of nostalgia for times past, prior to the evolutionary upgrade of opposable thumbs. This ocean is all smooth surface and aquatic bodies slicing into currents with ease. There is no food chain here, there is no struggle. Spice leads us into the very parts of nostalgia that can be dangerous. I am suddenly a small fish, unaware of humpbacked whales or sharks.
The brilliance of this poem is how Spice balances nostalgia on a pinpoint. There is importance in memory. And especially, as it relates to climate change, there is a serious charge to remember what our environment was like before humans started making decisions that will ultimately lead to its destruction. I’m put in the position of the sun, overseeing this ocean, wishing for better days. If we could listen to lament of the sea and the longing of the sun, what would it say? Read this poem and find out.
An Internal Archaeology
Is this the seam, the ripped mantle,
the place where truths are mined?
–Mining, E.A. Moody, Deep Time: Volume 1
Sometimes to get to the truth, we have to dig. This is never more true when facing truths about ourselves. As I read this poem I thought of how my heart pounds and my breath feels short when I watch any kind of documentary or see a story related to miners going down into the earth. It’s dark down there. The earth above can come crashing in at any moment, and it often has.
I have found working through personal trauma to be a similar kind of experience. Though it’s not exactly the same, these experiences seem to rhyme with each other. When Moody speaks of clicking a headlight into place and descending into the heart of the pit, I think about my own preparations to face the internal cavern of myself. Only it’s not a cavern, sometimes it’s as thin as a mine shaft and it’s only through careful diligence that I can widen it enough to see more.
These are the more frightening parts of the internal underland. Sometimes we find things we don’t want to see, memories that we would rather not re-visit. This poet describes it as ‘wetness gathers/beneath my fingernails’ and that is apt. Through beautiful language we descend through the poem and self. How far do I need to go to mine the truth? Where is that seam?
Deep Time: Volume 1, published by Black Bough Poetry, is a journey into the complex spaces of human existence. The poetry and art begs us to crack open the surface, to delve deep and to examine our lives with purpose. In this time, we are often able to offer up our surface selves in a satisfactory way. Social media limits characters and offers us hashtags to shorthand our words. While this is a valid way to communicate, it has limitations. What we often see are the curated selves people want us to see. And while it can be safer to hold part of the self in reserve, it’s important that we don’t allow that curated version of self to be the one we see in the mirror. All of the artists contained in this anthology extend an invitation for us to spend some deeper time with ourselves, exploring the underland of humanity and nature and how we connect with it.
Deep Time Volume 1 is available on Amazon in July, priced £10.00
About the Publisher
BLACK BOUGH POETRY is a Swansea-based micro-poetry/ short poetry press. It was started in April 2019 by Matthew M.C. Smith as a response to writers complaining online about writing rejections, to celebrate shorter, imagistic poetry and to platform Welsh and Wales-based writers and emerging and establishing international poets. In the past year, seven editions have been published online, freely available at www.blackboughpoetry.com/publications
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