Photo: Cuckoo Flower, Eigg
In May 2014, I spent a week with Alec Finlay at the wonderful Sweeney’s Bothy in Cleadale.
In the evenings, with the stove alight, we worked together on the Away with the Birds score transcriptions, sifting shapes from sounds.
Outside, in the day-time, I explored and began research for a voice-performance-to-camera piece – to be filmed next spring – as part of
Mnemonic Topographies, a new body of work investigating the land encoded in the song, the lore embedded in the land.
This is a small extract from cloud-cuckoo-island a poem-cycle that sets the scene for the film:
cuckoo clock on a may morning out-out out-out out-out out-out (four o’clock) dawn-peeker the lady’s smocks gather [i]
up-up up-up up-up up-up up-up (five o’clock) bird-in-the-bush lords-and-ladies [ii] in the grassy paps finger the sky
gob-gob gob-gob gob-gob gob-gob gob-gob gob-gob (six o’clock) cloud-spitter hawks his froth [iii] and bends the stems
suck-eggs suck-eggs suck-eggs suck-eggs suck-eggs suck-eggs suck-eggs (seven o’clock) clear-voice stealing in the pipit’s nest [iv] waking the ragged robin [v]
gone-gone gone-gone gone-gone gone-gone gone-gone gone-gone gone-gone gone-gone (eight o-clock) shoes-off! [vi] snow’s gone and the faerie bells ring
[i] lady’s smocks – Cardamina pratensis is a springtime flower with white or lilac petals, associated with milkmaids, their smocks and cuckoos. It is known as the Lady’s Smock and Cuckoo Flower.
[ii] lords-and-ladies – Arum maculatum flowers with glossy green leaves in spring. Its purple central spadix gives its name Cuckoo Pint, meaning ‘cuckoo’s penis’, an allusion to the cuckoo’s alleged promiscuity. It is also known as Lord-and-Ladies.
[iii] hawks his froth – The term cuckoo spit refers to a foamy substance that appears on plants during the spring and summer. The name comes from the folk belief that the cuckoo spits. However, it does not actually come from a bird, but is created by a small insect called a froghopper which is also known as a ‘spittlebug’.
[iv] pipit’s nest – According to Eigg-based ornithologist John ‘the bird’ Chester, the Meadow Pipit is the sole host species parasitized by the Cuckoo on the island.
[v] ragged robin – Lychnis flos-cuculi, meaning flower of the cuckoo, is a jagged, vivid pink, star-shaped flower of spring, commonly known as Ragged Robin.
[vi] shoes-off! – Hyacinthoides non-scripta, the Common Bluebell is a springtime violet-blue bellflower. Known in Gaelic as Bròg na Cubhaig – The Cuckoo’s Shoe, it has associations with fairies.