In the quiet hamlet of Trochry, near the small town of Dunkeld in Perth and Kinross, Scotland, lies an unexpected showcase of the work of some of the very best and most active poets currently living and writing in Scotland. Meandering through a variety of terrains including open hillside, moorland, ancient native woodlands, hazel coppice, and riverbanks, the Corbenic Poetry Path has been designed with a variety of surfaces to be as sensitive as possible to the wild terrain it passes through.
Three kilometres long, the path is set in the grounds of Corbenic Camphill Community, in what was an old shooting lodge and woodland estate. Poetry from some of Scotland’s finest poets have been carved in stone, etched in glass, encased in resin, burned into wood and installed along the way, with a number of ‘performance areas’ created along the trail, used to host outdoor poetry readings, including poetry on the riverbank and poetry by the fireside.
Belfast born poet Jon Plunkett tells us more.
You were born in Belfast, and now live in Aberfeldy, Perthshire. How did you first discover the Drumour estate where the path is situated?
I left Norn Irn to study. Initially it was forestry, then a complete switch to psychology. I never imagined there would be any job that would bring those two things together, but when googling ‘jobs near Aberfeldy’, I came across the website for Corbenic Camphill Community. The job of ‘Estate Workshop Leader’ was advertised and entailed managing the woodlands using teams of adults with learning disabilities and/or mental health issues. As if that wasn’t good enough, I soon discovered that the Corbenic community place a high value on creativity in its many forms…even poetry!
Did the path first start out as a nature trail, or was it always envisioned that poetry would play a key part in its atmosphere?
The path began as a means of improving access to the wilder corners of the estate. Many areas had become overgrown or blocked with a tangle of fallen trees. This got even worse just a few weeks after I started and ‘Hurricane Bawbag’ (as named by some Glaswegian on Twitter), swept in and flattened another seventy of the estates trees. But we got stuck in with chainsaws, picks, and spades and started carving out the path.
With my interest in poetry, the community’s valuing of creativity, and a colleague (Martin Reilly) who is a skilled stone-carver, the idea soon emerged to place some poetry along the path. It was a very natural evolution of ideas and a real coming together of the right resources and people in a very beautiful place.
Tell us about the process involved in deciding how a poem is presented along the path. Some are engraved in stone by local carver Martin Reilly, incorporated into sculptures, printed on glass, on posts, old beehives, etc. How is it decided what works best for each?
Initially it was mostly down to Martin and myself, bouncing ideas off each other and having lots of fun experimenting with possibilities for displaying the poems in ways that would be visually striking and able to withstand the elements. My wife, Lindsay Turk, is an artist and was also often dragged into the process, either to help come up with the ideas, or to help us make them a reality.
As the path grew in popularity, and with applications for funding being made to various places we soon realised we would have to introduce more of a structure so that it didn’t seem like a creative free-for-all. Funding bodies like accountability! So, we now have a ‘visual panel’ who we can run ideas past and they approve them for inclusion, or recommend the tweaks or changes that will ensure the standard remains high. The panel is made up of respected visual artists who also have a good idea of what we are trying to achieve with the path. That all sounds a bit formal. In reality the visual panel is a bunch of like-minded people who get together to talk art and drink gin!
And the fun experimentation continues. Our latest experiment involves typing poems on an old 1940’s typewriter onto a fibre-based paper which we then dip into wood preservative. The result is a very tough waxy material that is impervious even to Scottish weather!
The poetry path showcases work from some of the very best and most active poets currently living and writing in Scotland. How are poems selected for the path?
Most of the poets currently included are active on the Scottish scene and have not only been generous enough to donate their words, but have also attended and performed at live events we hold on the path. I say most of the poets are on the Scottish scene, but we are also open to poetry from further afield. We have recently been looking at a poem titled ‘Uprooted’ by Stephanie Conn. I guess I still have a wee bias toward my roots!
Initially I would come across a poem that would jump out as a contender for inclusion on the path. We would then approach the poet and ask their permission.
Now things are a bit more structured, like the process for deciding how works are displayed. Any poem is considered by a poetry panel who assess its suitability for the path.
You mention on your own site that poetry allows you to be an explorer. Do you see the path as an extension of this exploration, a real life manifestation to walk through and discover?
Good question! I hadn’t thought of it that way, but maybe in some sub-conscious way that has come through. There is certainly a sense of questioning and exploration that runs as a theme through the poems on the path. I, like many others, have always found wild places to be a good space to think and question. Existential type questioning I mean. Who knows, maybe one day I will arrive at some answers! I suppose the poems that jumped out as being suitable for the path naturally fell into that explorative type of writing.
What impressions or thoughts do you want a visitor to the path to be left with after they walk through the terrain?
I think it’s more a sense of excitement I hope visitors will be left with. Excitement at having been encouraged to question and ponder, excitement at having seen new and beautiful places, and excitement about having experienced poetry in a new way.
I really like what the slam and spoken word scene has been doing for poetry, lifting it off the page and expressing it in new and dynamic ways. I hope the poetry path can do the same, lift poetry from the page, or at least take it out of a book and present it in a way that somehow enriches it, while simultaneously enhancing the experience of wandering about in nature.
John Glenday has become a bit of advocate of the path, and I certainly appreciated his description of it as having ‘literally put Scottish poetry back on the map’!
Jon Plunkett: After ‘Hurricane Bawbag’
Spruce make a final stand
in the full twist and thrash.
A deluge of debris batters loose,
drums tin roofs, litters the land.
Straining roots are ripped free
flinging earth into the night,
breaking trunks rage,
crowns thump the ground.
Then the scream of chainsaws
biting through circled years.
Swirls of breath and wood-chips
flurry in the head-lit swither.
In the morning calm, leaves
slow-tumble in the river’s deep,
and light fills the space
where trees once stood.