POETRY: Song of Bare Blåbær

On World Poetry Day, Sarah-Jane Dobner shares a scrapbook of observations, sensations and memories from a trip to the spectacular Lofoten islands in Arctic Norway, taking the reader on a tour of the archipelago's classic climbs (Bare Blåbær, Vestpillaren Direct) and its quaint fishing villages.


Lofoten grabbed me like a fish hook. The place flips casual UK norms - that towns are built on land, bedtime is at nighttime, and that moss is a modest, easily overlooked, small blob of vegetation. Last summer I spent a fortnight there, climbing and writing and reading Mary Wollstonecraft's travel journal from 1796. The landscape clearly affected her as it affected me - and is largely unchanged in those two hundred-plus years.

Walking into Djupfjord to climb Bare Blåbær.  © Sarah-Jane Dobner
Walking into Djupfjord to climb Bare Blåbær.
© Sarah-Jane Dobner

Poems from Lofoten

The Song of Bare Blåbær (Djupfjord)

Granite is fashioned for symphonic performance

Here in ice-cut Djupfjord

Cracks and slabs keep time

Across millennia


 

At this moment

In high summer

Human feet and hands clap along

Sliding into the Song of Bare Blåbær


 

Kick-drum of toe jams with extra reverb

A melody of finger locks

And always the deep chanting hum

Of the mountain


 

On the narrow valley floor

A saltwater fjord and

Freshwater lake

Recline amongst the bilberries and applaud


 

Foundations (Henningsvær)

The buildings amphibian

Half in water, half on land

Decks and jetties project into the

Salty tide


 

Kitchens dangle over water

Yachts and motorboats

Lashed alongside as

Fifty percent of the accommodation


 

Onshore, the structures

Teeter on frameworks of granite

Whilst seaward sections

Prop on top of


 

Seaweed-covered, rotting, wooden poles

And corroded metal piles

Listing and murmuring and dripping

Between each semi-diurnal dunking


 

And so the houses balance

On the edge of the sea, the edge of stone

Never quite belonging

Dwarfed by the mountains and the Arctic Ocean

photo
Henningsvær - the Klatrekafeen (climbing cafe)
© Sarah-Jane Dobner

Cod (Svolvær)

Cod is worshipped

Carved in wood

Painted on canvas

Processing plants

In each coastal town

Prayer flags of air-dried flanks and heads


 

She hooked the big cod onto deck

Like an old God hauled into modernity

Scales from the deep, eyes for the dark

Who will be saved?

An hour later his stripped body

Still spasming, ecstatic


 

Deck running blood

How is the flesh so white?

Raw fillets wait in a dish

Loaves and fishes, wafer and wine

An Arctic diet where

Cod is the lamb

photo
Cod's heads.
© Sarah-Jane Dobner


 

Vestpillaren Direct (Preston, "The Priest")

for Frances

I wouldn't have dared

But the N6 leader hadn't heard of the route and

Was ignorant of our limitations

And so we set off


 

At 8am, three of us

Seven litres of water, snack bars and waterproofs

Approached the granite sweep of vestments

Started at the hem


 

I have spent so much time recently

Doubting

As we got higher noticed the little islands gathered at the foot

Felt my faith mustering


 

Even started volunteering

Pitch 8, N5+, forty metres of laybacking

A rosary of gear you can trust

With your life


 

And still more pitches

The N6 leader rising up the crux fingertip dihedral

We all believed then, the tiny cams

Flexing like prayers, like angels


 

Pitch 11, a wilderness slab traverse

Glossed over in the Rockfax bible, protectionless

I backed off, lost

Again, our N6 leader saved us


 

We topped out in the miraculous, midnight sunshine

Robes of the Priest flowing down in stone folds

In amongst the featured, flawed and broken faces

This pillar stands

Presten (“the Priest”)  © Sarah-Jane Dobner
Presten (“the Priest”)
© Sarah-Jane Dobner


 

Boulder Beach (Paradiset)

A boulder hop!

