Hanna Tuulikki: cloud-cuckoo-island

Photo: Cuckoo Flower, EiggPhoto: 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)

   the lady’s smocks gather [i]

   their petticoats waver     

up-up   up-up   up-up   up-up   up-up 
                                        (five o’clock)

   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)                                                         

   hawks his froth [iii]

   and bends the

suck-eggs   suck-eggs   suck-eggs   suck-eggs   suck-eggs   suck-eggs   suck-eggs
                                                                                                               (seven o’clock)                         

   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

[i] lady’s smocksCardamina 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-ladiesArum 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 robinLychnis 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.

Alec’s blog from our trip
Hanna’s website