Even on the sunniest Scottish day, the Haar can come in out of nowhere. For those who don’t know: Haar is a special type of fog that rolls in from the sea transforming the world into a mysterious dream. Everyday objects like the washing line or a garden chair take on alien forms and the other side of the road might as well be the planet Neptune.
But right here on The Purple Hermit The Haar is the name for my new bimonthly magazine slot. I’m inviting other writers, poets, artists, photographers, cartoonists or anyone with something different to say to send in contributions on a theme. This is a community feature and everyone is welcome so long as the work is original. All work will be clearly credited to the author who retains copyright. Please use the contact form to get in touch if you want to submit a piece. There are a limited number of slots. I want to keep this feature small scale so sadly not all work will be selected.
The word limit for short stories is 2,000. Poems must be no longer than 40 lines.
The theme for April’s The Haar is ‘Behind the Mask’
The deadline to send in your contribution is 31st March.
I’m looking for the broadest interpretation of the theme, not just Pandemic related. Who are we when we remove our masks? What lies behind the personas we create to survive in society. We are all different people in the privacy of our own homes and we behave differently according to where we are. We all try to fit in one way or another. I’d like to see and hear what happens when we let our hair down and truly open up…our loves, fears, jealousy, anger, hopes, worries, mistakes…
I probably inherited the creative gene from my maternal grandfather. He was a writer, photographer and political dissident in the former Soviet Union. He wrote for an underground newspaper and spent time in prison because of his views. Every birthday and Christmas he would send me a card with a specially written poem. He encouraged me to read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn at an early age. After his death in 1974 my grandmother gave me his camera which contained a roll of exposed black and white film. Years later I developed the film in my home darkroom and found images of myself as a young adolescent. It was a spine-tingling moment, alone in the dark watching the images slowly materialise and seeing myself the way my grandfather saw me. The images were faded and decomposed because of the length of time they’d spent inside his camera. They had aged, they had scars – like myself.
In the beginning was the word, according to the Gospel of John in the Bible. We experience and interpret the world through language. We write the words and the words write us. I’ve always associated writing with the desire to make the world a better place. It’s a way of getting inside someone else’s head, a chance to see life from another point of view. Writing has a therapeutic value but it’s much more than that…it leads to greater understanding and tolerance between people. It is a powerful tool for personal and social change. Writing can break down barriers, build bridges.
As a disabled woman I have been marginalised by a society that treats people as disposable commodities within the Capitalist machine. Throughout history disabled people have been ignored, silenced, treated as if we are stupid, useless. Alas, the ‘does she take sugar?’ attitude persists even in the 21st century. Disability is the last great taboo which feeds on society’s fear of death, illness and impairment. This is an issue which affects everyone, disabled and non-disabled, because we all age, sooner or later our bodies start to let us down and no-one is ever perfect. We live in a society obsessed with superficial appearances, it’s a kind of body fascism and it creates a lot of misery.
Creative writing and art have given me an equal voice. They have empowered me, helped to counter the negative stereotypes of disability that underpin mainstream culture. Visual arts and writing are two sides of the same coin for me. I often incorporate text in my artwork through collage and photography. I enjoy unexpected juxtapositions. I tend to use abstract and surreal imagery and a lot of colour in both poetry and art. They are just different ways of communicating my unique experience of the world. In recent years I’ve focused more on poetry as it feels purer, more precise. It satisfies my obsessive compulsive streak! Poetry works through the construction of images, as well as metaphor, rhythm and rhyme. And there is the important visual element of words typed on paper, black on white, the shape of the poem on the page. Concrete poems, ekphrastic poems, black-out poems, cut-up poems, acrostic poems all rely on our visual sense.
I am often asked about my working methods. Like many writers I keep a journal. I try to write every day even if it’s just a few words. Ideas and phrases frequently come to me at night and I record them on my phone otherwise they are lost. Sometimes the first line of a poem will take root in my mind and I can’t rest until I’ve put it down on paper. Once it gets a hold on me I can’t let go until it’s finished. Stephen King said that when he’s writing it’s as if he’s just a channel, a conduit for a story that already exists in a mysterious parallel universe. I agree. Like King I believe in what the psychologist Carl Jung named the collective unconscious. Creative people and mystics are able to tap into universal images and stories that we need in order to navigate our path through a complex and difficult life.