Just ten minutes!


 

Fairground pink,

This granite amusement park


 

Of up-and-under snakes and ladders.

A 3-D obstacle course


 

Marked up in lanes and counter spots

By bladderwrack and brine.


 

Crawl under this chockstone as big as a house!

Leap over this crevasse!


 

Giants' game of dot-to-dot,

Maze-elements avoiding the dead ends


 

Of precipitous blocks or sudden zawns,

Back-tracking and finding the


 

Dink-dink-dink links

From the West to the East end of the beach


 

where the rock climbing is.

We get there, eventually


 

Whilst the boulders chortle

comfortably with the sea

photo
Fish drying racks.
© Sarah-Jane Dobner


 

Poems on reflection, back in the UK

Design

July in Gloucestershire

The sky quintessentially British

Fluffy, ivory clouds piled in a basket of blue


 

A sky for English afternoon teas

The clouds look like scones

The clouds look like cream


 

Laid out on a pastel, paisley pattern of

Cath Kidston flowers, William Morris hedgerows

Laura Ashley leaves


 

Around Lofoten the summer skies

A twilight-dawn of stripes and blocks

In lurid pink-yellow-orange-purple


 

An exhibition of Scandi design

Taste in the air of cod's heads and ice

Defiant. Bold. Warlike. Unsentimental.


 

It is time to start collecting beautiful things from my travels

Stepping on to the homebound plane, took a

Last breath of Arctic, snowmelt, razor-lung air


 

Back in the lounge of my daughter's apartment, unwrapped

A turquoise, handblown tumbler from Henningsvær


 

Turned it in my hands, the criss-crossing glass ripples

Like wind-shear cirrus or the patterns of sand under the sea


 

Looked closer, spied one tiny bubble near the lip

Importing Norwegian air. Clean and crisp. So near.


 

Diary excerpts

The towns seem to comprise 70% water (Solvær, Henningsvær) - like the human body;

It's light at midnight. Locals walk their dogs and climb and socialise in the early hours. Time is odd;

There is no gesture towards taming the wilderness. It would be foolish, given the scale of the landscape. People perch on the edge;

The sea is full: crabs, cod, sea-urchins, jellyfish. And crystal clear;

On Preston, watched a sea eagle gliding above, then one flanked the cliff just below our belay stance. They're big;

Sizes are warped, by a British measure. The trees insignificant - stunted, rumpled, buckled silver birches. Many other things are larger-than-life - towering mountains, Alice-in-Wonderland clover, immense moss-cushions, huge starfish, vast hyper-colourful skies;

Water out the tap is the best I've ever tasted.

photo
Lofoten moss.
© Sarah-Jane Dobner

Literary quotes - Mary Wollstonecraft, 1796

"Before I came here I could scarcely have imagined that a simple object (rocks) could have admitted of so many interesting combinations, always grand and often sublime."

"Once, in particular, after mounting the most terrific precipice, we had to pass through a tremendous defile, where the closing chasm seemed to threaten us with instant destruction, when, turning quickly, verdant meadows and a beautiful lake relieved and charmed my eyes."

"I am delighted with the romantic views I daily contemplate, animated by the purest air."

"Never was a southern sky more beautiful, nor more soft its gales. Indeed, I am led to conclude that the sweetest summer in the world is the northern one."

- From "Letters written during a short residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark" by Mary Wollstonecraft, 1796

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Thanks to Sarah for allowing these words to be public.

21 Mar

IIRC, and it is going on 17 years, pitch 11 isn't protectionless - there's a little cam at the crux. It was my lead and I definitely wasn't the N6 leader! ;-)

22 Mar

Very evocative - makes me want to go back,

Chris

22 Mar

Nice poem. Brought back memories.

I'd change the first word to 'gneiss' though, for the geology pedants.

22 Mar

Lovely - never been to Lofoten, but the words and pictures transported me back to the bits of Norway I have been to. Thanks