This post is a signal flare in the guise of words. I’ve got to write something not simply to catch you up, but to explain a new direction here, on this blog.
For those of you who don’t know, I moved to Edinburgh, in Scotland, a couple of months ago. (I know! Back a few years, I wrote a string of dismayed posts about our first forays into relocating to Britain or to the Netherlands. And HERE WE ARE!)
I could write about the journey to get here, but interesting as it was, I’ll run straight to the point: since arriving in Scotland, I have begun to write short prose poems. So while I might write a long post now and again, in the style of my 2012–2015 output, for the most part, you will see short posts.
For those of you on Facebook, you will be able to continue reading the prose poems there as well. That’s where they’ve “lived” until now, anyway. I like to think of my words in your news feed, alongside the memes, dog photos, and outrage. Sink or swim. May some of these word-pictures swim far into your mind, bringing with them some borrowed peace.
My decision to post these short pieces on Facebook was unpremeditated. That’s just where I put them. It was easy—less introspective and less intimidating than creating a new blog post draft. It was only a bit later that I stumbled on the poems-in-social-media phenomenon. I read Brian Bilston’s “How I accidentally became a poet through Twitter” and a Guardian piece on the questions surrounding writers who self-publish through social media; I discovered Nayyirah Waheed through a graphic circulating on Facebook and learned that she is an Instagram and Tumblr poet; and then I learned about Rupi Kaur, too. I am genuinely interested in what poems can contribute to social media, but I have no mission; just a desire to offer something sincere when Facebook asks me, “What’s on your mind?”
You will also find that some of these short prose-poems, in their blog post counterparts, will be accompanied by brief audio recordings of the post read aloud. Why? The best answer is “Just because.” Growing up, I fantasized about becoming a professional audiobook narrator. I’ve decided to indulge that impulse in amateur projects, just for the fun of it.
This multi-pronged new direction for my creative writing probably isn’t very sensible. It’s generally not advisable to try your hand at many things when you’ve been stoppered up as a writer. But I am going to go where inclination takes me, because I certainly haven’t been getting anywhere as a writer by trying to figure out a straight path!
So: new direction with overlapping circle-back.
“Why prose poems, of a sudden?” you might ask. That’s just what’s coming out. I don’t even think of myself as a poet, so I am as surprised as you. I have so much respect for the skills that poets learn—the skills of meter and structure. I am honestly horrible at those skills. But prose poems are the closest thing I can think of to call what has been coming out of my mind since arriving here, so I am going with it.
When I arrived in Edinburgh in September, I was keenly aware of a rare opportunity to change. A move—especially a transnational move—is excellent for creating a new routine, or bringing forward a new personal emphasis. What I wanted—what I still want—is to spend part of every day out of doors, in a non-manicured landscape. I’ve become convinced over the past six years that this is the only way I can be creative again, and the only way I can find my way back to a trust-based walk with God. (I may share more on that in the coming months.)
When we were trying to decide between the Masters programmes to which Matthias had been accepted, Edinburgh seemed to me an ideal place for this experiment. A city, but not enormous. A city, but full of green space, much of it still wild (49 percent! See “Edinburgh and Glasgow top UK list of green space cities”). We needed a city because Matthias is a huge city guy, and because neither of use copes well with rural culture. We needed to be near history (Edinburgh was founded before the 7th century!), culture, ethnic food—somewhere we would hear more than one language spoken, see more than one skin tone.
But I also longed on a subterranean level for Land. I’ve been profoundly unsettled in soul since I moved to the Midwest in 2008. Unsettled. Unlanded.
I believe intention can make any land, any terrain, interesting. The American Midwest has much to recommend it. But I just could not make a connection.
I don’t know how to explain this. Why couldn’t I make a connection? And why did this trouble me so much?
The degree to which I felt unnerved might be because I am in exile. I had a deep bond with the landscape in northern Benin before I moved to America. I came of age in a place where I felt communion with my surroundings. Benin is not especially beautiful, and it has comparably few interesting geographical features. Yet I was deeply in love with it. And this love tied knots in my spiritual life, securing my sense of God’s presence to a connection with physical place.
Living in upstate New York during my university years, this bothered me. “New York is land not Land,” I wrote in a creative nonfiction piece my senior year, thinking I had put a finger on it. But the crisis did not come to a head until I moved to the Midwest. Why? Perhaps it was because the geography had more similarity with Benin’s. The disconnection felt acute. It was glaringly obvious. Or, perhaps it was because my spiritual trajectory was rapidly taking me to the brink of a cliff. I lost my confidence in my spiritual ability. As the floor fell out beneath me, I expected Land to catch me, and there was none. Just land. Stretching in an endless prairie, without meaning to me.
On my previous trips to Scotland, the first one at age eighteen, I immediately recognized that the mysterious connection does exist for me here. Scotland is Land for me. Also strange. I am not from Scotland. It is fair to say, however, that Britain formed my imagination, both through the books I read growing up, and my British-leaning education. Some of the most important figures in my life, both as a child and as an adult, have been British.
Whatever the reasons, I am intensely grateful to find the lost connection here.
Holyrood Park is a ten-minute walk from our flat in Meadowbank, Edinburgh. “Park” might suggest a planned landscape, but it is quite a wild place, criss-cross with the story of thousands and millions of walkers on two feet and on four (so many dogs!). It is named for Holyrood Abbey, now in ruins, which flanks the palace. But it is not the palace or the abbey ruin that dominates the park. That honour goes to Arthur’s Seat. “A hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design,” Robert Louis Stevenson famously put it. Arthur’s Seat is only 251 meters above sea level.
A microcosm of wild terrain, Holyrood Park is 650 acres only, the Highlands in miniature without losing any of her dignity.
I try to walk in it every morning, which means I only manage a couple mornings each week. But something has happened to me.
“You seem more alive than I ever remember you being,” my friend Justin said to me recently.
Yes. I am more alive.
I feel as though I have finally fully woken up after many years walking around on benadryl!
These prose poems are berries and leaves I have dropped in God’s path before flying nervously away. Will he notice them? Stoop for them?
Or perhaps I am an eager dog, fetching back to him the branch he first threw.