There have been many tines when creativity has literally saved my life. I survived several long hospital stays trapped in a bed alone in a small room because I had paper and pencils. I was able to make my mark on a world that seemed to have forgotten me. I have a vivid memory of drawing a vase of anemones on my bedside locker when I was in intensive care at the age of nine after spinal surgery that left me paralysed. Looking at those delicate flowers, the pastel colours, the shapes and recording them on paper reminded me of the beauty of the world beyond the horror and pain of the hospital.
We all need art, we all need stories, we all need to survive.
My third and final guest poet is Mandy Beattie. Here is her mysterious poem inspired by a local Scottish landmarkof standing stones.
A pantry of organic nettle tea and skeins of wild raspberries tumble through the turnstile between times of concrete & standing-stanes where sky sits a duck-egg blue ceiling on the Hill O’ Many Stanes
The Land O’ The Cat where Hairy-Brottachs hatch into Louded Yellow and Green-Veined White butterflies and dandelion clocks puff among mosaics of standing-stanes
Kneeling at a silver stane-pew palming ley-lines with my life-lines I am litmus among lichen waking-dreaming of way-back-when the Wee Folk jigged in amethyst heather and fairy rings in The Land O’ the Cat where the veil’s still thin between worlds.
Poem Copyright of Mandy Beattie
Note:- The Hill o’ Many Stanes consists of about 200 small stones arranged in rows running down a low hill in East Caithness, Northern Scotland. They were erected about 4,000 years ago, possibly for gatherings and religious ceremonies. Caithness was once known as the Land of the Cat People, a reference to an ancient legendary tribe of Picts who inhabited the area.
Mandy Beattie, is a feminist from Caithness, with an MA in Social Work Practice & Research. Her poetry is a tapestry of stories and imagery, rooted in people, place & the natural environment, set at home and abroad.
For the first time on the Purple Hermit we have a poem from a guest poet, fellow Scottish writer and friend, Alastair Simmons. Enjoy!
Blue Poppies (In memory of Esther)
She took ages to answer the door in the heavy summer rain. Finally, she fumbled open the catch. Her hand was bandaged, her eyes blackened, on a white face. “Err, I’ve had a fall,” she said, her hands still shaking. “Err, I’ve come about the garden, gardening,” I said. Suddenly, her eyes sparked then ignited ninety plus years held in darkening pupils, the delicate filament in her blue iris illuminated. “Did I tell you about trekking in the Himalayas? Right over the pass for six days. I remember now, the blue poppies, wonderful,” she said. She began talking, as if she’d known me all of my relatively short life. She took my arm and leaned hard on the old wooden stick, “Now let me show you the roses.” The summer rain pelted like an Asian monsoon. We didn’t notice.
By Alastair Simmons 2012
Alastair lives on the Northeast Scottish coast, finding inspiration in the landscapes of Scotland and Northern England, and also it’s cities. And the gardens he creates, working as a gardener. “Poetry is about finding connection and expressing that feeling, whether it’s people, nature or worlds we find ourselves in.”
Instead of writing my novel I am staring at a bunch of bananas, or more precisely at the juxtaposition of the fruit with a box of Gourmet cat food, a calendar, jars of pasta, a face flannel and a pack of hair grips. The randomness of this arrangement reflects the insanity of my life during these Covid months. If ever there was a plot I have truly lost it along with any desire to keep a tidy house. The absence of visitors due to the restrictions has eroded my inner hausfrau. Instead I have developed a taste for the creativity of chaos. I used to be one for everything in its place, now I think there is a place in everything.
I keep thinking about the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat. If no one speaks to me or sees me or hears me for several days there is the equal probability that I am both dead and alive at the same time. The reality of my existence is not validated by others. For ten months I’ve been living in a grainy gritty twilight zone like a scene from a movie shot on Super8. I need to keep looking in the mirror just to check I’m still here. There’s always a tingle of surprise when I see myself, relatively unscathed, looking back.
I am writing this with a yellow pen and therefore prone to optimism.
There are times when it’s hard to spot the signs of hope hidden amongst the negativity and gloom that surrounds us at present. As UK appears to sink beneath another wave of a more virulent strain of Covid 19 many of us are teetering on the edge of despair. Today when I opened my front door to another cold and frosty winter’s day I noticed the teeny tiny shoots of crocuses emerging in a plant pot. They were almost invisible amongst the moss, weeds and colourful pebbles but they were definitely there. So however grim our lives might appear at present we must pause and look for the good stuff and remember tomorrow is another day.