A Visit to Hortus Botannicus

Monday 29th August, 2016

After taking the children to school today I bought a used bike from Recycle in de Hallen, my landlord’s bike shop and rode to Hortus Botannicus. (The children’s bikes are being shipped). I rode up Kinkerstraat, turned right into Erste Constantijn Huygensstraat, headed towards Museumplein, rode under the arches at the Rijks museum, which was magnificent because there was a quartet playing Vivaldi. The music echoed throughout the tunnel. It felt as if the Renaissance was being conjured back to life momentarily. I continued up Nieuwe Spiegelstraat and turned right into Kerkstraat, cycled past Merian’s house no doubt, although I’ve been unable to find out which house belonged to her. It’s a wonderful street. The historical East or Oost is so quant with iconic Dutch houses. Whilst riding up Kerkstraat I felt the stirring of something akin to excited agitation, as if the first ripping’s of the butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. It felt good to be without the children, despite the fact that I’m constantly worried about how they’re doing at school. I obviously need a bit of space. I continued cycling towards De Hortus. Riding there felt liberating, if a little bit intense. The Amsterdamers are very active on their bells, especially around tourist spots like Museumplein. But, I’m a confident rider.

De Hortus is wonderful. It’s tucked away behind two pillars and a gate: a secret garden. Firstly, I walked toward a carefully manicured labyrinth of hedges and a rather large pond. I saw extremely high stalks with enormous leaves in the middle of the pond, which delighted me. There were some lovely conifers further on, an ancient Australian species of tree enclosed behind a metal structure, a butterfly enclosure in a glass house, and a series of two more enormous glass house structures, in which there are a huge variety of plant species. I sat outside the glasshouses in which the world’s oldest potted plant resides. There are still a few cabinet of curiosity cases in there as well. I sat on a bench overlooking the canal. It was very peaceful. Nearby was a replication of the evolutionary process of organisms – some algae mutating in a small pool of water. De Hortus is an enchanting place. I wrote in my journal there for a while before cycling back to pick up the children. I needed this monastic moment of calm serenity. I will return to the garden soon, perhaps many times. It would be wonderful to ritually return to write poetry. It might become my sacred place.

I’m happiest when crafting a poem. It’s when I’m in my flow. Not necessarily the taking down of the raw data of the poem, which is sometimes pleasurable, especially when I take down the full body of a poem in one sitting (like when the inspiration comes through me concretely). But, rather it is the crafting afterwards, the attention to telling a story, keeping it close to the felt truth and then adding to it to make it more interesting. Applying American poet, Sharon Old’s recipe, who has been so influential in my work. But, the more I read and the more poets I make a study of, the more I augment Old’s recipe and find my own unique style. As W.H. Auden advocates in his essay The Dyer’s Hand, to take a master and copy her/him, in order to find one’s own idiosyncratic style. 

I’ve taken from Ted Hughes as well, a close attention to the natural world, particularly observation of our animalism, as well as an interest in the esoteric, or a preoccupation with the strange attenuated animation of things and states, which occurs in the natural world. Also, the adoption of technical language to make a story more nuanced and interesting. Then there’s Don Paterson, his gift for witticism, his tightly packed language, his use of Gaelic vernacular. His work has contemporary appeal because he deals with his own subjectivity as a musician, alcoholic and womaniser. In the end though I find him a bit narcissistic, even if he is self-reflexive. Still, he is clearly exceptionally talented because he’s so lyrically inventive. I also take a lot of inspiration from Anne Carson, her Glass and God is a masterpiece and so is The Beauty of the Husband. I’m especially taken with her lamentation of lost love, a kind of love note to Emily Bronte, God and the lone interior landscape of the moor in The Glass Essay.