Plot and Measure

Kevin Mills

Plot and Measure, currently under consideration by Seren, explores space and place in a way that reflects contemporary thinking and the geo-cultural context of Wales. Some of the poems and short prose pieces came out of the site-specific ‘In and Between’ project in which I participated with colleagues from USW. The opening prose poem ‘If You can Think of a Place’ emerged as a reflective response to observing Jodie Allinson and Inga Burrows as they explored the abandoned tidal pool at Barry Island in preparation for filming their witty and evocative installation ‘On Vocation’. I was intrigued by their nuanced, layered, multi-faceted interrogation of the site, which seemed to me simultaneously sensual, critical, aesthetic and playful. It allowed me to see that what we mean by ‘place’ is a melding of multiple frames, discourses, intuitions, perceptions and projections; is at once bodily, cerebral, ideological, linguistic and geographical; is illimitable, shifty, permeable, unstable. At the same time it is crucial to identity and even to survival.

As Jodie and Inga looked and felt and walked and crawled and touched and listened, I saw in their practice something akin to ritual: the performance involved in marking and making a place, drawing the imaginary lines that separate it from generic space. Here was a re-enactment of the immemorial human process involved in turning terrain into territory. Plot and Measure owes a great deal to that day I spent observing, with something like wonder, my colleagues at their richly suggestive work. With this in mind I dedicated a poem to each of them: ‘At Bay’ to Jodie; ‘Silent’ to Inga.

My sense that there was something ritualistic in Jodie and Inga’s procedures, and that they were remaking an ancient inscription – no less contemporary for being so – is reflected in poems that delve into the mythic and legendary origins and determinations of place. The sequence which closes the collection draws on a Norman hagiographical account of the 5th-6th century saint, Cadoc (aka, Catwg, Cathmael, Cadfael), after whom sixteen churches, two wells and one river in south-east Wales, two churches in Glasgow, one in Cornwall and an island in Brittany are named. He was an early contender for patron saint of his native land; he established one of the two earliest seats of learning in Britain (at Llancarfan in the Vale of Glamorgan), yet he is little remembered today and the traces of his existence found in place-names are now all but devoid of cultural resonance. In this sense he is a figure of the fraught relationship between history, legend and place, and of the loss of meaning implied by the slippage between contemporary experience and ancient boundaries and place-names. The recognition, constitution, marking-out and naming of places characteristic of hagiographical lore (and playing a significant role in St Cadoc’s ‘Life’), serve to highlight the viral derealization of place in an age for which Christian names have worn out.

Perhaps works like ‘On Vocation’ and ‘Frame and Flow’ (the poetry film collaboration between Wyn Mason and Philip Gross which formed another strand of ‘In and Between’) help us to remake/re-mark ‘place’ today; serve, maybe, to reinscribe on the landscape of modern Wales the provisional boundaries that shape our sense(s) of identity, however polymorphic and flickering they might be. Plot and Measure tours such hazy perimeters in poetic modes, forms and language that seek to reflect both the irreducibly linguistic character and the infinite plasticity of place.