A Selection of Short Stories and Poetry Collections – Joanna Paterson
“It’s an intriguing set of prose pieces, almost epigrammatic in parts, and rather strange in an individualistic way. It took me a while to get used to the narrator’s voice and tone, and I feel it’s the type of writing that one’s unlikely to absorb at a single reading – which is no bad thing” –Dr Peter Boehm, on The Old Turk and Other Tales
Through the Mirror
It is wise to hang a mirror in the darkest corner of the darkest room. It will catch the light where it shines least. It will suck in the remaining light like a waterfall. The light tumbles down into the deep, dark space, the dark side of the mirror. Like the dark side of the moon, the most beautiful light gathers and meets there.
Put the book down on your lap as you sit in the room with the mirror and look up. The room is painted in oxblood which means it has a mauve sheen. The deep colour brings out the pictures. They lift from the walls. They circle the room in measured leisureliness. They know they are the artworks that last; but the mirror enthrals them because it has stories in it.
The white hand-made paper in one frame shows the big rust-coloured fishing vessel that lists towards the stonebuilt quay. The coal steamer is tired-looking. The wood creaks; it has not been caulked or cleaned. It was painted a loving bright red once with a blue arrow decorating its prow. The blue has washed out. The red of its funnel is rusted. The fine black paint of its pilot house is slashed in peeling greys.
The fish that were once hunted have come to eat its powerful remains. The phantom herrings in shoals that once graced the waters of Scotland now nibble the floating devil that destroyed their silver lives. What was once quick as a flash, made of thousands of squalls of rain and intermittent sunlight, is now but the sighting of ghostly companion fish. In the mirror the hand-made print captures the fishing boat that tells the stories of the turbulent sea.
The Shaman Birches of Argyll
I was startled the first time I took a train out of Glasgow into the Highlands. This was in 1990 when I took up a post at the University. The images of that journey follow me yet. What to me was a toy train without, to my ear, the clickety-clack and rumble of heavy axles and big station clocks with station master’s whistles, showed me wild beauty beyond its windows. I saw scooped valleys rising like angel’s wings. I saw new colours, earth shades that blended sparseness together, browns tough as deer hides and mercurial greys in cliffs and tumbled rocks. Rivers churned over pebbles lustred with light, and pointed first ridged hillsides in deep green. The day was a lucky one, with me not knowing how often it rains: the sun was out, the skies were blue.
Immediately I was in love with the Highlands landscape. I fell in love with ruggedness. Opposites attract. I grew up a child of the city. I was born in Vienna. My journeys had been on transalpine trains through Switzerland or across the Dolomites into Italy. I had been shocked at the cool, urban spread of Glasgow with its lack of curlicues. In my experience cities were highly ornamented. In Vienna the family went to church up elaborate steps into interiors dominated by the marbled grace of Corinthian columns and ornate side-altars. Baroque splendor allowed cherubim and seraphim to glow golden in the inner sanctum. The familiar company of saints stared down, recognisable through their emblems. St. Catherine held her wheel; Peter his keys; and Sebastian, riddled with arrows, interceded for us as martyr and patron saint to the city. Nor did the pagan gods loose their footing. On every errand through the inner city, looking up at the sky, I saw on the roofline of the palaces the sculptures of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and the god of the arts, Apollo, and Hermes, the god of the crossroads.
The Travelling Moon
This book aims at your imagination. All the Selves of what you might be, are envisioned in that moment when the moon is afloatin the sky. When Reason does not rein in the Self, you are left to dream, to connect to the night-side of nature. Then the landscape that surrounds becomes a gateway to what might be.
But first, let the women who were unconventional bring their case forward. The first section, Stories, begins with poems about them. One was an astronomer of the 18th century, Marie Henriette von Sachsen Meiningen, and lived in one of the first ‘English’ landscape gardens in the German principalities. She built her own observatory and went there to bring stars closer into view—her very own science.
The writer Bettina von Arnim, the next woman I mention, was an eccentric but truthful and intriguing woman of the turn of the 18thto the 19th centuries. She was the granddaughter of Sophie von La Roche, one of the first women novelists and a friend of Christian Martin Wieland. Her great granddaughter was Gisela von Arnim, a friend of the Grimm Brothers. Gisela later married Wilhelm Grimm. Bettina, her mother, married Achim von Arnim and this turned out to be an adventure for both of them.
All this inspired my poetry.
The Old Turk and Other Tales
To walk up an old lane is to hear voices. It is the mighty dead that unlock our hearing. The narrow lane leads upwards. Overhead the houses nod to one another. They are ornate; the window frames seem tied with ribbons in shades of cream and optimism.
Men and women bow their heads here to presences both mightier and more forgiving than worldly ambition. Sorrow looks back; faith looks up. When Death comes the priest is called and last prayers are said.
I had come back on a visit on the spur of the moment. Whenever I came back I was within earshot of childhood. This was the prescient childhood of belief. As a child you know you are but a dot in a vast cosmos. Cathedrals are in your blood.
I was happy to take out the frilly ribbons of fantastical thought. In the North I had gotten used to sparseness as a way of life. Think before you speak; otherwise excess will seek you out like the devil’s palaver. A penny earned is a penny saved and suchlike. I was sympathetic to this as I was born with frugal habits. Also I was a scholar. In the old days of libraries I spent even sun-drenched days in the dusky corners where a wooden desk let me read and write.
I had forgotten the joys of opulence. I had put aside soaring emotion. Only deep within did music still speak in crescendo and allegro. Music unheeded by blood or bone runs unseen, there on the far mountain where the moon rises.
“…Mingling figures of folklore with the winds of nature and the liveliness of a dauntless old woman in a red velvet hat, The Old Turk reclaims adventure for those the world might label too lame or too old…” – C.Z.Walker