Gerry Loose is a poet and editor; he was Scottish Arts Council Writer in Residence for Glasgow City Council at Councilmilk from 1995-1997, is currently Managing Editor for Survivors' Poetry Scotland and is a lifelong gardener. He has worked as a farmer and market gardener; he also trained in Conservation Management and Ecology at the Scottish Agricultural College. His publications include Tongues of Stone; a measure; The Elementary Particles; and The Holistic Handbook for Scotland. Gerry Loose is currently working on collections of his own work and a book provisionally called A City Herbal, which will draw on city folklore and memories/knowledge of herbs from city kitchen gardens to allotments and waste lots.
Having made both gardens and poems all my life so far, this residency grabbed my imagination and ran riot. Initially I spoke to everyone who would listen - friends, poets, visual artists, gardeners, staff at the Botanics; I brought it up at meetings with city councillors (giving them leaves as visiting cards). I mentioned it in the shops and on the subway. And I listened carefully to what people said to me, and added my own ideas to the immense growth I picked.
What I was keen on was to avoid just another round of writers' workshops - there are already plenty in Glasgow. Events, thoughts, ideas and poems was what I wanted - dialogue about poetry in its broadest sense and dialogue about plants; about what both mean in people's lives.
An obvious starting point was with food and economic plants: from production to eating and cooking, a rich field for exploration; wild food (fungus forays in the Botanics); food cycles in the natural and human world (involving the supermarkets in the area); recipes can be a creative writing production (Alice Toklas cookbook); foods that were once grown and used in the locality (the Botanics has a systematic vegetable garden; all these are seeds for poems of all kinds (The hardest fruit upon this planet / Is easily the ripe pomegranate. Ogden Nash). Already poems are emerging from sessions with one group - "Recipe for disaster"; "Recipe for love". From walks and talks in the gardens.
Another starting point for me was nomenclature - poetry is at the heart of naming (or is that the other way round?) - not just the binomial Linnaean botanic names (which are fascinating in themselves) but there are at least three names for everything in Scotland: Gaelic, Scots and English. Consider alongside that the fact that after English, in Glasgow, Urdu is the most widely spoken language. Many people who would consider the subcontinent a strong link in their lives have other sets of names (and uses) for the plants growing in the Botanics (our plant hunters stole them); as does the Chinese community; both communities along with Bengali-, Punjabi-, Gaelic- and Scots speakers have their own rich poetic traditions. Poets read in Gaelic and Scots all the time in Glasgow - let's bring them to the Botanics; there are frequent Urdu mashairas, visiting Chinese poets (Yang Lian was just here) - bring them to the Botanics.
Get the children in - let's float paper boat poems along the river Kelvin that runs though the Botanics; bring in the lovers by making a clootie tree, (traditionally a prayer tree) with love poems tied to it, as a trysting place; let's commission poets to make poems to refer to specific plants in the gardens, to be made in the standard Botanic label and planted next to the plant it refers to; let's hold readings by gardener-poets, let's have exhibitions of poems; let's talk about weather rhymes; let's discuss genetic modification of plants and demonstrate modifications and drafts of poems; and on.
And then it's time for a bit of weeding.
This is what's happening and just beginning to shape up here at Glasgow's Botanic Gardens two months into my residency - (and there are mutterings that it'll continue with funding from elsewhere.) All I've met with has been enthusiasm - from the curators and managers to the gardeners, to poets and schoolteachers, cooks, herbalists, and that man in Daisy Street who asked me what I was photographing (a manhole cover that says HOP and will form part of Glasgow Botanical Walks that I'm working on). And that's the other side - other people talk about plants and poems and produce poems, but I never expected to be able to (realistically) until I'd finished the residency; but enthusiasm, I've found, (again) begets energy and my own poems, perhaps having lain dormant for a while are already germinating and sprouting. Enthusiasm also begets long winded prose. Here ends the first report. Watch what grows here.
- Gerry Loose, December 1999