26 Under a Northern Sky

This weekend, 26 gathered on a train journey from Newcastle to Glasgow with writers matched to 26 stations and 26 Nick Drake songs. Anna Jauncey’s poem introduces the project.

A Small Bird
by Anna Jauncey

Journeys are often made
through the foothills of the mind,
cautious steps make wary marks
on paths we tread so lightly.

A trip now, through the foothills of England.
From the east where water arrives fresh from Scandinavia,
cold winds making chilled passage from arctic climes,
are rushed in quickly up The Tyne.

Through verdant fields where battles fought
are cast in the stones of Hadrian’s Wall,
to veer sharply north to calls from the border
and rest at last in Glasgow, amongst the Celts’ disorder.

No virgin steps are made here, though
these footprints are well worn.
Enough time has passed for the tracks to last,
to be revered for their form.

What inspiration do we take for this?
Life seen through a lens, the words of a poet.
Whose language travels without constraint
and echoes in beauty across open space.

A small bird, Drake. A short leash.
Circling an even smaller cage.
But from what short rope at which a frail ankle strains,
is the mind allowed freedom of flight.

Out march the notes in parallel,
instruments in tandem,
and light air trapped in the soles of shoes
makes leaps of wild abandon.

A synchronised dance through the seasons
as seen through tethered eyes
the hills rear up, the rivers roam
but release, it’s in the skies.

Soft lungs loose words into the wind
like a catapult filled with cotton,
taking heady trips around the moon and back,
catching in leafless branches
and frozen into the lakes with the beetles and the fish.

The mind, the mind may be trapped,
but these words make great pilgrimages.
Each route passing through the familiar terrain of a neck, six strings and a body,
finding some solace from the elements,
in the warm interior of the belly.

At day break, peering out over the ridge of the hollow
adventure beckons.
Out along the neck to stand in proud solitude
like a carved ships prow on bone pegs,
neck out, hair back, as tall and taller still than people remembered.

These iron lines are of the land now,
as unmoving as the ground which holds them.
In a carriage rocked by rivets and a notch,
with a window view of your short life as a cue,
we pass vistas filled with the sound of nature not machines,
while the mist sings sweetly of your gossamer dreams.

Anna Jauncey

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Distance markers on a disused railway in East Sussex. The Cuckoo Line.  By Tony Linkson
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Daytime lamp from Christmas travels in Krakow by  Lydia Thornley