There’s Always An Orkney Connection……..

By Bernie Bell

Once again, Mike was travelling with his work, this time, to a meeting of ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Seas) in Lisbon, Portugal.  As he walked from his hotel to the meeting, he took some photos of an impressive monastery, The Monsteiro dos Jerónimos

Monastery Portugal Mike Bell

Impressive…….though, I must admit, it’s all a bit ……..posturing…… for me.   Vows of poverty?

Mike’s visit reminds us of when we went to Portugal for our honeymoon. We arrived in Lisbon late at night, picked up the hire car, and set off. Got completely lost.  We saw a bus, decided that a bus must be going somewhere, and followed it. It went back to Lisbon. But this meant that we could orientate ourselves, and, this time, we set off and found the right village, then up a track up a hill to a tiny hotel, where we stayed for a week. It was wonderful.  The owner took to us, we took to him – he was very kind to us, advising us of good places to visit, which weren’t on the usual tourist agenda, giving us tasty  local food and drink to try.  That was how I discovered a liking for White Port, which I’d never come across before.

We have a tile on the wall in our shower room,  decorated in classic Moorish style, which we bought on a visit to a small town called Sintra. The Moors ruled Portugal, as well as Spain, for a few hundred years, and evidence of this, in Sintra, can be seen in the Castle of the Moors, and the nearby Monserrate Estate.

While we were in Portugal, we also visited a building which looked very like the Monsteiro dos Jerónimos – The Palace of Mafra – also known as the Convent and Palace of Mafra  It was huge, with huge, high rooms,  smelling of polished leather and wood. Impressive, but, too heavy for me.

I do like the Moorish architecture – very much indeed, it’s full of light and colour and shapes which raise your eyes, and heart, up, but the this kind of cumbrous building, which sits so heavily on the land – no, not for me.

We have very happy memories of Portugal, and the Portuguese people, who were friendly and welcoming.

Mike also passed the Torre De Belém on his way to the meeting, and emailed me to tell me about it, as it reminded him of Cittàgazze in Philip Pullman’s  ‘The Subtle Knife’  – part of the first ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy.

Torre De Belém in Portugal Mike Bell

I’m going to digress here – if you’re watching ‘His Dark Materials’ on the telly – please don’t – instead, read the books, and/or watch the film. The version on the telly, made steam come out of my ears.  I was so pleased to find the books – it’s so rare to find a ‘new’ writer who is so strong, with such ideas, so well expressed. The film is excellent – Lyra, is Lyra, Mr. Scoresby, is Mr Scoresby, Nicole Kidman is always worryingly good at being horrible (the film of ‘Paddington!), and … Iorek Byrnison, is true to character…as long as a bear, stays true to being a bear, they won’t go far wrong.

The television series, is a travesty – I can only wonder did Philip Pullman have much to do with the production, and if he didn’t, and it’s all new to him – what does he make of it?  Mr Scoresby looks like a gigolo, and a not very successful gigolo, at that!

Please – read the books, they are exceptionally good.  I wondered why a sequel wasn’t made to the film, and Mike suggested that it’s because the film didn’t go down well in America with religious folk.  In which case – I think maybe they missed the point a bit. What IS, is what IS, what we put onto it, is ….something else.

Back to Portugal, and, somewhat fittingly, excessively impressive religious buildings.

The Torre De Belém reminded me of something else……a poem by Eddie Cummins.  I have a copy of Eddie’s book of poetry, ‘I Flame At Words’, and, in the front it says “The content of this book may not be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, except for short extracts for quotation or review.”  I’m going to chance it, as this is kind-of a review, and I’m sure that Eddie wouldn’t mind.  As his friends Jim and Sheila Scott, who were responsible for having the book published, say, at the front…”He yearned for his work to be wanted, read, enjoyed and savoured.”  So, I don’t see him griping about copyright.

I didn’t know him, never met him, but this is what I wrote to the Orcadian, when I read his work…….

Eddie Cummins – God love him!

I’m reading ‘I Flame At Words’, the book of Eddie Cummins’ poetry, and, what can I say?  He speaks to us, he’s one of us, his words, flame at us, burning away the fakery of our lives.  He’s one of those who are disregarded, until they die, then, suddenly, they shine, people like to say they knew them.  In life, too difficult, too un-compromising, seeing too clearly, through a glass, darkly.  In death, a poet, a writer, a painter, a “genius”, all of a sudden.  But, not so, it was always there, but, people like people, who pull the right faces and make the right noises.  It looks like Eddie “loud in his size, strength and smell”, was too much for many, and they were too much for him, ultimately.  But look what he produced; ‘Torre de Belem’, ‘Which World is Really There?’, ‘Solitude’, ‘The Simmer Dim’, and on, and on, and on.  Read them, and see.

I never met him, I’ve been told I would have “got on with him”, would I?  I don’t know, I reckon we would have rowed a lot, but that would be, because, we could, row, that is, without a mis-understanding of what ‘rowing’ is.  But this isn’t about me, it’s about Eddie Cummins, with eyes that no-one could ignore, no-one with eyes to see, that is.

The impression I get, is of a man who saw too clearly, felt too keenly, and expressed this well, and, because he expressed so well, he can now speak to us, who are also trying to deal with the world.  He didn’t deal with it too well himself, but it still helps to meet some-one who’s seeing it, feeling it, even if the meeting is after they’ve ‘gone’.  It helps a lot.  For me, he’s in there, in power of perception, with Gerard Manly Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes, John Clare.  If he could have been in there with W.B. Yeats, Robert Graves and Walt Whitman, he might have been a happier man.  They saw it, but could deal with it, he may have been happier, but he wouldn’t have been Eddie Cummins, big, mad, drunken poet.

Thanks, to his good friends Jim & Sheila Scott, for putting the collection together.  Thanks, to Eddie himself, from me, and from all the people who will read his work and say “There’s one….”, and feel that Eddie’s by them, telling them not to let the bastards get them down.  If only he could have taken that to heart himself, but then, he wouldn’t have been Eddie Cummins, and so it goes on.

And, he was a looker, too!  Would it have pleased him to hear that – with his deep, though slightly puzzled, love of women?

Eddie Cummins, religious or not, God Love You, you’ll help a lot of people.

Bernie Bell

30 July 2010

Here is an extract from ‘Torre De Belem’ by Eddie Cummins

poem extract from Eddie Cummins

Some folk might be wondering – who was Eddie Cummins?  He was born in Australia, and, from  his late twenties, travelled the world, living life.  He came to live on Orkney in 1983, from where he continued to travel and write.  Unfortunately, with great appreciation of life, and sensitivity to the world around us, often comes an inability to cope with that world. Eddie, as many have before him, and no doubt many will again, drank more than was good for him.  It could be said that life and his full appreciation of it, led to his death. Well, it always does, ultimately.

As I said, I never met him, but his poetry has helped me, and I’m sure it has helped others who find much joy and fulfilment in life, but who also find that it can be something of a struggle, sometimes.

I’m not even going to try to discuss Eddie or his ways or his views – I don’t know enough about him. I do know his poetry though. His sparseness of words at times, which hit home, catch something.  For example, from ‘Torre De Belem’…..

“The green coast after the sea’s wrath

One truth’s beauty and awful groan”

There it is, there he is.  God love him.

And all this, from Mike walking past the Torre De Belém.  Life – there to be appreciated and engaged with. Ask Eddie.

Eddie Cummins poems I Flame at Words

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