iii Decoding the Dark, Catherine Faulds, Under the Radar, Issue 27 85, Pam Thompson

Catherine Faulds’ Decoding the Dark draws on a mixed media presentation on the theme

of darkness. This was a presentation by Faulds and the artist Sarah Davidmann, that \was
given at a conference in Longyearbyen, Svalbard. It is an attractively-designed pamphlet

in white and shades of grey, which is pleasingly weighty and tactile with a strong visual

awareness in the typesetting. These are poems about observation, destruction and

preservation. The intersections between humans and the landscape are fraught; the forms

of the poems, mostly open without punctuation or capitalisation and inhabit a range of

visual formations on the page. From these we get a sense of Davidmann’s photographs

without even seeing them.

The first poem, ‘landfall’, contrasts the painterly backdrop, “we fly through a Rothko dusk / bands of scarlet / magenta / violet”, with harsh conditions for “the first trappers” who worked the land, “burned oil for heat / fashioned skins into parkas”. The poem ‘arrival’ could be from the point of view of both poet and photographer; it displays the necessary recalibration of
one’s vision:

through the window

in the arrivals hall

she sees nothing

her eye adjusts

to a rutted road

its surface compacted ice

yellow rectangles signal

remote habitation

‘The death of ice’ is a response to artist Olafur Eliasson’s work with melting ice which draws attention to climate change. Words in the poem could be from of one of the accompanying
polar explorers or Eliasson himself on one of his own expeditions:

this is the melt

he says we lose

ourselves

in frozen deserts

that we must

allow our bodies

to lead us

In just nine lines, ‘species of ice’ keeps a visual and sonic grip on the reader:

nip ice takes
hold with pincer floes

shuga ice circles
with menace

Faulds asked conference delegates to send her their words and phrases in English for ‘dark’ and ‘darkness’, and these formed the basis of experimental poems, threaded through the pamphlet as the title sequence. The first poem has a choric tone; its transpositions and repetitions grasp

at ways to convey the conditions of the expedition and the explorations for both its human and non-human participants:

encounters with lighten their entering under cover of

instruments of climate and journey into gathering

angels out of the city of web of edge of wild area

of invisible heart     heart invisible of area wild of edge

                                                                                        (‘decoding the dark 1’)

 

Transposition of adjectives and nouns allow for imaginative reconfigurations of types

of darkness:

sable bass clarinet

sombre oil spill

invisible chocolate

impenetrable taxi

gruesome dust

(‘decoding the dark 2’)

 

In ‘decoding the dark 4’, language eventually breaks down, moving from a litany of descriptive words that spell out foreboding in darkness to what becomes a series of terse monosyllables, a string of inarticulate sounds:

              vie aim lead wan ear art gin sad rode end us hat rom

rig mid moo la ale dib eat sun ned eve lad tar red are tan

    men

a an ar ra da ao de us bid ale mo di be ro ta or in ar re an

el me

 

Ways of knowing for the poet and the photographer intersect: perceptual, intuitive and via gathering and processing the facts. In her poems, Faulds seeks to understand this environment and how its people and animals survive in the face of its destruction. All the while, Faulds highlights how precarious it is, and for the two of them, to be there.

at the edge of town      a blue bear
rears on a white warning sign
we scan the dark wilderness for movement

we can’t go without a rifle
behind us         yellow lights the houses where

people have locked their doors
restrained their dogs

Pam Thompson is a writer and educator based in Leicester. Her publications include

The Japan Quiz (Redbeck Press, 2009) and Show Date and Time, (Smith | Doorstop,

2006). Pam has a PhD in Creative Writing and her second collection, Strange Fashion

(Pindrop Press).